BadPacing

Under the Burning Sun (Slave Pony, Africa, Oneshot)

Jan 17th, 2018
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  1. >Day Under the Burning Sun.
  2. >”Give me your magic,” !Xhaba commands. “I want it. It belongs to me.”
  3. >His voice is deep, and he speaks quickly with a strange cadence.
  4. >!Xhaba’s skin is dark as coal from the African sun, his teeth twisted and yellow from cigarettes.
  5. >Malaria shows itself through his yellow and red eyes.
  6. >His name was strange to pronounce at first, with a frontal mouth click then ‘haba.’
  7. >You heard one of the others pronounce it as Zabba, or Gabba, but never when he could hear.
  8. >Around you, the room is filled with the smell of smoke and waragi.
  9. >The soldiers are young, maybe between ten and sixteen years old.
  10. >Against the broken concrete wall, two mares are laying down.
  11. >The pony with a two tone blue mane, and off white coat is lazily licking the other.
  12. >Her mane is yellow, with a blue coat, and her eyes are dilated in a sort of mix between alertness and being sleepy.
  13. >A Zebra near you is watching intently.
  14. “I don’t know how.”
  15. >The man next to !Xhaba clicks and grunts.
  16. >Over his chest is a necklace of bleached white pony skulls with a red rodent charm in the center.
  17. >His lower lip is filled to the brim with qat and two pairs of Pegasi wings adorn his back.
  18. >!Xhaba laughs loudly before taking a puff on his cigarette.
  19. “What did he say?”
  20. >The Zebra considers for a moment before translating.
  21. >”Equestrian magic unique to each Unicorn, what could be easier than eating his horn?”
  22. >”We should be more considerate, Faili Halijapatikana. Please use English.”
  23. >Faili brushes his skulls before responding.
  24. >”As you wish.”
  25. >!Xhaba waves his machete.
  26. >”Always the same with you. Eat, eat, eat. Did you gain the power of flight? You did not.”
  27. >You try to pull away, but your chain keeps you in place.
  28. >”Eating Unicorns gave me power, or have you already forgotten?”
  29. >”I wasted our last two Pegasi on you. This one belongs to me.”
  30. 1/31
  31. >”The blood of an innocent child makes our soldiers strong. It makes them fierce. You should eat its heart. That is where true power lies.”
  32. >!Xhaba looks you over as if weighing your worth.
  33. >”What is your name?”
  34. “Meteor Shower.”
  35. >”I like that. I will be able to make rocks fall from the sky.”
  36. >He mimes pulling down a boulder from the clouds.
  37. >Again you try to pull away, and the restraints dig into your coat.
  38. ”Please, don’t eat me. There has to be another way.”
  39. >This gets Faili’s attention and he smiles a crooked smile.
  40. >”Are you a virgin?”
  41. >Your ears pin themselves down and you try to look away from them.
  42. >You whisper your response.
  43. >”Louder, so I can hear.”
  44. >Suddenly the ground seems very interesting.
  45. “Yes.”
  46. >Both men laugh.
  47. >They want to have your body first.
  48. >You heard the princesses were able to lend their strength to Twilight.
  49. >Can you do the same?
  50. “You don’t need to do that. Let me try something.”
  51. >You close your eyes to concentrate.
  52. >!Xhaba's fingers touch your mane as you let your magic flow.
  53. >Give it to him.
  54. >Give it all to him.
  55. >Your horn lights up and you can feel a glow covering !Xhaba.
  56. >”I can feel it. I can feel your magic.”
  57. >You try harder, willing yourself to pass everything to your new master.
  58. >Anything to keep him from eating you.
  59. >”I can feel your power, your strength!”
  60. >Your teeth clench as you try desperately to pass what you have to him.
  61. >”Everything tingles, like nupping.”
  62. >What little magic you have is nearly gone.
  63. >Still you strain harder, hoping against all hope to please him.
  64. >Faili clicks in excitement.
  65. >His skulls chitter against themselves as he chants an unintelligible series of clicks.
  66. >You strain and grunt trying to send every last bit.
  67. >This has to be it.
  68. >You grunt a final time and collapse to the ground.
  69. >All around you, dust lifts off the floor as you try to catch your breath.
  70. 2/31
  71. >You feel light headed, like the last time you tried to use all your magic.
  72. >Both men click to each other.
  73. ”Is it over?”
  74. >”Yes, Meteor. I have your magic.”
  75. >You turn and look as !Xhaba laughs.
  76. >”Now I am invincible. They will cower before us. Now watch.”
  77. >He lifts a hand and concentrates on one of his child soldiers.
  78. >The boy senses something wrong and wakes from his drunken stupor.
  79. >”General, what is happening?”
  80. >”Hush, child.”
  81. >The boy watches cautiously as !Xhaba rises.
  82. >”Do not resist. Give me your soul.”
  83. >The off white mare suddenly becomes interested and stops licking her companion.
  84. >The child grabs his chest and coughs violently.
  85. >”Give it to me.”
  86. >”Please, General.”
  87. >”Give it to me!”
  88. >!Xhaba strains to pull out his being.
  89. >He grits his teeth in effort, but nothing happens.
  90. >Faili watches with annoyance, and when he has had enough, he speaks up.
  91. >”This is not our way. Eat the pony.”
  92. >”Not yet. Bring another.”
  93. >The boy, with soul still intact, slinks off to the far corner of the room.
  94. >He is safe for now.
  95. >The soldiers shuffle before bringing forward a naked girl.
  96. >Her belly is distended from malnutrition.
  97. >She doesn’t fight, and keeps her eyes on the ground.
  98. >One of the boys kicks her so she falls on her knees before !Xhaba.
  99. >”You know what I want.”
  100. >”Yes, master.”
  101. >”Good.”
  102. >!Xhaba clenches his fist to rip out her soul.
  103. >Again nothing happens.
  104. >!Xhaba grunts and tries again.
  105. >”Why is this not working?”
  106. >Faili points at you with his curved blade.
  107. >”I told you, you must eat them to gain their strength.”
  108. ”Please don’t.”
  109. >You hear explosions and gunfire in the distance.
  110. >Both men turn to listen to the sound.
  111. >A radio springs to life, and a staticky voice begins.
  112. >”We’re being attacked. One hundred soldiers, maybe more.”
  113. >”Who is it? Mbantuwe?”
  114. >”Listen for yourself, General.”
  115. >The radio picks up the sound of chanting, and men stomping rhythmically.
  116. 3/31
  117. >”Hello, hello,” the voice chants. “Hello, hello.”
  118. >But it isn’t hello.
  119. >There are too many syllables for it to be that.
  120. >”How many trucks do they have?”
  121. >”It looks like-“
  122. >The radio transmission ends suddenly.
  123. >”Unbaba, answer me!”
  124. >After a few moments, the General stops waiting for a response.
  125. >!Xhaba grabs his rifle and rises.
  126. >The soldiers around him do the same.
  127. >Faili looks you in your eyes.
  128. >He smiles before speaking.
  129. >”You do not know the way. The way of the Devil. I will show you.”
  130. >Without warning, Faili plunges his knife into the girl’s belly.
  131. >She screams and struggles, but the soldiers keep her still.
  132. “What the buck!?”
  133. >You try to escape, and pull against your chains again and again.
  134. >”Be quiet!”
  135. >One of the children kick you.
  136. >You feel your stomach wrenching at the sight and smell of death.
  137. >Faili reaches up into the girl’s chest and plucks out her heart as easily as if he was picking an apple.
  138. >The girl collapses into the growing pool and spasms a few times.
  139. >Blood squirts out as Faili takes a generous bite of the still beating organ.
  140. >He passes it reverently, as if it was a holy relic to the General.
  141. >!Xhaba takes a small bite before tossing it to the children.
  142. >They fight amongst themselves for a taste and soon enough all of them have smears on their lips and hands.
  143. >It only takes a moment for them to clear the room.
  144. >They make sure to grab every weapon before leaving.
  145. >Engines in disrepair roar and rattle as the technicals outside turn on.
  146. >They climb onto their steel machines and drive toward the fighting, leaving only you, the Zebra, and the two mares.
  147. >They watch for a while as you shake, none of them are willing to speak first.
  148. >How could those men do that?
  149. >They ate her heart like it was nothing.
  150. >No.
  151. >Not nothing.
  152. >Maybe like candy.
  153. >Your hooves tremble against your will, but you can’t stop them.
  154. >Finally, the mare who was licking her friend is the first to speak.
  155. 4/31
  156. >”Are you alright?”
  157. “What the buck was that? He killed that girl!”
  158. >You look at them over and over, but all they offer are pained expressions.
  159. >How many times have they seen this?
  160. “Well?”
  161. >The Zebra steps forward.
  162. >”What they seek is power, living flesh, they must devour.”
  163. >Your hooves slowly stop moving.
  164. >You can get through this.
  165. “So that’s normal?”
  166. >”They always do that before fighting,” the mare says.
  167. “It’s insane. We need to get out of here.”
  168. >You get up to run away, but metal keeps you in place.
  169. >Your chain is attached to the wall, and you notice that all the ponies are chained to the same metal frame.
  170. >”Once before we tried to escape, all we got for our trouble was rape.”
  171. >”But we still have to keep up hope, Punda.”
  172. >”Hope is only for a fool, how can we leave without even a tool?”
  173. ”There has to be some way.”
  174. >”We’ve tried, but we can’t break our chains. You wouldn’t happen to be good at lock picking, would you?”
  175. >She looks at you with hope in her eyes.
  176. >How long has she been here?
  177. >Why are they still alive?
  178. “I’m not good with magic yet, but I can try.”
  179. >You take a deep breath to calm yourself.
  180. >Concentrate on your lock.
  181. >You can do this.
  182. >The lock lights up, and you imagine opening it.
  183. >You hope it will explode, or disconnect, or unlatch, or melt, or disappear, or something.
  184. >Your magic sputters and fails to the disappointment of the mare.
  185. >Silence once again returns to the squalid room.
  186. “I’m sorry.”
  187. >”It’s alright. It was too much to ask.”
  188. >”Hungry you must be, after setting your magic free.”
  189. >The Zebra takes out a baobab and breaks it open to reveal the chunks of hard flesh.
  190. >Your stomach churns at the sight of it.
  191. “I don’t know if I can eat right now.”
  192. >”Please try,” the mare says as she lightly brushes your mane.
  193. >You take a piece in your hoof and pop it in your mouth.
  194. >The fruit is sweet and slightly tangy.
  195. 5/31
  196. >”I’m Coco Pommel. This is Pundamilia, and she is Apple Cider.”
  197. >Apple is breathing heavily and kicking her hoofs out like she is trying to reach for something.
  198. >She is laying down on a pile of sandbags or something.
  199. “What’s wrong with her?”
  200. >”Too much heroin.”
  201. >The Zebra trots over and takes Apple in his forelegs.
  202. >He nuzzles her over and over, which seems to calm her slightly.
  203. “I’m Meteor Shower. They must have left something we can use, a gun or maybe a sledgehammer.”
  204. >”!Xhaba sometimes leaves guns over there,” Coco says as she points at a broken locker. “But our leashes don’t go that far.”
  205. >She gets up and looks at the dead girl.
  206. >After a moment she bites an area that isn’t completely drenched in blood.
  207. >She slowly drags her to the doorway.
  208. ”I can do it.”
  209. >”I hope so. It’s only a matter of time before they eat us.” Coco looks back at the locker. “Doesn’t look like there’s anyth- wait. Grab that handle.”
  210. >A small piece of wood pokes out from the edge of the container.
  211. >You light your magic to grab the wood, but it flickers several times before disappearing.
  212. >Again you try, but to no avail.
  213. >”Don’t worry. You’re still just a filly.”
  214. >Your cheeks burn in embarrassment.
  215. >Not this again.
  216. >Why does everypony think you’re a mare?
  217. ”I’m a colt.”
  218. >Coco looks you over before her eyes change to recognition.
  219. >”Oh. I’m sorry. I didn’t realize.”
  220. “That’s alright,” you lie. “I get it a lot. What should we do now?”
  221. >Punda clears his throat.
  222. >”All we can do it wait, to see what will be our fate.”
  223. >Coco frowns as she looks at the pool of fluids.
  224. >”Go help out Apple. We’ll clean this.”
  225. “No. Let me do it.”
  226. >For some reason you don’t want her to clean the mess.
  227. >Like it was your fault.
  228. >”Just rest with Apple. She needs somepony right now.”
  229. >Coco grabs a mop while Punda fills a bucket from an exposed pipe.
  230. 6/31
  231. >You have to move carefully to keep from getting both your chains entangled.
  232. “Hello,” you say to Apple Cider, but she doesn’t respond.
  233. >You wonder what you’re supposed to do.
  234. >Maybe lick her?
  235. >You don’t remember where Coco was licking, and you don’t want to taste her saliva.
  236. >A grunt of annoyance escapes before you can stop it.
  237. >Instead of licking her, you just put your forelegs around Apple.
  238. >When she returns your embrace, you can’t help yourself, and feel your eyes watering.
  239. >Why did this have to happen to you?
  240. >You cry and cry until there is nothing left, and you drift off to a better place.
  241. >
  242. >
  243. >”Wake up. They’re back.”
  244. “What?”
  245. >”Just hold this.”
  246. >A pony shoves a bag at you before retreating.
  247. >Your sleepy eyes blink several times before you get them to focus.
  248. >You can hear trucks and other vehicles pulling up next to the building.
  249. >The room is lit, but you can tell that outside is dark.
  250. >You must have been asleep for hours.
  251. >Coco and Apple balance a few bottles of waragi on their backs, while Punda holds a bundle of qat.
  252. >You stand beside them with your bag.
  253. >“Hello again, my ponies,” !Xhaba says as the door opens.
  254. >Faili is close behind, but one of his skulls are shattered.
  255. >They both have to step over the body at the entrance.
  256. >Thankfully one of the soldiers drags it away.
  257. >All the ponies bow in unison, so you do the same.
  258. >The children take their bottles and pass them around after enjoying a long swig of waragi.
  259. >Maybe half of them have returned.
  260. >Whether that is because they were killed, or left to defend the outpost, you don’t know.
  261. >Faili takes several qat leaves and stuffs them into his mouth, before drinking his own alcohol.
  262. >”Apple Cider, you survived. Well done.”
  263. >The mare bows deeply for him.
  264. >”Thank you, Faili. Can I have some more?”
  265. >Coco taps her shoulder.
  266. >”No, Apple. You said you would stop.”
  267. >This amuses the shaman, and he pets Apple.
  268. 7/31
  269. >She leans into his touch, seemingly begging for more heroin.
  270. >”She has seen the way. The way of the Devil. How can you deny the Devil?”
  271. >Faili reaches out with his hand, and somehow without touching you, drags you toward him.
  272. >Your hooves try to dig into the ground, but he easily pulls you.
  273. >”Never resist me, Meteor. Or you will know the anguish of a thousand deaths.”
  274. >He takes your bag and removes foil and a small bottle.
  275. >A small amount of powder is poured onto the folded metal.
  276. >Faili raises a lighter and burns the white dust.
  277. >With a broken straw, Apple inhales the fumes.
  278. >Her eyes almost instantly dilate, and she wobbles before finding her resting spot.
  279. >Coco just shakes her head.
  280. >”Thank you.”
  281. >Satisfied, Faili turns to !Xhaba.
  282. >"That was truly a great victory."
  283. >”Mbantuwe is a coward. He only fought for three hours before running.”
  284. >”But he did kill many of our boys.”
  285. >”We will have to get more.”
  286. >”Send Unbaba. There should be more children in the southern villages.”
  287. >”You do not want to go, Faili?”
  288. >He shrugs in reply.
  289. >”They do not interest me.”
  290. >”Perhaps you will find more Pegasi, or even a Unicorn.”
  291. >”Will they be mine?”
  292. >”We can split them, right down the middle.”
  293. >He makes a knife hand and slices the air for emphasis.
  294. >”As you wish.”
  295. >The soldiers have become more rowdy, and click and laugh amongst themselves.
  296. >One of them starts dancing, and a few others follow suit.
  297. >It’s that song you keep hearing.
  298. >”Ebola. Ebola in town. (Don’t touch your friend). No touching. No eating something. (It’s dangerous). Ebola. Ebola in town.”
  299. >The rest of the song is repetitive, but it says how to avoid the disease.
  300. >The lyrics also tell about how the singer isn’t going to leave.
  301. >From the singing and dancing, it’s a mocking song.
  302. >Even !Xhaba gets into it and dances next to his chair.
  303. >Faili shakes his head and looks at them with annoyance.
  304. >This makes !Xhaba smile.
  305. 8/31
  306. >”Why are you upset? Don’t tell me that you still think Ebola is real.”
  307. >”It is a sign of being loved by the Devil.”
  308. >!Xhaba laughs.
  309. >”It is a scam by the Government to get international aide.”
  310. >Faili doesn’t respond, he just crosses his arms.
  311. >”If Ebola is real, why are we not sick?” He takes a monkey hand. “Look.”
  312. >He chews the flesh enthusiastically, relishing the flavor.
  313. >Your stomach turns as you watch.
  314. >You’ve seen people eat bat, and antelope before.
  315. >But it was always after being cooked.
  316. >Its fingers seem to clench !Xhaba’s lips as it is ripped apart.
  317. >”The monkey did not know the way, my brother.”
  318. >One of the soldiers trips and rips the radio from the shelf.
  319. >The others erupt into loud angry clicks.
  320. >This agitates !Xhaba and he says, “Can I never have peace?”
  321. >”They want to celebrate our victory. Send them away. Neither Mbantuwe or Starlight will dare attack us at night.”
  322. >Starlight?
  323. >That’s a strange name for an African.
  324. >Maybe it is a pseudonym?
  325. >"And Gilda?"
  326. >"Gilda and The Boys? They won't last two weeks."
  327. >”Perhaps you are right. Children, leave us. Go to your whores.”
  328. >Annoyed that their party has to move, the soldiers pick up their bottles of waragi and exit.
  329. >You wonder where the stream of soldiers will go.
  330. >Is there a brothel close by?
  331. >You hear engines coming to life, and the soldiers drive away.
  332. >The room is quiet for some time, before Punda approaches and bows before the men.
  333. >”Many soldiers you did kill? How many are pushing up daffodils?”
  334. >!Xhaba eyes him cautiously between bites.
  335. >”Why do you want to know?”
  336. >”I simply want to revel, in your victory for the Devil.”
  337. >Faili responds this time.
  338. >”I counted thirty three of theirs, twenty seven of ours. Most were diseased. Hardly worth eating.”
  339. >Twenty seven less soldiers to keep you here.
  340. >But how many do they have overall?
  341. >”Enough questions. Now is the time for women.”
  342. >Faili reaches over toward Apple Cider.
  343. 9/31
  344. >She doesn’t resist, and looks blankly at the ceiling as she is pulled with his magic.
  345. >”I am ready to serve, master,” Coco whispers while bowing.
  346. >”Not you. I want the new girl. Meteor Shower.”
  347. >!Xhaba bats her away and she has to move to keep from being hit.
  348. >You gulp.
  349. >Not again.
  350. >”What is it? Come here.”
  351. “But, I’m a colt.”
  352. >”A what?”
  353. >You scuff the ground.
  354. “Uh, a colt. A stallion.”
  355. >Faili and !Xhaba exchange looks before turning back to you.
  356. >”You are saying that you are a man?”
  357. “Yes.”
  358. >”A man with a penis.”
  359. >You purse your lips.
  360. “Yes.”
  361. >Both of them laugh and laugh.
  362. >”This, I do not believe. Come here.”
  363. >”Leave him alone!”
  364. >!Xhaba waves his machete.
  365. >”Be quiet, Coco. Or I will chop off your legs.”
  366. >She opens her mouth to say something, but chomps the words away.
  367. >Coco slinks back and they ignore her.
  368. >”Come here now,” !Xhaba commands.
  369. >You approach slowly, and he grabs your chin.
  370. >He moves you from side to side, trying to get a good look at you.
  371. >”You look like a mare.”
  372. “I get that a lot.”
  373. >”Lay on the ground.”
  374. “What?”
  375. >”Lay on the ground, or I will let Faili eat you. He will show you the way.”
  376. >The shaman chimes in with a smirk, “the way of the Devil.”
  377. >He touches the shattered skull on his chest.
  378. >You don’t want to die.
  379. >Especially if you are just going to be used as decoration on his chest.
  380. >Slowly you sit in front of them.
  381. >You can feel your cheeks burning.
  382. >Never has this happened to you before.
  383. >”Now lay back.”
  384. >Shamefully, you do as you’re told.
  385. >”Move your tail.”
  386. >You move it slightly, hoping that it is enough.
  387. ”Please.”
  388. >It doesn’t satisfy them, and !Xhaba says, ”more.”
  389. >Again you just barely move.
  390. >!Xhaba takes out a pistol and presses it against your leg.
  391. >”I will not ask again. I raped a pregnant woman. Her belly was full and I raped her. And then I killed her.”
  392. >You look away in shame while your tail moves away.
  393. 10/31
  394. >They laugh in unison.
  395. >”I did not believe it. Look at him.” He points at you. “How can he be a boy?”
  396. >You wince in embarrassment.
  397. >On their own, your hooves move to hide your face.
  398. >”It is an omen. A virgin’s blood can cure Ebola. What could a virgin colt’s cure?”
  399. >”How many times must I tell you? Ebola isn’t real.”
  400. >Faili wrinkles his nose like he smells something foul.
  401. >After a moment he concedes the point.
  402. >”HIV then.”
  403. >”What about Malaria?”
  404. >Faili shrugs noncommittally.
  405. >!Xhaba thinks it over as he examines you.
  406. >”Perhaps I can gain his magic as well. How do they say? Two birds?”
  407. “Please. I don’t want this.”
  408. >”You belong to me? Why should I care about what you think?”
  409. >Your eyes look around for something, anything to respond with.
  410. >All you see is a room filled with dust and debris.
  411. “I can cook your food, and clean.”
  412. >”I have other ponies for that. The only thing you have that interests me is your magic.”
  413. >The room stays quiet for several moments.
  414. >You can feel your heart beating.
  415. >This will happen, one way or another.
  416. >Why fight?
  417. >One day they will get sloppy, and then you can escape.
  418. >You just have to get through this.
  419. “Can you give me something, so I won’t care?”
  420. >Punda kneels next to you and whispers, “not a good choice, to be like Apple. With addiction you will have to grapple.”
  421. >Faili waves his hand dismissively.
  422. >”That will spoil your magic.”
  423. >Coco takes a deep breath, and tries to puff herself up to look bigger.
  424. >”Please don’t hurt him. I’ll be your little mare. He’s just a colt!”
  425. >”Be quiet, Coco!” !Xhaba throws a bottle at her, and it shatters on the ground. “The next pony that speaks, dies, here and now.”
  426. >The ponies look at each other, before backing away.
  427. >Only Apple Cider keeps watching, though her eyes aren’t focused.
  428. >You hear a belt unbuckling.
  429. >His pants are thrown carelessly aside, and they knock over a metal box.
  430. 11/31
  431. >It clanks loudly as it hits the ground.
  432. >This is it.
  433. >You turn and lift up your rear and tail for him.
  434. >”No, no. That would be too easy. I want to see your face, like a woman. My woman.”
  435. >He moves you back into place and climbs over you.
  436. >You can smell his hot stinking breath.
  437. >It’s a mix of waragi and stale cigarettes.
  438. >When was the last time he washed up?
  439. >Slowly he enters you.
  440. >”No, no. Do not clench up. Relax,” he laughs as he mockingly tries to sooth you. “Relax.”
  441. >His hands brush your chest and he feels your coat.
  442. >You have to grit your teeth to take him.
  443. >”Yes, much better.”
  444. >He shimmies forward before pushing in again.
  445. >This time he hilts against you, his force pushes you back slightly.
  446. >You grunt in pain, but keep from crying out.
  447. >”Look at him. He is like a woman.”
  448. >!Xhaba pushes into you rhythmically, incessantly.
  449. >His orbs slap against you over and over.
  450. >”Look! He likes it.”
  451. >You move your forelegs to look down.
  452. >To your shame, you have become unsheathed.
  453. >”He was destined to be used like a woman.”
  454. >That isn’t true!
  455. >You want to scream, or kick out, lash at him, or anything.
  456. >Anything to have this end.
  457. >But that would mean death.
  458. >You just have to hold on, a little bit more, it's almost over, you tell yourself.
  459. >This becomes your mantra as he takes you.
  460. >Just a little bit more.
  461. >It’s almost over.
  462. >You can do it.
  463. >
  464. >
  465. >The next few days are the same.
  466. >!Xhaba and Faili leave each day, to either get new soldiers or raid nearby villages.
  467. >Though the results are usually the same.
  468. >They come back with new soldiers, slaves, and food.
  469. >As quickly as they get new supplies they are used up.
  470. >The men get drunk daily on waragi, and eat every last bit of bush meat they find.
  471. >Once they brought a dead earth pony, and ate him.
  472. >He looked like he was shot several times.
  473. >You wonder if he was able to fight back, or if he was found cowering behind rocks, like you were.
  474. 12/31
  475. >They never leave any weapons laying around.
  476. >Sometimes Unbaba comes and picks up soldiers for patrols.
  477. >Usually no more than three or four, but they never return.
  478. >Every night, !Xhaba takes your body, but it does nothing to give him magic.
  479. >Faili insists that he must eat you to gain your strength.
  480. >!Xhaba usually responds in annoyance, but seems to be coming around to the idea.
  481. >If raping you doesn’t work, then maybe consuming you will transfer your power.
  482. >Most days Coco and you talk about back home.
  483. >Sometimes you talk about escaping, while Punda cautions against trying.
  484. >Apple Cider half-heartedly participates, but always jumps at the opportunity for heroin.
  485. >To pass the time you break small rocks with your magic.
  486. >It's a simple trick.
  487. >Just find the fault and squeeze.
  488. >Today, the men have been gone longer than usual.
  489. >Apparently something called the UN is giving out food and medicine in the south.
  490. >The boy left to guard you is slowly falling asleep.
  491. >You watch as his head bobs up and down as he listens to the radio.
  492. >Finally he slumps, and his rifle is just barely held on by his fingertips.
  493. >Sadly he is just outside the reach of your chain.
  494. >Coco Pommel nudges you.
  495. >”This is our chance.”
  496. “What if he wakes up?”
  497. >”He won’t. I saw him smoke heroin earlier. He didn’t even chew qat.”
  498. >”Again you’re talking about running away? How often do I have to convey, that our fates are sealed. We have no choice but to yield.”
  499. >”Punda, I don’t want to die here. I’d rather be out there fighting.”
  500. “They’re just going to eat us when they find new ponies.”
  501. >”What would you do, where would you go? Things aren’t as simple as you think, Coco.”
  502. >”If you don’t want to help, then don’t. Just stay out of this.”
  503. >”There are dangers out there, hippos, lions, and probably bears.”
  504. ”We’ll find a way to Starlight and join her.”
  505. >Punda frowns at this, but doesn’t continue arguing.
  506. >Nopony even knows where she is.
  507. 13/31
  508. >You push those thoughts away.
  509. >This is your chance to escape.
  510. >You walk as close to the guard as your chain allows.
  511. >With your magic, you slowly, very slowly try to grab the soldier’s gun.
  512. >Careful not to disturb him, you raise the stock slightly.
  513. >He reaches out and pulls the gun in closer, before shifting to get more comfortable.
  514. >Buck.
  515. >”Try again.”
  516. “I can’t. He’s holding it too tightly now.”
  517. >”Just grab a rock and bash his head in then.”
  518. >You were hoping to avoid killing him, but it looks like you don’t have a choice.
  519. >There are many large rocks, and debris laying around, so you just grab one.
  520. >”I have returned,” a man says loudly.
  521. >You drop the rock and it crashes into the ground.
  522. >The boy jerks up at the sudden sound.
  523. >”I was not sleeping.”
  524. >Unbaba gives him a confused look.
  525. >”I did not say that you were, my brother.”
  526. >”Good. Because I wasn’t.”
  527. >Unbaba looks at him for a while before changing the subject.
  528. >”!Xhaba said I could have one of the ponies.”
  529. >The boy wipes his eyes before responding, ”which one?”
  530. >”I do not care. It is to trade for more ammo before we attack Starlight tomorrow.”
  531. >Starlight!
  532. >”Take the Zebra.”
  533. >Punda hangs his head in defeat.
  534. >His time has finally come.
  535. “Where is Starlight?”
  536. >Unbaba inspects Punda while the boy fumbles with some keys.
  537. >He checks his eyes before miming for Punda to open his mouth, then he examines his tongue.
  538. >”Starlight? To the north. Everyone knows that,” Unbaba says while checking the ears. ”He will do.”
  539. >The boy puts down his rifle as he moves to unlock the Zebra.
  540. >”Can I say goodbye to my friend?” Coco asks.
  541. >Unbaba shrugs as he lights a cigarette.
  542. >He offers one to the boy who takes it quickly.
  543. >Coco pulls the Zebra in for a hug before whispering, ”How do these work again?”
  544. >Punda makes a confused look before realizing what she’s asking.
  545. >He shakes his head.
  546. 14/31
  547. >”On the bottom is the lever. Simply pull for what you endeavor,” he whispers back.
  548. >She eyes the gun.
  549. >”Thanks.”
  550. >In a single motion she reaches out and snatches the rifle away.
  551. >”Stop right there!”
  552. >Unbaba and the boy look at her with surprise.
  553. >Instinctively they lift their hands.
  554. >”Relax, pony. We just need to borrow the Zebra for a while.”
  555. >”No, you’re going to kill him. Now unlock us!”
  556. >Again the boy fumbles with his keys before finding another.
  557. >Unbaba tries to shimmy to the door.
  558. >”I said don’t move!”
  559. >The boy undoes the latch, and the metal frame opens slightly.
  560. >”There, you’re free.”
  561. >”Now take off our collars.”
  562. >Coco waves the gun at them.
  563. >The boy shakes his head.
  564. >”I don’t have the keys to your collars.”
  565. >Without that, you will have to carry a dozen feet of heavy chain behind you.
  566. >”Only I have the key,” Unbaba smiles. “And now that I think about it, you can’t fire that gun.”
  567. >”Why not?”
  568. >He points at her.
  569. >”Your hoof won’t get past the guard.”
  570. >”Yeah? Let’s find out.”
  571. >Coco claws at the trigger several times, but nothing happens.
  572. >Unbaba lunges forward and kicks the gun out of her hooves, and it lands beside you.
  573. >A knife is in his hand.
  574. >It catches the light and glints as he laughs.
  575. >”Goodbye, Coco.”
  576. >Without thinking, you take the gun, and press it with your magic.
  577. >Loud bangs fill the room, and Unbaba drops to his knees.
  578. >Two more bangs and the boy falls beside him.
  579. >”Sweet Celestia, Meteor! You did it!”
  580. >You hooves shake as you watch them bleed out.
  581. “I just killed them. I killed two people.”
  582. >Your voice is shaky.
  583. >You imagined it would be easier.
  584. >Now you’re a murderer.
  585. >”They would have killed us if you didn’t,” Coco says as she hugs you.
  586. >She’s warm.
  587. >”Punda, are you with us?”
  588. >He frowns.
  589. >”Why do you ask for my voice, when you have already taken my choice?”
  590. >”So, you’ll come?”
  591. >Punda takes a deep breath before answering.
  592. 15/31
  593. >”If we wish to go far, we will need to steal a car.”
  594. >”I don’t know how to drive.”
  595. >”Don’t worry, I can fit the bill, for I have been taught that skill.”
  596. “Then what are we waiting for? We need to go now.”
  597. >”What we seek is a key, to move the chassis.”
  598. >”I'll check Unbaba. He has to have one.”
  599. “We should unlock ourselves first.”
  600. >“Try the soldier's keys,” Coco says while rifling through their pockets.
  601. >Punda takes the gun and places it on a rock.
  602. >He kicks it a few times before he is satisfied.
  603. >You see that the guard is bent now, hopefully enough to let him shoot.
  604. >With that done, he peeks out the windows, looking for other soldiers.
  605. >He stands on his hind legs to get a good view.
  606. >You have to try several keys before one opens your collar.
  607. >You put a hoof to your neck.
  608. >It feels so good to be free.
  609. >With that, it only takes a few moments to unlock your friends as well.
  610. >”I’ve got one,” Coco says.
  611. >”Bring it to me, so we can flee.”
  612. >She tosses him the jagged metal and he runs out the door without looking back.
  613. >Will he stay?
  614. >He wouldn’t just leave you, right?
  615. >Beside you, Apple Cider stirs from her daze.
  616. >”What’s going on?”
  617. ”Apple, we’re getting out of here. Let’s go.”
  618. >”Now?”
  619. “Yes, now. Get up!” You shout.
  620. >You can feel your heart racing.
  621. >Every moment you waste, is another moment that !Xhaba could return.
  622. >She tries to stand, but wobbles.
  623. >Coco moves so she is next to her friend.
  624. >”Get on my back, Apple.”
  625. >You help her climb on Coco’s back by pushing on her rear.
  626. >She’s heavier than you imagined, but her flank is very soft.
  627. >The mare struggles, but manages to get on top of her friend.
  628. >One of the cars outside roars to life.
  629. >You hope that is Punda and not more soldiers.
  630. >Coco tries to move as fast as she can, but Apple keeps wobbling, so Coco has to walk slowly.
  631. >In the distance you can hear cars approaching.
  632. >Oh no.
  633. 16/31
  634. >There are maybe three or four, and driving at normal speed.
  635. >Dust and debris are kicked up behind them.
  636. >Coco opens a rear door and tries to push Apple in.
  637. >”We will soon be skeletal, unless you throw her in our technical.”
  638. >”I’m trying!” Coco yells in exasperation.
  639. “Hold on.”
  640. >You close your eyes and concentrate.
  641. >She’s heavy.
  642. >Are all earth mares like this?
  643. >You grit your teeth and push against the ground.
  644. >Somehow, you lift her up and throw her into the back seat.
  645. >You inhale giant gasps of air as you try to catch your breath.
  646. >”Get on the gun, get on the gun,” Punda repeats.
  647. >He presses on the gas and the vehicle lurches forward.
  648. “No. They will see us.”
  649. >A bullet hits the frame.
  650. >”Celestia help us. I think they already did.”
  651. >Coco climbs through the rear window into the bed of the truck.
  652. >All around you, you can hear bullets impacting the ground and whizzing by.
  653. >You were hoping this would be a clean escape, but that was wishful thinking.
  654. >Coco picks up a helmet and puts it on.
  655. >The truck hits a bump and Coco flies into the air.
  656. >With her hooves she reaches out to grab something, anything.
  657. >“Meteor!”
  658. >You grab her with your magic, and she lands on the edge of the bed.
  659. >She kicks out several times, trying to bring herself to safety.
  660. >”Buck!”
  661. >She’s almost as heavy as Apple, but somehow you drag her back in and she climbs into the chair.
  662. >You watch as she straps herself down.
  663. >”I don’t like this ride,” Apple complains.
  664. “This isn’t a good time.”
  665. >She whines, but you ignore her.
  666. >”Buck, it’s not working!”
  667. ”You have to pull on the thing.”
  668. >”What thing?! There’s lots of things! I’m pulling the trigger.”
  669. >”If you want the gun unbound, you must first chamber a round.”
  670. >”I don’t know how!”
  671. >“Reach to the side and pull the action, so we can escape from this faction.”
  672. >”You’re not being very helpful, Punda!”
  673. “It’s that thing,” you point out.
  674. 17/31
  675. >A bullet ricochets off the frame of the truck.
  676. >”Buck!”
  677. >With your magic you pull the bolt for her.
  678. >It slams back into place.
  679. “It should work now.”
  680. >The weapon erupts in loud banging and Coco starts firing at !Xhaba’s men.
  681. >”Meteor, take this gun, to help Coco as we run.”
  682. >Punda passes you his rifle.
  683. >This isn’t something you want to do, but you have no choice.
  684. >It’s you or them.
  685. >You stand on the backseat and aim.
  686. >Punda hits another bump and the car swerves.
  687. >You knock your head on the seat, but quickly collect yourself.
  688. >A pack of monkeys screech as you drive by.
  689. >One of them catches a bullet and splats on the ground.
  690. >Even though Punda bent the trigger guard, it’s difficult to shoot with your hooves.
  691. >You have to use your magic.
  692. >The sound of gunfire is almost deafening.
  693. >”That thing is loud.”
  694. ”Apple, you had better be useful at some point or I’m gonna be pissed.”
  695. >”What do you want me to do?”
  696. “Anything.”
  697. >She pulls open the seat and rips out some yellow foam.
  698. >It quickly gets bunched up into small balls which she stuffs into her ears.
  699. >”I got one!” Coco yells.
  700. >One of the chase vehicles is smoking, and you watch as it swerves into a ditch.
  701. >Only two left.
  702. >”Take these.”
  703. >You pass some to Coco before stuffing your ears as well.
  704. >The sound deadening is slight, but it will have to do.
  705. >You continue firing.
  706. >The two remaining cars swerve as they try to dodge dried out trees and brush.
  707. >Coco turns to look at you.
  708. >”It stopped firing.”
  709. “Pull the thing again.”
  710. >She yanks on the bolt twice.
  711. >”It’s not working.”
  712. “Sweet Celestia.”
  713. >Punda says something, and you have to turn to him to hear.
  714. >”She must have run low, see if they left extra ammo.”
  715. >When you look back, you see fabric billowing over the gun.
  716. “You’re out. You need another belt.”
  717. >”There’s another box here, but I can’t reach it.”
  718. >The car jumps into the air, and then it shakes violently.
  719. 18/31
  720. >”What’s happening?”
  721. >Suddenly you see one of the rubber tires fly off, and the car makes sparks.
  722. >For an instant, the car lifts off the ground and nearly tips over.
  723. >You have to grab out with both hooves to keep from being thrown.
  724. >Punda gets it back under control, but you leave a trail of sparks.
  725. >Somepony has to help Coco, or you all will die.
  726. >You shake your head.
  727. >It’s a stupid idea.
  728. “Take this, Apple.”
  729. >”Me?”
  730. >She lazily takes the gun and pokes the weapon out the window.
  731. >You climb out the back to help Coco.
  732. >Punda turns sharply, and the side of the bed keeps you from falling out.
  733. >A truck honks loudly, but doesn’t slow down.
  734. >During the chase you must have gotten back on the road.
  735. >A loud screeching sound comes where your tire used to be, and the sparks are getting bigger.
  736. >The technicals are now to your right, instead of directly behind.
  737. >They’ve closed the distance.
  738. >You grab the box and pull out a fresh belt.
  739. “Now what?!”
  740. >”There should be a latch on the top, open it, and put one bullet to start the swap.”
  741. >Sounds easy enough.
  742. >You hear a loud clink.
  743. >”Buck! They got me!”
  744. >Coco wails and grabs her face.
  745. >Her hooves are covered with blood.
  746. >Inside the car, Apple unloads her gun.
  747. >One of the drivers falls on his wheel causing it to honk loudly.
  748. >It veers off to the side and jumps over a protruding boulder.
  749. >The car sails into the air and explodes the moment it slams into the ground.
  750. >Only one more.
  751. >”I can’t see, Meteor! I can’t see!”
  752. “Just hold on, Coco. We’ll make it out of this.”
  753. >”I can’t see!”
  754. >You close the latch and pull the bolt back.
  755. “Can you unbuckle yourself?”
  756. >”I’ll try,” she says between sobs.
  757. >Coco undoes her belt and slinks to the floor of the truck.
  758. >Somehow you climb on and aim the gun.
  759. >It’s now or never.
  760. >The gun shakes violently as you unload.
  761. >This isn’t the time to be cheap.
  762. >The gunner’s chest explodes into a cloud of blood.
  763. 19/31
  764. >You turn to the driver, but he thinks better of it, and veers away.
  765. >His car races ahead to cut you off.
  766. >When you try to move the gun, it protests and hits the edge of the cabin.
  767. >You can’t aim forward.
  768. ”Punda, you have to turn to avoid him.”
  769. >”We’re out of luck. The wheel is stuck.”
  770. >Your car is slow now, and you smell oil burning.
  771. >The thick plume of smoke hinders your view.
  772. >”Not much longer this car will last, we need another, and fast.”
  773. >You have no choice then.
  774. >”We have to keep going!”
  775. >Ahead of you, the truck has stopped, and a man climbs over some rocks.
  776. >”Look, that man on the boulder. What does he have on his shoulder?”
  777. >A rocket launcher!
  778. “Buck!”
  779. >As if in slow motion you watch as the man steadies himself.
  780. >A large plume of smoke ejects from the rear before he gets to an angle where you can shoot.
  781. >The moment the lance flies, one of your bullets hits him.
  782. >He stiffens and falls backward like a board.
  783. “Please. Please,” you say to yourself as if chanting. “Please!”
  784. >The rocket hits the ditch in front of your car, but it’s enough to lift the front end.
  785. >Punda frantically tries to turn.
  786. >Both you and Coco are thrown from the truck.
  787. >You slam on the ground with a thud.
  788. >You hear a wretched grinding sound.
  789. >Though your vision is blurry you can see that the truck landed on its side.
  790. >You can see a figure.
  791. >Maybe a boy, maybe a man.
  792. >He steadies his gun at you.
  793. >This is it.
  794. >You will finally be at peace.
  795. >A loud bangs erupt from a gun, and the man falls to his knees.
  796. >Another shot and he stops moving.
  797. >You look up.
  798. >Apple Cider is poking up through the window with your rifle.
  799. >”I got him.”
  800. >Finally, something is going your way.
  801. “That was good shooting. Do you see any more people?”
  802. >Apple looks over at the rocks before shaking her head.
  803. >”I don’t see any.”
  804. >You let yourself sigh in relief.
  805. “It’s over.”
  806. >You look at Coco.
  807. >She is struggling to stand, and after a moment gives up.
  808. 20/31
  809. >The gash on her head is bad, and her eyes are closed shut.
  810. >Her helmet is dented in the front, and it looks like something exploded on it.
  811. >You’re not sure if they can actually stop bullets, but it definitely blocked something.
  812. >”What’s that smell?”
  813. >Your nose crinkles as you catch a whiff.
  814. >Gasoline.
  815. >Apple tosses the gun onto the ground and prepares to jump out.
  816. “Where’s Punda?”
  817. >”He’s not with you?”
  818. >You look around, but you don’t see him.
  819. “Check the car.”
  820. >Apple pops her head back in the truck.
  821. >”He’s still buckled in. Hey, Punda, get up!” It takes a second before Apple looks out again “He’s not moving.”
  822. >Buck.
  823. >The Zebra is trapped, and unconscious.
  824. “We have to get him out of there.”
  825. >Apple winces, but replies, ”I’ll try.”
  826. >You move toward the windshield to try to get a look, but it’s completely shattered and opaque.
  827. >What was once a slight trail of smoke has grown into thick plumes.
  828. >You hear grunting as Apple tries to move him.
  829. >”He’s too heavy.”
  830. “Keep trying.”
  831. >”I can’t climb and pull him out, Meteor.”
  832. ”What about out the back window?”
  833. >”We’re going to die if we stay here.”
  834. ”Punda could have left us. He had the truck, but he stayed. We’re not leaving him.”
  835. >”I have to get out of here!”
  836. ”Kick out the windshield.”
  837. >”I can’t. The wheel will get in my way. We have to run.”
  838. >You can’t leave him there.
  839. >He’s probably the only reason you’re still alive.
  840. >You see the gun.
  841. >Does it still have ammo?
  842. >Flames lick the edge of the hood.
  843. >You can feel the heat rising.
  844. >The cabin won’t last much longer.
  845. ”I’m gonna shoot out the windshield, get down!”
  846. >”What?”
  847. >You grab the gun with your magic.
  848. >You aim at the top and shoot three times which makes Apple scream in surprise.
  849. >Three holes appear in the shattered glass.
  850. >Without thinking you throw the gun aside and pull on the windshield with your magic.
  851. 21/31
  852. >The glass comes out in long strips which you rip as quickly as you can.
  853. >Now you can see the problem.
  854. >With the truck on its side, the wheel blocked any chance she had of kicking out the glass.
  855. >Apple scurries out and instantly turns around to pull him.
  856. >Thick clouds of smoke fill the air, and Apple keeps coughing.
  857. >”He’s too heavy.”
  858. >The angle is poor.
  859. >You take a deep breath and concentrate.
  860. >You can feel your glow surrounding him, and you lift just enough so Apple can pull him out.
  861. >She kicks and presses against the ground, and Punda slides out like a worm being pulled from its hole.
  862. ”You’re going to have to carry him.”
  863. >She kneels down and you drag him across her back.
  864. “Go to the other truck, behind those rocks.”
  865. >Apple starts running off, and somehow Punda manages to stay on.
  866. “Coco!” This time she is standing. “We’re going to the truck. Com’n.”
  867. >She shakes her head.
  868. >”Where is it?”
  869. >Buck.
  870. >She can’t see.
  871. >You run to her and grab her withers.
  872. >She jumps at your touch.
  873. ”Grab on to me.”
  874. >She reaches out and takes your tail in her hoof.
  875. >Coco hobbles behind you as you lead her to the other vehicle.
  876. >The sky is filled with black smoke, probably letting everypony for miles around know where you are.
  877. >!Xhaba likely has more soldiers coming for you.
  878. >You turn to Apple Cider.
  879. “Can you drive?”
  880. >”I don’t know how, can you?”
  881. “No. Coco?”
  882. >”I can’t see,” she cries.
  883. >Only Punda knew how.
  884. “Punda, you have to wake up!” You shake him. “Punda!”
  885. >He lays still, barely breathing.
  886. >”It’s no use. We have to run.”
  887. “We’re not going to escape without a truck.”
  888. >In the opposite direction from where you came, you see another cloud of brown dust.
  889. >Your ears raise in alarm.
  890. >Another vehicle.
  891. >Gilda?
  892. >Mbantuwe?
  893. >You don’t want to stay to find out.
  894. ”Put him in the truck. I’ll drive.”
  895. >”You don’t know how.”
  896. “Then I’d better learn real quick.”
  897. 22/31
  898. >You lead Coco to the rear seat and she climbs aboard.
  899. >Apple puts Punda in the front seat, and hops on the machine gun.
  900. >She probably had to unlatch the corpse, but you don’t check.
  901. >Thankfully the engine is still running, but there are too many controls.
  902. >Three pedals.
  903. >Some sort of stick.
  904. >Gauges and lights, some red, some blue.
  905. >Meaningless numbers are shown under the wheel.
  906. >You press the left pedal with your magic, but nothing happens.
  907. >With your magic you press the other two, and this time the engine roars.
  908. >Okay.
  909. >It’s something at least.
  910. >You press the gas again and push the lever forward.
  911. >The car makes a horrendous grinding sound, but doesn’t move.
  912. >”Meteor, we have to go!”
  913. “I’m trying!”
  914. >You press the first two pedals and move the lever.
  915. >This time it slides into place easily.
  916. >Yes!
  917. >Now for the gas.
  918. >The truck lurches forward and immediately dies.
  919. “Buck!”
  920. >You press on the gas again and again, but the car doesn’t move.
  921. >”Meteor!”
  922. “I said I’m trying!”
  923. >You pull on the lever, but this time it is solidly in place.
  924. >”Where are we? Are we finally free?”
  925. “Punda!”
  926. >He looks at you, but his eyes don’t focus.
  927. “Listen. We need you to drive.”
  928. >”Drive? You drive.”
  929. ”This isn’t the time for jokes. We need you.”
  930. >He puts a hoof to his head, and his eyes seem to spin.
  931. >”I can’t concentrate, or even see straight.”
  932. ”They’re coming for us. We have to go.”
  933. >He shakes his head.
  934. >”Maybe I can put it in gear, as long as you can steer.”
  935. “Good. Let’s do that.”
  936. >He slowly climbs over the stick and takes your place.
  937. >The seat is a tight squeeze with both of you sharing it.
  938. >There isn’t much room, but that doesn’t matter.
  939. >You can feel his legs moving, before he plays with the lever.
  940. >The engine rumbles and the car lurches forward.
  941. >Behind you a truck pulls up.
  942. >”Get the buck away from us!” Apple yells while pointing her machine gun at them.
  943. 23/31
  944. >The men watch as you pull away slowly.
  945. >Just scavengers.
  946. >Punda shifts gears again and the car picks up speed.
  947. ”Where were you taking us?”
  948. >”Anywhere from !Xhaba and Faili. I thought we would have time to discuss and agree.”
  949. >Behind you, Coco has found a dirty cloth and presses it against her face.
  950. >She has stopped crying, but she’s still breathing heavily.
  951. >”I heard Faili say that Mbantuwe was west. Which means !Xhaba is east.”
  952. ”So south?”
  953. >”South to the UN. I heard they are good men.”
  954. >”The UN doesn’t exist. They’re a lie.”
  955. >”I have seen them with my eyes. I think they would be good allies.”
  956. >You look up at the sun.
  957. >Punda made a lot of turns, so you can’t be sure, but something tells you south will take you to !Xhaba.”
  958. >After all, he said he was going to steal from the UN.
  959. “Sorry, but south would take us back to our captors.”
  960. >”North then.”
  961. ”To what? The mountains?”
  962. >”We don’t exactly have a lot of choices here, Meteor.”
  963. “Then what?”
  964. >”We should not bicker, let’s go north, to Starlight Glimmer.”
  965. >”How are we supposed to find her? That would be like looking for a needle in a haystack.”
  966. >”We will never know, unless we go.”
  967. >
  968. >An hour or so passes before the sun sets.
  969. >Progress was slow.
  970. >Punda didn’t want to switch to a higher gear since he thought you couldn’t handle it.
  971. >Eventually he asks you to stop.
  972. >He reasons that the lights will give away your position.
  973. >You find a hiding place among rocks and baobab trees before Punda turns off the engine.
  974. >”So far we have been blessed, but now we must rest.”
  975. >You climb into the backseat with Coco.
  976. >Punda leans his chair back to try to find a comfortable position.
  977. >He looks drained, so you decide not to bother him.
  978. “Coco, are you alright?”
  979. >”I don’t know.”
  980. “Let me look at you.”
  981. >She pulls away when you touch her chin, but relents after a moment.
  982. >You take the cloth away from her hooves.
  983. >”How bad is it?”
  984. 24/31
  985. >The bleeding has stopped, but she has a gash on her forehead.
  986. >Blood has caked over her eyes.
  987. >Flecks of metal and paint cover her face.
  988. >”You can tell me.”
  989. >You feel your own eyes watering.
  990. >This mare has helped you so much.
  991. >You’d still be chained to that wall if she didn’t take that gun.
  992. >Whether it is for her or yourself, you don’t know, but you pull her in for a hug.
  993. “Oh, Coco.”
  994. >”That bad, huh?” she wavers. “That’s alright. At least we are free.”
  995. >Though she can’t see, you offer her a weak smile.
  996. “At least we’re free.”
  997. >Apple Cider pops her head in through the back window.
  998. >”Look what I found,” she says while holding out some aluminum foil.
  999. >You bat it out of her hoof.
  1000. >”Hey!”
  1001. ”Can’t you see we’re having a moment?”
  1002. >Apple picks up the foil and tries to collect as much of the spilled powder as possible.
  1003. >”I can see you two are crying like little fillies. We escaped. The world is ours now.”
  1004. >You’re annoyed when Coco pulls away from you to turn toward her.
  1005. >Apple always ruins things.
  1006. >”What did she find?”
  1007. >She would only be picking up one thing.
  1008. “Heroin.”
  1009. >”Yeah, and there’s only two more pouches worth.”
  1010. >”You shouldn’t be smoking that. It’s bad for you.”
  1011. >”I just need a little so I can sleep. The moon is really bright today.”
  1012. >”Is it?” Coco wavers again.
  1013. “Coco can’t see, alright?” You wave a hoof at Apple. “Just do your drugs away from us.”
  1014. >”Of course she can’t. All that stuff is caked on her face. Hold on a second.”
  1015. >You press your lips together.
  1016. >“Let me clean it for you.”
  1017. >She pours some water over a cloth before gently wiping Coco’s face.
  1018. >”Does this hurt?”
  1019. >”Not really.”
  1020. >The blood comes away, but her face is still swollen.
  1021. >”Your eyes feel fine.”
  1022. “What would bad eyes even feel like?”
  1023. >”I don’t know. Smushed? Can you open them?”
  1024. >”I’ll try.”
  1025. >Her eyelids flutter, but they only open a hair.
  1026. 25/31
  1027. >”It’s really fuzzy.”
  1028. “You can see?!”
  1029. >”I think so, but I still can’t open them.”
  1030. >”The same thing happened to my sister. I bucked her in the face and she couldn’t open her eyes for a day. Mom was so mad…”
  1031. >”So I’ll get better?”
  1032. >”Yeah. Looks like your helmet got hit, and then cut your face. You’ll be fine tomorrow. Anyway, I couldn’t find any food, but you can have this water.”
  1033. >She drops a bottle on the seat.
  1034. ”Thanks, Apple.”
  1035. >”No problem. You saved us.”
  1036. >With that she goes back into the bed of the truck, probably to smoke her heroin.
  1037. >Punda lets out a low snore, before shifting.
  1038. ”I guess she was right. We got worked up over nothing.”
  1039. >”Yeah,” Coco smiles. “But it’s alright. You’re still just a filly.”
  1040. >Not this again.
  1041. >You push away from her.
  1042. “No I’m not.”
  1043. >This makes her laugh.
  1044. >”I’m just playing with you, Meteor.” She inches forward, until her hoof touches yours. ”You were very brave today.”
  1045. “I didn’t do much.”
  1046. >”We’d still be locked up, or worse if you didn’t grab the gun.”
  1047. ”But it was you who started this. You grabbed the gun first.”
  1048. >”Sure. I started it, but you made it happen. You fixed the machine gun, saved Punda, and then came back for me.”
  1049. ”I guess we could argue all night over who did what.”
  1050. >”Yeah, so just accept my compliment.”
  1051. >She leans forward and nuzzles you.
  1052. >She’s so soft.
  1053. >You can’t help yourself and nuzzle her back.
  1054. >”I’m getting pretty sleepy. We should get some rest.”
  1055. >You doubt Apple and Coco will be able to fit on the bench together comfortably.
  1056. >Apple will probably want to sleep in the front seat like Punda.
  1057. ”Okay. Should we sleep head to hoof?”
  1058. >”So you can kick me in the middle of the night? Just sleep right here.”
  1059. >A hoof reaches out and pulls you closer.
  1060. >She nuzzles your mane, almost insisting that you lean into her neck.
  1061. >She smells so good.
  1062. 26/31
  1063. >After a moment you stop resisting and close your eyes.
  1064. >You move a bit to find a better position.
  1065. >Her breath seems to mix with yours, but it isn’t unpleasant.
  1066. >In fact, you think you like it.
  1067. >You close your eyes, and drift off.
  1068. >
  1069. >
  1070. >The sun is just peeking over the horizon when you wake.
  1071. >During the night, Coco rolled on her side and her lips just barely graze your cheek.
  1072. >One of her hooves kick out absently.
  1073. >What is she dreaming about?
  1074. >Soon enough the other ponies wake up.
  1075. >Punda and Apple collect baobabs, and you all sit around to enjoy them.
  1076. >One small puddle offers water, but it’s murky, and filled with mosquito larva.
  1077. >Coco thinks it would be better not to drink it, so you share what is left in your bottle.
  1078. >At least she can see now.
  1079. >You drive for hours looking for Starlight.
  1080. >Punda moves slowly, since he doesn’t want to kick up too much dust.
  1081. >Just when you are about to give up hope, Coco speaks up.
  1082. >”Look! Ponies!”
  1083. >In the distance are two Pegasi staring from tree branches.
  1084. >Each of them brandish rifles, though they aren’t aiming at you.
  1085. >Punda stops the car well in advance of them.
  1086. “What are you doing? Keep going.”
  1087. >”They may think we intend to attack. Then they won’t hold back.”
  1088. ”We’re ponies. They wouldn’t shoot us.”
  1089. >”But, we are in !Xhaba’s truck. We don’t even know if they are free ponies.”
  1090. >”What if they belong to Mbantuwe?”
  1091. ”That isn’t possible. Ponies wouldn’t work for these people.”
  1092. >”If they belong to Mbantuwe, then us they will surely slay.”
  1093. >”How much ammo do we have?”
  1094. >”Half a belt, and one magazine.”
  1095. “You aren’t seriously thinking about shooting them, are you?”
  1096. >”No. We’re just being cautious.”
  1097. >”Right. I’ll get on the machine gun.”
  1098. >Apple climbs over you and through the small window.
  1099. >Punda slowly turns the truck so it is perpendicular to them.
  1100. >It won’t be a great angle for the gun, but it will be enough.
  1101. 27/31
  1102. >The Pegasi exchange glances, before lifting their rifles.
  1103. >Seconds pass.
  1104. “This is silly. We came all this way to stop now? I’ll go.”
  1105. >”Wait, Meteor.”
  1106. >You ignore Coco and open the door facing them.
  1107. >With a quick hop you are on the ground and wave.
  1108. “Hey! We’re looking for Starlight!”
  1109. >”Stay where you are!” One of them yells.
  1110. >You take a step forward.
  1111. “We just escaped! You have to help us!”
  1112. >”I said stop moving!”
  1113. >He aims down his sight.
  1114. >Apple swings her gun to face them.
  1115. >”Who do you work for? !Xhaba!? Mbantuwe!?”
  1116. ”We ran away from !Xhaba!”
  1117. >”That’s what the last ponies said.”
  1118. >Last ponies?
  1119. >Did other ponies attack them?
  1120. “What do you mean?”
  1121. >Coco hops out of the car and stands beside you.
  1122. >”Please help us. We don’t have any water.”
  1123. >”You have guns.”
  1124. >Punda leans out his window.
  1125. >”We had to kill many men to disappear. Then we drove a full day before arriving here. How could we betray you, after all we have been through?”
  1126. >They ignore you and argue among themselves.
  1127. >After a moment one turns back.
  1128. >”Alright. The rest of you stay where you are. Just send the filly.”
  1129. >Sweet Celestia!
  1130. >If you have to hear that one more time…
  1131. >”I’m not a filly!” You grab a boulder and grunt as you lift it with your magic. “And this is what I think about !Xhaba!”
  1132. >You feel the rock in midair, and find its fault.
  1133. >All rocks have them.
  1134. >You squeeze your magic and it explodes into a thousand pieces.
  1135. >Apple neighs behind you, nearly falling out of her seat.
  1136. >Small chunks of rock impact the car.
  1137. >It almost sounds like a hail storm.
  1138. >Coco turns to you.
  1139. >”I didn’t know you could do that.”
  1140. >You have to take several breaths before responding.
  1141. ”Neither did I.”
  1142. >The Pegasi argue among themselves again.
  1143. >Their hooves wave up and down.
  1144. >It looks like one wants to shoot you, while the other is willing to take a chance.
  1145. >The stallion relents, and speaks.
  1146. >”Follow Songbird.”
  1147. 28/31
  1148. >The mare flies into the air, and hovers while waiting.
  1149. >Her mane is yellow and black, and seemingly covers her eyes.
  1150. >You and Coco climb into the truck before Punda follows her.
  1151. >She takes you through several winding roads.
  1152. >You have to avoid six broken trucks.
  1153. >They are riddled with bullets, and one barely resembles a vehicle.
  1154. >The hulks are half buried so as to serve as barriers.
  1155. >You also see armed ponies watching human children in muddy pools.
  1156. >They take handfulls of mud, and place it into buckets, before another shifts away the mud into another pile.
  1157. >A girl picks up a rock, and it glints.
  1158. >Must be a gemstone or something.
  1159. >At the camp, half of the buildings are burned down, or hardly more than rubble.
  1160. >The other structures are in disrepair.
  1161. >They really were attacked.
  1162. >”Wait here while I talk to Starlight Glimmer,” Songbird says.
  1163. >She zooms ahead and lands next to a Unicorn with a pink coat and purple mane.
  1164. >Several men with blue helmets stand next to them.
  1165. >Behind the two ponies are massive trucks carrying wooden crates.
  1166. >A few have already been unloaded.
  1167. >Their vehicles are larger than any you have seen before.
  1168. >Who are they?
  1169. >The Unicorn tosses a bag at one of the men with blue helmets.
  1170. >He weighs it in his hand, before motioning for his friends to mount up.
  1171. >They climb onto their massive machines, and kick out the last few boxes.
  1172. >With that done, they quickly leave.
  1173. >Then you notice the ponies looking at you with caution.
  1174. >A few of them have rifles at the ready.
  1175. >One has a rocket launcher pointed at you.
  1176. “This is it.”
  1177. >You open up a door.
  1178. >The pony you assume is Starlight waves a hoof and the others relax slightly.
  1179. >”All of you. Show yourselves.”
  1180. >Coco, Punda and Apple dismount and stand next to you.
  1181. >”What do we have here? A Zebra, a wounded mare, a…” Her brows furrow. “What looks like an addict, and a filly.”
  1182. >This time you don’t shout.
  1183. “I’m not a filly.”
  1184. 29/31
  1185. >”No?” She smirks. “Either way, you’re still four more mouths to feed.”
  1186. ”Please. We’ve-“
  1187. >“Yes, yes. I heard your story. Your supposed story anyway.”
  1188. >”You don’t believe us?” Coco asks.
  1189. >“Do you have proof?”
  1190. >”Don’t you see the bullet holes?” Punda waves at the truck. “We had to steal two cars to escape with our souls.”
  1191. >”Any truck could have bullet holes. These people, if you can call them that, don’t care about anything. Did you bring anything worthwhile?”
  1192. >”Just ourselves,” Coco confesses.
  1193. >Starlight scrunches her nose like she smells something foul.
  1194. “We know !Xhaba plans on attacking you today. We heard it from one of his lieutenants.”
  1195. >”Faili?”
  1196. >You shake your head.
  1197. “No. Unbaba.”
  1198. >Starlight waves a hoof dismissively.
  1199. >”I don’t know him.”
  1200. >”It’s true. We all heard it.”
  1201. “We know how many technicals he has, and how many soldiers,” you lie.
  1202. >You know he has maybe two hundred men, but you don’t have a good count.
  1203. >You can’t even be sure how many trucks he has.
  1204. >!Xhaba and Faili have many outposts.
  1205. >What if they have one of those monsters, like the men with the blue helmets?
  1206. >Glimmer stares you down like she is looking into your very being.
  1207. >Her piercing gaze is too much and you have to look away.
  1208. “Please. We have nowhere to go.”
  1209. >You feel your eyes watering.
  1210. >This was supposed to be your salvation.
  1211. >What will you do if they don’t accept you?
  1212. >Just drive and drive until you run out of gas?
  1213. >You look back at Starlight, and see her resolve weakening.
  1214. >”Songbird?”
  1215. >”Yes?”
  1216. >She waves her hoof.
  1217. >”Give them some rifles.”
  1218. >”Sure.”
  1219. >“And you had better not be lying.”
  1220. “We’re not.”
  1221. >Songbird leads you to what you would describe as a hut if you were feeling generous.
  1222. >Straw is piled next to the walls like makeshift beds.
  1223. >"I'm sorry it's not much," Songbird says as she opens a crate.
  1224. >The box reveals a few rifles, the same kind you've been using.
  1225. 30/31
  1226. “It's better than what we're used to. Thank you.”
  1227. >She slumps slightly, but tries to hide it.
  1228. >"Magazines are in the other container. Are you hungry?"
  1229. "We could use some water."
  1230. >"I'll bring you a few bottles."
  1231. "Thanks."
  1232. >Songbird takes one last look at you before flying off.
  1233. >Coco nudges your shoulder.
  1234. >”At least now we’re safe.”
  1235. >”It is dangerous to say that, you’ll doom us with that chitchat.”
  1236. >”Punda, you are too superstitious.”
  1237. “He’s right though. We don’t know if we really are safe.”
  1238. >”You think !Xhaba will attack?”
  1239. ”Maybe… Since we ran away he will want to get new ponies.”
  1240. >”But he doesn’t have enough ammo for that, right?”
  1241. ”I don’t know, but if I ever see them again, I'm going to kill them.”
  1242. >Your ears lift.
  1243. >What is that?
  1244. >You move to the window.
  1245. >You focus more and finally hear it.
  1246. >It almost sounds like a guitar.
  1247. >A guitar over the roar of engines.
  1248. >”Oh, no,” Apple whispers.
  1249. >Your heart sinks.
  1250. >Somepony blows a whistle several times, and you can hear your new friends shouting.
  1251. >A few run past your door toward the sound.
  1252. >You can hear crates being pried open.
  1253. >”These ponies can’t take another attack.”
  1254. >You all grab rifles before moving back to the window.
  1255. >Coco and Apple push against you to get a better look.
  1256. >A dozen trucks are kicking up dust as they approach.
  1257. >One is huge, almost as big as what the men with blue helmets have.
  1258. >The gunners don't look like people.
  1259. >Are they... Diamond Dogs?
  1260. >Yes!
  1261. >Diamond Dogs, Griffons, and ponies.
  1262. >The flyers hop off the trucks and soar into the air.
  1263. >One Griffon is wearing a leather jacket.
  1264. >You load a new magazine.
  1265. >Revenge will have to wait.
  1266. >"Who are they?"
  1267. >You pull on the bolt and it slides back into place.
  1268. "Gilda and The Boys."
  1269. 31/31
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