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Heart of War: The Making of a Mercenary

LukeDaDuke Aug 20th, 2016 (edited) 458 Never
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  1. >Be August Thrust.
  2. >Living on the coastal town of Vanhoover working at a steel mill.
  3. >You have a loving wife, Mary Sue, with two beautiful colts, Fate and Chance.
  4. >It’s been a couple years after the 2nd Costal War.
  5. >By Celestia’s blessing you weren’t called to serve.
  6. >Work at the mill is hard, but it’s an honest living.
  7. >With the economy still on a military basis you’re lucky to even have a job.
  8. >But things are looking up, many of the old soldiers are adjusting back to society.
  9. >Then everything changed one fateful day.
  10. >You are working at your usual machine when you get a tap on your side.  
  11. >”Hey August we need to talk.”
  12. “Sure thing.”
  13. >Your manager leads you to his office.
  14. “So what’s up?”
  15. >”Have you heard anything about the cutbacks?”
  16. “N-no. No haven’t heard a thing.”
  17. >”Well it looks like we might have to let some stallions go and your name came up.”
  18. “Did I do something wrong? My work has been good-“
  19. >”Your work has been phenomenal actually, it’s just a seniority thing, ya just don’t got it.”
  20. “Seniority. Look Mr. Grind I really need this job. Is there anything you can do to help me out? I’ll take less money, work fewer hours-”
  21. >”Look I know that you need it, and seeing how hard of a worker ya are I was trying to work something out. The new plant up in the Crystal Empire needs a temporary supervisor manager, it’s a salary job so it’s more money.”
  22. “That sounds awesome, I-“
  23. >”Temporary supervisor manager. It’s only going to last til the end of the year, then ya getting the boot out. I know it’s not much but hopefully it will give you enough time to find a new job.”
  24. “Mr. Grind, I can’t thank you enough.”
  26. ***
  28. >Months go by.
  29. >You took advantage of the newfound income to save.
  30. >Save as many bits as possible before your time is up.
  31. >Finding a new job in this economy is next to impossible. And with more and more soldiers returning home competition gets tighter and tighter.
  32. >It’s now your last week of work.
  33. >All of your free time is spent filling out job applications.
  34. >Your wife took up giving music lessons to earn some extra bits.
  35. >Currently you are out on a walk talking with your Dad, Julius Thrust.
  36. ”Hey thanks for looking after the boys Dad. It’s just with Mary out and me-”
  37. >”It’s my pleasure son, seeing the two grow up reminds me of you and your brother.”
  38. >You just stay silent and look at the old stallion.
  39. “I told you I don’t ever want to hear about him.”
  40. >”Look I know you two have your differences, but that’s no reason to go on shunning him, he made a mistake and already payed his dues. What more could you ask?”
  41. “Maybe you’re right, but now is just not the time.”
  42. >”Everypony has their own pace son. Just remember family is just as important as a job.”
  43. >You both just sit quietly next to each other.
  44. >You contemplate on that statement until the silence is broken by your Dad.
  45. >“It’s getting late, the two should be getting out from school by now. Go on and get some rest, I’ll walk 'em home.”
  46. “Thanks Dad. I’ll see you at dinner.”
  47. >…
  48. >”Where are they? It’s been over two hours.”
  49. “Honey calm down, I bet he just stopped and got them ice cream or something.”
  50. >A loud knock sounded on your door.
  51. “See, here they are right-”
  52. >Instead of being greeted by your Dad and colts, two police officers are at the door.
  53. “Hello, can I help you two?”
  54. >The two looked on with solemn sober eyes.
  55. >”Mr. Thrust?”
  56. “Yes, is there a problem?”
  57. >”Father of Chance and Fate Thrust?”
  58. >Your wife walks up behind you.
  59. >”What’s wrong August?”
  60. >”Sir, we are here to inform you that there has been an accident.”
  61. “What type of accident?! Where are my COLTS AND FATHER?!”
  62. >”There was a loose cart on Main St. and...”
  63. >The officer stuttered for a second.
  64. >”Fate and your father are currently in surgery right now.”
  65. >”What about Chance? Where is he? Is he in surgery too?!”
  66. >The two looked at each other nervously.
  67. >”Ma’am, we’re sorry to say this, but your son Chance didn’t surv-“
  68. >Before the Officer could finish his sentence Mary burst through the two with tears in her eyes and sprinted down the street.
  69. “Mary! MARY WAIT!”
  70. >You push past the two stunned officers and run after her.
  71. >They try to follow but their armor weighed them down too much.
  72. >Oh Celestia please let them be okay.
  74. ***
  76. >Today is cold.
  77. >Freezing actually.
  78. >The weather team must've moved in too many storm clouds or something.
  79. >A knocking sound comes from the door along with a head.
  80. >"Mr. Thrust we are ready to begin."
  81. "Alright I will be just another minute."
  82. >Hearing the door close you look in the mirror to see if anything is out of place.
  83. >Your tie is a little crocked.
  84. >A quick little adjustment.
  85. >Nice and straight.
  86. >Coming out from bathroom doors you walk quickly to the front of the abbey.
  87. >An assortment of ponies are sitting patiently for you.
  88. >Some family and friends, nothing too big.
  89. >You sit down in the front next to Mary.
  90. >Her head hung low making her slouch.
  91. >She was wearing a full black dress with a veil covering her eyes.
  92. >You couldn't see them, but could tell she has been crying recently.
  93. >Not like you can blame her.
  94. >You put a hoof over her shoulder and she leans into you.
  95. >A couple tears fall onto your lap.
  96. >Tears can be felt swelling up in your eyes as well.
  97. >It's been over a month since the accident.
  98. >The bodies were already buried, but due to financial reasons the memorial had to be postponed to today.
  99. >You nod towards the pony standing at the podium.
  100. >"Friends, family, we are gathered here today to commemorate the lives of Chance and Julius Thrust..."
  101. >...
  102. "That was a beautiful service, thank you."
  103. >"I know times may be bleak right now, but if you keep faith in the Princesses you will be blessed in the end. Don't lose hope."
  104. >You turn away from the old stallion and walk your wife home.
  105. >It rains on you both hard until you finally walk inside your apartment.
  106. >Mary sits down on the couch still wearing her soaking clothes.
  107. >You sit down next to her and hold her close.
  108. >Burring her face into your chest she let's it all out again.
  109. >Tears soak your still wet coat.
  110. >As it continues you feel a tear fall from your cheek.
  111. "Everything will be okay. We will make it through this."
  112. >The only response is more tears.
  113. >Eventually Mary falls asleep in your chest.
  114. >Quietly taking her upstairs you put her in your bed.
  115. "I love you Mary. Sleep well."
  116. >You leave a soft kiss her on the forehead.
  117. "What are we going to do?"
  118. >You drop your head into your hooves and kneel at the side of the bed.
  119. >Slowly but surely the tears start to come out.
  120. "Oh Luna please give my son and wife pleasant dreams tonight. Something to make them happy. Please give them some temporary relief. Just a quick escape from the pain of this world. That's all I ask."
  122. >Your son.
  123. >Fate.
  124. >Fate was still alive.
  125. >The accident made him lame in his back legs but he was still alive.
  126. >The doctors gave him a back leg chair with wheels so he can still walk around.
  127. >Hopefully since he is still young he can adjust fast and try to continue having a normal life.
  128. >You walk into his room.
  129. >He was sleeping so peacefully.
  130. >You give him a kiss on his forehead and then walk back downstairs.
  131. >You sit back down on the tear soaked couch.
  132. "Why us? Why now?"
  133. >More tears fall from your face.
  134. >Just before you let it all out a knock comes from the front door.
  135. >What?
  136. >Looking at the clock it reads 1 A.M.
  137. >Who the heck is out this late?
  138. >You swing open the door to see who it was.
  139. >Standing on the other side of your stood a tall white coated stallion.
  140. >"Hey August, been awhile."
  141. >It was your brother March.
  142. >No words, just action.
  143. >You immediately throw a hoof into his face.
  144. >He lands with a thud on the wet concrete outside.
  145. >"Okay. I deserve that."
  146. >You close the door behind you and grab him by the collar.
  147. "What makes you think I want to see you!"
  148. >It took every never in your body to stop yourself from shouting your lungs out.
  149. "After I had a talk with Dad I was actually ready to forgive you, but missing Chance AND HIS funeral!?"
  150. >A little slip.
  151. >You look through the window to see if anypony was coming down the stairs.
  152. >Still asleep, good.
  153. >"Look, I can explain. Work was on the entire opposite side of Equestria and-"
  154. "AND what? You can't take a two days off?! I sent that letter to you weeks in advance!"
  155. >"I didn't come here to fight! And I damn sure ain't going to."
  156. >You prepare to throw another hoof at him but stop.
  157. >"I can't imagine what this has been like for you. Loosing Chance. Dad."
  158. >You see tears fall from his face.
  159. >"I'm sorry, I-I just..."
  160. >He pulls a hoof over you and gives a hug.
  161. >"I'm sorry. I'm sorry for everything!"
  162. >The anger just seems to flush away.
  163. >As he begins to sob some more you return the hug.
  164. "I'm sorry too, I am just so stressed right now. It is so good to see you March."
  165. >"I'm GLaD to see you too. Are you are getting some time off from work to clear your head. Get everything situated and processed?"
  166. "*Sigh* There, there were some cutbacks at the factory. I got laid off."
  167. >"Oh jeez...I can help you out if you want, I got some extra bits from my last contract and-"
  168. "We'll be alright, I have some savings still and Celestia will always be there for us."
  169. >The two of you stand there for a moment.
  170. >"I should let you get some sleep, it's late. I'll see you later okay."
  171. "Yeah. I'll see you later."
  172. >...
  173. >School is starting again.
  174. >You and Mary watch from the doorway as Fate gets ready.
  175. >The wheels squeak with each turn he makes.
  176. >"Hey sweetie."
  177. >"Hey Mom, Hey Dad."
  178. "How are you doing?"
  179. >"I miss them."
  180. >"We miss them too."
  181. >"I don't understand, why did grandpa and Chance have to die?"
  182. "Sometimes things like this happens, I know it's hard to understand. There's nopony to blame."
  183. >"Your father and I want you to know that we love you very much."
  184. >"Yeah, I love you both too."
  186. ***
  188. >Two months later.
  189. >"You are doing very good Fate. Keep up the exercises and you can be out running with your friends."
  190. >You watch from a hallway window as Fate does exercises with a nurse.
  191. >Physical therapy after school must be exhausting for a colt his size.
  192. >You feel a presence to your left.
  193. >Walking towards you is the Doctor who has been monitoring Fate's condition.
  194. >He was an older stallion, probably late 50's with his graying mane that he pulled back to form a ponytail.
  195. >He wore glasses that sat above his just as gray mustache that practically covered his mouth when closed.
  196. >Isn't that a sanitation hazard or something?
  197. "Hey Doc, my colt's doing pretty good huh?"
  198. >"He sure seems to be improving."
  199. "So what's up? The other patient's heal up on you already?"
  200. >"Actually it is about Fate."
  201. "What about him? Does he have to go back into surgery?"
  202. >"Oh no, his surgery time is over...hopefully."
  203. "What do you mean hopefully?"
  204. >"When we took his vitals the nurse informed me on an irregularity with his heartbeat. Have you noticed him being dizzy or lightheaded?"
  205. "I have noticed him being more tired than usual, but with him at school and coming here afterwards I assumed he was just burnt out from the day."
  206. >"Has he ever complained about pains in his chest?"
  207. "No, he never complained to me at least."
  208. >"Does he have a hard time breathing when asleep or laying down?"
  209. "I-I'm not sure. What's this all about?"
  210. >"Well just as a precaution I would like to set him up for an X-Ray."
  211. >He stares at you for a second.
  212. >"Ah relax Mr. Thrust, like you said he most likely is just fatigued, he has a lot on his plate."
  213. >Must've noticed the worried look on your face.
  214. >"Besides, we have the best unicorns in all of Equestria working here, their steady horns and eyes will find any complications."
  215. "Well let's hope they don't find any complications."
  216. >"Yes, let's hope."
  217. >With that the Doctor takes his leave and you resume watching Fate.
  218. >...
  219. >A tumor.
  220. >A tumor at his age.
  221. >"I suggest we act as aggressive as possible. Surgery is the best option although with him so young there is a possibility he might not survive."
  222. >"Are there any other options? Can't the unicorns shoot a condensed beam of magic to destroy it? Like with how they did the X-Ray? What about medicine? I have been reading there are some herbs the Griffons use to-"
  223. >"Mrs. Thrust I will be blunt. If we don't operate, the growth can spread or even shut down his heart. It's all or nothing I'm afraid."
  224. >The Doctor's words echo through your brain.
  225. "If you believe surgery can save his life, then we should proceed."
  226. >"No! It can kill him! I don't want to bury another foal. I'm his mother, I won't allow it!"
  227. "Mary if we don't operate Fate WILL DIE! AND IT WILL BE YOUR FAULT THAT HE'LL BE DEAD!"
  228. >She stares in shock at you.
  229. >You stare back just as shocked.
  230. "M-Mary, I-I didn't mean-"
  231. >A hoof strikes your face.
  232. >You look up and see her steaming with rage.
  233. >"Doctor, what are the chances of a fatality?"
  234. >"N-not even 15%. I can assure you we have the best surgeons in all of Equ-."
  235. >"Fine. Do it!"
  236. >She storms out of the room leaving you alone with the Doctor.
  237. >"In my professional opinion I suggest you give her some space for now."
  238. >All you could do for now is think of how in Celestia you're going to apologize.
  239. >...
  240. >Surgery day.
  241. >You trot as fast as you can next to nurses pulling Fate on a gurney towards his surgery room.
  242. >A large securitypony pulls you off to the side.
  243. >"Sorry, that area is restricted!"
  244. "That's my son! Where do you expect me to go?"
  245. >"The amphitheater seats are that way."
  246. >He points a hoof down a hallway to a sign above a door that states 'Surgery Theater'.
  247. >"You can keep an eye on your son from there."
  248. >Walking into the room you see Mary.
  249. >You cautiously sit down next to her seeing if she is still mad.
  250. "Hey."
  251. >Silence.
  252. >Yup still mad.
  253. >Not like you could blame her.
  254. >You both sit together in silence as your 'show' begins.
  256. ***
  258. >You sit at the dining room table fumbling through bills.
  260. INVOICE #31415
  261. Payment Terms: Bi-Monthly
  262. Due Date: PAST DUE
  264. Charges: 2,500.00
  265. Payments: 0
  267. >You see your wife with tired eyes looking at you from the doorway.
  268. >*Yawn* "You're still up?"
  269. "We can just barely pay off the hospital bill, but I don't know how we're going to live. We won't be able to get groceries, what about rent, and-"
  270. >"We'll be fine August. What matters is that Fate is going to be okay."
  271. >She lifts your head with a hoof and gives you a kiss.
  272. "I just feel so worthless. I can't even provide for my own family!"
  273. >"Don't say things like that! You are not worthless! You sacrifice and give all you can for us! Without you I would've never made it through Fate's surgery, and with Dad and Chance's accident I-I...
  274. >Her throat goes hoarse for a second.
  275. >You see tears start to swell up in her eyes.
  276. >Before they can bloom you leap up and give her a warm hug.
  277. >"Don't *Sniff* Don't ever say you are worthless.*Sniff* Ever."
  278. "You're right honey, we'll get through this together. We always have."
  279. >You both stand together embraced in each others hooves.
  280. >You feel a tear roll down your cheek.
  281. "I am so sorry."
  282. >"Huh?"
  283. "In the Doctor's Office, I had no right to say what I said."
  284. >"You had every right to be angry, I probably would've killed our only-"
  285. "No! No matter how angry or stressed a pony gets that is no excuse for me putting that on you. Can you forgive me?"
  286. >"Of course I can you big dope."
  287. >She gives you a peck on the lips and drops the hug.
  288. >"Come to bed, I know you're tired."
  289. "Yeah, I'll be up in a minute. Let me put this stuff away for now."
  290. >"Alright. I love you."
  291. "I love you too."
  292. >You gather your thoughts.
  293. >Things aren't too bad.
  294. >They can be sure as heck worse.
  295. >Yeah bits will be pretty tight, but you'll survive.
  296. >As you are about to head upstairs, a knock can be heard from your door.
  297. *Sigh* "Who is it?"
  298. >"August it's me open up!"
  299. >Is your brother part bat? Why does he always visit at night?
  300. >You reluctantly open the door.
  301. >As the door swings open you see your brother carrying bouquet of flowers.
  302. "Hey March, what are you doing here?"
  303. >"I got your letter about Fate's surgery, decided I would come as soon as possible. I was also hoping me and you could talk. Um...these are for you guys."
  304. >There was a small banner across the bouquet that read, 'Get Well Soon'.
  305. "Thank you, Mary will really appreciate them, not sure how much Fate will with his allergies."
  306. >"Aw jeez I forgot. I knew I should've gotten the balloons."
  307. "No no it's fine, I bet he'll still love them."
  308. >You pull out a vase with water and set the flowers down.
  309. "Where did you even come from? It's not like the trains run overnight."
  310. >"I actually just got done with a contract up in YakYakistan."
  311. "YakYakistan! Haven't you been reading the papers? Tensions are getting high again between us and them. Heck I wouldn't be traveling to any of our neighbors anytime soon."
  312. >"It's fine, just part of the job. Which is actually what I wanted to talk to you about."
  313. "So what's up?"
  314. >"I think I might be able to get you a job working with me."
  315. >You are jolted awake at that statement.
  316. >This could be what you were looking for.
  317. "Really? Where at? What's the pay like? Any benefits?"
  318. >"Might have! Not definitely. You still need to go through the interview. Even then it's not guaranteed, it sometimes depends on what you are willing to do."
  319. >You eye March cautiously.
  320. "What do you mean willing to do?"
  321. >"August, have you ever heard of an association called, 'The Galloping Iron'?"
  323. "Mercenaries? You want me to become a mercenary?!"
  324. >"Technically it's a privatized security company."
  325. "By Luna's Moon, March I have a family to support, I can't go off fighting rich ponies wars."
  326. >"It's not like that."
  327. "Oh really? Then enlighten me, what does your 'security company' do?"
  328. >"Look it all depends on what the contract is."
  329. >He sits down on your couch.
  330. >"My contract in YakYakistan, all we had to do was watch over ponies at a lumber camp."
  331. "Why would you need to watch over them?"
  332. >"I don't know or care, the point is it's easy bits! I got 1500.00 for just standing in a tower!"
  333. "I still don't know."
  334. >"What's not to know? August you're drowning in debt, you have no job! What's your plan for the future?"
  335. "Me and Mary will make it through this. We're hoping that-"
  336. >"Oh grow up! You can't live off of 'hope' forever."
  337. >He reaches his mouth into his pocket and pulls out a small business card.
  338. >"Drop by when you're ready to start providing for your family again."
  339. >He gets up and turns to leave.
  340. >"I'll be in town for a week, talk to Mary or do whatever you need to do, just don't take too long."
  341. >And with that he walks off into the night.
  342. >You head is pounding from what he said.
  343. >..'start providing for your family'..
  344. >You look at the clock, 4 A.M.
  345. >With Fates surgery and you organizing your bills and budget, you've been awake for over thirty hours.
  346. "I need to take a long sleep on this."
  347. >You tip-hoof upstairs trying not to wake either of your family members.
  348. >Opening your bedroom door just wide enough before it creaks, you side step in.
  349. >Using all your strength you hold back the urge to flop yourself down.
  350. >Carefully and quietly you lift the sheet up and crawl next to Mary.
  351. >Her soft coat feels so warm against your cold belly.
  352. >You let the heaviness of your eyelids fall shut.
  353. >Second by second.
  354. >Your mind starts letting go of all your stress, and eventually you fall into a deep sleep.
  355. >...
  356. >"Rise and shine. You don't plan on sleeping all day do you?"
  357. >Mary's sweet soothing voice dances through your eardrums as you're resurrected back into reality.
  358. >Stretching out of bed you hear the cracks of stiff bones adjusting from their unmoved positions.
  359. "Morning Mary, what's for breakfast?"
  360. >"I'm afraid that's been over for a while now."
  361. "What time is it?"
  362. >"It's almost 2 o'clock."
  363. >You choke over your own breath discovering half the day is already gone.
  364. >"Luna must've gave you something special last night."
  365. >Mary folds clothes away into their respectable drawers while you sit upright on the bed.
  366. >Her flank leans side to side while her hips sway to the sound of an unheard beat.
  367. "I don't need sweet dreams as long as you are always with me."
  368. >You see a tiny blush come from the side of her face.
  369. >She turns and sees you upright on the bed still being mesmerized by her flank.
  370. >Casually as possible she drops one of your shirts.
  371. >Bending over, her skirt ever slowly rises, just before it completely exposes her, then drops back down.
  372. >In a sultry voice she addresses you.
  373. >"Since you are so rested, maybe you can help me change our bed spread."
  374. "I'd be GLaD to lend a hoof."
  375. >Lifting her onto your back you carry her honeymoon style to the bed.
  376. >As you get close she pulls you downward.
  377. >You find yourself on your back with her on top.
  378. >As her lips meet yours you grab hold of her hypnotizing flank.
  379. >Pushing forward you prod with your tongue meeting resistance, but soon her own mouth opens to accept.
  380. >A light sweet flavor crosses onto your tongue as her saliva coats it liberally with each swirl.
  381. >Laying there in each others hooves, you proceed to 'change the sheets'.
  382. >...
  383. >Mary folds down a corner of her sheet into the fold while you continue to struggle to get your corner in.
  384. >Why do they make these so dang tight?
  385. >"You got your end dear?"
  386. "Almost. Aaaaaaand GOT IT!"
  387. >You fall back onto your flank as you finally tuck in that last corner.
  388. >The clock rings strikes a quarter to four.
  389. >Almost time to pick Fate up from Physical Therapy.
  390. >As you both walk down the street Mary nudges against you.
  391. >"So what kept you last night? You said you'd be right up."
  392. "March decided to stop by. Did you see the flowers?"
  393. >"Yeah I saw them, they were nice. What'd he have to say?"
  394. "He wanted to offer me a job."
  395. >"That's excellent! What did you tell him?"
  396. "Nothing, I wanted to talk to you about it first."
  397. >"How sweet of you, so what's the job?"
  398. "He wants me to become a mercenary."
  399. >Her eyes widen with a mix of horror and anger.
  400. >"Absolutely not! I won't have my husband fighting other ponies battles! What makes you even think this is a good idea!?"
  401. "I know that, but how long can we last living like this? Every day that goes by, I feel as if I am letting you and Fate down."
  402. >"That doesn't matter to me, as long as you are here, with your family."
  403. >She jumps in front of you and stares her pearly eyes into yours.
  404. >"With me."
  405. "I know it doesn't matter to you, but it matters to me. There's no harm in just inquiring a little more."
  406. >"I know how you are, you're not going to let this go are you?"
  407. "This could be the opportunity we are looking for."
  408. >"It sounds like a big company, there has to be other opportunities than just being a soldier of fortune. I don't want you in danger, what would me and Fate do if something were to-"
  409. "I know the risks, but if it means providing you both food and shelter it is worth it. We only have one more extension on our rent, and I am not going to see you or Fate on the streets."
  410. >She just frowns at you.
  411. "Let me just get interviewed, that way I can see if there are any safer positions available. Like you said, it's a big company, besides with all the soldiers coming home they're probably sick of mercenary applicants."
  412. >"Alright, you win. Maybe you are right, this can be an opportunity."
  413. "Thanks honey, I'm going to run over to March's hotel room and see if he can set it up. Will you be alright walking home alone?"
  414. >"I'll be fine."
  415. >You give her a quick kiss and go to find March.
  416. >...
  417. >A single bright light.
  418. >Alone in a room.
  419. >March said they only do that to see your reaction, don't be intimidated.
  420. >Two stallions walk and sit across from you.
  421. >They both are wearing dark blue suits, from far away they'd probably look like twins.
  422. "Hello."
  423. >”State your name, age, and place of birth.“
  424. >Jeez is this an interview or interrogation?
  425. >”Just relax pal, my friend here just likes to get down to business. Thank you for coming."
  426. "Thanks for squeezing me in, I know it's an inconvenience but I really appreciate it."
  427. >"Ahem! Name, age, place of birth."
  428. >March probably forced them to do this on their day off or something.
  429. “My name is August Thrust. 34. I was born in Vanhoover.”
  430. >”Ah the coast. Must’ve been fun growing up by the sea.”
  431. “Not really. It mostly rained all the time. Did spend most of my colt life with my Dad fishing though.”
  432. >”Oh well that sounds nice. We grew up in Los Pegasus, riding the waves down there was-”
  433. >”Let’s get down to it. What skills do you have?”
  434. >These two are like Yin and Yang.
  435. “Well I worked in the steel mill before getting laid off.“
  436. >”Yes being on a military build policy can be troubling for the average pony.”
  437. >"Indeed. Which is why we are hiring, so many ponies need protection or need something protected."
  438. "Actually I was wondering if there are other positions available."
  439. >The two look confusingly at you.
  440. >"What do you mean 'other positions'?"
  441. "I mean that you guys probably get swarmed with applications from ex-soldiers coming home from the Second-Coastal War that maybe something smaller was available."
  442. >"No."
  443. >"Now hang on, there is one job..."
  444. >The other stallion glared out of his eyes but kept his composure.
  445. >"Well it's technically not security work, but you would still have to travel with the squad. That's alright isn't it?"
  446. "Uh...yes. Yes definitely."
  447. >"Excellent..."
  448. >...
  449. >"A smith?"
  450. "A travelling blacksmith yes. Isn't it great, it would be just like working at the steel mill again. Except this time I'll be making twice that."
  451. >Marry doesn't look pleased.
  452. "What's wrong?"
  453. >"That's not what I meant when asking for a different position!"
  454. "What do you mean?"
  455. >"August I am happy you got the job, I just wish you got something more...local."
  456. "I know, I'll be away for awhile, but it's not all bad. After every contract we get a two week vacation. And I swear I will spend ever second of it with you and Fate."
  457. >You stoop and giver her a kiss on the cheek.
  458. >"Speaking of contracts, do you know when do you start?"
  459. >You shift nervously in your hooves.
  460. "Yeah, about that, I actually head out..."
  461. >Your wife may be smiling but her eyes have daggers.
  462. "...tomorrow."
  463. >"I can't BELIEVE YOU!"
  464. >She punches you hard in the side.
  465. "I know it's last minute, but we could really use the bits."
  466. >"Not even a weeks notice and they're already taking you away from me."
  467. "I'll be perfectly safe. All we have to do is escort some griffon merchants to Jun Hisan. That's not even a weeks journey."
  468. >Her daggers start digging into your skin.
  469. "March agreed to be part of the security team, trust me, I'll be fine."
  470. >"Promise me you'll stay out of the danger."
  471. "Honey please, just because I'm working on their weapons doesn't mean I know how to fight? I don't even understand how they hold t-"
  472. >"Promise me!"
  473. "I..."
  474. >"PROMISE ME!"
  475. "Mary. I promise to stay out of danger."
  476. >"Thank you August."
  477. >She gives you a big hug.
  478. >While embraced you think back to 'Yin and Yang'.
  479. >"Do you realize that you might be sent into hostile or active war zones."
  480. "Yes."
  481. >"Will you take up arms against any pony, griffon, or other being if they try to disrupt your mission contract?"
  482. "Yes."
  483. >"With your signature here, you will be all set. Welcome to The Galloping Iron."
  484. >Lying to Mary is something you wouldn't dream of doing, yet here you are lying straight to her face.
  485. "I promise..."
  487. ***
  489. >You wake up at the break of dawn.
  490. >No, it's not even dawn yet.
  491. >Still pitch black outside.
  492. >Mary is sound asleep next to you.
  493. >It be best to let her sleep.
  494. >You give a quick kiss on her cheek and quietly step out of your room.
  495. >Being a quiet a possible, you slip into Fate's room.
  496. >Dead asleep.
  497. >You give him a quick kiss and a hug and head for the front door.
  498. "Well this is it."
  499. >As you are about to shut the door you hear a voice.
  500. >"Daddy, where are you going?"
  501. >You turn around and see Fate behind you.
  502. "Son what are you doing up? It's too early."
  503. >"Where are you going?"
  504. "Dad just has to go to work out of town for a while."
  505. >"When will you be back?"
  506. "I will be gone a week or two at the most. Don't worry, I will be back, until then you'll be the stallion of the house."
  507. >"Really?"
  508. >His eyes shine as bright as the crystal lantern you're carrying.
  509. "Oh yeah, I can trust you to take care of Mommy while I'm gone right?"
  510. >"You bet I can!"
  511. "That's my colt. Now go on off to bed, you still need your rest."
  512. >"Okay Daddy."
  513. >You give him one last hug before shutting the door behind you.
  514. >The air is cool.
  515. >A chill goes down your spine.
  516. "Just a simple escort, nothing to worry about."
  517. >You make your way to the train station where two boxcars and the engine is.
  518. >On the platform you see March standing with about half a dozen others.
  519. >Two unicorns, a pegasus, a griffon, and two other earth ponies.
  520. "A private train just for us huh."
  521. >"Yeah, at night all the tracks are dead so we can free roam all of Equestria if we wanted too."
  522. "Is this everypony?"
  523. >"Yeah we were pretty much just waiting on you."
  524. "So...where's the Captain? I need to ask him about my tools and-"
  525. >"You're looking at him."
  526. "Wait, what?"
  527. >"Don't worry everything is already in the second car."
  528. >He stands up straight a little bit and clears his throat.
  529. >"Alright everybody get on board, we should hit Griffonstone Station by sunrise."
  530. >As everypony starts walking into the first car you can't help but just stare jaw dropped at March.
  531. >"What?"
  532. "I never thought you of all ponies would want to become a leader of something."
  533. >"I've changed a lot since Vanhoover."
  534. >...
  535. >You both sit through the sounds of the engine and snores.
  536. "Why did you never write home? I can't even count the nights Dad stayed up worrying ab-"
  537. >"Now's not the time for that. Maybe you should get some sleep like the others."
  538. >You look back from the front of he car and see half the squad asleep.
  539. >One of the Unicorns was reading a book, the Griffon was counting bits, and the pegasus was at the back looking in a mirr...wait what?
  540. "Hey March, didn't we only have ONE pegasus with us?"
  541. >"Yeah why?"
  542. "Then who's..."
  543. >You motion with a hoof to the back of the car to a now empty space.
  544. "...that?"
  545. >March looks to the back, then at you.
  546. >"Just get some sleep August."
  547. >Maybe you were tired. Best to get some sleep like he said.
  548. >...
  549. >"Hey, HEY!"
  550. >You are awoken by a pair of hooves nudging you.
  551. >Daylight flooded the car through the windows.
  552. >"Wake up greenhorn. It's time to load your stuff onto the cog."
  553. >Opening your eyes you are greeted by one of the Earth ponies shaking you.
  554. >Weird, he doesn't look like the two who were sleeping last night.
  555. "I'm up. I'm up. Just give me a second okay?."
  556. >"Hurry up then, I want to get this done before they get back."
  557. >You step out of your reclined seat.
  558. >Your legs and back ached from stiffness.
  559. "Get back? Who left?"
  560. >"The others went to go get the Griffons who are paying us! Now come on, the faster we get this done the faster we can relax. Name's Aldo by the way."
  561. "Hello, I'm August."
  562. >"Well August, get your flank moving and help me with your workbench. It's about twice as heavy as a pregnant Yak."
  563. >...
  564. >After moving everything into the thing that looked like a ship, you both decided to relax on the deck.
  565. >You just stare at him, something is definitely different, but you can't see what.
  566. >"I know that look."
  567. >You avert your gaze and freeze with eyes forward.
  568. >"The look of something isn't quite normal. Right?"
  569. >A bead of sweat goes down the side of your face as you nod in agreement.
  570. >"How can we be sailing on a piece of junk like this?"
  571. >What?
  572. >The ship looks...okay...ish...ehhhh....
  573. >Now that he mentions it, it looks a little bit, unfinished.
  574. "Y-yeah. How can we afford a private train yet sail in something so...so dilapidated?"
  575. >"I know right? This could be a safety hazard for missions!"
  576. >The two of you converse for a while.
  577. >You sit and drink non-alcoholic cider.
  578. >It's something.
  579. >A couple hours go by.
  580. >"They sure are taking their sweet time."
  581. "The trek up to Griffonstone is a doozy, it looks long on a map. How do you think they feel?"
  582. >Looking into the incoming hillside you see a dot.
  583. >Then three more.
  584. >Then six.
  585. "Hey they're finally back."
  586. >"About time. Thought we would never leave this coastline. Always so cold up here, can't wait til we get to Arabian waters."
  587. "Let's head down there, best way to make a first impression is with a nice meet and greet right?"
  588. >"You go on I'll meet you down there, I gotta take a leak."
  589. >Walking down off the deck you notice him go inside to the hull.
  590. >Never knew ships this small would have indoor plumbing.
  591. >You wait as the troop slowly but surly march on into better view.
  592. "Hello."
  593. >The troop proceeds to walk on by without saying a word.
  594. >They all looked exhausted and pissed.
  595. >March is following up the rear with the merchants.
  596. "Hello gentlegriffs."
  597. >"Oh dear another one."
  598. >"Just give him a bit and maybe he'll go away."
  599. >"I'm not giving up my bits to a lowly beggar."
  600. >The three bickered their way right on past you.
  601. "So how was the march March?"
  602. >"I don't want to talk about it. You get all the equipment on board?"
  603. "Everything ready. Thanks for letting Aldo stay behind to help me get things situated."
  604. >He turns to you with a confused look.
  605. >"What are you talking about? I didn't leave anypony behind but you."
  607. "Um sure you did, Aldo was a real help."
  608. >"Show me where this 'Aldo' is."
  609. >You walk up the gangplank passing the working stallions.
  610. >"Sir we should be ready to sail within the hour."
  611. >"Good, I want us out in half that time."
  612. >He leads you down the stairs below deck.
  613. >Below deck consisted of two rooms.
  614. <The first consisted of hammocks, tables and chairs, and the footlockers of each respectable crew member. The rest of the space is for storage but considering the voyage would last only two days it didn't seem worth the extra trouble.
  615. >The second room was the armorer. Your room.
  616. >As you walk down there nopony was in sight.
  617. "That's strange, he said he went in here."
  618. >"Well the only place he could be at is with the weapons."
  619. >He reaches back and shoves a dagger into your hooves while he unsheathed his sword.
  620. "Whoa take it easy, how about we just try talking to him first?"
  621. >"Just a precaution, I'm not going to let any problems get you killed on your first day on the job."
  622. "I don't care, I work with weapons not use them, I promised Mary I would try to stay out of harms way."
  623. >"Well how do you propose we deal with an intruder?"
  624. >Without responding you walk up to your door and fling it open.
  625. "Aldo, this is MY room not the RESTroom. What are you doing in-"
  626. >Instead of seeing the bright orange mane of the stallion who helped you, you are confronted by...yourself.
  627. >Well half of yourself.
  628. >You and March's jaws drop.
  629. >The two of you just stand there dumbfounded staring at the would-be doppelganger.
  630. >"Um...it's not what it looks like."
  631. "Monster!"
  632. >You reach for your dagger but are stopped by March.
  633. >"Easy there Charlemare I know this bug. What are you doing here Odla? "
  634. >"Know you? I saved your life back in Fallujog and I'm saving your life again."
  635. "He saved your life?"
  636. >"That was a long time ago."
  637. >"Ah yes, the good ol days of you drinking and me feeding off the 'love of friendship'. By the queen's name that still tastes terrible."
  638. >"What do you want?"
  639. >"Just spreading some news. Each merchant has a price on their heads. 1500 bits for each one served to the minotaur governor of Antioxer. A whole lot safer investment than traveling through international waters."
  640. >This wasn't in the report.
  641. >"How interesting, but they are paying us 6000 bits to make sure their heads stay on their bodies."
  642. >"Just wanted to make sure you knew ALL of your options."
  643. >"Well thanks for the info, but why are you here again?"
  644. >"Since Jun Hisan is ever closer to my target I could use the ride. Meccaspia I hear is going through a little regime change and certain nobles back in Canterlot are paying big bits just to see which pony lands on top."
  645. >"We have the space, but no free rides you put in work too. Also change into something more appropriate. The others may not be so polite' as we were."
  646. >"But of course 'Captain'."
  647. >The changeling quickly tuns back into 'Aldo' and starts walking towards the door.
  648. "Wait! Why did you try to change as me?"
  649. >March looks at him with a sly smile.
  650. >"Oh please tell me you weren't going to try and do what you did to Silentivo."
  651. >"Oh by my Queen no, my flank still hurts, I just wanted to see the greenhorn scream. New meat is always easy to mess with."
  652. >As he leaves you whisper to March.
  653. "What happened to Silentivo?"
  654. >"I'll tell you later, just keep pictures of Mary hidden okay."
  655. >You ponder that thought.
  656. >Then the realization hits you like a ton of bricks.
  657. "Maybe I should burn them instead."
  658. >"Hahaha. Alright let's get going. The faster we get their the faster we get paid."
  659. "Right."
  660. >...
  661. >The winds favor us.
  662. >Sailing down the Celestial Sea Coastline is going faster than expected.
  663. >A bright sunny day with the occasional wandering cloud.
  664. >March is with the Griffon at the helm.
  665. >The Earth ponies were swabbing the deck.
  666. >Looking to the bow you see one of the unicorns looking over the edge while the other was sitting idly by still reading his book.
  667. >The merchants were below deck counting and recounting their bits.
  668. >A light snoring can be heard from above.
  669. >That confirms the pegasus is still in the crow’s nest.
  670. >All in all ship life is boring if you don’t have a job.
  671. >You’re not even sure why they would even need a blacksmith for this contract.
  672. >”Mind if I join you?”
  673. >You turn to see ‘Aldo’ leaning against the mast.
  674. “I don’t see why not. Nothing better to do I guess.”
  675. >”Drink?”
  676. “I’m okay.”
  677. >He reaches into one of his pockets and takes out a small bottle of Cider.
  678. >You watch as he gulps it quickly down and throws it overboard.
  679. >Rude.
  680. >You both watch as the coastline slowly turns from a forest rocky landscape into a sprawling desert.
  681. ”So you saved my brother’s life?”
  682. >”Yes I did, well he kind of saved my life before so I owed him one.”
  683. “What were you guys even doing in Fallujog? Wasn’t it dangerous with them trying to revolt against Saddle Arabia?”
  684. >He gives out a short grunt.
  685. >”Is that what they told you? I’m going to tell you a little secret, they didn’t revolt. It was all us.”
  686. >He smiles as a look of shock comes across your face.
  687. >”Of course some of the natives joined in once the ball was rolling, but in reality it was just another contract for us.”
  688. “Why would anypony in Equestria hire a security company to start a revolt?”
  689. >”You don’t have to sugar coat it, you’re a mercenary force. Plain and simple.”
  690. “Yeah well calling it a security company gives me and my wife closure so I’m sticking with that.”
  691. >”Whatever helps you sleep at night.”
  692. “I still don’t have my answer.”
  693. >"All we knew was that the MID would pay us BIG BITS to make the Arabs loose that province.”
  694. "You weren't curious in any way?"
  695. >"Not like it matters, we lost the city and the contract. That's actually how I ended up saving March."
  696. "What you do?"
  697. >"Modifying myself into something appropriate, I tied him up. Said he was the commander and was taking him to questioning and they let us just walk through the lines. All the way til we reached a sea-weed fishing village. We 'borrowed' somepony's dingy and rowed all the way up the coast."
  698. "That's amazing! Do you know if any of your squad made it out?"
  699. >He makes a disgruntled face.
  700. >"Yeah, all of them."
  701. "All of them?"
  702. >"Every single one of them, they just abandoned their armor and posed as tourists."
  703. >You can't help a smirk come across your face.
  704. >"Got sent back immediately. Lucky buckers, my back and hooves hurt for weeks after all that rowing."
  705. "What about the residents of Fallujog? Are they okay?"
  706. >He drops his head and shakes it.
  707. >"I was told two separate stories, neither were a happy ending. Either they were put to the sword or put to work in mines."
  708. >Your smirk quickly dissipates.
  709. "That's a horrible story Odla."
  710. >"Worse part about it is that we didn't even get paid for all our work. And it's Aldo."
  711. "Does it really matter? Why bother having two different names if your persona's name is just your real one backwards?"
  712. >"Y'know it's actually an interesting story, you see back before I left my hive I was a-"
  713. >A call from overhead get's both of your attention.
  714. >"Captain! Something is headed this way!"
  716. >Two white sails flying high in the distance.
  717. >Looking through the telescope you see under the white sails the emblems of the Royal Navy.
  718. >You give the telescope back to March who shoves it back into his inner pocket.
  719. >"Armor off. NOW!"
  720. >A look of confusion comes across your face as you watch everypony scramble.
  721. "March what is the meaning of this? We haven't committed any crimes...other than littering."
  722. >"Oh Boo-Hoo. You see any recycling centers around here? And I darn sure wasn't going to carry those things around all day."
  723. >"Bibliophag get the- PUT DOWN THAT BOOK AND GET TO WORK!"
  724. >March turns to you both.
  725. >"The embargo Equestria has against Saddle Arabia is a complete shutdown on imports other than the ones they are regulating."
  726. "We are travelling with three griffons. Can't we just say we're giving them a ride?"
  727. >"And what about your room full of contraband?"
  728. "You can't mean your weapons? Those are company-"
  729. >"Correction, those are our 'honored guests' products."
  730. >Products?
  731. "Are you saying these 'merchants' are actually arms dealers?"
  732. >A loud bang can be heard in the distance.
  733. >Odla jumps in between you both.
  734. >"I don't mean to be rude, but border patrol is almost here."
  735. >"That's just their way of telling us to stop. They want to board."
  736. "By firing at us?!"
  737. >"It was just a warning, we have ten minutes to stop before we get blasted."
  738. "Well what do we do?"
  739. >"DROP THE ANCHOR!"
  740. >As the splash signals it's drop you both sit to think.
  741. >While you ponder over your thoughts you watch as the other unicorn dump out an entire barrel of gunpowder overboard.
  742. "I have a plan, shove every piece of contraband into my back room along with the griffons. Put both unicorns with them, also you too Aldo?"
  743. >"What do you need me for?"
  744. "You'll see. Just hurry, I'll be down in a second to explain."
  745. >As he hurries down below deck one of the giant frigates is pulling in close while the other circles port side lining up a wall of cannons.
  746. >"I hope you know what you are doing."
  747. "Okay just be prepared when I give the signal."
  748. >"Hurry up, we can't stay like this for very long."
  749. >You watch through a crack in the trapdoor leading down below deck.
  750. >A white armored pegasus landed hard onto your ship.
  751. >"Are you the Captain of this...vessel."
  752. >March puffs out his chest and straightens his neck to match the stallions height.
  753. >"Yes I am. Why have you stopped us?"
  754. >"You are about to enter Saddle Arabian waters, why have you come this far?"
  755. >"Is it a crime to tour down the coast? The war is over and peace is between us now."
  756. >"A tour? Then I guess you won't mind if we look around."
  757. >March adjust's his stance nervously.
  758. >"Go ahead."
  759. >The white pegasus gives a whistle and two more jump down from the massive frigate that towered over your meager cog.
  760. >There's definitely no way of fighting back, if things go sour our best chance would be to run.
  761. >Good thing about being on a light ship was that it's fast and could easily outmaneuver those giants.
  762. >Bad thing was that if one of those giants get a single solid shot on the hull, it's over.
  763. >The three pegasus overturn everything topside.
  764. >Barrels and chairs can be heard being smashed.
  765. >One of them throws overboard a half emptied bottle of cider taken from the crows nest.
  766. >Your crews pegasus protests were rewarded with a punch to the gut.
  767. >"Stay low and stay down until we are finished knave."
  768. >As he got up he spit on his abusers hoof.
  769. >Which in effect rewarded him a kick tho his face.
  770. >"Hey knock it off! We aren't here for that. Get below deck sailor!"
  771. >Okay there's the signal.
  772. "Now! Just stay quiet until he leaves. I'll do the talking."
  773. >"This has got to be the most stupid-"
  774. >Before Odla could finish his sentence the two unicorns blasted him with beams of magic.
  775. >...
  776. >"Sir the bottom is clean."
  777. >"What?"
  778. >"Below deck. There's nothing worth-"
  779. >"Out of my way!"
  780. >With an unsatisfied exhale he stomps down the stairs.
  781. >He stands at the bottom step inspecting the room.
  782. >"See nothing, but him."
  783. >He points a hoof at you. Sitting with a cheeky grin in one of the hammocks.
  784. >"Hey get up! Why aren't you upstairs with the rest of-"
  785. "Heeloo there your Admiraaalty"
  786. >"In the name of Celestia, is he drunk?"
  787. >"Oh yeah, thought it best to leave him be."
  788. >You drop an empty bottle of Cider.
  789. "Opps, I'll get that laaater."
  790. >"Despicable. Let's head out, I don't want to be anywhere near this disgusting crew or cog."
  791. >Hook, line, and sinker.
  792. >The one thing you remember about the Royal's, they can't stand drunkards.
  793. >That lesson was deeply engraved when March got kicked out of the military on his second day.
  794. >"Must've drank too much of the cheap stuff. I can smell the grime from here."
  795. >"Ponies like him should be thrown in a cell til sober. An utter disgrace to the ship and crew."
  796. >As they were about to head back topside, a very low but audible whisper was heard.
  797. >"It's not that cheap you pompous geldings."
  798. >The officer continues to leave while the subordinate freezes.
  799. >With a turn of his head he stares at the wall.
  800. >He briskly puts an ear close against it.
  801. >You struggle to keep the 'drunken' smile on your face while you scream internally.
  802. >What feels like hours pass as he stands there motionless.
  803. >...
  804. >...
  805. >...
  806. >*Cough*
  807. >You see his eyes go wide as he slowly backs away.
  808. >"What the, ALAR-"
  809. >Before he could finish calling the officer, Odla tackles him.
  810. >The wall he partially formed disperses as the magic from the two unicorns stop.
  811. >"Shhhhhh.Shhhhh now. It'll be over in a second."
  812. "What in the name of the Princesses did you do that for? We had it in the bag!"
  813. >"Keep your voice down, he might come back."
  814. >"Mhhmmmppph!"
  815. >"Shhh time for beddy-bye."
  816. "What are we going to do with-"
  817. >CRACK*
  818. >You stand shocked as Odla simply drops the now limp stallion.
  819. >"You two, hide him in the back. Strip him of everything, I'll be needing them."
  820. >While one of the unicorns drags the body back to your room, the other carefully removes his armor.
  821. "What are you going to do?"
  822. >"Buy us some time."
  823. >Odla then quickly puts on the old sailors uniform.
  824. >"A little big, not for long."
  825. >With a flash he changes into an exact replica.
  826. >"Let's hope this guy wasn't too sociable, I'm terrible with the voice changes."
  827. "Well this wouldn't have happened if you kept your mouth shut. What am I supposed to do with him?"
  828. >"When you get out of their sights, dump him."
  829. "That just seems wrong, he probably had a family and-"
  830. >"And what? You wanna write them saying how you helped conspire to kill Daddy?"
  831. "His blood is on your hooves, not mine!"
  832. >"You came up with this whole facade, you might as well have snapped his neck."
  833. "This wasn't part of it! If you-"
  834. >You are interrupted by a call from upstairs.
  835. >"Baslow, why are you still with that drunk? We are ready to leave this bunch of serfs."
  836. >"There's my queue, if everything goes smoothly I should make it to the coastline before anypony even notices 'Baslow' here is gone. It was nice meeting you and your wife."
  837. >Wife?
  838. "H-hey wait a minute. How did you-"
  839. >"BASLOW!"
  840. >"Coming Sir!"
  841. >The tone is a perfect mimic.
  842. >As he walks upstairs you went to your room where the merchants sat quietly by your workbench.
  843. >You feel a jolt from the floor and look out a porthole.
  844. >The frigate besides you slowly drifts further away until it was too far to see out of your field of view.
  845. >The second one you could see clear as day.
  846. >With the looming guns still pointing towards your direction.
  847. >Heading back to your cot all you want to do is sleep.
  848. >Looking down the unicorns left the body right beside it.
  849. >He looks so peaceful, as if he actually is sleeping.
  850. >Your spinning mind slowly winds down and you find yourself drifting off to sleep.
  852. ***
  854. >It's high noon.
  855. >You are standing at the helm looking at the Saddle Arabian coastline while March steers the ship closer to shore.
  856. >The heat is unbearable.
  857. "I bet not even Tartarus has heat like this."
  858. >"They say it's the humidity that makes it worse."
  859. >You let out an exhale and lean on the railing.
  860. >"What's wrong?"
  861. "Just thinking."
  862. >"Of?"
  863. "Mary, Fate, how home is doing."
  864. >"Don't worry, once we drop the birds off it's smooth sailing straight back home."
  865. >You inhale a breath of salt and ocean air as the waves splash against the sides of the cog.
  866. "I can't believe Odla killed him."
  867. >"What?"
  868. "The pegasus."
  869. >"He knew the risks of joining the armed forces. Odla just did what he thought was right."
  870. "I just didn't expect him to do it so mercilessly. Without a second thought, as if he enjoyed it even."
  871. >March just stays silent as the shore gets closer.
  872. "You don't enjoy it right?"
  873. >You turn questionably to March who has a very stern look on his face.
  874. "Right?"
  875. >"I don't enjoy killing my fellow stallions, but I do what must be done."
  876. "It may be part of our job but it still feels wrong."
  877. >You both stand their taking in the hot suns rays.
  878. "I promised Mary I would try and stay safe, what am I going to tell her now?"
  879. >"Tell her nothing, the less she knows the better."
  880. "I can't lie to her again, she is my wife!"
  881. >"Then tell her everything. You have two options, pick one."
  882. >You contemplate on those words.
  883. >How did you get here?
  884. >One day you are working in Vanhoover with a home and loving family.
  885. >Now you are on the other side of the country working as 'security' for smugglers.
  886. >March nudges you.
  887. >"Hey snap out of it, go and tell the merchants to gather their belongings. We're almost at the Docklands of Jun Hisan."
  889. ***
  891. >Home sweet home.
  892. >Almost.
  893. >You were just outside the Great Docklands of Baltimare.
  894. >While your cog awaited approval to dock a loud explosion can be heard.
  895. >It seemed like it was coming from the Navy Drydocks.
  896. >"Shame isn't it."
  897. >March trotted up from below deck and has now joined you by the railing.
  898. "What are they doing?"
  899. >"Downsizing."
  900. "What?"
  901. >"A Royal decree from the 'Sunmare' herself; disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration. They're probably destroying those frigates we ran into."
  902. "That's been happening for a while now, the war is over. We won."
  903. >"I understand cutting back a little bit, but cutting back every branch? It seems like they would at least keep a Defense Force ready."
  904. "Maybe she wants things to go back to the way they were. Equestria was perfectly fine with having just the Royal and Night Guards."
  905. >"No, the era of peace died when that hairless gorilla showed up. If Celestia thinks there's any chance of going back then she's a fool."
  906. "Hey, don't use her name in vein! She has led this nation millennia after millennia through ages of turmoil and peace. I have faith she and the others know what they are doing."
  907. >In the distance two cogs are pulling a converted carrack out farther from the bay.
  908. >After they get a good distance away the large ships stern explodes and it slowly begins to sink.
  909. "If we were to call this anything it would be wasteful. That ship looked brand new, they could've at least try to sell them or something."
  910. >"At least we are getting a good show though."
  911. >You can't deny that.
  912. >Even in the distance, watching a ship sink is a spectacular and even satisfying sight.
  913. >Suddenly a voice speaks overhead.
  914. >"Captain...Thrust?"
  915. >"Yes?"
  916. >"Your ship is cleared to dock at Number 21."
  917. >"Thank you."
  918. >As the pegasus heads back towards land you watch a part of the carrack dips underwater.
  919. >Truly satisfying.
  920. >...
  921. >The sun was already setting by the time you all got the cog tied down.
  922. >Before the station closed March and you barely got tickets back to The Crystal Empire.
  923. >No private train this time, it was busy delivering a load of ponies just outside of Appleloosa.
  924. >Now you had to be crammed with the public.
  925. >Just before entering the boxcar you notice something.
  926. >You smell terrible, it's been two weeks since your last shower.
  927. >Being in a confined room surrounded by others is definitely not going to help your odor.
  928. >Nothing you can really do though.
  929. >This is the last train and you don't want to spend a night in a crummy motel.
  930. >Things are about to get very uncomfortable.
  931. >...
  932. >"Thank you for riding, and we would like to remind all of our guests to be courteous of the other riders, in all forms."
  933. >As the train came to a stop, you and March quickly scurried out of the car to escape the judging eyes of the passengers.
  934. >"That went...pretty well."
  935. "We got lectured by that elderly mare about hygiene for half the trip, nopony would sit by us, and on top of that they did that PSA at every stop."
  936. >"Don't look at it like that, the way I see it we; had an interesting conversation with an elderly mare, had plenty of leg room, and we know that this train company tries to take care of their guests."
  937. "Every. Stop."
  938. >March brushes off the comment as you both gingerly walk down the now lantern lit streets.
  939. >"At least this breeze is nice."
  940. "Hopefully it'll blow this stench off before I get home. I can't wait to see Mary's face."
  941. >"Yeah..."
  942. >You notice March's demeanor drop.
  943. >It was only a second, but you saw it.
  944. >That hint of loneliness.
  945. "Say, where are you staying?"
  946. >"I was just going to go back to headquarters, get a drink, maybe look for another contract for us."
  947. "How about you come over for dinner tomorrow?"
  948. >You see his eyes light up a bit.
  949. >"Really?"
  950. "Yeah, why not. It would be nice to have the family back together."
  951. >"Uh...sure, that sounds great."
  952. >Turning a corner you see it.
  953. >Home.
  954. "I'll see you tomorrow okay?"
  955. >"Yeah, tomorrow. S-should I bring something or-"
  956. "Just bring yourself!"
  957. >You briskly trot away from the corner and up the front steps.
  958. >Carefully unlocking the door you swing it wide open.
  959. "Home sweet home."
  960. >Everything seemed just how you left it, minus some folded laundry on the couch.
  961. >The familiar ticking of the grandfather clock makes your heart rush.
  962. >11:00 P.M.
  963. >Another whiff hits you as you stand in the stagnant room.
  964. >Maybe a quick shower.
  965. >Tip-hoofing up stairs you quickly slide into the bathroom.
  966. >Turning on the hot water you step inside.
  967. >It feels as if you are under rainbow falls.
  968. >Completely blissful you wash away the two weeks of grim and gunk that worked their way into your coat.
  969. >You were in such a blissful state you didn't even notice the door being opened.
  970. >"GET OUT OF MY HOUSE!"
  971. >Hmm?
  972. >Before you can react a bat flies through the shower curtain almost hitting you.
  973. >"Darn, I was never good at holding those things."
  974. >You give out a cheeky laugh.
  975. "Honey, it's-"
  976. >Before you could finish your sentence a frying pan hits you in the flank.
  977. >You tumble through the curtain and land on top of Mary.
  978. >For a mare she hits pretty hard.
  979. >Soaked in water, tangled in the now broken shower curtain, you and Mary struggle to get free.
  980. >"Let go of me! I swear my husband is in the next room!"
  981. >She was always a terrible liar.
  982. >Finally getting your bearings you stand up.
  983. >On the ground before you is your wife wrestling with the curtain.
  984. >With times like these you wish you had a camera.
  985. >Okay enough playing around.
  986. >You bite at the curtain and throw it in the still spraying shower.
  987. >Under that was your wife. Soaking wet, mane in a frenzy, and with the face of death itself.
  988. >Death quickly turned to wide-eyed as she realizes who was really standing before her.
  989. "Hi."
  990. >"AUGUST!"
  991. >She gets back on all fours and tackles you back into the shower.
  992. >"I'm so happy you're back!"
  993. "It's good to be back, I have so much to tell you."
  994. >"I have something to tell you too."
  995. >With a sly smile she gets up.
  996. >"August, I'm pregnant."
  998. >Mary stood there, water dripping from her mane awaiting your response.
  999. >She shifts nervously while you stand slack-jawed at the statement.
  1000. "That's wonderful!"
  1001. >In your heart you were livid with joy and happiness.
  1002. >But your mind was flustered with thoughts of worry and dread.
  1003. >What if there's a complication during birth?
  1004. >What if another war breaks out?
  1005. >What if you get drafted into said war?
  1006. >If you die what will happen to your family?
  1007. >What if another accident happens?
  1008. >Can you make it through another funeral of your own family?
  1009. >What if...
  1010. >"August!"
  1011. >You snap out of your thoughts as her soft hoof touches yours.
  1012. >"Everything will be okay."
  1013. >She gives you a warm hug that you return.
  1014. >"I hope it's a filly."
  1015. "Me too."
  1016. >You both just sit there embraced enjoying each others company.
  1017. "I invited March over for dinner tomorrow."
  1018. >"That sounds nice. What will we be having?"
  1019. "After eating nothing but fruit and cracker supplements I was hoping my loving wife would cook up something special."
  1020. >"If I knew you would be home I would've had something prepared.
  1021. >You both laugh at the situation.
  1022. >"Don't worry, I can dish something up for us. Anything you want in particular?"
  1023. "Let's worry about that tomorrow, let me help you get dried and then we can hit the hay."
  1024. >She turns to you with a sultry smirk on her face.
  1025. >"How should we, 'hit the hay'?"
  1026. >It's good to be home.
  1028. ***
  1030. >"Hey Dad, who's Bareback Anthony?"
  1031. >Fate is helping you look through some records to play during dinner.
  1032. "Oh wow, good find son."
  1033. >You blow dust from the record and put it on the player.
  1034. "I used to listen to him for hours on end when me and Mom still dated."
  1035. >Click.
  1036. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2fDK3m9QM1o[Embed]
  1037. >Mary calls from the kitchen.
  1038. >"Is that who I think it is?"
  1039. "Brings back some memories huh?"
  1040. >"Oh yeah."
  1041. "How's dinner coming? Need any help?"
  1042. >"No, I can handle it. When is March supposed to come over?"
  1043. >Before you could respond a knocking came from the door.
  1044. "Hey March, come in-"
  1045. >March briskly walks past you.
  1046. "-side. Nice to see you too bro."
  1047. >"Where's your family?"
  1048. "Mary is in the kitchen and Fate's in the parlor. Why?"
  1049. >He quietly closes the doors leading to said rooms.
  1050. >"I'm sorry August, we have a problem. A big problem."
  1051. "I don't understand, what's wrong?"
  1052. >"The Ministry is back, and something big is happening. They are calling in all the squads back from their contracts early."
  1053. "And this is trouble because..."
  1054. >"It's trouble because they just bought every troop in the company. The last time that happened..."
  1055. >You think back to when Odla told you about Fallujog.
  1056. "How long do we have?"
  1057. >"They are calling for assembly briefing once everypony gets back to the Crystal Empire."
  1058. >You smile and put a hoof on his shoulder.
  1059. "Well we still have time for a dinner then. When was the last time you had something home made?"
  1060. >All March does is shake his head.
  1061. >"I'm really worried about this. Escorts and deliveries are cake walks compared to whenever they assign us something."
  1062. "Maybe it won't be too bad this time, you said they are getting everypony?"
  1063. >"Yeah?"
  1064. "Many hooves makes the load light. Maybe they need more workers for that major sewage project in Canterlot? They probably just need extra help finishing it off."
  1065. >March just scoffs at your remark.
  1066. "Look, you are obviously stressed out. A little rest goes a long way. Let's just go into the next room and enjoy a nice meal with family. Then we can go to the assembly and find out what all this is about."
  1067. >"That...that sounds nice. What are we having?"
  1068. "Your favorite. A Hallsberry-n-Oats Casserole."
  1069. >His face goes squeamish for a second.
  1070. >"Sounds...delicious. Can't wait."
  1071. "And a nice plump apple pie for desert."
  1072. >March's face brightens a little.
  1073. >"With apples from that farm in Ponyville?"
  1074. "Fresh picked from that red-headed mare herself."
  1075. >"Now that's something to get excited about!"
  1076. >...
  1077. >"You told me after each mission two weeks of rest was mandatory!"
  1078. "I know what I said, it's just that-"
  1079. >"It's not just him, it's everypony in the company."
  1080. >"Even you?"
  1081. >"Me, August, even our supervisors have to drop their duties and follow the MID's instructions."
  1082. >"I still don't like it. I had our whole week planned so we can spend it together."
  1083. "Me and March were going to head over and get some better insight as to what this is all about."
  1084. >As you and March get up a small tug comes from your shirt.
  1085. >"Dad don't leave yet! I can almost walk on my own now and I wanted to show you."
  1086. "When we get back you can show me and Uncle March. How's that sound?"
  1087. >With a frown he just shakes his head.
  1088. "Don't look so down, once this is all over I'll take us on a hike to Neighagra, then you can really show me how you move."
  1089. >As excitement shines from his eyes you make your way for the door.
  1090. >"Please be careful."
  1091. >"No need to worry Mary, old 'Uncle March' is going to watch your hubby like a griffon does a bit."
  1092. "I'll be fine. I'm more worried about the baby. What should we name him?"
  1093. >"Him? It's the first month, we have a long way to go to worry about names. What makes you so sure it'll be a colt anyway?"
  1094. "I...um"
  1095. >You give her a kiss on the nose and walk out the door.
  1096. >As she stands there waving good-bye, all you can do is smile at her sight.
  1098. ***
  1100. >The doors shut with a slam as the last of the stallions enter the auditorium.
  1101. >On the stage stands a unicorn with two pegasus at his sides.
  1102. >"Ahem."
  1103. >For a moment everypony continued with their conversations ignoring the three until one of the pegasus steps forward.
  1104. >"QUIET!"
  1105. >All the commotion comes to a halt as all eyes turn towards him.
  1106. >"Thank you."
  1107. >With a very audible clearing of his throat he begins.
  1109. >"Good evening,
  1110. In today's changing world, our enemies surround us and would do anything to see the end of Equestria. Many ponies question the steps the Ministry takes. But we see a different world than you do. The world we see isn't so black and white. While many of you have fought against armies under foreign banners, we will be fighting against individuals who are no longer known to us. They are not nations, but individuals. Individuals who would like to see the destruction of Equestria just as badly as the Caspian's of Saddle Arabia. Our world is not transparent it's more opaque. In the shadows, and that is where we must fight. With that in mind the demand for workers of your kind are in high demand.
  1111. With your group's recent failure at Fallujog my superiors spoke against giving second chances. However due to ever changing situations we have no other options. Our enemies are competent, capable, and dangerous. Without a doubt it is their intentions to be the quiet assassins of Equestria's Monarchy and the Equestrian nation states."
  1113. >A shout comes from the audience.
  1114. >"Who the buck are our so called 'enemies'."
  1115. >"Both foreign and domestic, young or old, they all wish to see an end to our loving Princesses rule. So if you see your fellow Equestrian on the other side of your sword do not hesitate to give a killing blow for they will not."
  1116. >"Just tell us where you're sending us! Yakistani caverns? Arabian dunes?"
  1117. >"You are all heading to the outskirts of Appleloosa immediately!"
  1118. >Immediately was right.
  1119. >As he walked off staged the entire room was escorted with the persuasion of fully armored Royal Guards into the underground train station.
  1120. >As the dark tunnels turn to daylight you ponder over what happened.
  1121. >Appleloosa?
  1122. >What kind of extremists would camp out there?
  1123. >I need to send a letter or something to let Mary know where I am.
  1124. >March lightly punches your side.
  1125. >"Hey you were right, this is going to be great!"
  1126. "What makes you so sure?"
  1127. >"Appleloosa that's what!"
  1128. "Not sure I follow."
  1129. >"The most dangerous thing out there is a rattlesnake. And I doubt any of those country bumpkins can get organized enough to cause too much trouble."
  1130. "I don't know, don't you think it's a strange how they are shipping us in mass?"
  1131. >"Well yeah, almost like we're invading. Haha..."
  1132. >You both just stare at each other, then look back.
  1133. >Four boxcars lines holding around one-hundred stallions each.
  1134. >All fit for fighting.
  1135. >...
  1136. >"Okay everypony out. Now!"
  1137. "Where are we?"
  1138. >"Five miles out from Appleloosa. You all are walking to your new homes for the next eight months."
  1140. >"Might be even longer, just depends."
  1141. "Depends on what? I have a family-"
  1142. >"You will receive payments bi-weekly, now out of the boxcars! MOVE!"
  1143. >As you are forced out of the car you mumble to yourself.
  1144. "I'm not worried about the money, I'm worried about them being alone."
  1145. >...
  1146. >It's pitch black out.
  1147. >The only source of light is coming from the leading unicorn.
  1148. >"Everypony follow me! Don't fall behind! Four lines only! Tight formation!"
  1149. http://vocaroo.com/i/s1YHvBUMdCVd
  1150. >The sound of cicadas and marching with the clanking of light armor fills the night air.
  1151. >Along with the occasional reminders from the Ministries overseers.
  1152. >"Stay quiet and stick to the flank of the pony in front, we can't risk being compromised."
  1153. >Through the light from the moon a tall structure comes into view.
  1154. >An old mine sticks out from one of Macintosh's Hills.
  1155. >So this is our new home.
  1156. >Walking into the mouth of the cave you are astounded by how big it is.
  1157. >There were a couple tents set up near the entrance but looking down the shaft it looks as if the entire structure was converted into a makeshift barracks.
  1158. >You are led into an assembly room where a variety of stands are set up.
  1159. >The leading unicorn is on a stage behind them.
  1160. >"Listen up! Now that we have you here we can proudly proclaim you are all Federal Employees."
  1161. >Confusion spreads through the crowd before coming back to his attention.
  1162. >"Due to the nature of our goals and the heavy investment we made. My superiors have decided to fully integrate your company, with me as your new head overseer, into the many folds of businesses and guilds we eh, cooperate with..."
  1163. *Ahem*
  1164. "To make the transition easier we already seiz-secured all of your identification documents from your now former employers offices. All that is left for you all to do is sign a document and receive your new 'class identification' cards. NOW LINE UP AGAIN!"
  1165. >...
  1166. >After a long wait you finally get to one of the stands.
  1167. "Hello, I'm Aug-"
  1168. >"Ah yes Mr. Thrust. Please sign here and hoofprint here."
  1169. >The unicorn pulls out some papers and you quickly do as he says.
  1170. >He then takes out a tiny card.
  1171. >"Your assigned room should be on C-4. Oh lucky you, that's right next to your workplace."
  1172. "Workplace? I'm stationed inside the cave?"
  1173. >"You were a smelter and smith before right? So we have given you 'Class C Identification'."
  1174. "You say that as if I know what that means."
  1175. >"C is the lowest, you can't and won't be told anything too detailed about mission statuses and arrangements."
  1176. "Why? We already were given the speech about why we are here."
  1177. >"Security purposes. Your job consists of repairing, upgrading, or creating their gear, you have no reason to know any more than what you already know."
  1178. >He stamps the card and gives it to you.
  1179. >On it was your picture, name, and a giant red C.
  1180. >"Welcome to the Ministry. Next!"
  1182. >After navigating your way through the crowd you find March leaning against a wall.
  1183. "This is crazy."
  1184. >"I know right? In all my years I would've never guessed I'd be working for the spooks."
  1185. "Not that! The fact that we are now living and working out of a cave."
  1186. >"I guess that's crazy too, but at least we won't be here long, I'm going on my first mission tomorrow. What about you?"
  1187. "I have a Class C card, I'll be working here while you go out on an adventure. What are you."
  1188. >"Because I was a squad captain I'm Class A. So what does C mean?"
  1189. "It means I'm not allowed to know anything. Just work."
  1190. >"Jeez that sounds terrible, so that also means we can't really talk."
  1191. "Well we can, just not about work. Your work."
  1192. >You both awkwardly stand there amidst the crowd.
  1193. "I'll let you rest up for tomorrow, I'm going to go find my room."
  1194. >"Alright. I'm in A-1 by the way."
  1195. "C-4. See ya."
  1197. >Before leaving however you try to find the Head Overseer.
  1198. >There.
  1199. "Excuse me Sir? A word."
  1200. >"Sure thing, is there a problem?"
  1201. "Is there a way for me to send messages?"
  1202. >"The mail-mare doesn't exactly have this address, not to mention that would be a huge breach of security."
  1203. "There's no connectivity to the outside world at all?"
  1204. >"There is one, but it's for my personal use and it goes directly to headquarters in Canterlot or our satellite branches in each city."
  1205. "Would you be willing to let me use it?"
  1206. >"By Celestia no!"
  1207. "Please, I just would like to send a note to my wife."
  1208. >He eyes you cautiously probably weighing his options.
  1209. >"Let me see your badge."
  1210. >Before you can get a bite on it he uses his horn and pulls it out from your pocket.
  1211. >"Class C hmm?"
  1212. >He gives out a sigh and puts the card back in your pocket.
  1213. >"Under normal conditions I would never allow such a request, but I'm in a good mood. So yes. Not like you can spill secrets anyway."
  1214. "Thank you so much Mr. Overseer. I promise I'll-"
  1215. >"Under these circumstances. You can send one message once a week. Plus just to make sure things stay secure, your letters will be opened and read. So don't be too 'graphic' when writing your wife."
  1216. "That...is understandable. I will keep things child appropriate. Mary will probably read them to my son anyway."
  1217. >"You have a son?"
  1218. "Yes, me and my wife also have another on the way. Still too early to tell if it'll be a colt or filly."
  1219. >"Well consider this my foalshower gift. Now I must be going."
  1220. "Thank you again. You can expect a letter right away."
  1221. >With a roll of his eyes he turns and walks out of the mine.
  1222. >You felt as if you won a gold medal at the Equestrian Games.
  1223. >It wasn't much, but at least you can keep in contact.
  1224. >With a smile you head deeper into the mine to find your assigned room.
  1226. ***
  1228. >10 months later
  1229. >Sitting alone preparing for another day.
  1230. >Work is hard.
  1231. >They extended the duration of time due to 'extra security purposes' whatever that means.
  1232. >The creation of the identification classes has caused segregation between everypony.
  1233. >March doesn't have it so bad, he apparently got promoted to leading teams of scouts into the badlands.
  1234. >I hear the only things they find are renegade bat colonies.
  1235. >Nothing to confirm though.
  1236. >It's hard to get a chance to talk.
  1237. >Roommate isn't so bad.
  1238. >Horrible snorer but at least he keeps everything clean.
  1239. >Every week I send letter through the overseers 'personal message sender'.
  1240. >It.
  1241. >Is.
  1242. >A.
  1243. >Dragon.
  1244. >He has a personal dragon just to send messages.
  1245. >How can a pony even have a personal dragon?
  1246. >Is he like his servant or...
  1247. >Either way the dragon doesn't seem to mind.
  1248. >Actually he's quite the conversationalist.
  1249. >He said the overseer used to be a noble that was a member of Canterlot's Council Chambers.
  1250. >Nigel Farack
  1251. >Name sounds familiar but does't ring any-
  1253. >"Hey Thruster you got another letter."
  1254. "Thanks."
  1256. >These letter are one of the few things that keep me going.
  1257. >The last one Mary sent she told me our new baby is going to be a filly.
  1258. >I just know she will be as beautiful as her mother.
  1259. >Her name will be Destiny.
  1260. >Nothing sounds more perfect than that.
  1261. >She's about to be due soon also.
  1262. >It's about that time I guess.
  1264. >"Hey you almost ready? A squad just came back, looks like they need some repairs badly."
  1265. "I'll be right out."
  1267. >In one of her letters Mary sent a photo of the family.
  1268. >The whole family.
  1269. >Staring into it you can't help but feel a tear start to come.
  1270. >You fold it back up and put it back in your shirt pocket.
  1271. >You always have it on you so you can never forget why you're doing this.
  1272. >Hopefully we won't be out here for too much longer.
  1273. >Hopefully.
  1274. >...
  1275. >Hammers clank against hot metal.
  1276. >The heat from the furnace is immense.
  1277. >A broken sword is already laying on your station waiting to be cared for.
  1278. >You quietly work on mending its wound.
  1279. >”Hey August can you let me borrow your splitter? Mine got kinked again.”
  1280. >You set down the tool on his bench and stare puzzled at what he was working on.
  1281. “Still trying to be a famous inventor Matchlock?”
  1282. >”This one I almost have working!”
  1283. “That’s exactly what you said last time when you tried strapping aluminum-cloth wings to yourself.
  1284. >”Hey I flew for a second!”
  1285. “Jumping off the office complex isn’t exactly what I would call flying, besides we have the air ships for travel.”
  1286. >”But I want to fly like the pegasus do! Free to go wherever and whenever.”
  1287. “Come on dude it’s just not meant to be, if you were meant to fly you would’ve been born with wings.”
  1288. >He grunts at your comment and turns back to his bench.
  1289. “Alright so are you going to tell me what your crazy mind has thought of making this month?”
  1290. >”Well only because you asked so nicely...”
  1291. >He lifts up what looks like a giant pipe with two wooden poles sticking out from under it.
  1292. >"This my friend, is a side-saddle cannon!"
  1293. "A what?"
  1294. >"Basically it's a miniaturized cannon that anypony can hold. You see, just like a lance, you hook it up on your side. Instead of having a counterweight you balance it on the wooden stilts to make aiming easier."
  1295. >He hooks it up to his right shoulder and carefully balances the large metal tube on the stilts.
  1296. >"I can give you a quick demonstration, put that bottle at the other end of the room."
  1297. >You do as the wide eyed stallion says and get back to his side.
  1298. "Is this safe?"
  1299. >"It should be theoretically."
  1300. "Theoretically?"
  1301. >"Like I said you load it like a normal cannon, shove the powder down then set in the projectile carefully inside."
  1302. >He proceeds to load the miniature cannon as awkwardly as expected and lights the fuse.
  1303. >"And with just a little ignition it can shoot a projectile faster then you can say-"
  1305. >BOOM!
  1307. >Smoke fills the room while you and Matchlock cough your lungs out.
  1308. "I thought *cough* you said it *cough* was safe?"
  1309. >"Theoretically safe!"
  1310. "So not at all?"
  1311. >"Oh shut up, *cough* this is just the first model!"
  1312. >The door swings open letting in some much needed fresh air.
  1314. >"Just testing a little experiment."
  1315. >"I don't care what 'experiments' you run on your free time Lock! But when you are on the clock you get to actual work! By the looks of things you two haven't done any work at all!"
  1316. >He motions towards the far wall where the bottle was still perched up.
  1317. >Alas instead of hitting the bottle the bullet hit a row of finished shields piercing all of them.
  1318. >"Those shields are supposed to be due tomorrow and I expect to see them on the next scouting trip!"
  1319. >With a slam of the door he leaves the two of you still recovering from the blast.
  1320. "Theoretically safe my flank."
  1321. >"Hey it wasn't so bad, now I missed the bottle sure-"
  1322. "And simultaneously cost us another day's of work."
  1323. >"-But just imagine the carnage if a whole row of earth stallion had these."
  1324. "Most of the stallions here barely know how to handle bladed weapons."
  1325. >You lift up the still damaged sword on your bench.
  1326. "What makes you think they can handle miniaturized cannons? Heck even well trained teams on actual cannons run into problems more times than not."
  1327. >"Say what you will, once we get out of here I'm selling my designs to the highest bidder."
  1328. "If you even get any bidders."
  1329. >"Oh shut up, we have a lot of work to do."
  1330. >...
  1331. >It took all day, but it's finally done.
  1332. >The sun was already low by the time you left your workplace.
  1333. >You are starving, haven't eaten all day.
  1334. >You casually walk up the stairs until you almost reach the surface entrance.
  1335. >The cool breeze feels magical compared to the hours spent by the furnace.
  1336. >Due to poor heating and ventilation they moved the cafeteria above ground in one of the office complexes.
  1337. >As you were about to head out you spot March exiting the assembly hall.
  1338. "Soldier! What news from the front?"
  1339. >He gives a small chuckle from your witty remark.
  1340. >"Nice to see you August...You look like manure."
  1341. "I can say the same thing about you, wanna get some food? I haven't eaten at all today, had to pull a double shift."
  1342. >"Um, sure I could eat. Go ahead and get a seat, I gotta do a quick inventory check."
  1343. "Alright."
  1344. >You both head out together and see him to the storage building that's right next to the offices.
  1345. "Why'd they move all the stuff out here?"
  1346. >"You think it's safe to keep dynamite stored underground in a forty-year old mine?"
  1347. "Point taken. I'll see you in a minute."
  1348. >You get your food and wait.
  1349. >A good dozen or so is also in the mess hall getting a late dinner.
  1350. >You convene with a couple before getting a more private table.
  1351. >Then you wait.
  1352. >And wait...
  1353. >Something doesn't seem right.
  1354. >March is awfully taking his sweet time.
  1355. >Usually you'd just wait it out, but something was different about today.
  1356. >Whatever it was you bring yourself to step outside.
  1357. >It's freezing now.
  1358. >Through the wind you push yourself across the courtyard.
  1359. >There was a flicker of light out of the corner of your eye, but as you turned it was gone.
  1360. >Doesn't really matter.
  1361. >Getting to the office door you fling it open.
  1362. "What's the big idea? You counting each stick of-"
  1363. >You are stopped mid-sentence at the sight.
  1364. >Your brother slumped on the ground with a puddle of blood around his head and neck.
  1365. "March? Wh-"
  1366. http://vocaroo.com/i/s1bRxaU05bcf
  1368. >Your ears are ringing.
  1369. >No, bleeding.
  1370. >It's about ten times worse than when Matchlock fired his mini-cannon.
  1371. >Through dust and smoke it's hard to distinguish anything.
  1372. >You get control of your thoughts again.
  1373. >What happened?
  1374. >Why was March on the-
  1375. "MARCH!"
  1376. >In front of you where the building stood, all that was left is rubble.
  1377. >Frantically you try to lift slabs of rock and concrete to no avail.
  1378. >Some wailing catches your attention.
  1379. >It was from the office buildings you were just in.
  1380. >It too was a pile of smoking debris.
  1381. >A couple ponies were outside though.
  1382. >Good, hopefully they are-
  1383. >You stare wide eyed as the smoke began to clear.
  1384. >One was impaled on a beam while the close companion's chest was torn open.
  1385. >A tall figure approaches them still covered up by the smoke.
  1386. >Thank Celestia someone who will help.
  1387. >Just as you were about to call out the figure slashes the two with a saber.
  1388. >In horror all you can do is watch.
  1389. >It reaches down and stabs what looks like another body already on the ground.
  1390. >Your brain is telling you to run but you still look onward.
  1391. >run.
  1392. >The figure stands tall and cleans its blade.
  1393. >run.
  1394. >After he cleans it he then fully faces you.
  1395. >Run fool.
  1396. >Eyes piercing through the smoke looking into your soul.
  1397. >Stop staring and run!
  1398. >He cocks his head takes a giant step towards you.
  1399. >RUN!!!
  1400. >The figure takes another monstrous step and you turn and run.
  1401. >Before you could make any progress you fall to your side in pain.
  1402. >Something is wrong.
  1403. >Why does your leg hurt.
  1404. >No it doesn't hurt.
  1405. >Why can't you feel your...
  1406. >You turn your head to look at your back left leg.
  1407. >It's...gone.
  1408. >Where is your leg?
  1409. >Where is-
  1410. >You cough up some blood and fall back over.
  1411. >As you look up the figure is now standing over you.
  1412. >Through the blood in your throat you cough out two words.
  1413. "M-mercy. *cough* Mercy please."
  1414. >He bends down to where his face is directly in front of yours.
  1415. >"Yes. Mercy."
  1416. >Relief rushes over your body.
  1417. >He will spare you.
  1418. >You will see your home again.
  1419. >You will see your family again.
  1420. >You can feel the touch of your loving wife.
  1421. >You can-
  1422. >-feel a cold blade slicing through your chest.
  1423. >You slump over on the ground.
  1424. >The figure disappears into the smoke.
  1426. >Everything is cold.
  1427. >The pain in your leg is going away.
  1428. >Even your chest is feeling a relief of pressure.
  1429. >But everything is cold and getting colder.
  1430. >Why is everything getting blurry?
  1431. >Maybe a little nap will calm your head.
  1432. >You try and pull out the picture in your front pocket but it slips from your grasp and it lands face up in the snow.
  1433. >You lay your head down to get a better view of it.
  1434. >You see yourself, Mom, Dad, Mary, Chance, Fate, and March all smiling and happy in your home in Vanhoover.
  1435. >That was around a decade ago during Heartswarming.
  1436. >One big happy family.
  1437. >You close your eyes and smile.
  1438. >I can't wait to see them when I finally get home.
  1439. >Almost home.
  1440. >Just.
  1441. >After.
  1442. >This.
  1443. >Quick.
  1444. >Nap...
  1445. >Closing your eyes, you take one final exhale, and fall asleep dreaming of home.
  1447. The End.
  1449. Epilogue
  1451. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lNj44wgHMXc [Embed]
  1452. >Be Fate Thrust
  1453. >Its been about a year since Dad left home.
  1454. >He used to send a letter every week, but for the past couple months the letters stopped.
  1455. >Everyday Mom waits for the mailmare hoping for a letter.
  1456. >I'm happy my foaling sister is here with us.
  1457. >Mom's face always gets so happy whenever we are with her.
  1458. >She's closing all the windows, the pegasus just moved in some clouds for a storm.
  1460. >*Knock Knock Knock*
  1461. >Mary hurriedly opens the door in hopes for a letter from the mailmare.
  1462. >Instead of the usual pegasus there's an Earth pony.
  1463. >He's wearing a dark blue suit, another stallion wearing the same colored suit was standing down by the curb.
  1464. >"Can I help you?"
  1465. >"Are you Mary S. Thrust? Wife of August Thrust?"
  1466. >"Yes! Where is my husband?! Where is August?!"
  1467. >"I...we represent the company who hired your husband for the last contract he had. We have some terrible news..."
  1468. >"Fate. Go take Destiny and wait in the dining room, I'll be there in a second."
  1469. >You quietly do as she says but keep an ear pressed against the door to try and make out what happened.
  1470. >"Ma'am, there is no easy way to say this..."
  1471. >After that first sentence you hear your mother begin crying.
  1472. >"He was working with miners, fixing their tools. There was a methane leak, a lantern probably broke or somepony was smoking..."
  1473. >"They're gone Ma'am. They're all gone. We are so sorry for your loss."
  1474. >"....no........No...........NOOOOOOOOO! DEAR CELESTIA WHY!?"
  1475. >"Before we go, we are to inform you that he opened up an insurance policy that..."
  1476. >You pull your ear away from the door.
  1478. "...Dad..."
  1479. >You sit at the dining room table with Destiny sleeping soundly in her crib next to it.
  1480. >You stare at his empty chair taking in the knowledge that he is never coming home.
  1481. "Dad...you promised...."
  1482. "Once you get home I was going to show you and Uncle how I can walk again...."
  1483. "We...we were going to go to Neighagra...."
  1484. >Tears start to fall from your face as your head drops to the table.
  1485. >As you continue to cry you feel a hoof on your back.
  1486. >"Fate. Don't cry Fate."
  1487. >You look up eyes still watery.
  1488. >It's your Dad!
  1489. >He stood with the warmest smile patting your back with his hoof.
  1490. "Dad!"
  1491. >You jump out of your chair and give him a hug.
  1492. >His soft coat feels like a cloud on your face.
  1493. "I knew you would come home! I knew you would!"
  1494. >"I told you I would be back, I don't think we can take that hiking trip though."
  1495. "I don't care! All that matters is that you are here now!"
  1496. >"You can't imagine how happy I am to see you walking."
  1497. >His face turns to a sorrow expression.
  1498. >"But I'm sorry my son, I have to go now."
  1499. "But you will be back to read me and Destiny a bedtime story right? I know she'll love the ones you told me and Chance!"
  1500. >"Fate..."
  1501. >You spot a sparkly tear drop from his face.
  1502. >"Oh my wonderful loving son. I will always be with you."
  1503. >You notice his body is getting...transparent.
  1504. >"Even if you can't see me. If you ever want to talk, I will always be there to listen."
  1505. "D-dad?"
  1506. >"I love you son. Good-bye."
  1507. >His chest your hooves were wrapped around slowly dissipates to nothing as does the rest of his body.
  1508. >As he completely disappears you fall to the floor.
  1509. "I love you too Dad."
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