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Magic and Mud

Yoohoo Jan 23rd, 2017 (edited) 1,971 Never
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  1. >”And of course, as many of you may have observed over the previous moons since the Great War started…”
  2. >Murmurs of nervousness arose throughout the classroom
  3. >”All of the major powers involved have become known for their signature weapon. One may say that they are a calling card of sorts.”
  4. >The teacher reaches under her desk and grunts as she hefts a weighty looking case onto it
  5. >”Today…”
  6. >She unclasps the locks and opens the case
  7. >”We will be learning about the signature weapon of the Kingdom of Prance: The lance-flammes. Or, as we call it here: The Spitfire.”
  8. >”This one was graciously donated to us by Princess Celestia’s forces in the capital, and naturally, they want it back in one piece, so be careful when handling it, please.”
  9. >As she begins to speak, going over the intricacies of its speculated manufacturing, you begin to zone out
  10. >You are Rewind, a mare in the final weeks of your schooling before you’d be drafted
  11. >Everypony gets the draft, save for those who are incapable, or those who don’t meet the requirements set by the province
  12. >You however are shaping up to be able-bodied, unfortunately
  13. >Many other classmates do not share your sentiment however
  14. >They see this conflict as a rite of passage, or something
  15. >Like it would be a place to prove themselves
  16. >You enjoy living just a bit too much to be excited about graduation
  17. >”This particular model uses a single canister of an unknown flammable element, that only ignites upon contact with the flame on the wick at the front of the barrel.”
  18. >”The Spitfire teams come in pairs, with one carrying the canister and frame, while the other carries additional fuel, and depending on if they’re a Unicorn or not, a piece of flint and steel to strike a spark.”
  19.  
  20. >The rest of the lesson goes on predictably, with your teacher making doubly sure to hand out the homework
  21. >”Class is dismissed. Make sure to finish that homework! It’s the last bit of it you’ll ever get from me!”
  22. >You pack your things into your saddlebag and place it on your back before leaving
  23. >And as usual, you take the same route home
  24. >It was quick, and shaved off enough time from the walk back that you still had extra time to spare before going to work
  25. >It’s such a habit that you can simply turn your brain off and think
  26. >Which comes with its own risks as well
  27. >As your hooves step onto the wooden beams of the railroad, you hear a loud, blaring horn sound from your left and are instantly snapped out of your thoughts
  28. >There’s never supposed to be any trains that run at this time
  29. >As the light gets nearer, you shut your eyes as your horn flares to life, the orange aura enveloping your horn as all sound disappears in a flash
  30. >You open your eyes and watch as you repeat your actions in a muted, darkened realm of reality
  31. >You can feel your body moving back, as well as all of the minute movements
  32. >And in another flash, all of the sound and color comes back to the world as you stand on the platform again, watching the train speed by
  33. >You shiver a bit and take a few deep breaths to calm your racing heart
  34. >You thought you’d be used to that by now
  35. >The first time was the worst
  36. >You had thought you died after falling off some scaffolding
  37. >Eventually you experimented with your magic
  38. >You learned the intricacies of what it did
  39. >It only affects you, and time flows normally both before, during and after you use it
  40. >You retain your momentum
  41. >As well as any injuries sustained in that 4 seconds
  42. >It works well keeping you out of trouble
  43. >And of course, not getting run over
  44.  
  45. >You take a seat at your desk back in your tenement and groan as you look at the clock in your room
  46. >You’d hoped for at least a moment’s respite before work
  47. >Oh well
  48. >Everypony has to do their part to help out, even before you’re drafted
  49. >You had the luxurious job of working at a Spellsphere factory
  50. >With some of the most powerful magic users in the world right under Celestia’s reign, she realized it’d be far too dangerous to send them out into the field
  51. >So after imparting their knowledge to various Unicorns, they found a reliable way to store magic
  52. >Within thin, crystalline spheres to be launched from trebuchets
  53. >Of course, their range lacked, compared to things like cannons, but it was a result of their manufacturing
  54. >The thin outer layer of the sphere designed to shatter on impact to release to volatile magic within was too fragile to be launched from a mortar or cannon
  55. >You weren’t here as a filler, however
  56. >Your magic wasn’t nearly as combat effective as theirs
  57. >You instead got to work with others on the assembly line creating the casing
  58. >It was mind numbing
  59. >And occasionally dangerous
  60. >Two things that weren’t meant to mix together
  61. >Luckily, nothing too horrible happened here
  62. >And if it did, you were never around for it
  63. >But after a few hours your uneventful shift comes to an end and you’re free to go about your day however you wished
  64. >And right now you wished to go back home and go to sleep
  65.  
  66. >2 WEEKS LATER
  67. >”Rewind. Unicorn. Eyes… Orange. Mane and tail… White. Coat color… Beige.”
  68. >So this was it then
  69. >Canterlot, that is
  70. >Arriving here for the first time made it seem almost larger than life
  71. >Seeing Celestia’s Royal Guard trotting around in their armor was imposing, to say the least
  72. >Unfortunately, you doubted your chances of being placed in the ROYAL guard
  73. >Sure, it would be nice to not have to go to the trenches
  74. >But it was only an option for those that performed well enough in training
  75. >Some of these ponies seemed like they could manage it
  76. >Some of them you recognize from school
  77. >Others were complete strangers
  78. >You knew what was gonna happen of course
  79. >You’re stripped of individuality and learn discipline, as well as teamwork
  80. >All while having your body broken down and built back up to be in fighting shape
  81. >Fun
  82. >After the rest of your information was taken, you were ushered onto a train with everypony else
  83. >You watched the scenery go by from the window as the train began to chug along
  84. >Your thoughts slowly began to wander
  85. >And you started to wonder just how long you’d be training for
  86.  
  87. >4 MONTHS LATER
  88. >You blink a few times as wind rushes past your head
  89. >You can hear the sound of propellers and fire
  90. >You look up and watch your helmet tumble into the abyss of the sky below
  91. >You look down, noting with a skip of your heart that the only thing keeping you from falling were a few ropes caught on your leg
  92. >Immediately you panic and activate your magic
  93. >Your horn once again flares to life and all of the sound is sucked away as your body goes through the motions it did in the last 4 seconds
  94. >You hope that you being on solid ground was 4 or less seconds ago
  95. >Unfortunately you only feel yourself being pulled up into the air towards a platform when the spell cuts off, instead of directly above it
  96. >You fall again and barely manage to catch onto a steel rung of the zeppelin you were on
  97. >It was only marginally better than being upside down, but at least you could pull yourself up from this position
  98. >You do so and hop to the wooden platform, heaving a sigh of relief as you did so
  99. “I swear if this thing is falling out of the sky…”
  100. >You peek your head over the platform and squint your eyes to try and discern if the ground is getting closer
  101. >You’re above the cloud cover still, so you can’t tell
  102. >You stand back up
  103. >Apparently somepony, somewhere, did something, and got a good hit on the zeppelin
  104. >If the fire was anything to go off of at least
  105. >Something exploded nearby, and you got lucky and got caught on the ropes
  106. >As you’re trying to think of what to do, and whether or not the massive war machine you’re on is slowly falling from the sky, you hear hooves on the platform behind you
  107.  
  108. >As you turn, you see colors of uniform you don’t recognize
  109. >Your eyes widen and you immediately trie to materialize your magic around your sidearm
  110. >It’s not there however
  111. >Your magic grasps at nothing as the full view of a Prench soldier comes into your vision
  112. >And what else would he have but a Spitfire
  113. >You’re really regretting not paying attention in class now
  114. >There was something about a startup time when the wick had to be ignited on its own if the other igniter pony wasn’t there
  115. >You had about half a second before he set you on fire
  116. >Your mind races and you do the only thing you could think of in a situation like this
  117. >You gallop towards him as fast as you can
  118. >You duck down low and you can feel heat singeing the tips of your coat as you tackle him off the platform
  119. >You hear him yell from behind his mask as the gout of fire burns through the zeppelin and both of you go hurtling out into the open air
  120. >He grabs onto you tightly, intent on taking you with him
  121. >Instead, you pop out of existence and start to go back in time once more
  122. >4 seconds ago, to where you were still on the wooden platform
  123. >You look over the edge, but the other pony has completely disappeared into the clouds
  124. >You try not to think about the fact that he’s still falling as you climb the ladder onto the top of the zeppelin
  125. >As you crest the top, you realize that the zeppelin is DEFINITELY falling from the sky
  126. >The fire is spreading, and that stunt you pulled only added to it
  127. “Ah ffffiddle faddle.”
  128. >Now is not the time to panic
  129. >You have to keep a cool head during any situation, right?
  130. >That’s what a royal guard does, right?
  131. >Technically even if you aren’t royal, you’re still a guard
  132. >First order of business was getting out of here alive
  133. >You doubted anypony else was stupid or brave enough to stay on this thing while it was simultaneously going down AND being boarded
  134. >Perhaps they’d boarded before it started going down
  135. >Maybe that’s why it’s going down…
  136.  
  137. “Parachute, parachute… where’d they put all the parachutes on this thing?!”
  138. >You yell out loud to nopony in particular as you continue your search
  139. >You estimated… Oh a good few minutes or so before you hit the ground and went up in a giant fiery ball of death and steel
  140. >You just had to get off before that
  141. >It was proving to be a bit harder than anticipated however
  142. >And you’re starting to wonder if you’re the only pony left on this thing
  143. >After thorough searching, you come upon a metal cabinet labeled “parachutes”
  144. >Unfortunately for you…
  145. “Oh thank Celestia there’s one left.”
  146. >You quickly strap the parachute to your back and head back up to the top
  147. >From here you can see that you’ve descended below the cloud cover
  148. >And it’s absolute pandemonium
  149. >None of the Pegasi bomber squads made it through
  150. >The other zeppelins were being torn to shreds
  151. >And you were about to drop right down into the middle of it all
  152. >It perhaps wasn’t your brightest moment, but it was all you could do right now
  153. >You’d deliberate on other possible solutions if you had the time, but as time went on there was less and less zeppelin to go around
  154. >With the flames licking at your hooves you take a deep breath, a running start, and leap from the balloon
  155. >The wind rushed past your ears, bringing your eyes to water as you grit your teeth
  156. >You were falling considerably faster than the burning wreckage of the zeppelin, so that was a plus
  157. >You’d reach the ground in time and not have to worry about your impromptu foray into the life of a Pegasus
  158. >You pull the cord and grunt as all of the momentum is transferred directly to your groin
  159. >You groan loudly and hang onto the straps
  160. “I feel really bad for the stallions using these things.”
  161. >You relax and let your head hang for a moment
  162. >You’d be here for a bit, daintily floating to the ground
  163. >Sometimes you wished that your power worked in reverse so you could speed up towards somewhere 4 seconds ahead
  164.  
  165. >You look down
  166. >You’re still too far away from the ground
  167. >A fall from here would certainly kill you
  168. “Maybe I should have waited to open this thing.”
  169. >You hear somepony respond to you
  170. >Unfortunately it’s not in a language you understand
  171. >It’s actually in the worst language you’d want to hear right now:
  172. >Prench
  173. >It’s coming from behind you
  174. >You turn your head to get a better look
  175. >Swell
  176. >It’s that soldier from before
  177. >The one you tackled off the platform
  178. >You see large, black, feathered wings keeping him aloft
  179. >This was perhaps only the second worst way you could’ve encountered an enemy soldier
  180. >Unfortunately, as you seemed to be easy pickings, you see him level the Spitfire not at you, but at your parachute
  181. >You can hear the same noise from before
  182. >Of flames spewing from the barrel
  183. >They immediately turn the parachute to cinders and you return to freefalling
  184. >You’re able to turn in the air and watch as the Pegasus follows your descent
  185. >You count the seconds off under your breath
  186. “1… 2… 3... 4.”
  187. >In an all too familiar flash of white light and sound being sucked away, you’re pulled back into the air 4 seconds ago
  188. >And thanks to your new friend’s inclination to watch you splatter against the ground…
  189. >Once you come back into the real world again, you’re behind him, and on the perfect trajectory tograb onto him
  190. >You crash into him in midair and grasp at his body for a hoofhold
  191. >Your frantic scrabbling finds purchase and you catch the straps of his uniform, as well as the hose leading to the Spitfire
  192. >”Agh! De! De! Se libérer!”
  193. >You can’t understand his language, but you can make a few guesses
  194. “You’re my ticket to the ground! I’ve got at least 5 more years of living left in me!”
  195. >You’re far too close for him to torch you, and from your position, he couldn’t reliably get a hold on the Spitfire anyway
  196.  
  197. >As the combined weight of both his body and yours begins to drag him down, he makes a concerted effort to shake you free
  198. >This involves erratic flying and the occasional strike to the face
  199. >He’s one tough stallion
  200. >You can taste blood inside your mouth
  201. >But luckily you’re close enough to the ground now that you can flip the both of you over
  202. >Thanks to his wings, you both slam into the ground at a relatively safe speed
  203. >Relatively
  204. >He takes the brunt of the impact and you use him as a cushion
  205. >You wanted nothing more than to collapse right there
  206. >But if you did, you would end up scorched, or worse yet, taken prisoner
  207. >You stagger to your hooves and quickly look around as the Prench soldier reels on the ground
  208. >Spying his fuel canister nearby, you dive for it and heft it between your hooves
  209. >It’s heavy, which meant it was exactly what you needed
  210. >You straddle atop him as he writhes in the mud
  211. >You lift the fuel canister up and bring it down with all the force you can muster, right into his mask
  212. >It’s not enough
  213. >You hear him yelling as he tries to fight back, but you bring the heavy canister back down onto his skull
  214. >You repeat this over and over for what feels like an eternity until you feel the stallion stop moving
  215. >You drop it into the mud and flop over, exhausted
  216. >As you lay there, you can only stare upwards at the mayhem in the skies
  217. >The raindrops patter lightly against your face
  218. >This was far too much for you to handle
  219. >Your heart is racing, pounding against your chest as if trying to burst out and escape
  220. >You can feel a clawing in your gut
  221. >You feel like you want to throw up, but you can’t muster the energy to do so
  222. >As all the adrenaline starts to recede, pain starts to become clearer, and you’re left clutching at your abdomen as you lie there
  223. >You cough, over and over, before laying your head back with a wet thunk
  224. >It could’ve always been worse
  225.  
  226. >But as much as you want to rest your weary eyes
  227. >You become acutely aware of the fact that the massive, flaming wreckage of the zeppelin was going to come crashing down nearby as well, in fact you could see it still in the air above you
  228. >And you weren’t too keen on your chances of survival versus twisted, smoldering metal
  229. >You roll over and rise to your hooves, looking around
  230. >Nopony’s Land stretched on for miles in either direction
  231. >Long since abandoned barbed wire and trenches as far as you could see
  232. >You didn’t know where you were
  233. >All of your gear, save for your armor, was gone
  234. >Most likely thanks to your time spent upside down
  235. >You’d worry about that later
  236. >What mattered now was getting a suitably safe distance away from this area
  237. >You ran for the nearest trench and dove inside, following it until it led out and up a hill
  238. >You end up in what appeared to be an abandoned homestead
  239. >A small farm that had once been converted into an outpost that was later abandoned
  240. >Now it would serve a third purpose to shelter you
  241. >You seek refuge inside the nearby house, closing the door behind you
  242. >You’re able to watch from a distance as the crashing of the zeppelin you were on just moments ago lights up the night and sets Nopony’s Land ablaze
  243. >Luckily, there’s not much to burn but mud and soaked wood
  244. >As you sit there at the windowsill, the ever present weight upon your eyelids makes itself more and more apparent
  245. >Soon enough you can’t ignore it
  246. >And you find yourself slowly nodding off
  247. >Maybe you should find a bed
  248. >Or maybe the windowsill would make a good pillow
  249. >Yeah, that sounded good…
  250.  
  251. >Did the sun rise already?
  252. >How long have you been asleep here?
  253. >Your eyes creak open
  254. >Immediately they begin to ache as the light hits them
  255. >You squint to lessen the aching sensation
  256. >Where were you?
  257. >You gently rub your eye with a hoof as events from yesterday begin to play over in your brain
  258. >That’s right
  259. >You had done something absolutely stupid yesterday
  260. >How were you not dead?
  261. >You really should be
  262. >You can almost feel the creaking of your bones as you begin to move again
  263. “Note to self: Find a bed next time.”
  264. >Gently massaging the kinks from your neck, you stand and trot about the house
  265. >There’s a stark dichotomy to see between the homely decorations and the remnants of the military occupation
  266. >You run your hoof along the bannister, collecting dust as you go
  267. “Wonder how long it’s been since anypony set hoof in here.”
  268. >Eventually you find your way to the bathroom
  269. >Upon testing the water, it seems that your luck still persists
  270. “Well, it’s clean at least.”
  271. >Hoping for hot water may be pushing it a bit though
  272. >You take the time to clean the muck from your coat, mane and tail
  273. >As well as your armor
  274. >Your hooves run over the crest upon the chest, as well as the numerous dents and scratches it’s already sustained
  275. >How’d it manage to get like this so quickly?
  276. >15 minutes later and you’re back to being squeaky clean
  277. >Or as much as you could manage
  278. >You head outside and note the odd, out of place decoration on the roof
  279. >It’s no chimney, that’s for sure
  280. “Wait a second…”
  281. >You climb your way onto the roof
  282. “Well look at that.”
  283. >You pry your helmet loose from the wood and examine it
  284. “Still wearable.”
  285. >Perhaps this was a sign of good things to come
  286.  
  287. “Right… So what’s on the agenda for today.”
  288. >You talk to yourself as you meander about the homestead
  289. “Find out where I am. Find out how to get back to friendly forces.”
  290. >You look out over the horizon and see nothing of note
  291. ”Simple enough, right?”
  292. >Trying to convince yourself wasn’t quite working
  293. >There was Nopony’s Land behind you
  294. >And a road that seemed to go on forever in front of you
  295. >Perhaps sticking around this farm for just a bit wouldn’t be remiss
  296. >So you explore
  297. >You check the windmill first, trotting up the steps and looking around
  298. >At least from here you could get a better view of your surroundings
  299. >You can’t quite make out any landmarks from here
  300. >Nothing but Nopony’s Land, dead fields, and that road
  301. >The road doesn’t look like it leads anywhere
  302. >But all roads gotta lead somewhere, right?
  303. >You think you can just barely make out a city in the distance, but without binoculars, it’s hard to tell
  304. >You also spot something odd
  305. >Near a pockmarked oak tree in the field there appears to be bottles set up on a wooden platform
  306. >It seems the small balcony you’re standing on used to be where somepony was firing from
  307. >The question was whether or not this was before the conversion to outpost or not
  308. >If it was before, you may have luck in finding a weapon here
  309. >You take another, more thorough look around the top of the windmill
  310. >There’s a box underneath the chair that you’d overlooked
  311. >Upon sliding it out and popping it open, your eyes widen
  312. “Now why are YOU here little buddy…”
  313.  
  314. >You’d gone and stumbled upon a Traponi Mk II
  315. >Or as the Equestrian forces called it: The Killer 7
  316. “So either I managed to end up in Haytaly, the ponies living here managed to import one, or Haytalian forces set up shop here and left…”
  317. >You think for a moment
  318. “The last one is far more likely.”
  319. >But they’d taught you about these in class before
  320. >It takes you a few moments to recall all of the knowledge
  321. “Let’s see here. If I remember correctly…”
  322. >You attach the metal-framed leather straps to the sleeve of your uniform, giving your right hoof slightly more added weight
  323. >The metal frame was to absorb and dampen the recoil when firing and distribute it evenly throughout your foreleg
  324. >It came with the added benefit of looking pretty cool too
  325. >But the most important bit was what you were attaching to the front of your hoof right now
  326. >The design was simple and rugged
  327. >There was a single large barrel to be loaded from the rear
  328. >After being loaded in, you would slide the breech block horizontally to lock and seal the bore
  329. >A coil within that stores magic then discharges to fire it
  330. >Then you were to slide the block away, let the round slide out, then repeat the process
  331. “Thank youuu Mrs. Morning Glory.”
  332. >Even better was that this particular model had a blade attached on the coil’s housing as a bayonet
  333. >You level the sights at the bottle in the distance after loading in one of the spike shots
  334. >So why was it nicknamed the Killer 7?
  335. >Simply put, because there were 7 different types of shots that could be loaded in
  336. >Spike, gas, scatter, incendiary, bounce, sticky, and shock
  337. >All of them were lethal
  338. >You fired off the Killer7 with a resounding BANG
  339. >The spike flies through the air and shatters the glass bottle, embedding itself in the tree
  340. >You’re almost rattled by the recoil this thing gives off
  341. >You understand now why there’s an entire frame on your foreleg to dampen it
  342.  
  343. >You’re happy that the guardspony armor includes multiple pouches to store all the shots you found in the box
  344. >Heck, if this is what was hiding at the top of the windmill, what else could be lying about the homestead?
  345. >You descend the steps back to the ground
  346. >Trotting along with the recoil dampener on your foreleg would take a little getting used to
  347. >Oh well
  348. >The rest of your search however is rather fruitless
  349. >That is, until you check the barn
  350. >It’s been sealed shut
  351. >There are chains threaded through the handles of the barn door
  352. “Just what was so important that they had to lock it up?”
  353. >You’re able to crawl through a hole where the wood at the bottom had broken away
  354. >You stands up and dust yourself off before turning around
  355. “What in the name of Celestia…”
  356. >You’re greeted with something straight out of a movie poster
  357. >There’s a golem
  358. >A golem just sitting there, resting against the back wall of the barn
  359. >There are bayonets stuck into it every which way
  360. >You can see spikes that were fired into it, among other things
  361. >There’s shrapnel embedded into the surface of it
  362. “Now what are you doing all the way out here, friend?”
  363. >You never expected to see one of these up close, let alone at all
  364. >Normally they were only created in the Republic of Zebrica
  365. >And only saw action against the rebels of the Trottoman Empire
  366. >This one looks like it went down fighting
  367. >Or rather you thought that before the sphere in the center started glowing green
  368.  
  369. >PANIC
  370. >DON’T PANIC
  371. >You take a few steps back and watch as the massive, bipedal golem begins to stand
  372. >It’s got hands just like a minotaur does
  373. >But its hindlegs were like your forelegs
  374. >How does this thing stand up and not fall over?
  375. >And what is it made of?
  376. >Oh no it’s looking at you
  377. >It’s noticed you
  378. >What do you do
  379. >What DO
  380. >Oh Luna it’s leaning down
  381. >It’s right in front of your face
  382. >”WHO AH YOU.”
  383. “…W-What?”
  384. >”WHO. ARE. YOU.”
  385. >It’s a deep, baritone voice that shakes the interior of the barn as it speaks
  386. “I’m uh… I’m Rewind. 34th Battalion of Celestia’s Royal… Er, Imperial Guard.”
  387. >It pauses for a few moments, seeming to stare straight forward
  388. >”FORMER RIDER, MUDDY WATERS. STATUS, DECEASED.”
  389. “Oh… What happened to them?”
  390. >It takes a few steps back and points at a raised mound of dirt that it had been covering with its hands earlier
  391. “Ah… I’m sorry. What was he like?”
  392. >”HE WAS A GOOD FIGHTER AND FRIEND. WE FOUGHT MANY BATTLES TOGETHER.”
  393. >You sit down for a moment
  394. “What’s your name?”
  395. >”I WAS NOT GIVEN A NAME AT THE TIME OF MY CREATION. MUDDY WATERS HOWEVER REFERRED TO ME AS BANDIT.”
  396. “Bandit huh? That’s a nice name.”
  397. >”THANK YOU. IT WAS GIVEN TO ME BY MY FORMER RIDER, MUDDY WATERS.”
  398. ”Right.”
  399. >Bandit simply stands there, looking down at you
  400. “Do you know where we’re located?”
  401. >”INSIDE A BARN.”
  402. “No I mean, what country.”
  403. >”WE ARE CURRENTLY LOCATED IN GERMANEIGH, ON THE FAR OUTSKIRTS OF MARELIN.”
  404. “I’d say far outskirts is a bit of an understatement.”
  405. >”FAR, FAR OUTSKIRTS.”
  406. >You nod a few times before standing up
  407. “Well then don’t you think it’s time to get out of here, Bandit?”
  408. >”NEGATIVE, I MUST STAY HERE TO GUARD MY RIDER’S BODY.”
  409. >You sigh softly
  410.  
  411. “Wouldn’t it be better to honor his memory by coming with me? We would end up fighting against the ponies that caused all this to happen.”
  412. >”SPECULATION OF HAYTALIAN FORCES OCCUPYING GERMANEIGH AND REPORTED DEATH COUNTS OF NON-ALLY FORCES SET STATISTICAL ODDS OF ENCOUNTERING THE SPECIFIC INDIVIDUALS RESPONSIBLE AT 27997 TO 1. I AM ALSO NOT DESIGNED TO FEEL URGES COMMONLY FOUND IN PONIES, SUCH AS: REVENGE.”
  413. >He wasn’t wrong, in fact he was objectively right
  414. “Darn, it would be nice to have some assistance. I don’t think I’ve got very good odds of getting back to Equestria alive. I’m sure you can figure that out.”
  415. >”WOULD YOU LIKE ME TO DIVULGE YOUR ODDS OF SURVIVAL.”
  416. “No thanks, I’m okay.”
  417. >”HOWEVER.”
  418. >Your ears perk up
  419. >”THE DEATH OF ANOTHER ALLY AS A RESULT OF MY INACTION IS UNACCEPTABLE.”
  420. >He picks you up by the scruff of your neck and you flail about for a moment before he places you upon his back, between his shoulders
  421. >You watch as a circular indentation begins to open up, extending inwards in a cylindrical shape
  422. >”PLEASE INSERT YOUR HOOF, REWIND.”
  423. “U-Uh, alright.”
  424. >Tentatively, you insert your hoof into the slot, shivering as the cool insides envelop your hoof
  425. >Your foreleg is sucked in all the way up to your shoulder
  426. >”DO NOT BE ALARMED. PAIN IS ONLY TEMPORARY.”
  427. “Wait what pain-AAAH!”
  428. >You yelp as you feel multiple, rapid stabbing sensations upon your foreleg
  429. >You’re unable to wrench your foreleg free, but after a minute or so, the pain is replaced by a cooling sensation
  430. >”PROCESS COMPLETE. PLEASE REMOVE YOUR HOOF.”
  431. >Upon doing so and examining your foreleg, you see a strange symbol etched upon the back of your hoof
  432. >It looks like a vertical spear, flanked on both sides by a garland and text at the bottom that you can’t understand
  433. >”YOU ARE NOW MY NEW RIDER, IMPERIAL GUARD REWIND.”
  434. “A-Alright, but was the tattoo really necessary? I already have one on my rear end.”
  435.  
  436. >Bandit easily breaks down the wooden doors of the barn as if they were nothing more than cardboard
  437. >No longer having to stoop inside the confines of the building, Bandit is able to stand at full height
  438. >”WHERE ARE WE TO PROCEED, REWIND.”
  439. >The only obvious path is of course, the road leading away
  440. >Going back into Nopony’s Land is a bad idea
  441. ”Let’s follow that road and see where it goes. I suppose our best bet to get back to Equestria is hitching a ride on a zeppelin… Or stealing something else that flies.”
  442. >”VERY WELL, WE WILL PROCEED WITH THESE NNEW OBJECTIVES.”
  443. “They aren’t really objectives, Bandit. I don’t even have a concrete plan in mind.”
  444. >”SUGGEST REINFORCING PLAN WITH REBAR FOR STABILITY AND RELIABILITY.”
  445. >You sigh and rub your head
  446. >It was quite the odd construct
  447. >But with him on your side, plus your Traponi, you felt that the odds were in your favor just a bit more
  448. >You didn’t plan on dying anytime soon
  449. >You were going to make it out of this
  450. >And boy would it be a story for the future
  451. “Hey Bandit.”
  452. >”YES, REWIND.”
  453. “What are you made of?”
  454. >”I AM COMPRISED OF A MIXTURE OF CLAY, MUD, STONE, AND IRON. COMPOSITION SPECIFICS: IRON AND CLAY BASED ENDOSKELETON. PRIMARY LAYER COMPRISED OF STONE MADE UP OF GRANITE, JADEITE, AND BASALT. SECONDARY OUTER LAYER COMPRISED OF MUD AND CLAY.”
  455. >”Why all those materials specifically? Seems random.”
  456. >“IRON AND CLAY PROVIDE STRUCTURAL INTEGRITY FOR THE REST OF MY FRAME. STONE MIXTURE CHOSEN FOR MAXIMUM IMPACT ABSORPBTION AND TOUGHNESS. MUD AND CLAY OUTER LAYER FOR FURTHER IMPACT DAMPENING.”
  457. >Huh
  458. “That’s pretty smart.”
  459. >”I WILL REPORT ALL COMPLIMENTS TO MY ARCHITECTS WHEN REUNITED WITH THEM.”
  460.  
  461. “How long have we been following this path, Bandit?”
  462. >APPROXIMATELY 3 HOURS, 37 MINUTES.”
  463. “Sweet Celestia how long do you think it’s gonna take until we reach that city over there?”
  464. >”ESTIMATED TIME UNTIL ARRIVAL: 4 HOURS, 12 MINUTES.”
  465. “Guess we’ll be walking for a while.”
  466. >”THAT IS CORRECT. STAY ALERT, WE STILL RESIDE IN HOSTILE TERRITORY.”
  467. “I doubt there’s anypony out here looking for us.”
  468. >”ODDS OF ENCOUNTERING ENEMY FORCES ARE LOW, BUT THE CHANCE IS THERE.”
  469. >As the two of you pass over a railway, you make note of it
  470. “So you said we’re in Germaneigh? And we’re heading towards Marelin?”
  471. >”CORRECT. LAST REPORTS OF CONFLICT FROM MARELIN: REPELLING HAYTALIAN ASSAULT. MAY STILL BE ONGOING.”
  472. “So we could be walking straight into a firefight without knowing it.”
  473. >”THAT IS CORRECT.”
  474. “What do we do in that situation?”
  475. >”HYPOTHETICAL: RETREAT TO FORTIFIED LOCATION, SEARCH FOR MEANS OF QUICKER TRANSPORTATION.”
  476. “I mean you’re pretty quick as is, Bandit.”
  477. >”MY CHASSIS CAN REACH TOP SPEEDS OF UP TO 45 KILOMETERS PER HOUR, BUT I RECOMMEND RAPID TRANSIT IF WE ARE TO ESCAPE ENEMY FORCES.”
  478. “Got it. You know, I’ve never been fired at by two separate enemy forces before.”
  479. >”IT DOES NOT SEEM LIKE A PROSPECT THAT SHOULD BE SOUGHT OUT.”
  480. “No, you’re right. I suppose it’ll give tactical insight?”
  481. >Bandit remains silent
  482. “You know I’m joking, right? I’m not an idiot I swear.”
  483. >”I MADE NO REMARKS ON YOUR INTELLIGENCE, REWIND. MORE DATA IS REQUIRED FOR SPECULATIVE IQ.”
  484.  
  485. >As you come into view of the city of Marelin, you stretch upwards a bit to get a better look around. The place looks almost deserted
  486. >Certainly not a good sign
  487. >”STAY ALERT, REWIND.”
  488. “My thoughts exactly. Isn’t this the capital? Shouldn’t there be more ponies around?”
  489. >As you go to slide off of Bandit, he immediately stops you with a hand
  490. “What?”
  491. >He says nothing
  492. >Instead you feel his hand tighten slightly around you and pull you closer to his chest
  493. >He curls around you and suddenly you hear an explosion to your right
  494. >”TAKING HEAVY FIRE. ARTILLERY BASED. RECOMMEND RETREATING FURTHER INTO THE CITY.”
  495. >Guess these golems have almost higher situational awareness or something
  496. “My thoughts exactly! Get further in!”
  497. >Bandit starts to sprint further into the city as presumably Haytalian artillery fire begins to rain around you
  498. >”RECCOMMENDATIONS FOR SUITABLE COVER, REWIND?”
  499. >Your eyes dart around and you spy a large mansion
  500. >You point towards it
  501. “The mansion over there! Hurry before their aim gets better!”
  502. >He holds you close as he bounds towards the building in question
  503. >Unfortunately it appears that you weren’t the only one that thought it was a good place to hole up in
  504. >Assumedly Germane soldiers are pointing and starting to level the cannons at you
  505. “What do we do? The mansion is already occupied!”
  506. >You feel Bandit grip you tighter
  507. >He looks down at you
  508. >”REWIND, DO NOT BE ALARMED.”
  509. >A bubble of green magic appears around you
  510. “Wait what? What are you-“
  511. >Bandit suddenly flings you towards the mansion as you both begin to close the distance
  512. >You hurtle through the air screaming
  513. >The glass of the window shatters and you end up clotheslining two Germane guards with the bubble
  514. >You hit the wall indoors and the bubble dissipates, having absorbed all of the velocity
  515. >Now you were stuck in the occupied mansion with two less guards
  516. >But you didn’t plan for a breach and clear at Mach 1
  517.  
  518. >You stagger to your hooves and do your best to calm your racing heart
  519. >It feels like it’s going a mile a minute
  520. >You lean upon the graying, peeling wall, a few flecks of paint falling to the ground
  521. >How did it end up like this?
  522. >You shake your head a bit and brush some glass away from your hooves
  523. >Nothing used to be this way
  524. >At least if what mom and dad said was true
  525. >You shake your head again
  526. >Now wasn’t the time to get introspective
  527. >As far as you knew you were still stuck in here with ponies that wanted you dead
  528. >It wasn’t as if they were going to stop and ask if you were Haytalian before attacking
  529. >But…
  530. “…Did I just invade Germaneigh?”
  531. >You ponder the ramifications of somepony reporting that Equestrian forces were sighted engaging Germane guards
  532. >Would it create an entire new front that Equestria would have to fend against?
  533. >As far as you knew Germaneigh was allied with Equestria
  534. >At least until now
  535. >More and more problems just seem to keep cropping up
  536. >You continue to ponder this
  537. >At least you do until a few tiny pucks were lobbed into the room
  538. >There were only about 3
  539. >But it was enough to make you break out in a cold sweat
  540. >It was time to leave this room
  541. >It was time to leave this room NOW
  542. >You gallop away as you hear the telltale pop, and sound of gas filling the room
  543. >You duck into the next room and close the ornate wooden door behind you
  544. >There were a few things of note in this room
  545. >Like a grand piano in disrepair
  546. >Numerous chairs strewn about
  547. >Oh, and two Germane guards
  548.  
  549. >It seems you’ve caught them by surprise
  550. >At least that’s what it seems like from their facial expressions
  551. >They look at each other, then you
  552. >You’ve already pointed the Killer7 at them
  553. >But you haven’t fired
  554. >Why not?
  555. >It wasn’t as if you outnumbered them and could get them to surrender
  556. >But perhaps it was what you were hoping for
  557. >Unfortunately not
  558. >The Unicorn among them sets up a magical barrier as the other rotates the cannon from the window towards you
  559. >Like the rest of their armaments, it would be gas based
  560. >But the impact would surely kill you if it hit directly
  561. >And from this range it was almost impossible to miss you
  562. >You would have to pull off some kind of miracle to not die here
  563. >Or your reflexes needed to be fast enough to go back in time right as they fire
  564. >The magical aura swirls around your horn in anticipation
  565. >You hear a loud bang and crash and immediately send yourself back
  566. >You were standing still so you really only popped out of existence for 4 seconds and then back in
  567. >But they were gone
  568. >The glass behind them had been broken inwards
  569. >You quickly trot over to find Bandit standing outside of the window, two struggling guardsponies held firmly within his grasp
  570. >Just as you begin to speak up, Bandit crushes them within his grasp with a sickening crunch
  571. >Red splatters over the exterior of the mansion
  572. >Their blood speckles upon your armor
  573. >It runs in rivulets down Bandit’s arm
  574. >”REWIND, I DO NOT ADVISE HESITATION.”
  575. >Why did you hesitate in the first place?
  576. >They were just about to kill you
  577. >If you don’t kill them, they’ll kill you
  578. >”There’s no room for second guessing on the battlefield.”
  579. >Who told you that?
  580. >You can’t seem to remember
  581. “R-Right. Got it.”
  582.  
  583. >With the construct of war assisting you, clearing the rest of the mansion goes almost smoothly
  584. >Almost scarily efficient
  585. >You push the breech block away and the spent shot falls out
  586. >You load in another one and look around
  587. >There are guards pinned to the walls thanks to the spikes
  588. >Some are dead, others are dying
  589. >The peeling paint had been given a new spattering of red tonight
  590. >You take the moment to sit down and close your eyes
  591. >Right now you didn’t think you could muster the force of will to mercy kill the dying guards
  592. >You rub your eyes with your hooves and open them
  593. >Everything is still the same
  594. >When you think about it longer, they truly didn’t have a chance
  595. >Germaneigh is proficient at long range bombardment, and area denial
  596. >But they’ve only just begun to develop reliable weapons for their infantry
  597. >Once you’d gotten inside, it was already over
  598. >Save for perhaps one of them spearing you with a bayonet
  599. >The one that tried to do that was laying in the hallway
  600. >She had caught you reloading
  601. >So you’d gone back in time and appeared behind her
  602. >Your own bayonet made short work of the poor mare
  603. >You made the mistake of looking into her eyes as she tried to struggle
  604. >You can feel a lump forming in your throat
  605. >You shut your eyes tight and swallow hard, biting back the rising tide of emotion
  606. “Deep breaths. Deep breaths.”
  607. >In through the nose, out through the mouth
  608. >How did it end up like this?
  609. >You carefully wipe your bayonet clean on your thigh
  610. >It’s best not to think about it
  611. >After all
  612. >It’s not like you could change it
  613.  
  614. >It was just the way the world worked now
  615. >And it was best not to overthink things too much
  616. >You stand up and turn around, immediately being greeted by Bandit’s large glowing eye sphere
  617. >”IS THERE SOMETHING WRONG, REWIND.”
  618. “GAH SHhhhhhelestia…”
  619. >Startled, you stumble backwards and fall
  620. “Oh, it’s just you Bandit. How’re you holding up?”
  621. >”SUSTAINED MINOR DAMAGE TO SECONDARY LAYER. SHRAPNEL.”
  622. >You wince a bit as he speaks
  623. “Is there any way you could maybe lower your voice?”
  624. >He looks upwards for a moment, as if thinking
  625. >He moves his hand up to the glowing sphere and twists it counter-clockwise
  626. >”Is this sufficient?”
  627. “Yeah, that’s better.”
  628. >You stand back up and dust yourself off, straightening your helmet
  629. “So are we safe now?”
  630. >You ask as you glance over your shoulder
  631. >”Yes, Rewind. It appears the Hayltalian bombardment has ceased as well.”
  632. “Good. Good…”
  633. >You turn and do your best not to look at the bodies as you trot over to a nearby chair and sit down
  634. >”You did not respond to my earlier inquiry.”
  635. >Bandit has moved over and pushed the window near you open
  636. “What?”
  637. >”Are you okay.”
  638. >Opening your mouth to answer, you’re interrupted as you hear something hit the floor behind you
  639. >You quickly spring to your hooves, pointing the Killer7 in that direction
  640.  
  641. >One of the guards had pried themselves free of the spike nailing them to the wall
  642. >She’d started crawling away towards a nearby door
  643. >Next to her hoof lies a tipped over end table
  644. >It seems she was trying to open the door
  645. >Sighing, you trot over past the trail of blood and roll her over
  646. >You can hear muffled whimpers as, presumably, her wounds are pressed against
  647. >She’s pale
  648. >She’s almost petrified upon seeing you
  649. >You can feel her quivering as your hoof touches her
  650. >The poor mare couldn’t have been older than 19
  651. >This could have very easily been you had things turned out differently
  652. >You push that thought away
  653. >Her eyes are darting back and forth between you and the door
  654. >You glance up at the slightly ajar door, then back to her
  655. “Something important in there?”
  656. >She stops shaking for a moment, but quickly tries to shake her head
  657. >There was obviously something in there
  658. “Hey, stay with me here. What’s in there?”
  659. >This mare wasn’t going to survive
  660. >You didn’t have any first aid supplies
  661. >Already you can feel her heart slowing down
  662. “What’s in that room? C’mon now.”
  663. >It’s no use however
  664. >She’s already gone
  665. >You sigh and close her eyes before standing
  666. >Opening up the door, there appears to be very little of note in the room
  667. >There’s ammunition for the cannons
  668. >A few maps
  669. >And some MREs
  670. >But you don’t see anything that you would rip a hole through yourself to get to
  671. >You trot inside
  672. “Maybe she was gonna grab one of these pucks and try and take me out with her.”
  673. >You flip it a few times in your hoof before putting it in one of your side pouches
  674. >Could come in handy later
  675. “Tenacious little mare if so.”
  676. >You make sure to roll up one of the maps and stuff it in your pack
  677. “Just what in the world was she so scared about me getting my hooves on?”
  678.  
  679. >After about 15 minutes of searching, you’re about to give up
  680. >That is, until you spy a painting that somepony had taken off the wall and propped up against the wall
  681. >You pick it up and examine it
  682. >Presumably it was a photo of somepony that lived here
  683. >Mane style indicated it was probably an ancestor from way back when
  684. >But the important part wasn’t the painting itself
  685. >But what it was hiding
  686. >Right where it used to be
  687. >Sitting ever so innocuously on the floor
  688. >Was a small jewelry box
  689. >Setting the painting aside, you pick up the box and examine it
  690. >It was about as long as your foreleg up to your elbow
  691. >You got the feeling that this is what that pony was trying to get to
  692. >You pry open the lock with your bayonet and tentatively open up the box
  693. >There’s an odd, golden light emanating from within
  694. >Something definitely magical was inside
  695. >But you aren’t dead yet, which means opening it the rest of the way wouldn’t kill you
  696. >Upon opening the lid all the way, you’re met with an odd sight
  697. >You aren’t quite sure what you expected, but it certainly wasn’t this
  698. >Inside the box is a dagger
  699. >It was stiletto style, more for stabbing than anything else
  700. >It looked incredibly worn
  701. “Geez… Just how old is this thing?”
  702. >You carefully take it out of the box and turn it over in your hooves
  703. >You can see that there was something inscribed in cursive font on the crossguard
  704. >You hold it closer and wipe away some of the grime obscuring it
  705. “For Fuse, may your cannons echo like thunder.”
  706. >You tilt your head, wondering just who this Fuse was
  707. >From how old the dagger was, you had to guess that they were dead by now
  708. >They had to be from before the war started
  709.  
  710. >You step on Bandit’s hand and he gently lowers you to the ground
  711. >”I suggest that we leave the city, Rewind. We may not get another opportunity.”
  712. >Nodding, you start trotting off down the cobblestone street
  713. “I picked up a map in there, apparently those railroad tracks that we passed lead right to the coastline. If we can hitch a ride on a train, we could cut down our journey considerably.”
  714. >Bandit picks you up and gently places you upon his shoulder
  715. >”What will we do when we reach the coast, Rewind.”
  716. >Tapping your chin as the two of you begin to leave the downtown area, you think
  717. “We steal a ship and go back to Equestria.”
  718. >”Do you have a contingency in case of the failure of that objective.”
  719. >Not really, you didn’t
  720. >Wait…
  721. >You pull out the map you’d taken from the mansion and unfurl it
  722. “Where is it where is it…. Aha!”
  723. >You hold it down in front of Bandit’s eye
  724. “Right there.”
  725. >You point at the small, narrow stretch of land that connects the northern half of Equestria with Haytaly
  726. “If we can’t steal a ship, then the Wendigo’s Passage is our backup plan.”
  727. >”Duly noted. We will proceed to West Fillyfurt station and board from there.”
  728. >An hour or so passes with little in the way of conversation between you and Bandit
  729. “Oh! Hey Bandit, do you think you could give this a once over for me?”
  730. >You pull the dagger out and place it in the golem’s hand
  731. >He holds it up to his eye and examines it
  732. >”Strong magical presence detected. Estimated over 50ssu’s.”
  733. >By Tartarus that was a lot
  734. >In school you’d learned that the amount of magic required to raise the sun and the moon simultaneously took a magical force of around 45 Starswirl Units
  735. >And this dagger you found in a box in a mansion in Marelin was over that?
  736. “Anything else?”
  737. >”Negative. I am not equipped for magical analysis.”
  738. >You take the dagger back and tuck it away
  739. >You’ll be handling it with much more care from now on
  740.  
  741. >The journey to the train station proves to be like the one leaving the farmstead
  742. >Long
  743. >And rather boring
  744. >But for you it’s a welcome boredom
  745. >You’re not being fired at
  746. >And you can relax fully
  747. >You close your eyes as Bandit’s heavy steps leave tracks in the dirt
  748. >You can make out stars through the leaves above
  749. >It’s a clear night with nary a cloud in the sky
  750. >A question however, begins to probe at the back of your mind
  751. “Hey Bandit?”
  752. >”Yes, Rewind.”
  753. “What’s in that sphere?”
  754. >You ask as you point at the glowing sphere located near the top-center of the golem’s body
  755. >”Me.”
  756. >You blink a few times
  757. “What?”
  758. >”I reside within the housing crystal.”
  759. >Okay, but that doesn’t answer your question
  760. “What do you mean?”
  761. >He stops walking for a moment and reaches up to his eye
  762. >You watch as he presses inwards, then rotates his hand to the right
  763. >The glowing runic lines upon his surface fade
  764. >A feeling of genuine surprise overcomes you as he pulls out the glowing sphere from his body and hands it to you
  765. >It’s warm to the touch and pulses with an unnatural energy
  766. >It feels like no magic you’ve ever felt before
  767. >In fact that bubble he’d put around you when he lobbed you through the window earlier felt the same way
  768. >It felt like you were holding fire that didn’t burn
  769. >The magic seemed to lick at your hooves, as if probing and ever searching
  770. >”Rewind, can you hear me.”
  771. “Of course.”
  772. >”You are holding me within your hooves.”
  773. >You hold it up closer to your face and analyze it further
  774. >Is that…
  775. “A brain?”
  776.  
  777. >There was a brain in the sphere
  778. >It was simply there, suspended within
  779. >As innocuous as anything else
  780. >”Yes. That is my brain.”
  781. “Is… Is it real or?”
  782. >”It is organic, yes.”
  783. >Does this mean that…
  784. “Bandit? Were you a pony before this?”
  785. >”Yes, Rewind.”
  786. >You simply hold it in your hooves as the otherworldly magic caresses your hooves
  787. >Now more than before you hold it with practiced carefulness
  788. >There was somepony else held within your hooves
  789. >So that’s what he meant when he said it was him inside the orb
  790. “What… How did this happen?”
  791. “It is this way for every golem created.”
  792. >Every single one?
  793. “I meant more specifically. Just how you came to be like… This.”
  794. >”I used to be as you were, and as Muddy Waters before you. Once the rider, now the construct.”
  795. “So it’s a cycle…”
  796. >”That is correct. If we are grievously injured in battle, with no odds of survival, our golem performs the final rites.”
  797. >”It pierces the heart and extracts the rider’s brain afterwards to store it safely. The brain is then returned to the architects, who encase it in an orb like the one you hold now.”
  798. >You glance down at the orb cradled in your arms
  799. >It pulses with every word Bandit speaks
  800. >”The golem is then constructed around the housing sphere and our shamans revive the brain.”
  801. >But…
  802. “Isn’t that a bit cruel? To never be put to rest?”
  803. >”Our rest will come when the war ends. Every day we fight draws us closer to it.”
  804. “Unless the crystal and the brain are destroyed, right?”
  805. >”Correct.”
  806.  
  807. >You sit in silence within Bandit’s hand for a while
  808. >It’s taking a bit to absorb the information he’s given you
  809. >This wasn’t just an artificial construct
  810. >This used to be somepony
  811. >Somepony alive
  812. >Somepony with a mom, dad, siblings
  813. >A life just like your own
  814. >And to become this artifact of war without so much as questioning it…
  815. “So why doesn’t anypony refuse to become a golem?”
  816. >”We are not divulged the information as to what they are created from. Only that they should be treated as your ally, and your partner.”
  817. >You want to be angry
  818. >You can feel it welling up within your gut
  819. >It’s an awful, wrenching feeling
  820. >But there’s no point
  821. >It was a fact of life now
  822. >Just like everything else in this world
  823. >They were effective weapons
  824. >However…
  825. “Do you still feel?”
  826. >”Emotions, yes.”
  827. “Then why do you sound so… Artificial? Not like a pony?”
  828. >”The more time that passes within this body, the less I am able to feel. I cannot feel sensations such as touch, taste or smell.”
  829. >You remain silent
  830. >”As such, my ability to process emotions and states of mind such as: Anger, pain, and joy is dampened. Enough times passes, and soon I forget what they ever felt like.”
  831. >You muster the courage to ask another question
  832. “How long have you been like this, Bandit?”
  833. >”Approximately… 2 years, 9 months, 4 days, 12 minutes, 4 seconds.”
  834. >So long…
  835. >You hold the sphere tighter
  836. >Nothing but the wind greets your pause
  837. “So… For Muddy Waters did you… You know…”
  838. >”Perform the last rites.”
  839. “Yes… That.”
  840. >”I did not.”
  841.  
  842. >You blink a few times
  843. “Huh?”
  844. >”I did not perform the last rites on Muddy Waters.”
  845. >Confusion overtakes you
  846. “But, I thought that’s what every golem has to do when the rider is going to die.”
  847. >”You are correct.”
  848. “Then why didn’t you?”
  849. >Bandit pauses
  850. “Bandi-”
  851. >”I could not.”
  852. >You sit in stunned silence as he cuts you off
  853. “Why?”
  854. >”Muddy Waters was my friend. My best friend. Even before I became this. As a pony, I joined the military alongside him.”
  855. >”He was not informed when I was killed in action. But the architects assigned him to me as my rider.”
  856. >Why would they do something like that?
  857. >”At the time, I was still becoming used to my new body. I could still feel my visceral emotions. I could not will myself to tell him what had happened.”
  858. >Bandit’s hand begins to grip you tighter, even as you hold the sphere in your hooves
  859. >”When we had become cornered by Haytalian forces, Muddy Waters was injured whilst fending off infantry.”
  860. >”Their forces locked us in the barn with magical seals when they could not destroy me.”
  861. >They must have been gone by the time you arrived
  862. >”I could do nothing for my friend as he died, save for accelerating the process.”
  863. “So you…”
  864. >”I pierced his heart and he died instantly. But I could not bring myself to remove his brain.”
  865. >“I refused to continue the cycle and instead buried him inside the barn.”
  866. >It’s almost jarring to hear him describe this in a nigh emotionless tone
  867. >The pressure exerted by his grip is very apparent now
  868. >But he seems to be making sure not to hurt you
  869. “I’m… I’m sorry.”
  870. >”It is not something you need to concern yourself with. I no longer possess the ability to feel grief, nor do I possess the anatomy required to produce tears.”
  871. >You doubt that first part
  872.  
  873. >A considerable amount of time passes with no conversation between the two of you as Bandit continues to follow the path
  874. >However there’s a question gnawing its way through your mind
  875. “Hey Bandit?”
  876. >”Yes Rewind.”
  877. “Is Bandit your real name?”
  878. >”It is not. It was given to me by the architects.”
  879. “Then what’s your real name?”
  880. >”I once was Sandstone, if my memories are correct.”
  881. >Your mind lingers on his words
  882. >Once was
  883. “You’re still Sandstone though. That was who you were before this. What’s changed? Your body?”
  884. >You gently hold the sphere up as you gesture to the golem
  885. “Your memories are still the same. And even though I never met you before this, I’m sure your mannerisms, your quirks, your thoughts, they’re still your own, right?”
  886. >”That is correct.”
  887. “Then what do you mean you “once were” Sandstone? That’s still who you are!”
  888. >You do your best to smile
  889. >He seems to stop and think over your words
  890. >”You hold an odd view of my situation, Rewind. One that has never been brought to my attention before.”
  891. >That’s good, right?
  892. >”Will you continue holding me.”
  893. “What? O-Oh! Right!”
  894. >You hold out the orb and he replaces it into the indentation within his torso
  895. “Sorry.”
  896. >”There is nothing to apologize for, Rewind. I thank you for our conversation.”
  897. “Oh, uh… No problem.”
  898. >He continues to hold onto you as you two leave Marelin’s city limits and proceed into the countryside
  899. >”I recommend rest to relieve today’s stress. I will wake you upon our arrival at the station.”
  900. >As he says so, you can feel your eyelids growing heavy
  901. >Perhaps you’d just been ignoring it up until now
  902. “Right. You’re right.”
  903. >You curl up within his hand
  904. “Just one more question.”
  905. >He looks over at you
  906. “What do you want me to call you from now on?”
  907. >”You may refer to me however you wish.”
  908. “Alright. Good night Sandstone.”
  909. >”…Rest well, Rewind.”
  910.  
  911. >You dream for the first time in quite awhile
  912. >Or rather, you’re able to recall this one as it happens
  913. >You’re laying on the ground
  914. >The sky is gray
  915. >Overcast
  916. >It’s raining
  917. >It patters on your face gently
  918. >Where were you?
  919. >You crane your head to look to either side
  920. >There’s nothing but mud, barbed wire, and trenches in either direction
  921. >A battle took place here
  922. >But it was over now
  923. >Why were you still here?
  924. >Why were you laying in Nopony’s Land?
  925. >It wasn’t safe out here
  926. >But the battle was over
  927. >What happened?
  928. >You try and sit up
  929. >But you can’t move
  930. >Why can’t you move?
  931. >You start to panic as you hear hoofsteps
  932. >Just one set
  933. >And only two hooves
  934. >Thump
  935. >Thump
  936. >Thump
  937. >Thump
  938. >A chill runs down your spine, but it only makes you colder
  939. >A shadow looms over you
  940. >You can only stare upwards as fear grips your heart
  941. >There’s a golem standing over you
  942. >It stares, unflinching at you
  943. >It speaks but you can’t understand it
  944. >It wasn’t in a language you understood
  945. >You watch as it tilts to one side, as if confused by you
  946. >It speaks again, and you recognize the words as it does
  947. >”Something important in there?”
  948. >It asks, in your voice as it places a finger upon your chest, directly over your heart
  949. >You’re terrified
  950. >You can’t answer as your words hitch in your throat
  951. >”Hey, stay with me here. What’s in there?”
  952. >You feel a sharp pain as something shoots into your chest
  953. >You can feel it stab into your heart
  954. >You lay there twitching
  955. >But you don’t die
  956. >You can feel as the familiar dagger retracts back through your body and into the golem’s finger
  957. >You watch in agony as its hands begin to move towards your head
  958. >As they close in and blot out your vision, you awaken in a cold sweat
  959. >”Rewind, is something wrong?”
  960. “What? N-No no just… Just a bad dream…”
  961.  
  962. >You do your best to go back to sleep
  963. >Luckily, there are no more nightmares that plague you as you do
  964. >You’re awoken a few hours later as Bandit places you in a traincar with no roof
  965. “Huh? What?”
  966. >”Records found within the trainyard indicate this one delivering cargo to the coast.”
  967. “Really? That’s great!”
  968. >”Advise lowering your voice. I am unable to tell if we are alone.”
  969. “Right, sorry.”
  970. >“It is fine.”
  971. >The massive golem pulls a tarp over the two of you, concealing both of you from the outside world
  972. >”The train will depart in the morning, and will take a total of two days and 3 hours to reach the coastal city of Haydelberg. It is unknown whether or not it will pass through security checkpoints.”
  973. >You nod softly
  974. >”If you wish to acquire more sleep, you would not be remiss to do so now.”
  975. >You’d like to, but…
  976. >That nightmare you had still rests in the back of your mind
  977. >Something about it however sticks out to you
  978. >It was that weird dagger you’d been stabbed with in your dream
  979. >You still can’t figure it out
  980. >You fish it out from your pack and examine it
  981. >It continues to emanate a soft, golden light, even now
  982. “Still got no idea what this does?”
  983. >Sandstone takes the dagger between two fingers and looks closely at it
  984. >”Secondary analysis: Temporal disruption as the cause of abnormally high magic levels. Recommend extreme caution if handled with magic.”
  985. >Temporal?
  986. >As in time?
  987. >You take the dagger as he hands it back and put it away
  988. >You try to take Sandstone’s advice and go back to sleep
  989. >It was still dark out, so it wasn’t difficult
  990.  
  991. >”I hear they put her in a golem.”
  992. >”What? No way, those are nowhere near our front.”
  993. >”I’m telling you, it’s true! They brought a shaman in and everything”
  994. >”Pff, even if they did, it’s not like Rewind would change much.”
  995. >”I mean, that’s a bit harsh but… I can’t argue with the truth.”
  996. >You can hear voices in your dream
  997. >You look down
  998. >You see hands
  999. >You turn them over
  1000. >Your hooves are gone
  1001. >You feel cold
  1002. >You wake up
  1003. >You groan
  1004. >If you didn’t know any better you’d think Luna was up to something
  1005. >But she’s far too busy to interfere within the dreams of somepony thousands of miles away, whom she’s never met
  1006. >You can only imagine the kind of nightmares she sees during the night from everypony now
  1007. >Shuddering, you turn over and face Sandstone as those familiar words echo in your head once more
  1008. >”Something important in there?”
  1009. >You reach into your pack and remove the dagger, holding it close to your chest
  1010. >Your mind starts to race as you feel the warmth of it against your cold armor
  1011. >Just what was so important about you?
  1012. >What in your heart was so important that you were allowed to keep living?
  1013. >Why are you even laying here next to a construct that used to be a pony?
  1014. >Was living that important?
  1015. >Was that the only reason that you’re still going strong?
  1016. >Just to live?
  1017. >What kind of existence is that?
  1018. >Were you really any different from Sandstone?
  1019. >…Yes
  1020. >But he actually felt things
  1021. >He feels things even when his body is designed not to
  1022. >But what excuse do you have?
  1023. >Are your own emotions really that intrusive that you have to sequester them away?
  1024. >Why do you ignore those feelings?
  1025. >Why were you so cold?
  1026.  
  1027. >You desperately try to fight back the typhoon of questions in your mind
  1028. >Coming up with more and more excuses
  1029. >”There’s no room for your emotions when the world is like this.”
  1030. >”It’s better not to feel.”
  1031. >”This is just the way things are now.”
  1032. >”You still feel things, just not as much as other ponies.”
  1033. >”At the end of the day, living another day IS the most important.”
  1034. >All lies you keep telling yourself
  1035. >You lie there against the tarp as rain patters against the outside
  1036. >Between you, a piece of metal, and a golem, how did you end up being the coldest thing here?
  1037. >How did it all end up this way?
  1038. >What meaning did your life hold?
  1039. >”Something important in there?”
  1040. >Why did that hurt so much?
  1041. >After a few minutes of silent contemplation, you speak up
  1042. >You try and hide your voice cracking
  1043. “H-Hey, Sandstone? Are you awake?”
  1044. >”Yes, Rewind.”
  1045. “I’m… I’m gonna try something, okay? Don’t freak out.”
  1046. >”I will refrain from being alarmed.”
  1047. >You hold the dagger up at take a deep breath
  1048. >You close your eyes
  1049. >Magic swirls about your horn, coating it in an aura of amber-orange
  1050. >It was just like any other time going back 4 seconds
  1051. >But you had to test something
  1052. >You wouldn’t be able to sleep soundly until you did
  1053. >But still you hesitated
  1054. >What if it didn’t work?
  1055. >What if you pop back into existence and nothing’s changed?
  1056. >What if you’re still laying here?
  1057. >Perhaps it would be better not to try…
  1058. >No
  1059. >In reality, what did you have to lose?
  1060. >It wasn’t as if you had an important mission to carry out
  1061. >You just wanted to keep living
  1062. >And for what, just to wake up the next day and live some more?
  1063. >Was that really a life worth living?
  1064. >Once more, with a flash of light, you cease to exist and go back in time
  1065.  
  1066. >As usual you can feel yourself going back, your body repeating all of the motions it had gone through in that 4 seconds in reverse
  1067. >That is until you watch your view of the world fade out
  1068. >Normally when you send yourself back in time you see the world like a photo negative and then you pop back into reality
  1069. >Not this time
  1070. >Your vision starts to blur until you can see nothing but the faint gray haze of everything blended together
  1071. >You start to feel nauseous
  1072. >Keeping track of your surroundings has become far too difficult for your brain
  1073. >And the combined strain of your magic isn’t helping
  1074. >You black out
  1075. . . . . . . . . . .
  1076. >With a loud gasp, you fill your lungs with life-giving air
  1077. >You blink a few times
  1078. >With your head still spinning, you don’t really feel like getting up was the wisest idea
  1079. >The smell of varnished wood pervades your nostrils
  1080. >The sound of propellers chopping wind fills your ears, but it sounds somewhat muffled
  1081. >Just where in the world were you?
  1082. >Had you been dreaming this whole time?
  1083. >You weren’t back on the zeppelin, were you?
  1084. >You groan as you push yourself up and take a look around
  1085. >The dim light of a lantern sheds little light on the room you find yourself in
  1086. >There’s an unmade bed against the wall, a table with a large map draped over it, and most prominently a door with light filtering around the sides
  1087. >You stand up and take a few tentative steps towards the door
  1088. >You stop just inches away from opening it as you hear a voice from above you
  1089. >”My friends… Ze task falls to us. We are all zat stands between success and ruin.”
  1090. >There was a mare speaking
  1091. >Her accent sounded decidedly Prench in nature
  1092. >You lower your hoof from the door
  1093. >Perhaps it was best not to make yourself known to the enemy
  1094.  
  1095. >Somepony else speaks up
  1096. >”Captain, we’ll… We’ll have backup, won’t we?”
  1097. >You can hear a few murmurs of nervousness pervading the crowd
  1098. >You do your best to peek through the cracks in the door
  1099. >Unfortunately, you can’t see much, save for a crowd of ponies
  1100. >There’s a long period of silence from the mare speaking
  1101. >”Non.”
  1102. >The murmurs return, now more fearful than before
  1103. >”B-But that’s suicide! There’s no way we can face an armada like that!”
  1104. >”Captain, what are we gonna do?!”
  1105. >”Quiet, all of you!”
  1106. >She barks at the crowd
  1107. >”I have not called zis meeting to give you all false hopes. Zere iz ze very real possibility zat none of us will make it out of zis alive.”
  1108. >”I HAVE called you here however as a reminder. Ze artifacts in your possession, zose zat you have received, or come across in our travels, must not fall into ze wrong hooves.”
  1109. >A few seconds of silence pass before you can hear reactions of awe from the crowd
  1110. >”Even I must do my part. I ask zat, should you survive the coming battle, do not lose zese mementos, do not sell, do not flaunt, and do not dispose of zem.”
  1111. >”Hide zem. Give zem to your children when you feel ze time iz right. But do not relinquish zem to ze enemy. Take zem wiz you to ze grave if you must.”
  1112. >Had you been taken prisoner?
  1113. >Just what was this place?
  1114. >”Remember zis: Our failure here means ruin for ze rest of ze entire world. Ze armada escorts a cargo ship holding a dark artifact zat no hooves should ever behold.”
  1115. >You take a few steps back from the door
  1116. >A dark artifact? To Prance?
  1117. >For what purpose?
  1118. >”Should we fail here, and ze ship make its way to Prance, zey will surely use it to usher in an era of darkness. I do not need to tell you what consequences zis holds for ze world.”
  1119. >You’ve gone back far longer than 4 seconds
  1120.  
  1121. “What the fu-“
  1122. >Before you can finish your expletive, all sound is sucked away, as is your surroundings
  1123. >It feels as if you’re being torn asunder bit by bit as you’re flung forward in time
  1124. >You awaken with a start, eyes open wide as you sit up
  1125. >”Rewind, are you okay?”
  1126. >The cold metal of the traincar presses against your cheek
  1127. >”Rewind, please respond.”
  1128. >You push yourself up and look at the familiar golem
  1129. “Yeah. I’m uh… I’m alright.”
  1130. >You take off your helmet and rub the side of your head
  1131. “Hey Sandstone, can you tell me what happened?”
  1132. >”Certainly. Your vital signatures ceased to be for approximately 4 minutes. In that time, I analyzed the situation and considered updating our mission objectives.”
  1133.  “Hold on hold on. You said that my vital signs “ceased to be.” What do you mean?”
  1134. >”Brain activity and heart rate did not flatline. However, they did vanish. I was no longer able to track them as I am able to do normally.”
  1135. >All of this is slowly starting to weigh heavily on your mind
  1136. >You take a look again at the dagger in your hooves
  1137. >It pulses softly
  1138. “Sandstone… I think I went back in time before the war happened.”
  1139. >”Highly illogical. However, given your magical disposition, not improbable.”
  1140. >You keep staring at the softly glowing dagger in your hooves
  1141. >Such an innocuous thing
  1142. >Were it not for the golden light, nopony would think it to be something with the power to go back in time
  1143. >This was something that absolutely belonged in the magical archives
  1144. >And yet
  1145. >You pull it closer to your chest, up against your breastplate
  1146. >You get the feeling that allowing any of the ruling powers to acquire it would result in disaster
  1147.  
  1148. >But you had to try something
  1149. >You had to make sure that it wasn’t simply a window into the past
  1150. “Sandstone, I’m gonna use it again. I have to test something.”
  1151. >”Understood.”
  1152. >Once more you focus your magic upon the dagger in your hooves
  1153. >And once more you send yourself back as normal
  1154. >Again your vision blurs into one color until you pass out
  1155. >You awaken again to the smell of varnished wood and the sound of chopping air
  1156. >You wince as you stand up, stumbling slightly
  1157. >This time you examine the room more thoroughly
  1158. >First you check the map upon the table
  1159. >There’s an enchanted miniature of what you assume is the ship you’re on
  1160. >You watch it slowly move along the map
  1161. >Underneath the small figure there appear to be small glowing points of light clustered around it
  1162. >”My friends… Ze task falls to us. We are all zat stands between success and ruin.”
  1163. >That mare was talking again
  1164. >You pull away from the map and glance around the room
  1165. >This was more reminiscent of a captain’s quarters of some sort the more you look at it
  1166. >This wasn’t any kind of zeppelin, if the figure on the map was to be believed
  1167. >It was more like an airship
  1168. >”Captain, we’ll… We’ll have backup, won’t we?”
  1169. >You fight the urge to take a step out there and say that you’re the backup
  1170. >It’d be nothing but cruel to these ponies
  1171. >But you had to do something, right?
  1172. >But what could you even do?
  1173. >Warn them of their failure?
  1174. >You were gonna be pulled back to your time in 4 minutes
  1175. >You had that long to do something
  1176. >”Non.”
  1177. >”B-But that’s suicide! There’s no way we can face an armada like that!”
  1178. >”Captain, what are we gonna do?!”
  1179. >”Quiet, all of you!”
  1180.  
  1181. >You go quiet as well
  1182. >The mare continues with her speech as you’d heard before
  1183. >All the while you’re frantically thinking of some way to change the past
  1184. >Or if you even could
  1185. >”I have not called zis meeting to give you all false hopes. Zere iz ze very real possibility zat none of us will make it out of zis alive.”
  1186. >”I HAVE called you here however as a reminder. Ze artifacts in your possession, zose zat you have received, or come across in our travels, must not fall into ze wrong hooves.”
  1187. >Wait a second
  1188. >Right as you’re about to push the door open, her words make something click in your mind
  1189. “If they’re all here, then…”
  1190. >Your eyes widen and you scurry back to the map
  1191. >Those tiny lights
  1192. >Those must be all those artifacts these ponies have on the ship
  1193. >If you’re lucky and they all work the same way, one of them just might be the one that could send you back somewhere specific
  1194. >You take the map and fold it up, ship miniature and all, and tuck it into a pocket underneath your breastplate
  1195. >Now all you had to do was hope that you could bring things back
  1196. >”Even I must do my part. I ask zat, should you survive the coming battle, do not lose zese mementos, do not sell, do not flaunt, and do not dispose of zem.”
  1197. >”Hide zem. Give zem to your children when you feel ze time iz right. But do not relinquish zem to ze enemy. Take zem wiz you to ze grave if you must.”
  1198. >You take a few deep breaths
  1199. >Now was the moment of truth
  1200. >Your heart beat as if it were trying to escape your chest
  1201. >Your spine tingled in a mix of fear and anticipation
  1202. >”Should we fail here, and ze ship make its way to Prance, zey will surely revive him and install him as ze new ruler. I do not need to tell you what consequences zis holds for ze world.”
  1203. >Once more you’re sucked back into the space between time
  1204.  
  1205. >That familiar pain of being ripped apart comes back
  1206. >And you wake back up, cheek against the cold metal of the traincar
  1207. >”Welcome back, Rewind.”
  1208. >You gasp and roll over
  1209. >Sitting up, you quickly check the pocket under your breastplate
  1210. >You feel it
  1211. >The map is there
  1212. >The map you took from the past
  1213. >You start to laugh
  1214. “Aha… Ahaha…”
  1215. >It’s almost in disbelief as much as it is joy
  1216. “Sandstone. I did it.”
  1217. >He tilts his head
  1218. >”Did what?”
  1219. “I brought it back. I brought back a map.”
  1220. >You lay back down and pull it carefully from your pocket
  1221. >Upon unfolding it, you notice a few details
  1222. >The miniature is gone
  1223. >As are most of the lights that you’d seen earlier
  1224. >You take out the other map you’d taken from the mansion and compare the two
  1225. >Save for some different names and new landmasses, they were easily comparable
  1226. “So if we’re about here… Then this one should be us.”
  1227. >You move your hoof to the dull light on the map as you lean back against some crates
  1228. >You slide your hoof along the map until you stop at the only other light upon it
  1229. “And that should be another one of these artifacts.”
  1230. >You fold up both maps and tuck them safely away
  1231. >You take a deep breath
  1232. >Now moreso than ever, what you did next was important
  1233. >Perhaps not for just you, but potentially for the entire world
  1234. >You feel sick
  1235. >Like somepony had just taken your blood
  1236. >You’re lightheaded
  1237. >Assumedly, the only other ponies that knew about this were dead
  1238. >You and Sandstone are the only ponies with knowledge of this
  1239. “Hey Sandstone?”
  1240. >”Yes, Rewind.”
  1241. “I’ve got an idea.”
  1242.  
  1243. “That dagger sent me back in time to before the war started. And I was able to take a map back from it.”
  1244. >Sandstone stays silent, presumably to gather more information
  1245. “We could go through with our original mission. You know, going back to Equestria and all…”
  1246. >You hold up the dagger
  1247. “But this got me thinking.”
  1248. >You lean forward just a bit
  1249. >Sandstone does the same, the massive sphere glowing softly
  1250. “What if we could stop it? ALL of it. Nopony would have to die. You… You could go back to being a pony again alongside your friend!”
  1251. >For the first time in a long while you’re feeling something again
  1252. >You’re feeling joy
  1253. >Anticipation
  1254. >Happiness
  1255. >You’re actually smiling
  1256. >Smiling at the prospect of being able to change something
  1257. >Heck, not just something
  1258. >The two of you could change the entire world
  1259. >Sandstone is silent
  1260. >”New Objective: Recover lost artifacts.”
  1261. >Your smile widens and you nearly tackle the massive golem in a hug
  1262. >There was no way you would be able to do all of this yourself, that’s for certain
  1263. >At least with Sandstone on board, you’ve got better odds of success now
  1264. >Maybe this was what you were born to do
  1265. >It’s almost too good to be true
  1266. >You, saving the world
  1267. >And nopony but you two would ever know
  1268.  
  1269. >For the first time in a while, you’re able to get a good night’s sleep
  1270. >Even if it is in the bed of a traincar underneath a tarp
  1271. >You awaken gently with a yawn as opposed to startled in a cold sweat
  1272. >The train had already started to move
  1273. “Sandstone, are you awake?”
  1274. >”Affirmative.”
  1275. “Good, because I need your help.”
  1276. >You pull the map out from your breast pocket and unfold it, pointing to the glowing light
  1277. “Is this train able to get anywhere close to it?”
  1278. >You unfurl the other map and set it beside the older one
  1279. >Sandstone studies both maps for a few minutes
  1280. >”Knowledge of known Germane rail systems is insufficient. The one we reside on now should be able to take us relatively close.”
  1281. >You breathe a sigh of relief
  1282. >”However,”
  1283. >Uh oh
  1284. >”The train we have stowed away on is currently delivering to the coastal city of Haydelburg.”
  1285. >Fiddlesticks
  1286. >That was right
  1287. >You got on this train to get back to Equestria
  1288. “Is there a way to change the route?”
  1289. >”Indeed. However, the switching station is unlikely to be utilized for an unscheduled route change.”
  1290. “Then I guess we’ll just have to change it ourselves.”
  1291. >Sandstone removes the tarp and looks around
  1292. >Currently the train was heading through a tunnel in a mountain
  1293. >”Current location: Lattengebirge. Germane mountain range. Switching station a short distance from the exit.”
  1294. “Great! Then we wait for the train to pass through the mountains, then I jump out and hit the switch.”
  1295. >Sandstone seems to turn his sphere from side to side as if shaking his head
  1296. >“Unfortunately it will not be that easy.”
  1297.  
  1298. >“We currently reside on the 14th freight car. The switch at the station would have to be pulled before the locomotive passes over the track to be switched.”
  1299. >You look up as the train passes into another tunnel
  1300. >You swallow hard
  1301. “So you mean I’m gonna have to climb my way through 13 freight cars and jump off the front?”
  1302. >”Correct. I would provide assistance were it not for my body being far too large to navigate between the tunnels.”
  1303. >Deep breaths Rewind
  1304. >Deep breaths
  1305. “R-Right. It’s fine don’t worry. Just gotta be careful. How hard could it be?”
  1306. >”I recommend starting soon. We only have a few minutes before the locomotive leaves the tunnels.”
  1307. “G-Got it…”
  1308. >You get out from underneath the tarp and peek out to the side of the freight car just a bit
  1309. >You spot the oncoming light at the end and mentally prepare yourself for what’s to come
  1310. >Just don’t think about the what-ifs
  1311. >Focus only on the success
  1312. >You CAN do this
  1313. >It’s just that next step on the path to saving the entire world!
  1314. >The freight car you’re in passes into the light with a rush of air and you spring into action
  1315. >You clamber up the ladder and onto the top of the car in front of you
  1316. >The wind whips through your mane and brings tears to your eyes
  1317. >But you don’t have time to linger on it
  1318. >You gallop across the top of the car and jump to the next
  1319. >Then the next
  1320. >Then the next
  1321. >And the nex-
  1322. >Your hooves sink slightly and you notice you don’t have as firm a hoofhold as before
  1323. “What the…”
  1324. >You look down and discover that you’ve landed in one of the coal freighters
  1325. >It was just a small hurdle, but one that cut into the little time you had
  1326. >You jump for the next car, but the coals slip from under your hooves, denying the leverage you needed for a complete jump
  1327.  
  1328. >You hit the edge of the freight car with a thunk
  1329. >It knocks the wind from your lungs and you cough and sputter as you try and breathe again
  1330. >After a moment to get your breath back, you start to pull yourself up onto the top of the freight car
  1331. >Only to drop yourself back down again as the top of the next tunnel narrowly misses your horn
  1332. >You can almost feel it rushing past your hooves as you hang there
  1333. >If you’re passing through a mountain range, you can’t imagine how long or short this tunnel could even be
  1334. >There was no time to wait
  1335. >You shimmy over to the side of the train car and peek to the side
  1336. >There looked to be just enough room to safely hang and shuffle yourself across
  1337. >Carefully moving around the corner, a new problem appeared
  1338. >The wind itself
  1339. >It rushed and whistled past you as now you were no longer protected by the mass of the freight car
  1340. >It only made it that much more difficult to keep holding onto the lip of the car
  1341. >Don’t focus on the failure
  1342. >Just keep going
  1343. >Making it up to the middle of the freight car you’re able to find a small ledge to rest your hindlegs on
  1344. >The burning in your forelegs subsides for a moment while you catch your breath
  1345. >Why were you doing this again?
  1346. >Surely you could just wait for the train to arrive in Haydelburg and explain your situation to somepony there, right?
  1347. >But the more you think about it, the more it seemed like a bad idea
  1348. >You’d already killed at least an entire detachment of Germane guards
  1349. >Not to mention you’d stolen both a map of the area, AND more importantly a powerful magical item that they’d no doubt been expecting to receive
  1350.  
  1351. >Plus with this Haytalian weapon on your foreleg, they were likely to assume you were a spy of some sort
  1352. >Furthermore, after finding the dagger in the hooves of the Germanes, you can only imagine what could happen if somepony else found an artifact like the one you have and figured out how it worked
  1353. >Even IF they didn’t figure out how it worked, exploiting it for its powerful magic wouldn’t be too difficult if they found the right pony
  1354. >Even if it wasn’t direly urgent, it was still important enough to divert this train
  1355. >After your few seconds of rest, you continue shimmying along the ledge before rounding the corner and dropping onto the connector
  1356. “Guh… Just how long is this tunnel?”
  1357. >As if to answer you, the harsh sunlight nearly blinds you from above as your part of the train comes out
  1358. “Alright Rewind… Lotta ground to cover.”
  1359. >You clamber up on top of the car and start galloping along, jumping to the next car when you came to it
  1360. >Soon the locomotive is clearly in view
  1361. >You’re only about 3 cars away from it
  1362. >The steam pouring from the top hits you and dampens your fur beneath your uniform
  1363. >You hop over the few gaps between you and it
  1364. >Hopefully nopony looks to investigate the thumping on the roof
  1365. >Out of the corner of your eye you can see it
  1366. >The switching station
  1367. >To get enough speed to reach it you were gonna have to jump much earlier and keep going back to build up momentum
  1368. >Earlier as in now
  1369.  
  1370. >You hesitate for a moment, before gently slapping your cheeks twice with your hooves
  1371. “You can do this.”
  1372. >Taking a deep breath, you leap from the train
  1373. >The added speed from the train itself propels you along, but it’s still not enough
  1374. >You would hit the ground before you even reached the switch
  1375. >But still you wait
  1376. >You wait for enough time that you’d still be in the air when you sent yourself back
  1377. >The aura around your horn flares and a flash of white blinds you as you rewind
  1378. >The world goes negative as you repeat your motions in the last 4 seconds and come back into existence in the space you occupied 4 seconds ago
  1379. >I.e. flying through the air
  1380. >You were picking up more speed
  1381. >Just one more
  1382. >You wait for just a moment and send yourself back again
  1383. >When the world comes back you’re hurtling through the air
  1384. >The wind stings at your eyes
  1385. >This was it
  1386. >You do your best to angle yourself in midair
  1387. >The trajectory was as perfect as it could be
  1388. >So you steeled yourself for what was to come
  1389. >You brace as you hit the switch hard
  1390. >It would have winded you if not for your breastplate
  1391. >The pain throbbed in your chest but you couldn’t tend to it
  1392. >You send yourself back again
  1393. >And when you pop back in you do so again
  1394. >And again
  1395. >You can feel your head starting to hurt
  1396. >It’s a dull throb that only gets more intense as you rewind over and over
  1397. >It only occurs to you after tears are streaming down your cheeks and your nose is bleeding that you’d never used it so many times in a row
  1398. >After a total of 8 rewinds you’re back where you used to be when you were standing on the front locomotive
  1399. >The train of course had passed a few moments ago
  1400.  
  1401.  
  1402. >Your speed is still around “way too fast” but you’ve come back to the train
  1403. >Luckily for you, the speeding bullet that is your body is stopped by the coal car from earlier
  1404. >You groan loudly
  1405. >You’re seeing double
  1406. >No, make that triple
  1407. >You blink a few times to get your eyes back in focus before digging yourself out of the coal you’d become buried in
  1408. “Hopefully… They just think it’s a last minute route change.”
  1409. >After wiping away the blood dripping down your snout, you very carefully return to Sandstone
  1410. >You collapse in the bed of the car
  1411. >Sandstone promptly looms over you
  1412. >“Are you alright Rewind? Your cerebral activity fluctuated far beyond normal Unicorn metrics.”
  1413. >You hold up your hoof and let it flop over to the side where the metal of your hoof’s armor elicits a dull thunk
  1414. “Yeah. I’m alright. Just gotta lay off the magic for a bit. My brain hurts.”
  1415. >Sandstone looks out to the side of the train
  1416. >”It appears your actions were successful. The train has been diverted and is now en route to the Northern Colpogne station.”
  1417. “Hah… Doesn’t really matter. We’ll be getting off before it arrives there anyway.”
  1418. >”Understood.”
  1419. >You curl up and take off your helmet, your wavy white mane unfurling from underneath
  1420. “I’ll just be taking a… A short rest.”
  1421. >Yeah
  1422. >That’s what you’ll do
  1423. >An exhausted little pony needs rest
  1424. >Even with the subpar sleeping conditions you’re able to fall asleep relatively quickly
  1425. >Sandstone’s leg makes a great impromptu pillow as well
  1426.  
  1427. >You awaken around 2 hours later if what Sandstone tells you is any indication
  1428. >It occurs to you that you’ve been sleeping quite a bit lately
  1429. >You chalk it up to exhaustion
  1430. >As well as having a whole heap of responsibility shoved onto you all at once
  1431. >Granted, you were the one that assumed you’d be able to change things if you found more of these relics
  1432. >So it’s mostly your fault
  1433. >Sandstone picks you up, gently holding you in his hand as he leaps from the train
  1434. >”This is our stop.”
  1435. >You snicker just a bit
  1436. “I didn’t know you had a sense of humor.”
  1437. >”I have not lost all semblance of personality, Rewind.”
  1438. >Well, at least that’s good
  1439. >Sandstone places you upon his shoulder as he trudges along through the lush green rolling hills of the Germane countryside
  1440. >You’re able to spot what appears to be some woods up ahead
  1441. “Isn’t this exciting?”
  1442. >”The prospect of ending the war before it begins is an interesting one, no matter how far-fetched.”
  1443. >You unfold the map and lay it across Sandstone’s head-body… Area and study it for a bit
  1444. >It seemed that the woodland ahead was where the next magical relic was supposed to be located
  1445. “I find it a bit hard to believe myself. I mean, I knew time travel was a thing. But I never thought it’d be possible to change the past.”
  1446. >You rub your chin
  1447. “Heck, we don’t even know if we can yet. All we know is that we can take things from the past back to the future.”
  1448. >”It is important not to defeat yourself before we have begun.”
  1449. >Nodding silently, you return to studying the map you brought from the past
  1450. “Any idea what we can expect in the forest up ahead?”
  1451. >The sphere housing Sandstone’s brain swivels slightly to face the approaching woodland
  1452.  
  1453. >”Unnamed stretch of wooded area. Information on flora and fauna within insufficient. I am sorry.”
  1454. >You screw up your nose and huff
  1455. “Oh well. We’ll just have to be on guard even more than usual. Just hold me a bit lower so I don’t hit my head on any branches, alright?”
  1456. >”Noted.”
  1457. >Sandstone reaches up and gently takes hold of you, lowering you down
  1458. >You lay the map on one of his fingers as you cross the treeline
  1459. >”Where did you go?”
  1460. >Your ears perk up a bit and swivel just slightly in Sandstone’s direction
  1461. “What’s that now?”
  1462. >”When you went back in time. Where did you go?”
  1463. >That was a good question
  1464. “Don’t you mean WHEN did I go?”
  1465. >You grin at the golem
  1466. >Sandstone remains silent
  1467. >He doesn’t have a face per se, but if he did you could imagine the deadpan look he’d be giving you right about now
  1468. “I uh… I’m not sure where. I was on a ship of some kind. But I heard propellers? It wasn’t any kind of zeppelin gondola I’d ever seen.”
  1469. >”Odd. Do you have any more information?”
  1470. >You look upwards in thought as branches and dead leaves crunch under Sandstone’s heavy steps
  1471. “There was somepony talking. She had a Prench accent. She was talking about how she and her crew were supposed to stop an armada.”
  1472. >”Information given is consistent with the decline of the Prench airship era following the rise of mass production in equine-based countries.”
  1473. >You raise an eyebrow, your mouth open in an attempt to formulate a response
  1474. >”It is highly probable that you had gone back in time onto a renegade Prench airship.”
  1475. “Oh. Right. Figured as much.”
  1476. >You levitate the old map with your magic, just out to the side, and rest your hooves on Sandstone’s finger
  1477. >In a way, this walk through the woods was somewhat relaxing
  1478. >It was nice not having to fear for your life every second
  1479.  
  1480. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pEsW-z82n9c
  1481. >After giving Sandstone directions for a few minutes and finding absolutely nothing but more woods, you let out a groan of dismay
  1482. “Arrrggh, I feel like we’ve been going in circles.”
  1483. >”I assure you we have not.”
  1484. “Then where’s the-“
  1485. >Two of Sandstone’s fingers grip the map and gently pull it up out of your face
  1486. >You’re greeted with a massive, crumbling structure
  1487. >You’re unsure of how old it could truly be
  1488. >Old enough that the forest was starting to reclaim it
  1489. >Moss grew upon the exterior brickwork
  1490. >The massive stone archways had long since collapsed
  1491. >And there appears to be a tree growing straight up through the center of it
  1492. >Upon further inspection it appears to be a temple of some sort
  1493. >Though to what patron, you’re unsure
  1494. “Oh. Heh. Look at that.”
  1495. >You check the map and nod
  1496. >This was definitely where the next relic was
  1497. >You wriggle out of Sandstone’s grip and hop to the ground
  1498. >As you trot up the cracked stone steps, you look up at the archway and step over the crumbled portion
  1499. “Just what is this place?”
  1500. >Sandstone climbs over a ruined portion of wall and joins you inside
  1501. >”I do not know. Masonry is inconsistent with known Germane records.”
  1502. >A few rays of sunlight filter in through the trees and portions of the ceiling that haven’t collapsed, illuminating the grand hall with a dim glow
  1503. >The broken wooden seats lie dashed against the walls and floor
  1504. >But even those are being pushed away by the roots growing through the floor
  1505. >You stop marveling at the scenery and set to work looking for the relic
  1506.  
  1507. >It’s not hard to find however
  1508. >The golden glow is apparently universal
  1509. >You dig away at some oddly glowing rubble to find…
  1510. >You quickly jump back with a yelp, closing both eyes
  1511. >You open one and sigh
  1512. >It was just a skeleton
  1513. >Whoever it was, they were long dead
  1514. >Buried underneath all of this rubble
  1515. >They appear to be clutching the broken hilt of a sword
  1516. >the blade had been snapped near the base, leaving naught but a jagged wedge of metal jutting out from the crossguard
  1517. >And sure enough, it was glowing with that same golden light that the dagger in your pack is
  1518. >You gently pry it from the skeleton’s hooves
  1519. “Sorry friend. I need this more than you.”
  1520. >It of course doesn’t answer
  1521. >It’s dead
  1522. >The rest of the blade is nearby, embedded in the floor
  1523. >But you don’t need it
  1524. >It’s not glowing
  1525. >Upon further inspection there appears to be nothing special about this broken sword
  1526. >No engravings
  1527. >No runes
  1528. >Nothing
  1529. >Just a regular old sword
  1530. >Though it must’ve been really important to this pony
  1531. >Granted, that one mare did say to take them with you to your grave
  1532. >Maybe they were just following orders
  1533. >You turn around to Sandstone
  1534. “Alright buddy. I’m gonna take a leap back. I’ll come back in 4 minutes, just like before.”
  1535. >”Be safe, Rewind.”
  1536. >You nod once and focus on the broken hilt
  1537. >You hold it with your magic and take a few deep breaths
  1538. >Who knew, maybe this time it wouldn’t be as bad?
  1539. >Upon exhaling, you flare your magic to life
  1540. >Your horn shines brightly with a golden, glowing light as everything is sucked away and you go to the world’s negative
  1541. >Then you keep going
  1542. >It feels like somepony is stabbing at your brain over and over
  1543. >Air being forced from your lungs
  1544. >And
  1545. >You black out
  1546.  
  1547. >No, it was still just as bad
  1548. >You come to and sit up quickly
  1549. >You look around before you begin to feel lightheaded
  1550. >The room spins and you hold your head in your hooves
  1551. “Guh… Where am I?”
  1552. >You speak out loud to nopony in particular as your vision comes back into focus
  1553. >”Temple of the Harvest. Weren’t you listening when the Captain said where we were going?”
  1554. >Your heart stops for a second
  1555. >Somepony was talking to you
  1556. >Somepony in the past was talking to you
  1557. >You had assumed that you were just an anomaly and that nopony else could see you
  1558. >Then again if you were able to take things from the past, surely that meant you were corporeal
  1559. >”Hey, you okay?”
  1560. >You’re realizing only now that you’ve been silent for a bit longer than what’s considered appropriate
  1561. “What? O-Oh! Yeah I’m fine!”
  1562. >”Good.”
  1563. >You wobble to your hooves and look around
  1564. >There are ponies of all shapes and sizes
  1565. >Unicorns, Pegasi, Earth Ponies, a couple gryphons, a minotaur and…
  1566. “Changelings?”
  1567. >You mutter under your breath
  1568. >That must be why nopony seems to bat an eye at your appearance
  1569. >They think you’re just a disguised changeling
  1570. >”Twilight, you’re sure zis will work, yez?”
  1571. >Twilight?
  1572.  
  1573. >THE Twilight?
  1574. >”As sure as I can be. I still don’t understand why you’re going to all this length to hide this artifact. Why not give it to me where I can keep it safe in the Canterlot Archives?”
  1575. >You stand at the wall, away from most of the other ponies to get a better look
  1576. >”Princess… You didn’t see what zis zing could do. I got to witness it firsthoof. Nopony deserves to possess zis.”
  1577. >No doubt about it
  1578. >There was Princess Twilight standing there
  1579. >But who was she talking to?
  1580. >”And what makes you different?”
  1581. >Your ears perk up
  1582. >A strong artifact?
  1583. >”I’m not different. But I’m a literal nopony. Who iz going to look for me? Who iz going to track me down and take zis from me?”
  1584. >You recognize that voice
  1585. >It took you longer than you’d like to admit, but now that pony’s words from earlier made sense
  1586. >Whoever that pony was, she was the captain of the ship you had ended up on earlier
  1587. >Unfortunately, you can’t make out her appearance
  1588. >You see nothing but a bright, shimmering light where she stands
  1589. >Nopony else seems to be reacting to it but you
  1590. >Something tells you this is deliberate
  1591. >”You have a point, but… Is this all necessary?”
  1592. >”Better safe zan sorry, no?”
  1593. >You can hear Twilight sigh softly
  1594. >”I can’t tell you that this is the right idea, but if that’s as strong as you say it is, I can’t stop you either.”
  1595. >There appear to be a wide variety of curios and trinkets laying on a stone slab in front of them
  1596. >All of which appear to be…
  1597. >Well
  1598. >Rather mundane
  1599. >A necklace
  1600. >A broken horseshoe
  1601. >And among other things, the dagger and rapier in your possession
  1602. >None of them are glowing
  1603. >”Zank you Princess. Now if you would, please continue.”
  1604. >The glowing aura of what you assume is another pony seems to place something odd and angular upon the slab
  1605.  
  1606. >It’s cylindrical in shape
  1607. >And just slightly smaller than your hoof
  1608. >There’s string wrapped all around it, creating a makeshift necklace out of the thing
  1609. >There’s a radiant golden glow coming from it
  1610. >You can’t make out too many details from it, but it appears there’s some sort of engravings
  1611. >You must be sometime from before that speech you’d heard from the dagger’s time
  1612. >You watch Twilight concentrate on casting a spell
  1613. >Purple magical essence flows from her horn to the cylinder
  1614. >Then from the cylinder it turns to gold, spreading out amongst the objects gathering on the table
  1615. >It infuses them with that ghostly, sunlit glow that you’d come to know
  1616. >Twilight herself seems to be visibly struggling
  1617. >Beads of sweat run down her face
  1618. >She clenches her teeth
  1619. >You can only imagine how tough it must be to pull this off for a Princess of Magic to be struggling
  1620. >You shudder to imagine how painful it would be for somepony like you to try that
  1621. >Counting yourself lucky that you wouldn’t have to, you continue to watch
  1622. >Soon the tendrils of magic had spiderwebbed their way to every trinket upon the slab
  1623. >The cylinder itself seems to have lost its own golden aura
  1624. >Twilight dispels the magic around her horn and the spell ceases to be
  1625. >She lets out a deep breath when finished
  1626. >It must have been intensely taxing
  1627. >”Right… Whew… It’s done.”
  1628. >The shimmering light of a pony seems to pick up the now dulled cylinder, as well as something else
  1629. >As you crane your neck to see what it is, all of the world’s sound is sucked away
  1630. >Your 4 minutes were up
  1631. >You’re forcefully pulled back to the present time
  1632.  
  1633. >Again you feel all of the painful sensations
  1634. >In your body
  1635. >And more importantly your brain
  1636. >It feels like thousands of tiny needles being shoved down your horn and into your head
  1637. >You pop back into reality with a gasp
  1638. >You’re laying facedown on the cold stone floor
  1639. >Your head is spinning
  1640. >But what else is new?
  1641. >Groaning softly you stagger to your hooves
  1642. >A large hand comes to your aid and allows you to lean on it
  1643. “Thanks Sandstone.”
  1644. >”Do not mention it. What did you discover in the past this time?”
  1645. >You rub your left temple, gently massaging the pain away
  1646. “Apparently our mysterious captain had some help. Help from a Princess.”
  1647. >”Which one?”
  1648. >Right, there’s a bunch of them now
  1649. “Princess Twilight. She got her to take the magic from a single artifact and put it into a whole bunch. I think she was trying to hide it.”
  1650. >”For what purpose?”
  1651. >You give the rapier to Sandstone, who places it inside of himself
  1652. “I think the original artifact was something powerful. They sounded scared when they were discussing it.”
  1653. >”Speculation: Artifacts found may link to the original. Finding it may be top priority.”
  1654. >What a smart golem
  1655. “I think you’re right. If we figure out where it is, we might be able to use it. I don’t know if I can do much with 4 minutes… But if that artifact is as powerful as Twilight thinks it is…”
  1656. >You let that sentence hang in the air
  1657. >It seems both you and sandstone share the same sentiment
  1658. >It’s a silent agreement
  1659. >It may be a longshot, but the artifact might be enough to go back long enough to do…
  1660. >Something
  1661. >Something you hoped would affect the present
  1662. >You unfold the old map
  1663. >Another golden circle has appeared
  1664. “Alright Sandstone, you ready to get going?”
  1665. >”Affirmative.”
  1666.  
  1667. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O39qOA60Hm4
  1668. >You hum softly to yourself as you wash yourself in a river
  1669. >The water is deep enough that it comes up to your belly
  1670. >But you’ve got a sturdy hoofhold on the rocks at the bottom, so there was no danger of being washed away
  1671. >After all, you’d gone through the training to make your body a fortress
  1672. >If there was one thing Equestria didn’t skimp on nowadays, it was their military training
  1673. >There were of course, other countries that had much harsher, much longer, and much more grueling training
  1674. >The Clydesdales of the North were one that came to mind
  1675. >But they were big ponies
  1676. >As in: The top of your head only comes up to about their lower chest-ish area
  1677. >You quiver all over for a moment as you remember your old calendar that you kept in your room
  1678. >The oddly sexual pinup one for mares
  1679. >How it ended up in your possession, you never knew
  1680. >You push those sort of thoughts away before this became more than just a wash up
  1681. “Scrubscrubscrub…”
  1682. >You mutter hastily underneath your breath before dunking your head underneath the water to wet your mane
  1683. >You resurface and brush the wet mane from your face, running your hooves through it
  1684. >You wished you had some shampoo, or something
  1685. >But that was just another thing you’d come to do without out in the field
  1686. >Still
  1687. >The water was crisp, clean, and clear
  1688. >And it felt so good to relax and wash yourself off
  1689. >It also gave you some much needed time to think
  1690. >According to the map, the next artifact was somewhere in Prance
  1691. >As in: One of the countries you’re currently at war with, Prance
  1692. >As in: The country currently being ruled over by a being made of shadows and fear
  1693. >Could be worse, right?
  1694.  
  1695.  
  1696. >Who are you kidding
  1697. >Certainly not yourself
  1698. >This was the kind of stuff saved for the real elite of the Equestrian military
  1699. >Those kinds of ponies you aren’t supposed to know about, but you just know they exist
  1700. >And what were you?
  1701. >A mare that wasn’t even good enough to get into the Royal Guard
  1702. >With an imperfect magical spell you’re really good at
  1703. >You levitate your helmet over and into your hooves
  1704. >You wrinkle your nose a bit
  1705. >You levitate the helmet again, blinking a few times
  1706. “Weird…”
  1707. >Your normally orange-hued magic seemed to have gold sparkles in it
  1708. >You’re not sure if those were there before, but it doesn’t seem to have affected your magical capabilities so far
  1709. >You just assume it’s always been there and you’d never noticed
  1710. >You wipe away some of the dirt from your helmet
  1711. >Cleaning it like this, you finally notice all of the scratches and dents it has
  1712. >But it’s a sturdy piece of armor
  1713. >And it’ll go through a lot more before you stopped this war
  1714. >You do the same for the rest of your armor, and dry yourself off as you wait for your underclothes to dry
  1715. >As you wait, you decide to study the maps
  1716. >The older one you had folded up shows signs of its age
  1717. >It’s browning and faded, but doesn’t seem to be tearing much
  1718. >It helped you learn however that taking things from the past back to the present doesn’t come without a cost
  1719. >Before you’d taken it, it showed the location of every single artifact at once
  1720. >Now it seems to only show one at a time
  1721. >And upon finding it, the marker on the map vanishes
  1722. >Maybe it’s proximity or something?
  1723. >You couldn’t understand it for the most part, only that it works
  1724. >You were of course messing with the very fabric of time itself
  1725. >This was the sort of thing that more experienced Unicorns than you had tried and failed at
  1726.  
  1727. >All the more reason not to screw it up now
  1728. >The slow, rhythmic thumping of Sandstone’s steps get progressively louder until he’s standing behind you, looming over you
  1729. >”Have you become sufficiently clean, Rewind?”
  1730. “Yes yes, Just letting my clothes dry off now.”
  1731. >”Did you remember to clean behind your ears?”
  1732. >You scrunch your muzzle
  1733. “Of course I did.”
  1734. >”And did yo-“
  1735. “What are you, my dad?”
  1736. >There’s a momentary pause following your interruption
  1737. >The large sphere that houses Sandstone’s brain seems to rotate slightly
  1738. >”How old are you.”
  1739. >Your jaw drops
  1740. >Sandstone pats your head gently
  1741. >”There is no need to be upset. It was a joke.”
  1742. >You stare daggers at the offending golem
  1743. >”You do not possess any traits of a half-zebra.”
  1744. >You huff and roll your eyes before returning to studying the map
  1745. “So we’re gonna have to go to Prance.”
  1746. >Sandstone leans down, casting an ever larger shadow over you and the map
  1747. >”You are aware that it is the stronghold of our enemy, correct?”
  1748. >Not the entire country, but he had a point
  1749. “Yeah, I know. But if it’s where the map is telling us to go, then we don’t really have a choice, do we?”
  1750. >”Affirmative. Based solely on distance, our journey will take several days before factoring in weather and terrain.”
  1751. >This time you tilt your head at him quizzically
  1752. “Why didn’t you factor in weather and terrain then?”
  1753. >”I do not have the ability to predict or monitor weather patterns unless I acquire Pegasi Weather team intel for said region. Likewise, I do not know the topographical layout of lands I have never been to.”
  1754. >It’s a mouthful, but you understand it just fine
  1755.  
  1756. >Unfortunately, time was just the least of your worries
  1757. “I still don’t know how we’re getting into Prance in the first place. The borders are heavily guarded.”
  1758. >You trot over to your clothes that have been drying for quite some time and don them once more
  1759. >”Correct. Their superior firepower makes them a threat when faced head on.”
  1760. “There’s also the fact that it’s just us two against what could very well be an entire platoon of guards.”
  1761. >You go through the steps to secure your armor to your body, buttoning your collar over your breastplate when done and sliding your helmet on last
  1762. >”Stealth is most likely our best option.”
  1763. >Stealth
  1764. >With a several ton bipedal golem following you around
  1765. >You’d laugh were it not for the fact that it really was your only option
  1766. “How do you propose we do that? It’s not like you’re very inconspicuous.”
  1767. >”You are correct. I am not suited for stealth missions.”
  1768. >You strap the Killer7 to your foreleg, making sure the shock absorber is firmly attached
  1769. >”Proposed Solution: You may have to attempt the infiltration on your own.”
  1770. >You stop in your tracks as you start to turn around
  1771. >Alone?
  1772. >You were no stranger to being alone of course
  1773. >But splitting up this early on?
  1774. >You quash those thoughts for now
  1775. “Let’s just focus on one thing at a time. First, we’ve gotta get to Prance.”
  1776. >”Affirmative. Please climb aboard.”
  1777. >Sandstone extends his hand
  1778. >You do a quick recheck of everything in your pack
  1779. >The artifacts are still there and so is the map
  1780. >The magic one is folded and tucked away in your breast pocket under your armor
  1781. >Satisfied that everything is there, you climb into Sandstone’s hand, where he then deposits you on his shoulder
  1782.  
  1783. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IYnNpc_8MrM
  1784. >DAY 1
  1785. >You have your map unfurled and splayed out across Sandstone’s head-area
  1786. >You’re currently studying the best possible route to Prance
  1787. >And as of now that looked like it was over, or through the chasm that separates Germaneigh and Prance
  1788. >You show the map to Sandstone and he too looks it over as he carries you through the woods
  1789. >”The Burning Gulch? I am unaware of any paths around or over. It is an extremely dangerous area to linger around.”
  1790. >He wasn’t wrong
  1791. >The Burning Gulch had appeared before the war when the tectonic plates beneath Prance and Germaneigh separated
  1792. >The ground around it still likes to crumble inwards, making the gulch ever larger with each passing year
  1793. >As the lava that bubbled up to the surface cooled, it created some interesting rock formations
  1794. >But even now it was still dangerous to even be around
  1795. >There’s a reason why they still call it the Burning Gulch
  1796. >Because the lava within has never cooled
  1797. >So falling in is generally a bad idea
  1798. “Think of it this way though: If we do manage to cross it, I doubt we’d encounter much resistance. Nopony in Prance would expect somepony to infiltrate that way!”
  1799. >”Because it is highly illogical.”
  1800. >You say nothing and silently raise your eyebrow at the golem
  1801. “Since when has anything we’ve done so far been logical? We’ve been messing around with time itself.”
  1802. >”I only said that it was illogical, not that it was not a clever plan. It is as clever as it is dangerous.”
  1803. >You take the map back and run your gaze across it intently
  1804. >Of course there was nothing on it that could help
  1805. >Nopony wanted to go anywhere near the Burning Gulch to map it out
  1806.  
  1807. >Thump
  1808. >Thump
  1809. >Thump
  1810. >Thump
  1811. >The vibrations from Sandstone’s steps rattle you ever so slightly with each one
  1812. “Hey, Sandstone.”
  1813. >”Yes, Rewind?”
  1814. “Do you ever get tired anymore?”
  1815. >The sphere swivels up as if he’s looking at you
  1816. >Perhaps he is
  1817. >You don’t know how he perceives the world
  1818. >”Negative. I am unable to feel exhaustion or fatigue.”
  1819. >You think back to your years in school
  1820. “Aren’t you technically awake indefinitely? Isn’t that bad for your brain?”
  1821. >”Technically, yes. However, thanks to the magic used in the construction of my body, as well as the housing crystal itself, my brain is nourished and healed nigh constantly.”
  1822. “Well, that’s good then.”
  1823. >The sphere swivels back as he looks ahead
  1824. >”Only the best for Zebrican War Constructs.”
  1825. >There’s a sustained period of silence in your journey as Sandstone trudges through the dense woodland
  1826. >Only the sounds of his steps, the crunching of branches, and birdsong are present
  1827. “So how does that magic work anyway?”
  1828. >”It is an enchantment contained within the runes etched into each layer of my body. The sphere itself acts as its own source of magic.”
  1829. >You examine some of the runes on his shoulder, as well as the now healed tattoo you’ve got on the back of your foreleg
  1830. >They’re similar in design, but there are noticeable differences
  1831. >”There are thousands upon thousands of runic symbols that the Architects must know to create a golem. Which is why becoming one is grounds for praise alone.”
  1832. >The woods are slowly becoming less dense as you go on, perhaps you were nearing the edge of the forest
  1833. “What would happen if there were no Architec-”
  1834. >”Then nopony would have to be subjected to this kind of existence.”
  1835.  
  1836. >You’re almost taken aback by his startlingly fast answer
  1837. “I uh… Was going to ask what would happen if somepony attacked and there were none around.”
  1838. >Sandstone stops for a moment
  1839. >”My apologies Rewind. I did not intend any rudeness.”
  1840. >”In an emergency situation, all that is needed to create a golem is the housing sphere. When covered in a thin layer of the surrounding material on the ground and charged with magic, the sphere itself will pull in the materials needed to create another golem.”
  1841. >He ducks under a lower hanging branch and continues
  1842. >”However, a golem created this way is unstable, and must constantly take in materials to keep its form.”
  1843. >It’s almost relaxing hearing Sandstone teach you about this
  1844. >This sort of thing was never covered at length in your classes
  1845. >Most likely because it’s a closely guarded secret
  1846. “I’ll keep that in mind just in case. Wouldn’t want to lose you now would I?”
  1847. >You pat the golem’s head
  1848. >”I do not plan on letting my chassis be destroyed. There is no cause for worry.”
  1849. >He reaches up and pats your head as well
  1850. >You can feel your cheeks redden slightly
  1851. >You’re glad that he can’t see your face right now
  1852.  
  1853. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hk9lH5QWxrM
  1854. >DAY 2
  1855. >You’ve exited the forest
  1856. >It’s been behind you for about 4 hours now
  1857. >Occasionally you can hear distant artillery fire
  1858. >But it’s so far away that it isn’t anything you two had to worry about
  1859. >You’re still riding on Sandstone, but now the scenery had shifted from dense woodland to the usual rolling green hills of Germaneigh
  1860. >The sky was clear, aside from the occasional cloud
  1861. >It would be a nice day for a picnic were it not for the war going on
  1862. >”Have you found out how we’re getting into Prance undetected?”
  1863. “I thought I told you already, we’re going over the Burning Gulch.”
  1864. >Sandstone picks you up by the scruff of your neck, holding you up in front of him as he trudges along
  1865. >”Soil and igneous rock content around the Burning Gulch are inconsistent, and it is unlikely we will find a land bridge to support our passage.”
  1866. >You open your mouth to speak before he cuts you off again
  1867. >”Alternative Solution: You may have to continue your mission alone.”
  1868. >Alone?
  1869. “H-Heh, what uh… What do you mean by that, Sandstone?”
  1870. “My chassis may prove to be too heavy to cross the Burning Gulch.”
  1871. >You bite your lip as he places you back upon his shoulder
  1872. “But… We’re a team, aren’t we?”
  1873. >”That is correct.”
  1874. “That means we stick together!”
  1875. >There’s no response from Sandstone other than the steady thumping of steps upon grass as he trots through the plains
  1876. >”Affirmative. However, do not hold a grudge towards me, should you have to infiltrate solo. Optimistic: A single soldier would be able to slip in unnoticed where our duo may fail.”
  1877.  
  1878.  
  1879. >You grumble just a bit before crossing your hooves
  1880. “Yeah, but it doesn’t mean I have to like it.”
  1881. >”I did not say that you had to.”
  1882. >You sigh softly and rest your head upon his cool exterior and close your eyes for just a moment
  1883. >DAY 3
  1884. >Sandstone is holding you in his hand, covering you with the other
  1885. >It’s raining
  1886. >The deep rumbling of thunder rolls across the land after the lightning crackles behind the clouds
  1887. >Most days you wished you were back in Equestria
  1888. >At least there the weather was controlled
  1889. >It made you wonder why everywhere else just let the weather do whatever it wanted
  1890. >Sure, up until you’d gotten drafted you’d never left Equestria
  1891. >And it could be entirely possible that in major cities around the world, weather is also controlled
  1892. >Maybe you’d find out soon enough
  1893. “Hey Sandstone, do you mind if I ask you something.”
  1894. >”Not at all.”
  1895. >You tap your hooves together nervously, hoping that this wouldn’t be a sore subject
  1896. >”What were you like before all this happened?”
  1897. >”I assume you mean before I was turned into this?”
  1898. >You nod at him
  1899. >The crystalline sphere swivels upwards, as if he was looking up in thought
  1900. >You can almost picture the pony doing it
  1901. >”…Handsome.”
  1902. >You blink a few times, as if confused
  1903. “You… What?”
  1904. >”I was handsome.”
  1905. “Little narcissistic don’t you think?”
  1906. >”Not at all. It is objective fact.”
  1907. >Rolling your eyes, you gently pat the sphere holding his brain
  1908. “Alright then tough guy, anything ELSE?”
  1909.  
  1910. >”I played quite a lot of sports actually. Buckball, wrestling, things like that. I was rather outgoing, made friends easily.”
  1911. >Almost a polar opposite to you it seemed
  1912. >Were it not for you falling out of the sky and him being turned into a golem, you may not have ever met him
  1913. >You two living in entirely different countries notwithstanding
  1914. >Perhaps a more important question now
  1915. “What did you look like?”
  1916. >”What did you think I looked like.”
  1917. >You think for just a moment
  1918. “I assume you had stripes?”
  1919. >”All zebras have stripes, Rewind.”
  1920. >You can almost feel the deadpan stare coming from him
  1921. >More and more it’s getting easier to visualize him as another pony
  1922. >Or zebra
  1923. >Whatever, it didn’t matter
  1924. “Green eyes?”
  1925. >”Correct.”
  1926. ”How tall were you?”
  1927. >”Taller than you by a considerable margin.”
  1928. >You scrunch your muzzle
  1929. >Sandstone watches and lets out a noise at this
  1930. >The sphere lights up multiple times as if he were talking
  1931. >It’s a deep, repeating noise that continues for a bit
  1932. >It takes you just a moment to realize
  1933. >He’s laughing
  1934. >He’s laughing at you!
  1935. “Hey hey! What’s with you eh Mr. Giggles?”
  1936. >His laughter dies down
  1937. >”It’s nothing, Rewind. I find it cute when you become flustered.”
  1938. >You puff out your cheeks, muzzle still scrunched as you glare at the brain-sphere
  1939. >More laughter
  1940. >”Just like that.”
  1941. >He pats your head, much to your chagrin
  1942. >”You don’t have the sort of face to be angry. Your features are too soft. Too cute.”
  1943. >Your cheeks are burning at this point
  1944. “Y-Yeah yeah just keep it to yourself, buster…”
  1945. >You cross your hooves and huff as you turn around
  1946.  
  1947. >DAY 9
  1948. >The rain finally stopped
  1949. >The sun teases its presence just behind some gray clouds
  1950. >Your horn glows and you pull the bayonet off your weapon
  1951. >You use it to cut open an MRE, humming softly as you do so
  1952. >You hadn’t quite paid attention to what you were given
  1953. “Let’s see…”
  1954. >You pull out the entrée first
  1955. >Hay ravioli in tomato sauce, not bad
  1956. >You place the pouch inside the flameless heater and add a bit of water to get the reaction started while you look at what else you had
  1957. >Some orange slices
  1958. >Spicy snack bread and cheese spread
  1959. >Chocolate chip cookies
  1960. >Vanilla shake mix
  1961. >And (your personal favorite part) the candy, which this time happened to be some gummy worms
  1962. >Not the worst MRE you’d ever had the pleasure of opening
  1963. >As you’re spreading the cheese over the bread, you stop for a moment
  1964. >You shuffle around, turning to meet Sandstone’s brain-sphere
  1965. “Hey Sandstone, do you ever get hungry anymore? I just… Sort of feel bad eating in front of you like this without even trying to offer you anything…”
  1966. >”Do not worry yourself Rewind. I do not possess a stomach. As such, I cannot feel hunger.”
  1967. >Your ears droop slightly
  1968. “Oh… That’s kind of… I mean, do you miss it at all?”
  1969. >”I do not miss the feeling of hunger.”
  1970. >”Well, that’s good!”
  1971. >”I miss the taste of food.”
  1972. >Your mouth is open and you’re about to speak before he cuts you off with that
  1973. >It’s so sudden
  1974. >And you’d never really thought about that before
  1975. >If Sandstone is nothing but a brain now, he’s lost most if not all of his senses
  1976. “I… I’m sorry Sandstone, I didn’t…”
  1977.  
  1978. >The large golem pats you on the head again
  1979. >”There is nothing you need to apologize for, Rewind. I am a victim of circumstance, not of any action on your part.”
  1980. >You’re silent for a moment or so
  1981. “Er… Don’t tell anypony this okay? But when I was little, I wanted to own a donut shop.”
  1982. >The sphere swivels down, as if looking at you intently
  1983. >If he could produce facial expressions, you’re sure his brow would be furrowed with one raised quizzically
  1984. “…What?”
  1985. >”You do not seem like the kind of pony to have an interest in cooking, or baking for that matter.”
  1986. >You frown as you shake up the vanilla shake
  1987. “Oh yeah? Then what DO you think I’d rather do than fight a war?”
  1988. >”Work a video store.”
  1989. >You angrily take a bite out of your bread
  1990. “Why doef everypony fay dat!”
  1991. >”Your name implies it.”
  1992. “I just wanna own a little hole-in-the-wall type donut shop. Like the kind you hear about through word of mouth.”
  1993. >”An admirable, if less ambitious goal.”
  1994. >You remove the pouch with your entrée in it and sigh
  1995. “I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being less ambitious. I’m not the kind of pony that fulfills that “you can even be a Princess too!” mindset that some parents give their kids.”
  1996. >”Even though we’re going about saving the world right now?”
  1997. >You tear open the package and point your plastic fork at the golem
  1998. “Hey it could have been ANY pony with time related magic that could find these artifacts and use them!”
  1999. >Sandstone pushes his way through some particularly tall grass as he continues through the Germane countryside
  2000. >”I believe you may be reaching a bit for that.”
  2001. >Maybe he was right
  2002. >Give yourself some credit where credit’s due
  2003.  
  2004. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iAAaLNPAw4g
  2005. >DAY 13
  2006. >It’s nighttime
  2007. >You’ve reached the Burning Gulch
  2008. >And it’s somehow turned out to be even worse that you’d expected
  2009. >You hop onto the ground
  2010. >The scar in the land stretched on for miles in either direction, and you weren’t even sure if it stopped
  2011. >It could reach around the entire world for all you knew
  2012. >And the land surrounding it was in no better shape
  2013. >Geysers of steam shoot up into the air, showering the surrounding stones with water
  2014. >Occasionally some burning rocks would be shot up from the crack in the world and land nearby
  2015. >Your eyes water and you use your sleeve to wipe away the wetness
  2016. >Your nostrils burn slightly, and you sniffle a bit
  2017. >There’s quite a bit of smoke around
  2018. >But despite all of this, you weren’t too worried with Sandstone shielding you
  2019. >What you were worried about is the fact that these dead trees couldn’t conceal both of you
  2020. >And thanks to the standing army on each side of the gulch, it was only a matter of time before you’d be noticed
  2021. “Well… Darn. Sandstone, what do we do?”
  2022. >”I am unsure. The Prench forces here seem to have dwindled and broken, leaving only our Germane allies.”
  2023. >You tap your chin in thought
  2024. >Maybe there was a good way to go about this
  2025. >If you approached them calmly, kept your hooves in plain sight
  2026. >As well as made sure to show you weren’t a part of an enemy force
  2027. >Perhaps that you’d be able to even get some assistance
  2028. “Okay Sandstone, here’s what we’re gonna-“
  2029. >Something plinks against a nearby tree
  2030. >You look down
  2031. >It’s too dark to see anything clearly
  2032. >You hear something pop
  2033. >It’s a gas grenade
  2034. >As you react and try to dive away, Sandstone snatches you out of the air and shields you with a familiar green bubble
  2035.  
  2036. >”We have been spotted. Combat initiated by Germane forces.”
  2037. >Once again you’re plagued with this dilemma
  2038. >They’re a skittish kind by default, but this is getting ridiculous
  2039. >You guessed that you couldn’t blame them
  2040. >Golems aren’t exactly common anywhere else but the Zebrican front
  2041. >For all they knew this could be some Prench war machine sent in to attack from behind
  2042. >But you’re still tired of being attacked by your allies
  2043. >Trees creak and splinter as Sandstone barrels through them
  2044. >You can hear yelling in Germane
  2045. >There’s canisters slamming into Sandstone’s body and breaking, filling the air with the lethal gas
  2046. >Luckily you were still being protected by Sandstone’s runic magic
  2047. >However this was an entire army
  2048. >Hundreds upon hundreds of guards were now focused on you and Sandstone
  2049. >There was no way you could take out all of them
  2050. >Even with Sandstone’s help
  2051. >And you didn’t want to have to kill any more of your allies either
  2052. >You didn’t have to, unlike before
  2053. “Sandstone, we can’t kill them!”
  2054. >”Noted. Do you have an alternative?”
  2055. >You didn’t
  2056. “I… I don’t.”
  2057. >Sandstone holds up his arm to shield you, occasionally catching their projectiles and flinging them back
  2058. >Though thanks to their armor and masks, they were unaffected by their own weaponry
  2059. >Sandstone stops, and almost immediately the grenades are landing near his feet
  2060. >”My runes cannot shield you for an extended period of time.”
  2061. >The sphere begins to swivel around, as if analyzing something
  2062. >”I have an idea.”
  2063. “Then tell me! What is it?”
  2064. >You watch his fingers grip the magical bubble you’re in tightly
  2065. >”Hold no grudge against me for this.”
  2066. >Sandstone rears back his arm and your eyes widen
  2067. >You start pounding on the bubble
  2068. “Sandstone no you can’t leave me alone like this! Please!”
  2069. >But it was too late
  2070.  
  2071. >You’ve been sent hurtling through the air
  2072. >You can only watch from the green bubble as Sandstone turns and begins to retreat from the Germane army
  2073. >Meanwhile you yell in the vain hopes that he can hear you
  2074. >He cannot
  2075. >The bubble hits the ground and dissipates
  2076. >You were quite far away from the Burning Gulch now
  2077. >And you were on the other side
  2078. >Which was what you wanted, right?
  2079. >You sigh and look back towards the gulch
  2080. >It’s too far to actually see anything
  2081. >You turn back around and look up at the ridge you were on
  2082. >You start to climb your way up it
  2083. The dirt crumbles beneath your hooves and you struggle to get a good hoofhold on it
  2084. >By the time you make it to the top, you’re nearly covered in dirt
  2085. >But that was the least of your concerns right now
  2086. >As you stand at the top of the ridge, you realize why the Germane forces hadn’t pushed into Prance
  2087. >It wasn’t due to the lack of a way across
  2088. >It was because they’d already tried and failed
  2089. >You look out across the field and see bodies
  2090. >Hundreds
  2091. >No
  2092. >Thousands of them stretched on for miles, littering the battlefield
  2093. >There are ponies trotting amongst them, and Pegasi flying above shining spotlights below
  2094. >You recognized the uniforms
  2095. >They were Prench
  2096. >You see the occasional jet of flame spew from one of the Spitfires at a body near them
  2097. >You lay flat on your belly and procure your binoculars from your pack
  2098. >One of the soldiers stops near a body
  2099. >With the magnifications you can see that it’s moving slightly
  2100. >That pony is barely alive
  2101. >The Prench guard rolls them over with the front of his weapon
  2102. >And then fires
  2103. >You’re glad you’re far enough away that you can’t hear anything
  2104. >There was no other way around it
  2105. >You were going to have to go straight through
  2106.  
  2107. >You take out the map to confirm one more time
  2108. >There was no other way around it
  2109. >The next artifact you sought was deep in the heart of Prance
  2110. >And this was your best route through
  2111. >You scan the remnants of the battlefield with your binoculars
  2112. >There was… Little to no cover
  2113. >Occasional mounds of bodies
  2114. >Destroyed sandbags
  2115. >Craters in the ground from impacts
  2116. >The occasional patch of fire
  2117. >And
  2118. >Wait a minute
  2119. >You pull your head up from your binoculars, squint for a moment and them look back at what you’d seen
  2120. >Running near the center of the scorched earth, there’s a raised plateau of land
  2121. >Not even enough to be called a plateau
  2122. >It was a ledge at most
  2123. >A small, cracked portion of rock creating a minor overhang
  2124. >In different circumstances, perhaps it wouldn’t catch your eye
  2125. >But right now it was just what you needed
  2126. >It would allow you to keep out of sight of the spotlights the Pegasi were shining down
  2127. >If they didn’t go to the side that wasn’t raised that was
  2128. >Though you hesitate
  2129. >What if you get caught?
  2130. >What if you never get to see Sandstone again?
  2131. >Would he worry?
  2132. >All of these questions continue to swirl in your mind, leaving you effectively paralyzed as you lay prone on the hilltop
  2133. >You shake your head vigorously
  2134. >You give yourself a slap across the cheek
  2135. >It’s enough to calm your nerves slightly
  2136. >There was no point in trying to think about all the “what ifs”
  2137. >If you didn’t do anything, you could never stop this war
  2138. >You take a deep breath and scoop up some of the soot in front of you
  2139. >You smear it across your face
  2140. >You tuck your mane into your helmet, and your tail into the leg of your pants
  2141. >The white would too easily give you away otherwise
  2142.  
  2143. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=38OrYAAYISk
  2144. >You slide down the hill after putting your hoofguards in your pack
  2145. >Immediately you’re prone and crawling through the muck
  2146. >The ground is warm, so much so you can feel it through your clothes
  2147. >The bodies cast harsh shadows when the bright spotlights are shined nearby
  2148. >And your heart thumps hard in your chest when the circles of light pass close by
  2149. >Stopping near a mound of dirt and dead, you watch one of the Prench guardsponies trot along
  2150. >She occasionally leans down to check one of the bodies, rolling it over and prodding it a few times before moving on
  2151. >You wait for her to be a substantial distance away before you start moving again
  2152. >Your next port of call was a burnt-out wagon
  2153. >The steady wingbeats of hovering Pegasi are constant overhead
  2154. >But you focus on that wagon
  2155. >About halfway there, you start to realize that there was a spotlight illuminating the ground heading right for you
  2156. >Had they spotted you?
  2157. >No… It would have immediately been shone at/near you
  2158. >You couldn’t dive for it, it was too far away
  2159. >There was nothing else around
  2160. >You start to panic
  2161. >Your heart begins pounding in your chest, so heavily you could swear that somepony else could hear it
  2162. >A feeling of dread creeps down your spine
  2163. >“What do I do…. What do I do…” you think to yourself
  2164. >The terrible circle of light creeps ever closer
  2165. >The sound of a rewind would definitely give you away if you tried to go back
  2166. >But that line of thought gives you a different idea instead…
  2167. >If you can’t go back, nor forward…
  2168.  
  2169. >You freeze
  2170. >You press your body against the ground, going as flat as you can physically go
  2171. >Essentially, you play dead
  2172. >When surrounded by nothing but corpses, what better way to go unnoticed than to imitate one?
  2173. >You hold your breath
  2174. >And you swear you can FEEL the spotlight pass over you
  2175. >It feels hot
  2176. >Almost searing through your back
  2177. >It feels like an eternity before it finally passes all the way over you and the Pegasus continues on their way
  2178. >You let out the breath you’d been holding in slowly and keep crawling towards the wagon
  2179. >You’re able to reach it without any further close calls and you quickly shuffle underneath it
  2180. >Here you’re able to take a breather for just a moment
  2181. >But you couldn’t stay for long
  2182. >If these guards were looking for survivors, this would be the perfect place for one to hole up
  2183. >And it was only a matter of time before they checked it
  2184. >”Where next?” you wondered as your eyes scanned the desolate battlefield
  2185. >There was…
  2186. >Well
  2187. >There was nothing really
  2188. >There was nothing to be used as cover between this wagon and the crack in the land
  2189. >There were minute differences in ground elevation, sure
  2190. >But nothing substantial
  2191. >You clench your jaw and take another deep breath
  2192. >You had to do something, rather than just lay here and do nothing until you got caught
  2193. >Looking around to determine if anypony was near, you begin to creep out
  2194. >The patrolling Prench ponies aren’t nearby, but they could be at any moment
  2195. >You move as quickly as you could without sacrificing stealth
  2196. >It goes well for the most part, and you’re about halfway to the crack in the ground when you feel vibrations in the ground
  2197.  
  2198. >Thunkthunkthunkthunkthunkthunkthunkthunkthunk
  2199. >Thunkthunkthunkthunkthunkthunk
  2200. >Your ears twitch
  2201. >Your right one swivels slightly in the direction of the sound
  2202. >And you turn your head
  2203. >And then they pin back against your skull in fear
  2204. >Your eyes widen
  2205. >What
  2206. >In Celestia’s name
  2207. >Was that thing
  2208. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GSZPxHppXBE
  2209. >Almost as big as Sandstone
  2210. >Maybe larger
  2211. >It’s got the colors of the Prench army
  2212. >But
  2213. >Nopony in school ever taught you about what your eyes now lay upon
  2214. >It looked as if it strode upon six talons of a gryphon
  2215. >Three on each side
  2216. >Each one digging a gash into the land as it scuttled along
  2217. >The sounds it made were distinctly…
  2218. >Organic
  2219. >As if it had chitin
  2220. >Upon its legs was something distinctly dome shaped
  2221. >That glowed with eerie, unnatural energy
  2222. >But even if you didn’t know what it was
  2223. >You knew the barrel of a gun when you saw one
  2224. >It rotated around, scanning the battlefield
  2225. >It was time to go
  2226. >NOW
  2227. >You didn’t know what that thing was
  2228. >Or what it could do
  2229. >But you were sure it could turn you into nothing more than red paste if it found you
  2230. >As you start to crawl again, you become acutely aware of something
  2231. >Somepony is rolling you over onto your back
  2232. >Your heart stops for a moment as you realize the sound of that thing had masked somepony’s hoofsteps
  2233. >And you had been found out
  2234. >From behind the gasmask, the pony’s eyes widen
  2235. >You see the magic on the trigger of the Spitfire
  2236. >Barrel pointed directly at you
  2237. >acting on nothing but instinct, you push the barrel to the side as she fires
  2238. >You can feel the searing heat against your hooves and you wince
  2239. >The flames torch the ground beside you, licking at your helmet
  2240. >With as much force as you can muster, you rear your hindlegs and buck the pony square in the chest
  2241.  
  2242. >She goes flying back, landing in a heap several feet away
  2243. >You scramble to your hooves
  2244. >She does the same
  2245. >As you turn to gallop away, you hear the sound of a whistle being blown
  2246. >The shrill sound rings in your ears as now everypony that you were hiding from is brought to attention
  2247. >It takes all of a few seconds for a spotlight to be shone in your direction
  2248. >Then another
  2249. >And another
  2250. >Until they’ve zeroed in your position and follow your every move
  2251. >You make a beeline for the crack in the ground
  2252. >Even as you can hear the steady thunking of whatever that THING was
  2253. >You can hear yelling in Prench from behind you
  2254. >You dive for the cracked ground, landing within and scrabbling to your hooves as you run
  2255. >If nothing else, it shielded you from one side
  2256. >Where would you even keep running to?
  2257. >You wonder for a moment as you gallop through
  2258. >It’s a question you can’t answer
  2259. >Not for lack of one however, but because something just exploded next to your head
  2260. >Or more accurately, against the raised ground to your right
  2261. >You stumble
  2262. >Your ears ring
  2263. >Your helmet is askew upon your head
  2264. >You use your magic to straighten it and keep running
  2265. >For it was all you could do at this point
  2266. >Your heart pounded, and you could no longer hear what was going on through the tinnitus
  2267. >You probably have a concussion
  2268. >But you become aware of something else
  2269. >The fact that this crack has begun to recede
  2270. >And you were now effectively out in the open
  2271.  
  2272. >You’re still being followed by spotlights
  2273. >But now they were targeting you with firebombs
  2274. >And whatever that massive explosion was before
  2275. >You can only assume it came from that spider-thing
  2276. >The Spitfire teams have linked up now
  2277. >You know this without looking back because there are fireballs being launched at you encased in magic
  2278. >They don’t hit, but the heat is dangerously close
  2279. >You would have burns after this
  2280. >If you weren’t dead
  2281. >But you can’t die!
  2282. >The world is doomed to war if you do!
  2283. >You would never see Sandstone again!
  2284. >You pick up more speed in your mad dash away
  2285. >There’s a treeline in the distance
  2286. >If you could just make it to that forest, you could lose them there
  2287. >If only you COULD make it there
  2288. >As you look over your shoulder you spot something particularly horrifying hurtling towards you
  2289. >It didn’t look like a normal fireball
  2290. >It had a fuse
  2291. >You can predict its trajectory enough to know that you were going to run straight into it
  2292. >So you try and skid to a halt while simultaneously veering to the left
  2293. >And for good measure, you throw up a barrier of magical energy in between you and the point of impact
  2294. >Even with all of that, the shot slams into the ground and detonates, sending a powerful shockwave out
  2295. >Your barrier shatters instantly
  2296. >You feel the heat
  2297. >The explosion knocking you off your hooves
  2298. >You being thrown backwards
  2299. >And blacking out from the impact against the ground
  2300.  
  2301.  
  2302. >You are Sandstone
  2303. >Class M Type Golem
  2304. >Operational capability: 100%
  2305. >Rider status: Unknown
  2306. >Rider link: Still established
  2307. >Conclusion: Rider is not deceased
  2308. >Objective: Secure artifacts bearing anomalous temporal magic for Rewind’s use
  2309. >Objective cannot be completed without Rewind
  2310. >You had already gotten away from the Germane forces
  2311. >Granted, they didn’t want to follow you in the first place
  2312. >Fear of death could do that to you
  2313. >But what were you to do now?
  2314. >You do not know
  2315. >You can track your rider over long distances
  2316. >However infiltrating Prance could prove difficult
  2317. >You are unable to get close to the Burning Gulch
  2318. >Not close enough to leap over it
  2319. >You would most definitely fall in
  2320. >Solution: Find alternate route into Prance
  2321. >Sub-Solution: Go around Burning Gulch
  2322. >You ping Rewind’s location and wait for the response
  2323. >It appears that she’s moving towards the city like she’d said
  2324. >The runic tattoo you’d printed into her gives you that, among other information
  2325. >Unfortunately none of it medical
  2326. >That was restricted to Class F types
  2327. >And so you proceed in the opposite direction from the Germane army
  2328. >You are unsure of how long it could take to go around
  2329. >Or if the gulch even stopped
  2330. >But you had to do this
  2331. >You and Rewind were a team
  2332. >And you would make your way back to her no matter what
  2333.  
  2334. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iVW4svdv1L4
  2335. >You are Rewind
  2336. >At least you think you are
  2337. >Your head is spinning
  2338. >You don’t know where you are
  2339. >You don’t know which way is up
  2340. >Pain throbs in your temples
  2341. >Colors bleed together in the blurry mess that is your vision
  2342. >You can feel something on your horn
  2343. >It’s cold
  2344. >No
  2345. >Wait
  2346. >You’re cold
  2347. >The ends of your hooves feel cold
  2348. >Numb
  2349. >Your senses are coming back, albeit slowly
  2350. >You can hear somepony talking
  2351. >Multiple someponies actually
  2352. >It’s in a language you don’t understand, but that you recognize
  2353. >It’s Prench
  2354. >But you can hear occasional words that you recognize
  2355. >Like “magic”
  2356. >”Dagger”
  2357. >”Map”
  2358. >You’re being dragged along somewhere
  2359. >As you try and figure out where you’re being dragged, they take notice of you
  2360. >They blurt something out in Prench and a hindhoof slams into your face, knocking you out again
  2361.  
  2362. >You awaken
  2363. >You’re tied to a chair
  2364. >There’s a dim light swinging around slightly above you
  2365. >The colors of the room all blend together into a blurry mess
  2366. >You can make out… One, maybe two other ponies in the room with you
  2367. >One grabs your mane and tugs your head back up
  2368. >The pain makes your vision sharpen a bit
  2369. >Now you can clearly make out the ponies in the room with you
  2370. >The uniforms were…
  2371. >Odd
  2372. >They looked like nothing you’d ever seen before
  2373. >”Zap her again.” Says the one standing near the wall
  2374. >She’s wearing a hat
  2375. >She looks to be in charge
  2376. >The pony holding your mane looks at her
  2377. >Then looks at you
  2378. >”Eh… But Madame, we ‘ave not gotten anyzing from her ze whole time. It’s been hours.”
  2379. >You see the magic around the baton she’s holding brighten
  2380. >It’s then jammed right underneath your ribs
  2381. >Your jaw clenches
  2382. >Your hooves grip the arms of the chair tightly
  2383. >Your own horn sparks and sputters up to the limiter clasped on it
  2384. >You’re now remembering what it’s like to be electrocuted
  2385. >Because they’d been doing it to you for the past few hours
  2386. >They were questioning you about the glowing objects in your pack
  2387. >Naturally, you were silent about it
  2388. >You gave your name, number and rank
  2389. >Of course, they weren’t too happy about not getting any information about what they actually wanted
  2390. >So they shocked you
  2391. >And now they were doing it again
  2392. >It goes on for a few seconds before the mare removes the baton from under your ribs
  2393. >You slump forward and pant heavily
  2394. >”Madame Warden, I don’t zink zis one will tell us anyzing.”
  2395. >”Tch, I suppose you’re right. Take her to a cell.”
  2396.  
  2397.  
  2398. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dsoXLKcR1oo
  2399. >You’re roughly hoisted from the chair by two muscle-bound stallions
  2400. >Then dragged along to… You don’t even know where
  2401. >The corridors twist and turn so much your head spins by the end of it
  2402. >Luckily for you, they stop dragging you through the hallways
  2403. >Unluckily for you however, you’re then tossed into a cell
  2404. >You hit the wall with a thump and a groan
  2405. >The sound of the bars clanging closed is the last thing you hear before you pass out again
  2406. >”…ey… Hey kid…ake up.”
  2407. >You groan once more as somepony pats your face
  2408. >”You ain’t in a hospital, they’re not gonna fix you up if they think you’re invalid.”
  2409. >Sitting up, you take a glance around at your surroundings
  2410. >Just as you’d heard, you were in a cell
  2411. >The metal bars stand silently and imposingly, as if challenging you
  2412. >It is a challenge you refuse as you stagger to your hooves and sit down on the cot
  2413. >”Good grief kid what’d they do to ya and why? Ain’t never seen the guards rough someone up that bad.”
  2414. >You rub your face with your hooves and take a deep breath
  2415. >The air is thick and heavy, and just overall warm
  2416. >Likely from all of the prisoners here
  2417. >And now you add to that warmth
  2418. >How could you let this happen?
  2419. >The whole world counts on you, and you get captured so easily?
  2420. >You let your face rest in your hooves for a bit as you contemplate your failure
  2421. >”Keh, I know just what yer feelin’, kid. But don’t let yourself get beat up over it.”
  2422. >Sliding your hooves down your face slightly so your eyes peek out, you finally get a good look at your cellmate
  2423. >It’s… Not a pony like you’d originally thought
  2424.  
  2425.  
  2426. >Powerful looking paws rest upon the ground
  2427. >Talons that could flay skin like paper are gouging a mark into the wall
  2428. >And a beak clicks as it speaks to you
  2429. >”Lucky they didn’t mess ya up too bad. A pretty face goes a long way in this place.”
  2430. >It was a gryphon
  2431. >Even sitting down he was considerably taller than you
  2432. >His beak was pockmarked and chipped slightly near the tip
  2433. >Scars ran jagged into his chest, preventing any feathers from growing
  2434. >His right eye was cloudy and white, showing blindness or at least partial blindness in it
  2435. >You look down at yourself, noting your new “outfit”
  2436. >A prisoner’s jumpsuit
  2437. >Your armor, uniform, and weapon nowhere to be seen
  2438. >”Wonderin’ where yer stuff is, eh? There’s a lockup where they keep most of the belongings.”
  2439. >Your stuff…
  2440. >Your eyes widen in realization
  2441. >The situation itself had distracted you
  2442. >You didn’t have the artifacts
  2443. >You spring to your hooves and immediately run to the bars
  2444. >Pulling and grunting, you try and use your magic
  2445. >You knew however that it would be futile
  2446. >The magic limiter on your horn stops the aura halfway up, where it then fizzles out, giving you a headache
  2447. >You groan and rub your temple
  2448. >”Keh, slow down kid. Don’t hurt yerself before they even put ya to work.
  2449. >You turn around, staying far away from the gryphon
  2450. >You weren’t allied with them
  2451. >In fact they weren’t allied with Prance either
  2452. >They were mercenaries for hire
  2453. >Usually it just so happened that the Prench forces and their allies hired them
  2454. >Equestria, well…
  2455. >They frowned upon that sort of war profiteering apparently, as you’d never seen an allied gryphon
  2456.  
  2457.  
  2458. >To top THAT off, their track record wasn’t exactly the best
  2459. >Not “officially” being soldiers, well…
  2460. >They weren’t exactly the most wholesome bunch to be around
  2461. >No town is ever really the same after they go in and “liberate” it
  2462. >He raises an eye brow at you and gestures to your cot
  2463. >”Take a seat, kid. Don’t worry, I’m on yer side. We’re both prisoners here.”
  2464. >Tentatively you trot back to the cot, without taking your eyes off of him
  2465. >”What, don’t trust me, eh?”
  2466. “Not after seeing what your kind are capable of if paid enough.”
  2467. >He chuckles softly, though very little sound comes out
  2468. >”And rightly so. We gryphons ain’t exactly the friendliest. And one ya met in a prison too doesn’t really bode well.”
  2469. >He facial expression turns serious and he leans closer
  2470. >You instinctively pull back a bit
  2471. >”But take it from me, kid: If you don’t have someone to watch your back in this place, you won’t last very long.”
  2472. >As untrustworthy as gryphons were, the one sitting in front of you brought up a good point
  2473. “We may as well get along then… Since we’re cellmates.”
  2474. >”That’s the spirit!”
  2475. >The gryphon’s mood seems to lighten somewhat
  2476. >He extends a claw to you, expecting you to shake it
  2477. >”Name’s Gallan.”
  2478. >You look at his claw, then cautiously extend your hoof to meet it, to which he vigorously shakes your hoof
  2479. >His grip is strong
  2480. >And you can tell he’s making a concerted effort not to scratch you
  2481. “I’m Rewind.”
  2482. >”Hm. Don’t talk much do ya Rewind?”
  2483. >Not when you just meet a ruthless mercenary gryphon you don’t
  2484. “No, not really.”
  2485. >He seems to study you for a moment
  2486. >”Well, I’d get as much rest as you can now. They won’t be any more merciful with ya just cos’ you’re a pony.”
  2487. >You heed his advice and lay down
  2488.  
  2489.  
  2490. >That night, you dream for the first time in a while
  2491. >Or rather, you dream and remember it this time
  2492. >Maybe the Princess of the Night had something to do with it
  2493. >You didn’t think that was it though
  2494. >She doesn’t have the time to deal with the dreams of hundreds of thousands of her subjects now
  2495. >The dream itself is peculiar
  2496. >You’re standing (or at least you think you are) in a gray expanse of nothingness
  2497. >It stretches on in every direction, seemingly endlessly
  2498. >Any noises made echo on for eternity until you can no longer hear them
  2499. >As you look around you become acutely aware of a sensation on your hooves
  2500. >You look down and see
  2501. >Yourself?
  2502. >It’s like you’re standing on a mirror
  2503. >But it has the properties of liquid
  2504. >That’s what you were feeling on your hooves then
  2505. >A liquid mirror
  2506. >You’re looking into your reflection, noting a few things that you’d been curious about
  2507. >Your magical aura seems to be flecked with sparkles of gold
  2508. >And the very outer edge of your iris seems to be tinged a similar color as well
  2509. >Though it could just be a product of your dream, you’ve examined your magic before in the waking world and noticed the golden sparkles
  2510. >As you peer closer into your reflection, other things in the background begin to appear
  2511. >The telltale alabaster buildings of Canterlot fade into view
  2512. >Right as your footing gives way and you fall straight into the mirror liquid
  2513. >It obscures everything
  2514. >It rushes into your ears, mouth, and nose
  2515. >You panic and flail desperately, trying to surface to breathe
  2516. >You didn’t want to die by drowning!
  2517. >A few seconds later you’re on solid ground, sputtering and coughing
  2518.  
  2519.  
  2520. >Strangely, you aren’t wet
  2521. >In fact the expanse of grayness is nowhere to be seen
  2522. >You’re standing on a sidewalk in Canterlot
  2523. >The sun is shining
  2524. >Some Pegasi are moving clouds about
  2525. >A pair of Unicorns are chatting over a novel
  2526. >An Earth pony pulls a cart nearby
  2527. >Birds chirp in the trees
  2528. >And a lilting breeze ruffles your mane slightly
  2529. >You can even feel it upon your coat, as you weren’t wearing armor here
  2530. >It was…
  2531. >Idyllic
  2532. >Peaceful, even
  2533. >Which was why it felt almost wrong for you to stand there
  2534. >The gentle breeze gets something caught upon your hoof and you look down
  2535. >It’s part of a newspaper
  2536. >As you lean down to grab it, you catch a glimpse of the headline and your mouth opens in surpise
  2537. >However before you can get a good look, it’s blown away
  2538. >You quickly trot down the sidewalk
  2539. >You needed to know if what you’d just seen wasn’t your imagination
  2540. >You come upon a stack of newspapers at an empty stand, being weighed down by a rock
  2541. >Picking it up, you can confirm your suspicions
  2542. >And as you read it, you wonder if it wouldn’t have been better for you to remain ignorant
  2543. >Right there on the front page was the headline which read:
  2544. >”Kingdom of Prance ushers in era of peace”
  2545. >Did you do it?
  2546. >Stop the war?
  2547. >Or was this just a cruel joke played by your sleeping brain?
  2548. >But Prance being the one to opt for peace?
  2549. >That was something that would never happen in the world you live in…
  2550. >As you go to flip the page to see anything else in the paper…
  2551.  
  2552.  
  2553. >You wake up
  2554. >It’s not a violent awakening either
  2555. >You just open your eyes
  2556. >And stare at the ceiling
  2557. >”Mornin’ Rewind. Ya sleep well?”
  2558. >You could tell him the truth
  2559. >But it was much easier just to say
  2560. “Yeah, despite the circumstances.”
  2561. >”Well that’s good.”
  2562. >A long period of silence follows his statement, during which you sit up and lean against the wall
  2563. >You felt as if you should probably say something in return
  2564. >If only to break the oppressive silence
  2565. “How long have you been in here anyways?”
  2566. >Your eyes wander over to the tally marks upon the wall, of which there are numerous
  2567. >”Keh, longer than I’d like. At least a year by now. Damn near surprised I haven’t starved to death in this place.”
  2568. “Starved?”
  2569. >The burly gryphon nods
  2570. >”Us prisoners don’t get as many rations as the guards do. Some of these guys don’t even get to eat. Not like these damn ponies care anyway. We’re as expendable as can be, and it’s up to them whether they want to put you in the mines… Or use you as firing practice.”
  2571. >The gryphon spits out of the cell onto the floor
  2572. >”They always got a supply of prisoners comin’ in too so they never want for a workforce… Or entertainment.”
  2573. >Now you know why your Sergeant told you it’d be better to off yourself before you get captured by the Prench
  2574. >”My advice to you, kid? Try n’ make yerself scarce. Ya DON’T want any of the guards takin’ a “liking” to ya.”
  2575. >You shudder in disgust at those words
  2576. >Gallan pats you on the back
  2577. >”On the bright side, ya don’t gotta worry about any other prisoners. That’s where I come in.”
  2578. >You raise an eyebrow at the gryphon
  2579. >”Just think of me as a… Body guard. No charge of course.”
  2580. >A sly grin creeps its way across Gallan’s face
  2581.  
  2582.  
  2583.  
  2584. >You narrow your eyes at him
  2585. “What’s the catch, Gallan.”
  2586. >”Dealt with my kind before, have ya kid?”
  2587. >He chuckles once more
  2588. >”Don’t worry about it. When the time comes to return the favor, you’ll know.”
  2589. >You definitely didn’t like the sound of that
  2590. >You hated not knowing something that could very well be important
  2591. >But you didn’t really have a choice at this point
  2592. >You watch multiple guards file past your cell, and two of them eventually stop at yours
  2593. >There’s a blaring alarm that sounds, holding a single, grating note
  2594. >The cell door opens with the two guards holding rather odd weaponry leveled at you and Gallan
  2595. >The one on the left gestures with his head, cocking it slightly to tell you both to come out
  2596. >”Well kid, time to head out to the yard.”
  2597. >Gallan nonchalantly walks out of the cell
  2598. >You have no choice but to follow, as you’re certain the Prench guards weren’t averse to using force on you
  2599. >You and Gallan trot along, being led by and followed by the two guards
  2600. >”The guards here are the most no-nonsense ponies I’ve ever had the displeasure of dealin’ with. Can’t even take a joke.”
  2601. >The guard behind Gallan strikes him from behind with the back side of the odd weapon
  2602. >Gallan clicks his beak and seethes
  2603. >”See what I mean, kid?”
  2604. >The fact that he kept calling you “kid” was starting to irk you a bit
  2605. >He’s probably older than you, but you’re no kid
  2606. >The guards lead you through the winding corridors of the Prench prison, until you’re escorted through a door and into the light
  2607.  
  2608.  
  2609.  
  2610. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sg0FMz2ejSk
  2611. >You squint your eyes and shield them as they adjust
  2612. >The pain from it recedes
  2613. >And you’re met with…
  2614. >Well
  2615. >Pretty much what you expected
  2616. >There are ponies of all races
  2617. >Zebras
  2618. >More gryphons
  2619. >Even a minotaur or two
  2620. >There’s a massive tower in the center
  2621. >Gallan nudges you with his elbow
  2622. >You glance over at him and he points at the one tower in the middle
  2623. >”That right there’s the main guard tower, kid. If anything starts going down, I recommend ya hit the dirt and quick.”
  2624. >He alters his pointing slightly
  2625. >”They got turrets lining pretty much all sides of that tower, just in case any prisoners get… Uppity.”
  2626. >Gallan starts to walk along the grass, and you follow him
  2627. >Somehow you got the feeling it was safer to be nearby
  2628. >Maybe it was because of the looks you were getting
  2629. >Gallan looks to be on his way to the weights
  2630. >He is, before a another imposing gryphon blocks his path
  2631. >He’s only slightly taller than Gallan, but you can clearly see the it doesn’t seem to faze your cellmate
  2632. >”Who’s the new meat, Gallan.”
  2633. >”Looks nice doesn’t she? They tossed ‘er in last night.”
  2634. >The way they’re talking about you doesn’t bode well
  2635. >It making you uncomfortable was an understatement
  2636. >”How much?”
  2637. >Gallan smirks
  2638. >”I dunno Gyphrus, I think I’ll be keepin’ this one.”
  2639. >You’re having trouble discerning whether or not Gallan was serious, or just acting
  2640. >Was this what he meant by “returning the favor”?
  2641. >”The hell am I talkin’ about paying? You still owe me from last time. Pay up and hand over the pony.”
  2642. >You take a step back, which Gallan stops short
  2643.  
  2644.  
  2645. >”Yeah, but you see Gyphrus, I just don’t really care. We already settled our debts.”
  2646. >The other gryphon, whom you’d come to know as Gyphrus, tilts his head to one side
  2647. >”That’s the wrong answer you little runt.”
  2648. >Could you really call Gallan “little” though?
  2649. >You see Gyphrus glance at the center tower, then back at your cellmate
  2650. >”We’ll be settling this tonight, then I’ll be taking that pony off your claws.”
  2651. >Gallan however doesn’t seem to be intimidated
  2652. >”We already went through this song n’ dance once, bud. Last time I recall I kicked yer ass. But by all means, we can have another go. But don’t be too down when you gotta hear the pony slut moaning my name tonight.”
  2653. >Your entire body goes numb for a second
  2654. >You heard that right
  2655. >But Gallan can’t possibly be serious, can he?
  2656. >He’s a mercenary, so he’s capable of anything for the right price
  2657. >And gryphons are territorial by nature
  2658. >But you’ll be damned if you have any gryphon claiming you as territory
  2659. >(You were probably already damned just by being in this prison in the first place)
  2660. >The other gryphon looks directly at you
  2661. >”I’ll be seeing you real soon, pony. Just you wait.”
  2662. >As Gryphrus walks away, you can hear Gallan let out a breath he’d been holding in
  2663. >That weasel was bluffing his cool act the whole time!
  2664. >”Phew! Man he’s a persistent one. Scary too when he wants to be.”
  2665. >And here he was, talking all normally as he didn’t just call you a pony slut
  2666. “What in Celestia’s name was all that about!?”
  2667. >Gallan closes his talons around your muzzle and looks around
  2668. >Satisfied that no one else heard, he lets go
  2669. >”Keep it down, kid. It’s just an act, I’m not gonna rail ya after I beat the tar outta Gyphrus.”
  2670. >You narrow your eyes at the gryphon that was currently treading on thin ice
  2671. “Right. What’d he mean by “settling it tonight”? I thought he was just gonna try and start something here and now.”
  2672.  
  2673.  
  2674.  
  2675. >Gallan beckons you along and starts talking
  2676. >”Latched onto that eh, kid? I could tell ya, but it’ll be easier just to show ya tonight. Now spot me.”
  2677. >You hadn’t even noticed that he had made his way over to the bench with you in tow
  2678. “What? Oh, er… Fine, yeah.”
  2679. >As you stand at the head of the bench, hooves poised underneath the bar, Gallan starts to speak again
  2680. >”Ngh, alright kid. I’m gonna level with ya.”
  2681. >Gallan easily pushes out reps as he speaks
  2682. >”I’ve pretty much been waiting for someone like you to come along.”
  2683. >You look down at him quizzically
  2684. >Could he maybe know about your magical ability?
  2685. >Maybe he knows more than he lets on
  2686. “Why’s that then?”
  2687. >”It’s ‘cos you’re a Unicorn. Been waitin’ for quite some time for those fire-obsessed Prenchies to toss one in.”
  2688. >So he doesn’t know then
  2689. >That’s good
  2690. >You don’t want to give the mercenary too much information, lest someone put a price on your head and he be the one to collect
  2691. “So why do you need a Unicorn specifically? It’s not like I can use my magic with the inhibitor on.”
  2692. >Gallan grunts softly before placing the bar back on the rack and sitting up
  2693. >”You sure ask a lot of questions. Alright Rewind, I’m only tellin’ ya this because I think I can trust ya. Seein’ as how Miss Warden shocked the livin’ daylights outta ya when you got here.”
  2694. >That’s odd that he’d trust you from that alone
  2695. >”I take it you want outta here too, right? Well then we’re gonna break our way outta this prison.”
  2696. >So that’s why he needs a Unicorn then
  2697. >He must have a plan that needs one
  2698. >Something in the back of your mind was nagging you however
  2699. >Like where his previous cellmates went
  2700. >You’ll keep quiet about that little detail
  2701. >For now
  2702.  
  2703.  
  2704. >”I been plannin’ this breakout for as long as I been in here, and all signs point to you.”
  2705. >You raise an eyebrow
  2706. “Why are you telling me this all of a sudden? I only got here yesterday and you trust me enough to spill something like this?”
  2707. >Gallan taps the side of his head
  2708. >”Thought about that after ya went to sleep last night.”
  2709. >He’s started curling one of the dumbbells
  2710. >”I figured since they roughed ya up to the point of unconsciousness, that ya had somethin’ they wanted. And you wouldn’t be alive if ya just gave it to ‘em, so that was outta the question.”
  2711. >He switches claws as he tries to explain his logic to you
  2712. >”Ya can’t be a plant, ya don’t look Prench and ya don’t act the way they do. Plus, I caught a glimpse of your uniform when they dragged ya in.”
  2713. >He’s more observant than he lets on it seems
  2714. >You’d had him pegged as muscle, like most of the other gryphons
  2715. >Though you’d forgotten how cunning they could be when money was involved
  2716. >Or in this case, freedom
  2717. >”So ya weren’t a plant, the Prenchies wanted somethin’ outta ya, and they hadn’t killed you which means ya hadn’t squealed. I suppose it’s takin’ a gamble, but from that alone, I figured you’re the type of pony that can keep her mouth shut.”
  2718. >He stands up from the bench, towering over you as he leans in
  2719. >”These Prenchies made a mistake tossin’ ya in with me. They don’t think I’m the kinda gryphon that’d mastermind a breakout like this. So if you can keep yer mouth shut like a good little pony, and do exactly as I say, we can both get outta here. Sound good?”
  2720. >You aren’t too fond of the way he words some of the things he says to you
  2721. >They’re rather… Aggressive
  2722.  
  2723.  
  2724. >A while later, back in your cell, Gallan begins to explain more of his plan to you
  2725. >He’s satisfied with the fact that you can be trusted
  2726. >And you’re happy to have a potential way out of this place
  2727. >Not that he isn’t as well
  2728. >He seems as if he’s practically shaking with anticipation
  2729. >”Right then. I don’t wanna spend more time than I already have, so we’re gonna get right to it when we get the chance.”
  2730. >The gryphon glances sidelong at the cell door
  2731. >He lowers his voice to where only you could hear it
  2732. >”Check the bricks behind the toilet, but be discreet about it.”
  2733. >You stretch out and lay down on your cot, giving you a nice angle to see what he was referring to
  2734. >It wasn’t immediately noticeable at first glance, but after looking at it for a few seconds, you realized that they weren’t being held their by the plaster anymore
  2735. >They’d been stacked upon each other to give the illusion that it was still structurally sound
  2736. >”See it? I can’t remove any more bricks, else I risk drawing attention to it if they look. But thanks to that, I can’t fit through it.”
  2737. “Let me guess: I can though?”
  2738. >He nods, carving another gash into the wall with his talons
  2739. >”Bingo. It’ll be snug, but when you’re in the walls, you can get pretty much anywhere.”
  2740. >Your eyes wander over to the brick façade once more
  2741. >”Hey, eyes over here little pony. Don’t give it away.”
  2742. >You snap your gaze back to the gryphon
  2743. “I take it that hole’s not your endgame. What am I using it for?”
  2744. >”I’ll tell you tonight when I’m done wiping the floor with Gyphrus.”
  2745. >And that was the other thing
  2746. >Gallan seemed confident enough, and you assumed from the way he spoke that he had already faced off against the other gryphon before
  2747. >But the fact that you could potentially end up in a worse position than you were now if something went wrong leaves you nervously fidgeting in your bed
  2748.  
  2749.  
  2750. >The rest of the day proceeds normally (for a prison)
  2751. >And it’s only at night that things become…
  2752. >Interesting
  2753. >You’re watching Gallan gouge another mark into the wall
  2754. >You still don’t know why he does it
  2755. >It isn’t for each day, as you’d previously assumed
  2756.  >Seeing as how he’d already carved around 5 in today
  2757. >Perhaps it was just his hobby
  2758. >Or maybe it meant more
  2759. “Hey Gallan, what’s with-“
  2760. >”Pipe down, pony. I’m tryin’ to listen.”
  2761. >For what?
  2762. >In the silence of the cell block, you begin to hear something
  2763. >Like a steady clopping of hooves on the ground
  2764. >They were getting closer
  2765. >”You wanted to know what was happening tonight eh? Then get up. You’re part of my wager anyway.”
  2766. >Right
  2767. >You’d conveniently forgotten that little detail
  2768. >You sit up and swing your hindlegs out over the floor
  2769. >As you get out of bed, Gallan is already at the cell door with something clutched in his talon
  2770. >Two guards pass by and the gryphon knocks on the bars a few times
  2771. >They stop and turn to him as you trot up to the door
  2772. >One of them glances at you, then back to your cellmate
  2773. >”Uh, you don’t get to bring friends.”
  2774. >”Don’t worry about her, she’s a quiet one. The pony is part of my wager so she’s comin’ along anyway.”
  2775. >You can hear one of the guards exhale sharply through his nose
  2776. >The two guards seem to be contemplating whether or not it was a good idea to bring you along
  2777. >”Ya just gonna stand there? What if Madame Warden catches ya, huh? Think you’ll still get to bend the rules if she does?”
  2778. >”Tch. Fine.”
  2779. >The one doing the speaking looks at his partner
  2780. >”Open it up.”
  2781.  
  2782.  
  2783. >You hear something click, and thunk
  2784. >Then the cell opens
  2785. >Odd
  2786. >You thought that the cells were remotely operated from somewhere else
  2787. >Even stranger is that the loud noise accompanying a cell being opened is mysteriously absent
  2788. >Your new gryphon “friend” turns and glares at you, pointing to the space beside him
  2789. >”Come, pony. Yer the wager and I don’t feel like bein’ out for longer than I have to.”
  2790. >The act that Gallan puts on when he’s talking to you around others…
  2791. >No matter how many times its happened
  2792. >Or how much he reassures you
  2793. >It makes you uncomfortable
  2794. >Like he’s getting too into it
  2795. >You supposed that he had to be convincing though
  2796. >You quietly step out and they close the cell behind you
  2797. >As the two guards start to lead you along, Gallan holds a single talon to his beak, shushing you silently
  2798. >This only confirmed your suspicions about what you were thinking earlier
  2799. >This isn’t exactly sanctioned by Madame Warden
  2800. >…Whatever it was
  2801. >The guardsponies start to lead you through the winding halls and twisting corridors of the prison
  2802. >Perhaps it was made this way intentionally to discourage prisoners from escaping, lest they become lost in this place
  2803. >It didn’t seem to discourage Gallan
  2804. >You’re escorted down a few flights of stairs
  2805. >There are no windows after about two
  2806. >You must be underground now
  2807. >As you presumably get closer to your intended location, your ears perk up slightly
  2808. >You can’t hear anything
  2809. >It’s almost dead silent, save for the sounds of hooves and claws on concrete
  2810. >You’re led to a door labeled “storage” where the two guards stop
  2811. >”We’re here, pony.”
  2812.  
  2813.  
  2814. >The guard knocks on the door thrice and waits
  2815. >For a moment, nothing happens, until a hidden rectangle in the door slides away, revealing a pair of eyes
  2816. >”Password?”
  2817. >”Roadblock.”
  2818. >The rectangular metal piece slides back into place and you can hear a series of locks opening behind the door before it opens
  2819. >As it opens you see a shimmering aura of green
  2820. >Your heart skips a beat
  2821. >It’s the same green that Sandstone’s magic was
  2822. >Your tail wags a bit and you crane your neck to see
  2823. >But as the door opens fully, you see that it’s not the golem you’d come to know
  2824. >Instead it was just a Unicorn’s magical aura projecting a rippling wall of green a few meters in
  2825. >Your mood is dampened once more
  2826. >Though it was silly to think that Sandstone had ended up in this place
  2827. >You wouldn’t wish that upon anypony
  2828. >Especially not him
  2829. >Gallan nonchalantly steps through the magical barrier and tugs you along by your mane
  2830. >You grit your teeth and wince
  2831. >He didn’t need to be this rough
  2832. >You grasp at his arm as he practically drags you through the crowd
  2833. >If you didn’t need his help, you wouldn’t put up with this
  2834. >You’re easily tossed into the center of the circular crowd, into an open space where there are two minotaurs exchanging blows
  2835. >Gallan then strides in behind you and stands over you, one claw upon the back of your head keeping you pinned to the ground
  2836. >”Stop yer fight before I stop it for ya!”
  2837. >Clearly the gryphon commanded some kind of respect amongst the prisoners here
  2838. >Or at least those two as they seemed to listen and recede back into the crowd
  2839. >”Gyphrus! Show yourself! Don’t tell me you backed out on your own challenge!”
  2840.  
  2841.  
  2842. >If only you were so lucky
  2843. >From your position on the ground you can see the crowd dispersing as the familiar burly gryphon shoulders his way into the center
  2844. >”There you are Gallan, I was wondering when you were coming to bring me my pony.”
  2845. >Gyphrus stares down Gallan, and Gallan meets his gaze with a fiery one of his own
  2846. >The scarred and pockmarked gryphon removes his claw from your head
  2847. >”Go stand in the crowd, pony. I’ve got some business to take care of.”
  2848. >You stand up and dust yourself off before slinking away to the crowd
  2849. >Instinctively you seek out and stand near the guards
  2850. >They were your enemy, yes
  2851. >And perhaps they were no better than the prisoners
  2852. >But you felt safer near them than you did being flanked on all sides by other prisoners
  2853. >Even moreso the fact that the crowd could easily be whipped up into a frenzy from this bloodsport
  2854. >That was likely what the barrier was for, to keep the sound in and make sure nopony was the wiser
  2855. >Even though your wellbeing rested upon this fight, you can’t bring yourself to watch it
  2856. >Your eyes wander around the room, looking upon the wooden crates and dusty supplies that had been moved to create this crude arena
  2857. >Your mind begins to wander too as one of the guards speaks to both of the gryphons ready to face off
  2858. >Your thoughts continue to lead to how she’d gotten into this situation in the first place
  2859. >Of how you ended up as a Prench prisoner of war
  2860. >It would have never happened had you not been drafted
  2861. >And you never would have been drafted had the war not been going on in the first place
  2862. >These thoughts in turn lead to even more: those of your childhood, and of your parents
  2863.  
  2864.  
  2865.  
  2866. >You think back to one of your fondest memories
  2867. >Perhaps as a way to distract you from the fate you find yourself in
  2868. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=44I2VB96ryU
  2869. >You’re standing in the palace gardens of Canterlot
  2870. >There’s nopony else there with you
  2871. >You’re alone for the most part
  2872. >The sun is shining brightly, filtering rays of light through the leaves of the tall apple tree above you
  2873. >Your parents are nowhere to be seen
  2874. >They had some business to attend to in the castle, and since you were young there was no chance of leaving you alone in the house
  2875. >Especially not during wartime
  2876. >Canterlot was the capital city, and well-fortified, but there was always reason to be cautious
  2877. >You couldn’t have been older than 10 at that time
  2878. >You didn’t know why mom and dad had to be at the castle, just that they’d let you wander for a bit
  2879. >Which made sense to you now, as there were royal guards posted everywhere
  2880. >You’d already been wandering around a bit, going in and out of the castle, asking numerous questions to the guards stationed there, and generally being a nuisance
  2881. >Now you’d decided to climb this apple tree
  2882. >It takes a few tries at first, before you manage to get a hoof hold upon it
  2883. >You slowly scrabble your way up it until you find yourself on a particularly sturdy branch
  2884. >It’s there that you catch your breath
  2885. >Dad’s gonna be so proud of you
  2886. >Maybe you would even get a cutie mark in climbing!
  2887. >After your little break, you start climbing again
  2888. >It’s a little easier now that you could go from branch to branch, and not straight up the trunk
  2889.  
  2890.  
  2891.  
  2892. >It’s then that you spot it
  2893. >Right there at the end of a branch
  2894. >Hanging almost precariously
  2895. >A golden apple
  2896. >In reality, it was just one of the yellow ones
  2897. >But to your eyes, so filled with young wonderment, in the glowing sunlight…
  2898. >That apple may as well have been made of gold
  2899. >So you shuffled out onto the branch, hearing it creak and rustle the leaves attached to it
  2900. >You moved slowly, carefully as to not accidentally jostle the apple and let it fall to the ground
  2901. >Even if it was the meticulously kept royal gardens, it was still too dirty for that apple
  2902. >It felt as if it took ages, but you’d soon plucked that apple
  2903. >And of course, you knew how this memory ended
  2904. >With the splintering and cracking of wood
  2905. >The rush of air against your ears
  2906. >And closing your eyes as you curled up and waited for the inevitable impact of the ground
  2907. >But that last part never came
  2908. >Instead of hitting the ground, you landed in the waiting hooves of a royal guard
  2909. >You opened one eye, then the other
  2910. >Back then you had been confused
  2911. >Nopony had been around before
  2912. >He must have come around on his patrol and seen you
  2913. >Gently he sets you down upon the grass before unfurling his wings and flying up to remove the broken branch
  2914. >When he comes back down he inspects you for any cuts or scrapes
  2915. >”Are you okay little one?”
  2916. >You simply nod
  2917. >The guardspony ushers you along with one of his wings, tossing the branch in a compost pile on the way out of the gardens
  2918. >You tentatively hand over the apple you’d plucked to him
  2919. >He tilts his head at you, as if confused, before taking it without a word
  2920. ”Thank you for helping me, mister!”
  2921. >He chuckles
  2922. >”It’s my job to help ponies.”
  2923.  
  2924.  
  2925. >”So where are your parents, little one?”
  2926. “I’m not allowed in the archives they said, and mom and dad both told me they both had to be there!”
  2927. >The guardspony furrows his brow
  2928. >”You wouldn’t happen to be little Rewind, would you?”
  2929. “Mhm!”
  2930. >The look on his face is one that you still can’t decipher, even to this day
  2931. >Sadness?
  2932. >Sympathy?
  2933. >Disappointment?
  2934. >You’ll never know
  2935. >”…Alright then Rewind. Is there anything you wanna go do? Your parents uh… Might be gone for a while.”
  2936. >You should have asked him what he’d meant right then
  2937. >And perhaps it would have saved you some grief
  2938. >But to a child like you, it simply meant they would be away for a few minutes longer
  2939. >The roar of the crowd rips you away from your introspection and you blink a few times
  2940. >What had happened?
  2941. >Gallan stands over Gyphrus, holding his head against the blood spattered concrete floor while holding up a talon balled into a fist with the other
  2942. >It appears he’d won in the time you’d been spaced out
  2943. >For how long, you’re not sure
  2944. >Enough time for a fight to ensue
  2945. >It must have been a good one if the crowd is this rowdy
  2946. >He removes himself from the center of the arena and confidently strides towards you
  2947. >His grin unnerves you
  2948. >But it’s all an act, right?
  2949. >He glances at the guards near you and cocks his head quickly towards the door
  2950. >”I’m not stayin’ here for more. Let’s get goin’.”
  2951. >The guardsponies look up from their fervent exchange of cards and money between themselves
  2952. >”Tch… Fine.”
  2953. >They must have been expecting him to stay and fight some more
  2954. >The two guards from before escort the both of you back to your cell and close it behind you
  2955. >They trot off, presumably back down to the fight club
  2956. >”So that’s that, Rewind.”
  2957. >Gallan licks at some new cuts he’d received upon his forearm while he counts out the odd cards in his talons
  2958. >You’d seen them before
  2959. >Or rather, seen ONE before when he was hanging his claws out of the cell
  2960.  
  2961.  
  2962. “What are those?”
  2963. >You ask as you sit down upon the cot
  2964. >”Ration cards. Remember what I told ya when ya got here? Prisoners ain’t fed well. Anyone that wants more goes down and fights. But you gotta buy in with at least one.”
  2965. >He hands you a few
  2966. >”Here. It wouldn’t do well for my partner be ah… Malnourished if we’re tryin’ ta get outta here.”
  2967. >Partner
  2968. >What was it about that word that made you so anxious?
  2969. >Was it the fact that he was so readily using it, even though it’s been less than two days now?
  2970. >Or was it because you felt less like a partner and more like a tool to him?
  2971. >Or maybe it was because Sandstone was your true partner
  2972. >You don’t know
  2973. >But you miss Sandstone
  2974. >You start to lay down in your bed but a sharp whistle from the other side of the cell stops you
  2975. >”Watcha think yer doin’, Rewind? Ya got work ta put in too.”
  2976. “What?”
  2977. >He points his thumb talon at the hidden broken brick wall
  2978. >”I put in my work for today. Ya gotta do the same.”
  2979. >You glance at the loose brickwork
  2980. >”Or do ya just wanna sit and rot in this forsaken place?”
  2981. >You pointedly did not want to do that
  2982. >You sit up and trot over, pushing aside the unused toilet and starting to carefully remove the bricks
  2983. >”I’ll cover the hole back up so none of the guards are any the wiser, but I’m tellin’ ya that you don’t got a lot of time in there.”
  2984. >You look back at him
  2985. “What?”
  2986. >”Quit wastin’ time and get in the walls.”
  2987. >You nod and slide through the hole
  2988.  
  2989.  
  2990. >The fit was tight, but you could easily turn around if you stood on your hindlegs for a moment
  2991. >And there was enough room to trot relatively unhampered
  2992. >”Now listen partner, you’re lookin’ for a remote about yea big.”
  2993. >He holds his thumb talon and index out far from each other, making half a square
  2994. >”But make sure that you grab one for our cell block. They’re color coded and ours is orange. Grab the one with the orange stripe.”
  2995. “But… Won’t they notice it missing?”
  2996. >He waves his claw dismissively
  2997. >”They’ve got multiple of ‘em. They’re used to open the cells manually if the one in the main control room isn’t working.”
  2998. >He glances behind him
  2999. >Strangely he doesn’t glance at the cell door, but at the wall near his cot
  3000. >”Now get goin’, before someone finds us out.”
  3001. >You haven’t even begun to take more than a few hoofsteps away before he starts to rebrick the wall
  3002. >You wanted to ask why he’d looked at his wall
  3003. >You could do that when you returned
  3004. >If you returned
  3005. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ymv7GQR6jqc
  3006. >It’s dark back here
  3007. >Your eyes are adjusting but it’s taking a while
  3008. >The pipes snake in every direction
  3009. >The humidity and steam back here are already making you sweat
  3010. >You unbutton some more of the jumpsuit, your chest floof peeking out now
  3011. >You take a few tentative steps, testing the strength of the pipe you stand on
  3012. >It rattles and creaks slightly, but otherwise holds firm
  3013. >It’s then that you make the mistake of looking down
  3014.  
  3015.  
  3016. >There’s nothing but darkness down there
  3017. >You don’t know how far down it goes
  3018. >Heck you didn’t even know where this prison was
  3019. >You look around for a moment and pull a broken piece of brick from the wall of the next cell
  3020. >Then you drop it into the abyss below
  3021. >You stay still and perk up your ears, listening intently
  3022. >You don’t hear it hit the bottom
  3023. >Perhaps something else muffled the sound
  3024. >But you didn’t hear an impact
  3025. “Okay Rewind… Just don’t fall. Don’t fall and everything’ll be fine.”
  3026. >You whisper to yourself
  3027. >You don’t know which way you’re supposed to be heading
  3028. >But you assumed since the guards came in from the right every time, that you would go that way
  3029. >Thankfully you didn’t have to balance precariously on the pipe you stood on
  3030. >It was close enough to the back walls of the cells that you could lean on them while you trotted
  3031. >But you still had to be careful
  3032. >One errant slip and you could go tumbling down into that inky blackness
  3033. >”Hey, Rewind.”
  3034. >You hear a strained whisper from your cell
  3035. >Gallan must be poking his head through the hole
  3036. >”Look for the ventilation system, you can go through that to get to the equipment storage. The vents should be down that way somewhere above you.”
  3037. >With those words you hear the bricks being stacked again
  3038. >Well at least you had some direction now
  3039. >Forward and up
  3040. >Forward and up
  3041. >Don’t fall
  3042. >Forward and up
  3043. >Don’t get caught
  3044. >And be quiet
  3045. >It was simple, right?
  3046. >You’d had… Well, SOME success with stealth in the past, right?
  3047.  
  3048.  
  3049. >You continue to carefully trot along the pipe on three hooves
  3050. >One of them is out on your left, running slightly along the bricks lining the various backsides of the cells
  3051. >On your right are pipes that writhe every which way, disappearing into the darkness
  3052. >The humidity and the heat in between the walls has gotten so bad that you’d opened the front of your jumpsuit all the way at this point
  3053. >And you were still sweating
  3054. >You’ve already gone a few meters ahead since you’d left your cell
  3055. >You wonder what would happen should a guard check the cell and see you gone
  3056. >Did Gallan have a cover for that?
  3057. >Perhaps it was best not to worry too much
  3058. “So I’m looking for a ventilation shaft…”
  3059. >You start to realize that you’d never been one for talking to yourself until recently
  3060. >And only when you’re alone as well
  3061. >It began to slowly occur to you
  3062. >Were you… Afraid?
  3063. >Not just of the loneliness of course
  3064. >But of this darkness?
  3065. >You activate your magic
  3066. >Just to the point where it wouldn’t reach the inhibitor
  3067. >Though seeing as how it was rather far down your horn, you had very little room for this
  3068. >You couldn’t cast any spells, but the natural glowing aura of your magic could help you see a bit better
  3069. >But the effect is negligible at best
  3070. >Something rattles the pipes behind you and makes the fur on the back of your neck stand up
  3071. >You can’t turn around, there’s not enough room to do so without risk of falling off
  3072. >As you try and continue your way through the walls, you feel something
  3073. >Something is breathing on the back of your neck
  3074. >Surely that couldn’t be right
  3075. “I-It’s just the hot air… Probably a leaky pipe…”
  3076.  
  3077.  
  3078.  
  3079. >At least you try to convince yourself of that
  3080. >It doesn’t get any easier as something drips onto your mane
  3081. >In reality, THAT was probably a leaky pipe
  3082. >But your mind was going everywhere at once
  3083. >Was somepony else in here with you?
  3084. >Was something else in here?
  3085. >Is it all in your head?
  3086. >What do you do if somepony IS in here?
  3087. >And what if it IS-
  3088. >Your right hindhoof slips slightly, bringing you out of your frantic thoughts
  3089. >You had to focus
  3090. >Get out of here
  3091. >Get the remote
  3092. >You continue on with renewed vigor, but something still gnaws at the edges of your mind
  3093. >You feel like there’s something at the periphery of your vision
  3094. >Something shadowy and dark
  3095. >But every time you turn your head to look, it’s gone
  3096. >You eventually just keep your head locked forward
  3097. >If you didn’t look, you couldn’t be afraid, right?
  3098. >Yeah that was a blatant lie to yourself
  3099. >You were still afraid
  3100. >You just weren’t looking at what was spooking you
  3101. >Even if you couldn’t see it
  3102. >You heave a sigh of relief as you spy the ventilation shaft Gallan was referring to
  3103. >The vent cover, surprisingly, just pops off when enough force is applied to it
  3104. >You place the lined cover on top of the shaft and look inside
  3105. >The dim, golden-speckled orange light from your horn casts an eerie glow upon the metal interior
  3106. >Similar to a lighter, if you had one
  3107. >The vent leads off either left or right
  3108. >And seeing as how right only led further into the rocks, or Celestia knows where
  3109. >Left seemed like the better option
  3110. >Even if it DID take a 90 degree turn vertically
  3111. >You did fine with climbing in the guardspony training, right?
  3112.  
  3113.  
  3114. >You clamber into the vent and crawl along to the point where the vent takes a sharp upwards turn
  3115. >You test the sides of the vent
  3116. >It’s sturdy enough it seems
  3117. >You take a deep breath
  3118. >The air is stuffy and hot
  3119. >But you have to keep going
  3120. >And the further away you got from where you just were, the better
  3121. >You jump up and press your back against the wall of the shaft behind you, and your hindlegs against the one in front of you
  3122. >In training this was usually done with somepony else against your back to build trust and teamwork
  3123. >But you only had yourself right now
  3124. >Your thoughts turn to your absent golem partner for just a moment before you shake your head to dispel them
  3125. “Focus on getting out first…”
  3126. >You whisper to yourself
  3127. >The sweat upon your body makes your jumpsuit stick to you uncomfortably
  3128. >Concentrating on climbing, as well as keeping your magic below the inhibitor, ALONG with the heat making it hard to breathe was taxing on your mind and body
  3129. >You continue to shuffle yourself up the ventilation shaft
  3130. >The training that the guardspony camp put you through was intensive, and prepared you for something like this
  3131. >Just for a moment you let the tiny magical aura wick away
  3132. >And once more you’re surrounded by darkness
  3133. >Without the subtle sound of your shimmering magic, all that you can hear is the steady sound of your climbing
  3134. >You aren’t sure how far up you’ve gotten either
  3135. >It’s only been a few minutes but you’ve made considerable progress
  3136. >Probably
  3137. >You can’t see what’s above you
  3138. >On the bright side, you can’t see what’s below you
  3139. >Heh
  3140. >”Bright” side
  3141. >You were gonna turn into your mother at this rate if you continued to make stupid jokes like that to yourself
  3142. >It was like she’d taken all the dad jokes and made them her own
  3143. >Focus Rewind, focus
  3144.  
  3145.  
  3146. >After a few minutes you suddenly end up overextending your hoof and nearly falling
  3147. >You panicked and thrust out both hindlegs, stretching yourself out
  3148. >You were never one for yoga
  3149. >And when the initial panic subsided, you realized it had only happened because you reached the top of the vent
  3150. >You carefully reposition yourself and shuffle up until you’re on your belly
  3151. >Your hindlegs were burning with calcic acid
  3152. >And you were just glad to be off them for a bit
  3153. >So you start to crawl along
  3154. >Luckily for you now that you were here, there was light filtering in from the vents you occasionally crawled across
  3155. >You come across an odd blockage of some sort of plastic material, but you tear through it and continue on your way
  3156. >The light gave you little glimpses as to what was occurring in the rest of the prison as you crawled through the winding metal tube
  3157. >You were looking for the equipment storage
  3158. >Or wherever they stored the manual cell remotes
  3159. >You wondered what that would look like anyway
  3160. >Maybe you could hop out and ask somepony for directions
  3161. >You roll your eyes at yourself and continue moving
  3162. >It’s slow going, trying to stay quiet and crawl along through the vent at the same time
  3163. >Almost mind numbing if you weren’t on edge the entire time
  3164. >Every noise you make
  3165. >Heck, every noise you HEAR makes your ears prick upwards and your heart skip a beat
  3166. >Each time you freeze, waiting to see if something had happened
  3167. >And every time it was something that the ponies below were doing, that had nothing to do with you
  3168. >You pass over another vent, giving you a brief glimpse into the room below
  3169. >It looked to be a break room
  3170. >There were a few of the guardsponies in here
  3171. >They looked to be laughing
  3172. >You of course, didn’t understand Prench, so you hadn’t a clue what they were talking about
  3173. >The language sounded nice though
  3174.  
  3175.  
  3176. >You look around from your position above
  3177. >There are signs on the walls beside the doors, but they’re in Prench as well, so they don’t help you navigate either
  3178. >You get going once more, determined to find the equipment room
  3179. >On the way through, you pass through another one of those plastic blockages
  3180. >Now that you were in the light, you realize that tearing through it left you with a smooth-feeling, lavender film upon your hooves
  3181. >You wipe it away on your jumpsuit and keep moving
  3182. >However, one thing that you’d dreaded when you climbed into this vent soon presented itself to you
  3183. >An intersection
  3184. >From your left you could hear the sound of rotating blades, so that one was immediately out of the question
  3185. >Below you however stood a stallion carrying a sealed box upon his back
  3186. >He was having a chat with a rather chipper looking mare
  3187. >The box itself was no ordinary cardboard box either
  3188. >It was gray, and almost unassuming if it weren’t for the password locks on its sides
  3189. >The stallion as well didn’t share the uniform that the rest of the guards here did
  3190. >In fact it looked to be about 90 percent armor
  3191. >It’s construction as well seemed odd
  3192. >You’d never seen anything like it
  3193. >You know you should be trying to find the equipment storage…
  3194. >But that case looked important
  3195. >Maybe it was going to equipment storage?
  3196. >You decide that it would be a good idea to follow this strange stallion
  3197. >He continues to speak with the mare for a bit
  3198. >He seems disinterested, while the mare is probably trying to make small talk
  3199. >A bell chimes and he exits through a door on the right you couldn’t see before
  3200. >You turn down the right vent and start crawling
  3201.  
  3202.  
  3203. >Occasionally you stop to make sure that you’re still following the mysterious pony
  3204. >And usually you are
  3205. >Only a few times to do you lose track of him, but you’re able to quickly cover the lost ground and catch up
  3206. >You slowly start to get the feeling that this stallion wasn’t going to the equipment storage room
  3207. >And your instincts were correct
  3208. >But you’d never expected him to make his way into the warden’s office
  3209. >Madame Warden’s office
  3210. >It was…
  3211. >Well, it wasn’t what you were expecting
  3212. >There are various pictures hanging in their frames, some seem to be of family, others of various landscapes
  3213. >It was clear they were photographs however
  3214. >There are multiple bookshelves lining the back wall
  3215. >There’s a record player with some classical music playing at low volume
  3216. >And in the middle of it all sits Madame Warden
  3217. >You hadn’t gotten a good look at her before, seeing as how you were being electrocuted
  3218. >But looking at her now, she seems unassuming
  3219. >She’s and Earth Pony around your size, though possessing the lithe, model-esque frame most Prench mares do
  3220. >Her mane is bubblegum pink, and you can only assume her tail is the same
  3221. >It’s short, done up in a Prench braid that extends around the back
  3222. >Her coat is an immaculate crimson color that shimmers slightly in the light of the candelabras set up within their holders
  3223. >”Entrez! Come in!”
  3224. >She’s speaking Equestrian?
  3225. >The door opens and the mysterious pony trots in, shutting it behind him
  3226. >She looks up from the book that she’s reading, only setting it down when she realizes just who’d stepped in
  3227. >”Ahhh! Zere you are. I hope you do not mind if we speak wiz zis tongue, no? Lest somepony be listening.”
  3228. >That line would’ve made you fear for your life had she said it in Prench
  3229. >And if you could understand Prench
  3230. >But all it did now was reinforce the fact that nopony knew you were eavesdropping
  3231.  
  3232.  
  3233. >”Of course Madame. Have the tests here been going well?”
  3234. >Madame Warden stands up from her desk and pushes in the chair
  3235. >”Please sir, lock ze door if you would.”
  3236. >The stallion’s horn glows and the door he entered through locks
  3237. >”Both groups of guards and prisoners ze parasite was introduced to are none ze wiser.”
  3238. >Wait, what
  3239. >A parasite?
  3240. >You listen more intently now
  3241. >”The guards too? That wasn’t noted in your report.”
  3242. >”I don’t zink our king would complain about more data, now would he?”
  3243. >The stallion seems somewhat uncomfortable
  3244. >”No. But nonetheless, everything should be recorded in any reports that are sent back. We’ve been very lenient in allowing you to run this place the way you want.”
  3245. >Madame Warden trots over and places a small kettle over a personal burner
  3246. >”Of course, of course, I understand. Please take a seat. I’m sure zat armor of yours is heavy.”
  3247. >Without a word, the armored pony takes a seat in the chair opposite the one that Madame Warden was sitting in
  3248. >”Over zirty percent of prisoners in cell block C have been infected, and seven of ze guards normally stationed zere as well.”
  3249. >”I assume you’ve taken the necessary precautions to prevent a widespread outbreak in your prison?”
  3250. >Madame Warden chuckles
  3251. >”What kind of warden would I be if I didn’t?”
  3252. >Just laying here listening to their conversation is starting to fill you with dread
  3253. >Just what in the world was this parasite?
  3254. >”So what do you have to report then?”
  3255. >”As usual, both groups retain all fine motor skills as well as complex and rational thought. For all intents and purposes, it’s as if they weren’t infected at all. I know otherwise of course.”
  3256. >The stallion nods, waiting for her to continue as she removes the now whistling kettle from the heat
  3257.  
  3258.  
  3259. >”Both groups show increased aggressiveness towards non-infected individuals, and hosts of ze parasite actively seek out uninfected to create a new host.”
  3260. >Madame Warden pours a cup of tea out for both her and her guest
  3261. >”I’m aware of how the creature works, yes.”
  3262. >”However… Ze infected guards do not show hostility towards zeir fellow friends or acquaintances. A shared drink here, a sneeze zere, and anozer parasite has a host.”
  3263. >The stallion takes a drink of his tea now
  3264. >”Interesting. If the parasite isn’t characterized ONLY by aggression then a single infected could be enough to take over an entire town, perhaps even a city with enough time.”
  3265. >Madame Warden nods, smiling
  3266. >”Zey appear to act on a hivemind of sorts. Not zat zey think ze same, no. Simply zat zey appear to have ze same motives, which is to create more hosts.”
  3267. >The mystery stallion finishes his tea and sets the fragile looking cup down on its plate before levitating the case onto Madame Warden’s desk
  3268. >”Then we’ll proceed with phase 3 of the testing process.”
  3269. >His hooves run along the numerical rings until he finally unlocks it
  3270. >He then pulls out what look to be 3 glass tubes filled with some sort of liquid
  3271. >From your position you have to nearly press your face against the grille of the vent to get a better look at what’s inside
  3272. >The liquid isn’t clear however
  3273. >It seems to be filled with tiny, blob-like organisms
  3274. >They flit about, occasionally bumping into one another, but you can’t make out any details
  3275. >” Our King wishes to know how they react to another, separate strain being introduced. Whether or not they cooperate with one another still.”
  3276. >The next 2 tubes he pulls out however…
  3277.  
  3278.  
  3279. >Within those is something that makes your skin crawl
  3280. >In the third sits an almost insect-like organism, suspended within the liquid
  3281. >It occasionally twitches or shudders, pressing against the glass
  3282. >It’s almost the size of your hoof, and it reminds you of a spider
  3283. >It has a bulbous, fat body, with what looks to be tiny spikes lined along its underside
  3284. >Tendrils extrude along its front, feeling around, wrapping around itself, and all manner of squicky things
  3285. >it’s purple, almost miasmatic body is translucent, concealing within it a series of green eyes
  3286. >You can nuclei inside, pulsing slowly and sending jolts throughout its body
  3287. >You shudder as a chill runs down your spine
  3288. >You’d never seen anything like this
  3289. >Where in the world did Prance ever find these things from?
  3290. >And just what were they planning on doing with them if this place is a testing ground?
  3291. >The second tube he’d pulled out beforehand was a smaller one of the parasite in the third tube
  3292. >There were less tendrils, and it was smaller, no bigger than your snout, and it had less nuclei inside
  3293. >”So monsieur, why did you bring me an adolescent and an adult as well?”
  3294. >The stallion closes the case and places it beside the desk
  3295. >”Because we need to figure out if they can still be introduced to a healthy host and have the same effect as the eggs do.”
  3296. >Madame Warden raises an eyebrow and leans closer to the adult
  3297. >”You want me to stick boz of zese into a non-infected pony? Just how do you expect me to go about zat?”
  3298. >The stallion swaps his helmet to his other hoof
  3299. >”The adolescent can be introduced through the nasal cavity, its body is malleable enough to do so. The adult however may have to be inserted into the mouth.”
  3300. >”You zink it can make its way to ze host’s brain zrough ze mouth?”
  3301. >T-The brain?
  3302.  
  3303.  
  3304. >”As I said, I’m not sure. Perhaps the adult is still malleable enough to try the nose, or perhaps the ear. I recommend simply placing it upon the potential host and seeing what it may do.”
  3305. >So those… Things
  3306. >Attach themselves to somepony’s brain and they’re none the wiser?
  3307. >And what happens when they get bigger?
  3308. >What happens to the pony they’re attached to?
  3309. >”If, as you say, the infected are docile and “normal” enough, I’m sure would make an excellent sleeper weapon. Imagine how easy it would be to quell a rebellion with them.”
  3310. >Madame Warden grins in response
  3311. >”Or subdue an entire army.”
  3312. >”Or create the perfect soldiers. The applications are nigh endless.”
  3313. >You’re starting to feel sick to your stomach
  3314. >War time was a time for experimentation, new discoveries, industry…
  3315. >But this
  3316. >This seemed like too much
  3317. >This felt horrifying and wrong
  3318. >The armored stallion stands up
  3319. >”I thank you for the tea, Madame Warden. It’s always a pleasure speaking with you. As always, we expect a report by no less than next month. However, please notify us if there are any abnormal results or if something of import happens.”
  3320. >For the first time since you’ve seen her, Madame Warden looks uncomfortable
  3321. >”About zat… I may have somezing to include right now.”
  3322. >The stallion tilts his head
  3323. >”Zere’s been a mutation.”
  3324. >He leans in closer
  3325. >”A what.”
  3326. >”Yez. I’m not sure what prompted it, but zere’s been a mutation since I sent my report in ze last time.”
  3327. >Madame Warden takes a deep breath and sips from her tea
  3328. >“Well, what is it? What happened?”
  3329. >”...It’s airborne.”
  3330.  
  3331.  
  3332. >Both you and the mysterious stallion share the same reaction of wide-eyed shock
  3333. >”And you neglected to tell me this until just now?! This entire facility could be infected!”
  3334. >”Monsieur please, I was able to make sure zere was no outbreak.”
  3335. >”And how do you know THAT? For all you know it could have made its way into the ventilation system”
  3336. >WHAT
  3337. >”Zere’s no need to worry about zat. We were able to close off and quarantine ze affected portions of ze system.”
  3338. >Oh thank Celestia
  3339. >”Just in case, I’ll have the boys send down double the amount of blockers you received before
  3340. >Madame Warden shakes her head and reaches into her desk
  3341. >”Zere’s no need for zat, monsieur, we still have plenty.”
  3342. >She pulls out a hoofful of something direly familiar to you
  3343. >In her hoof, neatly folded up
  3344. >Were those plastic blockages you’d encountered on your way through the vents
  3345. >You’d tore through them, crawled over them, breathed in everything in between
  3346. >And now you realize what that smooth lavender film you felt on your hooves was
  3347. >Your entire body feels numb
  3348. >You’re lightheaded
  3349. >You bury your face in your hooves
  3350. >There was no way you weren’t infected now
  3351. >What do you do?
  3352. >What COULD you do?
  3353. >Was there a cure?
  3354. >How long until your thoughts weren’t your own anymore?
  3355. >Were they even yours right now?
  3356. >You couldn’t rewind back to stop this, it was already inside your body
  3357. >For the first time in quite a while, you actually start to cry
  3358.  
  3359.  
  3360. >You’re glad that nopony can see you crying
  3361. >But the thought of losing who you were as a pony frightened you
  3362. >Of losing all agency and free will
  3363. >Becoming a puppet
  3364. >Was there even any point to continuing your mission anymore?
  3365. >Would you just forget it the longer the parasite infests your body?
  3366. >All of these thoughts plague your mind
  3367. >And it’s as if you’re caught in a maelstrom of your own emotions
  3368. >You take a deep breath
  3369. >No
  3370. >You weren’t going to give up, not that easily
  3371. >You push the negative thoughts away, crushing them down into the darkest depths of your mind
  3372. >You don’t know if there’s a cure, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t one
  3373. >You’ll lose your free will, but that doesn’t mean you can’t fight it for as long as you can
  3374. >You don’t know how long it takes for these things to mature, but right now you were already losing time just sitting here and crying
  3375. >You wipe away your tears and sniffle silently
  3376. >It was time to find that remote control
  3377. >Luckily for you, Madame Warden leaves shortly after her guest does, no doubt to deliver those nightmarish parasites to the poor ponies they were being tested on
  3378. >You wait for just a moment, making sure that she doesn’t come back in
  3379. >A few seconds later you pry the vent away and set it aside, slipping into Madame Warden’s office as quietly as you can
  3380. >Right below the vent, right out of your field of view was a large map detailing the layout of the prison itself
  3381. >There were various lights, assumedly to tell her about what was going on where
  3382. >It takes you a moment, but you’re able to find out where the equipment storage was
  3383. >It seemed like it wasn’t too far from that intersection of vents if you were reading correctly
  3384. >You jump up and clamber back into the ventilation shaft, placing the grille back in place
  3385.  
  3386.  
  3387. >As you crawl back the way you came, your mind occasionally wanders to another “what if”
  3388. >But you don’t want to think about those
  3389. >The more you think about them, the more discouraged you get
  3390. >So you try your best to just focus on your objective
  3391. >Heck, Gallan is probably wondering what’s taking you so long
  3392. >You crawl back to the intersection of the vents you were at and take the vent you hadn’t gone through before
  3393. >It’s a bit of a crawl, and an uneventful one at that
  3394. >Normally while you were doing something like this, your mind would wander
  3395. >You’d think about memories long past, or of the future and what could happen
  3396. >But you were doing your best not to think right now
  3397. >To keep your thoughts nothing but an all-consuming white noise
  3398. >Focus on your objective
  3399. >Get the remote
  3400. >Then you can escape
  3401. >Eventually you find yourself overlooking a large storage room
  3402. >There are weapons, armor, riot shields, stun batons, and everything else you would expect a prison to have
  3403. >There’s also an entire wall of remotes hanging up, all organized by color
  3404. >Target acquired
  3405. >But it couldn’t be that easy
  3406. >Of course it wasn’t, there’s a guard stationed here, but at least there was only one
  3407. >You quietly pry the grille away and wait
  3408. >Occasionally she comes back to check on the equipment
  3409. >You can hear her sigh
  3410. “Sorry about this…”
  3411. >You whisper to yourself and drop out of the vent
  3412. >…Landing right on top of the unfortunate guardsmare
  3413. >Before she has a chance to yell out, you buck your hindlegs and hit the back of her head, making her face slam against the floor
  3414. >She’s out cold
  3415.  
  3416.  
  3417. >You waste no time in taking the orange-striped remote
  3418. >And while you’re here you grab one of the stun batons as well
  3419. >They would notice it was gone eventually, but from what Gallan told you, the two of you would be escaping soon enough that it won’t matter
  3420. >Before you leave, you reposition the guardsmare’s body near the back wall and prop her up as if she were sleeping on the job
  3421. >You climb up a nearby shelf and you’re back into the vent, replacing the grille as you leave
  3422. >It’s hard to carry along the remote in your mouth along with the stun baton
  3423. >But you manage
  3424. >Thankfully the crawl back feels shorter than the crawl there
  3425. >Soon enough you’re back behind the walls
  3426. >Now… You’re not so afraid of the things you hear and feel back here anymore
  3427. >You’ve got other things to be afraid of now
  3428. >You keep your head facing forward and let the very dim light of your horn light your way until you come back to the loose bricks of your cell
  3429. >You give them a few knocks and wait
  3430. >Soon enough Gallan is moving the toilet aside and removing the bricks
  3431. >He speaks to you in a near whisper
  3432. >”The hell took you so long? Get back in here.”
  3433. >He offers you a claw to help you up but you don’t take it
  3434. >You take off your jumpsuit and toss it into the abyss below
  3435. >And instead of taking his claw, you climb back into your cell on your own and spit out the remote and stun baton
  3436. >Immediately you go to the sink and wash your hooves, scrubbing until you couldn’t feel any of that awful parasitic film on your hooves
  3437. >It was too late for you, but you weren’t going to infect anypony else if you could help it
  3438. >Gallan is understandably confused at your behavior
  3439.  
  3440.  
  3441. >”What happened? What was all that about?”
  3442. >You stand on your hindlegs, simply staring into the wall behind the sink
  3443. >Contemplating whether or not it would be worth it to tell Gallan about your predicament
  3444. >It certainly couldn’t hurt
  3445. “I… There’s…”
  3446. >You sigh
  3447. “Madame Warden is conducting tests on another cellblock with a parasite and I got infected. It’s airborne, and I may have let it out of quarantine. Just… Be careful around me alright? I overheard them saying it affects your thoughts. I don’t know how long until I’m… Not me anymore.”
  3448. >Gallan just stares at you before he picks up the remote and stun baton, storing them behind the wall
  3449. >”Depths of Tartarus, Rewind, I dunno how you managed all that but…”
  3450. >Gallan sits down on his bed
  3451. >”Look, we got what we needed, and a little extra. You must’a not been caught because there was no alarm raised, so we’re fine on that front too.”
  3452. >There’s a long period of silence where you simply lay on your bed and stare at the ceiling
  3453. >”Look, maybe you need some good news right now. We’ll be getting outta here sooner than I thought. We’re down from my previous estimate of 4 days. Now? We’ll be leaving tomorrow.”
  3454. “Tomorrow? That soon? Why?”
  3455. >Gallan checks his wall of slashes
  3456. >”Apparently somethin’ was gonna be happenin’ soon, so they’re moving up the date of the next brawl night to tomorrow. And to incentivize it even more, they’ll be givin’ out double the amount of ration cards to winners. That means more prisoners down there. More prisoners means more crowd to rile up. And the more rowdy they get, the more violent they get. If I can get the whole pit fighting each other, we can use that to start our riot and get outta here.”
  3457. >It was as good a plan as any
  3458.  
  3459.  
  3460. >”Sandstone! Get out of bed, or what I do next will fill you with dread!”
  3461. >You grumble, tossing and turning in your bed to shield your eyes from the sunlight that filters through your blinds
  3462. >What day is it?
  3463. >How long have you been sleeping?
  3464. >You sit up in your bed and gently rub your eyes
  3465. >Weren’t you supposed to do something important today?
  3466. >The door to your room slams open
  3467. “Muddy, who let you into my house? Do you not know I’ve already been roused?”
  3468. >He grins and gestures back out the door
  3469. >”Aha, roused? Don’t make me laugh, surely you aren’t trying to dodge the draft?”
  3470. >You would never do something like that
  3471. >Zebrica needed able-bodied soldiers
  3472. >And not to brag but…
  3473. >You were about as able-bodied as it got
  3474. ”Do not think me so low, Muddy. After all, I would not pass up the chance to join with my best buddy.”
  3475. >You finally get out of bed, and as usual, Muddy has to glance upwards to look you in the eye
  3476. >He gives you a once over and nods
  3477. >”Talk about overqualified. Go ahead and get ready, I shall meet you outside.”
  3478. >Your friend leaves your room, allowing you to finally get ready
  3479. >Your room is rather Spartan in nature, save for the fixtures that hung from the walls
  3480. >The incense has burned out, but the room still holds the lingering smell of cedarwood
  3481. >According to the city elders, it’s meant to symbolize power
  3482. >Your father also said that it increases virility, but you take that with a grain of salt
  3483. >Not that you’d ever be able to test it
  3484. >You replace the piercings in your ears and the rings on your tail
  3485. >Grab a mango from the basket on the kitchen counter
  3486. >And leave the house
  3487.  
  3488.  
  3489. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=37Xo2xy12Dc
  3490. >You shield your eyes from the harsh sunlight
  3491. >As your eyes adjust, you look around
  3492. >The familiar sight of the bustling city greets you
  3493. >Mares and their children walking together
  3494. >Elderly ponies shopping in the market street
  3495. >Buildings built into other buildings
  3496. >Towering structures serving as watchtowers, from which the city guards are usually based
  3497. >And in the very center of it all, a massive spire that towers over all else, magical energy seen within shooting up towards the heavens and stopping just short of the clouds
  3498. >The magical shield extends from it in a dome around the city, ending at the outer walls
  3499. >It keeps the city safe from danger, according to the elders
  3500. >Thanks to the shield, the sunlight filtering in is tinted a light green
  3501. >Its shimmering, magical energy ripples and pulses, reflecting onto the ground and off the sides of buildings
  3502. >It makes you feel as if you’re underwater, looking up at the surface
  3503. >It never grew old, seeing the city like this
  3504. >It’s a shame you would be leaving it today
  3505. >You trot down the few flights of stairs, all the way down to the ground, where Muddy Waters is waiting
  3506. >”What took you so long Sandstone? Putting on some cologne? You know we should do our best to not postpone.”
  3507. >He starts trotting off, leaving you to catch up
  3508. >Muddy was shorter than you, and his stripes were much… Rougher than yours
  3509. >While yours were more tribal in nature, his were like scars haphazardly painted onto his body
  3510. >As opposed to your mohawk, his mane was done up in dreads
  3511. >Despite the differences, you two were like brothers
  3512. >Inseparable
  3513. >Unfortunately, you doubted that you’d be able to stick together throughout the entirety of your training AND deployment
  3514. >So in a way, this was like a last goodbye to each other
  3515.  
  3516.  
  3517. >Both of you pass through the outer gates and the barrier with ease
  3518. >Going out was easy
  3519. >But the barrier would be hard-pressed to open from the outside
  3520. >That didn’t matter however
  3521. >You two weren’t going to be returning any time soon
  3522. >It was always an odd shift, seeing the light unfiltered by green
  3523. >It wasn’t nearly as pretty as it was inside the city
  3524. >You and Muddy trudge across the compacted sand created by countless hooves travelling this path over the years
  3525. >To an outsider, even these paths would be tough going, let alone the dunes and rolling sands of the desert proper
  3526. >But to a Zebra like you it was just another walk
  3527. >The two of you chat over unimportant things, though the topic of meeting each other again when the war was over always came up
  3528. “You know Muddy, there is a chance we may not survive. Very few of our soldiers ever return alive.”
  3529. >Muddy however never seems to give up his ever-cheerful attitude
  3530. >”What kind of talk is that? If there is anything that we are good at, it is combat.”
  3531. >He stops in the middle of the desert path and turns to you
  3532. >”You must promise me my friend, promise me that we will see each other in the end.”
  3533. >He holds out his hoof, slightly bent
  3534. >You knew what it was
  3535. >The traditional linking of hooves for a promise
  3536. >You simply didn’t know if it was one you could uphold
  3537. “I promise you my friend, I will make it back alive as long as it is something to which you will also strive.”
  3538. >You link the bend of your hooves together at the inner elbow, pulling each other closer together
  3539. >He simply nods, giving you his signature grin
  3540. >Perhaps everything WOULD turn out okay after all
  3541.  
  3542.  
  3543. >But sometimes things just don’t work out the way you hope
  3544. >While you were exceptional, and excelled during your training
  3545. >Muddy was simply average
  3546. >You were assigned a golem, while he remained the ground infantry
  3547. >Though, now you were wondering if it would have been better if you’d simply been average
  3548. >A lot of good all the ceremony and exceptional records were when you’re bleeding out after taking a bayonet to the neck
  3549. >Your golem stands over you, watching you intently
  3550. >It appears to be calculating something
  3551. >You hear it tell you that you have no probability of surviving this
  3552. >Not that you thought you did anyway
  3553. >It says a goodbye to you, and ensures you that your next of kin will be informed
  3554. >”Even in death, you still shall serve.”
  3555. >You barely have time to ponder what that could mean before it places one of its fingers upon your chest
  3556. >A sharp pain explodes out from it in an instant
  3557. >But as soon as it had happened, it was gone
  3558. >And so was everything else
  3559. >You look around
  3560. >And see nothing but darkness
  3561. >You start to trot along
  3562. >But your hooves make no sound
  3563. >The darkness underneath your hooves shimmers with every step, and extends in every direction
  3564. >So you simply choose a direction and trot aimlessly
  3565. >The further you go, windows began to open
  3566. >More accurately they looked like portals
  3567. >Looking through them you saw events of your life playing out
  3568. >Some vivid, some mundane
  3569. >Others you didn’t even remember
  3570. >But some looked unfamiliar, like they’d never happened at all
  3571. >There’s a pony you don’t recognize
  3572. >An actual pony too, not a Zebra
  3573. >Who was she, you wondered?
  3574. >And why did she have a golem?
  3575. >Your thoughts are interrupted and the world is forcibly sucked away
  3576.  
  3577.  
  3578. >You open your eyes
  3579. >At least, you think you do
  3580. >Your body feels different
  3581. >Very different
  3582. >There’s no warmth
  3583. >You feel trapped
  3584. >What’s going on?
  3585. >What’s happening?
  3586. >Are you dead?
  3587. >Was that a dream?
  3588. >You try to get up, but find yourself oddly sluggish
  3589. >You feel larger
  3590. >Heavier
  3591. >You take a look at your hoof, only to realize that it wasn’t a hoof
  3592. >You’ve got a hand
  3593. >A hand like a minotaur’s
  3594. >You try to shut your eyes, but you can’t
  3595. >Where are your eyes
  3596. >What’s going on
  3597. >WHAT ARE YOU
  3598. >SOMETHING IS WRONG
  3599. >”Sedate him.”
  3600. >A wave of soothing energy passes through you
  3601. >A spell was just cast on you
  3602. >You want to be angry, confused, afraid
  3603. >But the emotions felt muffled
  3604. >Distant
  3605. >Somepony steps into view
  3606. >It was a Zebra you knew well
  3607. >One of the elders from your city
  3608. >You try to speak, but no words come out
  3609. >You cannot feel your lips move
  3610. >In fact you can’t feel your face at all
  3611. >”Confused in the brain? Very well, I will explain.”
  3612. >A platform above you rotates around, revealing a large mirror
  3613. >In it, you don’t see your own reflection
  3614. >You see that of a golem
  3615. >”There is no lie, one thing remains true. The reflection you see is that of you.”
  3616. >Another wave of magical energy passes over you
  3617. >”Speak.”
  3618. “I… What… Has… Happened.”
  3619. >”Perished in battle as you were intended. With your brain we made a golem most splendid.”
  3620. >You touch your face
  3621. >Or what counts as your face now
  3622. >It’s just an orb
  3623. >You can’t feel your own touch now
  3624. >Except when you touch the orb
  3625. >”Where once was Sandstone, is now Bandit. Of who you once were, to your partner you will omit.”
  3626. >That’s what he thinks
  3627. >You would tell your rider what was going on here
  3628. >It wasn’t just you
  3629. >Countless zebras were being turned into these things
  3630. >At least, you THOUGHT you would tell the pony assigned to be your rider
  3631. >Upon being led out to meet your partner, sadness washes over you
  3632. >It was Muddy Waters
  3633.  
  3634.  
  3635. >Back in the present…
  3636. >Current objective: Rendezvous with Rewind
  3637. >Secondary objective: Ensure safety of Rewind
  3638. >You’ve reached a large boulder
  3639. >One large enough to support your weight
  3640. >You can roll it with ease
  3641. >And you do so
  3642. >You roll it straight into the Burning Gulch
  3643. >It wedges itself on the rocks within, grinding to a halt
  3644. >Realistically, you know that it would give way the moment you stepped upon it
  3645. >However, the longer you go without seeing Rewind, the higher the odds that something bad may have happened to her
  3646. >You cannot allow something like that to happen
  3647. >Even worse, if something already HAS happened, you needed to be there to rescue her
  3648. >Moreso than just your partner, she was your friend
  3649. >And you would save your friend
  3650. >You take a running start and cross the boulder
  3651. >As you thought, it immediately starts to sink, carving out a path for itself through the rock and into the lava
  3652. >You leap from it, landing on the other side and tumbling through the dirt
  3653. >You can hear the boulder sink into the bubbling lava and melt
  3654. >That could have been you
  3655. >But it wasn’t
  3656. >Now you begin the long trek to where you last saw Rewind
  3657. >But there was no time to simply walk
  3658. >You begin sprinting towards your destination
  3659. >That being a beacon you placed in your memory back when you first threw Rewind across the gorge
  3660. >After that… You would need to find her the hard way, should she be out of range of tracking
  3661.  
  3662.  
  3663. >Your sprinting steps crush anything unlucky enough to be in your path underfoot
  3664. >Luckily enough it was mostly grass and rocks
  3665. >You were a stallion on a mission
  3666. >Or… Rather a golem
  3667. >Odd
  3668. >You’d never referred to yourself as such since becoming a war construct
  3669. >Logging that oddity for later, you continue your full sprint towards the beacon
  3670. >You don’t have lungs or muscles, so it’s physically impossible for you to tire from this
  3671. >Hours pass as you run along the war-torn countryside
  3672. >Fires that have broken out from the proximity to the Burning Gulch
  3673. >Trees cut down for materials
  3674. >Even the gulch itself seems to be being used to mine for minerals
  3675. >Soon enough you begin to close in on the beacon’s position
  3676. >There was no doubt in your mind that Rewind would no longer be here
  3677. >After all, her target was deep inside one of Prance’s cities
  3678. >But it would be easier to follow her path from there
  3679. >You come across the small pulsing beacon and it dissipates
  3680. >Looking around, you spot the hill she disappeared over a few days ago
  3681. >She would have proceeded in this direction of course
  3682. >The only problem was what lie beyond
  3683. >It was of little consequence however
  3684. >Your massive chassis was almost impervious to small arms
  3685. >As you crest the hill, the battered landscape beyond comes into view
  3686.  
  3687.  
  3688. >It was as if somepony had salted the earth
  3689. >Dried mud and ash sprawl across the former battleground
  3690. >Broken fortifications and barbed wire extend in either direction
  3691. >And the expanding gulch consumes the land nearby
  3692. >You watch as the remnants of sandbag emplacement fall into it, the lava hissing and bubbling
  3693. >Thump
  3694. >Thump
  3695. >Thump
  3696. >Thump
  3697. >Four steps were all it took for you to reach the bottom of the hill
  3698. >The entire place looks stripped clean for the most part
  3699. >The charred bodies tell you all you need to know
  3700. >That the Prench had swept through here
  3701. >After all, it WAS their land now
  3702. >This calculated brutality was not something you wanted to become the norm
  3703. >But it was already happening
  3704. >All the more reason to find Rewind
  3705. >Stop the war, none of this happens
  3706. >There was no way you would let her die
  3707. >She may very well be the only pony in existence able to go back in time to stop all of this
  3708. >And if that happens…
  3709. >You might be able to be a pony again
  3710. >You would be able to see your best friend again
  3711. >Everything would be normal
  3712. >That makes you stop for a moment
  3713. >Would you remember any of this?
  3714. >Would it cease to exist?
  3715. >It was a very real possibility
  3716. >What if…
  3717. >What if you never saw Rewind again afterwards?
  3718. >What if she never remembers you?
  3719. >…What if you never remember her?
  3720. >You look at the ground
  3721. >You don’t enjoy this thought
  3722. >But it was for the greater good, right?
  3723. >The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few
  3724. >Or rather, just the needs of you
  3725. >If she succeeds, then you wouldn’t even remember her to feel sadness over never seeing her again
  3726. >Technically, she would never even exist to you
  3727. >You would never even know if you met her in passing
  3728. >But was that really a good thing?
  3729.  
  3730.  
  3731. >You trudge onwards
  3732. >The bottom line was that you didn’t know how the time travel worked in the long run
  3733. >But there was no use lamenting it if it never happened
  3734. >You had to find Rewind so that you two could find the rest of the relics
  3735. >When all was said and done…
  3736. >Then you could say goodbye if you needed to
  3737. “I’m coming, Rewind. Please stay safe.”
  3738. >As the words reverberate out of the orb you feel a tremor within the ground
  3739. >It vibrates your chassis
  3740. >You didn’t know where it was coming from, but it was getting more intense
  3741. >And it was also getting closer
  3742. >You can feel it rumbling right beneath you now
  3743. >Dodge
  3744. >Dodge now
  3745. >You dive to the side, rolling and coming to a stop upon your feet once more as something bursts from the ground below where you previously stood
  3746. >It’s composition is like nothing you’d ever seen before
  3747. >It scuttles upon six insect-like legs
  3748. >But it was made of metal
  3749. >And it also carried some sort of turret on top
  3750. >The hull glows a slight red, most likely from having been underground near the lava
  3751. >You adopt a battle-ready pose
  3752. >Clearly this thing would not let you go without a fight
  3753. >You were having trouble figuring out if it was organic or not
  3754. >If it had a crew, you could reach in and crush them easily
  3755. >But-
  3756. >A shot rings out as the barrel recoils
  3757. >You catch the explosive charge in a vortex of magical energy and toss it back at the machine
  3758. >It deftly scuttles to the side, dodging it with ease
  3759. >This was going to be a problem
  3760.  
  3761.  
  3762. >You are Rewind
  3763. >You are still in prison
  3764. >You are also infected with a parasite that would eventually control your thoughts and actions
  3765. >Maybe it already was
  3766. >You didn’t know
  3767. >But it was making you paranoid regardless
  3768. >In a way it was self-fulfilling, making you doubt yourself
  3769. >But it didn’t matter right now
  3770. >There was no telling how many ponies in this prison were infected
  3771. >What mattered was that Gallan’s plan was being put into action
  3772. >He was right
  3773. >The double ration cards rewards made sure that there were more prisoners than ever down here in the pit
  3774. >You were a bit afraid of infecting other ponies, but…
  3775. >Once you had all the relics you needed, you wouldn’t have to worry about it
  3776. >Gallan keeps his claw on top of your head, but it’s not as if you would be leaving without him
  3777. >”Now listen Rewind, you’re gonna have to trust me no matter what happens, alright? You’ll know what I mean.”
  3778. >It didn’t fill you with confidence, but if it got you out of here…
  3779. >You’d do what had to be done
  3780. >”Alright, as I’m sure most of you know, we’ll be offering up double the ration cards to the first few competitors that wish to-“
  3781. >Gallan shouts from beside you
  3782. >”Then I volunteer!!”
  3783. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RYtVf0wvPpc
  3784. >You feel his clenched fist strike you across the face, sending you sprawling to the floor
  3785. >He may not look it, but he’s certainly packing a lot of muscle underneath those feathers
  3786. >You try and stand and he pounces upon you, grabbing your neck
  3787. >It’s hard to breathe, but he’s holding back
  3788. >He could easily crush your windpipe
  3789. >He continues to throw blows at you, of which you can do nothing about as he has you pinned
  3790. >They aren’t hitting your jaw, or your cheek like one would if they were trying to knock you out
  3791. >Instead they’re aimed near your forehead
  3792. >At your horn
  3793. >The crowd is cheering
  3794. >Your ears are ringing
  3795. >Your head is punched towards the ground only to be lifted back up again and hit again
  3796. >You hear something break and Gallan gets off you
  3797.  
  3798.  
  3799. >”You’re next!”
  3800. >He lifts up another pony by the neck and tosses them into the crowd
  3801. >Other prisoners have started trading blows now
  3802. >It’s like a battle royale with the guards desperately trying to get everypony calmed down
  3803. >You stagger to your hooves and do your best to keep a low profile while fights break out all around you
  3804. >You see one of the guardsponies approaching Gallan from behind as he wails away on another helpless guard
  3805. >He’s got a stun baton ready
  3806. >You get a running start and tackle him to the side, calling out to Gallan as you do
  3807. “Gallan, let’s get out of here!!”
  3808. >He turns, claws bloodied, with a frenzied look in his eye
  3809. >Before he spots you that is
  3810. >He points at his own forehead a few times, where a horn would be
  3811. >Wait…
  3812. >You feel your horn
  3813. >There’s no inhibitor
  3814. >He WASN’T just punching you for the sake of putting on an act
  3815. >The gryphon is a lot smarter than he lets on
  3816. >He tosses you the stun baton, which you catch in you magical, golden-sparkling aura
  3817. >His voice rings out above all the commotion as he shoulders his way to the door and kicks it open
  3818. >”If you want REAL food and not just your rations, let’s get out there and show ‘em what for, eh boys?! We’re getting’ outta this joint!”
  3819. >Most of the prisoners look over, eyes widening at the prospect of real freedom once more
  3820. >A rallying cry of the imprisoned rings out, vibrating you to your core
  3821. >Gallan grabs you and holds you against the wall, telling you to wait as the rest of them filter out
  3822. >”Right then, let’s go.”
  3823.  
  3824.  
  3825. >You follow the group out, and as you expected, there is already chaos going on
  3826. >As Gallan tugs you along, you watch him clicking the remote that he hid in his jumpsuit over and over, in front of each cell as you went
  3827. >Each cell you pass opens in turn, letting out another two prisoners to add fuel to the fire
  3828. >Gallan also managed to unbind his wings in the commotion, so instead of taking the stairs, he just grabs you and flies up to the level your cell is on
  3829. >The door opens with a click of the remote and he swiftly grabs the other baton you stashed away
  3830. >He also tears away a poster he had up on the wall
  3831. >You give him a quizzical look before he flips it over and shows you
  3832. >”’s a map, pony. Now let’s go.”
  3833. >Clever gryphon he was
  3834. >You run into your first snag the moment you leave the cell
  3835. >The alarm had sounded long ago, but now the guards had responded in full
  3836. >Standing on your cell level, blocking the walkway, were 3 ponies with riot shields
  3837. >At least, you thought it would be a snag
  3838. >Thanks to Gallan, you’re able to soar gracefully over them and land on the other side
  3839. >You give the remote a few clicks on the way, letting out some more prisoners to keep them company
  3840. >”Alright pony, let’s get out of here.”
  3841. “What? No I can’t leave yet. I need to get my things back.”
  3842. >”Tch, alright fine pony, but this is the only detour.”
  3843. >As the both of you move into the office areas and not the cellblocks, it’s clear that the prisoners were on the winning side
  3844. >Even with all their armor, the guards were being overwhelmed by sheer numbers alone
  3845. >And you’re sure that even more unsavory acts than murder are taking place
  3846. >You try not to think about it
  3847.  
  3848.  
  3849. >With your magic, Gallan’s claws, and two stun batons between the both of you, you have no trouble making your way through the prison
  3850. >The guards here were equipped for a riot of course, but with their resources spread thin and being swarmed by the prisoners, there wasn’t much standing in your way
  3851. >Of course, that isn’t to say you encountered no resistance
  3852. >As you near the storage room, it’s clear that Madame Warden expected some of the prisoners to make their way there
  3853. >There’s a line of guardsponies there, having set up a defensive line in the hallway
  3854. >”Alright pony, what’s YOUR plan? I don’t think they’re too keen on letting us through.”
  3855. >They haven’t noticed you yet
  3856. >And they’re equipped with…
  3857. >Well, you don’t know
  3858. >They wouldn’t use a Spitfire here in close quarters, they could burn the whole place down
  3859. >But they had weapons there
  3860. >You’d seen them in the storage room
  3861. >You needed to figure out what they were
  3862. “Alright, it’s a bad plan, but it’s the only one we’ve got unless you can cut through a reinforced wall to the storeroom. What we have to do is-“
  3863. >You’re interrupted by a yell in the hallway
  3864. >Another prisoner is trying to make a run for the storage room
  3865. >He is however, very swiftly cut down
  3866. >It’s an unfortunate sight, but one that gives you the information you need
  3867. >They’re firing something that ignites and sticks to the skin
  3868. >Something you definitely didn’t want to be hit with
  3869. >You look around for a moment, trying to formulate a new plan that didn’t involve being burnt to a crisp from the inside out
  3870.  
  3871.  
  3872. >The two of you were holed up in the breakroom
  3873. >And there wasn’t much to offer in the way of weapons in here
  3874. >You would have to get close to hit them with the stun baton
  3875. >And you didn’t put much faith in being able to dodge whatever it was they were firing
  3876. >You also weren’t one of those Unicorns that can just blast magic out of your horn like a laser
  3877. >Looking around, your brain starts to formulate a different plan
  3878. “O…Kay then new plan. Gallan, grab that table in the corner.”
  3879. >It was big enough to where it would shield both him and you if you stood behind him
  3880. >He does so
  3881. >You use your magic and remove the 10 gallon jug from the watercooler, quickly drenching the entire table in water
  3882. >This probably wasn’t going to work
  3883. >In fact you’re 45% certain it wouldn’t
  3884. >But it was your only option
  3885. “Alright, Gallan, use it like a shield and we’ll move up on them. Throw it at them when we’re close enough.”
  3886. >Your gryphon buddy is about as confident in this plan as you are, but he takes position near the doorway that leads out into the hallway
  3887. “Alright, go!”
  3888. >Gallan steps into the hallway, holding up the table-shield, of which you’re behind as well
  3889. >They don’t fire immediately, probably because they’re confused
  3890. >But soon enough you hear Gallan yell at you
  3891. >”Well by profit it’s workin’! Good thinkin’ Rewind!”
  3892. >The table does begin to fall apart the closer you get, and Gallan actually has to duck down when the top is blown away
  3893. “Gallan throw it now!”
  3894. >With a mighty yell, Gallan heaves the heavy table at the defensive line
  3895. >It hurtles over the sandbags, hitting one of the six guardsponies in the head and bringing him to the ground
  3896. >Both you and Gallan also leap over, Gallan clotheslining another pony with his razor-sharp talons
  3897. >Needless to say they weren’t getting up after a mortal wound like that
  3898.  
  3899.  
  3900. >You jam the baton underneath the chin of one of the other guards, causing them to seize and spasm before falling to the floor
  3901. >Gallan doesn’t even seem to be using the stun baton he grabbed out of the cell
  3902. >Well…
  3903. >He’s USING it, but he’s using it more like a club
  3904. >You watch as Gallan knees a guard in the face and swings the baton straight into her gut with both hands
  3905. >It sends the guardsmare flying into the wall behind her, where she then hits the floor in a crumpled heap
  3906. >You aren't sure if she's dead or unconscious
  3907. >Note to self: Do not cross Gallan
  3908. >You hear a shot and you phase out of existence, going back in time to dodge it
  3909. >When you come back to, you whirl around, cracking another guard across the face with the baton
  3910. >You jam it against the exposed part of their neck to make sure they stay down
  3911. >When you turn to take out the final guard, you find that Gallan is already taking care of it
  3912. >He’s standing on his hindlegs, holding up the last guardsmare by her neck
  3913. >With Gallan’s sheer size, her flailing hindlegs aren’t able to even touch the ground
  3914. >Her hooves paw desperately at his flexing arms while he strangles her
  3915. >Should you say something?
  3916. “Gal-“
  3917. >CRACK
  3918. >The pony’s head jerks to the side at an angle and the gryphon tosses the body aside, before turning to you
  3919. “I… You… Was that necessary? She would have surrendered if you let go!”
  3920. >”You want me to let these ponies go? The ones that put me in this nightmare in the first place?”
  3921. >Gallan spits at the floor
  3922. >”They knew what they were gettin’ into. They had it comin’.
  3923. >Gallan jabs his thumb behind him at the storeroom as he takes one of the keys off one of the ponies on the ground
  3924. >”I’ll open the door, you grab yer stuff.”
  3925.  
  3926.  
  3927. >You are Sandstone
  3928. >The construct was still being a hassle
  3929. >It was a constant back and forth, with neither of you able to land a clean blow
  3930. >Any time it fired at you, you would catch it and hurl it back, only for the spider-like tank to scuttle away from the blast
  3931. >If you got close it would just burrow into the ground and pop up somewhere else
  3932. >But you’ve been holding on to one of the explosive shots fired at you
  3933. >You just had to bait it into firing again
  3934. >Which was as easy as moving away from it
  3935. >It fires once more and you catch the shot, hurling it back at the tank
  3936. >As usual, it dodges to the side
  3937. >Straight into the other explosive you’d thrown right afterwards
  3938. >It blows three of the legs off on the right side, leaving it helpless as you walk up
  3939. >You notice that it has a hatch on the top
  3940. >Which meant it was manned
  3941. >You grip the domed exterior and begin to squeeze it
  3942. >The sounds of groaning metal and something else emanate from the machine
  3943. >Screaming from within can be heard until the hatch open
  3944. >”Arrête ! Arrête !”
  3945. >A Prench guardspony opens the hatch, holding up his hooves in surrender
  3946. >You bend the barrel of the tank and move closer
  3947. “Where. Is. Rewind.”
  3948. >”I-I-I don’t know I swear!”
  3949. “An Equestrian mare. Unicorn. Light brown coat. White mane. She passed through here approximately 2 and a half moons ago.”
  3950. >You’re still able to ping Rewind’s location, but only the general vicinity
  3951. >The Prench pony looks down to the rest of the crew inside
  3952. >”S-She was captured! Taken to ze prison at Île du Feu.”
  3953. >No
  3954. >Île du Feu was an island in the middle of the Celestial Ocean
  3955. “How do I get there.”
  3956. >”Z-Ze bridge from ze neighboring island! B-But you have to take a boat zere!”
  3957. >You push the pony back in and crumple the top hatch, trapping them inside
  3958.  
  3959.  
  3960. >You are Rewind
  3961. >And you are finally reuniting with your armor
  3962. >You put on your uniform, buttoning up the collar and the sleeves
  3963. >Then you put on your back and breastplate, clasping them together before putting on your hoofguards
  3964. >You find the your Killer7 in here as well
  3965. >Once more you strap the shock absorber to your forehoof and the weapon to it
  3966. >You load in a spike and slide the breech block home
  3967. >And finally, your helmet
  3968. >As battered and scratched as it was, it fit just the same as it did on day one
  3969. >You looked like a proper guardsmare once again
  3970. >But
  3971. >You notice the distinct lack of something very important
  3972. >The artifacts are gone
  3973. >And you can think of only one pony who would know the importance of them
  3974. “Alright Gallan, let’s go see Madame Warden.”
  3975. >Gallan himself also has his own gear back
  3976. >It’s decidedly… Legionnaire looking
  3977. >You recognized the armor and insignia of the Redclaws, the prolific all-gryphon mercenary group
  3978. >But it looked different
  3979. >Familiar, but you couldn’t quite place it
  3980. >He also had access once more to the signature weapon of the gryphons
  3981. >The Gryphic Bolt-action Rifle
  3982. >There was no way a pony other than a Unicorn could use it
  3983. >The trigger was too small for a pony to use with their hoof, and could only be operated by a gryphon’s talons
  3984. >Furthermore, it had a strange shape, and couldn’t be held and fired by a pony’s hooves at the same time
  3985. >Combine that with the bolt you had to pull back to chamber another round, and it made for a weapon that only Gryphons or knowledgeable Unicorns could use
  3986.  
  3987.  
  3988. >Gallan brushes aside the cape covering his right arm, making it wrap around his neck as if it were a scarf
  3989. >”Us grunts gotta stick together, eh?”
  3990. >Gallan flashes you a grin and you nod
  3991. “Yeah, sure.”
  3992. >Something is rubbing you the wrong way, but you can’t place it
  3993. >The both of you exit the storeroom and Gallan checks his crude map
  3994. >”We take care of Madame Warden, then we leave. I can fly us back to one of our forward camps and we can go our separate ways if ya want.”
  3995. >You nod at him
  3996. >You’d gotten quieter ever since he got his armor back
  3997. >But there was just something off
  3998. >Not right
  3999. >You follow him as he leads the way towards Madame Warden’s office
  4000. >It just didn’t matter right now
  4001. >Right now you had to get those relics back
  4002. >With both you and Gallan in full gear, there was little that stood in your way of you two
  4003. >You’re able to easily make it to Madame Warden’s door
  4004. >Of which, Gallan kicks in without another word
  4005. >”So, I see that you’ve-“
  4006. >BANG
  4007. >Without even waiting for Madame Warden to finish speaking, Gallan fires off his rifle
  4008. >The shot hits her right in the chest
  4009. >You watch her clutch at the wound, scarlet blood soaking into her clothes as she falls out of her chair and onto the ground
  4010. “G-Gallan! I needed her! She might have known the cure to the parasite that’s inside me!”
  4011. >”Tch, Madame Warden’s not the kind of pony to know that sort of thing. You’d need to question the ponies that brought her the parasite in the first place.”
  4012. >Maybe Gallan was right, but you’d never know now
  4013. >However, something caught your eye as you moved to collect your relics from her desk
  4014. >The dagger was there
  4015. >And so was the broken sword hilt
  4016. >But there was a third object there glowing with the same brilliant golden light that the other two were
  4017.  
  4018.  
  4019. >It’s a necklace
  4020. >It loops through a small piece of driftwood that appears to have been inscribed with odd runes you can’t understand
  4021. >The string that it’s on had long since snapped and frayed
  4022. >You pick it up and inspect it after you put the other artifacts in your saddlebags
  4023. >Right as your horn starts to glow, Gallan grabs you by it, causing you to yelp and your cheeks to redden
  4024. >It also fizzles out your magic
  4025. >He also doesn’t let go
  4026. “G-G-Gallan let go I was just-“
  4027. >”Yeah I don’t need ya tryin’ anything funny right now. We’re leavin’, ya got that?”
  4028. >You simply nod
  4029. “C-Can you… Let go of my horn now? P-Please?”
  4030. >This was not the time to be getting aroused
  4031. >But it wasn’t your fault anyway!
  4032. >Gallan wouldn’t let go of your horn!
  4033. >HE STILL HASN’T!
  4034. >He picks you up by your horn and plops you down on his back as he scratches gouges into the glass that Madame Warden usually looked through
  4035. >”I can get us outta here faster if ya just hold on tight, little pony.”
  4036. >You wrap your hooves around Gallan’s neck and hold on, still recovering from him hefting you by your horn
  4037. >[spoiler]Predators are pretty hot[/spoiler]
  4038. >Wait no
  4039. >Are these parasite thoughts or yours?
  4040. >What would Dad think?
  4041. >”Too tight, too ACK tight! Loosen’ up Rewind or yer liable to choke me out with that grip of yours.”
  4042. >You hadn’t realized how tightly you were holding on until now, and you loosen your grip
  4043. >”So the skylights aren’t barred, but the problem we gotta deal with when we’re out there is the guards on the towers. Don’t let go, ‘cos I’m gonna be doing some evasive maneuvers out there, got it?”
  4044. >You nod again
  4045. >Wait, how is he going to leave the room?
  4046.  
  4047.  
  4048. >Gallan hefts one of the chairs in the room and tosses it through the glass he’d been weakening with his claws
  4049. >It shatters loudly, tumbling onto the ground below and exposing one of the cell blocks to you
  4050. >Gallan spreads his wings, which are much larger than a Pegasi’s by a wide margin
  4051. >With a single flap and a spring off of his powerful hindlegs, he launches himself through the hole made in the glass, tucking his wings back in to slip through unscathed
  4052. >From a catwalk below, you hear somepony yell out at you in Prench
  4053. >As you turn your head and glance, you see an odd sight
  4054. >There are two guards
  4055. >And one, contrary to your belief that they wouldn’t use Spitfires here, is currently levelling one at you
  4056. >But you’re too far away for it to reach you
  4057. >Or so you thought
  4058. >As the gout of flame shoots out, it’s stopped by a magical barrier that encapsulates it
  4059. >The Unicorn beside the Spitfire guard captures the fire inside and sends it hurtling towards you
  4060. >Luckily it seems that she had bad aim, and it misses you by a wide margin
  4061. >”Shit Rewind, hold on tight!”
  4062. >It seems that once again you were wrong
  4063. >She hadn’t missed
  4064. >She was leading her shot
  4065. >Gallan removes your hooves from around his neck and lets go of you, spinning around and wrapping his arms around you, along with his wings as the orb of fire explodes
  4066. >You feel the searing heat before he’s able to cover you up, and the two of you burst through the glass of the skylight and into the cold air of the outside
  4067. >When you open your eyes, you’re face to face with nothing but chest feathers, and while you don’t feel burned, there’s an odd heat on your back
  4068.  
  4069.  
  4070. >It takes you a moment to realize that your uniform has caught fire
  4071. >And it caught fire underneath your armor
  4072. >You struggle to try and put out the fire, quickly unclasping the backplate and letting it tumble through the air
  4073. >With a flash of Gallan’s claws, your uniform shreds into tatters, the burning, smoldering pieces flittering away and burning up in the air
  4074. >It leaves you in nothing but your breastplate, hoofguards, and helmet
  4075. >How the gryphon managed to cut the uniform underneath your breastplate, you would have to ask later
  4076. >As of now he holds you underneath an arm as he flies the two of you away from this place
  4077. >Fiery munitions whizz past the both of you, narrowly missing as Gallan weaves, rolls, and dodges through the air
  4078. >It’s no wonder that both of you escape unscathed
  4079. >It’s almost as if Gallan had some sort of precognition to where they would fire
  4080. >As the two of you get out of their range, you look back at the prison-turned POW camp
  4081. >It’s on an isolated island of blackened stone
  4082. >Waves crash against the steep cliff that makes up the shoreline of the island
  4083. >It makes you that much more grateful that your cellmate had wings
  4084. >Even if you were to escape conventionally, there was no way you would make it off that island without stealing a boat
  4085. >Gallan readjusts, putting you on his back once more so he doesn’t have to hold you the whole time
  4086. >”You alright there Rewind? Gave me a pretty good scare back there with the fire.”
  4087. “I uh, think my fur’s a bit singed but I’m not too worse for wear. Thanks… Thanks again Gallan.”
  4088. >There isn’t much else you can really say to him other than that
  4089. >”Don’t mention it Rewind. Both of us did our part to get outta that shithole. Now? I’d say just relax and catch your breath. We got quite a few miles ‘til we get to the closest firebase.”
  4090.  
  4091.  
  4092. >The entire flight across the sea takes a few hours
  4093. >It allows you to finally think clearly
  4094. >Or at least you hope it does
  4095. >You still don’t know how many thoughts are your own, and how many are caused by that parasite in your brain
  4096. >Would you even know?
  4097. >Maybe it’s making you doubt yourself right now
  4098. >You take a deep breath before you start to get yourself worked up again
  4099. >Gallan said to relax, right?
  4100. >It’s not like he was going to let you fall, and there was nopony trying to pursue you
  4101. >Which was surprising, seeing as how you’d seen Pegasi there before
  4102. >Maybe they didn’t see you two as a threat
  4103. >Oh how wrong they were
  4104. >You look in your saddlebag at the faintly glowing pendant you’d retrieved from the prison
  4105. >When you were on the ground once more, you would have to take a look and see where it took you
  4106. >What you might be able to change, in fact
  4107. >You hadn’t tried it in the last one
  4108. >But you got the feeling that trying to grab for the artifacts could get you killed, if the ponies in these brief glimpses into the past could interact with you
  4109. >Which was where the complications of time travel could arise
  4110. >You shuddered to think of what could go wrong as you clasped the bag shut
  4111. >Slowly your eyes start to drift closed as the sound of wingbeats and waves lull you to sleep in the afternoon warmth…
  4112.  
  4113.  
  4114. >You’re awoken by a jostling of your ride
  4115. >That is to say, Gallan had finally landed
  4116. >As your senses come back to your waking mind, you become acutely aware of the fact that there’s the buzz of a crowd
  4117. >Your keen ears, trained by your time in combat and boot camp, pick up a multitude of sounds
  4118. >The sound of a grindstone grinding against metal
  4119. >The clashing of blades and sounds of flesh hitting flesh
  4120. >War drums
  4121. >Chanting
  4122. >You can very clearly hear the sound of what appear to be combat drills
  4123. >Your eyes focus and you look around
  4124. >There appears to be a circle formed around you by gryphons
  4125. >Lots and lots of gryphons
  4126. >Occasionally they look at each other and talk amongst themselves, but for the most part they stare intently at you and Gallan
  4127. >Much less staring, moreso… Glaring
  4128. >But it wasn’t anger you could sense from their eyes
  4129. >It was confusion, and perhaps anticipation
  4130. >”Alright then…”
  4131. >Gallan whispers to you
  4132. >”Rewind, I want ya to slowly hop down offa my back. These boys’re primed ta rush ya if you so much as wink at ‘em funny.”
  4133. “Wait, why are they so anxious?”
  4134. >Gallan lowers one of his wings so that you can slide off
  4135. >”Look, you already know we’re mercs. You really think we ain’t done our fair share of bad things ta ponies like you? Then suddenly I waltz in, bringin’ ya back ta camp on a silver platter? How ya think that looks to them boys, uh?”
  4136. >It LOOKS like a one way ticket to a hippogriff is what it looks like
  4137. >You gently slide off Gallan’s wing and onto the ground
  4138.  
  4139.  
  4140. >Gallan then looks around at the gathered crowd and sneers
  4141. >”What in Tartarus are you standing around for you thirsty brutes? Get out of here before I give you all the whip!”
  4142. >Where did Gallan’s accent go?
  4143. >There’s a loud bark in unison of: “Yes Legatus, sir!” Before the crowd salutes and disperses
  4144. >This confuses you
  4145. >Gallan said he was a grunt, like you
  4146. >You turn to him and raise an eyebrow, to which he returns your look as he pats your head
  4147. >”I may have told you a little fib back there in the prison. I… Might actually be the acting Legatus legionis in these lands. “
  4148. >Oh Celestia why
  4149. >Why’d you have to end up partnered with a very, very important gryphon?
  4150. >Even if they were mercenaries, they were one of the most well-organized forces at play in this war
  4151. >Gallan wraps a wing around you and start to guide you along as he walks through the camp
  4152. >”Since you might be spending quite a bit of time here, I’ll be getting you fitted out for some armor; I’m sure you’d rather not walk around naked. If you’re keen to it, our smiths can put together a weapon for you.”
  4153. “That sounds great actually, thanks a bunch!”
  4154. >The Legatus grins at you, to which you return with a more reserved smile
  4155. >”We might be mercs, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have hearts, right?”
  4156. “It’s not too reassuring considering the kind of things ponies go through when they’re captured by Redclaws…”
  4157. >Gallan glances sidelong at you and clicks his beak, clearly annoyed
  4158. >”I could be pumping a couple hippogriffs into you right now, mare. Be grateful that I am not.”
  4159. >Your ears pin back at that, and you fall silent
  4160. >”Tch, ponies sending their womenfolk into battle, like some kind of sick joke. Gives me conniptions.”
  4161.  
  4162.  
  4163. >A period of silence follows Gallan’s reserved outburst, but afterwards he seems completely fine
  4164. >And this isn’t the first time he’d threatened you with sex
  4165. >Maybe it’s still just an act, like back in the prison
  4166. >Maybe he just does it because he knows it shuts you up
  4167. >Either way, you didn’t like it
  4168. >And you were about 90% sure telling him that you didn’t care for it would make him do it more
  4169. >He just seemed like that sort of gryphon
  4170. “So uh, about that armor?”
  4171. >A short walk away is the armorer’s tent, where he takes your measurements
  4172. >He only feels you up about… 3 times
  4173. >Gallan tells you that’s pretty low
  4174. >Not that he has a metric to measure it on, seeing as how mares rarely come here willingly
  4175. >With their interesting forging techniques, it isn’t hard for them to whip up some armor for you
  4176. >It also probably helped that you only needed the backplate for the most part
  4177. >But soon enough you were decked out
  4178. >Surprisingly it’s more armor than before
  4179. >You had proper greaves now, in addition to your hoofguards
  4180. >And the backplate was made sturdy, but light enough for a pony like you to wear naturally
  4181. >The only difference between this Redclaw armor and your Equestrian Imperial Guard uniform however was…
  4182. >Well
  4183. >The gryphons didn’t quite believe in underclothes
  4184. >Wherever there wasn’t armor, there was only your bare fur to be seen
  4185. >And the skirt that was given to you (that admittedly all the gryphons wore) seemed a bit too short for your tastes
  4186. >And no underclothes meant NO underclothes
  4187. >Absolutely no panties were worn under this semi-armored skirt
  4188. >That wasn’t even the worst part though
  4189. >The worst part was the tailhole in the armor, and the wrappings that went around the base of your tail
  4190. >The combination of both made it so you kept your tail flagged at all times
  4191.  
  4192.  
  4193. “This armor is… A bit revealing don’t you think?”
  4194. >You use your magic to tug down on the skirt slightly, but it doesn’t do very much
  4195. >”A bit, I suppose, but he’s not a tailor, he’s an armorer. And surprisingly, we don’t keep mare’s underwear around here. Go figure.”
  4196. >The sarcasm in his voice is palpable
  4197. >And while it might make you angry, he has a point
  4198. >You’ll just have to be careful
  4199. >…And ignore the draft
  4200. >Luckily nopony was around in Gallan’s tent but you and him
  4201. “Alright, alright. If it’s not too much trouble, can I ask that you leave me alone for just a bit? I’ve got some important business to take care of an-“
  4202. >Gallan lets out a deep, full-bellied laugh
  4203. >”You didn’t think that armor was free, did you? You’re one of us now. That means you go through the same initiation we went through when we joined the Redclaws.”
  4204. “Whoa whoa whoa, joined the Redclaws? I’m not-“
  4205. >Gallan steps closer and he lowers his voice, speaking to you sternly
  4206. >”I’m breaking a lot of rules just bringing you here, and even more letting you STAY. For these guys to treat you like one of their own, you’re gonna have to do the initiation.”
  4207. >You look down, glancing out of the tent just slightly and watching the gryphons mill about the camp, then at the emblem on your right spaulder
  4208. “Alright. Fine, I’ll do it. What the heck is this “initiation?”
  4209. >Gallan grins and starts to usher you outside into the cool night
  4210. >”I’m glad you asked.”
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