Sands of Gold and Red: Alone
I was fine with being alone after running away from home. I was fine with being alone while in the mirror world. I was fine with being alone while having to deal with the remnants of Sombra.
After getting a taste of what it feels not to be alone it hurts even more. I should have never accepted their company. I should have stayed, well, myself.
I don't want divine powers, fame, nor friends. All I want is a roof over my head and something to eat from time to time. I know I don't deserve even a cardboard box and moldy bread.
Screams, fire and smoke.
Where am I?
Shaking my head to stop the random ringing, I try to blink through the darkness. Failing that, I realize it might be just around midnight. Normally, Golden Sands is alive into the hours of early morning but not THIS much.
"Owwww," I pick myself up from the ground, aching all over and trying to remember why.
I say a swearword so hardcore a nearby building bursts into flames. Even in my dazed state I realize that shouldn't be happening.
Sweat and smoke. The sweat is me, the smoke is everything else. Why am I sweating so much?
The events, one event in particular, of this evening make themselves get remembered. I shake my head again.
Why did I freak out so much? It's not as if I wasn't working around changelings ever since the peace treaty. I don't mind changelings, it was just a shock.
No, it wasn't. My entire being revolted. I remember my stomach churning, I remember the rage building, and I remember the fear, the fear reflected in his blue eyes. Not all of that was me.
I growl and my talons grind sparks against the stones of the road.
I have to find Blaze and promise I'll somehow make him forget that moment. After all, we'll have a lifetime to make things right... I hope.
Oh right, the town is on fire. That one might take some explaining.
As I run, surrounded by pillars of smoke, I spot a griffon in white robes throwing a bottle through a window of a nearby building I recognize as a souvenir shop we visited just few hours earlier. A moment later flames burst out of the window.
Raiders are attacking the town! At first I thought he might be just a member of a long distance desert caravan but now it's clear. Without a second thought I charge the nomad and wrestle him to the ground. I run my talons right through his arm as he reaches for a sword sheathed on his belt and procure that for myself. It's a curved one-handed scimitar, not exactly my type of weapon but it will have to do. A moment later the nomad feels the touch of steel against the feathers of his neck.
"Who are you and why are you in the town? I'll ask only once so think carefully!"
I must look deranged enough because his eyes go wide and breathing quickens.
"We're the Wide Sea Company, mercenaries. Some nomads hiding in the desert to the east of here hired us four days ago, paid cash up front. The orders said to torch the town, take anyone who isn't resisting, kill all soldiers. Our main goal is to find two Equestrian bigwigs, one of those vampires and a white... griffon... deserter..."
"Who is behind this?" I press the blade harder.
"I don't know! The leader of the nomads I guess. He just wanted to ransom the villagers back to the Empire. It's standard business."
I have to admit he's right. Small villages are often raided and the citizens ransomed back to the Empire. As far as I know the officials don't mind that much as most of the nomad bands require weapons made in the Empire to fight more separatist groups... who also buy weapons from the Empire. Money isn't an issue under these circumstances.
"How many of you are there?"
"About thirty mercs and fifty nomads."
"There's supposed to be some sort of magic or something protecting us."
"You have a unicorn with you?"
"No, it's something else. I saw it," his trembling gets worse, "Will you, please, help me get out of the town? I don't care where, just get me out!"
"You've just thrown a molotov cocktail into a building with griffons inside. You're lucky I need information otherwise I'd cut your damn head off!"
"You think I'm afraid of YOU? I'm a merc, kid, been one longer than you've been alive, I'm ready to die. I don't want to but I know it's gonna happen one day. I don't know who the nomads made what pact with but this city was pretty heavily defended."
"Was?" I choke.
"Yeah, was. Couple of us broke into the city fortress and opened the main gate. We believed the magic supposed to protect us but the Legion soldiers' guns cut them down... then they got back up, drew their swords and charged."
"You mean voodoo like zombies and stuff? I don't think so. I talked to one of them when we cleared the fortress and he seemed normal but something was off, as if something else was watching me through his eyes. I don't want that to happen to me."
"Give me your gun, robe, and all other weapons!"
The mercenary nods, disrobes, and gives me his belt with a pistol and a dagger. I give him his quite heavy money pouch back.
"Emperor bless you! I think I might join the Legion for a tour or two, they'd never mess with some unnatural darkness."
"Follow me then, I have to make a stop at Emperor's Embrace first. If something comes from behind either yell or I'll cut you down with it!"
"I get it, you don't like me."
"No, I just don't care about you and have more important things to do. You can either be useful or a burden and one of those I'll leave behind."
"Sure, let's go."
Running through the town, I see there are almost no defenders left, just civilians running away. My robes protect me from being discovered as long as I don't rush to help any townsfolk. As much as leaving them to their fate pains me, I know they'll be fine as long as they don't make much commotion. While I was in the Legion we had quite a few hostage situations and it seems the experienced nomads know how things are supposed to go.
I keep my composure right until I reach the square in front of Emperor's Embrace and see the massacre.
Dead soldiers are everywhere. The nomad force and the Legion soldiers must have clashed here and the fight is still going. I can't see who the defenders are through the surrouding attackers but they seem to be holding up. I grab a large two-hander from a corpse nearby. That's much better than the tiny thing I have.
"Got you," the dead soldier growls, opens his eyes, grabs my paw, and immediately gets decapitated. His grip doesn't relent so I cut his arm off as well. The body rises, uses one remaining arm to drag itself up, readies its hind paws to jump, and gets sliced in half. That finally stops it.
Unfortunately, the dead soldiers and nomads are rising as well. Not the best trap but a certainly unexpected one. So, I either make them unable to move or destroy the body completely.
With a wide swing I cause significant discomfort to all undead around me. Not that it stops any of them but the force of the blow slows them down.
All right, focus on one, cut a leg or two off, go to the next one, move back, repeat. It works for a while.
Suddenly, they all charge at once. These guys are definitely not zombies. They are fast like normal griffons but without any fear for their lives. My swing clears some space in front of me but one hits me from the side and trips me up.
"NOOOOOOO!" a high-pitched scream grabs the zombies' attention. A second later they get blasted away from me, some shredded to bits by black blurs in the air.
A blue-eyed, bronze armored, blonde maned changeling with blackfrost wings on his back... who am I kidding?
Blaze is there, looking at me and stretching his front leg to help me get up. The black shards from his wings swirl around him, stick to his armor, and for a blissful moment I can recognize the form I used to call Mistake. The shards swirl again and grind an approaching nomad to red paste.
Red and black blur grabs my attention before I can reach for Blaze's hoof. Darky's getting overrun by attackers. Not that she's a bad fighter but she can't deal with an enemy who ignores normal wounds.
Right, I can stick with Blaze, help her, leave the alive mercenary here, and get out of the town.
...the changeling can take care of himself. She needs help RIGHT NOW...
I shake my head, ignore Blaze, jump up, and run towards Darky. Halfway there the nomads notice me which gives Darky a chance to get out of the circle surrounding her and slit one attacker's throat. Not much happens so she starts running towards me with the nomads right behind her. When I dismember the last one I realize... I've made... a terrible... choice.
The world slows down as I take a deep breath and try to untangle my thoughts. It got me again.
I can't move.
Blaze is still standing where I left him, head hung low and hoof stretched out. He shakes his head, quietly sits down, and wipes his face. His ice wings turn into steam and disappear. A nomad rises, grabs an axe, comes to him from the front, holds the axe up, swings, hits.
"Blaze!" I try to scream but I can only groan. All this is MY FAULT. MINE AND MINE ONLY.
...well realized, griffon.
GET OUT OF MY HEAD!
...you were the only one able to hear me directly, I wonder why...
...oh no, I'm not done with you yet. Killing the unicorn is too difficult but you can help...
That's not going to happen, whoever you are.
...you cannot stop a god...
"Be careful, Crom," Darky's voice gets me out of the paralysis.
There is no way I'm letting it hurt Blaze even more and there's only one way to do it.
Sorry, Darky. Sorry, Blaze. This is all I can do now to prevent it from winning.
I take the mercenary's pistol from my belt and put it to my head.