• Published 29th Jun 2012
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Fallout: Equestria - Wasteland Bouquet - Cascadejackal



There's a lot of stories in the Equestrian Wasteland, and they all need to be told.

  • ...
17
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Chapter 17: Trials

---CHAPTER 17: Trials---

"You've got to share, you've got to care"

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"Here you go, Betsy. You too, Bessy. Rest up, now." I gave both heads of our brahmin a rub, then trotted back to our wagon as it started to graze on the coarse scrub around our campsite.

It was a cool night, with a gentle breeze that made me shiver as I approached our fire and the yummy-smelling chunks of radhog roasting over it... completely unattended. Groaning, I popped up my E.F.S. and looked around for green markers.

One there, that's the brahmin... I panned my head. And... one there. Or is it two? A nearby rock was grasped in my magic and flung into the bushes, drawing a feminine yelp, and I frowned. "Rose, you'd better not be doing what I think you're doing. Get out here, now! Both of you!"

To my utter lack of surprise, Rose and Ibis came out from behind the bushes, looking sheepish and dishevilled. "We were just kissing..." Rose grumbled, avoiding my gaze.

I sighed. "Rose... I can't take my eyes off of you for a minute, can I? And you, Ibis, keep your filthy claws to yourself."

The griffin snorted. "I'll put my claws wherever I want, Lily." He smirked. "Besides, Rose likes them. Don't you?" The grey bastard started scratching her head. Her eyes glazed over and her hind leg started twitching; she was loving it. I growled.

"Ibis, if you don't stop that, I'll-"

"You'll what?" He stared at me, one eyebrow raised, and I just smiled sweetly.

"I'll do this." I wrapped him in my telekinesis and threw him back into the bushes he'd just come out of. While he untangled himself and said impolite things, Rose pouted at me, unhappy at being denied her scratchies.

"Lily, don't throw my boyfriend. I need him for sex. And kissing."

"Then don't keep sneaking off with him." I glared at her, and she looked away. "I'm serious, Rose. We'll be in the new town by..." I paused to check my pipbuck, fiddling with it before turning back to my sister, grinning sheepishly. "Um, Rose? How do I get the map up again?" She rolled her eyes and came over to me, taking my foreleg in her hooves.

"Lily, I told you this morning, and yesterday, and the day before that. It's this button," She tapped it, "then you press this one." Another tap, and the screen switched to the static-y map. "And to see more places-"

"I do this, right?" I interrupted her, poking the control that zoomed out before shooting her a proud smirk. She just nodded.

"That's right, Lily. You finally learned how to work the map, and it only took you three days. By tomorrow, you might even know how to use the radio." I glared at her and she just blinked at me, the barest hint of a smirk on her face.

"I already know how to work the radio, thank you very much. I'm not an idiot."


"Could've fooled me." Ibis butted in, finally done untangling himself from the bushes, leaves and sticks stuck in his wings. I switched my glare to him.

"Want another trip into the bushes, featherbrain?"

He opened his beak, but Rose spoke first. "Our dinner is going to burn." She raised her hoof to point at the fire.

"Ack, no!" I bolted over to it, checking the spitted chunks of meat, then sighed in relief. "It's not burnt, Rose. It's just starting to get the crunchy black bits; that's how it's meant to be cooked. Rose?" I turned back around, only to groan. "Oh, for the love of... Rose!"

She was busy kissing Ibis again, and completely ignored me.

My eye twitching, I focused and wrapped the pair in my magic, tugging them apart and holding them out of reach of each other.

"Hey!" Ibis started struggling, while Rose just hung there, glaring at me unhappily. "Put me down!"

"Shut it, Ibis." I glared at him and Rose, then whacked the map buttons on my pipbuck, checking our destination and showing it to them. "We'll be there tomorrow afternoon, then you two can get a room and do whatever, okay? Until then, would you just behave?!"

Ibis glared at me, and Rose gave me a sullen look, but they both nodded, so I dropped them and turned back to the meat, making sure it wasn't burning. After a long, quiet moment, where the only sounds were the crackling fire and the scuffling of sneaky snoggers, I spoke up, not even bothering to turn around. "Rose, if you two are headed for that bush again, I'm taking your whiskey away and you won't get it back until we're done with the job."

With a muttered "Meanie McBossypants", I heard her trot towards the wagon, followed by a clunk as she jumped into it, and the sounds of bottles being hidden. Shaking my head in dismay at the little drunkard, I used my magic to tear one of the radhog chunks off and blew on it to cool it down. My mouth was watering from the smell, the tender morsel perfectly cooked, with just the right amount of crunchy black bits, so I closed my eyes and went to take that first wonderful bite.

"Huh?" I opened one eye when my teeth closed on empty air, staring at a considerable lack of anything where my food had just been. The sound of meat tearing beside me made me turn, and I growled. "Ibis, that's mine."

He chewed the robbed roast for a moment, then shrugged and opened his beak, giving me a good view of the chewed chunks. "Want it back?"

"What are you, a foal?" I scoffed at him, unimpressed by his attempt to gross me out. I reached out with my magic and pulled another piece off the fire, keeping my eyes on the griffin as I sunk my teeth into... nothing but air. "The fuck?" I glared at Ibis, but he just snickered and tore another beakful off the piece he'd stolen before, so I turned to my other side... and yelped. "FUCK!

Rose was sitting right next to me, having crept up and stolen my second piece of meat while I was distracted. She blinked at me over the top of the stolen food, holding it in her hooves and munching away.

My eye twitched again. "This is because I won't let you guys sneak off, isn't it?" She nodded, and I sighed, all but deflating in disappointment at my missing meal. "I hate you two..."

Something sheathed in a white aura hovered in front of me, and I looked up. Rose was levitating the biggest, juicest chunk of radhog in front of me. I stared at her, suspicious. "You're not gonna steal it, are you?" She shook her head and kept eating her own piece. Somehow, by some amazing miracle, I held back tears of overwhelming gratitude as my aura replaced hers. "Okay, maybe I don't totally hate you. You're still waiting until we reach town before you go off alone, though." With a grin, I finally set about eating my dinner.

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"Huh... guess you won't be getting a room after all." Our destination turned out to be nestled in some hills, and was made up almost entirely of tents and crude shacks built from scavenged materials. There was a lean-to, where most of the activity seemed to be centered, with some scrawny brahmin in a pen beside it and some rickety old wooden carts full of stuff. The biggest structure, though, which my pipbuck said was our goal, was a cabin that looked like it had been there for a good long time before the settlers moved in.

It was less of a newly-formed settlement and more like an ambitious camp that had heard about towns, but didn't quite understand how to be one.


Rose's disappointed groan came from behind me. She was seated, as usual, with Ibis in the spacious cargo bay behind the driver's seat. I rolled my eyes. "Rose, it's not that important."

"But Lily," she protested, "I need sex! I'll die without it!"

"You can't die from not having sex, Rose."

"Yes you can! Right, Ibis?"

"Huh?" I heard the birdbrain say sleepily, turning a bit so I could see what was happening behind me. He was sitting up and blinking blearily, obviously just woken up from a nap. Lazy bastard. Rose smacked him on the back of his head for not immediately agreeing with her and glared at him.

"I need sex or I'll die. Right?" She raised her hoof again, threatening him.

"Oh." He yawned and rubbed his head, where she'd hit him. "Yeah. Uh-huh. Sex or... whatever. Ow." Rose smacked him again, and I just shook my head and looked forwards, ignoring them and slouching low in the daggy, worn-out cushions that made up the driver's seat. While they moved on from bickering to kissing, I snapped the reins to urge our brahmin onwards down the path.

As we got closer, my pipbuck let out a chime and a little message popped up in my vision, letting me know we'd discovered Prospect. I blinked in surprise, wondering where it had pulled that bit of information from. From what my dad had said, the place hadn't been named yet, and I had more faith in him than I did the often-obtuse piece of techno-whatsit attached to my foreleg.


A small number of the settlers stopped their work to watch as we approached, some taking hold of picks and other tools, and I waved to the nearest pony with my best winning smile. "Supply delivery from the Silver Trails caravan company. Who's in charge here?"

The stallion gave me a wary look, eyeing the crates sitting in the back of our wagon, guarded by Rose and Ibis. "If you are who you say you are, that'd be me. Name's Mine Shaft."

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Mine Shaft set a small cup of water on the desk for me before taking his seat. "Sorry about the chilly welcome. Can't be too careful, these days." I nodded and sipped the water. It wasn't the cleanest I'd ever had, but it always paid to be polite when dealing with customers. "Had a couple of run-ins already. Not the only group looking to control the mine, you know."

He gestured around at the inside of the cabin, where we'd gone to discuss business. Old photos of miners and some bits of rusted metal covered the walls, with a few yellowed pieces of paper sitting in filthy frames beside them.

"Ain't gonna let nopony run us off, though. This here's our claim." I nodded again, and he chuckled. "Ah, young mare like yerself, not one for mining I take it? Bit young to be running a caravan, either, ain'tcha?"

I shook my head and smiled. "No, sir. I've worked the trails my whole life. The Silver Trails company belongs to my family, in fact. Speaking of work," All business now, I pulled a clipboard out of my saddlebag and gave it a once-over before setting it on the desk. "Here's the inventory for the delivery. Food and medical supplies, mostly. A few miscellaneous items. Comes up to five hundred caps."


Mine Shaft pulled the clipboard over to himself, checked it and let out a low whistle. "Five hundred's a bit much. How's three sound? Good money."

I narrowed my eyes. "The contract was for five hundred."

He cocked his eyebrow. "Four hundred? Young mare like you should be grateful for the cash."

"Here's how it works, Mr Shaft." I sat back, glaring at him. "I take the contract, I deliver the goods. I do the job, and then I get paid. In full."

"Four fifty, my final offer. Take it or leave it."

I gave him a level look, took the clipboard back and stood, turning to go. "Thank you for your business, Mr Shaft. I'll be sure to let other caravans know about your town." As I walked slowly towards the door, I counted the seconds in my head.

One... two... three... four... five... six...

"Fine, five hundred." I smirked, but quickly hid it behind a neutral expression as I turned back to him. He was scowling at me. "You're a ruthless one. A damn thief."

I took my spot at the desk again, giving him a small smile. "Caravans live off their contracts, Mr Shaft. You agree to a price, you pay it. You try to welsh, leave us hanging, ain't no crew will do business with you." The clipboard was pulled from my bag again, and my smile grew. "Now, while you sign for the delivery, I'd like to see the caps."

Grumbling, he dug a bag out of the desk drawer and threw it towards me. I caught it in my magic and pushed the clipboard over to him, listening to the jangle of caps. Just to be sure, I poked it with my pipbuck-clad hoof, watching as the device dinged and added five hundred caps to my funds.


When the clipboard was returned to me, fully signed, we both moved for the door. Outside, I nodded to Rose and Ibis. "Go ahead and unload the cargo." Rose kicked the loading ramp down, and I turned back to Mine Shaft. "Where do you want it?"

He jerked his head, indicating the cabin. "Storage room in the back. I'll be checking it before you leave, to make sure you didn't rip us off."

I watched Rose and Ibis unload, not bothering to look at the stallion. "You wanna check, go right ahead. It's all there."

He just spat and went back inside. I rolled my eyes and went to help Rose and Ibis with the crates.

---------------------------------------------------------------

"He really didn't like you."

I snorted. "No shit, Rose."

She blinked at me. "Why didn't he like you?"

"Because I didn't back down." She blinked at me again, and I continued. "He thought I was some inexperienced little filly, tried to take me for a ride." I frowned. "Acted like we were thieves because I wouldn't let him rip us off." I leaned back in my seat at the front of the wagon and popped the top off of a soda, taking a sip and watching our brahmin graze. "Gonna let my parents know about this. Warn other caravans, too."

Rose shrugged and took a pull of whiskey. Ibis studied me for a moment before speaking. "Warn them about what?"

I sat up, resting my hooves on the back of my seat and eyeballing the griffin. "Are you serious? If he'll try that shit with us, he'll try it with other caravans. This place is getting a yellow mark."

"Yellow mark?" Ibis stared at me, confused, and I sighed.

"You really don't know anything about caravan life, do you?" He shook his head. "Rose knows about it. Right, Rose?" She blinked at me over the top of her whiskey bottle, and I rolled my eyes. "Fine, I'll explain it to you. Caravans have four marks for towns: Blue, Yellow, Red and Black. Most towns are Blue; that means they're safe and friendly, the best places for work. Yellow means it's a bit riskier to take contracts with that place, so you've gotta be careful. This place," I waved my hoof at the makeshift town; we were just on the edge of it, out of the way of everypony going about their business, "is a definite Yellow. Off the beaten path, and the guy in charge isn't exactly trustworthy."

Ibis nodded. "So, what would Red and Black be?"

I continued after another sip of my soda. "Red is high risk. A place that's run by criminals, is in a dangerous area, or should just be avoided. Contracts for those areas involve way more caps than a Blue or Yellow, even for the same level of service. If we'd made this delivery to a Red area, it would have earned us at least a few thousand caps. Now, Black areas..." I held my bottle up, watching the dull sunlight filter through the orange liquid. "Nopony goes near Black areas. Not without an obscene amount of caps involved."

"How obscene?" Ibis asked, looking at me curiously. Rose answered before I could.

"Enough caps to make Lily go into heat."

"ROSE!" My cheeks burning, I glared at her. She just blinked at me, while Ibis laughed his beak off next to her. "Oh, fuck you two." Rose shrugged and went back to her whiskey, passing the bottle to Ibis. I rolled my eyes and slouched low in my seat, ignoring them and chugging my carrot-y drink.


"H-hey! 'scuse me!" I sat up when a colt approached us, coming from the camp. "You that caravan?"

I nodded, eyeing him carefully. He looked a bit younger than me, and had the same coating of dirt that most of the ponies of Prospect had. An ancient and equally dirt-encrusted saddlebag was strapped around his middle, probably something left behind by the prewar miners. "That we are."

"I, uh... I'm Early." He fidgeted, looking at the ground. "You, uh, available? For work, I mean."

"Depends on the job."

"Well, see... it's the mine. Nopony's really gone too far in, since we're, uh, so busy with the camp." He kept fidgeting, but finally looked in my general direction. "T-the last group, though, they found a bunch of stuff, but, uh, the best stuff was too heavy to, y'know, bring back, and you've got a really big wagon, so..."

"So, you want us to haul some junk..." I sighed and looked to my pipbuck, switching to the map. "Alright, where's this mine of yours?"

"To, uh, to the south. Not far... about, uh, about half an hour?"

I raised my eyebrow, and he looked away again, leaving me to scroll around the little screen, looking south of Prospect. "Rose, this look about right to you?" I held my foreleg out to her, since she had an easier time reading the static-y topographi-whatsit map than I did, and she nodded. "Right..." I turned back to Early, who was digging at the ground nervously. After a few moments spent mulling it over, I came to a decision. "There and back, ten caps. A full load of salvage, an extra fifty-"

His jaw dropped, and he blurted out "B-but I don't have sixty caps!"

I glared at him. "Like I was saying, fifty caps, or-" I paused to see if he'd interrupt me again. "-or we come to an agreement about the salvage. Say, you let us take fifty caps worth?" He opened his mouth to speak, and I waved my hoof, stopping him. "Nothing you need for machines, or whatever. Just little stuff. Caps. Maybe some tools."

"Dynamite." Rose added, blinking at me. I rolled my eyes.

"Rose, there's no way you'd find explosives in a mine. They would have used shovels, or big drills, or something."

"A-actually... there might be, uh, dynamite..." Our attention returned to Early, who started fidgeting again under our combined gaze. "S-see, they used to, uh, use dynamite to, uh, open tunnels... you can, y'know, take that, if you want. We don't need it, much."


I turned back to Rose, who just blinked at me, then I looked at Ibis. He just shrugged. "You're the boss, Lily. Rose really likes her explosives, though." I sighed, and turned back to Early.

The colt straightened up and actually made eye contact with me. "D-does that mean you'll take the job?"

I nodded. "Looks like it. You'll pay your passage up front, though."

"R-right." He dug into his bag and pulled out a little pouch, extracting the agreed-upon price. I took eight of the caps in my magic, and he stared at the two left in his hoof. "I, uh, I thought it was ten caps..."

I deposited the meager sum into my own bag before giving him a friendly grin. "Discount. You're our first passenger, after all."

---------------------------------------------------------------

"S-so..." Early shifted in the passenger seat. "W-what's it like... being in a caravan?"

I shrugged, keeping my eyes on the road ahead. "Pretty good, if you like the open road."

"W-what about the, y'know, caps? 'c-cause the camp, i-it kinda needs... supplies... and... we can't sell the mining gear... and we won't be m-mining much, until... until we get everything out and... and running."

"Caps are good, if you know what you're doing. As for your camp... well, sorry to say, but it might not be seeing much business from caravans."

"W-why?"

I sighed. "Early, you seem like a nice colt, but... Mine Shaft, he's your boss, right?"

"Uh-huh."

"Well, he didn't want to pay the full contract. That's not a good thing. Caravans don't like to deal with ponies they can't trust."

"Oh..."

I spared him a glance. He'd sunk lower in his seat, and it looked like he'd taken the news pretty hard. Turning back to the road and correcting the brahmin's path a bit, I kept talking. "You should still get a few caravans coming through. Just, not us. It's nothing personal. You understand, right?"

He nodded, but didn't say anything. Just stared at his hooves, looking like he was thinking about something.

---------------------------------------------------------------

"This is the mine?" I stared at it. "It's just a hole." That's exactly what it was: a hole dug into the side of a hill, with a rusty set of tracks leading from where we'd stopped the wagon and into the old tunnel.

"Uh-huh." Early nodded and headed towards it, with me, Rose and Ibis following. "T-the stuff is, uh, pretty close. Just, uh, in the first storage room." We stopped just outside the entrance. "Don't, uh, don't wander off. The mine is... big."

I nodded, gazing into the blackness ahead, the mine burrowing deep into the hillside and away from the open air. The thought of going down there made me shudder. "Um ,what are we looking for, exactly?"

The colt scuffed his hoof in the dirt. "D-drills... rock saws... spare parts... maybe, uh, foreman's maps, if we can find them. W-we haven't got the generators running, so, uh, the lights don't work, and... it's kinda... dark."

"Alright... Rose, Ibis, grab some lamps from the wagon. Early, do you have..." I trailed off as the colt reached into his saddlebag and pulled out a tin helmet with a flashlight attached to the front. "Well, okay..." When Rose passed me my lantern, her own light held in her mouth, I swallowed nervously. I wasn't looking forward to being in those dark tunnels at all. "Let's get to it, then."

---------------------------------------------------------------

"T-the door is, uh, stuck."

At Early's words, I groaned. We were gathered around the door to the storage room, a lot deeper underground than I wanted to be, and our goal was behind a stubborn piece of wood. "Rose, open it."

My sister blinked, set down her lamp and took Early's place, the colt backing off to give her room. She grabbed the handle in her teeth, dug her hooves in... and ripped the door clean off of its hinges.

The disturbance showered us with dirt and loose rocks from the stone over our heads, making me flinch and glare at Rose. "Did you have to rip it out like that?" I thumped one of the old wooden support beams with my hoof. "Good thing these are tougher than they look, or else-"

"L-look out!" Early yelled, scrambling away as debris started to fall again, set off by me touching the beam. Startled, I looked up, only to see half the roof coming down.

"Oh, fu-" I threw my hooves up to protect myself and, as the first chunks of rock hit my forelegs, the world stopped.

What...

Everything was frozen in time. Chunks of rock hung in the air, some of them bigger than me. Early was wild-eyed, hooves raised to run. Ibis was mid-leap, claws outstretched and reaching for me. Rose was looking up at the falling rocks, mild surprise registering past the door still held in her mouth.

As for me... I was panicking, the fact that we were all about to be crushed painfully clear. The boulder that had frozen just above my head helped with that. I was also freaking out, but just a bit.

WHAT IN THE NAME OF CELESTIA'S FIREPROOF FUCKTOY IS GOING ON?! WHY THE HELL CAN'T I MOVE?!

Not much at all. Honest. I was almost calm, really.

WAIT, THAT ROCK'S GONNA HIT ME! OH LUNA, I DON'T WANNA DIEEEEEEE!

Well, maybe not that calm. Anyway, I did manage to calm down.

Oh, Celestia, I'm gonna die, aren't I?! It's not like they say at all! My life's not flashing before my eyes or anything! Is this it? Does everything just stop, then I'm flattened? I don't wanna be a flatpack pony!

Eventually.

Okay... okay... just breathe, Lily... still breathing? Good. That means you're alive. Just... frozen. Oh, Goddesses, it's like when Rose was teaching me about that... that SATS thing... Realisation struck like the stones bouncing off my pipbuck. It's like SATS... it's just SATS, isn't it? I looked towards my raised forelegs, and groaned. Well, tried to. One of the rocks had hit the little button that froze time. Okay... how did Rose say to turn this off again? Wait, I think I remember now.


Wishing I could take a deep breath, I readied myself and said a little prayer. Here goes nothing... Luna, Celestia, you get me out of this alive, I swear I'll give Early a discount. Half off, I promise!

With a click, time resumed. I stumbled, only to be caught and knocked aside by Ibis, my feathered savior wrapping himself around me as we rolled and bounced to safety. Dust filled the air, and I was deafened by the roar of rubble filling the tunnel.

When the only sound was the occasional loose pebble hitting the ground, I risked pulling my head from under the protective wing to see what had happened. "Fuck." I couldn't see a damn thing, since we'd all dropped our lanterns.

I fumbled around a bit, and managed to hit the light button on my pipbuck, illuminating Ibis' dazed face in the dull green glow. "What... what happened?"

"Rose brought the roof down. Totally not my fault."

He groaned and shook his head, wincing. "Of course it's not... where is she, anyway?"

I pointed in the rough direction of the supply room. "She's right over... there... oh, no." My pipbuck's light showed that the entrance was buried, the tunnel completely blocked off by tons of rock. "She was right there!" I stomped, green filling my vision as my E.F.S popped up. "Green... green... there!" I pointed again, this time at the two little marks.

"Where?" Ibis stumbled as he stood, still shaken up from the sudden cave-in. I scowled and grabbed his head in my hooves, pointing him straight at where the now-buried doorway had been.

"She's right there! I think she's trapped! Her mark isn't moving!"

Ibis pulled away, glaring at me. "I can't see any marks, you idiot. You're the one with the pipbuck, not me."

"Shut up and help dig!" I bolted over and started pulling at the boulders with my magic, straining to move some of the bigger ones. Ibis came up beside me, using the light of my pipbuck and magic to help, both of us calling for my sister.

"Rose!"

"Talk to me, Rose!"

There was a groan from under the pile, and we redoubled our efforts until, poking through the rubble, a mess of red hair emerged. "We've almost got her!" I siezed the last few chunks of rock and hurled them into the darkness, revealing Rose's tail end, her hind legs twitching. "Ibis, help me pull her out!"

My magic wrapped around her exposed butt, Ibis grabbed her legs, and together we tugged, groaning and straining to free her. With a pop and a spray of dirt, she came flying out, the three of us falling into a heap with Rose on top.

I wriggled free enough to look up at her. "You okay?" Looking utterly bewildered, she blinked past what little of the door had remained intact and attached to the doornob still gripped tightly between her teeth. I sighed. "Rose, spit that out."


She did exactly that, and blinked again. "Ow. Lily, why did you break the tunnel?"

"Never mind that." I waved my hoof, dismissing her question. "Is Early okay?"

Rose stared at the rubble for a moment, then blinked. "He's okay. Scared, but not hurt." She turned back to me, and rubbed her head. "Lily, you dropped the tunnel on me."

"You broke the door; it's your fault." I waved my hoof again, and started calling for our payday. "EARLY! HEY!" I listened for a second, but there was no answer. "Rose, did he hear me?"

She shook her head. "I don't think so. He's heading for the exit."

"Oh." I stared at the blocked path for a moment. "The exit's on the other side, right?" Rose nodded. "Fuck. Um, you guys still have your lights, right?" Rose shook her head, and so did Ibis.

"I put mine down so I could open the door."

"Dropped my lamp saving you."

"Double fuck. " I took a deep breath. "Okay... we're stuck underground, with just my pipbuck for light, no supplies, and no idea how to get out. Sound about right?" The pair looked at each other, then nodded. "Good." I let out a nervous laugh. "Thought I might have been having a nightmare. I'm gonna scream now, 'kay? AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA-"

"Lily, we have supplies. I brought a bottle of whiskey and my gun. Ibis brought Garden, and he has some meat."

"-AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA-" I was running back and forth by this point, screaming my head off in absolute panic at being stuck undergound, in the dark, with no way out.

"Lily-"

"-AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA-" Back and forth turned into circles.

"Ibis, grab her, please. I need to fix her brain." The griffin pounced on me, pinning me to the floor.

"-AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA-" I flailed wildly, trying to break free so I could keep running and panicking.

"Would you shut up?!" He snapped, wrapping his claw around my muzzle. "Rose, do your thing before I have to knock her out!"

"-MMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMmmmmmphblurgle...."


Rose's horn, glowing steady white with only the occasional green spark, jabbed against my forehead, and my mind went all fuzzy. My claustrophobia, my fear of the dark, the panic, it all just faded, and when Rose pulled away, I felt... calm. She blinked at me. "Is that better, Lily?" I blinked back at her, since Ibis was still holding my mouth shut. "Ibis, let her go. She's not crazy anymore."

When the griffin released me, still keeping his other arm around my middle so I couldn't escape, I made a face and tried to work the feeling back into my muzzle before glaring at my sister. "Rose, I could swear I told you not to fuck with my head."

She just blinked at me. "I wouldn't have had to if you hadn't gone crazy. And don't swear. It's not nice."

I sighed. "Fine, whatever. Ibis, wanna let me go now?" I squirmed in his feathery embrace. "Before Rose gets jealous?"

He snorted, then shoved me away. "Idiot."

Glaring at him, I stood and gave myself a shake. "Jerk." I looked around, my pipbuck barely illuminating the area around me, just bright enough to make out my friends. Thanks to Rose, though, I didn't lose it. I was still uncomfortable, and distinctly aware of how much rock was above us, but not about to start screaming and running again... not yet, anyway. "Alright... Rose, think you could get your lamp out from under there?" I gestured at the cave-in. She shook her head.

"No. I think it broke when you dropped the roof on me."

I groaned. "You brought the tunnel down, not me." She glared at me.

"Lily, you hit the support beam. It's your fault."

I glared back at her. "Your fault for tearing the door off like that. Right, Ibis?"

"I just want to get back to the surface. Griffins aren't meant to hang out in tunnels." He stretched his wings out; they extended well past our meagre circle of light. "Too small."

I sighed again. "Whatever... Rose, is Early still out there?"

She looked at the pile of broken rock for a moment. "He's near the entrance now."

"Right." I nodded. "We just sit tight then, and wait for him to come back with help."

Rose stared into the distance, then frowned. "Lily, I don't think he's going for help."

"Huh?" I cocked my head. "What do you mean?"

"Early just took our wagon."

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"-spank the daylights out of that thieving little bastard!" Panting after my rant, I stomped to make my point. Then stomped again. Then I threw my head back, screamed, and bucked the wall for good measure. Ibis and Rose were standing well back of the resulting shower of dust and loose stones, talking to each other quietly.

"Uh, Rose, you wanna do your thing again before she buries us all?"

"Ibis, I don't want that much crazy in my head."

"I can hear you, you know." I growled. Ibis swallowed nervously and Rose looked away, doing her best impression of innocence, complete with unconvincing whistling. "We're gonna get out of here, find Early, spank him so badly he won't be able to sit for a month, take back the Serenity and leave this Luna-damned town forever. Got it?" I eyeballed them. "I said, got it?!"

"Uh-huh!" Rose nodded.

"Got it, boss!" Ibis stood at attention and saluted.

"Good." I turned and took a hesitant step forwards, deeper in the tunnel. My hesitation only lasted for a couple of steps, my fear of dark, enclosed spaces conquered with a healthy serving of righteous indignation at having my wagon stolen and Rose's freaky abilities. "Let's get the fuck out of here." I growled. "I really don't like the dark."

"Lily, why don't we use our light spells?"

Rose's suggestion brought me to a halt, and I slowly turned to stare at her. She blinked at me. "Rose, why didn't you remind me we could do that when I was freaking out?"

"Because you were freaking out. Lily, your eye is twitching."

Slowly, I turned to stare into the black ahead of us. "I know."

---------------------------------------------------------------

"FUCK!" I yelled, having come to yet another dead end, my voice echoing in the pitch black maze around us. A quick glance at my pipbuck showed we'd missed a fork not too far back, and I sighed. "C'mon, let's go." Me and Rose of us who were capable of magic played our beams of light across the walls and floor, looking for anything that would show us the way out. Ibis, for his part, stayed in the circle of light my pipbuck gave off, rustling his wings every so often, the darkness and tight tunnels starting to get to even him.

---------------------------------------------------------------

"-up Luna's cunt!" With my tirade finished, I let my light spell fade and slumped to the ground beside the latest dead-end. Rose and Ibis dropped down as well, both of them yawning. We'd been wandering for hours, and we were all tired, but I couldn't relax. Not while I was in the dark tunnels, while my poor wagon was in the hooves of a thieving colt.

"I hate live cargo." Rolling onto my back, I stared at the rubble blocking our path. "It's not worth the trouble." I sighed, just staring blankly at the rocks to take my mind off of our predicament.

Circle bit... pointy bit... round thing... black rock... brown rock... dusty rock... bone... pipbuck... wait. I perked up. A pipbuck? Here? Groaning, I rolled back onto my hooves and mustered the energy to cast my light spell again and examine my find.

It really was a pipbuck, attached to the skeletal foreleg of some poor pony who'd been crush by the falling rocks. I grabbed it in my magic and gave it an experimental tug, then yanked it free, taking the leg with it and disturbing some of the old rubble.

I turned my dust-coated prize over in my hooves, getting a proper look at it. It was bulkier than my pipbuck, more rugged, with a couple of wires leading to a part that was strapped just above the bony hoof. Sadly, the screen was shattered. "Hey, Rose," I called out, daring to hope, "think you could fix this?"

Grumbling, she crawled over to me and had a look at what I'd found. "No. It's too broken. Pity. That's a special model."

"Huh? What do you mean, a special model?"

She yawned and waved her hoof at it. "I saw it in a Robronco pamphlet. It's a-" She yawned again, covering her mouth with a hoof. "-a Search and Rescue pipbuck. Thicker case, better E.F.S., that sort of thing." She tapped her hoof on the little device connected to it. "And this, too. It's an Emergency Response Team pipbuck light."

"A pipbuck light?"

Rose gave a sleepy nod. "A hoof-mounted miniature searchlight."

"So..." I turned the boney appendage over to see the little thing better, and wiped the dust off with my foreleg. It was a little box with rounded corners and a curved, age-yellowed glass panel across the front and top, the whole thing attached to a strap that went around the skeletal hoof. "It's a pipbuck-powered flashlight, right?"

Another nod. "Pretty much."

I gave Rose a hopeful grin. "Think it still works?"

Another yawn, then a nod. "It looks okay." She sighed. "You want to wear it, don't you?"

I gave her a flat look. "Well, duh."

"Let me see your pipbuck, then."


Rose unhooked the little device from the ruined pipbuck, slipped it off the bones and then strapped it just above my hoof. "How does that feel?"

I wriggled my hoof, testing my range of motion. "Great! Now, how do I turn it on?"

"One moment." She opened a little panel on the side of my pipbuck and pointed to it. "Pipbuck attachements go in here." She started fiddling with the cables extending from the flashlight, plugging them in and checking them, then stared at it for a moment. "I don't know how to turn it on."

I frowned. "Are you serious?" She nodded, and I groaned. "For the love of... what if I just turn the normal light on? Will that do it?" She shrugged, and I rolled my eyes before flicking the switch that usually lit up my pipbuck's screen.

In an instant, the tunnel was flooded with bright light, the little device springing to life and blinding the three of us. Ibis squawked, shielding his face with his wings, while Rose blinked in surprise and fell over, clutching her eyes after being so close to the source. "Holy fuck!" Blinking the spots away, I pointed my hoof away from myself and towards Ibis, who screeched at me.

"Get that out of my eyes, Lily!"

Rose was rolling around, blinded and covering her eyes with her hooves. "Bright light! Bright light!"

"Alright, alright!" I swung my hoof around to point at the rubble. "Geez, it wasn't that bad." I snickered, watching them suffer. "Hey, at least we've got a proper light now, and... hello, what's this?" My new light had revealed a dusty, ancient bag, probably belonging to the pony whose broken pipbuck was now laying discarded on the tunnel floor. I grabbed it in my magic and dumped the contents out. "Empty canteen, some bits, a rope, medical kit..." I opened the little yellow box. "Make that a full medical kit. Bandages and everything. A couple more bits, too, and... huh." At the very bottom of the pile, there was a folded piece of paper. "What's this?"

Ignoring Ibis' muttered threats and curses, and Rose's continued rolling around in pain, I unfolded the paper. When I saw what was on it, I let out a happy cheer. "Guys... hey, guys! Look what I found!" I turned to them, getting another round of screeches and yelps as my light blinded them again. "It's a map of the mines!" I cheered. "We can finally get out of here!"

---------------------------------------------------------------

"Lily, there's something ahead. Not friendly." That brought us to a sudden halt. I turned back to Rose, keeping my light pointed away from her and Ibis.

"Ponies?"

She shook her head. "Animals. Grumpy ones."

I relaxed. "That's not so bad."

"Lots of them."

"Lots?"

She nodded. "Big, too. We should be careful."

I looked to our griffin companion. "What do you think, Ibis?"

He sniffed the air. "I can smell... something. Not sure what, though. Definitely predatory."

Rose blinked at me. "Lily, is there another way out?"


I pulled the old map out and lay it on the ground between the three of us. "I don't think so... this is the only tunnel that leads to the surface, unless you wanna backtrack for an hour."

Ibis peered at the map. "You're right. Fastest way out's this way."

Rose blinked. "Lily, they might be frogs. I don't have any grenades."

I rolled my eyes. "Rose, frogs don't live in mines. It's probably bats or something, and, for the last time, you're not allowed to blow up frogs!"

"Oh." She blinked again. "Bats are okay. We should try and sneak past, though."

"Why?"

"Because they might try and eat us."

"Oh. That would be... bad."

She pointed at my pipbuck. "You'll have to turn the light off, though. Bats don't like bright lights."

---------------------------------------------------------------

"What the hell are those?" I whispered, peeking around the corner. We'd come to the entrance to a largeish room, lit by clumps of glowing mushrooms growing from the walls. It was full of striped, stomping, chuffing... things, all about a third my size. "They look like... zebra dogs, or something."

"I think they're badgers." Rose's voice came from next to me as she moved up for a look.

"Badgers?" Curious, I looked to her. "What's a badger?"

"According to Wild Life's Guide to Exotic Animals, badgers are striped mammals that bite."

I stared at her; she just blinked. "I like my name better. Badger sounds wierd." Rose blinked again, Ibis rolled his eyes, and I, satisfied that my name for them was better than what some prewar pony had come up with, poked my head back around the corner.


I was just in time to see a massive, all-white badger, easily as big as me, clamber onto a raised stone platform. It reared up, looking out over the assembled horde with its beady pink eyes, and opened its mouth. What came next startled me: It spoke.

"King Brian will speak now!"

All the stomping and chuffing stopped, every single badger looked toward the platform in a way that almost looked reverent. The big one moved to the side, letting a smaller one, with the same pink eyes and white coat, jump up beside it. This one had the biggest head I'd ever seen; it was easily half the size of its body!

Adding to my surprise, it spoke as well!

"Thank you, Plunky." It cleared its throat and addressed the crowd. "My friends, too long have we languished down here, in the darkness, while ponies ruled the surface. Soon, all of the pieces shall be in place, and my master plan shall be complete. We shall return to the surface, cast down the ponies, and reign over the entire world!"

As it raised its paws, eliciting cheers, roars and rumbles from its striped army, I fell on my butt, stunned. "Did... did that zebra dog just say they're gonna take over the world?"

"Lily-"

"Rose, tell me I was just hearing things."

"You-"

"There's no way I heard that right. That thing wants to take over the world? It has a plan? Who plans that sort of thing?!"

"Um, Lily-"

"What?" I snapped at Rose, only to notice she was pointing behind me. I turned, and almost had a heart attack. All of the badgers were staring at us, their King looking furious.

"INTRUDERS!" It raised its paw, pointing at us. "Do not let them escape! They will warn the surface!"


"Run." Rose only had to say one word, and we took off back the way we'd come, the badgers in hot pursuit.

I screamed the whole way. "BADGERSBADGERSBADGERS-"

---------------------------------------------------------------

"Stupid bloody zebra dogs!" I brained another one of the furry menaces as it leapt from a hole in the wall, adding another dead furball to the pile. "Just give up already!"

We'd barricaded ourselves into a storage room to escape the hairy horde, not counting on their ability to tunnel. Rose was having a great time, though, punching anything that came through her wall like it was some kind of game. Ibis was having a bit more trouble, since he didn't have her sixth sense, but none of the badgers that popped out of his wall got back up after he got his claws into them.

I was doing my fair share, as well. I'd learned that badgers don't appreciate being hit over the head with a shifter the length of my leg, and I was quickly taking a liking to the scavenged tool.

That said, swinging twenty-two pounds of steel around, even with magic, was pretty tiring, so I was very glad when my E.F.S. stopped showing red marks.

"Rose," I panted, "is that it? Are they all dead?"

She blinked at me. "Most of these ones are dead. The big ones and most of the others ran away."

"Most?" I cocked my head and raised my shifter again. "Which ones are still alive?" When she pointed, I followed her hoof... and groaned. "Ibis, please tell me you don't have a badger in that bag."

The grey git looked at the thrashing, growling sack in his claw, then shrugged. "Okay. I don't have a badger in this bag."

I narrowed my eyes. "If it's not a badger, then what is it?"

He grabbed one of the dead ones, raised it to his beak, and took a bite out of it, chewing noisily. "A snack for later. These things taste amazing."

I groaned. "Just, don't let it loose around me, okay?" He nodded, so I turned back to my sister. "Rose, open that door and lets get the hell out of here."

While Rose cleared our hasty barricade and Ibis had a meal of badger bits, I grabbed a rag from on of the rotted, collapsed shelves and wiped down my shifter with a smile. "I think I'll keep you."

---------------------------------------------------------------

I sighed, the glorious light filtering through the clouds incredibly welcome after so long underground. A refreshing breeze played across my face and through my mane, and I closed my eyes to enjoy it.

Beside me, Rose stretched, while Ibis circled above, the three of us happy to finally be out of the mines.

We hadn't run into any more problems on the way out, thankfully, using the map and my pipbuck's new light to speed up our exit, and I had our goal firmly in mind: Prospect, to get back the Serenity.

---------------------------------------------------------------

"Where the fuck is Early?!" I screamed, glaring at Mine Shaft.

"He left!" He yelled back. "Told us all about your plan, how you were gonna stop caravans from coming here! Unloaded all your junk and took that shitty rustbucket to go get supplies!"

My eye twitched. "Did you just call my Serenity a rustbucket?"

He sneered at me. "You heard me, bitch. What are you going to do about it?"

I punched him so hard he fell out of his chair. "I wasn't gonna blacklist this place before, but now I am." As he sat on the floor, rubbing his jaw, I glared down at him. "Now, where the fuck is our stuff?" He spat at me, refusing to answer. I wiped the glob of saliva off my cheek with a snarl. "Rose, if he does that again, stomp him. I think I know where our stuff is."

Jumping off his desk and passing the bewildered Rose and Ibis, I headed for the storage room. Sure enough, everything was in there... almost everything, anyway. When I pointed my hoof at it all, I realised our caps were missing. "He took our caps." My eye twitched again. "Thieving little bastard."

"You're the thieves." Mineshaft growled at me. "Gonna take our stuff, now?"

I resisted the urge to introduce him to my shifter. "We're not thieves. All we're taking is our stuff. You wanna try and stop me?" He sneered, but didn't say anything, and I wrapped my magic around all of our gear. I came pretty close to straining my horn, but I managed to strap Rose, Ibis and myself with everything and we were out of the door in under a minute, looking like a bunch of packbeasts.

Mineshaft spat at us as we stood on the porch, surrounded by angry miners. "You think you can come into our town, do this shit? You're fucked, filly. You're all-AAAGH!"

I grabbed Ibis' bag o' badger, ignoring his protest, removed the snarling critter and hurled it into Mine Shaft's face before giving the crowd a dark look. They tensed up, their leader screaming behind me as the badger tried to chew his face off "Get. Out. Of. Our. Way." When they didn't move, I went for Rose's supplies, pulling out some of her grenades and ignoring her protest. "Move. Now." I don't know if it was the grenades, or the way my eye was twitching, but they backed down and let us pass. It was tense, though, and I kept a close eye on my E.F.S. the entire way out of the camp.


After about two hours of walking, well away from Prospect, Ibis finally dared to speak. "Lily... what the hell was that?!" He moved in front of me, blocking my way and glaring at me. "We could've been killed! What were you thinking?!"

I took a deep breath and steadied myself, the adrenaline all but gone now. "Ibis, I want you to listen very carefully to me." I put on a sweet smile. "They tried to rip us off. That was bad. They left us for dead. That was worse. They stole my wagon, and that is not something I'll ever forgive. Know why?" Before he could speak, I grabbed his head in my hooves, pressing our faces together. "Because caravans are the lifeblood of the wastes. We," I paused to point to myself, then Rose, before grabbing his head again, "are the ones that keep towns like that," I pointed back the way we'd come, "alive. It's not sheriffs, or gangs, or miners, or anypony else. You know who the most valuable ponies in this great Goddess-Damned wasteland are? It's caravans, and traders. We move the supplies. We know the roads. We get ponies safely from town to town. Trade will save Equestria, Ibis, and I will not let some jumped-up miners with bad attitudes threaten my home, my family, and every fucking thing we have built since it all got burned to the ground for no good Goddess-damned reason!"

I was panting, and Ibis looked terrified, so I let him go. He half-flapped, half-jumped to get safely behind Rose. "Lily, you scared him." My sister scolded me. I stomped and glared at her.

"You already understood, right, Rose?" She nodded. "Well, now he does, too. So, here's the plan: We drop this stuff off with my parents, hunt down Early, spank him so hard he never sits down again," I waved my shifter to emphasise my point, "take back the Serenity, and never come back to Prospect again. Sound good?"

Rose and Ibis nodded, and so did I. "Good. Now, let's go." As I trotted forwards, taking the lead, I heard Ibis quietly talking to Rose.

"Is trade really that important?"

"Trade will save the wasteland, Ibis. Lily believes it, and I believe in her."


FOOTNOTE: LEVEL UP

Author's Note:

Whoo, boy. I pulled a marathon session to get this one finished. Next chapter should come out a lot quicker. :twilightsheepish:

Thanks to KKat, for creating the wonderful Fallout Equestria, Somber, for Project Horizons, and everyone who's supported me so far! I couldn't do it without you guys! :pinkiehappy: