• Published 9th Apr 2012
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Fallout: Equestria - Memories - TheBobulator



One crazy pegasus, one roboleg, a contingent of Steel Rangers, and an adventure of infinite detours. Put all that together and what do you get? A rip-roaring mosh pit wrecking its way across the Wasteland, leaving nothing but confusion in its wake.

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Chapter 21: You’ll give me an alibi, right?

Chapter 21: You’ll give me an alibi, right?

“You’ve been kind for far too long, my dear. Time to be cruel!”


Waking up to the sight of yourself with a maniacal grin and hefting a gore-stained bladed chopping implement really got the adrenaline flowing. Utilizing speed I hadn’t expected, I bolted out of bed and streaked into the living room to escape the bloody devil. As I skidded to a stop thanks to the carpet, I couldn’t help but hear the assortment of laughter behind me. In other news, somepony had gotten around to moving a reclining chair into my imaginary living space.

“I dunno about you three, but I think I win this one,” Toasty gloated. “Pay up.”

I heard a clinking sound, most likely bits being exchanged. “I don’t think that really counts. It looked like she just happened to come to during your turn,” Gala Frosty glumly replied.

“You’re a big fat cheaty cheaterpants.” Filly Frosty stormed out of the room and down the hall. “Cheater.”

Toasty followed her at a slight distance. “You were the one that agreed to it. Don’t be such a pantsless sourpuss over it. You’re just jealous that I’m scarier.”

“Am not!”

“Yeah you are.”

“NOT!”

“Uh-huh!”

“NUH-UH!”

“YUH-HUH!”

“MOOOOOOM!”

“NO! NO MOM!”

Gala emerged with a feather duster. “Don’t make me come over there!” Contrary to what she’d just said, she still advanced toward them.

“What? Wait, what is that? Nononooo—hee! Haaaha! St-stop!” Toasty uncontrollably giggled. “Sto-op, I’m g-going to pee myself! Haaahhaaa!”

I wordlessly sat on the carpet and listened to the epic tickle fight occur. “You know, I could get used to this place,” Ice Storm sighed from the recliner.

“Shove off, hitchhiker,” Officer Frosty snarled from behind the mini-bar. “Don’t get too comfy.”

Since he was out of things to smoke, Ice had opted out for a bright orange lollipop. “Says the backstabbing snake-in-the-grass.” The candy treat made a shooing action and placed itself back into his mouth.

Officer poured herself a snifter of brandy and marched out with the glass balanced on a wing. Ice tipped his hat in her direction as she did her best to leave in a dignified manner. She disappeared through a steel door and slammed it shut, the door vanishing behind her. One day, I needed to get to the bottom of all of this nonsense.

“You know what they say,” I muttered under my breath. “Two’s company, three’s a crowd, and four makes it very difficult to get through doorways. And I’m running out of room in here, too.” By the hysterical pained laughter coming from somewhere in the cloudhouse, the others were running out of things to keep them busy with. “The things I deal with.”

Ice responded simply. “Yep.” He struggled with the reclining mechanism for a moment before the leg rest popped out.

I settled into the imaginary cloud under my tush. “So… what happens now? I mean, I’m still unconscious, right?” Could you blame me for being worried about my body?

“I’m doing my best. You got thrashed out there, and trust me—this is a much better alternative to feeling all that pain.” Ice’s hat levitated off his head and began to fan its wearer. “Besides, this means we can spend some time together!”

Before I could open my mouth to reply, Toasty bolted through with Filly still riding on her back. “Get off me, scamp!”

Filly squealed in delight. “Faster, faster!” After bucking and twirling in place, Toasty reversed direction and went back to the room.

Pinning my ears back, I pouted and responded to Ice, “…I don’t wanna.”

Almost disappointedly, Ice blinked at me and sighed. “Okay.” He swirled the orange lollipop around in his mouth. “Have it your way.”

The recliner wobbled as Ice attempted to close the leg rest, unsuccessfully hammering it with his hindlegs. He leaned over to the side and tried pulling the lever, only resulting in failure. Eventually, he finally decided to simply roll himself off the side of the chair and gracefully face-plant into the floor.

“Uh…” I hesitantly raised my hoof. “Do you need help?”

Ice staggered to his hooves and mashed his fedora back onto his head. “No, no. I’ve only messed up a dramatic moment. Hold on.” Patiently, I waited for Ice to gather his thoughts and give his lollipop another swirl. “Okay, let’s try that again.” He paused, presumably for effect. “Have it your way.”

I opened my mouth to ask, but I was rudely interrupted by a lollipop being shoved into into my gaping maw. He then pushed me onto my back by bopping me on the nose, and then nothing.

~~~~~

Very slowly, I realized was that I was conscious. Something smelled clean—almost like antiseptic. I shifted my shoulders and felt something soft. Combined with the uncomfortable warmth along my back, I came up with the conclusion that I was in a bed. Or a bed-like device.

And then I realized I had to pee.

As in, I was going to explode if I didn’t pee.

I sat bolt upright, regardless of the things in my way and announced, “I need to pee.”

At least I’d managed to startle an unarmored Sparkle, who had been comfortably leaving a puddle of drool in my crotch while slumped over in a chair on my right. Now she stared at me in partial fright, still slightly drooling in the same spot. I could barely hear muffled noises coming out of the cheap-looking and scuffed bright purple headphones on her head. There were a few questions I would have liked to ask her. For example: why do those things have a silhouette of a root vegetable on it? What are you doing with your face in my junk?

But the more pressing matter was, “Where do I pee?”

“Not on me,” Sparkle quickly replied, sitting up and adjusting the headphones.

“I will if you don’t point me at a bathroom.” Looking around, I observed an almost professional-looking hospital motif around the room. At least this place was designed for a single patient, as opposed to Doc’s clinic back in Happy Hills. “Okay, better question: where in the everloving dominion of Luna are we?” I demanded.

Sparkle yanked her headphones off and neatly wrapped the cord around a small device in the reinforced carrying case at her side. “Well, we carted your comatose butt over to the closest bit of civilization, which happens to be this trading outpost. Oh—this place is great! There’s a working toilet in every motel room, a fire service, this walk-in clinic, the works! It’s a little slice of actual, working, civilized civilization in the Wasteland.”

I deeply inhaled and immediately regretted it. “Ow.” The bandages wrapped around my midsection were on way too tight, and the myriad of other medical tape and gauze attached to the rest of me were similarly uncomfortable. At least whoever had treated me had taken care not to destroy all the feathers on my left wing to attach a healing bandage. How considerate.

“Don’t go anywhere. I need to go get Rumcake. Just sorta… relax? Please?” Sparkle got to her hooves and performed a few stretches. “But seriously, if you go anywhere in the five minutes I’m outside, I’ll personally find many ways to turn your life into a living hell.”

I watched Sparkle trot out of the room and immediately remembered that I still really needed to pee. That thought was set aside as I patted the unbelievably soft patchwork quilt still covering me, realizing that the bed I was still sitting in was comfortable enough to validate another few minutes of lying down. “I need to pee,” I glumly muttered to myself, then pulled up the covers to my chin. “But it’s so warm and comfy.”

The mere thought of me actually being comfortable must have annoyed somepony, because several ponies burst into the room and ruined everything. “Welcome back to the world of the living, Frosty.”

I sighed and scooted myself back up into a sitting position. “Hi again, Tangerine.” I rubbed my eyes, yawned, then opened them to see a very angry, unarmored Rumcake looming over me. “I’m going to close my eyes, count to five, and I’d better not see the the wrath of the moon staring at me when I open them again.” Very casually, I covered my eyes with my hooves and began to mentally count.

“Frosty…” Rumcake fumed.

“You can’t see me. I can’t see you.”

With a bit more rage, Rumcake growled, “This is no time for jokes.”

Defeated, I sighed and uncovered my eyes. “Fi—”

Getting punched by Rumcake wasn’t exactly what I was expecting. Maybe I deserved it, but that really stung! I clutched my reddening cheek and stared back at him with a mixture of fear and anger. “W-what the buck was that for?” I incredulously gasped.

“You had one job,” Rumcake snarled, jabbing me in the chest. “Just go bucking look at something and come back. What was so hard about that?”

“I didn’t—” I twisted my body ever so slightly so that the next prod wouldn’t hurt nearly as much.

“But nooo, that was too boring.” Rumcake began to mimic my voice. “Let’s go pick a fight and get absolutely buggered because doing my job is too easy.”

Indignant, I snapped back, “I don’t sound like that! And that’s not what happened!”

Thankfully, Sparkle came to my aid and eased Rumcake off of me. “O-kay lovebirds, you two can play house later. This nice stallion would like to talk now.”

“We’re going to have a long talk about this later.” Rumcake glared at me, then forced his way past the wastelander standing by the door.

Sparkle gave me a sympathetic shrug and gestured at the door. “I’m gonna—uh—yeah. Tangie, you do the thing.”

Whatever that meant, Tangerine understood and smartly saluted. “Yup! I’ll do my best.”

I looked over the newcomer, a slightly unnerved, stereotypically-dressed doctor. The unicorn coughed and adjusted his thick square-framed glasses before trotting up to my side. Somehow, he’d managed to find the one clean white doctor’s coat in the entire Wasteland and kept it in nearly perfect condition, which also happened to blend in to his equally white fur. His white mane was short, somewhat curly and thinning, as was his stubble. Looking him over, it was beginning to look more likely that he’d fallen into a vat of bleach as a foal and it had stuck. The pink eyes only sold the idea.

“Before you ask: yes, I have albinism. No, it’s not contagious. No, I don’t go outside. Yes, I have candy on my person. No, you cannot have any.” The doctor wearily sighed, a pink aura bringing his stethoscope to his ears. “Miss Winds, I’m going to make sure you’re not an unwitting host to an alien parasite swarm like my last patient and then you can go back to getting some rest, okay?”

I gulped. “Wh-what?”

The doctor stared at me and replied, deadpan, “I’m joking.” He scooted a bit closer and placed his hooves on my shoulders. “Okay, I’m going to need you to sit forward for this next part.”

Well, he looked like a doctor. Better him than Doc Galactic. “Uh, alright.” I complied, scooting forward a bit and leaning forward.

Something cold touched my upper back by my right shoulder. “Deep breath.”

Obediently, I did.

“And exhale.”

And I did.

The cold end of the stethoscope moved to the opposite side of my back. “In and out again.”

I complied.

“You know, you could make some small talk while we’re doing this.”

Why was he expecting me to start? “So, uh, have you examined many pegasi before?”

“Just one. Breathe.”

After I exhaled, I asked, “Was he okay?”

“If he was, he wasn’t by the time I was done with him.”

…What? A mini panic attack almost made me spin around and attack him.

“No, I’m joking. It was an autopsy. Take a few calming breaths—you’re ruining my observations.”

“That doesn’t make me feel any better,” I nervously chuckled.

Behind me, I heard the doctor rearrange his equipment. “Well, I’m sorry I said anything.” Something pointy edged into my ear and I flicked it back in response. “I’m just trying to take a look in your ears, so cut that out.” I stopped, then he flatly stated, “You should clean your ears out sometime. It’s disgusting in here.”

I rolled my eyes and sarcastically shot back, “Thanks.”

“You’re welcome.”

“Oh, you never mentioned your name,” I suddenly realized.

Cold touch. “Hm. I didn’t, did I? Breathe.”

I exhaled much harder than I needed to. “Okay, what’s your name?”

"You can call me”—his hooves extended into the edges of my vision and made quote motions—“ ‘Doctor’.”

…Okay, this was getting creepy. “You are actually a doctor, right?” I asked nervously.

“Yes, of course I’m a ‘doctor’. You can call me ‘Doctor’,” he repeated, once again making quote motions with his hooves every time he said the word.

I stared at him, shuffling away from him slowly. Maybe I shouldn’t have been so quick to condemn Doc Galactic.

Apparently I wasn’t as stealthy as I thought, because the stallion groaned and rolled his eyes. “My name is Airquotes. I’m Doctor Airquotes. You can call me ‘Doctor’.” He paused, waiting for my reaction. “You’re supposed to laugh.”

It wasn’t funny. “Well, doctor, are we done here?” I impatiently asked, deciding to ignore whatever it was that just happened. And I still had to pee.

“No, no. Say it with me—‘Doctor’.”

“No.”

Airquotes leaned over. “You’re no fun. Fine, your lungs sound fine and nothing new has popped up as of yet.” He scooted back to the foot of my bed and clopped his hooves together. “No complications is good for a change.” A clipboard floated out from under my bed and he made a few notes on it.

“And that’s all?”

A large pink glow collected on Airquotes’s horn and popped off, only to happily float by him as a very bright mote of light. “Nope. Eyes. Look at the birdie.” Even though he gestured at the little bobbing ball, I stared down at myself because I was a smartass. “Ha, that’s funny. Because you’re a pegasus. Where was your sense of humor before? Okay, but seriously, look at the ball.” I complied, and allowed him to move the ball left and right as he peered into my eyes.

In the corner, Tangerine interjected, “Can you teach that spell to me sometime? That looks useful.”

“Probably.” The mote of light winked out. “Okay, one last check and we’re good to go. Miss Tangerine, if you don’t mind, Miss Winds would probably like a little privacy for this part.”

“Why?”

“I’m going to fondle her mare parts and you’re either watching or you’re not. Miss Winds would probably rather you weren’t.”

“For the record, I’d like to agree with the motion,” I pointedly mentioned.

Tangerine turned a shade of pink and glanced at me. “I’ll be right by the door.” She popped outside and flashed me a sympathetic grin.

Airquotes eased a hoof around my back and gently told me, “Okay, out of the bed. Carefully, and don’t strain yourself.”

With Airquotes’s useful (but unneccessary) support, I managed to stand next to him, slightly shivering from being out of the comfortable warmth. “Oh yeah, I still need to pee,” I suddenly blurted.

Airquotes dragged a large pot out from under my bed. “Here you go. I’ll turn around.”

I stared at the heavy metal pot. “Uh…”

While I was still stunned into confusion, Airquotes exasperatedly asked, “Do you need help?”

Blushing, I shot back, “No!” Somewhat awkwardly, I crouched over the pot and, uh, drained my bladder.

And it continued to drain.

And drain.

Awkwardly long.

It was even getting to Airquotes. “How many liquids did you consume?” he bashfully asked as I somehow continued to urinate.

My cheeks turning redder, I mumbled back, “I might have put off potty time to today.”

“Hm.”

After what felt like forever, my bladder was finally empty. “Do you have anything I can clean up with, by chance?” I shyly asked.

A clean-looking rag lawered into my vision. “Here you go.”

Using the rag that I had borrowed, I cleaned myself up and sighed, “Okay, that’s been taken care of. Whew, I feel better already.”

Airquotes sighed in relief and turned around to face me again, nonchalantly pushing the dirty rag and the pot back under the bed. “As I was saying before our intermission, I need to examine your posterior and posterior accessories. Especially the accessories.”

Now that he phrased it that way, I was immediately not okay with any of this. I clamped my tail over my fun bits. “Nuh-uh. No way.”

With another exasperated groan, Airquotes charged his horn with magic and burst into pink light. I had to cover my eyes for the moment, but when I opened them, my jaw dropped. In the place of Airquotes, I was staring at a Miss Airquotes. She looked nearly exactly the same, save her more demure appearance and the exchange of stubble for a much longer unkempt mane.

“There. If you’ll allow me to examine you, you can examine me if you want.” Airquotes weakly chuckled, a much higher-pitch voice coming out of her mouth. “Heh, I made an innuendo.”

No words came to mind besides, “What.”

Another eye-roll and sigh. “Since some ponies get uncomfortable around the opposite gender in a medical setting, I have ways to accommodate patient needs,” she droned.

“Are you actually a mare?” I finally asked.

“Does it matter? Point being, you have no idea which is my standard gender. Just let me do my job so you can go back to doing whatever.” Airquotes didn’t wait for me to reply and gently manouvered me around to face the wall. “There you go. Relax and don’t kick. Please.”

I allowed her to fiddle with my bits, reminding myself that he/she/it was probably a medical professional. Probably. At least she was gentle about it. Awkwardly, I shifted on my hooves and tried not to eep in surprise every time I was prodded.

At least it was over very quickly. “Your plumbing appears to be in order. Alright, we’re done here. Rest up, don’t strain yourself, don’t do drugs or you’re a loser.” Airquotes gave my rump a comforting pat. “Have a nice day.”

I crawled back into bed as Airquotes collected her things and left, giving a very surprised Tangerine some instructions. Thankfully, the plush quilt was still warm and I slid myself under the covers. I had to shift myself to allow my wings to spread out and share the comfort as well.

I heard Tangerine waltz back in. “Uh—was that the doctor?”

“Nah. Just ‘Doctor’.” I lazily embellished her name with hoof-gestures.

I barely made out Tangerine murmur to herself, “I should learn how to do that.” The potential implications aside, I still giggled at the thought of stallion Tangerine awkwardly trying to talk to Sparkle without having a panic attack.

Out of curiosity… “Say, you didn’t get a good look at her butt, did you?”

“Ofcoursenot!” Tangerine blurted, waving her hooves in front of her.

So she did. “Relax. I just wanted to know what his stupid cutie mark was.”

It must have been hard to see with her lab coat on, but I was hoping that it would tell me a little something. Besides, cutie marks didn’t lie. Unless they were cryptically generic or just plain silly, that is.

“I’m pretty sure it was an open quote, a caduceus, and a close quote. Though, all I got a glimpse of was part of the caduceus and the close quote. Inference,” Tangerine thought out loud.

Interesting. “I’m going to get some rest,” I said, fully intending to do so despite some more pressing issues I should have been dealing with. “Wake me when you need me.” I took advantage of the cozy pillow I had squished under head and buried my face under it, contentedly sighing into the softness.

Of course, now that I’d drawn attention to it, I wasn’t allowed to sleep anymore. I heard Tangerine clomp up to my bedside and sit down. “So… what happened out there? I’d just like to know the full picture, that’s all.”

“I’m going to just go out on a limb”—I dismissively waved with my claw—“and say that Rumcake thinks I picked a fight. Right?” Who was funny? I was funny.

Hooves anxiously clopped on the tiled floor. “Well… you do have a mean streak of reckless abandon. That was my initial thought, too. Sorry?”

I froze in mid-wave and clenched my talons, hoping it would come off as angry. To sell it, I even angrily exhaled into the pillow. Hopefully it would get an entertaining reaction.

Tangerine squeaked in fright. Perfect!

“Bahahaha! Okay, that was funny,” I sniggered, rolling onto my back. “Priceless.”

A very annoyed Tangerine reached over and bopped my nose. “You’re a meanie.”

“Worth it.” Fun aside, I needed to be serious for a moment. “But anyway, it wasn’t me for once. I got caught off guard by some lunatics and I had to fight my way out.” But now that I thought about it… “Although I guess I could have bailed from that fight, now that I think about it.”

“Then why didn’t you?”

Because I didn’t really think? Because I let my impulsiveness get the better of me? Because Toasty really wanted the kills?

“Don’t blame this on me, nerd,” Toasty snarled into my right ear.

But I easily could have bailed from the fight. The problem was, had I really wanted to? I could blame War’s stupid bolas keeping me from leaving. Heat of the moment? If I could twist the truth slightly, I could maybe get away with just the slap across my face.

“You know how it is—colt meets filly, colt ties up filly, then filly beats the crap out of him because petty revenge is hilarious,” I smoothly improvised. “But in all seriousness, I was literally roped into a situation and I couldn’t do anything about it. The only way to get out was fight back. Gimme a break—I didn’t ask for this.”

I could hear Tangerine just thoughtfully regarding what I told her, then she responded, “You know, Rumcake isn’t mad at you.”

It didn’t seem like he was very happy to me. “He’s super mad at me.”

“…Well, okay. He—”

To make my point, I interrupted, “Super with a cape.”

Slightly confused, Tangerine hesitated before continuing, “Uh, he’s steaming mad. But he really does care about you.”

I opened and closed my talons to imitate talking motions. “And he loves me dearly, looks out for me, would do anything in the world for me? Yadda yadda yadda. What is this, a bad soap opera? No, all he wants is a sexy flank with wings attached to it. He’s angry. He won’t forgive me. I’m going to be on a leash for the rest of my life.” Now that I had just made myself sad, I shoved my face into the pillow for comfort.

“You’re just overreacting. Look at it this way: he’s basically saying very nice things extremely loudly. Every mare has to deal with an angry coltfriend—or fillyfriend—at some point. You’ll get over it and realize you’re just being dramatic.”

“I don’t remember the first time I had to deal with an angry coltfriend. If any,” I mumbled into the pillow.

“Frosty, please. When you got injured this time, Rumcake took it hard. He’s blaming himself because he sent you on recon alone, after he said he wouldn’t let you go solo again. Maybe you should apologize or something—make him feel better?”

That sounded like a lost cause. “Meh.”

The door opened. “E-excuse me, but y-your friend is cleared to leave. We n-need the room, ma’am,” a very young, unsure, coltish voice stammered.

“Are you sure that’s a good idea? My friend’s still a bit beaten up.”

There wasn’t any way I was surrendering this stupidly comfortable bed, so I pathetically mewled and coughed just loud enough to sell it.

“S-sorry, you’ve g-got to go. Doctor’s orders.”

Tangerine and I groaned. “Okay, I’ll we’ll be out in a few. Let me get my friend on her hooves and grab our stuff,” she impatiently replied. The door quietly clicked shut in response. “C’mon, Frosty. Wakey wakey, eggs and bakey!”

Eggs and bakey be damned, I just wanted to snuggle in an actual bed. “Uuugh. Fine, I’m up. I’m up.” I oozed out of bed, starting with my hindlegs, and eventually I reached a wobbly standing position.

Tangerine worriedly glanced at me. “Are you sure you’re okay?”

Did I feel okay? Not really, but I could cope. “Yeah. Just a little woozy and sore.” My injured wing was still uncomfortably tight, but at least I could still stretch my other wing. I inhaled and winced again when the bandages constricted my chest.

While I was in mid-stretch, careful not to choke myself again, Tangerine helpfully looped my saddlebag back onto me. “I kept your stuff safe, so you don’t have to worry about Violet nosing around into things that she shouldn’t be.”

“Oh, uh, thanks.” The second the full weight of my saddlebag landed on me, I nearly choked anyway from the pain. Did the strap always hurt this much? “This is too heavy.”

“What do you mean it’s too heavy?”

“I appear to be over-encumbered.” I hefted the bulk of my saddlebag and grimaced. “This is a lot heavier than I remember it being.”

Cue confusion. “Oh, you’re not power-armored. Let’s get that set up.”

~~~~~

So it turned out that I really needed to sort out the hoarding problem that was propagating in my saddlebag. On the bright side, at least my power armor gave me enough of a strength boost to conveniently put that issue off until later. Once Tangerine helped me get my armor on and I was ready to go, we left the nice hospital and re-emerged into the Wasteland.

Tangerine gestured at the four-way crossing in front of us. “Welcome to Strongbox.” Well, it lived up to its name as a fort. Each of the roads had been expertly blocked off with reinforced walls, sturdy fortifications, and a very functioning defense force. For whatever reason, the ponies living in Strongbox had decided that the Wasteland needed a library, which was directly across the street from us. It was a massive, ugly gray rectangle that took up the entire block. There was a small recessed overhang on the street corner as well as a smaller cylinder perched on top that looked like it had been refurbished into a watchtower, complete with an artillery piece.

If the little rock in my brain was right, then I was facing due east-ish. To the north there was a toy store, which somehow still had its oversized wood blocks out front—right next to giant statues of wooden Royal Guards. The heavily armed ponies in metal armor and minigun saddles standing out front made me figure that it probably wasn’t a toy store anymore. I determined it was likely an armory, judging by the five ponies lugging crates marked “Explosive Ordnance” into the pastel yellow double doors from the burger shop to the my left.

The burger shop still appeared to be a burger shop. It looked a lot like a soda can—two primary colors, vibrant lettering, and gaudy patterns splattered everywhere. At least a dozen ponies were sitting inside eating, but a few were hanging around the area between the wall and the far side of the building.

That left the building behind me, which read “Fifth Street Bank”. Two floors, and probably both of them had been changed into a hospital. Interesting. But that didn’t matter, since Tangerine was more intent on dragging me to the library instead.

“Where’s your radio?” Tangerine asked me as I followed her through the library’s rotating door. “Sparkle told me she’d make Rumcake meet up here, but who knows where he’s gone off to. Oh yeah, keep an eye out for Violet. She’s around here somewhere.”

The little rubber antenna wasn’t protruding into the bottom edge of my vision, so I probably didn’t have the radio clipped to my shoulder. I absent-mindedly followed behind Tangerine as I fumbled through the depths of my bag of holding to retrieve said radio. Eventually, I found it buried underneath a few stray bullets and my somewhat neglected submachine gun.

Tangerine started prattling along about values or something, so at least I wouldn’t miss anything if I tuned her out. I gave her a little poke and showed her my radio, then nearly dropped the throat mic attached to it. “Can you help me clip it back on? I can’t really reach back that far,” I asked, a tad embarrassed.

“Sure thing,” Tangerine brightly replied.

I sat down and continued to pretend-listen to Tangerie while she helpfully attached my radio setup to my armor. All I needed to do was tell Rumcake I was sorry for making him worried, follow it up with saying it was my fault for being stupid, then patch it all over with a sappy “I love you” and a smooch. Yeah, that’d probably do.

“Somehow, I don’t think an apology is going to cut it,” a voice said. With the sound of swishing fabric, Gala Frosty appeared by my side. “You really made him worried.”

I adjusted my throat mic so that I was comfortable and made sure to click the radio to the “off” position. “Won’t hurt to try.” Tangerine seemed to know where she was going, so I followed her.

The two of us stayed silent to think. “Bribe him with food?” Gala suggested.

Just to add to the party, Ice appeared beside Gala and waved his green-flavored lollipop at me. “You know what they say—the fastest way to a stallion’s heart is through his stomach.”

To my other side, Toasty appeared and chortled, “And the fastest way to a stallion’s stomach is through his butt.” All of us, sans Tangerine, stared at Toasty in disgust and maybe shock. “What? Don’t give me that look.”

“That’s… frightening.” Gala huffed and adjusted her dress.

I blinked. “Wait, are you implying I cram a snack cake up his butt?” Ew.

Beside me, Toasty abruptly halted. “What? I was implying a giant, plastic—”

“Uh, Frosty?” It appeared that, in my fit of crazy, we had arrived to our destination with Tangerine giving me a concerned look. “I don’t want to interrupt your argument with yourself, but Rumcake’s right at the end of those shelves with Sparkle and Violet.”

I peeked around the corner of the metal shelves—filled with actual, readable books—and witnessed Sparkle building a book fort around Violet, who was in the middle of copying things into her spellbook. Rumcake was silently fuming into the corner, which worried me greatly.

I faced Tangerine. “Okay, there’s a chance that I’m going to buck this up big time. In the likely case that it happens, will you help a sister and bail me out?”

“Uh…”

“Good enough.” I took a few relaxing breaths and pounded my chest once. “Okay, Frosty. You can do this shit.” Confidence restored, I walked between the shelves to my doom.

Sparkle stopped trying to build a portcullis out of a small stack of encyclopedias and waved at me. “Hey! Looking a lot better, sis!” She cocked her head at Rumcake’s armored butt and mouthed, “Super pissed.”

“Thanks, Sparkle.” I wryly grinned at her.

Now for the hard part. I took another deep breath to psych myself up and prayed to Luna that everything would be okay.

I cleared my throat and trotted right up behind Rumcake. “Hey, uh… I’d like to say I’m sorry for making you worry about me. The situation got way out of hoof and I should have called for backup.”

He didn’t react, but I hoped he was just being dramatic.

“I was being stupid, and it was my fault.”

All I heard back was an annoyed huff.

Uh… what was I supposed to say next? “It’s not your fault.”

“I should never have assumed that you would stay out of trouble,” Rumcake finally growled. “I should have considered your tendency to attract risk. We didn’t need the intel that badly.”

“Don’t beat yourself up about it! It was my stupid decision to go and—”

“All you had to do was fly over a shitty little place and look at it. It couldn’t have been easier and you still managed to find some way to buck it up.” With every word, Rumcake raised his voice. “You think a simple little sorry is going to fix this? You keep doing this! Over, and over, and over again! Do you just find this funny? Is that it?”

I opened my mouth to explain myself, but Rumcake wasn’t having any of it. “Is this just revenge for the whole bomb collar thing? Or do you have a need to recklessly find a fight whenever it’s possible? Don’t even start with the ‘oh, danger finds me’ bullshit, because I know you’re just dying to drop that one.”

Shit. I hadn’t seen Rumcake this mad in… well… ever. He was pissed. But just when I thought he was done, he launched into another rant.

“I’ve had enough of you running off with your suicidal tendencies. From now on, I’m going to assign an escort to you at all times. In the rare case you find yourself without one of us around, you are to immediately find us. Do you understand?”

I wasn’t sure if saying anything would help. Rumcake’s whole reaction alone had shocked me into silence.

“Did you understand, Squire Winds?” Rumcake bellowed.

My chest throbbed painfully and instinct kicked in. “Crystal, sir!” I snapped to attention and nearly punched my eye out trying to get my hoof up fast enough. He pulled rank on me! He pulled rank on me!

And then, Rumcake’s demeanor went from being the bringer of my doom to just a tired armored stallion. “Good. I’ve had Violet working on something for a while to make sure you’ll hold up your end.” When he paused, he retrieved his helmet and peered inside it. “Look, it’s almost time for lunch. Sparkle and I need to go blow up a radwasp nest to cover the surgeon’s costs and the meds so that we can be back for dinner.”

Now I was beginning to feel terrible and guilty. “O-okay,” I meekly stammered back.

While I sat in place, frozen in apprehension, Rumcake paced over to Violet and spoke to her in hushed whispers. Maybe I shouldn’t have fought War and Pestilence. Maybe I should’ve flown away the second I broke free, and everything would have been fine. After finishing up their short chat, Rumcake and Violet came back to face me, a small bright red band of leather floating in midair beside her.

Frightfully, I asked, “Uh… what’s that?” A stupid question, since I knew full well what it was, but I just really didn’t want to believe it.

Rumcake gently pulled it out of the air and dangled it in his hoof. “I had Violet enchant a collar to make sure you won’t stray too far from us. I’m not sure how it works—”

“In laypony’s terms, it prevents the wearer from wandering farther than fifty yards away from specific targets. I’ve also added another spell that prevents Frosty from taking it off or shredding it, as per your request.” Violet immediately interjected. “Did you know that this spell was originally used to locate lost home keys?”

“Yeah. That.” Explanation done, Rumcake proffered the collar to me. “I’d like you to wear this from now on.”

My heart sunk. This again. I couldn’t really say no to it, but I also didn’t want to be collared up again. But… I’d already caused so many problems for Rumcake. As much as I didn’t like it, I was already feeling so guilty about all the things that I’d done to him. I was distraught, but I couldn’t say no.

“I’ll wear it,” I choked out.

I couldn’t look Rumcake in the eyes as he carefully secured the collar around my neck. Strangely enough, when it tightened around my neck, it actually became plushly soft and comfortable—while still keeping enough tightness to stay furtight. Annoyingly enough, it was constricting enough to remind me it was there without being too uncomfortable.

“Please, please, please stay out of trouble for once and just stay here with Tangerine and Violet. Sparkle and I won’t take too long. Keep your radio on, just in case.” Without waiting for a confirmation, Rumcake beckoned for Sparkle to follow him. “Let’s get out of here.” Turning back to me, he emotionlessly reminded me, “I’ll be back.”

I wordlessly watched him wind through the shelves and disappear around a pillar. That left me crushed, confused, and altogether confounded on what to do next. In all the time that I had known Rumcake, he’d never acted like that before.

Thankfully, I was there for myself. “Single by choice. We could totally pull that off. Right?” Gala nervously chuckled from beside me.

I wistfully sighed. “It’s just not my choice.”

A lollipop bounced off my nose. “You’re being dramatic.”

“You’re being a stallion,” was the first snappy and witty thing that I came up with.

Ice narrowed his eyes at me. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

Ah yes, the classic “what’s that supposed to mean” riposte. The logical follow-up was, “You don’t understand the amount of stress I’m going through right now.”

Suddenly, Ice’s mane burst into ethereal, white-hot flames as he erupted, “I am literally older than dirt! You don’t know what stress is like. You can’t imagine.” Immediately following his outburst, the fire died down and his mane returned to normal, his fedora floating back onto his head. “Whew. Okay, be cool, be cool. I’m cool. Ice cool. Alright.”

“Neat! Do it again!!” Filly Frosty squealed, appearing out of literally nowhere.

Endearingly, Ice reached down and patted her. “No can do, little filly.”

“Shit, Frosty. Get a handle on yourself,” Violet disinterestedly stated. “Your coltfriend is also into some really kinky stuff, by the way. Seems like he’s been holding onto that for a while.”

I snapped out of my psychological meltdown and gave my head a good shaking, which also made my collar start jingling. “What the buck?” I shook again, this time a little harder, and the jingling returned. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed Tangerine failing to hold in laughter. Of course, I wasn’t in the mood for it, so I snapped, “The buck’s so funny?”

It only took a split second and a head-turn-jingle to reduce Tangerine into a hysterical mess. Once she caught her breath, she finally gasped, “You’re like a doggie!”

Normally I would have found that somewhat amusing, but recent events had ruined my sense of humor. “And you’re a fruit that can’t understand when to shut up.”

“Does the doggie want a treat?” She even went as far as bobbing a snack cake in the air above her.

Maybe she couldn’t take a hint, or maybe I just wasn’t visibly upset enough. Quietly, almost menacingly so, I asked Violet, “You’ll give me an alibi, right?”

At least Violet was still somewhat paying attention enough to halfheartedly reply, “Eh. How come?”

Absolutely hysterical, Tangerine continued, “We even have a cute little leash for you, too!” And then she had the nerve to begin to coo, “Who’s a good girl? Who’s a good girl? You are! Who wants walkies? Do you want walkies?”

That was enough. “Because I’m going to turn Tangerine into a headless smear on the floor in a second, and I need to be somewhere else when that happens.” I snarled at the mare in question.

“You can do that after she finishes doing her part of the research.” Violet gestured at the ruins of Fort Sparkle. “She’s the one that wanted to play with magic beyond her reach, so here I am doing all the work. Again.”

“What do you mean by ‘beyond her reach’, huh? I can do just fine, thank you.” Tangerine haughtily snapped at the other mare.

Violet looked up from her book and simply stated, “You could barely maintain a levitation spell on Frosty earlier.”

“She’s heavy!” As an afterthought, Tangerine quickly blurted at me, “No offense.”

I decided that angrily narrowing my eyes at her would do. I was very offended by that.

“She’s literally twenty percent—on average—less dense than the average pony. Unless your flank generates its own gravitational field, Frosty weighs less than she should.” Using her quill, Violet gestured at me, then Tangerine. “Actually, she probably weighs less than you.”

The two unicorns could bicker at each other to the end of time, but I couldn’t care less. Since I wasn’t going to be going anywhere unsupervised and I wasn’t feeling like my perky self, I decided that the next best thing to do was sit down and wait. It’s what Rumcake wanted from me, after all. The corner across from Violet seemed like a nice dark place to take a nap in, so that’s where I went.

“If I had a horn, I could be the angsty robot princess that I’ve dreamed of being,” I mirthlessly chuckled into the wall. To make myself feel better, I added, “Maybe with a laser face. A mare can dream, after all.” Satisfied, I flopped onto my side, curled myself up, and draped my wing over my head.

That only made my collar uncomfortably cut into my neck, reminding me that nothing had really changed after all. At least this collar wouldn't explode like the last one.

And then all I had to do was try and sleep without crying.

Which was a lot more difficult than it sounded.

I accidentally allowed my mind to wander into Rumcake yelling at me and I let out a choking sob, curling up just a little tighter.

Damn you, brain.

It wasn’t more than a minute before I heard hesitant hoofsie noises behind me. Maybe the thought of allowing a distraught mare a little mopey-time was just a teensy bit stupid. Or maybe Tangerine had a death wish, because pulverizing somepony would make me feel a teensy bit better.

“Hey, I need your help.”

Oh, it was Violet. What a joke. “No you don’t. Get Tangerine.”

Persistently, Violet took a step closer and insisted, “No, seriously. I need to try something.”

Wouldn’t she just go away? “Go buck yourself.” Take a hint!

Violet sighed. “This is what happens when you have a relationship. This is also why I haven’t ever had one. Frankly, you probably don’t need one either.”

“Thanks, Violet.” Venom and sarcasm, all rolled up into two words.

“Yeah. But seriously, I need your help.” Once again, I couldn’t tell whether the mare actually knew what sarcasm was or if she simply didn’t care.

Why wouldn’t she just take a bucking hint and leave me alone? Maybe she needed a quill. “Here, just take a few,” I muttered, presenting the underside of my wing to her. “I just don’t care anymore. Not like I’m going anywhere, anyway.”

I heard Violet take a step forward, then hesitate. “Ah… I appreciate the offer, but that’s not what I meant. I’ve been reading up on the first version of Professor Crescent Moon’s Dispersed Magicka Proof, and I need to test whether or not it’s possible for a non-unicorn to impart Will— capital ‘w’— onto things using very ancient magick. So old, in fact, that it’s spelled with a ‘k’.”

The last thing I wanted to do was socialize, but then again… doing so could distract me from being mopey and edgy. Then again, anything with Violet probably wasn’t fun. Decisions, decisions. I just wasn’t in the mood to bother.

“Stop being a whiny-pants and get off your butt,” Gala scolded. “You might as well spend a little time with Violet. Get to know her, maybe.”

And maybe come up with a plan on how to kill her.

Gala’s hoof came to rest on my head. “No, you’re not killing Violet. Stop being weird.”

Scratch that plan. All I needed was an excuse to eviscerate Tangerine. That would definitely make me feel better.

“And then we need to find a pike!” exclaimed a weight settled on my back. Probably a murder-happy, imaginary weight that apparently really needed a pike.

“Do you even know what a pike is?” Gala annoyedly huffed. “Also, no murdering party members. Come on. Standards.”

A polite cough from the actual mare behind me made my two hallucinations shut up. “So?” Violet sort-of impatiently asked.

Using as little effort as possible, I rolled over and groaned at Violet, “Fine. Whatever.” Maybe it would help.

“Great!” She plopped herself down on her haunches and magically brought her book into her waiting hooves, along with a few other pieces of Sparkle’s crumbling book castle. “Now stop being so glum. Here I was thinking you were a strong mare.”

I sat bolt upright and snarled in outrage, which didn’t faze Violet at all. “Who says I’m not?”

“Not much. You, mostly. You’re acting like you’re twelve.”

Maybe I was. “Fine, fine. What do you need from me that isn’t feathers?”

“Hooves out and up. Focus power into your hooves. Hoof.” Violet pawed through some pockets in her robe and drew out a tiny satchel of what appeared to be salt. “I’ll set up the framework the traditional way since you are both incompetent and not a unicorn.

Following Violet’s directions, I held out my hoof and claw and perplexedly stared at them. What even did “focus power into your hooves” even mean? It must have been a unicorn thing, but I still attempted to do it anyway by attempting to think at my hooves. Being confused probably didn’t help whatever she wanted me to do, but I tried not to show it.

I was more preoccupied with trying to figure out what was being drawn on the floor than I was with the focusing nonsense. She’d drawn a circle filled with silly lines laid inside another circle. Somehow, she’d also managed to draw immaculately delicate moon-runes in the border between the circles.

Once she had finished, Violet gave me an appraising look. “You don’t know what you’re doing,” she stated wearily.

I stared down at my hooves. “I don’t know what I’m doing.”

Violet also saw me staring at the circle. “You also don’t know what that is.”

“I don’t know what that is.”

“Now that I think of it, you’re probably confused.”

“I’m probably confused.”

Finally noticing what I was doing, Violet finally stopped and realized, “You’re just repeating what I’m saying.”

I somewhat smugly replied, “I’m just repeating what you’re saying.”

Violet looked like she was doing her best not to rip her mane out. “I’ll give you the simple explanation, lest you die from boredom.” She gestured at the circle-thing. “This is an attunement test spell framework, last performed in this manner nearly seven hundred years ago or more before being outdated by the advent of Hay’s Projection. It’s a simple spell that uses raw input to give somepony a little idea of what they might be good at.”

“So… how does this relate to me, again?”

“Hold on, not done yet. If the law of averages is correct, you should be somewhere in the blue or yellow spectrums of magick—again with a ‘k’—because apparently that’s what magic theory was back in the day. Pegasi do weather things, so that’s considered ‘blue’. Yellow’s something really stupid, so let’s not bother with it.”

That brought me to my next question. “So… how do I, uh, magic? With a ‘k’.”

“It’s hard to explain because you’re not a unicorn, but think of it as exercise for your brain. Maybe you’ll figure it out.” Violet patiently watched me make constipated noises as I did my best to cooperate. “It’s mostly about willing something to happen, since this still deals with runes, sigils, and weird-ass fetishes. Not to be mixed with weird, ass fetishes.”

I stopped thinking at myself and got confused. “You mean like bondange and mares with stallioney bits?”

“No, not the things that Rumcake is into. Think statues, but magic. Actually, think zebra magic but less herbs.”

Ew, zebras. “Well, let’s give this a try.” Again, I tried to somehow pull power from myself and channel it into my hooves, which I still completely didn’t understand.

“Once you’re ready, place your hooves at the edges of the circle, just barely touching it—but not disturbing it—and pour the energy into the circle. Maybe imagine it as a river flowing into it, perhaps?”

While still focusing on what was probably the pulsing of blood into the squishy bit in my hoof, I cautiously placed my hoof on the right edge of the circle and my claw on the left. I used Violet’s example and imagined flowing—what, exactly? Something flowing out and into the circle. In case everything randomly exploded, I squeezed my eyes shut and slightly leaned away.

“That’s interesting.”

“Am I about to blow up?”

“No, you’ve actually barely charged the circle. Somehow. Although it’s curious that magical flux only connects to your hoof, not your prosthetic.” I heard some very excited writing noises. “Now cast a spell.”

“How?”

“Um. Try something weather-related. Water related, maybe? You’ve sort of got to point it in a direction first. Now that your Will—again, capital ‘w’—has been imbued into the spell framework, you should just have to think at it.”

The first thing I hazarded was thinking of pushing a cloud. That was magic-related, right?

“Are you trying?”

“I’m trying! I think!” I snapped.

“That’ll be a first. Keep trying.”

Next was compression. Making big clouds into small clouds was super important.

“Weird. Something might have moved. Keep going.”

It was probably her imagination, but I indulged her curiosity anyway. What else was there? Maybe forming snow? That was something cool, I guess. Cooling clouds was an inherent skill that I had, so maybe that might have something to do with it.

“Keep going—something’s happening. This is unprecedented!”

She was probably making fun of me, but I kept pushing at that thought anyway. I began to visualize the process of shaping, pressing, then manipulating the cloud , and I actually started to feel tired. Weird.

“Okay, stop. You’re probably going to burn out, and I’d really like you to not explode in case you do,” Violet urgently warned me. “Still, this is… extremely unexpected. Thank you for cooperating.”

I exhaustedly exhaled and opened my eyes to… not much. Nothing had changed to my untrained mind, but I’d been wrong before. “So… what’d I do?”

Violet pointed at an imperceptibly small damp spot on the floor. “See that? You probably expended upwards of sixty percent of your passive magic—uh, ‘magicka’, making a snowflake. Still, Crescent Moon’s proof holds merit.”

“Yay?” I halfheartedly cheered. “Am I done?”

“You’re done.” Violet was more focused on taking notes than replying to me, so I decided that I’d go back to sleep. Try to sleep, rather.

“Oh, Frosty?” I looked over my shoulder and was surprised that Violet was actually giving me the barest hint of a grin. “Honestly, I really appreciate your help. Chin up, hm? Strong mares don’t cry. You’re making us look bad.” Without another thought, the look disappeared and she went back to writing.

I blinked. She was right. What was I doing, moping and whining like a little schoolfilly? I was Frosty Winds, the Blood Angel, the Warboss! Rumcake wasn’t the boss of me—

“He actually is the boss of you,” Ice smugly reminded me.

…Right. Darn.

After several indeterminate seconds later, Ice whirled his lollipop at me and asked, “You’re not going to finish that thought?”

I sighed. “No, you made me lose my steam. I got nada.”

“You were on a roll.”

“I know. Thanks a lot.”

I was rewarded with a consolatory pat on the head. “No problem. Hey, at least Vi-vi over there got your mind off of being mopey.”

She did, didn’t she? “Yeah. You think she did it on purpose?” I cast a suspicious glance at the studious mare.

“Beats me.” Then, brightly, “So, how’s it feel to be a brand new mare? Magic’s cool, isn’t it?”

Huh? “What do you mean by that?”

“How do I explain it…” Ice thoughtfully tapped the brim of his fedora with a wrapped lollipop. “Well… you’re like an old spark battery, right?”

“No.”

The lollipop bounced off my nose. “Let me finish. You and I know that with a little jolt, an old spark battery can be revived. You’re the battery and I’m the jolt, see? It only took a little bit of magic here, a little magic there, bada bing bada boom, you’re magically attuned now!” Ice summoned his candy back to him and began to unwrap it.

I stared at my hoof, slightly perplexed and mostly confused. “So… I can magic now?”

“Yes, Frosty. You can magic now. You’ll probably have to find some way to add to the little dregs of magic in you that you’ve made, but it’s a start.”

“Wait, what else have you been doing to me?”

Ice simply shrugged. “Things and stuff. C’mon, let’s go for a victory lap. It beats hanging around in here. Books are boring.”

“You’re right. Reading sucks.” I thoughtfully nodded at him, then I glared at the frightened pile of books—rather, the ruins of Fort Sparkle. “Come along, meat balloon. We’re going shopping.”

Tangerine peered over the same book she had been cowering behind. She took one look at me, and I saw the gears in her head turn. “Does the doggie—snrk— want walkies?” She burst into even more hysterical laughter and destroyed the rest of Fort Sparkle falling over and rolling around.

“I’m really not in the mood for this right now. I’m almost getting too over-encumbered because I can no longer carry my saddlebag without my power armor,” I angrily stated at the scribe. “You’re either coming with me under your own power or in a can.”

“The spell won’t work if she’s in a can,” Violet helpfully chimed in. “If it can’t find somepony to attach to, you’ll implode.”

Really? Was exploding simply not what cool kids did anymore? “Why?” I groaned at the smarter of the two unicorns.

Violet opened her mouth, reconsidered, then replied, “Magic reasons.”

Oh good, at least I didn’t have to ask for the easy version. I appraisingly glanced at Tangerine, deciding whether she would actually fit into a tin can. “Does she have to be alive?” Maybe if I took off her head—

Slamming her book shut, Violet actually shouted, “If I go with you, will you stop being a moron?”

The pile of books shifted. “It’s okay, I’ll give Frosty a walk. Can you finish with, uh, the thing? I really don’t know where to start.” Tangerine weakly coughed.

Again, Violet groaned. “You’re all useless. Fine.” She flipped her book back open and began to consult pages from it.

Once Tangerine had extracted herself from the ruins of Fort Sparkle, she adjusted her robes and spruced herself back up. “Okay, let’s go for some walkies,” she brightly chirped, just barely holding back laughter.

I waited for Tangerine to try and trot past me before I decided that enough was enough. While she was still distracted chuckling to herself, I nonchalantly sidled up beside her. “You know, one day your mouth is going to get you into trouble.” She didn’t catch the sinister sneer in my voice.

As she turned her head to spout a probably dog-related reply, my talons leapt forth and tightly snapped shut around Tangerine’s throat. I made sure to restrain myself just enough so that she could still breathe, even if it was just barely. She gasped and struggled for breath, and I looked on with vengeful satisfaction.

“You’re lucky that I need you to get around, or I might have been a lot more enthusiastic otherwise. I’ve had a shitty few hours and poking fun at me isn’t bucking helping.” I tugged at the stupid red collar around my neck as well. “I’m being treated like a damn animal—again—and you think it’s funny?” I snarled.

Tangerine made a few choking noises.

Imperceptibly, I began to squeeze harder. “How’s this for funny?” I almost laughed at how Tangerine tried to hammer at my leg to break free.

“Hey, you’re going to hurt her! Stop!” Gala urgently tugged at one of my wings, equally hoping for my attention.

Sense returned to my mind and I immediately let go of Tangerine, shoving her away. A glance at my claw showed thin traces of red on the tips of my talons, which shocked me. Had I really intended to hurt her? I was angry and it did make me feel a lot better, but…

Those thoughts frightened me.

As if nothing had happened, I casually reminded her, “I gotta sell stuff. Let’s get there before the Paladins come back.” I hoped she didn’t hear the frightened undertone in my voice.

On her knees, Tangerine wheezed into the floor, “You weren’t going to help me?”

“You were going to be fine,” Violet offhoofedly reassured the throttled mare.

“Fine in a can,” I snarled under my breath.

~~~~~

It turned out that there was a side entrance to the toy-store-turned-armory that had been sectioned off to be used for the local merchant’s guild, according to a morose Tangerine. She’d refused my advancing apologies, so I left it at “I tried”. She didn’t apologize to me either, so maybe we were even.

Inside the store, however, the two of us were having a great time. There were shelves upon shelves lined with goods of all kinds—food, weapons, ammunition, funny-looking bits and bobs I didn’t care about—and we excitedly browsed among our options. The yellowish stallion behind the makeshift counter eyed us expectantly, either waiting for us to buy or making sure we didn’t steal anything.

When I accidentally made eye contact, he immediately remarked, “Welcome, friend. Haven’t seen the likes of you around.” The stupid look on his face actually paired quite well with his gaunt build and shady eyes.

I carefully slid the somehow-intact snowglobe I had been examining back into its position on the shelf. Pointedly ignoring his remark, I replied, “Just browsing for now. I’ll probably going to be selling goods and loading up on ammo.” Maybe if Tangerine wasn’t too upset, she could sell these things for me so that I could get best value.

The same moment I made eye contact with Tangerine, she spitefully snapped, “I’ll be back here leafing through the books. I’m sure you can handle a sale.” Okay, so maybe she might still be mad at me.

With a defeated sigh, I cast away thoughts of cheap food and easy caps. Slapping on the cockiest grin in my arsenal, I swaggered up to the sideways soda machine that the stallion was using as a desk and casually remarked, “Cute little store you’ve got here.”

Ever so slightly, he leaned to the side to get a better look at something behind me. “Cute friend you’ve got there.” Oh. I looked behind me as well, getting a good look at Tangerine’s idly swaying posterior.

I cleared my throat and turned his head back toward me with the flat edge of a talon. “Focus, buddy. I just need to offload some goods and stock up on a few other things.”

“Like what?”

The easiest way to find out what I needed was to heft my saddlebag and slam it onto the counter. “I don’t know. Let’s find out.” On that thought, I had explosives in there. Probably shouldn’t do that again.

“Why don’t you just gimme a list of what you need while you unload your stuff.” The merchant pony eagerly began to examine the mounds of crap I was digging out of my saddlebag.

Most of the things I had in there were nearly worthless—mostly broken weapon parts and random odds and ends—but then that one dead guy’s PipBuck I scavenged from the hotel rolled out onto the table. “Where are you going, little guy?” I jokingly scolded the device.

“I’ll buy that.”

“How much?”

“Eight hundred.”

As if she had felt a tingling in her common sense, Tangerine appeared by my side and janked it off the table. “Not. For. Sale.” Without even bothering to help me, she stormed back to the shelf of books.

I sheepishly grinned. “Apparently not for sale. Better luck next time?”

“Eh. Doesn’t hurt to try. I’ll give you one hundred twenty seven for the shotgun pieces.”

Not a bad price if I heard any. “Hm. Sounds fair, I guess.” A small pile of combat drugs rolled out from under a crushed snack cake box. “Uh… maybe I’ll hold onto those.”

“We could use Med-X. I’ll give you fifty-five a dose.”

I didn’t really want to part with any of my drugs, but maybe it was in my benefit if I got rid of them so I wasn’t tempted. “Well…” I muttered, contemplating whether I had the will to actually get rid of them. Did I need them? No. Did I want them? Probably not, but I’d rather have and not need rather than need and not have.

The next best thing was just to move on while I couldn’t make up my mind. I left the drugs on the counter and let the merchant do his counting and math. “Hey, do you want some land mines? I think they still work, but they’re silly little custom things. I’d keep them but I don’t want to blow myself up.” Carefully, I unpacked the gas mines that I had retrieved off Pestilence and laid them next to the neatly arranged drugs. “Oh, and these stupid guns I don’t need.” The roulette revolver and Pestilence’s derringer followed suit as well, since they were practically useless.

The merchant pony gasped, almost in what I thought was shock. “Where did you get that?”

I lightly nudged the revolver closer to him while I also laid out extraneous ammunition that I didn’t need. “The stupid chance revolver thing was in the casino ruin. Still works and is in near-mint condition.” Hopefully that would fund most of my restock since it was essentially a novelty piece.

“No, where did you get these?” He hefted Pestie’s stupid gas mines.

“Got ‘em off some psychos that I liquefied.” I recalled my fight with War and Pestilence and shuddered at the thought. “Wasn’t worth the effort.”

His expression darkened. “In all my excitement, I didn’t have a chance to introduce myself. Folks call me Short Supply.”

Talk about funny names. “Hey, Shorty. I’m Frosty.” I was more focused on trying to figure out exactly how many rounds I had left for my anti-machine rifle rolling around the inside of my bag. Just when I thought I’d collected all of the strays, a few more would peek out from under my miscellaneous junk.

“Oh, but you can call me Famine.”

Whatever he’d said didn’t register because I was more busy trying to do math. Seven rounds per mag… thirteen extras… three and a half full mags… thirty-eight? No. Ugh, screw it. Completely ignoring his previous statement, I threw out my mental math and blurted, “Right, right. Hey, I’m going to need as many fifty BMGs for an anti-machine rifle as you’ve got. I’d like some flashbangs, smoke, any type of tactical grenades. I’m sick and tired not having options.” That was my essentials covered. “If you’ve got cherry snack cakes or canned goods, I’ll buy a few. Depends on how much you’ll give me for all this stuff.” And that was food taken care of for the time being. “And I guess I’ll take a look at any weapon mods you’ve got back there.”

“I’m not sure you heard me.”

I looked over the plethora of goods I had laid out on the table and I nodded in satisfaction. That would probably buy me everything I needed. “So, how much for some flashbangs? Do those even exist here?”

Short Supply’s anger quickly changed to disbelief. “Are you a little stupid? Did you even hear me? I. Am. Famine. You killed War and Pestilence. You killed my friends.”

Oh.

Wait, oh shit.

Maybe I should have been paying more attention. “To be fair, they tried to kill me first.” Things were about to get violent, and I needed a plan.

Famine began to reach for something under the table and menacingly began to raise his voice. “You killed them, and now I’m gonna—

The first plan I came up with was to leap over the counter and seize Famine by the throat, which scattered all my stuff everywhere. Inertia caused my full body weight to land on top of him, and I made sure to pin down one of his hooves with my free hoof. His one remaining hoof kept pawing at my hooves and face, but I managed to ignore it. If I hadn’t been the finely toned heavy killing machine I was, he probably could have thrown me off easily by attempting to roll.

If he called for help from his goons outside, then I was toast. I couldn’t execute him with the shotgun built into my claw, because that was going to make even more noise. Without any other options, I put more weight on my claw and began to squeeze. The seconds ticked by, and Famine stopped trying to hit me and began to fearfully writhe and choke.

“Wow, you’re taking a long time to asphyxiate.” Good thing my claw was mechanical, otherwise I probably would have gotten tired by now.

Angry hoof-stomping behind me probably meant Tangerine was having a panic attack. “Frosty, what the buck are you doing?” she hissed at me, most likely frightened for her life.

“Self defense. He asked for it.”

“Cut it out!”

Actually, that wasn’t a bad idea. “You know, that’s a very poor choice of words.”

In one smooth motion, I clamped my claw down on Famine’s throat and reduced it into ribbony, fleshy shreds as I tore out his neck-pipe. Breathing tube. Whatever that was called.

Outraged, Tangerine smacked me in the back of my head and exclaimed, “Why did you do that?!” She pointed at the now-drowning merchant, as if I hadn’t noticed.

I dropped the paltry meaty pile into Tangerine’s outstretched hoof and she recoiled in disgust. “You told me to.” For an improvised situation, I felt like I’d done quite well. Who deserved a snack cake? I deserved a snack cake.

Toasty darted into my field of view and kicked the dying merchant. “And another one bites the dust! Wooo!” she cheered.

While I began to search the immediate vicinity for my scattered stuff, Tangerine wordlessly gaped at the now-deceased merchant. At least it gave me time to think. Sure, it was weird that it was a lot of fun to kill him, but—

“What’re we gonna do now? The guards won’t let us leave now!” Tangerine freaking out wasn’t helping me shove crap back into my bag.

Oh hey, my stupid orange sunglasses! How convenient. “Well, we can say that these deals…” I slapped them onto my face, somewhat annoyed that one of the lenses were scuffed. “Were to die for.”


Footnote: Level up!
New Perk: Spellbound – You are limited to spells of only one type, but they become significantly stronger. Your casting is severely penalized due to your race.
Current Sub-perk: Confused – I’m sorry, I can’t hear you over the sound of how crazy I am. You gain no stat bonuses.
Achievement Progress – Master of the Apocalypse (3/4 complete)

Author's Note:

Finally, new content!

Got a question? Ask Frosty!

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