• 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.

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Chapter 19: A Rose By Any Other Name

---CHAPTER 19: A Rose By Any Other Name---

"Why, am I not royal enough for you? Don't you know who I am?"

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The armored unicorn buck stared at Rose, his still-smoking gun floating beside him and pointed right at us. After a few seconds, an unpleasant grin split his face.

"I've got you now, Bourbon Rose."

Rose, her tail still twitching from the morning's wake-up, cocked her head and blinked at him. "I'm not Bourbon. I'm Whiskey."

"And I'm the King of Prance." The stallion sneered. "I know exactly who you are, Bourbon Rose. You're the mare who's gonna make me rich. AH!" He aimed his gun at Ibis. Out of the corner of my eye I saw the griffin freeze, one claw raised towards Garden, the oversized shotgun slung on his back. "Not so fast, buzzard. Drop the piece, or I drop you."

Slowly, Ibis drew his shotgun and set it on the ground in front of him, giving the gunpony a deathglare the entire time. The stallion nodded. "Good. You too, Bourbon. And no magic!" He aimed his gun at Rose, who blinked in response. "I know all about your tricks. Your horn lights, I shoot."

Rose frowned. "I'm not Bourbon, I'm Whiskey."

The stallion growled at her. "You want to play it that way? Fine. The bounty's good no matter what you call yourself, so drop that fucking gun, Whiskey."

A bounty?! He was a bounty hunter?! What the hell had Rose done this time?!

"No." Rose flatly refused, and the stallion snarled before firing a shot into the ground just in front of her hooves. She just frowned at him.

The bounty hunter brought his gun back up, to point at Rose's head. "I said, drop it."

"No." Rose and the hunter glared at each other for a second, before the stallion sneered.

"Tough mare, huh? Just like I heard. But I bet your friend ain't so tough." His gun moved again, this time pointing at me. My legs started shaking, the end of the barrel a black circle aimed right between my eyes. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Ibis tensing up. "Now drop. Your. Gun. Or fat-flank there doesn't have to worry about hats any more."

"FAT FLANK?!" Indignation almost beat out terror, but not quite.

Rose and the stallion stared at each, neither one backing down at all. "You've got three seconds. One." He started counting, his gun still pointed right at me. "Two."

"R-Rose..." My mouth suddenly dry, I swallowed nervously. "Rose, do what the nice bounty hunter says. Please?"

"But Lily-"

"Rose, just do it." Ibis cut her off. I could just see him motioning with his head; He must've had a plan. The bounty hunter was too focused on Rose to notice... I hoped.


Pouting, Rose reached back, hooked her holster's strap with her hoof and swung the whole thing off, setting her rifle gently on the ground, holster and all.

The hunter nodded. "Good. Your bag, too." At a nod from Ibis, Rose followed the instructions, her saddlebags hitting the ground with the tell-tale clink of concealed bottles. "Now, come over here." Another nod from Ibis, and Rose moved towards the stallion, stopping in front of him.

He floated a small ring out of his armor and towards Rose's horn. "You stay still, now. This'll keep you from doing anything you might regret. You move, and tubby there gets it."

"TUBBY?!" My eye twitched. I really wanted to hurt him now, gun or no gun.

The ring hovered over to Rose and slipped down over her horn until it was sitting at the very base. The stallion smirked as she tensed up, her expression going from annoyed to more agitated than I'd seen her since the last time she'd seen a frog. "That there's a suppression ring. Stops your magic dead. Cost me a bundle, but nothing compared to what you're worth." His smirk faltered as she gave him what I could only call a smashy look, but he stepped away and aimed at her instead of me. "Don't get any funny ideas, or else-"

"ROSE, NOW!" Ibis lunged forward from beside me, going for Garden. The stallion started to turn, but Rose slammed into him from the side and they hit the ground in a cloud of dust. The hunter swore, his gun went off and then there was just heavy thudding and incoherent yelling from both of them.

It was all over in a matter of seconds. I didn't even have a chance to move.

"Rose!" Ibis yelled, aiming his gun at the dust cloud as the yelling died down, the only sounds coming from it the heavy thuds of hoofstrikes. "Get clear! Rose?!"

Slowly, the dust settled... to reveal Rose atop the stallion, a crazed look in her eyes as she beat him. A particuarly vicious blow bent his head at an angle I was pretty sure it wasn't meant to be at, but she kept going. Ibis slung his shotgun and approached her carefully. "Rose, you can stop now." She ignored him and started jumping on the buck. "Rose. ROSE! He's dead! You can stop now!"

Rose froze and stared at the griffin, blinking in surprise. "Are you sure? I can't tell." Ibis nodded. "Oh." She looked down at the still form she was standing on and blinked again. "Good. I didn't like him. Lily, are you alright? He didn't shoot you, did he?" Still in shock, I shook my head, earning myself a blink from Rose. "Yay." With that, she hopped off the former bounty hunter, took a couple steps away from him... and smashed her face against the ground, running in circles and leaving a rut as her horn dug into the dirt.

Ibis watched her for a second before shaking his head and moving to inspect the bucked bounty hunter, leaving me to stare, dumbfounded, as Rose ground her head into the dirt. "Um, R-Rose... what're you... doing?"

Not bothering to stop circling, she replied "Getting it off."

Frowning, I cocked my head at her. "Getting what off?"

"The thing. The ring. I can't feel anything. Get it off, Lily." She finally stopped beating the ground up with her face, looking up and staring at me. Suddenly nervous, I took a step back; she looked really agitated. "Lily, get it off. Get it off." She slammed her face into the ground and started circling again, chanting "Get it off" over and over.

"Rose-" She ignored me. "Would you-" She kept chanting and circling, so I moved into her path. "Hey! Stay- WHOA! ROSE!" I yelped as she just kept moving like I wasn't even there, too set on plowing a furrow with her face to notice as I was bumped up onto her back. I scrambled to try and keep my balance as I was jostled around.

I heard Ibis chuckling and scowled at him as Rose started another circuit, barely even noticing that I was riding her. "Oh, fuck you."

He smirked. "That's Rose's job."

I raised my hoof and made a rude gesture, but that just made him smirk more. Scowling, I hopped off Rose's back and grabbed her in my magic, lifting her into the air to keep her from tearing up more of the wasteland. She kept trying to walk for a few seconds, looking like she was swimming in place, before finally stopping and lifting her head to blink at me. "Lily, please get it off. I don't like it. It stops me from feeling you and Ibis. And it makes my horn itchy."

"Okay, okay. Just stay still for a sec, would you?" Rolling my eyes, I floated her closer, so I could see the thing the bounty hunter had put on her horn. "Huh. So this thing's stopping your magic?" Rose nodded, giving me a pleading look as she dangled in my magical grasp. "Doesn't look like much." It didn't. It was just a dark metal ring, sitting snugly against the base of her horn.

"Lily," Rose whined, "get it off. Please?" I rolled my eyes.

"Oh, fine. Crybaby." For something that blocked magic, it was pretty easy to remove. It just slid right off in my telekinesis. "Better?" Rose nodded, so I let her drop. She hit the ground with a thump and turned her gaze to the floating ring. "What?" I stared at her, getting nervous. She had the smashy look again. "What's wrong?"

"Lily, can I break it? Please?" She kept staring at the ring; I moved it slightly and her head followed it. Up and down, side to side, even in a circle, her eyes were locked on it, unblinking. "Pretty please?"

Floating the ring in a figure eight and watching Rose follow it, I asked her "Why?"

"Because I don't like it," came the response as I started moving the ring up and down really quickly, so it looked like Rose was nodding.

"No."

"Lily, I have to break it. It's evil and bad and it stopped me feeling you and Ibis so pretty please let me break it."

I started spinning it in circles as fast as I could, then stopped suddenly. Rose's head kept following the path the ring had for a few seconds before she managed to stop, her eyes spinning in their sockets. She shook her head and refocused on the ring.

I frowned. "First, tell me what you did."

She blinked at me... well, at the hovering ring, anyway. "I didn't do anything. Now can I break it?"

I scowled at her, not that she noticed. "No. Rose, you must've done something. That bounty hunter was after you. Now, tell me what you did. Fess up already."

Rose frowned, her tail flicking around behind her, but didn't look away from her target. "He was after Bourbon. I'm Whiskey. He was stupid and I didn't like him, but now he's gone and I want to break it."

With a snort, I tucked the ring into my saddlebag, Rose's eyes locked on it the whole way, never once blinking. "Fine. You don't want to tell me what you did? I'm keeping the ring. He said it was expensive, after all."

"But Lily-" Rose started to whine, but I stomped my hoof to interupt her.

"No." I glared at her. She stared right back, stubborn as ever. "You're not breaking it. Now, behave or I'm putting it back on you myself." At this, her ears flattened and she took a step back. "Got it?" She nodded, so I smiled. "There's a good filly." She frowned at me. "Hey, your gun's in the dirt." To distract her, I pointed to where she'd set down her rifle and she trotted over to it, grumbling to herself.


While she plonked her scrawny butt down and tugged her gun free of its holster to check it, I turned to Ibis, who was busy stripping the ex bounty hunter of his gear.

"Hey, you find anything?"

Ibis paused in his looting as I moved up beside him, doing my best not to look at the deceased stallion. I really didn't like being so close to somepony who was dead.

The griffin shrugged, not bothered by what he was searching at all. "A few caps." He tossed a small pouch to me; I glanced inside, glad to have something to focus on, then frowned.

"Not a lot here." Ibis shrugged again, trying to unbuckle the armor the stallion was wearing. I gave a shrug of my own and tucked the pouch into my saddlebag. Any caps are good caps, after all. "Anything else? Like, something that'll tell us what Rose did to have bounty hunters after her?"

"Nope," came the reply as he yanked a heavily dented piece of the armor free and examined it. "Huh... looks like what the last group was wearing..."

I frowned. "Last group? What last group?"

He turned, showing me the armor plate. It was just a dull grey piece of metal; I didn't get it. "Before me and Rose got to Little Fillydelphia. A bunch of ponies in armor attacked us. Remember? I told you about it after you found us."

Shuddering, I nodded. That wasn't a time I liked to think about. "So... you think they were bounty hunters, too?"

"Must have been. Thought they were bandits at the time." He tossed the mangled plate aside and continued his search. My frown grew.

"Well, what did you do?"

Ibis paused and turned to me, looking confused. "Huh? What do you mean, 'what did we do?'"

I scowled and pointed my hoof at the corpse. "To get bounty hunters after you! Rose won't tell me, but he was after her! She must've done something!"


He stared at me for a second, then frowned. "We didn't do anything."

"I don't believe you." I glared at him. "Nobody has bounty hunters after them for no reason. Especially not you two. So, what did you do?"

With a snort and a shake of his big feathered head, Ibis went back searching the body. "Ask Rose, she'll tell you the same thing: We didn't do anything. Besides, he was looking for... huh. What's this?" He tugged a piece of paper out the stallion's belt and unfolded it, giving it a once-over. "A bounty notice?"

"Well, what's it say?" I tried to look over his shoulder, but he snapped his beak in front of my muzzle. I fell back on my butt in surprise and glared at him. "What was that for?"

"Personal space, Lily." Smirking, he made a big show of fluffing himself up, holding his wings out so I couldn't see the paper at all.

"Jerk," I muttered as I stood and shook the dust off my rear.

"Idiot," came the reply. I glared at the back of his head, then stuck my tongue out at him, just to show him who was boss.

"You gonna read it or not? I wanna know what you two did already."

"Yeah, yeah. I'm reading it." There was a slight pause before he kept talking. "Bounty's for one Burboun Rose... two hundred and fifty thousand caps? Fuck me."

"Buh." My jaw dropped. A quarter of a million caps?!

"Wait... that's dead. Alive, it's five hundred thousand- uh, you okay Lily?" Ibis turned to look at me, one eyebrow raised.

"F-f-five h-hundred thousand..." I spasmed a little, the thought of so many caps flooring me... literally. I was laying on my side in the dirt, since my hooves had given out from the shock and were twitching uselessly. "F-f-five... hundred... thousand..." It was a fortune. A cool half million. My tail started to rise as I envisioned it, a glorious pile of caps so big I could swim in it.

"Five. Hundred. Thou-OW!" I sat up, rubbing my forehead and glaring at Ibis, the piece of dented armor he'd thrown at me sitting where it had landed after bouncing off my face. "What the fuck?! Why'd you do that?"

"You were being wierd."

"Oh, fuck you. And let me see that." I snatched the bounty notice from his claw with my magic and brought it over, ignoring his rude gesture.

Let's see... Bourbon Rose... two hundred fifty thousand dead, five hundred thousand alive... hey, there's a description.

"Oi, Ibis!" I waited for him to turn back to me, another dented plate in his claws as he dismantled the hunter's armor, and waved the piece of paper at him. "Found a description. Ahem." I put on a big show of straightening it and ignored his eye roll. "Bourbon Rose. Unicorn mare. White coat, red mane and tail. Wears a leather duster and carries a rifle." I smirked at the griffin. "Sound like anypony you know?"

He shook his head and sighed. "Sounds like Rose alright, but her name's not Bourbon."

"Yeah, well, whoever put the bounty out must've gotten her name mixed up." I pointed my hoof at him, victorious. "Now, tell me what Rose did."

With a groan, he turned back to his grisly work. "We didn't do anything. That thing have a name on it? If we knew who was after us, we could just find them and sort this out." Holding up another piece of armor and examining it, he muttered "let Rose beat them up" before chucking the latest dented bit of metal aside.

I snorted and kept reading the note. "Let's see... bounty... bla bla bla... dead or alive, bla-dee-bla... nope. No name." I balled it up and threw it at the back of Ibis' head, ignoring him when he half-turned to give me a dirty look. Since he wasn't answering, and the note was no help, I decided to try Rose again and turned around to interrogate her some more. "Hey, Rose! Quit playing with your gun and-AAH!" Clutching my chest from the near heart-attack, I toppled backwards, away from Rose, who had snuck up and sat right behind me. "DON'T FUCKING DO THAT!" She blinked at me.

"Lily, why are you rolling in the dirt?"

"You- I- Gaah!" Taking a deep breath to try and calm my pounding heart, I rolled back onto my hooves and glared at her. "Stop sneaking up on me!"

She blinked again and tilted her head to the side. "I didn't sneak. I walked."

I growled. "Whatever. Help Ibis search that hunter. He's taking too long and I wanna get going before somepony else shows up looking for you." She opened her mouth to speak, but I cut her off. "I don't care that he was looking for Bourbon, he was after you."

Pouting, she tried to speak, but I'd just noticed something. "Rose, why're you bleeding?"

She glanced at her front leg, where a trickle of red was making its way down from her shoulder, then blinked at me. "I think he shot me when I jumped on him."

I gave her a flat look. "You think?"

Nodding, she held her foreleg out and looked it up and down. "Uh-huh. He shot me." She lowered her hoof to the ground and blinked at me again. "Is there a hole in my duster? I think there is, but I can't see where the bullet hit."

"Oh, for the love of..." I facehoofed. She'd just been shot and had bounty hunters after her, and she was worried about her precious duster. "Ibis, would you stitch up your marefriend?" As the griffin pulled out a sewing kit from his belt and settled beside Rose, who eagerly stripped for him, I turned to the corpse and checked its pouches for myself. There wasn't much; just a couple of bullets and a healing potion that found their way into my bag before I bothered looking at the armor... or what was left after Ibis had started yanking plates off. Most of it was mangled beyond repair, dented and ruined by Rose's attack. I groaned; there wasn't enough left to put on Rose, and she really needed armor if this was gonna happen again... and I suspected it would.


Eventually Rose and her duster were stitched up (the bullet had only grazed her), the former bounty hunter's gun was declared a lost cause (Rose had mangled it while she mangled him), and we were back on our way, headed for Fetlock.

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

"Fetlock, sweet Fetlock," I murmered, enjoying the clack of my hooves on ancient concrete as we walked a ruined city street. "Once a busy place, and now-" I had to hop-step as I raised one hoof and waved it, indicating the trashed buildings, "-a treasure trove, filled with salvage." The former suburb of Manehattan surrounded us, promising loot and caps in every abandoned building. Way off in the distance, Tenpony Tower was just barely visible, that elusive paradise in the wasted world, and I sighed, my eyes lingering on it until the other tall buildings got in the way.

It had been two days since our encounter with the bounty hunter, and we'd spent most of the time since walking, only stopping to make camp.

Now, though, we were in what I guessed used to be a shopping district, since most of the buildings had signs on them, made unreadable by time and weather. Weeds and scrubby grass grew through cracks in the pavement, stray dogs chased rats through abandoned buildings, and it was blessedly peaceful for a change. A feeling backed up by Rose's wierd empathy thing and my pipbuck showing an all-clear for red marks.

It didn't even bother me that Rose and Ibis were ignoring me; she was pressed up against his side as we walked, and they were looking at a magazine together. From their eager whispers, and the way Rose's tail was twitching, I was really glad I didn't know what they were talking about.

Instead, I switched my Pipbuck to the radio and cranked it up, singing along as loud as I could. Why not relax? It was a warm day, the clouds were shiny silver and we hadn't been shot at yet. The only thing missing was a cold beer, a pile of caps and a box of snack cakes.

So I guess you can understand why, when Rose stopped suddenly, I bumped into her. Glaring at her, I asked "what's up? You forget how to walk or something?" Then I took a step back, staring at her in surprise. "Uh, Ibis, did you do something to her?"

"No," Ibis replied, prodding her side with his claw. She didn't react, just kept staring at a massive building we were passing, her eyes absolute pinpricks. Every bit of her coat that was visible was standing on end, and I got the impression that without her duster she'd just be a ball of fluff. "Rose? Rose. Hey!"

He snapped his claws in front of her face, but she just ignored him. He looked at me and shrugged."Nothing. Should we get the whiskey?"

Shaking my head, I moved up beside my frozen sister. "No, I know what'll fix her..." With a devious grin, I wiped one hoof clean on Rose' frizzed-out flank and stuck it in my mouth, getting a nice coating of slobber on it. "Now, watch carefully, Ibis." He frowned.

"You're not going to do what I think you are, are you?"

"Oh, yeah," I snickered, then jammed my drool-soaked hoof into Rose's ear.

She shrieked and jumped straight into the air, over me and onto Ibis, latching onto him with her hooves around his neck. "LILY!" she yelled, "That was gross!"

I think she was glaring at me, but I was too busy rolling around on the ground and laughing my pretty plot off.

"B-breathe... Rose... can't..." Hearing Ibis start wheezing as Rose strangled him with her fear hug set me off laughing again.

"Sorry Ibis." I heard the griffin take a deep breath; Rose must've gotten off of him. "It was Lily's fault. She's wierd." I could feel her glaring at me, but couldn't bring myself to look... I was having too much trouble breathing.

"Just ignore the idiot, Rose. What were you doing, anyway?" I heard Ibis ask. "You looked like you'd seen a ghost or something."

There was a slight pause, then "I don't know." Another pause. "I feel twitchy. Run-twitchy. I don't like this place. There's something here."

Wiping the tears from my eyes, I managed to sit up and look at the pair. Rose looked confused and kept glancing back at the big building, while Ibis was rubbing his neck where Rose had grabbed him. "Oh, geez. That was hilarious." I snickered. Ibis glared at me.

"Idiot."

"It was funny, and you know it." I waved my hoof to get Rose's attention. "Hey, Rose." She turned and blinked at me. "What's up? There something in there, or what?"

She blinked again. "Yes. No. Lily, I don't know. Can we go now?"

I snorted and rolled onto my hooves. "Yeah, fine. We were waiting for you, y'know. " Another blink, and I rolled my eyes in response. "Talk my bloody ear off, you do. Hey, you dropped your magazine."

While Rose grabbed the magazine and dusted it off, I fiddled with my Pipbuck to see if I could get a better signal. Then, we were off again, Ibis and Rose side-by-side with me trailing behind. Before the big building was lost to the urban sprawl, I managed to spot a huge sign that had somehow survived the years.

The Pastern Mall? Huh.

With a shrug, I pulled a box of snack cakes out of my bag and tore it open. Prewar ponies weren't very good at naming things, it seemed. And what was a mall, anyway?


After a couple of minutes spent munching and walking, I got bored and trotted up behind Ibis and Rose to hear what they were talking about-

"Can we try number nine next time, Ibis?"

-and immediately dropped back to my nice, safe, quiet position, where I couldn't hear them talking about sex stuff.

Just to be safe, I cranked my Pipbuck's radio back up and chewed my snack cakes as loudly as I could.


It had been a good day, and I wasn't about to let anything ruin it.

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Turns out malls are big, indoor markets. They're also prime targets for salvagers and scavengers. But I'll get to all that in a bit.

We'd been walking for almost an hour before Rose stopped again. This time, I was paying enough attention not to trip over her. Still, I gave her a flat look and jabbed her with my hoof. "What is it this time, Rose? See another building you don't like?"

She shook her head. "No. Somepony is coming." Blinking, she turned to me, her ears swiveling wildly. "Lily, I don't think they're friendly."

"Raiders?" Ibis asked, standing taller and looking around, one claw reaching for Garden.

Rose shook her head again. "I don't think so. They don't feel crazy enough."

"Then what?" Ibis asked. Rose shrugged.

"Not friendly." She blinked, then raised her hoof. "Look, there's one now."

As one, me and Ibis turned to see what she was pointing at. An armored pony emerged from an alley way and started, surprised to see us. As they started yelling, I checked my Pipbuck; there was a red mark on the compass, and more were popping up with every second.

My ears flat against my skull, I turned to Ibis. "Bounty hunters?"

Grimacing, he nodded. "Looks like it."

Rose blinked at us as a few more armored ponies joined the first one, pointing at us. "If we ask nicely, do you think they'll go away?"

"NOPE!" I screamed as the hunters started shooting at us, then I bolted for the safety of the nearest building, Rose and Ibis hot on my tail.


What followed was a lot of frantic running and screaming (the screaming was mostly me, I admit it), cowering in abandoned buildings as bullets ripped overhead and the bounty hunters searched for us, Ibis firing to keep their heads down while we ran and Rose stomping anypony unlucky enough to get close.

Eventually we came tearing out of the back alleys like our tails were on fire. Rose's tail was smouldering a bit, thanks to some nutjob with a flamethrower, but me and Ibis were fine.

"Think... we... lost 'em?" I panted, all but collapsing against a sign post. Ibis removed the drum from Garden, popped it into his bag and replaced it with a full one before looking around.

"Looks like it. What's your Pipbuck say?"

I glanced at it, then breathed a sigh of relief. "All clear. Rose, what about you?"

Rose blinked at me, then twisted to look at her own butt, then turned and blinked at me again. "My bottom is on fire."

Snickering, I waved my hoof dismissively. "You're not that hot, Rose... Ibis, why the fuck are you looking at me like that?" I frowned. The big griffin was giving me a dirty look. Then: "Oh." I blushed. "Uh, didn't mean it like that." He flipped me off and looked away, watching the street around us, so I turned back at Rose. "Oh, for fuck's sake," I complained, "Rose, your butt's on fire! Do something!" Smoke was coming from Rose's rear. I didn't think she meant it literally!

Rose blinked at me, then sat on her tail to smother the embers before her backside could burst into flames. Groaning, I shook my head. "You aren't a clever pony, are you?" She blinked at me again in response and I sighed. "Nope... not at all. Whatever. Do your thing and tell me, are we safe now?"

She blinked and looked around, then cocked her head to the side. "No."

I gave her a flat look. "No? What do you mean, 'no'?"

Another blink. "No. We aren't safe."

"Why not?"

"Because they know we're here and they're coming."

"Are you serious?" Rose nodded and I groaned before standing and giving myself a shake. "Ibis, Rose says we're still not safe."

Ibis glanced over at my sister. "How many?"

She blinked again. "Lots."

"Any way out?"

This time, Rose nodded. "I think so." She raised her hoof to point. "There aren't as many over there."

Ibis looked in the direction she'd indicated, and I could practically hear the gears turning in his head. "Enough we could take them on?" Rose nodded and he got a determined look in his eyes. "Right. Rose, you lead. Let's avoid the groups. Lily, keep an eye on your Pipbuck." I mock-saluted and he rolled his eyes. "Right. Let's go, then."


We set off, with Rose in the lead and guiding us around the hunters. She moved, we moved. She hid, we hid. I was really starting to appreciate her empathy thing, since it meant we weren't getting shot as much.

We even got off the streets and out of the open, when Rose busted down a door to the staff entrance of some big old hotel to avoid a group that was getting too close.

While Rose and Ibis tried to get the door back into its frame so it wouldn't attract attention, I had a look at the hall we'd broken into. There wasn't much to see, really. An overturned trolley with an old, stained sheet on it, a door hanging from its hinges on one side of the hall and another door at the far end, this one intact.

A loud thud made me jump and spin, glaring at the amateur door-repairers. Ibis rolled his eyes, but Rose bashed her hoof against the door with another thud, jamming it good and proper into the frame... and by good and proper, I mean it didn't look like it would ever open again.

I opened my mouth to tell Rose off, but she held her hoof to her mouth and shushed, one ear twitching. Ibis half-drew Garden and I glanced at my Pipbuck; all it said was that there was a bunch of red marks outside of the building, not how close they were or anything useful like that. Then, we all froze. We could hear muffled voices in the alley we'd just come from, and they were getting closer to the door.

Ibis' claw tightened on his shotgun and I made myself as small a target as I could, flattening myself against the wall. Rose just looked at the wall, her head slowly turning. It took me a second, but I realised she was following whoever was outside as they passed. Her ears flattened when the voices stopped by the door and it sounded like they argued, before one of them must've pushed on the door. Thanks to Rose being a brute and smashing it closed, though, it only rattled a bit. The voices spoke some more, then grew fainter as they must've moved on down the alley. After a minute Rose blinked at us.

"They're gone," she whispered, causing me to let out a sigh of relief. "But we should be careful. I think there are more coming."

"But we're safe for now, right?" I gave a hopeful grin, and Rose nodded. "Like, safe enough to take a break?" Rose looked around, her ears twitching, then nodded again. I sighed and almost collapsed. "Oh thank Celestia."

"Don't get too comfortable, Lily," Ibis warned. "We need to be ready to move."

"Yeah, yeah." I waved my hoof at him, tugging a bottle of Sunrise Sarsparilla out of my bag and popping it open. "Just, let me catch my breath, yeah?" While he rolled his eyes. I slipped the cap into my bag and took a refreshing swig. It was good to finally sit down. Relaxing a little, Rose gave Ibis a look that I really didn't like. This was no time for sexytimes! "Hey, Rose," I called as quietly as I could, waving my hoof to get her attention before she could pounce the griffin, "what's in that room?" I pointed at the door partway down the hall.

She blinked at me. "I don't know."

I rolled my eyes. "Well, go look then." She looked at Ibis again and I shook my head. "No. If you two go in there together, we'll get caught for sure." She pouted and I narrowed my eyes at her. "I saw the way you were looking at him, Rose. You're not quiet, y'know."


Grumbling to herself, Rose trotted down the hall and vanished into the room. I turned to find Ibis looking irritated. "Idiot. We wouldn't have sex at a time like this."

I snorted. "Yeah, right. Rose can't control herself."

He scowled. "Like you're any better? After what you did to Rose the other day-"

"Hey!" Nickering, I jabbed my hoof towards him. "That wasn't my fault! Your damn feelings are still in my head and they made me do it!"

"What are you on about?" He stared at me, eyebrow raised. I frowned and looked away.

"Rose's stupid empathy thing, when we all got... whaddya call it, connected. I got your feelings for her jammed in my brain and they're still there."

The griffin gave me a disbelieving look. "That doesn't make any sense. I haven't felt any different since then. I didn't catch your stupidity or anything."

"Yeah, well... it's because you're wierd," I stated, climbing to my hooves and draining the rest of my drink. "All mating for life and shit. And now I've got griffin in my head, thanks to you." Tucking the empty bottle back into my bag, I gave Ibis a dirty look. "I can't look at Rose without feeling all wierd, and it's your fault."


Ibis drew himself up, fluffing his feathers out and going all stiff legged. He half-spread his wings and stalked towards me, looking at me like I was something he wanted to eat. I forced down the urge to run and stood as straight as I could as he loomed over me. He was scary, but I wasn't gonna let him intimidate me.

We glared at each other for a few agonizing seconds, before he huffed. "Don't even think about touching her, Lily."

"Ugh." I grimaced at the thought of it. "Ew, no way! She's my sister, you freak! Even if I do have your stuff in my head, why would I... oh." Realisation struck and I snickered. "Oh, that's it, isn't it?" I gave the overstuffed featherbag a knowing look. "You're jealous, aren't you?"

He huffed again and took another step towards me, but I'd figured him out. He was just trying to scare me off from Rose! "You really are, aren't you?" I laughed and poked him with my hoof. He fluffed himself up more. "Big jealous birdy."

"Lily," he hissed, making me take a step backwards, my coat standing on end from the sudden jolt of fear the big, menacing predator had sent up my spine. "Rose. Is. Mine."

"Okay, okay. Yeesh." I did my best to act like he hadn't just scared the piss out of me, but didn't quite meet his eyes. "Geez, touchy much?" He just glared at me, so I kept talking. "Griffins mate for life, got it. But ponies don't, you do know that, right? We herd. Well, some of us do." I was rambling at this point and trying to smooth my coat down. "I mean, what if Rose meets a nice pony and wants them in her herd with you? What would you do about that?" I gave him a sidelong glance; he huffed, his tufted tail whipping about behind him.

"Nopony touches Rose." He clacked his beak at me, still glaring. "She's mine, and there's not a single one of you ponies that I'd let herd with her."

"What if you don't have a choice? It may be a herd of two right now, but it's Rose's herd, after all." I shot back.

He leaned in close and snapped his beak right in front of my muzzle, twisting his head so he could stare right at me with one big, golden eye. "Her herd, our flock, but my mare." I could see myself reflected in that amber orb, the big fierce eyeball just inches from my face. It wasn't a fun experience. "Nobody touches her. Ever."

I held my ground. "And if Rose wants somepony else to?"


Ibis pulled away and drew himself back to his full height, looking down at me, his expression and posture fierce and threatening. "Then I'll make damn sure they know whose mare she is, and what happens if they don't deserve her."

I snorted, but my reply was cut off by the door opening. We both turned to see Rose blinking at us.

She looked between us a few times, one ear twitching. "Lily, Ibis, please stop whatever you're doing. You feel strange and it's confusing. Lily, it's a locker room." She raised a hoof to point at her head, where a little round red thing with a gold band on it was sitting. "I found a hat."

Me and Ibis stared at her for a bit; she just blinked at us, then I shook my head with a snort. "That is the stupidest hat I've ever seen."

Ibis chuckled and smoothed down his feathers, his wings returning to his sides. "I can't believe I'm agreeing with the idiot, but Rose... that hat is ridiculous."

She blinked at us again while I stuck my tongue out at Ibis. "I'm not an idiot, you jerk."

"You're an idiot," he repeated, shoving past me and sticking a wing over Rose to guide her to the door at the end of the corridor. I growled.

"Wait for me, you... you jerk!" I trotted after them and through the door, finding myself in the hotel's kitchen. There was dust everywhere, and some fuzzy things that might have been food once upon a century. Rose (still wearing her hat) and Ibis had slowed to a leisurely walk since we were safe for the time being, so I caught up before they'd made it halfway across the room.

All the silverware and a few other odds and ends found a home in my bags before we left the kitchens. You never know when a skillet might come in handy, after all.

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

The hotel was actually intact and pretty nice, for an abandoned building. The ground floor was, anyway; we didn't bother going upstairs since we just wanted to get shot of the place.

The carpet was dirty, faded and torn in places, but at least it was still there, a nice soft surface to shuffle my hooves on after so much dirt and concrete. The walls still had some of their original paint, mostly in spots where pictures had been hanging, leaving clean-ish spots behind after being looted or knocked down.

Even the rooms we checked out looked decent, surprisingly. Except for the occasional rat nest, radroach swarm or feral dog, anyway.


Not much worth taking with us, though, and we couldn't spare the time for a proper search.

After about a half hour or so, we found ourselves in the lobby, just metres away from the outside. All that stood between us and the exit was a bunch of scattered suitcases that I gleefully kicked out the way as I pranced towards the broken glass doors. "Sweet freedom, here I come!"

"Lily, wait!" Rose called out. I ignored her and bucked the doors open with a huge grin... then froze, grinning like an idiot at the group of armed and armored ponies on the other side.

"Um, hi?" I laughed nervously. They just looked past me and got their own grins. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Rose darting up behind me; they'd seen her.

"It's her, boys! Bourbon Rose!" One cried out. "Get her!"

"Yipe!" I shrieked as a sharp pain in my rear let me know Rose had gotten hold of my tail, and I was yanked to safety just as the bounty hunters opened fire and blew the doors apart.


Rose dragged me flank-first back across the lobby, bouncing me over the discarded luggage in her haste, so I had a good view of the bounty hunters charging in after us... and the rocket launcher one of them had.

"Oh." I stared at the hunter with the launcher for a fraction of a second... then screamed. "RoserunrocketrunfastFUCK-"

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

I woke up from a lovely dream about Princess Celestia turning into a stallion and giving me a right good seeing-to and, even with my head as muddled as it was, I came to a very definite conclusion.

Waking up sucked.

Everything hurt and I could smell burnt hair... and something really horrible. Like, passed-out on the loo floor of a cheap bar on Half-Price Shots Night horrible.

What the fuck did I drink last night?

Slowly, my fuzzy brain let the memories through, of the bounty hunters and a rocket launcher, and flashes of ceilings and walls going by and I sat up in alarm... then fell over again, almost passing out from the pain of a thousand bruises. It was all I could just do to groan again.

"Lily's awake," came Rose's voice from one side, echoing eerily. I forced my eyes open and found myself staring at a mildew-covered, slimy stone roof. It was bathed in off-yellow light, and a quick (but blurry) glance at my foreleg revealed my Pipbuck's spotlight was turned on.

Ibis made himself heard next. It sounded like he was next to Rose. Big surprise there. "You dead yet, Lily?"

I just groaned.

"Lily is fine," Rose declared. I groaned again. 'Fine' was not how I felt. Every single part of me felt bruised like a cheap apple, and for some reason my dock really hurt.

"My-" I licked my lips; my mouth was dry, and I felt a little hoarse. "My arse hurts."

"Sorry, Lily." Rose sounded embarrassed. "We got blown up and you went to sleep. I had to pull you by your tail. Those ponies wouldn't stop to let me pick you up properly, even after I asked nicely." She paused, then carried on, sounding offended. "They weren't very nice. They even blew my hat up."

Yet again, I groaned. Anypony else, I would've thought they were joking about asking nicely. Knowing Rose, though, she would've done just that. "So no wild sex with a Goddess? It was just a dream?"

There was a long pause before Rose spoke again. "Lily, you're strange."

I sighed and slowly, agonisingly, sat up, focusing my blurry vision on the blobs I figured were Rose and Ibis... or a giant marshmallow being eaten by a buzzard. Not too different if you walk in on them at the wrong time, really.


It took a bit, and a lot of blinking, but my vision cleared enough for me to make out that Rose was standing, naked, with Ibis' face close to her butt.

"Seriously?" I gave them the flattest, most unimpressed look I could manage, considering the throbbing in my head... and everywhere else.

Rose just blinked at me curiously.

I shook my head... and immediately regretted it. Cupping my head in my hooves with a groan, I asked "Do you two ever stop? We're in a..." I looked around, and realised why it stunk so bad. "A sewer?" With a tired expression, I looked to Rose. She nodded. "A sewer, Ibis, and you're under Rose's tail again?"


Ibis pulled away from Rose and gave me a flat look of his own. "Rose got shot again, you idiot." He leaned in and I heard his beak clack, then he came back up holding a needle and some thread. He tucked them into his pouch and gave Rose a slap on the flank, making her leg twitch in a half-kick. "There. That's the last one. Go on, get your gear back on while I check Lily."

Rose blinked at him. "Lily's fine." She pointed at me. "They didn't shoot her. She just has bruises."

Ibis bumped his head against hers softly, holding it there. "I believe you, but we need to be sure. Okay?" Rose nodded, and he stepped away, letting her start pulling her duster back on. Slowly, he came towards me and sat down by my side. I stared at him; he looked exhausted.

"How long was I out?"

"Few hours," He shook his head and yawned, "I think." Closing his beak with an audible clack, he prodded my tender side, making me flinch. "C'mon, strip already."

"Ow." I scowled at him. "I'm not Rose, y'know."

He fixed me with his stare, looking tired and grumpy. "I know. I only had to ask her once. Strip so I can check you out."

I was gonna be a smart-arse, but the look in his eyes suggested it might not have been the best time. Instead, I undid my bags and tugged my jacket off, wincing with every bruised inch of my body it touched. Dropping it, I glared at the griffin. "Happy now? Just what happened after I got blown up, anyway?"

"They chased us all over the hotel," Ibis began, poking and prodding me. He was so tired he didn't even taunt me, even though I was yelping and squirming the whole time. Every touch was agony! I don't think there was a part of me that wasn't bruised! "Rose had to drag you the whole time. Did what I could, but we were outnumbered and outgunned." I hissed as he prodded a particuarly sensitive spot.

He just sighed and kept checking me. "Only reason we got away is because that lunatic with the rocket launcher collapsed the entrance to the basement behind us. We got into the sewers, Rose jammed the hatch behind us, and we settled in here to stitch her up."

With a groan he straightened up. "You're fine. Tenderised, but fine." One claw went into his belt, emerging with a syringe. He offered it to me. "Half-dose of Med-X. Won't knock you out, but it should help."

I looked at it, then up at him. "What about the bounty hunters?"

"We're safe enough down here." He sighed. "You're no good in a fight anyway, so just take the damn shot."

I wrapped the syringe in my magic and lifted it, examining it before returning my attention to the griffin. "Not yet. We need to find somewhere that's proper safe, not the middle of some stinky sewer." I waved my hoof at our surroundings; green goop oozed down the walls, stagnant, reeking pools of water were here and there, and it look horrible as far as my light could reach.


Ibis just sighed. "Whatever." He turned to my sister, who had managed to get her gear back on while we were talking. "Rose, you think there'd be, I don't know, a storage room or something?"

Rose looked between us, blinking. "Yes." She turned and stared off into the darkness for a few seconds, then blinked at us over her shoulder. "But we should go this way. It feels safe. And lonely. And sad."

Rather than question her, Ibis shook his head. "Right. Safe." He turned to me. "Lily, get your gear on so we can move out."

Nodding, I tucked the syringe into my bag and got dressed again. Magic made it a lot simpler than if I'd used my hooves, like a certain somepony.

With that, Rose set off at a slow walk, Ibis close behind, leaving me to bring up the rear with the light. After a few steps, though, something clattered out of my bag. Without breaking stride, I picked it up and floated it around to take a look at it. It was the syringe.

Craning my neck, I noticed a hole in my bag that hadn't been there before. With a frown, I opened it up and pulled the first thing I saw out, swearing quietly when I saw the big whole that had been blown in a perfectly good box of snack cakes before tucking them back in.

The next thing was big and made of metal. It was my new frying pan, and there was a large bullet embedded in it. My frown turned to a scowl and I shook the pan until the bullet fell out, leaving it with just a dent.


I tucked the pan back into my bag, followed by the Med-X, and followed my companions through the sewer to Luna-Knows-Where at a lethargic pace. It had been a hell of a day, I was tired and sore, Rose had been shot again, Ibis was grumpy, and my bag had a hole in it.

I really hated bounty hunters.

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

I stretched and turned off my light, glad to finally be out of the sewers. Behind me, Rose secured the hatch we'd climbed through and Ibis stretched out his wings.

It had taken way too long to get out of the dark, tight, gross tunnels, and we were all glad to be free of it. I was gonna be smelling centuries-old sewage for days, and I really didn't want to think about what was on my hooves.

Still, our new surroundings were a big improvement. A concrete hallway, big enough for a small group to walk down without trouble, pipes running along the walls and occasionally the ceiling. Some strip lights clung to life above, giving enough light to see by.

After the last couple of hours, it was like being outside again, and it was a lot easier to breathe.


"Rose," a yawn escaped, interrupting me, "h-how far to this safe place?" My jaw clicked when it closed and I rubbed it. It hurt. Just like everything else.

Rose looked around, her ears swivelling, then pointed. "That way. She's that way."

"She?" I gave Rose a questioning look, but she ignored me and just started trotting in the direction she'd indicated. Ibis and I exchanged glances, then shook our heads. It wasn't worth the effort to deal with my wierdo sister, not when we were that tired.

Whoever she was taking us to couldn't be worse than what we'd already been through, right?

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

Rose's trot had slowed to a walk to let me and Ibis catch up, and we made slow but steady progress through the tunnels. A couple of places had collapsed stairwells leading up, but Rose led us past them, following... something.

After a few minutes, I started noticing grafitti on the walls. "Griffins Rule?" I snorted. "Tunnel Snakes Rule? RE: Balefire: You Missed Me? Down with Stripes?" I shook my head. Some ponies had too much time on their hooves. Still, it was more interesting than plain walls, so I kept reading as we walked. "The Pegasi have the Phone Box?" I frowned at that one. "I don't get it. What's a phone?"

We kept walking, and I quickly got bored of reading the scrawls on the walls. Until Rose stopped suddenly. Caught unaware, Ibis bumped into her, and I bumped into him.

Me and the griffin grumbled at her, but she just blinked at us. "We're here."

I leaned to the side to see around the great grey galah in front of me. There was just a nondescript door, with the words "Bad Wolf" painted over it and most of the wall around it in massive letters. I frowned at Rose. "Where's 'here'?"

Rose blinked again. "The safe place. She's waiting inside."

I groaned. "Rose, who is 'She'?"

Another blink. "I don't know, but Starfall says she's been waiting for a long time." She paused for a second, then, "I think they knew each other."

Great, Rose's stupid conscience thing was talking to her again. Groaning, I shook my head. "Just, let's get inside, okay?"

With another blink, Rose pushed the door, then smashed her hoof into the lock when it wouldn't open and slipped into the room. Ibis and I shared another look before following her.


The room we found ourselves was long and wide. One wall was lined with pipes running from ceiling to floor, branching at big valve wheels. One corner was filled with tools and junk, piled haphazardly like it had all been shoved over there in a hurry. Most of the room was filled with cots, the sort that surfaced whenever somepony found a stockpile of emergency relief stuff or got into one of the old Equestrian Guard bases. They sat in three rows, with just enough space between them to walk, with piles of soiled bedding on them. The lights weren't as good as they were outside, dim and feeble.

"Hello? Anypony here?" I called out, looking around for this mystery mare Rose had been leading us to. There was no reply, but I noticed Rose creeping slowly down one row of beds. Curious, I looked down the row; there was a red unicorn laying on the very last bed with something draped over her. Rose paused, peeking over a cot at the figure.

I rolled my eyes and trotted on over, ignoring my wierd sister. "Um, hello? We don't want to hurt you, we're just looking for a safe place to rest... ma'am?" I paused. Something was off about the strange mare.

Then it hit me. She wasn't moving at all.

Swallowing, I trotted closer, until I was only one bed away, and called out again. "H-hello?" No response.

I looked to my side, where Ibis had padded up quietly. He shrugged and reached for Garden; further back, Rose slipped between cots and darted closer. She blinked at me when we made eye contact.

Swallowing, I flicked my Pipbuck's light on... and shuddered.

It was definitely a unicorn, but she wasn't alive. She definitely wasn't alive.


We were staring at a skeleton, laying on the bed. "Um, Rose... is... is this who you were talking about?" The bones weren't scattered or anything; it looked like whoever it had been had just laid down and died, somehow remaining undisturbed for who-knew how long. They were covered in... the only way I could describe it was as a glossy, dark red crystal or something. The tip of the horn and the very end of the muzzle still showed bone, along with the hooves, but everything else I could see was covered in the red stuff.

The rest of it was covered with a tattered old duster, shielding most of the remains from my view.

"Uh-huh." Rose popped up beside me, speaking quietly. "She was waiting for Starfall. She's been here for a long time, Lily."

"Huh." I couldn't think of anything else to say. Rose had been talking to ghosts again, it seemed.

"She says Starfall made a promise to her, a long, long time ago," Rose continued softly, "and now she wants Starfall to keep it." Slowly, she put her front hooves on the bed and bumped the skull with her nose, blinking. "She's very lonely." Her ears twitched. "Starfall says we should wait here. She's going to keep her promise."

I gave Rose a sidelong look as she nuzzled the skull again, looking sad. It sent shivers up my spine. Dead things weren't friends! "Um, what's the promise?"

Rose blinked at me. "I don't know."

I shook my head. "Ugh... fine. Just, please stop playing with it?" I waved my hoof at some crates and lockers. "Go check those or something." She blinked again and finally left the skeleton alone, trotting over to rummage. Ibis came up beside me. "So, what do you think happened to her? Why's she red?"

Ibis looked thoughtful, reaching out and prodding the crystallised bones. "I'm not sure... but this stuff looks... familiar." He tilted his head and lifted the duster, peering at the bony barrel. "Shine your light in here for a sec." I did that, and he hmmm'd to himself.

"See anything?"

He nodded and pointed. "Yeah. Look in there." I looked at the bones, trying to see what he meant.

"What am I meant to be looking at?" I glanced up at him, confused.

He set the duster back down and sat beside me, frowning. "I'm not completely sure, but it looks like..."

"Like?" I asked, waving my hoof to try and encourage him.

He turned to me, still frowning. "Like Rose's talisman."

It was my turn to frown. "The one Doc Needles put in her chest?"

He nodded, then looked back at the body. "Yeah."

"So... does that mean Rose is gonna end up like this?" I waved my hoof at the remains. "A... a crystal pony?"

Ibis shrugged, still frowning. "I don't know. The doc mentioned the crystal was growing, remember? Maybe this is what happens."

"Huh." I let my eyes wander to Rose, who was trying to chew the padlock off of a locker. "Do you think... we should be worried?"

"She seems fine, and..." Ibis shook his head, "there's nothing we could do anyway." We both watched Rose, who had gotten frustrated and started trying to yank the padlock off with her teeth. "Maybe it's not bad. Whoever this mare was, she must've lived a long time to have it grow so much, and-" We flinched as the locker tipped over, landing on Rose with a loud crash. One pale leg poked out from under it, twitching.

"Ow," came Rose's voice from under the mass of metal. "Lily, I'm stuck."

Ibis groaned and went over to help the dummy get free, so I turned back to the remains. "So... you had a talisman too, huh? Well, I guess it didn't help much... I mean, you being dead and all." I frowned. "How did you know Starfall? I thought that was just Rose being crazy... is that something to do with the talismans as well?" I shook my head, then noticed something under one boney hoof. Gently, I lifted it and removed... "A piece of paper?" I held my prize up to my light. It was a neatly folded piece of paper... which I promptly unfolded, being curious. "Huh." It was a letter.


To my big sister Lily

I don't know if you will ever read this, but if you do, I want to say I'm sorry. I should never have fought, should never have joined the war.

Luna forgive me, I killed so many...

If I had gone with you, we would still be together. I can only pray you are still alive, safe, outside of Equestria. I was wrong for what I did, and now I'm dying because of it.

The bombs fell. There were so many hurt, Lily. I did everything I could to help. We all did. We're safe here, for now, but it won't last. The air is poisonous now.

The refugees are going to leave soon. We don't have enough supplies, though. Even if we did, most of us won't live long enough make it out of the city.

I'm staying here.

I can feel it, Lily. Everything is wrong inside. Radiation sickness. The nurses here are nice, but they don't understand why I won't let them use any of the medicine on me. They think they can save us, save me. They're nice, but a bit silly.

...

I'll see you soon. Starfall promised I would see my family again, and she always keeps her promises.

Your loving sister, Rose


With a shudder, I folded the piece of paper up and slipped it back under the hoof. Her name was Rose? She had a talisman and knew about Starfall, and she had a sister called Lily?

There was coincidence, and then there was just plain creepy.

I noticed something hanging around the remains' neck and took it in my magic, lifting it so I could see. There was a couple of rusted metal tags on a chain, too damaged to be readable. "You were a soldier, huh? And you tried to help everypony, even when you knew you were dying?" I managed a smile. "Y'know, I bet your sister would forgive you... for whatever you did... and if Starfall's real, and not just some crazy talisman thing, I bet you will see your family again."

I released the tags, letting them fall back into the shadows cast by the duster, a low tink sounding as they bumped the crystal-covered bones. Hesitantly, I reached out and patted the bony shoulder before snatching my hoof back. "Um, rest well, okay?" I kept my smile up, then noticed something had fallen out of the duster's pocket. I took it up in my magic; it was a small key.


Looking over to where Rose and Ibis were, the locker having been rolled off my slightly flatter sister, I saw the pair trying to break the padlock. I looked at the key, then back at them, then called out. "Hey, guys!" I waved my hoof to get their attention, then tossed the key over to them. "Try this." Rose caught it in her teeth, blinked at me and pressed her face against the lock. A second later, while I was heading to them, there was a low click and Rose looked at me again.

"Yay."

"Gee, Rose, you're so enthusiatic," I snarked, "you really need to calm down." She just blinked at me, and I rolled my eyes. "Anything good in there?"

It was Ibis who answered. "Looks like armor." He reached one claw in and pulled out a bulky round thing, covered in a sort of mottled brown color. It was a hoof-boot. He dropped it and rummaged around in the locker some more. "Looks military... good stuff. Looks like a full suit, too." He sat back up and turned to me. "No helmet, but there's everything else."

We shared a look, then turned to Rose, who started to back away nervously.

"Lily, grab her."

I siezed Rose in my magic and dragged her back over to us. "Hurry!" I grunted, trying to keep the struggling mare from breaking free. "Get it on her, Ibis!"

"Hey! Rose, stop- OW!" Rose sunk her teeth into Ibis' claw, getting a pained screech in return. "You're wearing it! Don't- OW!"

Stripping her was almost as hard as actually getting the armor on, and Rose whinnied, kicked and bit the entire time, with the occasional yelp as sensitive bits got stuck in buckles. In the end, though, we got her armored up and I put her down, feeling very satisfied with what we'd accomplished.

Rose was neatly encased in armor. All four hooves were protected by the booties, with her forelegs covered by high greaves. The armored vest had a reinforced peytral to protect her throat and the front of her barrel, and reached back over her flanks and butt with a hole for her tail. Her shoulders and stifles had armor plates over them, and even the back of her neck had a small criniere to keep it safe. The only thing missing was a helmet, just like Ibis had said.


"There," I said smugly, "now you won't get shot so much."

Rose just gave me a baleful glare, laid down, rolled over and stuck her hooves in the air.

I stared at her. "What are you doing?"

She kept up her upside down glare, hooves extended straight up. "I don't like it."

I frowned. "Why not? Do you wanna get shot up again?"

"It's on my hooves. Lily, I don't like my hooves being covered."

I facehoofed. "If we take the boots off, will you stop being a foal about it?"

She shook her head. "All of it."

Ibis sighed. "Rose, just... wear the armor. You keep getting hurt, and we can't use healing potions on you."

She just glared at him, instead of me.


After a lot of arguing, we ended up taking most of the armor off of her, until she was just wearing the barrel armor and peytral. I sighed as she pulled her duster on over it, fidgeting and squirming to try and get comfortable with her new armor. "At least the important bits are covered."

"Yeah," Ibis agreed, "everything except her head."

I snorted. "No danger there. She's so thick-headed, that's the one place we don't have to worry about her getting hurt."

Ibis rolled his eyes at me. "Whatever. We're still taking the rest of the armor, you know."

It was my turn to roll my eyes. "Of course we are. Who's carrying it?" We looked at each other for a second, then back to Rose, who glared and nickered at us.


It only took a couple of minutes to stow the rest of the armor in Rose's bags. Most of that was spent rearranging her booze and book collection to make room.

But, once that was done, we were all even more exhausted... except Rose, who had taken shelter in a crate and refused to speak to us for forcing her to wear the armor.

So, we threw a sheet over the skeleton and settled down on some cots of our own. Ibis took the one nearest to Rose's hiding place, while I took the one furthest from the creepy coincidence corpse after using the Med-X Ibis had given me.


I was almost asleep when Rose piped up, announcing that "Starfall is back. She kept her promise."

Shuddering, I rolled over on my cot and pulled my pillow over my head. Rose could be really creepy sometimes.

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

We woke up in the afternoon, according to my Pipbuck. A quick meal of snack cakes, Sparkle cola and cram sandwiches was followed by our Rose saying a prayer for the deceased Rose, then our departure from the temporary sanctuary and back into the tunnels.

Of course, we had no idea where we were going, and ended up just looking for an intact staircase, rather than crawl into the sewers again.

It was the better part of an hour, wandering around that maze, before we managed to find one that was at least passable.


When Rose broke down the door at the top, we found ourselves in...

"A storage room?" I growled, kicking one of the boxes over. It spilled a bunch of random crap onto the floor, and I took a deep, calming breath, getting rid of the twitchy feeling I'd gotten after being stuck underground for so long. "Right... storage room... we can just..." I looked at Rose; her ears were swiveling again. I sighed. "Bounty hunters again?"

She blinked. "Lots of ponies. They're fighting."

"Is there a way past them?" Ibis asked.

Another blink. "I think so. There aren't many..." Slowly, she turned, staring at te walls, then stopped and pointed. "That way."

Ibis shook his head. "I'm getting sick of this."

I had to agree. Fetlock was turning into a bloody nightmare.

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

More following Rose, more corridors. I was sick and tired of corridors. I missed the sky. Something I didn't miss was running into Rose every time she stopped suddenly.

I just hung my head and groaned. "What is it this time, Rose?"

It was Ibis who answered, not my sister. "Rocket launcher," he stated, resignation clear in his voice. Then he shoved me to the side as the world exploded for the second time in as many days.


Coughing,I picked myself up and looked around, waving a hoof to clear the dust from in front of my face. I was in a corridor by myself, the intersection we'd all just been standing in filled with rubble and smoke. "Rose? Ibis?" I called out, hoping they were fine.

Ibis responded, yelling back and coughing. "I'm fine! You?"

"Fine!" I yelled back. "Is Rose with you?"

"No!"

"Hang on!" I checked my Pipbuck; there were red marks everywhere, and just two green ones. One was directly across from me, I guessed that was Ibis. The other was to my side, where a bunch of red marks were vanishing one-by-one. "Rose is fine!" I yelled, then started coughing. Smoke was starting to fill up the corridor. "W-we have to get out of here!"

"Lily! Ibis!" Came Rose's voice. "I have a rocket launcher now. Can I blow up the wall?"

"N-no!" Me and Ibis screamed at the same time, terrified by the thought of Rose with rockets.

"Run! We'll meet up outside!" Ibis ordered.

"Okay," Rose called back, "but please hurry. And be careful. There are lots of angry ponies here."

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I got out of the corridors as fast as I could, and found myself in the Pastern Mall. How did I know? Well, the giant sign in the middle of the place was a dead give-away.

It looked like it would have been a great place, before the war. Two levels, stores packed tight against each other, a mildew-y fountain, food courts, even a few long-dead plants.

Now, though? It was a warzone. Scavengers and bounty hunters were going at it full-tilt. Stalls were blown apart, windows shattered, stuffed animals exploding into clouds of fluff and about half the place seemed to be on fire.

Near as I could tell, the bounty hunters were looking for Rose, and the scavengers were protecting their turf.


Me? I was busy running and screaming, hiding behind whatever cover wasn't occupied or full of holes, leaping through the ruined stores like a demented deer. I hadn't seen hide nor hair of Rose or Ibis, and finding an exit was proving difficult... until, in the middle of running from Barnyard Bargains to Oranges & Apples, I spotted a weakly flickering little sign, a speck of green that displayed the most glorious word I'd ever seen.

EXIT.

I banked as hard as I could, hooves slipping on the tiled floor as I tried to get to the sign without being filled full of holes. By some miracle, I actually made it, and hauled donkey down the corridor... then smacked into the wall when I didn't quite make the turn at the far end.

I shook my head and jumped to my hooves, ready to run again, but gunshots near where I'd just come from drew my attention and I turned back.

A familiar mare was standing just outside the corridor, snarling and firing her rifle, her blue aura spinning it and firing almost faster than I could see. Her red mane was sticking up and her duster was charred, but there was no doubt it could only be Rose. And if Rose was there, it meant Ibis would be right behind her.

"ROSE!" I yelled at the top of my lungs, waving madly. "EXIT! THIS WAY! C'MON!" Pausing only to make sure she'd noticed me, I took off again, barrelling down the corridor, following those happy little green signs that promised freedom.

In no time at all I found myself outside, hitting the exit door so hard I rolled across the concrete outside. A second later, Rose came flying out behind me. I turned to her. "Oh, thank Celestia you're okay..." Then I noticed something wasn't right. A lot of somethings.

The mare had a blue aura, Rose had a white one. The mare had brown eyes, Rose had blue. The mare had a lever-action rifle in her magical grasp, Rose used a bolt-action and never held it in her magic.


Groaning, I facehoofed. "You wouldn't happen to be Bourbon Rose, would you?"

"What of it?" The Not-Rose sneered, her gun aimed at me. "You one of them fucking bounty hunters?"

My eye twitching, I glared at her and got ready to let her have it. She was the cause of all the shit we'd been through for days.

Then the wall above us exploded in a shower of bricks and flames, causing us both to look up. A big feathery mass smacked into Bourbon and knocked her to the ground, while I got a faceful of an all-too-familiar backside.

"See, Ibis?" I heard Rose say from her seat on my face. "I told you we'd find Lily out here. All we had to do was blow up the wall."



LEVEL UP

Author's Note:

Blimey, that was a chapter and a half to write.:twilightoops:
Other than this week being absolutely mental, and taking up all my time, tonight was really trying. The power went out twice while I was writing tonight.
Sometimes I think the world likes screwing with me.:ajbemused::trollestia:

As usual thanks to KKat for giving us the wonderful Fallout Equestria, and inspiring so many new writers.
Winter Storm gets thanks for making me the writer I am today, and for sticking with me through those rough early chapters.
An extra-large Thank You to my prereaders Midnight Stalker and Genghis, since this chapter needed more prereading than almost any other.:twilightblush:
And finally, thank you to my #1 fangirl for giving me a reason to get this chapter out on time. You know who you are. :twilightsmile: