• Published 10th Apr 2012
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Fallout Equestria: Rules of Engagement - Greenhorne



A Marine in Afganistan is transported to Equestria only to find a post-apocalyptic wasteland.

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Chapter 5: And The Horse You Rode In On

Author's Note:

I was writing this eighteen months ago when I came down with a crippling case of procrastination and writer's block. Enjoy.

“This one says you kill many pony,” the dog growled, “says you kill whole family, but we not trust pony. You kill pony now, prove you are not pony spy.”

Fuck.

My eyes struggled to adapt to the darkness, clearly the hellhounds had excellent night vision if they lived in such a space. The small amount of light in the… cave I guessed, came from luminous algae growing on rough hewn ledges of rock around the outside of the room.

What the fuck was I going to do? I looked at the colt who was, once again, staring at me in abject terror. It was only my years of experience that prevented me from mirroring his expression. I looked at him with hard eyes. Internally I felt sick. I had no weapons. What did they expect me to do? Choke him to death? I could remember with sickening detail my hand around his furry throat, I could imagine squeezing, crushing his windpipe, his legs flailing uselessly as his eyes bulged, pupils moving rapidly, searching for help that would never come, wheezing and spluttering until he finally went limp. I tasted bile in the back of my mouth.

You’re going to die, John. You’re going to die because you can’t bring yourself to kill just one more person. I was afraid and in pain, but that all seemed far away, like I was outside my body. More than anything I just felt fatigued, the adrenaline that had kept me on edge for the last four days was just… gone. For the first time in a long time I felt truly helpless, and not only helpless, but accepting. As much as a part of me raged against ever giving up, ever surrendering, I just felt like I wanted to lay down and sleep, accept whatever the consequences were, let someone else make the decision for me.

It’s not like refusing to kill Ink Blot was going to save his life anyway. It wasn’t about weighing the value of his life against mine. The decision was closer to ‘him or both of us’, the logical decision was clear, if monsterous. He was almost surely going to be killed and eaten regardless of whether I was the one to deliver the killing blow. He tried to kill me once. He thought me a monster, he was certainly expecting me to act like one. I’d told him as much, I had said I’d ‘always pick me’, and yet… this was different.

This wasn’t a battle I could face head on. I was unarmed, injured, fatigued, and there were a dozen dogs that I’d seen take multiple minigun rounds to the chest, only to keep fighting, wielding claws I’d seen cut through steel like it was cardboard.

I couldn’t kill him, I couldn’t fight the dogs, I probably couldn’t reason with them, and I couldn’t escape the tunnels. I’d been dealt a shitty hand, but I couldn’t afford to lose. I couldn’t fold and I couldn’t win, so that really only left one option.

“I don’t kill my slaves.” I growled, keeping my voice hard, eyes straight, “And I sure as hell don’t need to kill a pup to prove myself to the likes of you.”

“No!” said one of the dogs, “You must kill pony. Prove you-”

“Do I look like a pretty pony princess to you?” I pressed my fingers together into a knife hand, raising them to shoulder height, “Do I clippity clop around on little hooves all prissy like, picking flowers and singing songs about fucking friendship?”

The dog seemed taken aback, looking at his fellows for support, receiving only confused expressions in return.

“I am a Marine, a Devil Dog, and we’re the toughest... pack in history. We have two hundred thousand warriors ready to fight anywhere on the planet.”

“Bullshit.”

“Who said that?” I yelled, putting some Crazy Drill Sergeant into my eyes. “Who the fuck said that?”

A dog raised a claw.

“Motherfucker, you better take that back. I will tear off your head and shit down your neck!” I screamed in his face, “I will gouge out your eyes, and skull fuck your dismembered head before I beat you to death with your own skull!”

“That’s impossible.”

“That’s just what the last guy kept screaming.”

“Enough, Devil Dog.” The dog who I assume was the leader spoke up. “You have said your piece.”

This hellhound sounded… different from his fellows. His voice was still rough and deep, but his ‘English’ wasn’t broken. As for what he said? Well, he wasn’t ordering my execution, yet, so I decided to press my advantage.

“Thanks for patching me up, I owe you one,” I tried to fake a tone of easy camaraderie, “now I just need some supplies, and my gear back, and we’ll be on our way. If you dogs ever find yourselves in Kandahar, drinks are on me.”

I shot them the sincerest grin I could manage. The grin became more forced as the long seconds ticked by. It wasn’t easy to interpret emotion on the dog’s furry face, but the prolonged eye contact was unnerving. The other dogs were all watching the pack leader as I held his gaze using my Lance Corporal skills, developed through years of reporting to 1st Sergeants that my Libo buddy couldn’t possibly have drunkenly crashed a tactically acquired speed boat full of local prostitutes, since he was with me the entire time.

The pack leader bared his teeth and exhaled a short puff of air. My mind shot into overdrive trying to find a way to fight myself out of this mess, but every scenario I considered ended very quickly with my death at the claws of the hellhounds. The only possible weapon I had was my pipbuck, used as a bludgeon. Depending on how fast the dogs were, I might have been able to get one shot in before I was cut to pieces, which really wasn’t very helpful.

He exhaled again, and I realised he was laughing. The rest of the pack saw this and joined in. I didn’t have to fake the cheek splitting grin that appeared on my face. Relief flowed through every part of my body like I had never experienced before in my life. The tension in my muscles turned into a shaking fit as I laughed uncontrollably, struggling to remain upright. I still didn’t know whether or not I was going to die, but the ridiculousness of the situation, combined with my fear, just seemed to short-circuit my brain. A glance at the colt, tied up on the floor, his pinprick pupils still darting around in terror as he nervously tried to join in with the laughter brought me back to reality somewhat.

Finally, the pack leader spoke: “You amuse me, Devil Dog. You are weak like a pup, yet you speak to me as an equal… perhaps I have a use for you after all.”

“You’re one ugly son of a bitch, but you speak my language and I do owe you for dealing with those tin plate motherfuckers,” I shot back, might as well play the part I was given, fear of death be damned, “I suppose I could help you out.”

“Ahh yes, some of my brethren may lack a certain eloquence, my bloodline has been somewhat gifted in that regard,” the leader continued, gesturing to a line of white fur across his throat, “I am King Fido, ruler over all Hellhounds; but sadly, I am a king in exile. The other packs do not recognise my rule, nor appreciate my obviously superior intellect.”

“Alright then, where do I come in?”

“I think we’ve talked enough, I will need time to modify my plans,” said Fido, “you may keep your life, for now.”

“And my slave?” I asked, “He is my property, I should decide whether he lives or dies.”

“A distasteful thing, slavery, more honourable to grant them a quick death, but if such is your custom, you may keep him, perhaps the unicorn can find us some gems for our energy weapons.”

“Great,” I replied, “you and me, Fido, we’re going to be good friends.”

“You and I.” Fido corrected.

“Glad you feel the same way.”

Fido turned to leave. “Oh, there’s just one more thing,” he turned back to face me, “show me your pipbuck.”

His tone of voice left no confusion about the consequences of not doing so. Reluctantly I held out my left arm. His surprisingly dexterous fingers navigated through the menus at a pace I couldn’t follow, clearly he was familiar with such devices. His wolfish smile turned into a scowl as he reached a certain page.

“You are broadcasting our location, ‘ambassador’,” he growled, “and to think you almost had my trust.”

His grip tightened on my arm. It was like being grabbed by a gorilla, I could do nothing but yell in pain as he extended one claw and placed it against my forearm just above the pipbuck.

“No, wait -” I screamed. The unimaginably sharp claw sliced through muscle and bone like they weren’t even there, too quick for me to even register any pain before I saw the stump of my arm. I fell to the floor in utter disbelief as to what had just happened. My brain was unable to process the idea that my hand was no longer attached to my body. Automatically my right hand went for my tourniquet, applying it just below the biceps.

“Patch him up and take him to the dungeon,” Fido ordered, as he left the room carrying my severed arm, “I’ll decide what to do with him later.”

Two dogs jumped forward to hold me down in case I struggled, but honestly I was too shocked, too faint from bloodloss to fight back anyway. A third dog, who I now recognised by her white markings as a descendant of the royal bloodline, held a bottle of purple liquid to my mouth as the other dogs forced me into a sitting position.

“Drink.” she ordered, and I complied. Skin grew over the stump of my left arm within seconds. Magic, it had to be.

I felt a bit less faint, but I still lacked energy to fight as the dogs walked me to a cell and threw me inside. Ink Blot was thrown in after me, still bound and gagged. The royal bitch handed me a plate of some kind of meat, and a knife along with a cup of water. I was surprised that they gave me a weapon, but I guess when you have claws that cut through steel, a steak knife isn’t considered a weapon.

“Eat.” the dog commanded as she closed and locked the door “You have lost a lot of blood.”

As soon as the door was closed I crawled over to Ink. I almost fell on my face as I tried to put weight on my non-existent hand. I retched and threw up a small amount of purple fluid... and realised that I couldn’t use my left arm to wipe my mouth. I made it over to him while he tried to shrink away in fear. I sighed. I was just too tired for this shit. Grasping the knife, I used it to cut his bonds, then put down the knife to properly untangle his legs. I removed the gag; and he bit me! He let go as I wrenched my hand away, yelling in shock. Partly out of reflex and partly in anger I backhanded him across the face, knocking him to the ground. Putting my right forearm across his neck, I used my bodyweight to pin him to the floor. His tiny hooves kicked out at me helplessly, and as I looked into his eyes I saw fear and confusion.

I sighed and tried to put my left hand to my face in shame. What the fuck was I doing? What had I become? I rolled off him and lay on my back, my right hand clutching the aching stump of my left arm. Released from my hold, Ink Blot immediately picked up the discarded knife. I saw him do it, but I didn’t move to stop him, I just shut my eyes, hearing small hoofsteps coming towards me.

“If you’re going to kill me, just get it over with.” I said, resigned, “I don’t know what those dogs have planned for us, but if I were you… I’d do myself next.”

The hoofsteps stopped, and I waited; but the pain didn’t come.

“Tell me something.” I asked, “Why did you stay? You could have run. When you woke up, and I was still asleep, you could have just left, and I wouldn’t have been able to stop you.”

He stayed silent.

“I have so many regrets.” I talked to fill the silence, to say the things I’d never had the chance to tell anyone. “I’ve killed people, Ink Blot. Some who deserved it, and some who didn’t; I’ve killed to protect others, I’ve killed to survive, and I’ve killed because I was ordered to. In the end what’s the difference? They’re still dead. Their wives mourn and their sons vow revenge.”

There was so much more I needed to say before I died.

“I wanted that.” I continued, “A family, I mean. Someone to love and to hold, a son to raise together, so I could teach him right from wrong, help him become the best he could be…”

I was practically babbling, just saying everything that came to mind.

“Why did this have to happen?” There were tears in my eyes. “I just wanted to protect people. That’s all I ever wanted. I’m so sorry Ink Blot, you didn’t deserve this. You’re a good little pony, and brave, so brave. You shouldn’t have to deal with this wasteland, with me. You should be in school, worrying about homework and who to invite to your birthday party… Life isn’t fair. Bad things happen to good people, and good things happen to bad ones. I- I just… why?”

I heard a sob, and I tensed involuntarily as I was embraced by furry legs. I reflexively wrapped my arm around him, feeling his tiny body wracked with sobs. In my mind he was somewhere between a small child and a puppy, and I couldn’t really be mad at either.

“I’m so s-scared,” he cried, “I don’t want t-o be a slave.”

“Shh, it’s okay,” I tried to calm him down, “you’re not a slave.”

“But you said-” he began.

“They were going to kill us,” I explained, “I had to make something up. I could never kill a child.”

He lay there for a minute, chest rising and falling, then his demeanor changed, suddenly going tense and pushing himself away from me.

“Why are you being nice to me?” Ink Blot demanded, “I hate you! You killed my parents! I tried to kill you! You should hate me, you’re evil!”

I exhaled, and chuckled darkly. He was brave, but still very naive for a child brought up in the wasteland. Ink Blot kicked me in my recently healed ribs and I winced in pain.

“It’s not funny!” He screamed, “You always laugh at me! Is my life a joke to you? If you want to die, fine, but I don’t! I’m scared, and I don’t want to die, and you’re just laying there all sad and telling me to kill you and-”

“In-” I tried to interrupt his tirade.

“NO!” He shouted me down, “You told me you would always pick you, you killed my parents so you could live and now-

“I wa-” I started.

“Why couldn’t you lay down and die then?” He accused, tears streaming down his face once more, “Why c-c…”

I felt disgusted with myself. Had I really given up this easily? Asked a child to kill me? My arm ached and I looked down to a hand that was no longer present. If I ever managed to get back I’d be discharged as medically unfit, just another veteran waiting in line at the VA. What was the point if that’s all I had to look forward to. That was assuming of course that the dogs didn’t torture me to death, and I somehow managed to escape, and to travel to a place on a map I no longer had, across a wasteland teeming with murderous ponies, to find an experimental magical machine that hadn’t been maintained in two hundred years, located somewhere in a small city, without even knowing what it looked like and operate it without any understanding of how it worked… Yeah.

My body shook, and I didn’t know why. Fear? Relief? Cold? Shock? I took a slow deep breath, held it for a second, and blew it out through pursed lips, the tremor abating. I had nothing left to lose. I was going get Ink Blot out of here or die trying.

I observed our surroundings again. The room was a cube with six sides of solid rock, and one door constructed of steel bars. The interior held two benches hewn from the same rock as the walls. Illumination came from the same glowing moss that I’d seen in the infirmary and was just barely bright enough to see by. Ink Blot’s pupils had expanded to fill almost the entirety of his enormous eyes making him look even more adorable, if that were possible. My quick survey of the cell had only renewed my sense of hopelessness.

Grabbing the cup and plate I pushed myself up into a sitting position, leaning against the wall. I felt exhausted and every part of my body ached. Even the small effort of sitting up left me sweating and short of breath. I brought the metal cup up to my mouth and sipped some water. It was warm and tasted faintly of copper, but it was immensely satisfying. I tried to bring my left hand up to massage my temples. The stump twitched, and in frustration I threw my head back, contacting the wall with a ‘thwak’.

Ink Blot had moved to lay next to me his head resting on his forehooves, at the sound he perked his ears up, before looking up at me, ears splayed back in concern.

“I don’t know what to do.” I admitted, my head resting in my one remaining hand. I exhaled deeply, only to be thrown into a coughing fit. My lungs burned and my chest muscles ached.

When the spasms abated, my lungs were empty and I sucked in air, trying to breathe slowly and avoid another fit. When I recovered I continued.

“There’s no way out,” I spoke more softly, “walls are solid, door is steel bars anchored into rock, hinges are protected.”

“There’s no way I can overpower a hell hound, not without the element of surprise and overwhelming firepower,” I continued in a rasp, “I’d have a better chance wrestling a gorilla… with one hand.”

The words slipped from my mouth as I was forced to acknowledge my severed limb once again. My eyes unfocused as I looked down at my knees in defeat. I was broken. Useless.

“You said you were a Devil Dog,” Ink Blot didn’t move his head to look at me, “were you lying about that too?”

I had to control myself to avoid letting out another sigh. My lungs still burned from the last coughing fit.

“No, that part was true,” I replied, “it-”

“-Then you can dig us out of here!” He interrupted.

“No”

“Your paw…” he said, “but you still have one left, maybe you can-”

I cracked a smile at the absurdity of the situation.

“I’m not a hell hound,” I explained, “I’m a human. We were never Diamond dogs, and as far as I know I’m the only human who’s ever been to Equestria. Devil Dog is an unofficial title given to the warriors of my branch of the military.”

“There are more of you though?” He asked hopefully, “They’ll realise you’re missing and-”

“I don’t even understand the magic that brought me here,” I looked up at the rock ceiling, “I doubt they even think I’m still alive.”

There wasn’t much left to say, tomorrow we would meet our fate, and there was nothing I could do to control it. Sleep eventually claimed us both.