Winter is here… and it’s COLD!
"So, we have plenty of ammo, which is good..." I said, taking stock of all our belongings. "And lots of radiation medication from the GA building. We don't need this much, could be good to sell though."
"Did you say GA? As in, General Atomareics?" Top Notch rasped.
"Huh?" I responded, feigning confusion. I knew that he was asking because he was related to that company, at least through his long-dead brother, but I didn't want him to think I was a snoop or anything. Again, that big gun on his back looked pretty intimidating. "Oh, yeah. We were chased into their headquarters building a while back by a Hellhound. It was pretty irradiated, but luckily the first aid stock there included a lot of anti-radiation medication, otherwise we'd probably be glowing corpses by now. Why, you know them?"
"Ah, my dear brother was an executive there, hm?" Top Notch said. He had an accent to his words I’d never heard before. "Just didn't expect to hear that name from you folks. Pay this old ghoul no mind." I nodded, not really knowing what to say to him.
"In any case," I continued, "we could sell some of the rad medication to get a few caps. We've also picked up quite a few explosives... do we really need this many mines?" I asked.
"Not unless you're planning on ambushing somepony." Shimmercoat said. "I've got my .44 and some ammo, and a few healing potions, and more anti-rad stuff. Not exactly much else... honestly, what I think we need is some food and water."
"Um... my stuff is with you, for the most part..." Crescent Wrench said, looking at me from behind her mostly empty saddlebags. She had her sledgehammer leaning against the wall, but that was basically it. I remembered that she was the one that had picked up most of the explosives I was carrying.
"Got a few assorted drugs, and some flame-retardant gel, if that helps." Matchstick Flare pointed at the spread she had put out in front of her. Surprisingly, or perhaps not, considering her past, she had a few inhalers of Dash and some needles full of what looked to me like Stampede.
"What's the gel for?" Shimmercoat asked.
"Sometimes I need to get into places that'll go up in smoke if I don't apply this to the walls or my armor first. It doesn't totally prevent something from igniting, but it helps slow it down enough that I can get into tight, flammable spaces if I move quickly." Matchstick said, looking down at the tube of gel, her eyes strangely unfocused. There was a slightly awkward silence as we took this in.
"Um, I agree with Shimmercoat though." I said, trying to ignore the fact that the floor was slightly charing under Matchstick's body. Hopefully Gee wouldn't notice till we were long gone. "We're going to need food and water for traveling, as well as more healing potions for MG-MS11. A little more ammo for Shimmercoat couldn't hurt either."
"What about your gun?" Crescent asked. "I've never seen you reload it."
"Um..." I said, pulling out Mezzer. "You don't use ammo, right?"
”I’m powered via fusion core!” Mezzer said proudly, his image in my head looking as smug as a pony with a screen for a head could look. ”I will not need reloading for a couple hundred years of normal use at least! In theory…”
“I say!” Top Notch looked at me, his crinkled eyes widening to the point where I half expected them to roll out of his head. “Is that a Mesmetron?”
“I-it is, from what I’ve been able to find out…” I stammered. “You know of it? I actually have a few questions.”
”YES! Finally we can get answers about from whence I came!” Mezzer exulted loudly enough for me to wince. Having a weapon spirit or whatever in your head was certainly a quick way to get a headache.
“I do in fact know of it. Did you find it at the GA building? My brother was telling me about their new pacification weapons program, and that was supposed to be one of the nonlethal weapons they were producing. I personally didn’t see the need, wot! Why would we be needing NON lethal weapons? Those striped bastards needed putting down into the ground, not into camps, wot!” Top Notch seemed agitated at the reminder of the war. Did he have a fight with his brother or something?
“Now calm down now… Ah know that times were tough back then, but for better, or more likely worse, the wars all over now. No need to get so worked up all over nothin’.” Tilled Earth said, holding out a calming hoof to the irritated ghoul.
“Yes… for better or worse…” I said. “To answer your question, no. I… um, found this some time ago. It was just out in a field really. I was actually wondering if you could tell me how it worked or where it came from, since you know so much about it.”
“Hmph!” Top Notch still seemed worked up, but he answered my question after a rasping cough. “Well, I’m afraid I’m no expert. My forte is in using weapons, not crafting them. That was more my brother’s thing. He did tell me things about how it messes with brain waves or something, jumbling them up to stun the target. I think he was working towards full mind control, actually. Again, complete hogwash, in my opinion. Mind control seems far too shady and unreliable, better to just take the beast and put him in the ground, quick as you like.”
“It seems to be fusion core powered…” I said, trying to pump more info out of the old ghoul. Even though he said he wasn’t an expert, both me and Mezzer were hungry for any information we could collect.
“Well at least you won’t really need ammo then…” Shimmercoat muttered, hoof deep in the remaining saddlebags. He sorted out what we should keep and what we would eventually sell, placing them in separate piles. Crescent Wrench hung around next to his flank, watching him and listening to us. She had positioned herself behind Shimmercoat, interposing him between herself and Top Notch. She was probably still scared of ghouls, despite our assurances that he wouldn’t bite.
Honestly I didn’t blame her… Sometimes I still had hang-ups about ghouls too, but dear ol’ Ma had made sure that I at least had some experience with them.
“Yes, indeed. Fusion core powered energy weapons were becoming the next big thing when the megaspells hit.” Top Notch said. “It will probably run out eventually, but the cores themselves are heavy. It shouldn’t be too much of a concern for now, however. Just stash another one at your home base, or somewhere safe. You can come back to it if you need to swap one out. The gun should show when it’s running low on power.”
“Thanks so much for this! It’s hard not knowing about what your gun is capable of.” I smiled, adjusting my ski goggles on my forehead.
“No worries, little filly! I am a weapons aficionado, after all! An expert with anything I can fit into a saddle! After all you need the big guns to hunt the big monsters that are out there, wot!” Top Notch grinned. “Like I said though, I prefer more… direct methods of damage.”
“I had one more question.” I said, looking down at the dirty ground beneath my hooves. Gee really needed to get a cleaning slave or something… “Did you hear about any… mental effects coming from these Mesmetrons? From using them?”
”I am no mere psychosis, dear Coin Slot.” Mezzer said. “Be careful where thou must tread. Thou probably dost not wish for those around thee to think that thou art insane.”
“Hmmmm…” Top Notch thought for a moment. “I don’t recall anything about that in particular. It’s possible, after all the waves that weapon emits scrambles the brain up. But I didn’t hear anything about it from my brother or his team, at least. Just don’t shoot yourself in the face with it, I recommend, eh?” Top Notch rasped a guttural laugh at his own joke, not caring that he was the only one laughing.
“Welllll…. Not to interrupt or anything…” Shimmercoat said, raising his eyebrow at the laughing ghoul. “But it seems we have enough to sell for a few healing potions and some food and water. Nothing that makes us… or rather you, rich. But enough to keep us going.” Shimmercoat gestured at the piles of equipment and drugs he had made. He was right, it was a fair amount of stuff.
“Alright, we’ll visit the market and get some travel supplies.” I said, scooping the sellables into one pouch and the usable stuff got distributed amongst those who could use it. “I just hope the weather clears out a bit before we have to go out. If it weren’t for Matchstick, we’d be freezing.” Matchstick Flare grumbled a bit. She didn’t like being a campfire, but it was keeping us warm. The wind outside was howling, and the snow had flurried up and was pounding against the walls and roof, almost a full blizzard.
“I wouldn’t hold my breath for that! I know what’s causing this foul cold weather, and it’s not going to go away quietly. It’s the reason I’m here, isn’t it?!” Top Notch was smiling, his milky eyes gleaming as they stared out the dark window into the snow. Even though we had slept through what felt like the whole night, it was still dark outside. The snow blocked most of the light that desperately tried to filter down to the ground. It would be rough getting to the market at all, even if there were ponies trying to sell things in weather like this.
“What do you mean?” Crescent asked, her eyes wide.
“Like I said! I’m a monster hunter! And the monster causing this storm is none other than a Rad-Windigo! Maybe even a whole pack, wot!” Top Notch said, his hoof touching his monocle again.
“Rad-Windigo? What’s that?” Matchstick Flare and I asked simultaneously, but surprisingly, Shimmercoat and Crescent Wrench gasped in sudden understanding. And they looked nervous.
“Well I don’t know about what the radiation would do with them, but we heard about Windigos in our folklore and stories around the Stable.” Shimmercoat said.
“Yeah, they eat your emotions and make you do rotten things to other ponies! And use that energy to make everypony miserable in the cold and the snow, then when all the ponies are frozen, they eat them up like ponysicles!” Crescent Wrench practically shouted.
“Quiet down, we don’t want to disturb Gee.” I scolded. Top Notch nodded, but continued.
“Precisely, Stable ponies! Rad-Windigos have taken up residence in the area, and they are the cause of all this bad weather, what with their magically induced snow and cold, wot! And I’m sure ponies around town have been more irritable lately? More than normal?”
“Well we haven’t been in town for so long to really notice much…” I said. “But I did get the feeling that ponies were avoiding each other. I thought it was just everypony wanting to get in out of the snow?”
“Indeed, that’d be the case, but there’s more to it than that! Windigo magic has an effect on ponies, turning them against one another, putting brother against brother! Causing feuds, schisms, and all kinds of social damage. Even the cause of a few ancient wars have been attributed to Windigo activity, and that’s before they got all supercharged with magical radiation!” Top Notch looked like he was having the time of his life educating all of us. “Now they’re hulking, massive beasts, each one carrying its own personal blizzard and able to influence entire regions! They have wolf-like aspects, but more ferocious, and they will pick out frozen and alone ponies from the city until there’s nopony left to take! Thankfully they are rare and usually stick to mountains, but it appears your little Auction House has caught the attention of one or more. Lucky for you, it has also caught the attention of Top Notch, monster hunter extraordinaire! Though I’ve never faced off against a full grown Rad-Windigo before… If you all don’t mind, you all seem fairly plucky. Would you like to help me save the town from this menace? I’m sure once we make our case known to the Council, they will reward us all handsomely.”
“That seems dangerous…” Crescent Wrench looked apprehensive, as did Shimmercoat. Matchstick Flare, on the other hoof…
“Hell yeah! Let’s do this! Monster hunting huh? Now that sounds like the life!” she shouted, pumping her hoof.
“What do you think, Coin?” Top Notch asked. He knew that these ponies were my slaves, so I had to be the one to decide.
“I mean, I can’t really do business here in Auction House if its crops freeze over and the city dies. Yes, I’ll help. Getting the Council on my good side will certainly help make things easier too.” I replied. It was a no brainer really. If there was a big monster causing all this snow and ice, then getting rid of it would be a huge favor for the agriculturally based Auction House. Maybe I could get some favors from council members…
“Then rest up!” Top Notch said “We’ve got a long day ahead of us!”
“We just got up.” Shimmercoat said, much less enthusiastic than the old ghoul.
“Don’t care! You’ll need to be well rested to stand a chance against our prey, so make sure that horn gets recharged! Ah, don’t look so surprised! I can tell when a unicorn is burnt out. You’re close to recovery, though. Bed rest! It’s the best thing for a broken horn, believe you me.” Top Notch winked at Shimmercoat, who looked stunned.
“I agree with Top Notch. Crescent and I will head out and see if anypony is in the courthouse. Matchstick Flare, MG-MS11, can you stay with Shimmercoat and make sure he gets plenty of rest? Even a little use of his horn again would be good.”
“I know some excellent burnout therapy treatments that could help for sure, Sarge! I’ll make sure Private Shimmercoat gets the R&R he needs to be back on duty in no time!” MG-MS11 saluted with his manipulator arm, and I smiled.
“Sounds great.” I replied, while Shimmercoat rolled his eyes. “Alright, Crescent, let’s bundle up, it’s going to be cold out there.”
Crescent Wrench nodded and then looked confused. “Bundle up with what? All we have are our Stable-Tech jumpsuits! Even you still have one!”
“Well, they are comfortable…” I said, thinking. “Maybe we can convince Gee to give us some blankets… no, she’d charge us for sure. Well, we’ll just have to endure it! Get ready for a nice cold run, Crescent!”
“Do I have to go?” Crescent cried out, and looked out the dark window. Snow blew by at near horizontal angles.
“Yes, you’re a strong filly and I have a bad back now. You get to carry the stuff we’re going to sell and buy!” I smiled. My back was twinging in this cold, so I really did need help.
Crescent Wrench mumbled something about how slavery sucked, but trotted up with me by the door. “Are you coming, Top?” I asked. “The Council is in the Courthouse, that’s where we’re headed. We could ask them about the rad-Windigos while we’re there.”
“Simply capital! I will accompany you, my fine mare!” Top Notch said, standing up. “You can introduce me! Also we should tie ourselves together, just so we don’t get separated in this stormy weather.”
“I don’t know about introductions, I barely knew who was on the Council of Auctioneers when I was living here as a filly. But I’m sure they’ll at least talk to us, I am a regular here after all.” I said, then looked out the door to the snow. “Oh, Hiss, stay. I don’t know how ponies in the city will react to you quite yet, so let’s wait to introduce you.” Hiss yawned, he was laying close to Matchstick Flare, and he turned over and went back to sleep. Lazy dog. After we all tied off using some nylon cord that Top Notch had, we headed out into the gloomy snowstorm, the biting cold causing my teeth to chatter almost instantly. “Let’s hurry! We don’t want to freeze!” I shouted, and we trudged forward as quickly as we could.
We shook our hooves off in the foyer of the courthouse, grateful that it seemed like somepony had gotten heating crystals working, or some other method of warming the place up. The five minute trot over here had been brutal, and we were all covered in snow. Top Notch didn’t seem cold at all, but Crescent and I were freezing, our lips blue and teeth clenched as we shivered away the frost in our veins.
“Geeze! I h-hope somepony is doing b-business here, that walk better not be for n-nothing!” I stammered out, trying to thaw as quickly as possible.
“I will say the cold was a bit bracing!” Top Notch said. Did ghouls feel the cold at all? He looked like he was basking comfortably in the tropics for all the effect it had on him.
“That’s one way to p-put it.” I groaned, and looked around. Auction House’s main building, the place the town was built around, was the old pre-war courthouse in the center of it all. It was a large building, multiple stories and with a sizable center room right past the foyer where we were where hearings used to take place. The judge’s stand remained, but everything else surrounding it had been removed and changed. The room was more of a auditorium now, set up to let people see what was going on at the front. A big stage with several places to move goods on and off of it dominated the area around the judge’s stand.
These goods could vary from weapons, stocks of food, and, of course, slaves. The stage even had places to lock slaves in place, basically poles secured to the stage itself. Other than the stage, there were seats filling the middle of the hearing room, and all along the sides of it were small stands that normally bustled with activity when an auction wasn’t going on. Tapestries recovered from various ruins hung from the ceiling and walls, decorating the place and adding some color. This room was the beating heart of Auction House. The market square had more stuff in it by virtue of being a larger outdoor space, but this room was big enough to have its own small market of highly specialized goods. This is where a pony went to shop if she wanted to become an elite slaver. High quality bomb collars, shock prods, memory orbs filled with subservient memories… or punishment memories, if that was what a slaver required. All tools to help maintain order with the stock.
Off to the side there was a stockade as well. Two ponies were locked away in the pillories for some reason that was written on a placard in front of them, but I wasn’t interested. Those stockades were reserved for slavers who broke Auction House law. They might even be enslaved later if whatever they did was bad enough. Slaves were usually turned over to their owners for punishment unless they did something particularly illegal against the city, who would then sentence them appropriately. Auction House did have the death penalty, but it wasn’t widely used… or at least as far as I knew it wasn’t. I was a good littler slaver and never really had any run ins with the law here.
There wasn’t an auction going on, otherwise even with the snow I’m sure the place would be packed. Auction House always had some kind of bidding going on for various goods, it was a city pastime, but the auctions in the actual Courthouse were truly grand affairs. All the important ponies of the region came to participate in them, with huge amounts of caps trading hooves, drinks, shouting, good-natured brawling, and general hob-nobbery. They were almost like galas, just with a mercantile focus. So obviously there was no auction right now, and the place seemed muted, but there were a fair number of ponies here, shopping at the side stalls and entering and exiting through the various doorways into the rest of the building, which held yet more shops and various meeting rooms and even a few hotel rooms, though the Courthouse Hotel was ridiculously expensive. Only the truly wealthy could afford to live here, and nearly all of them were some form of slaver baron, and had huge influence over the area around Auction House.
The ponies here now weren’t very… energetic, though. It felt strange. Every other time I’d come here the place was packed and everypony was having a great time. This time, ponies were staying in tight groups and not really talking to each other. The energy in the room was just negative, and everypony could feel it.
“Coin? These ponies look really scary…” Crescent Wrench said, hefting the pack on her back and stepping closer to me. She was wide eyed at the setup of the room, looking at a Ministry of Technology tapestry hanging from the ceiling. “Do you know anypony here?”
“I don’t know many of these ponies, no... “ I replied, and looked for the one merchant stand where I did actually know the pony running it. “And it looks like my contact in here isn’t at his post.” I pointed at a stand with a sign saying ‘Fidget’s Fineries.’ “Fidget was one of my friends when I was a teenager, he works here now as a clothing and oddities merchant. He’s also kind of a wimp, the weather has him laid up, I’ll bet.”
“Well, these ponies look somewhat upper class, let me do the talking then!” Top Notch said. I frowned. While what he said was true, and technically I was a lot less well off than most of the ponies who were probably here, that didn’t mean I couldn’t approach any of the shops here! Anypony who called Auction House home could shop at the Courthouse, at least during business hours.
“Thanks, Top, but I think I can handle myself.” I said, and he just shrugged. "Let’s try Merc Medicines, they’ll probably take our spare rad medication.” I pointed to the stall. It was a fancier stall, it even had a little office built into the wall off to the side that held a bed and examination equipment. A tiny doctor’s office basically. We trotted up to it and a white-coated, blue maned unicorn mare in a slave collar who looked very, very tired came out of the little office and looked at us when I rang the little bell on the counter of the stall.
“Yeah? Merc Medicines, finest chems in the Courthouse, how can I help you?” she drawled out, sniffing a little. It was hard to see because of her coat color, but there seemed to be a white powder covering her nose. Not that that was really my concern.
“I’d like to sell some radiation medication and a few other things, are you authorized by your master to buy things?” I asked, smiling and trying to be friendly.
“I might be! What’dya got, exactly? I’ll see if the boss mare would even be bothered to shift her ass about it before I’ll go call her.” The slave mare snapped. My smile faded. This drugged up mare was putting off quite the attitude. I had things to sell, though, so I just nodded and laid out the rad-x and rad-away that we had procured from the General Atomareics building. “Is this it? You can’t even get high off this stuff!” the mare glared at the life-saving medication like it had somehow offended her. “Come on, you got to have more on you.”
“All I have left are a few odds and ends and some explosives. Would your master be interested in those? And could I speak to her? I have something to discuss with her.” I said, deadpan.
The mare at the counter couldn’t have looked more unconcerned. “Yeah, yeah, I’ll go get her, but if she rips your head off don’t come crying to me.” she said, and disappeared into the little office again.
“Geeze, she seemed pretty angry for some reason.” Crescent Wrench said, a confused look on her face.
I was confused too. “Yeah I don’t really get it. Normally ponies here are nice. Maybe it was the drugs she was on? I wonder if she was allowed to have those or just took them…”
The door to the office slammed open. I could see inside; the white slave mare was on the ground, covering her head and whimpering. Another mare, also with a blue mane but sporting a red coat of fur, marched out of the office in a doctor's coat. She wore a small pair of glasses, and that forehead thing that doctors wear. She was an earth pony, and seemed pretty pissed off.
“Stupid bitch! Ah told her to take care of it! What’dya’ll want with Merc’s? Make it quick, I was on a good ride!”
I blinked. Was this any way to treat a customer? Even if all I was doing was selling, the supplies should have been welcome, and she should have been focusing on giving me a positive experience so I’d come back for her medical experience (not that MG-MS11 couldn’t handle that stuff for me).
“I, uh, wanted to sell these.” I said, sounding stupefied. I had wanted to complain about the slave, but the master seemed even worse! This was not what I was expecting at all. Had Auction House changed? Was this what Top Notch meant by the social damage created by rampaging Windigos?
“Ha! Well luckily for you I happen to need rad medication. But fer pesterin’ me in this crappy weather, I’m afraid I can’t give you much for em. There’s nopony practically coming in here, nopony trusts their doctors these days.”
“Ma’m,” Top Notch cleared his throat, and stepped forward. “All we’re asking for is a fair price, I’m sure we can come to some agreement. You seem agitated, perhaps I can take you out for a drink after this? My treat. We can discuss what we’re going to do about this weather that has everypony so down these days.” Top was laying on the charm… it was really too bad he didn’t have much in the way of skin. Even through the ghoulish rot I could tell that he used to be quite handsome.
“Ah ain’t drinkin with no ghoul! You can keep yer drugs, we got plenty!” With that, the doctor turned and slammed her door behind her. I heard muffled shouts and squeals from behind it… hopefully she didn’t break any slave treatment laws… corporal punishment was fine, so long as it didn’t go too far, but sometimes ponies forgot that limit.
“Well… okay then. I thought selling our stuff would be the easy part.” I said. I was flabbergasted. What had happened? Auction House was all about buying and selling, a mercantile paradise! The Courthouse only had the finest shops and the friendliest merchants!
“That’d be the Windigo, my dear Coin. It’s sucking the happiness and camaraderie out of these ponies. Soon we’ll be affected too, unless we stop it. Or them, with an area this big, I would not be surprised in the slightest if there was more than one.” Top Notch said, shaking his head. “We need to talk to this Council of yours in a hurry if we want this town to survive.”
“They aren’t my council, but I agree. Pack this stuff up, Crescent, we’re probably not selling it today.” I said. She groaned, but complied. “Now,” I was trying to remember where the council met with members of the public. “If I recall correctly… the council chambers are right behind the hearing room, in the prosecution preparation room I think. It could be the defense side, I can’t remember.”
We went slowly, creating our own little tight knit group walking through the big hall like everypony else. I could see how these Windigos were really a dire threat now… if the effects of their magic had this profound of an affect on everypony, how could society survive? It was like everypony was on edge, suspicious of all, and at any moment a fight could break out. And in the wastes, fights could very, very quickly turn deadly. Honestly, if the weather was better but the emotional effects remained the same, I think the city would have destroyed itself by now. The snow was keeping most ponies inside, so they weren’t coming into contact with each other as much as they normally would have. A blessing in disguise.
Making our way to the door still labeled ‘Prosecution,’ we entered. Inside was what used to be the waiting room for the prosecution and witnesses. It still served its function as a waiting room today, but not for the Council of Auctioneers like I thought. There was an office at the other end of the sparsely decorated room, and a desk in front of the door with a pretty yellow earth pony secretary sitting at it. “Hello! My name is Power Grid, can I help you?” she said, smiling, brushing a stray strand of her brown mane out of her eyes. At least she didn’t seem as belligerent as that doctor pony at Merc’s.
“Hello. I’m Coin Slot. We need to talk to the Council, are they in session right now? And could you point us to where the public can wait to talk to them?” I asked.
“Oh… that might… take a while.” Power Grid said, looking like what I had asked was pretty abnormal. “I know they’re in session right now talking about what to do about this unseasonable cold. The discussion is pretty heated right now… heh.” She chuckled a little bit at her own words. “They aren’t speaking with the public right now. Though to answer your question, the Council used to take the public’s questions here but they moved their office and meeting room upstairs after we were able to renovate the Judges chambers. Their waiting room is upstairs too, just across the hall from the chambers.”
“Who has this office now?” I asked, curious. It had been a while since I’d been back in town, even without the crazy weather things had changed.
“I’m the secretary to the Head of the Slaver Association, Scourge Mane.” said Power Grid. “You can meet with him if you want, he’s in his office now.”
“The Slaver Association? What is this, then?” Top Notch asked.
“We’re a conglomeration of slavers who have set ourselves specific rules and guidelines to make the trade and transport of slaves easier for those ponies working under our umbrella.” Power Grid said, as if quoting from a brochure. “Slaving in the wastes has few restrictions, and plenty of awful ponies do awful things to each other to accomplish their goals or to get advantages over one another. Even those operating out of Auction House and our laws sometimes are beyond legal reach, and are abusing their slaves or operating in areas where they should leave well enough alone. We’re a somewhat new organization, actually.” She smiled, and looked like she was enjoying explaining what the Association was to us.
“It’s basically like this, if you join us you’ll have access to our waystations that we’re building and securing around the wasteland. We have safehouses and trading posts already set up in surprisingly far reaching areas. We also have a system where when an Association Slaver needs to sell slaves here at Auction House, they can actually get their caps in advance at one of these waystations, and other slavers on their way to Auction House can take the slaves from there and move along our trade routes to the city, making things safer for both slaver and slave. Once the slave is sold, the caps are redistributed to the waystation that paid the slaver for them. In exchange for this extended trade network, Association Slavers are required to sign up for transport runs at certain waystations every once in a while, and comply to our slave treatment guidelines. The timing is really determined on how many ponies we can get to join. So far the benefits of being able to access our safe trade routes without fees and being able to sell slaves at Auction House prices far away from the city far outweighs the restrictions on slave treatment and volunteer time we ask for, if I say so myself.”
My eyes widened. “That sounds incredible! Auction House is really branching out?”
“It’s not strictly Auction House, though the Association is based here and follows all Auction House laws.” Power Grid corrected. “The Slaver Association is a separate entity from the city and from the Council of Auctioneers. If somepony or some organization moves against us, we can’t rely on the Auction House Bailiffs to defend us, so we require all our slavers to also be a part of the Association Militia. Since most slavers are armed and dangerous anyways… it’s usually not an issue.”
“I take it this is new to you, Coin?” Top Notch asked. “Sounds like a banging startup company! Tis a shame my brother has passed away, I’m sure he would have had a tip or two to tell this Scourge Mane about management.”
“I assure you Mr. Mane is quite a capable stallion.” Power Grid sighed. “Handsome too, in a rugged way… but, um, don’t tell him I said that!” she stammered, blushing. “He’s quite serious-minded.” She looked around and leaned in conspiratorially, though Crescent and Top Notch could clearly hear her. “Between you and I, I’m trying to crack that rough exterior of his, so I’d appreciate if you don’t tell him my feelings. Please!” she put her hooves together, pouting.
“I promise.” I said, smiling. “He sure sounds impressive, setting all this up. Can I meet him? I’d like to join!”
“Of course!” Power Grid said, grinning widely. Perhaps some ponies were more resistant to others to the Windigos influence. “I’ll let him know you’re coming in, just a moment.” She got up out of her seat behind the desk and entered the office behind her. She was wearing a very flattering suit jacket and skirt, complete with stockings.
She’s really trying for it, I’m rooting for her! She’s sweet. I thought.
And she has got curves in all the right places. Thou did not notice, but her flank is quite divine, if I do say so myself. Mezzer said, letting out a low whistle in my head. I rolled my eyes. A male entity living in your head could sometimes be bothersome. At least he didn’t make comments on me.
That is because I know thou wouldst get angry with me. He said, as if reading my thoughts, which for all I know he could be.
If I catch even a hint of you checking me out when rooting through my memories or… or anything, I’ll soak your body in a pit of mud! I thought angrily at him. He didn’t respond, the coward.
“Alright, Mr. Mane is ready for you, Miss Slot.” Power Grid stepped out of the office, looking at me curiously. “He seemed very excited to meet you, I’m jealous. It’s like he knew who I was talking about, are you secretly famous?”
“Not that I know of.” I said, curious as well. The three of us stepped into the office. A large pre war desk dominated the room, with filing cabinets and a fossilized ficus here and there along the walls. The back of a large chair was facing us, a black hoof holding a pipe visible on the armrest. “Hello? I’m Coin Slot. The, ah, Slaver Association sounded like it would interest me, I’d like to join up.”
“I’m happy to hear that, my dear little Coin. Please…” I gasped. I recognized that voice, and tears came to my eyes as my nervous smile broadened into a huge grin. “Tell me how things have gone since we last were together. I’d love to hear about the...opportunities that you’ve encountered.”
He turned around, smiling. A huge black stallion, with an X shaped scar across his face, sat across the desk from me. All I could say was, “M-Mr. Opportunity!! Y-you’re HERE?!” my knees were shaking as I took some wobbly steps forward, tears streaming from my eyes freely now.
Mr. Opportunity opened his arms wide. “C’mere kid, bring it in.” I sobbed, and ran around the desk to give the stallion that raised me after my parents died a huge hug.
“There’s surely more, Coin!” Mr. Opportunity said. We had sat down and caught up a bit. It had been years since I had last seen him! We had split ways when I had gone out on my own to go into business, as it were. I always meant to meet up with him again, after all, he was basically my second father! But things, as they often do in the wastes, hadn’t gone as planned. For a while there I honestly thought he was gone, or dead even. I certainly hadn’t expected him to be founding some kind of slaver group in the middle of Auction House.
“Well, yes, there’s more, but I can’t keep my other ponies waiting. I’ve got to go meet the Council, Top Notch and I think we know a way to get rid of this snowy weather!” I said. It was actually getting kind of late, we had spent a lot of time catching up, with both of us taking turns telling each other of what’s been going on all these years. For his part, Top Notch had mostly been sitting and listening patently, even chiming in every so often with insights or stories of his own. I was happier than I had felt in years, Mr. Opportunity meant so much to me and my early years after the casino burnt down, and we were finally back together!
“Oh? This weather has been ludicrously awful for my plans for the Slaver Association, I’d be quite happy if somepony told me that we would be rid of it soon. Why do you have to meet the Council? They… aren’t in the most talkative of moods right now, I’ll warn you.” Mr. Opportunity scratched the scar on his face, looking concerned.
“Well, sir,” Top Notch said, “We were going to discuss our fee with the Council. We of course want this weather to stop as well, but we can’t be going around hunting down the source for free!”
“Now, I agree with you there, but there are… some situations that you need to be made aware of before going into the Council chambers.” Mr. Opportunity said, looking at us seriously. “The Council has been arguing nonstop about what to do about the situation with this unseasonal weather. Nopony can come to even the closest form of agreement on the problem.”
“Well, we suspect that a Rad-Windigo might be the source behind what’s going on.” I said. “If they’re fighting, their emotions might have been manipulated by this creature. Top Notch and my group are going to go hunt them down, and hopefully end the winter before it lasts long enough to be a serious issue.”
“The damage might already be done.” Mr. Opportunity said. “I don’t know if you know, but the members of the Auction House Council of Auctioneers has changed. There’s four of them now, and that’s part of the issue. Tie votes are possible with even councils, and it’s causing all kinds of issues. The four members are Fair Trade, Head of Economics, Crossed Wires, head of Research and Development, Lettuce Leaf, General of the Auction House Bailiffs, and Whip Crack, City Planner and Head Slaver.”
“Those are a strange pair of hats to wear on one pony. City Planner and Head of Slaving?” Top Notch raised his eyebrow in confusion.
“The old City Planner died a year ago or so. It’s the reason we have only four members on the Council instead of five like normal.” Mr. Opportunity said. “In any case, these four are at each other’s throats. If you ask them anything right now, you’ll be bogged down in bureaucracy and red tape as they try to win you over to their agenda, or try to sabotage the other’s plans. It would be better for all of us if you all came into the Council Chambers as glorious heroes rather than petitioners of a plan. So…” he grinned, his scar stretching over his face in a manner familiar to me. It was actually quite comforting to see, because I knew that that expression meant he had a plan. “I will pay you to not only save the city from this deadly winter, but to also save it from the Council’s self-destruction. I want you to carry out your plan, hunt down these rad-whatevers, then if that does indeed clear up the weather, come into town as heroes and establish yourselves as valuable to the Council. It will help me to have somepony close having the ears of the Council, I can go a lot further with the Slaver Association if I can get official backing from Auction House. I will pay you handsomely, of course.” He winked at both myself and Top Notch. “You can essentially name your price, I’ve… come into a pretty reliable source of caps recently.”
“I mean I don’t have to even think about it, I’m all for it!” I said, looking at Top Notch. “What about you?”
“What exactly are your final goals here, wot?” Top Notch asked. I was slightly annoyed, but understood that he wanted to know exactly what he was getting into before commiting. But this was Mr. Opportunity! The stallion that got me into the slaving business in the first place! He always has a plan, and will always help me out, no matter what!
“I’m bidding for the empty position on the Council.” Mr. Opportunity stated, looking grim. “Don’t tell anypony else, but for my ideas about slaves and transportation and organization to really get off the ground, I need to be in a position of power. If you can help me get there… the rewards will be generous. And, as far as you are concerned, Mr. Notch, Coin here is a daughter to me. If you are working with her, you will never have to fear betrayal or any kind of subversion, at least not from me. I want her to be as successful as possible.”
I was almost crying again. I knew that Mr. Opportunity cared about me, but I had never actually heard him say as much in so many words. I focused on keeping my composure while the two stallions talked.
“That makes sense enough, but I’d be more secure with this if I had an up front payment. After all, I am working with a known slaver! While I have no moral quandaries about your business, I still have to take certain steps to protect myself, I hope you understand.” Top Notch performed a short, apologetic bow.
“Of course, of course. I can also get my secretary to outfit you with whatever gear you need for the journey. Get out there and kill that beast. Even if it doesn't stop the winter, I’ve heard the stories about the Windigos, and I’m sure their emotional magic is influencing the Council to some degree. I’m sure that we can take steps towards a council seat once you all return victorious and become that X factor that will shake things up here at Auction House.” Mr. Opportunity was smiling again, and Top Notch had his own smile too. “I’ll talk with Power Grid here in a little while, please help yourself to some refreshments in the waiting room while I get things arranged with her.” he said. “I want you all underway as soon as possible!”
We left the room and got some water while Mr. Opportunity and Power Grid talked. Soon after, Power Grid left Mr. Opportunity’s office, blushing slightly. Did something happen? I’m not so sure about rooting for her any more now that I know who Scourge Mane is… is Power Grid the right pony for Mr. Opportunity? Is anypony? “I can provide supplies from our own stores to help you on your, um, hunt.” she said, smiling. She seemed to be in a good mood. “I can have them delivered if that would be more convenient.”
“No, that’s okay, Crescent Wrench here can carry our stuff!” I said, pushing the filly forward. She groaned.
“I hope you’re not getting too much stuff, all this is heavy as it is!” Crescent pouted.
“Sorry, little filly, but I’m going to need lots and lots of ammo. As many 20mm shells as Mr. Opportunity can spare, wot!” Top Notch said, smiling a ghoulish smile at Power Grid. “We’ll need food and water too, stuff that won’t be affected by the cold.”
“That’s a tall order, but I’ll see what we have. Thanks so much for stopping by! I’ve never seen Mr. Mane in such good spirits before!” Power Grid replied. After gathering the stuff Top Notch asked for, luckily for us they were in stock, and a few other odds and ends, we left with a pack three times as big as when we started. Crescent, amazingly enough, was able to keep up despite the increased weight and even through the windy cold as we made our way back to our room at Gee’s. We had to prepare, and quickly! We were going out on the hunt soon.
We were going to go kill winter. All for Mr. Opportunity. A dream come true!
“Can you at least take us part of the way?” I asked. “Things would go so much faster if we could borrow your Earther!”
“Well, that’s generally what vehicles are for, yes. I can’t risk it in this weather though, what if we ran into something hidden under the snow and it got stuck or damaged? No, it’s staying where it’s parked, I’m afraid I can’t help you.” Tilled Earth said, frowning. The old stallion sure had a stubborn streak when he got his mind set on something.
“With all the snow and ice, going out via vehicle could be more dangerous than walking.” Shimmercoat said, pushing up his glasses and checking his equipment. “So long as we can keep from freezing, anyways.”
“I’ll handle that. I don’t like being the fucking camp stove, but I understand that there’s a difference between using my heat for convenience and using it for survival.” Matchstick Flare was ready to go, standing at the doorway. Hiss was next to her still. He didn’t care if using her as a heat source was offensive to her, he just wanted to be warm.
“Even without the Earther, we’ll find the beast quickly. I’ll track that Windigo down, wot!” Top Notch smiled as his giant auto-cannon clacked on his battle saddle, it’s ammo feed jingling softly. “I’ve tracked and hunted every monster in the wastes, from molerats to Alicorns! A new challenge is welcome!”
“We’ll be relying on your skills then, Top.” I said. “I’m excited to see an expert in action. Maybe I can pick up something and use it in my own tracking.”
“Ha! I hope so!” Top Notch smiled a grisly smile, though it was only horrifying due to his rotting face. “Let’s get going. Everypony ready?”
We had bundled up as much as we could, though our cold weather gear was depressingly lacking. We basically had just a few blankets and thick wrappings that I had managed to convince Gee to part with at at least a somewhat reasonable price. The luxury of a coat was something that wasn’t available right now. If only I had managed to catch up with Fidget… he would have given us the finest in warm clothing. Something to consider next time we upgraded our gear, though I hoped that this unseasonable weather was something we would not be revisiting soon. We huddled around Matchstick Flare, as close as we could without burning ourselves, and headed out into the cold. The wind had died down a little and the blizzard had subsided, but the cold still bit deep as we stepped out of shelter. Hiss was practically walking under Matchstick Flare’s hooves. “Fuck! Coin, could you control your dog?” she said after almost stepping on his paw.
“Hiss! Get out from under her!” I scolded, and he slinked out from under the flaming mare. We exited the city of Auction House, following Top Notch, from the opposite side of the city than the one we entered from. The terrain here was much less rough than last time, thankfully, but the snow still made it difficult to traverse as we pushed through.
We trotted through the snow for some time, the only sound was the crunch of our hooves, the hiss of Matchstick’s heat melting snow, and the quieter hiss of MG-MS11’s thruster. Visibility was low as a dense fog thickened on our path. We were heading north, I think. “It’s hard to see the road through the snow.” I said as our hooves crunched through the powdery ground covering.
“It would be! We’re not on the road, Miss Slot!” Top Notch said, peering out into the fog. “It’s hard to track through the weather that Windigo’s generate, but you can narrow down their location by looking at the severity of the weather and the thickness of the snow cover. It’ll be getting deeper as we get closer. Windigos like singling out ponies for their prey, so don’t get separated, wot!” The snow was indeed getting slightly deeper, and the temperature continued to drop. It was getting colder than I ever thought possible. The wind also started to pick up again. Hopefully another blizzard wasn’t on its way. I hadn’t noticed when we went off the road to Auction House, but that was understandable given that everything looked the same under the frigid white blanket covering the landscape. I heard what sounded like a small jackhammer behind me and looked over my shoulder. Crescent Wrench was falling behind slightly, and her lips were turning blue as her teeth chattered.
“Stay together! Come on, Crescent!” I said, looking around to make sure nopony else was falling behind. The snow was getting deep enough to cause Crescent Wrench trouble, short little filly that she was. She grunted with the effort needed to keep up, and moved to walk behind Matchstick Flare’s trail through the snow.
“Keep the formation tight, soldiers! The enemy could be lurking behind anything out here in this fog!” MG-MS11 chimed in, hovering above the snow, his chassis forming a smooth, shiny layer of frost all over its surface, with the exception of his thruster jet and the pilot light on his flamer. “Those stripes like to use invisibility to ambush our units, and this fog will just make that magic easier to utilize!”
Shimmercoat sighed. “We’re not hunting zebras, MG-MS11. Though I wouldn’t be shocked to discover that Windigos use their fog and blizzards as cover.” He was already blue so I couldn’t tell how he was handling the cold. He looked fine, and was constantly looking back and forth through the fog. “Any idea how close we are, Top?”
“Can’t be much further. The cold is intense, those Windigos must be close! Keep your head on a swivel and be sure to spot it before it spots you, wot!” Top Notch shouted. We didn’t really worry about keeping quiet, the wind was masking our sound plenty enough, we could barely hear each other! For his part, Top Notch was standing tall and didn’t really appear affected by the cold. Could ghouls freeze? Did they even have body heat?
“That’s right, squad! Stay frosty!” MG-MS11 hefted his plasma gun and all four eyestalks were extended and surveying the snowscape around us.
“Very amusing, robot…” Matchstick Flare groaned. She was only in her armor, the coils sewn into it glowing faintly. Normally they were red hot. “Any more frost and I’m going to throw up. Do you have any idea how fucking weird it is to feel cold? It’s like your whole body is going to crack into little pieces! Makes me nauseous.”
“I-i-i-i’m g-g-g-going to d-d-die!!” Crescent Wrench was practically hugging Matchstick Flare’s flank, and was a disconcerting shade of blue under her beige coat.
“Just hold out a little longer, Crescent. We’ll stop this storm at the source.” I tried to reassure her, but there wasn’t much we could really do against the oppressive cold. I couldn’t feel my hooves. If only I had found some boots in Auction house… at least one of my hooves was covered with the Hoof of Justice, but that wasn’t much.
The wastes around us were white. Snow covered all the details, but it felt like we were trudging slowly uphill, Matchstick melting the way clear for us. To my utter bafflement, Top Notch was flying with his practically featherless wings through the cutting wind as if he were in a warm summer breeze. “Just got to fly like a butterfly, wot!” he said when I asked how he was doing that. I don’t even know what a butterfly is! The wind picked up even more, and was howling… and I thought I heard something… else. A different kind of howl, more…
“I smell something!” Top Notch said suddenly, and raised his head up and inhaled deeply, his breath rattling down his throat like he was choking on poison gas. Hiss copied him, his tongue flicking out of his mouth rapidly and tasting the air. After a couple tastes, he growl-hissed and disappeared from view, an indistinct shimmering shape all that betrayed his presence.
“You can smell things?” Matchstick Flare arched her eyebrows in disbelieve.
“Shhh!” Top Notch waved his hoof at Matchstick, and inhaled again, his death rattle the only thing to be heard in the dense fog. “I think we’re being stalked…”
I raised Mezzer in my magical grasp, looking around, staying close to Shimmercoat and Crescent Wrench. They raised their weapons as well. “Where do you think it is?”
“Not it. Them.” Top Notch looked focused, his rotting ears twitching, his hat moving slightly as his ears brushed against it. “There’s more than one, can’t tell how many exactly… yeah, definitely more than one. Several more…”
“Let’s give em what for! I’ll show those invisible bastards a thing or two! Try dodging this!” MG-MS11 pointed his flamer arm forward and a jet of flame burst forth, spraying a wide area in front of him. To my suprise, I heard a howl of pain and saw a large, wolflike creature dive into the snow and roll around to attempt to extinguish the flames. They wouldn't go out easy… Equestrian flamethrowers were made to burn anything their flames touched, the magical gel sticking to the target.
“The hunt is on, wot!” Top Notch shouted, and leaped into the air, quickly disappearing into the fog above. I heard hideous, ferocious growling soon afterward, and then…
The wind instantly picked up as the howl of the Rad-Windigos screamed into the foggy air around us. It felt like the bone-chilling sound was coming from all directions. I cowered, this howl wasn’t just a noise… it was the kind of sound that proto-ponies bolted away from, the kind that caused ponies to cower in caves and fear the monsters out there in the dark… I started waving Mezzer back and forth, pumping shot after shot into the foggy void.
“Sarge! Control your fire! The General is out there engaging the enemy!” MG-MS11 said, hovering close to me. Crescent Wrench cowered behind him, following closely and hugging her sledgehammer like it was some kind of talisman against the beasts in the snow.
“T-t-they’re out-t-t there!” Crescent Wrench shrieked as another howl rent through the air. This one seemed even closer! And the wind picked up even more, the chill blowing right through our wrappings and blankets. The blanket covering Shimmercoat flew off his back into the fog and I could see that his knees were shaking as his own pistol was hovering shakilly around him, his scarf whipping in the wind. My mind dimly registered that at least he could manage telekinesis again, and wondered if he was shaking from cold or fear. Perhaps both. I tried to pull myself together, everypony was scared of the circling Rad-Windigos.
“I can’t see them!” Shimmercoat was squinting against the wind. Matchstick Flare’s flames were dim and low against her body, blue in some places instead of their usual flaring red. I couldn’t feel warmth from her anymore… it was just so cold!! My breath hung in the air, practically forming crystals of ice before my eyes. I tightened the strap of my lowered goggles and silently thanked Mr. Opportunity once again for telling me to always protect my eyes. Shimmercoat wasn’t the only one struggling to see, I noticed. The others were squinting their eyes as well.
“Shimmercoat,” I said, almost having to shout against a sudden howl of wind, “Could you shield everyone’s eyes?”
“I think I can manage that…” he said. His glasses were misty from his breath rising from his scarf into them, which made it even more difficult for him to see. His horn glowed, and everypony seemed to breathe a sigh of relief as a small shield against the wind and snow covered everyone's eyes like my ski goggles covered mine. “I can hold this just fine. Good idea, I take it you’re okay with not having an eye shield?”
“I’m perfect with these.” I said, tapping my trusty goggles. “Circle together! Everyone get close!” I ordered. “We don’t know what angle they’ll strike at! Has anypony seen Top Notch?”
Nopony answered, instead a low, guttural noise that made the cave pony in me want to find a place to hide, quickly. That was too close, we were about to be attacked!
“Great scott!! The beast is among us! Take cover!” MG-MS11’s eyestalks raised up and focused on one single point and his plasma rifle started firing at a blank spot in the snowy landscape. Green globs of superheated magical energy splashed against the snow, melting large chunks. I couldn’t see anything that he was shooting at, even with the aid of my goggles.
“I-i-i d-d-don’t see anyt-t-t-thing!” Crescent Wrench moaned in fear, reflecting my stance as well. Where was Top Notch? He was supposed to be this great monster hunter! He was supposed to help us defeat these things!
“AAAAGUHHH!” Matchstick Flare screamed,and went down into the snow. Bright red slashes were torn down her cheek and halfway down her neck, bleeding way, way too fast.
“MEDIC!” I screamed, firing wildly around the area above Matchstick. Mezzer’s waves of brain-scrambling energy found nothing except snow as their targets, and there’s only so much you can do to stun snow.
“On it, Sarge! On your hooves, soldier! Step to it!” MG-MS11 aimed his MEDI-Gun at Matchstick, the healing glow soothing and sealing her wounds, though the ground around her was still stained a deep, sickening red. She shakilly got upright, her mane flaring up as adrenaline pumped into her system, overcoming the cold’s effect on her flames.
“What the FUCK was that?!” She screamed, looking around. Shimmercoat stood by her side, magnum at the ready, his horn glowing slightly brighter. A barely perceptible bubble was formed around the pair. I could only hope he wasn’t going to burn himself out again, but now was not the time.
“Our quarry, of course! Stay together! Windigos prefer solitary targets!” Top Notch appeared out of nowhere, causing my heart to leap into my mouth. He was circling slowly above us, like the intense wind had no effect on him whatsoever. What was with his flying?
“Then get down with us!” I shouted. “You’re exposed up there!”
“Nonse--” Top Notch was cut off by a howl, the loudest yet, clearly from something that had tasted blood and wanted more. Before he could even continue speaking, Top Notch was battered out of the sky, and hurtled into a snowbank and out of sight. A small piece of green icor splashed on my goggles, and I felt something wet on my cheek.
“Everypony circle up! Flank to flank!” I ordered. We were already pretty close so it wasn’t hard. “MG-MS11! Tag the target! We can’t see him, we need a mark! Hiss! Sic ‘em!” I called out to Hiss, hoping he could hear me.
“SATS reads four hostiles, Coin…” Shimmercoat said, reminding me to look at my dang EFS. There were four angry red lines circling around us, invisible. Hiss had charged out at my command, also invisible.
“Sir! If I fire I risk hitting the general!” MG-MS11 protested.
“Hiss can take care of himself!” I shouted back. “We NEED a mark! Anything you can get on them!”
“Yessir!” MG-MS11 rotated his arms and switched to… his buzzsaw. Great. The robot was mitigating the risk of hitting Hiss by going into melee. He charged forward as well, swinging the whirring, deadly saw in a wide arc in front of him…
A frothing, steamy sheet of deep blue liquid burst from the air in front of MG-MS11 in a gout, followed by a bone-chilling howl of anguish. A form… flickered. A huge, wolf-like form with glowing blue eyes and icicles for teeth and claws… no wait. It was more like somepony had merged a full-blooded horse with a wolf. Those weren't claws, they were hooves shaped into icy, foot long spikes! And now that it was visible, it was clear that the Rad-Windigo, for that’s the only thing this monster could be, was hideously mutated and misshapen. Tumors sprouted from it’s back, and it looked like its neck and head were absolutely covered in antler-like growths. It struck out at MG-MS11, who jetted to the side in a deft evasive maneuver. Another howl emerged from its mouth, crying out with a force like a winter storm in the dead of night. The air around us seemed to thicken and the light even dimmed a little. Snow got thicker in the air, flurries blocking all visibility. “Open fire!!” I shouted, but I couldn’t even hear myself…
Another howl, right in my ear, caused me to scream. A Windigo fell right in front of me, it’s mouth foaming an icy liquid that froze on contact with the air, gradually sealing its mouth and nose. I screamed again, and looked frantically up at its body only to see Hiss fang-deep into its neck. He’d taken one down! “Good boy!” I shouted, but then screamed a third time, this time in pain. My poor back went numb with sudden, almost searing cold ripping through it, and I fell to the ground in agony, screaming. The pain was so sudden, so… so cold, that I could think of nothing else but the fact that my back was sliced open and I couldn’t move… again!!!
I was vaguely aware of gunshots blazing and eerie, frothy screams and howls. MG-MS11’s buzzsaw whirred and shrieked a metal scream as it sliced through flesh and bone and ice. I gritted my teeth against the pain, trying not to lose consciousness. I couldn’t feel my back legs again, and I couldn’t tell whether they were just numb from the cold or if I was paralyzed again. I opened my eyes and looked around, desperately trying to take stock of the situation and rising up on my forehooves. A Windigo, bleeding and limping around our group, was right in front of me. My horn glowed its soft red glow as I rose Mezzer and shot it, somehow scoring a hit! It sat stunned, and I glimpsed a flash of brown and green as Hiss latched his poisonous fangs onto its throat and took it down. How many were left? Two? Three? I couldn’t remember through the pain… I looked at my EFS, turning around and dragging my lower body to try and count the little red bars… four… five?! SIX?!!
More howls, more wind, more intense cold. The pack of rad-Windigos was gathering around us, and it looked like there were more of them than we realized. Shimmercoat and Matchstick Flare were a blazing inferno of fiery kicks and heart-stopping magnum rounds, supporting each other, both of them wounded. “Don’t get separated!” Shimmercoat shouted, looking around desperately. “Crescent! Coin! Where are you!?”
”He can’t see me… I can’t move, can barely think in this cold!” I thought, frantic, at Mezzer.
”Thou shouldst keep firing me! I make a distinct noise, and the enemy is invisible! Thous must suppress them if we have any hope of victory!” Mezzer shouted, his booming voice in my head clearing up the fog a bit, helping me think more clearly. I started firing randomly around where the blazing light that was Matchstick’s whirling body was. I scored a couple of hits, the stun on the Windigos causing them to drop whatever was making them invisible, and inviting Shimmercoat to load one full of lead, dropping it after a few shots. Matchstick Flare tackled the other one, shattering antlers on its neck and causing a stench of burnt flesh to choke the icy wind. She pummeled it, avoiding hooked hooves deftly until it stopped twitching.
That’s when I noticed that something… odd was happening at the ground around Matchstick and Shimmercoat’s hooves. At first I thought it was Matchstick Flare’s heat melting the snow around where she was fighting, and while that certainly was the case, it was something more than that. The snow was melting around Shimmercaot’s hooves too. And… inexplicably… amazingly… grass was growing under their hooves! There were even a few small flowers sprouting, more and more as Shimmercoat and Matchstick Flare fought together. They were smiling, the pair of them, Shimmercoat looking stronger than ever, his horn glowing brightly. Matchstick Flare’s fire blazed, her eyes shining with inner fire as her outer fire flared up with intense heat and light. How was this happening? The frigid cold around us was still blowing and howling in the wind, causing my sweat and blood to freeze to my skin, but a localized springtime was blossoming around Shimmercoat and Matchstick Flare like they had a power that overwhelmed the magic of the Rad-Windigos. “What’s going on!?!” I shouted at the pair of them. I didn’t understand what kind of magic they were using. Did Shimmercoat learn a new spell?
That’s when I felt something touch my shoulder, and I whirled, raising Mezzer again. “Coin… help…” Crescent Wrench was at my side, her hoof on my shoulder. Her own shoulder was… bad. Real bad. It looked like she had been stabbed deeply with one of those spiked hooves. Right behind her, her sledgehammer was forgotten on the ground, covered in frozen blue blood… and the Windigo she had slammed was getting up, looking right at us! There was nothing I could do in the state I was in…
“Striped bastards! Stay away from our civilians! Sarge, I got this, go help the General!” MG-MS11 swooped in, interposing himself between Crescent Wrench and the Windigo just as it charged. His flamer poofed to life and sent it reeling back, shrieking and engulfed in flame. At the same time, the arm with the MEDI-Gun trained on Crescent, stemming the bleeding from her puncture wound and, while not fully healing it, stabilizing it quickly. Crescent looked up at the fighting robot with wide eyes, and… and the area around her started to sprout grass and melt the snow away as well! She stood up, kicked her sledgehammer off the ground and into her hooves, and joined MG-MS11 in the fight, slamming the Rad-Windigo to the ground with a bone-crunching impact. The Windigo hit the ground in front of her, which was spreading more grass and spring flowers… and it screamed! It howled in pain as its icy flesh sloughed off in huge chunks, like it was melting away with the snow around it. Crescent looked shocked, and turned to glance at MG-MS11, who was training his MEDI-Gun still at her, her wounds stitching up quickly and painlessly. She… grinned! She looked like she was having the time of her life when not moments ago she was a terrified little filly!
“I… don’t understand…” I moaned, trying to drag myself out of the snow and into the warm-looking bubble that Crescent and MG-MS11 radidated. When I reached into it, though, the grass almost instantly died, and the area below my hoof rapidly covered in snow. It was still numbingly cold and… and I couldn’t enter whatever warmth the others were generating.
“It’s fondness. Or love, or friendship, or something. Thou must have a deep bond with somepony in order to combat these Windigos, and be immune to their wintery powers.” Mezzer said, his voice surprised like he had just worked this out himself. “Dost thou have somepony to love? It is the only way thou will be able to defend thyself…”
“I don’t know! Do they have to be here? Alive?!” I was thinking of Dear Ol’ Ma… but the wind around me just got colder at the very thought of her. I saw tow glowing blue pairs of eyes suddenly dart towards me and I felt… miserable… I looked to Shimmercoat and Matchstick, two ponies obviously in love fighting in rays of sunshine in their own personal grassy field. Crescent and MG-MS11… maybe the filly’s feelings towards the robot were misguided, but they were clearly real enough to counter the Rad-Windigos. It even seemed like the two pairs couldn’t even see me, out here alone in the snow, injured, with two beasts towering over me… I closed my eyes, waiting for the icy spikes to plunge into me and end it all…
That’s when I felt a… a warmth. I had almost forgotten what warmth felt like! Blazing! Powerful! I felt better than I had ever since we set hoof into this wintery hellhole! Pain blossomed in my back as the numbness went away, but I knew it should have hurt WAY worse than it was… what was going on?
I looked up. I was in my own grassy patch of spring now! And… and Hiss was standing beside me, glaring down the two Rad-Windigos, who were rapidly retreating out of the warm aura that spread out from the pair of us. His tail rattled fiercely, and he charged at one of the beasts, which did its best to leap away but couldn’t escape the deadly poisoned fangs of the nightstalker sinking into its flank. Yes! “Go Hiss! Good boy!!” I cheered. My heart was filled with gratitude and I could physically feel the warmth of Hiss’s love for me. Just then, though, I noticed the other Rad-Windigo trying to get to me around the side, where the springtime aura was thinnest. I tried to swing Mezzer around at it, but before I could draw a bead, a great, clearly magically amplified shout rose above the wind and the chaos of battle.
“ALRIGHTY YOU SAD SACKS OF GROCERY STORE ICE!! YOU’VE DONE AND STUCK YOUR WILLIES IN IT NOW! DO US ALL A FAVOR AND JUST DIE NOW! NO? I GUESS I’VE NO CHOICE BUT TO HELP YOU ALONG THEN, WOT? EQUESTRIAAAAAA!!!”
All eyes, Windigo, pony, robot and snake-dog alike, turned to the drift where Top Notch had fallen. His spiffy suit was torn, showing not necrotic flesh, but bone underneath. His eyes were blazing with what looked like green fire, and his mouth was clamped tightly around the triggering mechanism of his battle-saddle mounted auto-cannon. He stood tall, seemingly not the least bit injured. Matchstick Flare turned to us, spotting us as if she had just realized that we were just a few meters away. She shouted “GET DOWN!” and hit the deck herself. I grabbed Hiss’s head with my magic and ate the dirt as well, pushing him down.
I covered my ears. Top Notch’s large caliber, custom made, carefully tooled, beautifully decorated, rapid fire, freaking HUGE auto-cannon was, in a word, LOUD. Blue spray, ice cold, splashed over Hiss and I, smelling foul and getting in our manes (or fur, in his case) as the Windigos above us were turned into paste. The thundering report of the 20mm shells didn’t seem to stop or even slacken. The recoil on that monster must be tremendous, how was a single ghoul handling that thing? Nevertheless, the teeth-clattering fire continued, without pause, for seemingly ages. Wracked with pain and covered in frigid Windigo blood mixing with my own and Crescent’s on the snow and the grass, I just covered my head and shuddered, wondering when it would all be over.
Eventually, years later, it was over. It even felt marginally warmer, and the wind had stopped completely. I looked up. Rad-Windigo corpses were everywhere. There were at least a dozen and a half torn bodies of the beasts lying around. Some showed signs of being mauled to death and poisoned, others were burnt, still others with massive, precise holes in their heads and chests from Shimmercoat’s magnum. A couple were sawn apart, split open by MG-MS11’s saw.
Most of the bodies were torn wrecks of their former selves, torn apart by heavy weapons fire. I looked around and saw Top Notch laying on the ground where he had fired upon the pack of monsters. “Medic… MEDIC!” I shouted. We were all in bad shape. Crescent had a deep shoulder wound and was crying, though the healing she had received had stopped the bleeding. My back was out, I felt paralyzed again, and had a deep gash on top of it all. Matchstick Flare was covered in weird pockmarks and deep scratches, and her hooves were a concerning shade of black, almost as if they had been frostbitten. Top Notch was in unknown condition, it’s hard to tell what’s an injury and what’s not with ghouls. Shimmercoat looked okay, though he had his own share of scrapes and bruises. He was busy trying to help Matchstick to her hooves and looking her over, worried.
“On my way, Sarge! Medical Mr. Gutsy to the rescue! I’ll have you all ship-shape in no time!” MG-MS11 hovered over a drift near where he and Crescent had been fighting. He shone as if he was new, not a scratch on him. Either the Windigos were not interested in an emotionless metal machine, or he had gotten WAY better at dodging attacks. I suspected the former.
“Top Notch is unconscious, check him first.” I ordered, wincing in pain as my back twinged when I tried to drag myself closer to Shimmercoat and Matchstick Flare. They trotted over to me, wobbly but on their hooves at least.
“Er, sir.” MG-MS11 said, sounding grim. “I’m afraid this soldier has passed on, making the ultimate sacrifice for his country. I’ll wipe the rest of the zebra scum off the planet for this!” he was hovering over Top Notch, MEDI-Gun trained on him, but the ghoul was non-responsive.
“Nooo… he was a nice ghoul…” Crescent Wrench sobbed, holding her shoulder, tears soaking her cheeks and freezing in her fur.
“Some hunter he was…” I frowned, panting and frustrated that my back legs wouldn't work again. I thought that he would have been more useful.
“He did mention that this was his first time hunting Rad-Windigos. At least his last hurrah was impressive.” Shimmercoat said.
“Pshhh. Yeah right. Stop pretending, ya ghouly bastard!” Matchstick Flare shouted at Top Notche’s corpse. “I know what that look in your eyes was, you were higher than a two cap whore loaded with Dash! Get up and help us lesser ponies, huh?”
To our surprise, Top Notch groaned and rose to his hooves! Crescent Wrench screamed, whether in shock or in fear i couldn’t tell, and both Shimmercoat and I gasped in surprise. His suit was all but rags now, and his entire torso looked as if it had been flayed of skin. White bone gleamed in the blessedly warm sunlight, and what looked like dried, desiccated organs hung inside his ribcage limply, bound together with cords of some synthetic material. His skin started again right at his shoulders, torn up but normal looking for a ghoul. “Dead, am I? Somepony please inform my next of kin.” he said, turning to us and smirking, which looked more like a hideous grimace on one side of his face where half his cheek was missing. “Now... where did my hat run off to?”
MG-MS11 patched all of us up. My injuries were the worst out of all of us, as usual. I had to undergo more field surgery, but this one was simpler than the last, and we had plenty of healing potions stored away in the MEDI-Gun. Would probably need to resupply them, but so far so good. Maybe I should invest in heavier armor? Lugging around all that weight would be a drag, but now I’m the proud owner of two replaced vertebrae. Replaced with rebar and concrete. My back hurts all the time now.
“I’ve never seen a ghoul with so much… missing. Er, no offense.” Matchstick Flare said to Top Notch as we made our way back to Auction House. The cloud cover above was back to its normal grey light as opposed to the thick white clouds of the blizzard. The sun was probably shining up there… feeling sunlight would be nice. Even without direct light, it was still warming up, and the snow around this region was melting rapidly. Winter was over with the death of the Rad-Windigos.
Top Notch looked at his body, his suit all but torn away in the fight. Shiny white ribs, clearly polished to a reflective sheen, reflected the light glowing off the melting snow. What could only be described as a ‘gut sack’ was tied to several bones in his torso with nylon rope. Nearly all his flesh on the larger part of his torso was stripped away, leaving only his skeleton visible around his chest and belly area. He still had dessicated flesh on his head (though his face was messed up on one side), neck, shoulders, and legs, all the way up to his flank. But the center of mass… well… had no mass to speak of.
“Ah, yes. Well, when you hunt the kind of monsters I hunt down, sometimes they take a bit of you with them, wot!” he smiled at us. From this side he looked positively handsome for a ghoul. The left side of his face was the one with his cheek torn off, which had happened during the fight at some point. Even with MG-MS11’s healing beam, the damage did not grow back. “For some reason, healing potions don’t work well for me at all, even large doses of magical radiation do little to regenerate me, unlike other ghouls. My extremities are the most affected by radiation, so as long as I wear some kind of saddle and shirt I can generally keep my ribs hidden, but sometimes… well, as you see, I keep them polished to leave a good impression!”
“How the fuck does that work?” Matchstick looked incredulous. “Even ghouls need bodies!”
“It could be that I’m not a ghoul at all. Or some rare variant. I try not to let it bother me. Besides! My ribs do look stunning, and I was always a little overweight in my past life. Now I’ve finally lost that last five pounds, eh?” Top Notch laughed uproariously, which for him sounded like a pony with collapsing lungs suffering it’s final breaths in hideous agony. But he was smiling so… I guess if it didn’t bother him, I wouldn’t let it bother me.
“We’re almost back to town. Hopefully ponies are noticing the change in weather.” Shimmercoat said, cleaning his glasses with a small cloth with his telekinesis. His magic seemed to be back at full strength.
“What happened between you and Matchstick during the fight?” I asked. Turning to Crescent Wrench “And you and MG-MS11? All of the sudden grass started sprouting around you guys. And you completely ignored me while I was injured!”
“You… when MG-MS11 came to save me…” Crescent was looking down, shuffling her hooves as she walked. “It was almost like you faded out of view in the snow. I thought you were crawling to cover…”
“I didn’t notice you either, or we would have come to help.” Shimmercoat said. “I still can’t believe you broke your back again.”
“Like it was my fault!” I protested, the pain in by spine twinging. “Ugh… I need Med-X I think. Good Ol’ Ma said not to do drugs unless I need them… ahhhh but it hurts!”
“I’ll patch up the painful spots, Sarge!” MG-MS11’s MEDI-Gun bathed me in a warm glow that eased the pain away. I knew that as soon as he turned it off though, it would slowly come back. And the areas where my spine had been fused with rebar, painful or not, were always stiff.
“Thanks.” I said, adjusting my goggles above my horn. “Well? Who knows what happened?”
“Love! The power of love and friendship! Or so the story goes, wot!” Top Notch fluttered his featherless wings and did a small pirouette in the air.
“What.” I said. “That can’t be it. Once Hiss met up with me I started melting the snow around me too!”
“And that’s because he loves you like a dog loves his master! In the old stories, ancient civilizations only overcame the foul weather of the Windigos when they joined together in camaraderie and friendship. Of course, they didn’t have my trusty auto-cannon with them!” Top Notch hefted his battle saddle with the aforementioned huge gun resting on it. “But all the same they were able to overpower the eternal winter with good feelings. Windigos are sensitive to the emotions of their prey, it seems. I’ll be sure to record this verification of the legends in my journal when I write up our adventure today!”
“You write?” Crescent Wrench looked interested. Shimmercoat perked up as well. Maybe Stable ponies liked to read?
“All the time! It’s what keeps my head on straight. That and killing the foul monsters that plague the wastes, wot!” Top Notch still had that grisly smile. “I’ll sell you some excerpts of my journal for a small fee if you like!”
“If the master will allow us some spending money, then maybe.” Shimmercoat cast a sidelong glance at me. Looks like I was going to be buying some books soon. To be fair I was interested too.
Hiss padded his way up next to me, panting slightly with his skinny tongue hanging out of the side of his mouth. He looked so cute like that! I patted him on the head as we crested a ridge and Auction House came into view. With the snow melting fast, it looked like my home was finally, finally on its way to being how I remembered it to be. I could see small crowds of ponies gathering in the Market Square, my favorite hangout spot. The fields surrounding Auction House were starting to show the greens and reds of growing maize and tatos, and the smell of spring was in the air. “C’mon everypony!” I said, excited. Now that the Windigos were gone, maybe things would go back to normal and I could show off my slaves to everypony I knew! I saw a flock of black birds in a field off far in the distance fly into the sky. They must like that the weather has cleared up. For once, I felt like everything was going to be alright.
Level up! (Lv. 15)
New Perk: Animal Friend, Rank 1: Your bond with Hiss has deepened such that the two of you are even more inseparable than you once were! And through your interactions with him, you’re now capable of understanding other small to medium sized wasteland creatures. Unless you or your party open hostilities with them, most creatures won’t attack you on sight.
Authors Note: Now you have to wait another 6 years! Note I didn’t actually count the years but that number is probably depressingly close to accurate.
As usual, HUGE thanks to Kkat for writing Fallout: Equestria and giving us sidefic writers a great big sandbox to play in. Thanks to Heartshine and Shimmercoat for their editing prowess, and for not making too much fun of me when I asked them to help me necro this story. Apologies if my literary voice has changed, it’s been a while. Also thanks to Bethesda and Hasbro for two great franchises. (Even if modern Bethesda is... different) Hope you enjoy!