Fallout Equestria: Morality of Property

by Sir Leadhead

Chapter 15 > In which stories are shared

Chapter 15 > In which stories are shared


Stay awhile and listen!


The first thing we noticed as we trotted into Auction House was that the streets were alive. Many, many more ponies were out of their homes and wandering the city, going to shops, talking with one another, laughing, and cleaning up the mess the fast-melting snow had left behind. It was just like I remembered it… I finally felt like I was returning home!

“This is the real Auction House!” I declared, mostly to my slaves, Hiss, and Top Notch. “I can’t wait to show you around properly this time!” I jumped up and down in glee, then winced at the pain in my back such rapid motion caused.

“Well, first things first, wot!” Top Notch said, looking at me with his milky, almost-rotted eyes. His face was still messed up from our fight with the Rad-Wendigos, as was his suit. Frankly, we all looked pretty worse for wear. MG-MS11 had taken care of our injuries, but the MEDI-Gun didn’t repair armor or clothing. And even though the wounds were healed, we all felt the fatigue of battle looming over us. “We need to recuperate and repair our equipment to some reasonable facsimile of presentability, then go straight to your Mr. Opportunity and let him know the hunt was successful! Though I’m sure by now he’s probably figured that out by himself!”

“I know somepony we could visit then,” I suggested. “Gee probably doesn't like what Matchstick did to her floor, so I’d rather avoid her for now…” 

Matchstick looked sheepish, but I knew she couldn’t help singeing surfaces she sat on. 

“With the snow gone,” I continued “he’s probably made it to his shop by now. “Let's go to Fidget’s Fineries!”

“Who’s Fidget?” Shimmercoat asked.

“A friend of mine, though I haven’t talked to him for a long time.” I answered as we made our way once again to the Courthouse. The going was way easier without a blizzard fighting us the whole way there. A pony truly didn’t appreciate clear weather until they had to wade through leg-length snow cover! “He owns a pretty fancy clothing shop in the Courthouse. Sells armor too, and can definitely repair our armor if we can’t find something new. I met him when I was just a bit older than Crescent. We got in lots of trouble together back then!” I smiled at the memories.

Oh? An old flame, perhaps?” Mezzer piped up in my head, eager to root through a new scene of my private past in search of his purpose.

“Somepony you were… close to?” Top Notch also asked. Even Shimmercoat’s ears perked up and rotated towards me. What was with guys wanting to know my private life?

“No!” I said to all of them. “Maybe a little crush, once, but he’s just a friend. I’m pretty sure he doesn't even swing that way. He does own a clothing shop after all.”

“That means exactly nothing, you know.” Shimmercoat said, looking at me with a flat expression. “You could just be completely oblivious to his advances. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised, considering your personality.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” I glared at him, my eyes narrowed to slits.

“I’m just saying that when it comes to feminine charm you could use a refresher course or two.” Shimmercoat smirked and I could tell that he was making fun of me on purpose.

“Hey! I’ve got plenty of feminine charm!” I growled. Hiss yapped in response and looked around, seemingly confused.

“The General is wondering where the danger is, Sarge!” MG-MS11 said, his eyestalks also tracking the ponies around us as we walked down the street towards the courthouse. “Your voice has gotten suddenly dangerous, he says!”

I was about to protest that I was perfectly fine and charming as normal, thank you very much, when I almost ran into Crescent Wrench, who had been trotting just in front of me. She was staring at a food cart set up in the street, the vendor having set up now that the snow was gone. The smell of fried maize and tatos wafted through the air, and her mouth was watering at the sight of it. 

“Oh! Are you hungry Crescent?” I asked, my frustration at Shimmercoat and MG-MS11 vanishing as quickly as the Rad-Windego snow. In response to my question, both of our stomachs growled loudly. “Heh, I guess we could all use a bite to eat.” I smiled and trotted up to the food stand.

“Greetings!” The red coated stallion behind the cart said. He was wearing a slave collar, so it probably wasn’t his stand, but he looked cheerful enough. “Fried Farms Veggies here, to satisfy all your cravings! Fresh harvest today, I can tell you folks are looking for a feast!”

“You got that right! I’ll take three cobs of Maize!” Matchstick Flare jumped up in front of me, eager to eat. With a flick of his hooves, the stallion flipped three cobs out of his fryer and they sizzled as they landed on a stack of flimsy paper plates. He lifted the top plate off carefully and passed the plate over to Matchstick.

“Here you go! Woah, that’s a… um, miss, are you aware you’re on fire?” he said, apparently just noticing Matchstick’s flaming mane and tail.

“Ah, really? I hadn’t noticed, no.” She said, deadpan. “Thanks for… Aghh! Fuck!” the paper plate in her hooves caught fire and the tasty treats she was holding fell towards the ground. Before they were ruined by the muddy streets, though, a thin blue shield whisked them up from their fall and levitated them in front of Matchstick.

“Mind if I share?” Shimmercoat said, smiling, his horn glowing as he held the maize aloft. Matchstick looked disappointed that the plate had burned, but happy that her food wasn’t dirty, and even happier that Shimmercoat had been the one to catch it. I turned to the vendor.

“I’ll take another two maize for each of us, and a tato for us all too. Um, do you eat, Top?” I asked.

“Of course! Despite my condition, I do still have a stomach, wot!” Top Notch said. “I can pay for my own though.”

“Alright.” I said, nodding to him and exchanging caps with the vendor. He put them in a pouch tied to his collar and passed a plate to all of us.

“Glad this weather has cleared up, I’ve never felt better since the start of the storm!” he said. “My master would have been ruined if the snow hadn’t melted when it did. Might have had to sell me! Let’s hope it’s gone for good.”

“I’m sure it will be.” Shimmercoat said to him, all of us nodding and smiling knowingly. “Thank you for the food.”

We continued on our way to the Courthouse, carefully holding our food in the flimsy plates. Well, except for Shimmercoat, who just used a small shield spell for himself and Matchstick Flare. The city was coming back to life, from the slumber of the snow to the hustle and bustle of the markets and trade that I knew. It was getting a little difficult to navigate through the crowd of ponies making their way to the Courthouse, as we weren't the only ones with business at the most important building in the city. It didn’t help that the streets were muddy because of all the melted moisture too. The food tasted wonderful, reminding me of my days when I was a young filly: growing up here in Auction House and learning my trade, making money for Mr. Opportunity’s gang, and generally getting into and out of trouble constantly.

Even though the crowd did its best to delay us, we made good time. Mostly thanks to Matchstick Flare and the fact that nopony wanted to touch her, fearing burns. She grumbled about it, but didn’t look sad at all when Shimmercoat twisted his tail around her burning one and trotted side-by-side with her, a heat shield protecting him. We were soon inside the main atrium, and I lead the party over to Fidget’s Fineries, discarding our empty paper plates in a nearby trash can.

The door led into what was probably an office or waiting room back when this was a courthouse, but now was the basis for Fidget’s shop.. Racks of clothing lined the walls and were arranged tastefully in the middle of the room, with a large counter in the back. A bright yellow unicorn stallion with a somewhat less bright teal mane and tail stood at the counter, his head hidden behind a big sewing machine. The counter was littered with the tools of his trade, everything from fabric cutters to pincushions, from armor repair kits to pre-war outfits awaiting modification to his exacting standards.

“Hellohellohellooooo!” He called out. “Just one moment!”

“I’m going to stand outside…” Matchstick Flare said, eyeing all the clothing hanging around the store. “Don’t want to cause an accident…”

“Stop. I’ll shield you so your heat won’t affect the clothing.” Shimmercoat cast his spell, and a soft blue glow surrounded Matchstick Flare, and the temperature near us dropped several degrees as the heat that I hadn’t noticed up until now vanished. Matchstick looked at Shimmercoat and gleefully smiled, looking around now without worry at all of the flammable objects on hangers.

Nodding in thanks to Shimmercoat, I answered Fidget. “Hey there Sticks. Long time no see!”

“Do my ears deceive me!?” Fidget came out from around the counter and looked at us, a huge grin on his face when he saw me. The first thing one would notice about him was that he was very tall and very lanky, his legs making up for about 70% of his height. Hence the nickname ‘Sticks’, which I had called him since we were small… or, rather, smaller. His cutie mark resembled a fine pre-war dress that was teal, like his mane. “They don’t! Specs!! Helloooo Beautiful! It’s sooooo good to see you!!” A couple of strides on his long legs were all it took for him to get to me and give me a hug, which I returned. My nickname from him was ‘Specs’. Referring to the ski goggles I got from Mr. Opportunity, of course. Never mind that he also wore glasses, a rather fine set of pre-war ones with very sturdy and good looking rims. He was also wearing a tailored pre-war suit jacket, which accented his lanky frame to make him look sharper and less awkward. Fidget was the best at making anypony look their best. “What brings you here? When did you get back in town?! Did you have to go through the snow? Oh I have so many questions!! Why don’t we head to the back to catch up? Oh!” He seemed to notice my entourage all standing behind me, looking around. “Are you all with my dear friend Specs here?”

“Specs?” Shimmercoat, who ALSO had glasses, was trying to hide a smirk. Matchstick Flare was not so subtle.

“Pffwahahahaha!!” she sputtered, laughing so hard she almost fell over. “Wow, Coin! You’ve had those goggles since you were a kid? How big were they on you back in the day?”

“Oh, they covered almost her entire face!” Fidget said, smiling.

“You’re not helping.” I glared at him as Matchstick actually did fall over this time, cackling.

“To answer your question, good sir, we are indeed with young Coin here, ahem…” Top Notch stepped forward, and used one of his featherless wings to doff his hat. Introductions were made, and we all made our way to the back of the shop near the big sewing machine and other clothing construction equipment that Fidget had back here. I honestly had no idea what most of this stuff did, but Fidget could even repair armor plating if somepony needed him to, so the shop was fully outfitted with the tools he needed.

“Thank the Masters the snow is gone!” Fidget sighed dramatically, waving a hoof around like he was going to swoon. “I was afraid I’d come down with a fever, been cooped up in my home this entire time! We’re lucky though, it looks like the fields only had a few losses in yields, the city should be able to recover. And I won’t have to make a winter weather lineup!” he chuckled. “So how about you?! Any news from the wild frontiers? Your new slaves look impressive! And I never took you for the type to keep a robot around! Oh, I’m sure so much has happened, you must tell me all of it!!”

“I’ll be happy to share the story of my time away from town, but you’ll have to work while we chat.” I said, stripping off the tatters of my Stable 11 jumpsuit and the few scraps of leather and tire armor I was wearing. I motioned for everypony else to pass their clothes over to Fidget. “We’re going to want an armor upgrade as well, we’ve been in more scraps then I usually find myself in, and I want to be more prepared.” It felt a little weird not wearing anything after so long, even the scraps that I had remaining, but plenty of ponies went without clothes if they didn’t need protection or pockets. The Stable ponies and myself were still wearing our Pip-Bucks, of course, and I kept the Hoof of Honor on as well. Matchstick Flare’s armor popped as it cooled, the oven elements stitched into it turning from their usual deep red to black.

“Say no more! Of course I’ll… um… fix these! The first step, of course…” he dragged out a trash bin and tossed my old clothes into it. “There! Now I can really get started!”

I glared at him, but didn’t stop him. Fidget was right, the armor I had wasn’t any good anymore, maybe only as  material for a raider’s barding. I turned to everypony else. “You guys pick something out from the racks that you like, I’d like us to look nice if we’re going to be in the Courthouse for a while. We’ll also want to get your armor repaired or replaced. Fidget can fit you if it’s not the right size. Um… do you have flame retardant cloth?” I asked, looking at Matchstick’s expression as she stared around the shop, looking rather melancholy.

Fidget looked Matchstick Flare up and down, even getting up from where he was sitting and trotting around her, eyeing her up, measuring tapes already levitating around her taking measurements in the teal glow of his magic. “Interesting! Very… oh, my, you’re quite muscular for a mare of your size! Not that that’s a bad thing at all, you’re still quite lean, and your fur! Smooth and perfect, not a blemish on you! Your mane and tail are certainly lively, but you’d be surprised how many clients have strange aberrations that their clothing needs to be customized for.” he was muttering to himself as he moved the measuring tapes all around Matchstick, who stood, almost petrified.

“H-hey! Not so close! You’ll hurt yourself!” She protested as he measured her inseam, causing a crimson flush to rise through her face.

“Relax, I’m keeping you shielded.” Shimmercoat said, trying to hide a smile. “It will be interesting seeing you in clothes other than your armor.”

“Oh, I’m going all out on this one!” Fidget said happily, his magic whirring several machines next to me to life. I jumped back as a sewing needle whizzed past my ear. “This will take some time, why don’t you start that story, Coin?” And so I did, telling Fidget all about the adventures that had happened thus far after that fateful day I had set out into the wide world in search of slaves and customers, with but the few wretched rejects I could afford in tow. As I talked, Fidget worked on our clothes and armor almost feverishly, his magic causing his workshop to come alive with needle and cloth. I noticed that Shimmercoat, Matchstick, Crescent, and even Top Notch were listening as well. I hadn’t really talked much about the time I left Auction House last time, to them or anypony else. It had been some time since I had left too… too long. Was it already a couple years?! I shook my head, and the memories came flooding back, clear and vibrant… and I realized Mezzer was also listening in, and playing back what I was talking about, ever curious about what my past was like. I let him listen as I was absorbed by the memories, as if they were playing back behind my eyes.


    “Are you sure?” Fidget asked. He was just as tall and lanky in his younger years as he was as an adult. We were both in our late teens at the time I started traveling around the wasteland and didn’t see him every day. He knew this part of the story, and it’s not like I hadn’t seen him since then, but I was recounting it for the benefit of the others in the room, and the mysterious gun entity in my head.

    “Pretty sure.” I replied, checking over my new leather armor, fitted by Fidget himself. Tires for the shoulders, a few spikes… I was looking pretty intimidating! “Mr. Opportunity said that if I was going to make it big here in Auction House, I needed to have field experience. Actually going out there and catching, selling, and buying slaves for trade. Everpony who’s important here has spent their younger years out in the field. I can’t sit and just be a merchant or something if I’m going to live up to his standards.”

    “What’s wrong with being a merchant?” Fidget, the clothing purveyor raised his eyebrow at me, then smiled. “Nah, I get it. You really want to impress him don’t you?”

    I blushed. “H-he took me in! The least I could do is help him out!”

    “Isn’t he also heading out of town for a while? Are you going with him?” Fidget said while adjusting the back plating on my armor so that it fit more snugly, tightening a strap until I whoofed out a strangled breath.

    “Ahh! Too tight!” I wriggled until he loosened it a tad. “Much better. He is, and I’m not. I’ve got to show that I’m capable of being out and about on my own. Why, you worried about little ol’ Specs?” I grinned at him, adjusting my ski goggles on my forehead. I had just gotten big enough in my last growth spurt to make them almost not comically large when I wore them over my eyes.

    “Well, yeah!” Fidget said, looking concerned. “I just want to make sure you’re ready. And that you know what you’re doing. Lots of ponies go out and get themselves killed for no reason.”

    “I’ll be fine. I just have to recover a couple of escaped slaves is all. They’re probably starved and half dead anyways.” A pair of worker slaves had escaped the fields of the farm they were working at about a week ago. Their bomb collars had malfunctioned, and since both of them didn’t blow up when they left the digital leash of the collars, the malfunction was probably caused by tampering. One or both of the escaped slaves had somehow gotten the collars to not blow up, and had taken their chances with the wilds outside Auction House’s outer fields. I personally didn’t understand why anypony would want to ‘escape’ from safety, security, three square meals a day, and some simple farm labor as the only thing they needed to worry about. I pulled out the paper with the bounty on it. It had an actually remarkably detailed drawing of two tough looking mares, an earth pony wearing sunglasses and a unicorn in a cape.

    “Last Laugh and Golden Flame. Escaped and wanted for recovery. Must be taken alive for payment.” read Fidget as I floated the paper in front of me. “I dunno, Specs, they seem dangerous.”

    “Sticks, relax.” I said, using Fidget’s nickname. “I got this!”


    Fidget’s snorting broke me out of my vision of the past. “Puuuuuleeease Specs.” he groaned as sewing implements flew around the room, propelled by his magic. “You most certainly did not ‘have this’. Also I remember you crying that Mr. Opportunity wasn’t allowing you to go with him on his trip towards Fillydelphia.”

    “I did not cry!” I said, perhaps a little too quickly. Shimmercoat and Matchstick Flare sniggered. Everypony had made themselves comfortable while Fidget was making us clothes and new suits of armor.

    “Thy memory of this time does not have thou crying.” Mezzer helpfully pointed out in my head. “But that is a detail thou coulds’t have repressed.”

    “I could see her being a whiny little bitch about not being allowed to be a big girl and go along with daddy.” Matchstick Flare was enjoying my embarrassment far too much. I felt my face turning hot with no need of her flames to help it along.

    “If you’re going to insult me I won’t continue with the story!” I pouted, my face red.

    “Is she going to start crying now?” Crescent Wrench asked curiously. I glared at her and she cringed, hiding behind MG-MS11.

    “Weren't you going to tell Fidget about, ah, more recent events?” Shimmercoat asked, a smarmy smile still on his face. “Not that I don’t want to hear about how you captured or failed to capture two poor mares, but that hardly seems relevant.”

    “It’s been a while since I’ve stayed in the city for any amount of time. I haven’t really gotten a chance to catch up with Sticks.” I said. On the rare moments I came back to Auction House before this, I’d basically just been in and out, and only really got to say hi to Fidget in passing. Fidget nodded in agreement.

    “I did always wonder what happened to those two mares. We got time, I’m going to be making beautiful outfits for all you darling ponies. For a discount if there’s a good story from my dear old friend Specs!” he winked at me. “Continue, please. I promise I’ll keep the commentary to a minimum.”

    “You better.” I growled, but I was smiling at the same time. Then I frowned, because I knew how the story ended.  “Hey, I thought you could make sure my memories were accurate. Did I actually cry?” I asked Mezzer.

    “Thou indeed shed tears over not being able to go with Mr. Opportunity on his trip, but it was not at this moment. Fidget must be misremembering when he saw thou crying. Rest assured thy memories are secure and as accurate as can be when I access them for thee.” Mezzer assured me, the tone of his voice affronted at even being questioned. I thanked him, rolling my eyes, at continued with the story, my totally accurate memories flowing back in front of me like a vision.


    “If you say so…” Fidget made sure the rifle on my battle-saddle was hooked up properly with my special recoil-dampers in place. “Just come back in one piece. I like sewing up clothes, not wounds!”

    “I promise.” I reassured my friend, and set out, waving goodbye at the city gates. The trek out through the farmlands was peaceful enough. I saw that the maize and tatos were coming in nicely, and the slaves were busy weeding and tending the plants to be sure that the harvest would be bountiful. It was a clear day, or as clear as the ever present cloud cover in the sky would allow. No extra thick storm clouds anyways, and it did seem a little brighter. “If there’s any day good for hunting escaped slaves, today is the day.” I said to myself, checking my equipment one last time. I had the Hoof of Honor fit snugly on my forward right hoof, my saddle mounted rifle sitting comfortably at my side, and a pack of provisions and medical supplies to help me and my targets get back to town safely. Rope, too, just in case I needed to tie them up, but I hoped I wouldn’t have to do that, as dragging them back would be, predictably, a real drag.

    Soon enough, I was on the edge of the Auction House farmlands, at the last known location of the escapees. Beyond here was nothing but ruins and wild wasteland, with monsters and raiders behind every collapsed building and beneath every struggling shrub. The Bailiffs, Auction House’s military arm, did patrol around this territory, but not often enough to make it 100% safe. I kept my wits about me as I left Auction House’s frontier, taking an easy path through some rubble that my targets surely also took.

    Hours passed, as they do when on the road. The air was stagnant, my hooves throwing up small clouds of dust that settled slowly as I passed by. I looked at the wanted poster again. The two mares were probably more physically fit than I was, given that farming produced a stout strength in most ponies, the earth pony especially. It would be difficult to physically subdue them without help… which is why I didn’t plan on a wrestling match. My idea, and the reason I took this job, was to use my talent and my spell to modify magical matrices. Though their bomb collars were somehow deactivated, according to the report from the slavemaster they were still wearing them. I figured I could reactivate them from a distance, and tie their leashes to a detonator I had in my pack. Then all I had to do was keep an eye on them to be sure they didn’t do whatever it was they did in the first place to get them to fail. All but the most uncontrollable and suicidal of ponies quickly fell in line once that telltale beep of active high explosives around their necks reminded them of their position.

    I stopped to have a snack, just some dried mutfruit and nuts. Drinking from my canteen, I took another look around my desolate surroundings. The ruins outside of Auction House were difficult to hike through, much of the paths around here were strewn with the rubble of collapsed buildings. There were any number of hiding spots, both above and below ground. The fields of Auction House used to be some kind of big square or park, and the surrounding area was what used to be a major metropolitan area. I sighed. The hard part would be finding these mares… Last Laugh and Golden Flame. They could be hiding out anywhere. Miles away, or only a few yards. If they didn’t give any sign of their position to track, and thus far tracks of other ponies had been few and far between, then finding them would be next to impossible. But they were out there somewhere, with no food or water. They had to reveal themselves at some point.

    As I finished this thought, the ground around me burst into flames.

    I screamed, my fur and flesh instantly catching fire as the intense flames spontaneously leapt from the ground and onto my body. The pain was almost overwhelming, and I bolted from the epicenter of a circle of fire thrashing and grasping at my hooves from the ground around me. The circle was only a few yards wide, and once I was out I rolled painfully around on the ground, smothering the flames licking my flanks. I smelled burnt rubber, giving me a headache… maybe tires weren’t the best shoulder armor. After I had smothered the flames around me, I looked up, wincing at the pain of many burns all over my body. I still couldn’t see any source of whatever had caused the fire. Not wanting to stick around until it came again, I forced myself to move, clambering up a ruined wall, using whatever I could as a hoofhold until I got to a second story windowsill that overlooked the area.

    Rubble and ruins were all around me, mostly stone and metal, and mostly not taller than two stories. The megaspell that had taken this city out must have been pretty potent, virtually all the remains of the buildings were unrecognizable, their original purpose a complete mystery. I hid behind the wall on the little ledge that was the remains of the floor on this level. Peeking around the corner, firing lever gripped tightly in my mouth for my battle-saddle, I looked around frantically. After a few tense seconds of not seeing anypony or anything aside from crumbling buildings, I ducked back under cover and pulled out a healing potion from my pack, gulping it down. I sighed in relief as the pain of burns faded away, my blackened and angry red skin and fur regrowing back to a healthy light purple shade. That fire had to be magical in nature. Golden Flame was a unicorn, and with a name like that I didn’t doubt that she was the source. I wracked my brain, trying to think of a solution that wouldn’t end up with me roasted.

Dear Ol’ Ma, back in the day, had taught me that the best way to deal with magic was more magic. She’d routinely use command magic to get rowdy patrons to settle down, and seemed particularly good at enchanting the minds of other unicorns. “Horns are like magical antenne. If you focus you’ll find that they’re easy targets for your own spells. Now make sure table four and five have enough drinks!” I remember her teaching me after she threw out a boisterous unicorn that had gotten a bit fresh with her.

With this in mind, I closed my eyes and focused. I tried to sense any magic around me… but that was useless. I could use magic, but detection spells were never my strong suit. The only thing I could ever detect was…

I mentally smacked myself. Great steaming gobs of Broccoli, I felt dumb. Focusing again, I scanned my surroundings with my magic for magical matrices, specifically for the ones that ran the bomb collars I was looking to take over.

There! Moving fast, or as fast as anypony could reasonably go in this rubble, were two magical matrices of bomb collars. They were running away! Probably hoping I’d be too scared to stop hiding. I opened my eyes and gave chase, trying to get in range to access the bomb collars with my magic. I could try to do it from here… but it probably wouldn’t work. My magic is easier when the distance is short, and works better if I can see the target as well. I can modify matrices through walls and at distances if I have to, but it drains my magical reserves pretty rapidly, and I didn’t want to get burnt out.

The going was rough. A chase through ruined buildings and streets is one part pursuit, one part making sure you don’t get stuck in the rubble, and one part making sure you’re not about to trot right into a trap or ambush. I don’t know if the pair of escaped slaves knew I was chasing, but they were still moving fast. At one point I almost ran into a wall of fire, sheets of flame leaping up ten yards tall, blocking access to a ruined office building. A quick scan revealed that their collars, and presumably the ponies attached to them, were going… down? They were going underground!

I grimaced. I didn’t like going into underground ruins… too much of a chance of encountering famished feral ghouls eager for pony flesh. I shuddered at the memories of when Dear Ol’ Ma would punish me by having me sit above a pit full of such ghouls. I calmed myself, and took a deep breath. Dear Ol’ Ma would want me to conquer my fear and do the job I had taken upon myself to do! First, though, I had to get past this wall of fire. I could just wait for the spell to end, but I didn’t know how long it would last. By the time it extinguished, who knows where those two slaves could go? And my detection range of their collars was not infinite, in fact they were almost at the edge of my abilities right now!

I looked around. Surely there was another way underground, these cities were full of passageways and maintenance tunnels that lead basically everywhere. Of course that meant that they could pop up anywhere too… or even meet their untimely ends under the city streets. I had to hurry. I turned away from the fire wall and ran up and down the street, looking for a ponyhole cover or basement door or something that would get me underground.

There! Half covered by a piece of rubble was a ponyhole cover. Of course the rubble and metal cover were far too heavy to lift open, even with my telekinesis. I grumbled. The slaves had gotten out of my matricie detection range too. But… I looked to my left, startled. There was another matrix that I hadn’t noticed inside the building next to this ponyhole cover, and it felt like a robot matrix. Maybe a robot could lift this cover for me? The door to the building was blocked by more rubble, so I sat, closed my eyes, and focused hard. The charging station the robot was housed in was right on the other side of the wall… it shouldn’t take too much power to get in... 

I gasped, as it did take more magical energy than I was expecting… but the lines and nodes of a magical matrix spread out in front of me like I was traversing the inside of a colorful box full of yarn. Dear rotten cabbage was this matrix a mess! The Protectapony that it was installed in would probably attack anypony on sight with all this corruption. I sighed, and quickly started rooting through the lines in the matrix, trying to find the spot where current assignments would be stored. All I needed to do was add a task for the robot to open the ponyhole I was next to. Afterwards I could tell it to shut down and never wake up again so it wouldn’t attack me. In what felt like forever, I found the nodes where current tasks and commands would be executed. Sure enough, a command I could not overwrite without destroying the brain of the robot was stuck in the node, and of course it was a command to kill everything in sight. I could add the commands for it to dig itself out of the building it was in and for it to open the ponyhole for me though. I did so, adding a shutdown command at the end of the task, and exited the matrix, rushing for a big rock to hide behind.

A few minutes later, the rubble at the door of the building the robot was in shifted. A clawed hoof forced its way through the masonry, followed by the rest of a tottering metal pony. Protectaponies were common in the wasteland, often hiding in independently powered charging stations or patrolling various different complexes. Warehouses, subways, factories, all of these and more used Protectaponies for labor and security. They were sturdy, reliable robots that despite their slow speed were very modifiable for any job and smart enough to handle complex commands. There are even stories of Protectaponies in minor administrative roles, such as shop clerks or even sheriffs. Even with corrupt operating systems, which happened pretty frequently to robots who had gone far too long without maintenance or updates, they still could operate pretty reliably. My commands were no problem for this Protectapony, who had been sitting in his collapsed building until my magic stirred it to action. After shaking off the dust of whatever it’s former place of employment had been, it waddled its way over to the ponyhole cover on the ground, effortlessly smashed through the rubble blocking it, and lifted the cover off the hole into the city sewers. Placing it to the side, it beeped to itself, and the lights in its eyes winked out as it shut down.

“Whew. It didn’t notice me.” I murmured to myself. The later models of Protectaponies had integrated Eyes-Forward Sparkle sensors and spells, which could spell trouble for anypony trying to hide from them. This one either didn’t have that, or didn’t read me as hostile. I quickly hoofed it over to the open ponyhole and climbed down the rusty ladder inside. It shuddered, but held. Water flowed slowly down in these dark tunnels, but the tunnel wasn’t flooded and I could stand on the walkway. Some long forgotten pump was probably keeping the tunnel from flooding completely. I fished around in my pack for a light, as I didn’t know a light spell. “Should learn something like that, I think…” I muttered, my telekinesis shining a dim red light of magic around me as my horn glowed, picking up a much brighter flashlight from my pack and shining it into the darkness. The tunnel yawned in front of me in one direction, the other direction was packed with a cave in. “Only one way to go.” I said to myself, and trotted into the darkness, trying to ignore the rising hairs on the back of my neck.

I cast my matrix detection spell again. I got a couple of pings down under the earth, but they weren't moving, and after closer inspection they formed the much more complex matrices of water treatment machines and robots. I could still sense the shut down matrix of the protectapony I left on the surface, and was glad that I could use it as a sort of marker in my head to keep track of the direction I was going. “I hope they haven’t gone back up to the surface…” I muttered to myself. The tunnel I was slanted slightly downhill. Every hundred yards or so there was a branch off, but when I shone my light down them it was either just some maintenance room or a collapsed tunnel.

I don’t know how long I trotted down there in the dark. It was a long time, I had to stop again for another snack. Every so often I would ping the area with my matrix detection spell, but I wasn’t getting any responses. The protectapony on the surface was now at the very edge of my detection range, and as I sat and ate I focused. Surely they couldn’t have gotten that far away from me, could they? Maybe they were standing still… or maybe the collars had finally gone off, destroying both the devices that I was trying to track and their heads. “I hope not, those two are apparently pretty valuable.” I said, looking at the wanted poster again. Five hundred caps each for their safe return. One thousand if I could get both of them, quite the payday and well worth the risk of tracking them down. Didn’t quite expect that level of fire magic from Golden Flame though… that was combat mage level stuff! How did she get enslaved in the first place? I shook my head… no matter, once I caught up to them, she'd have to listen to me or have her head blown off.

My spell picked up something. There it was! Two simple matrices, bomb collars on inspection, right next to each other, right on the edge of my detection range and almost straight down. Did they fall down a pit? They weren't moving, and the signal I was getting was really faint. That suggested magical interference… possibly a high amount of radiation. I gulped. Radiation meant ghouls, as well as unpleasant radiation sickness if I hung around for too long. “I’ll check to see if they’re still alive at least…” I told myself, pulling together what reserves of courage I could muster. I kept trotting down the slight grade, and soon I encountered a large, shattered hole in the wall. At some point the sewer I was going down had been breached, and the hole in the wall opened into a dank, dark cavern that shone and sparkled with quartz crystal when I turned my flashlight on it. The cavern was also festooned with stalagmites and stalactites, and took a much steeper grade down into the earth. Not quite a pit, but getting close.

I carefully navigated down the steep underground hill, dodging the odd stalagmite. Pinging the collars told me that I was getting closer pretty rapidly. They hadn’t moved yet. I strained my ears, trying to hear anything ahead. My own hooves were creating quite the echoey racket, and while I tried to keep quiet, there was no way I’d be able to sneak up on anypony down below. Eventually the cave evened out and I was walking on flatter ground. Pools of water were scattered here and there along the cavern floor, dimly reflecting the light of my flashlight as it passed over them.

I stopped and listened again. The dripping of water was a constant, and occasionally I heard the crumble of stone that made my heart leap in my chest, flashlight waving to find the source. It was of course always nothing. “Where could they have gotten to…” I muttered to myself, pinging again. Just around the next bend in this cavern, behind a large column of stone that rose into the darkness.

…”on! We need to get… Flame, we need to get out of here! This is no time to nap!” I heard a slightly panicked mare’s voice, an alto for sure, were she to sing, echo up ahead. Peeking around the corner I found another tunnel branching off from where this stone column was, and I followed it as quickly and quietly as I could. “Who’s there?!” The mare’s panicked voice came down the tunnel as I went up it. Not nearly quiet enough, it seemed.

“Coin Slot, from Auction House.” I announced, stepping forward with my rifle primed and ready. It was dark, the slaves did not have any source of light aside from the soft red glow of their bomb collars. The collars were still on? Last Laugh, a light blue mare with pink mane and tail, in what looked like a tattered pre-war police uniform. Her sunglasses were on her forehead, and so I saw her eyes narrow as I shined my flashlight on the pair. Golden Flame was at Last Laugh’s hooves, groaning. She was a purple mare with darker purple mane and tail, and she looked groggy, her head bleeding from a deep cut on her forehead. “I’m here to take you two back. Are you going to come quietly? We can treat your wounds once we return you to your master.” I had my rifle trained on Last Laugh, who was blinking away stars from my light and quickly glaring at me, lowering her sunglasses. I glanced behind her, taking a look at the room we were in. There were more pools of water lying scattered around, some looking quite deep. I was standing at the only entrance to this cavern, aside from a recent looking hole in the ceiling, which was quite high up. Did they fall down here? From their injuries, it looked like it. Patches of strange glowing fungus grew in places along the walls, and I once again worried about radiation.

“Oh, yeah, sure. We’ll come quietly.” Last said in a tone that told me she was both a liar and ready to fight. Even with Golden Flame and her magic out of the equation for now, Last Laugh’s tightly muscled frame looked to be more than a match for me if I let her get close, so I stayed on the other end of the little cavern we were in, rifle raised. “Where did you even come from?”

“Same as you, above ground.” I replied. “I really don’t want to shoot you, damaged goods aren’t what I’m here for. If you comply I can get her meds, she looks pretty bad.” I nodded at Golden Flame, who was stirring, but still had her eyes closed.

“We’re NOT GOODS!!” Last Laugh’s face twisted into a horrific grimace, and I could feel the rage in her eyes even through the mirrored sunglasses. “BACK OFF!! Just leave us alone and nopony get’s hurt! You should count yourself lucky, Golden Flame roasted the three others who tried to stop us when we escaped! If you don’t leave by the time she wakes up, you’re fuckin smoked!” She took several steps forward, and I took several steps back. “Hehe…” she giggled suddenly. “You’re scared! A scardy slaver!”

With that, Last Laugh charged, giggling insanely.

I panicked, and shot my rifle. I of course completely missed, the shot echoing off of the cavern wall behind them. The crazed former slave was almost upon me! I lifted my forelegs in defense and kicked out with the Hoof of Honor. To my surprise, the kick connected, and I felt Last Laugh’s nose crunch as I connected with her face.

Not that that stopped her, though. I was bowled over by the bigger mare, and tried to cover my head as she started to whip her hooves back and forth, aiming for my face. Her blows painfully struck my forelegs and the sides of my head and neck, and I could already tell I’d be covered in bruises if I survived. I rolled, squirming out from under her and dodging a nasty spin kick sent my way. I was no stranger to brawling, but not exactly an expert either. I did know that on the ground was not a good place to be fighting from, and got to my hooves as quickly as possible, rearing the Hoof of Honor up in a defensive posture, breathing deeply.

Last Laugh was slowly walking around me, trying to see if I’d let her get to my flanks. I rotated with her, and tried to train my rifle on her, but right before I drew a bead she launched herself at me again, screaming. We became a violent ball of kicks, punches, and bites as all technique flew out the window while the pair of us just tried to connect hard hooves (and in my case a metal horseshoe) to soft pony flesh. My gun went off a few times as we rolled and scrambled in the wet dirt of the cavern, grit and grime darkening our clothes and fur. “We’re… not… going… back!” Last Laugh painfully punctuated each word with a hoof to the face or stomach, my attempts to block only partially successful. “Do… you… know… what… we… had… to… go… through!?” She broke off, panting and backing up a little, blood on her face from her broken nose, and grinning.

I backed up as well, bleeding from my nose as well. I didn’t think it was broken, but it sure felt like that was the only part of my face that wasn’t busted up. I twisted, pointing the rifle at her again. Then I noticed the barrel, and realized that the grin she had must have been from knowing that the bent barrel of the rifle now rendered my arms advantage ineffective. “What…” I spat blood and phlegm from my mouth to clear it. It was hard to breathe, and I hoped one of my ribs wasn’t broken. “What did you have to go through? Three meals a day? Fulfilling work that benefited more than yourself? That… gahh… that strong body didn’t come from starving in a gutter somewhere, Auction House fed and quartered you! We protect our slaves from the dangers of the wasteland! Even other slavers! I grant their methods are hideous, but that isn’t what happened to you!”

“You have NO RIGHT!! NO IDEA!!” Last Laugh spat, a tooth flying out of her mouth. I’d apparently gotten a few good hits in. “You tout Auction House around as if it has a high and mighty ideal, when all it does - all you slavers do - is take the freedom from ponies lives! I’m not a farmer, or some sick stallion’s toy, or anything else somepony who calls themselves ‘master’ wants me to be!” She took a few steps towards me, and once again I backed up to keep distance. I didn’t think I could go for round two, it was all I could do last time to keep her from knocking me senseless. “And you’re all fucking COWARDS!! Face me like a mare, at least! Hehehehe...” and she started that insane giggling again, slowly stepping forward. My rear bumped up against the cavern wall… I’d been cornered!

I had to act fast. No time to go into a full trance to dive into her collar. My horn glowed a bright red as she charged, and I shouted, “STOP!! Or your collar blows!” She didn’t stop. I blasted out my magic as a blanket command for all matrices in the area to activate.

    There were two loud beeps from each of the collars around Last Laugh and Golden Flame’s necks. The collars, reactivated by my magic, determined they were outside their leashes and exploded. I had no time to reprogram the leashes before activating the collars. In the center of the room, Golden Flame, who had just lifted her head groggily, didn’t even get a chance to scream as the beeping collar turned into an explosion that rocked the cavern in harmony with Last Laugh’s collar exploding as well. Bits of skull, brain, and blood splattered all around the two bodies, and I flinched as a piece of what I thought was Last Laugh’s ear hit me in the cheek. I shook it off and sighed a defeated sigh. I hadn’t wanted it to come to this…

    The cavern rumbled, and a large crack in the center of the cavern opened up, swallowing Golden Flame’s body. The floor moved, shoving me back up against the cavern wall. A pair of silo doors were opening up under our hooves! That wasn’t the only surprise. To my horror, Last Laugh, her crumpled, beaten body trembling, stood up. She looked dazed, deafened, her neck all torn up and her glasses cracked and askew, and bits of her ears missing, but she was miraculously alive! “Holy guacamole!!” I shouted, running away from the apparently invincible mare. I made it to the exit of the cavern in time, and turned to see Last Laugh waver at the edge of the opening doors and fall through the widening crack in the ground. I could see a little ways down there… the green glow that was in the fungus around us was far, far more intense down the silo. Robots that were booting up and exiting their charging stations were starting to meander around down there. It looked like an old missile silo had responded to my spell and opened up! I coughed. The taste of blood washed over my tongue, and I spat red on the wet cavern ground. The magical radiation was probably going to get way worse if there was any remains of a megaspell in that silo… I had to report this to somepony.

    I ran out of the cavern, back the way I came. No slaves, beaten and bruised, with damaged equipment and no big payday waiting for me. Tears welled up in my eyes as I ran through the ruins back to Mr. Opportunities house. My first adventure into the wastes around Auction House had not gone well.


    “Oh. My. Celestia!!” Fidget swore. “Coin!! Why did you never tell me this?! I didn’t see you for weeks after you left, and you’re telling me you came back the same day?”

    I came out of the memory trance that Mezzer was giving me to the stares of my friends and slaves. I blushed. “Would you have gone to your best friend and shared your colossal failure after being all confidant like I was?”


    I pouted. “Well, remember this was before I knew you liked stallions. I did have a crush on you at that point.”

    “Wait, what happened to Last Laugh?” Matchstick Flare was leaning forward, her mouth slightly open. She looked like she had been really engaged. Crescent Wrench as well was sitting and watching me, a half-built gizmo laying on the ground at her hooves.

    “I don’t know.” I replied. “The more experienced slavers that went down that tunnel after I told the Council about it back then didn’t report finding the remains of either Golden Flame or Last Laugh. Apparently the old missile silo I activated was empty aside from a few security robots, nothing really valuable aside from launch codes that had already been used during the war.”

    “No body no crime.” Shimmercoat said. “I know that having enemies out to kill you is probably a daily occurrence with slavers like yourself, Coin, but if Last Laugh is still alive, you probably should be keeping your eye out. A knife in the dark or gun in the shadows won’t do any of us any favors, least of all you.”

    “It’s been years since then. If she wanted to try something, if she’s even alive, I’m sure she would have done so before now.” I nodded to Shimmercoat. “But you’re right. Maybe this armor Fidget is making can help with that? How are we looking?”

    “Almost finished!” Fidget said. During my little story he’d been working on several different clothing and armor workbenches, tools darting to and fro on his telekinesis. “Why don’t you tell me how you met your current slaves? We still got time!”

    Fidget’s definition of ‘almost finished’ turned out to be using up the rest of the day here in his shop while he measured us, had us model, and worked on street clothes, nice clothes, and battle dress and armor for all of us. He even went so far as to make Hiss a fancy dog collar and little bow I could tie around his ear. While he worked, I finished the day with my telling Fidget of more contemporary stories, with the others chiming in every once and a while with details of events from their points of view. We talked about how I met up with Hiss, Shimmercoat and Crescent Wrench, MG-MS11, Matchstick Flare, and our latest acquaintance with Top Notch. About our journey to Auction House from Stable 11, and about how we took on the Wendigos and stopped the oppressive cold that had besieged the city until recently. During all of this, Mezzer replayed the memories in my head. “You can replay ALL my memories? And these are accurate?” I asked him, amazed.

    “I can. If thou allow me, or if thy art unconscious, it seems I can access thy memories and show them to thee. I didn’t know thou couldst relay the sight of thy memories as a story while thou art in a trance, but apparently thou can. It’s really quite interesting.” Mezzer seemed equally amazed.

    “It’s like being in a memory orb, except I’m not knocked out and can talk while seeing it play out. And the fact that I’m myself instead of some other pony.” I said.

    “It could be this magic that I can operate on thy mind is similar to the spell that creates memory orbs. Since from what I can tell every memory stored in thy brain is accurate to the way you saw things at the time, I can show thee things thou hast forgotten.” I felt like Mezzer was excited that he could be useful to me in more ways than stunning enemies.

    “It’s basically a cheater’s way of having a photographic memory!” I was excited. “Maybe I can recall what happened when our casino burnt down, and see if I saw anything during or after that event that could lead me to the pony responsible!”

    “Would thou like me to show thee this memory now?” Mezzer asked.

    “Um, no. I… I don’t know if I’m ready to relive it…” I said, suddenly reluctant. While the possibility of examining the day of my childhood home burning down seemed exciting intellectually, the more I thought about the concept the more apprehensive I started to feel. Already, just thinking about the flames, the smoke… I was starting to hyperventilate. I don’t even know why I brought it up.

    “Sir! I am detecting an elevated heart rate! Do you require sedatives?” MG-MS11 hovered a little closer. I found myself the subject of several raised eyebrows.

    “Er, I’m fine, Sergeant.” I said, taking a deep breath and shoving those memories back to padlocked, welded shut box where they belonged. “Just thinking too hard is all.”

    “Sorry this is taking so long, I didn’t realize I’d be here making clothes for my favorite mare and her friends all day!” Fidget was finally putting the finishing touches on the clothes he had created for us.

    “Friends is a... strong word. Though I have to admit, Fidget, your work is pretty amazing.” Shimmercoat said, looking at himself in his new armor in an only slightly cracked mirror Fidget had for customers to observe their new purchases. Shimmercoat and Crescent Wrench had gotten their Stable 11 jumpsuits repaired and armored to give them more protection. Fidget had said that he loved working with Stable jumpsuit material, and that if we ever get our hooves on more he would be happy to purchase them. Now their protective blue and yellow jumpsuits that were strategically armored with leather and steel for maximum protection and flexibility. Crescent Wrench’s new barding was a little heavier than Shimmercoat’s because Fidget had observed that she was carrying around a sledgehammer, and armored it for melee combat. “The armor padding is more comfortable than I thought it would be, I’m impressed!”

    “Thank you, darling.” Fidget said, obviously checking out how the jumpsuit hugged Shimmercoat’s rear. Not that I could blame him, I was doing the same thing. It’s amazing how a good looking stallion looks even better in a fresh set of clothes. “Here, let’s have a little fashion show! I want to see all of you in all your clothes! Ohh, let me get my camera, I can’t wait!” Fidget raced to the little office he had and emerged with an old world camera that he had gotten repaired, setting up the tripod.

    So we dressed up a bit and got our pictures taken. In addition to the armored jumpsuits, Shimmercoat and Crescent Wrench had matching sets of ‘work clothes,’ simple but hard-wearing tunics that covered their torsos and were both as blue as their Stable suits. We all had similar attire, just in different colors. Mine was red, to match my cutie mark, and Matchstick Flare’s was beige, because that was the only fire resistant fabric Fidget had right now. Top Notch looked comfortable in his black tunic, though it highlighted how… skinny he was, showing several of his ribs.

    We first showcased our new armor, trying it on and making sure everything fit properly and sat well on the areas of our bodies that needed protecting. Crescent Wrench and Shimmercoat had already changed into their armor, and the sections that were armored were padded and comfortable, and the pair of them were able to move freely as if they weren't wearing anything at all. With the extra protection, Shimmercoat would worry less about keeping up a strong shield around the pair of them, and be able to save his magic for when it was needed.

    Matchstick Flare had requested that the general design of her armor be kept the same. Her armor was more offensive than defensive. The old electric oven stovetop coils would heat up with her body heat and apply more severe burns from the heated metal when she tackled an opponent than just her radiant body heat would. Fidget did enhance the fire resistant suit the stovetop coils were attached to though. The stovetop armor was now tailored to her muscular, lean frame, hugging her skin tightly. The attachments of the coils were both more secure, and were straps that could be undone if the coils needed to be moved or removed for repairs. Extra straps around the suit would allow for the addition of more coils or let Matchstick move coils around if she wanted. Fidget had also replaced the lining, which had been getting burnt out. Apparently the old material was from a stitched together firefighter suit. Fidget replaced it with that beige flame resistant cloth he had, and it worked much better. “It’s even more comfortable! Not loose in places… the stovetops don’t jingle around… I love it!” Matchstick Flare said as Fidget took pictures.

    Top Notch at first refused armor, saying that his heavy weapon was more than enough weight to be carrying around, and that he was missing so much of his flesh that shooting him was an exercise in folly anyway. Undeterred, Fidget took Top to the fitting room for ‘special measurements’, and exited with a strange look on his face. “I know ghouls have different… biology, but I’ve never seen one missing so much of his body. He’s basically ribs and a gut sack tied to his spine!” Fidget whispered to me, taking glances at Top Notch, who was daintily snacking on a travel biscuit from his pack. “How am I supposed to armor that?”

    “Some kind of vest?” I suggested. Fidget looked thoughtful for a moment. When his work was done Top Notch had a slim Kevlar jacket that would line the inside of his ribcage, fastened to it by straps woven between his ribs.

    “That should help protect your vitals while staying slim enough for you to wear your tuxedo over it, Mr. Notch!” Fidget said, proud of himself. “That was quite a difficult task, getting all the straps right.”

    “I say, good man!” Top Notch looked pleased, examining his new ‘vest’ by lifting his bony wings and twisting about in the mirror. Without his suit jacket on, he did look less like a ghoul and more like a walking corpse. We hadn’t noticed before because Top Notch liked to stay fully dressed, but the only fleshy bits that he had, necrotic though they were, were on his limbs and face. His entire torso was essentially skeletal, bone white ribs shining in the dim firelight Matchstick put off. He had internal organs, sort of. They were all in a woven sack tied to his spine with nylon rope, several lengths of rope, actually. “Got to keep the insides inside, wot! Even with my condition, I can’t go around leaving my heart everywhere!” Top Notch took his ghoulification, if you could call something this extreme that, with a cavalier attitude, but it was still a bit creepy looking at him move around. I could see why he usually had a suit jacket and shirt on to cover his torso. Now he had a kevlar ‘torso’ woven between his ribs. At least it gave him more of a pony shape, and it protected the gut sack inside. Fidget took more pictures, though he looked a little less excited about these ones. “Say, chappie, when those are developed send me a copy, will you?” Top Notch asked. “I do so enjoy your work, and I can see why Coin brought us here to get outfitted!”

    “Of course, Mr. Notch. Thank you for your patronage!” Fidget smiled, pouring on the professionalism for the fancy pegasus.

    My own new set of armor was something completely different than my old tire-shouldered slaver kit, or the Stable jumpsuit I had been wearing for so long now. I could see that Fidget had gone all out on it. He’d used a comfortable, skin tight black catsuit for the under armor and padded it for comfort with combat armor plates sewn into the padding. It was mostly black, but the armor plates were painted purple and blue to match my coat and mane. The chestpiece, where the armor was thickest, had a picture of a bottle cap going into a slot, my cutie mark, painted on it in bright red and silver. It even included a custom holster for my oddly shaped weapon, Mezzer. The armor looked technical, sexy, and cool. “I… I...” I stammered, checking myself out. This custom combat armor wore like a second skin thanks to the catsuit lining and padded plates. Pouches for spare gear hung barely noticeable along the sides of my body. Quick access slings for potions and drugs were tucked next to my shoulders, with even more utility pockets hidden all over the place between, and sometimes behind, the combat armor plates.

    “Do you not love it!? Only the best for my dearest friend Coin!” Fidget said, looking at me proudly. “I want you to be safe out there! The state of your clothes when you came in… simply dreadful!!”

    “I can’t believe it, Fidget. This is amazing! Thank you!” I felt myself tearing up. “How… how much do I owe you? I’m not letting you give us all this for free!” I hardened my gaze, sucking up my thankful tears. “I know you have expenses like all of us and this couldn’t have been simple to do.”

    “Hmph.” Fidget waved his hoof dismissively. “For a friend, I’d pauper myself. But since I know you won’t let me get away with that, I’ll just give you a steep discount. For everything, armor, clothes, all of it, just your story and one thousand caps.”

    “Oof.” I grunted. I knew that Fidget was probably taking a loss on this one, but one thousand caps still dug into our supply pretty hard. “I’ll have to pay in installments…” I said, pulling out three hundred and hoofing them over.

    “I know you’re good for it!” Fidget beamed. “Now, on with the fashion show! Come here and let me get some sexy shots of that new armor! Pose for me darling!” I blushed, but it felt kind of nice showing off. I looked sleek, dangerous, and not a mare to be messed with. After my pictures were taken, Fidget called for us to change into our more fancy outfits. “I want pictures of all my work today, everypony get changed!”   

This time I was first up, and Fidget hadn’t held back for this outfit either. It was a big, western style ballroom dress. It took a little bit of a struggle, as apparently Fidget had decided that I needed a corset, of all things, but after I had gotten into it and took a look in the mirror, I realized that Fidget had gotten the style right on the money again. “Holy cabbage, Fidget! I look… I look great! I could go dancing in this!” I smiled. As the armor had made me feel sexy and dangerous, this dress made me feel elegant and alluring. The corset was tight, but pushed my figure into a rather appealing shape and enhanced the lines of the dress, which poofed out pretty large around my flank. My tail was concealed by flowing petticoats, which just barely didn’t touch the ground. The colors Fidget chose were the opposite of my armor, focusing on a primarily red and silver scheme to match my cutie mark rather than my fur. The effect was striking.

“I do say, Coin!” Top Notch’s monocle literally popped out of his eye socket, almost taking his eye with it. “You look like the belle of the ball! Simply marvelous!” He already had fancy clothes, and had less of a new outfit and more of a freshly repaired tuxedo. Fidget hadn’t had to alter it much, just patch it up and make sure it was clean.

“Thanks.” I blushed, and posed for the camera. Fidget knew how to bring the best out in ponies with his clothes. I wondered idly if he had any lineage with the Ministry Mare Rarity, who I think was a clothing designer before she headed up the Ministry of Image. Not that special talents were always inherited, but sometimes there was a family line that kept similar talents around.

Matchstick Flare’s dress was more beige, and simpler than mine, because Fidget’s supply of fire resistant fabric was limited. She still looked stunning, as Fidget had gone with a dress that flared out at Matchstick’s flanks with straps of fabric that waved around in the heat thrown off by her flames. The twisting and curling of the strips of fabric covered and revealed the flaming mare’s body in waves of heat, and Mezzer let out a low whistle in my head. “Thou dost not know how sexy she looks in that!” he sighed. I resisted an eye roll.

“You look amazing.” I complimented the former raider mare. She blushed adorably.

“I… I don’t know what to say… I’ve never worn proper clothes before…” Matchstick looked lost for words as Fidget took her picture.

“You’re beauty only shines even more with this on. Fidget, you’ve outdone yourself, she looks incredible.” Shimmercoat said, not able to take his eyes off Matchstick. They shared an embrace, tears in her eyes and a wild grin on her face.

“I can’t wait to go out in this, for once I want ponies staring at me!” Matchstick Flare did a little dance, the lightweight fabric straps dancing along with her.

Crescent Wrench was absolutely adorable in a little yellow sundress that fitted her perfectly. “I… I’ve never worn anything like this!” she was in awe of herself as she looked in the mirror. “I look so…” she blushed, and her ears and tail were perked up as she kept turning around in a little circle, looking at herself in the dress.

    “Cute?” I finished for her, and her blush reddened her face even more. “It’s a great look for you! Perfect for when we go to see the Council. How about you Shimm…” I stopped, my jaw dropped.

    “Buh….” Matchstick Flare grunted next to me, and punched my shoulder. It was hot, and not unpainful. “Ahhh… hooves off, sister.” she said, a stupid grin on her face.

    Shimmercoat stepped out of the little changing room in a tailored, hard-edged, old world style suit and matching hat. It was, in a word, sharp. He looked fantastic, like he could take on a room full of raiders and after that sweep a mare off her hooves to take her to a fancy dance party and drink the night away without a care. And, of course, end the night with fiery passion. I realized I was drooling.

    “I take it it looks good.” Shimmercoat said, deadpan, looking at the three of us. I realized that Matchstick and Fidget were drooling as well, and even Crescent Wrench was blushing a little, looking away, then looking back at him. Shimmercoat looked in the mirror. He nodded. “It does. Accents my features and makes me look… hmm.” Shimmercoat put a hoof on his collar.

    “Ah, yes, I’m afraid the lines are a little broken by the collar, sorry. I can try to integrate it into the outfit but…” Fidget said, looking over at me. “I, ah, didn’t want to presume.”

    The cheery, celebratory mood in the room dimmed down as the reality of everypony’s position was highlighted once again by the collar around Shimmercoat’s neck. Nopony was looking at me, and nopony made a sound, aside from Top Notch retching up an awkward, raspy cough.

    “Friends? We’re not friends, Coin. Not as long as this collar is around my neck.” I remembered what Shimmercoat had said not so long ago. We had been happy then too, coming off of victory from working as a team…

    “Thou must treat thy team members as equals in order for them to become friends.” Mezzer said in my head, breaking the awkward silence only for me. “Maybe a small step forward is in order? It’s not like thou intends to ever sell him…”

    “But… if I let him go, he’ll just run off, taking everypony else with him… I’ll be… alone again.” I thought at Mezzer, feeling awful. Did I really need to keep the ponies I cared about as slaves forever? For some reason, unbidden, my Dear Ol’ Ma’s voice told me in my head that of course they would leave. Why would anypony want to stay around me?

    “Dost thou know that? I’ll ask what I asked before. What art thou? Who art thou? What art thou going to do with thy life?”

    I looked around the room again. Fidget looked uncomfortable, and mouthed an apology in my direction. Crescent Wrench’s ears drooped, and she was staring at the ground. Matchstick Flare was glaring at a wall. Top Notch looked like he was trying to ignore us while we worked out whatever this was. MG-MS11 hovered by the door, uncaring as a machine should be. Even Hiss was hiding under a table, and the only one looking at me, his new adorable bow a little askew. He whined.

    What art thou?

    Shimmercoat was still looking at himself in the mirror, adjusting the collar of the suit to try and match up with the explosive around his neck. It wasn’t working, of course, Fidget’s work was too precise.

    “Oh what the heck.” I muttered to myself, hoping I wouldn’t regret this. My horn glowed a soft red, and I tranced for a small amount of time, accessing the matrix on the collar. The latch on Shimmercoat’s collar clicked. It fell to the ground with a soft thud.

Level up! (Lv. 16)
New Perk: Storyteller: Your memories and feelings come out detailed and entertaining when telling them to others. When relaying a tale, charisma checks are 25% easier to pass. When recounting events in a report or investigation, new clues can come forth that previous scrutiny had failed to reveal. You are also viewed as more trustworthy to those who know you from revealing details about your past that might have once embarrassed you!

Story Perk: Total Recall: Mezzer now (with your permission) can access and replay your memories like a memory orb. You do not lose full consciousness when this happens, and can relay your memories through a story to others while in a trance. You might find details in the memories that your conscious mind has forgotten or repressed.

Authors Note: Another chapter! Huzzah!

I’m taking a step many artists have taken, and starting my own Patreon account! I already have a couple of goals in mind, but for those to get off the ground what I really need is enough support to really start hammering away at the story! Once we reach a certain threshold, I can commit more time to writing not just as a hobby, but as a compensated artist. This would mean faster updates! For now the goal is one chapter every other month, if we get enough support to Patreon to get to that level. Other goals are in the works as well, so if you like the story or want more from me, go check it out! Available at https://www.patreon.com/sirleadhead 

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. Apologies if my literary voice has changed, it’s been a while since the start of this story! Also thanks to Bethesda and Hasbro for two great franchises. Hope you enjoy!