Fallout Equestria: Misfits
Chapter 5: A wretched hive.
The dream was dark and I was cold, lonely.
A feather landed by my hooves. It was large, onyx, and made of shadows.
It faded away.
I stood in a hall of mirrors, endless, and narrow. Each mirror held a new face, each face had the same color eyes. Golden eyes.
I walked slowly down the hall, taking in each face as it passed by. They were the faces of ponies in my hometown, there was Shot Glass, Broken Bottle, Lemondrop, Lighter Fluid and my sister, Socket Wrench.
Then, without transition, I walked over the catwalks overhanging the vats of taint, my hooves clanged against the metal mesh. I was dragging Socket Wrench behind me, her curly tail in my mouth. She was begging, pleading, but I had my orders, my commands, The Goddess' commands. And refusing her was as unthinkable as ceasing to breathe.
"Snakebite!" She screamed my name as I threw her down into the waiting green fluid. Her eyes were pleading as it swallowed her.
A raven called.
I was sitting on my haunches. I was in the old clinic in my hometown. The corpse of my son, my little boy, clutched to my chest. The corpse of a slaver with its head caved in lay on the floor by the cabinet my son had hidden in. A bloody mallet was on the floor beside him.
Sorrow flowed in my veins like poison, a flesh eating poison that dissolved my heart.
"...Bitter Drink..." I couldn't cry, and I damned myself for that.
Then an ice cold fury welled up in me, a hatred so dark I could only surrender and be swept away. I looked up to the Energy rifle that rested on the wall above the doorway. The door led into mine and my son's living quarters.
"They will burn." I growled deep in my throat.
The rifle glowed in tandem with my horn. It flew towards me and I took the rifle's bit in my mouth, supporting the familiar weight of it with my magic. This was personal. I would pull the trigger myself, no magic, no spells. I adjusted the power setting as high as it could go.
After leaving the body of Bitter Drink on a roll of old blankets in the cabinet, where he would be safe, I walked to the stairs leading to the roof. As I walked up the stairs, my mind tormented me with every happy memory I have ever had of my son. Every bright spot these past years. A mounting feeling of hatred rose in my chest, gripping my heart and squeezing it.
I arrived at the landing in front of the door to the roof. I spun and bucked, the door ripped from the rotted frame and spun out onto the flat steel sheathing of the roof like a playing card. I walked out into the rain. Thunder cracked in the sky, like Celestia herself was bucking the firmament that held it together. Smoke and the stench of blood hung so thick in the air I could taste it. I ignored the falling rain.
The sound of the small artillery cannon that the slavers had used to blow down our gate and wall still reverberated between the mountains, picking up speed with each new shell as they came screaming down. They had their hole, their entrance, now they just wanted to rub our faces in it by obliterating the rest of the wall.
I walked up to the edge of the roof and laid down, my fathers rifle now resting on the edge of the building on its flip-down stand. It was old, and had been rebuild with a scope, multiple hardware modifications and numerous add-on’s. I had never used it for other than practice before.
A black feather landed beside me and faded away like smoke.
And the slaver downstairs was my first murder in anger, not somepony dying agonisingly on a slab while needing release from unspeakable torment.
"Strawberry" I whispered around the bit, remembering the mare dying of taint. I had beat the slaver to death with the mallet I used for home repair. I had snapped when I saw him standing over my son and attacked him blindly with the first weapon I could get my horn on.
"My little boy." My voice was hollow. His little neck had been twisted and he looked over his shoulder in an unnatural manner. "They will burn." I repeated, venom filling my voice.
I took aim. The first slaver in my sight. A raven called and I pulled the trigger.
The zoorch of the blue lightning lit up the night. Towns ponies looked up to me when a charging slaver mare fell to the ground, shuddering in electrical spasms. Over her death-howls I could hear one buck cry out. "Come on folks! Even Doc is fighting! LETS GIVE 'EM HELL!"
His war cry was answered by a resounding boom from the artillery cannon. My attention turned to it. It was a long way away, at least two kilometers. Sitting on a small ancient camping ground halfway up a mountain.
I aimed, prayed the first earnest prayer in my life, then tongued the trigger. Blue lightning shot out from the muzzle of my rifle. I missed and the bolt struck the side of the mountain. Again and again and again I fired. Adjusting my aim each time. Finally hitting.
A small spark could be seen through the night-vision scope on a pile of boxes beside the cannon. It started in the center of the pile before expanding and making a crackling net around it, a second later it exploded and turned the munitions dump into a massive fireball that shook the mountain, finally dislodging the camping ground. The cannon tumbled to the valley below in an earth slide, pony shaped blobs could be seen tumbling after the large weapon.
An unkindness of ravens flew up from the forest below.
This gave the towns ponies their second wind and they charged the army of slavers. I turned down to the carnage below. The towns ponies were fighting back, my sister in the forefront with a large wrench in her teeth. I was so proud of her.
I had work to do.
Zoorch. There goes another slaver.
An onyx raven landed beside me, it too was made of shadows, but it did not fade. It just looked at me and crowed as I kept pulling the trigger.
Zoorch. Another pony spasmed on the road below and the air stank of ozone.
Each dead slaver was punctuated by the call of the raven.
In the darkness, tears streamed down my face, hidden by the rain.
When I woke up I walked off in the night, to avoid waking Runs Wild with my sobs.
*** *** ***
I now sat on the floor in an ancient diner, a collection of small items littered the tabletop before me. Runs Wild was looking at me work. I felt numb.
We were about an half hours flight from Red Light Crossing if I was any judge. Signs of previous occupants were everywhere, especially from the three dead raiders I tossed outside earlier. The diner had been occupied when we arrived and I had taken down two of the charging, foul smelling psychos by myself.
They were easy to handle. Their cheap-ass low caliber rounds couldn't even scratch my shield as I floated my magical plasma weapon outside the barrier. I had taken care to draw the attention of the only two with firearms.
Wild had fared less well with her first fight against another pony and acquired several cuts and some bruising before taking the buck down. Afterwards she just stood there panting, her machete was covered in blood and the bucks head rolled to a stop several yards away, a knife still in its teeth. She said she was okay but I didn't believe it. The way she had shook for the next ten minutes was anything but okay.
It made my heart ache, but for good or ill she needed to know how to fight other ponies, not even a medic and his companion was safe from raiders and bandits.
I was working on a small zebra fetish while last nights dream nagged at me until I wanted to scream. The little fetish wasn't anything big, barely a party trick really, something most ponies could learn with a lot of training and patience. My mentor and teacher from my youth had taught it to me one night when we had both been bored out of our skulls.
This was after what happened to Strawberry, the old nag had gotten a lot more respect for me after the lesson and a tenuous friendship had grown. I didn't blame her for anything. What was the point of it?
"Old coin to represent valuables," I muttered as I worked. "string made from somepony's mane to represent the owner," The string we had made minutes before flew up into a complicated knot. "tooth to give it some bite." I tied the bloodwing tooth to the pre-war coin.
"And that's zebra magic?" Wild asked astonished.
"Nonono," I dismissed with a wave of my wing. "this barely qualifies as zebra magic, real zebra magic is pretty much impossible to us ponies." I floated up the little fetish, examining it and finding it adequate. "This is what zebra foals play around with." It floated to her left saddlebag.
"What does it do?" She asked as she relocated it to the sown in pouch that held her bottle caps.
"Bites." I said dispassionately. "It will bite anypony who doesn't have your permission to root around in either of your saddlebags."
"Really?" She said dubiously as I started on my own.
"Yeah." I said bruskly as I began to work on my own, trying to concentrate. The dream knocked on the edge of my perception with a big grin on its face. I bucked it. Hard.
"You have been very quiet today." Wild said meekly.
I didn't look up. "Nightmares." The knot was giving me lip, I untied it and made a new attempt.
"Was it something she told you?" I stopped working when she asked me that and simply sat and looked at the piece of string.
She had figured out that I hadn't recounted the whole conversation. I had left out mentioning Bitter Drink to her. "I don't want to talk about it. Not yet, but thanks anyway." She seemed to accept this.
I continued to work on my fetish, trying not to think about that night. Failing spectacularly. Bitter Drink wasn't my biological son, but I had raised him from birth and he was mine in all the ways that mattered. After his death I spent the next three months mourning, and at the beginning of the fourth I had packed my saddlebags and left. I had tried to put it all behind me.
I'm ashamed to say that I fled. I fled my responsibilities as a healer and abandoned the town, not my finest hour.
But there was one thing that was new during the last part of the dream. The ravens, there weren't any ravens in the vicinity of the town at that time and they were an anomaly.
The knot finally surrendered and I felt the tiny surge of magic leap into the little anti-pickpocket fetish. It floated into my money pouch. "Done. Now we can continue towards Red Light." I started to dispiritedly pack my things back into my bags.
"Just a minute, I want to try something out." Wild said and I followed her with my eyes as she walked to the old bathroom, as soon as I was done packing I followed, slightly curious.
She stood in the old bathroom examining the old first aid box riveted to the wall, the rest of the bathroom was a waterlogged mess, the tiles cracked and the sink in pieces on the floor. Then she reared up and put a fore hoof to the wall beside the box. I had no idea what she was doing, the old medical storage unit was locked and inaccessible. Wild rooted around in a foreleg pocket and took out a small bobby pin in her mouth, the pin was bent to an L shape.
"What are you..." But she shushed me.
"Need to concentrate." She mumbled and stuck the pin in the lock, then she put one of her claws into the remaining space and started to feel her way around the lock, rotating the bobby pin slowly this way and that as she gently applied sideways pressure with the claw. Where had she picked up lockpicking? That was something that took immense training and dedication and wasn’t easy to learn without precise levitation.
The only one I knew who could open locks was Tripwire, the half crazy, ghoul weapons expert in Traders Caravan. Although, when he opened a safe or lockbox he uses dynamite and other home cooked stuff and half the contents were usually destroyed, except when he opened doors of course. I swear the ghoul was tethering on the edge of zombie-hood, always going on about someponies called 'The readers' watching our every move.
Her tongue hung outside her mouth in concentration as she prodded the pin and after about a minute and a second attempt when the first pin broke, the lock clicked open. I sat in the hallway with my mouth open, then I clopped my hooves in applause. I was very impressed.
She took a bow. "Thank you." Then gave the box a glance. "Can’t do it with most locks, but this one seemed easy enough."
I nudged the the lid open with my magic and levitated the contents out; two more bobby pins, some rad-x, a healing potion and a water bottle. The water looked dirty and I tossed it aside but the rest I saved, I gave the pins to Runs Wild. "I have no use for them. You better hold onto these." She held out her foreleg and I tucked them inside the pouch there.
"You know, that's pretty impressive. The only other pony I know who can open locks levels half the building in the process." I said as we walked outside.
Then hell itself eventuated.
"RAAWWR!" Came the feline roar of a manticore. It must have heard the previous gunfire and come to investigate. It was big, bigger than normal and surely an old male that has been forced out of the pack.
I barely got my shield up before the giant paw slammed into it, making me slide on my hooves along the ground. I didn't lose balance but the force of the blow moved me at least a pony length to the side. My shield held, barely.
"Bloody hell!" I yelped in surprise, my head ringing with the force of my displacement. I tried to get my bearings when the paw fell on my shield again, making me groan as the shield protested. I started to pour energy into the barrier to repair the damage the manticore's ramming caused. The damned beast hit like a freight train. Stress testing my shield like this was not my idea of a good time and I searched desperately for a way out but the damned thing wouldn't even let me move.
I looked around, trying to locate Runs Wild. I saw her making a circling motion to get behind the beast, her eyes glowed like a hunting cat and she had drawn her machete. As I took a third pounding she started to run towards the hindquarter of the beast, aiming for the thick segmented scorpiontail. Oh no, she wasn't planning on that... was she? Sparks flew off the blacktop as her claws gave her purchase and she leaped.
The manticore reared and brought its full weight down on me, almost shattering the shield and making me drop to my knees. While my shield held, the force of the stomp got transferred straight through me. I groaned, I couldn't shoot it without dropping my shield and if I did that it would surely rake me before I could get the arcane revolver out of its holster. I couldn't take flight either, it would just swat me out of the air like a bloatsprite.
As I desperately worked to keep the barrier between us I saw how Runs Wild flew through the air and hit the tail straight on. But instead of falling of it she started to climb up the tail, placing her claws between the segments and scurrying up it like a squirrel.
"Get down from there!" I yelled. I couldn't figure out what she was planning on, and holding the shield up took all my concentration and efforts. The beast kept pounding, swatting my shield repeatedly.
The manticore now started to circle. The gigantic creature stood taller than me and the wings on its back looked strangely inadequate for its size. It didn't seem to notice Runs Wild as she climbed its tail. The thick chitin and her low weight made her unnoticed, and the beast was concentrating on how to crack my shield to get to the yummy center.
I figured that all I could do now was to keep its attention and make sure that Wild knew what she was doing. "Hey!" I yelled at the monster when I've regained my stance. "Whats wrong? Cant get into my shell!" If I survived this I would never, EVER, taunt half a ton of pissed off carnivore again.
The beast roared again and pulled back its fore paw, preparing to bowl me to the next continent. "Well fuck you too!" I had nothing to lose by yelling back. I figured that I could at least try and fly away when I've slammed into the nearest building. Unless me and my shield would just pass through it like a wrecking ball.
Just as the manticore prepared to strike it halted and screamed in pain. The stinger from its tail landed point first in the ground just outside my shield. I looked up. Runs Wild was holding on to the end of the beasts tail as it weaved back and forth, spraying blood from the stump. The machete in her teeth was again coated in blood. Okay, it was out of one weapon. But what about the two on the ends of its legs? And the teeth?
But it was distracted, and I had my opening. Flaring my wings inside the shield I jumped. The shield, strangely, didn't mind me flying and the wind just flew past me while it held, battered but intact.
When I was out of range from its paws I dropped the shield and drew my revolver with my horns magic. "Clear!" I roared at Runs Wild and she leaped like a cat from the tail, landing on the edge of the diner roof and scrabbling up. I took aim at the trashing, extremely pissed, half ton of furious manticore.
"Eat this." I pulled the trigger, pouring all of my nights fury into the orbs of magic plasma. The beast got into the air at the second hit but faltered and fell when the fifth orb liquefied parts of its skull. It crashed into the diner window, collapsing into the counter inside and falling silent.
I panted as I hovered, adrenaline was starting to wear off... or whatever alicorns used. I started to fly down to the ground, Wild had already jumped down and picked up the severed stinger in her teeth.
"What the fuck do you think you were doing back there?" I was fighting to keep my voice level and calm. "Just jumping onto its tail like that?"
She dropped the stinger and placed a hoof on it, a few drops of ichor dribbled out of the tip. "I wanted to collect the poison sacs from it before you turned the beast into slush with that plasma gun of yours." Her voice was as level as mine and she didn't shy away. "I might not be good at fighting with ponies, or like it. But I'm damned good at hunting critters and I knew what I was doing." I almost wanted to smack her, that manticore was a critter?
"It was an old male." I almost yelled. "At least a third as big as normal and more than twice as aggressive." I wanted to shake her, I wanted to... I calmed myself when I saw Runs Wild start to shy away. I sighed and my hind legs gave way with the loss of my anger, I dropped to my haunches. "Look, I'm sorry for raising my voice, but I just got played with like a ball of yarn by that thing."
My horn glowed and the same glow enveloped Runs Wild. I pulled her close in a hug, she returned it cautiously. "Heh," I chuckled. "it did distract it enough to let me get away, thanks." I gave her a few thumps on the back and felt her genuinely hug me back.
We separated and I asked her. "What did you want the venom for anyway?" I levitated the stinger towards me while she rooted around in her pack.
"If I dilute it first, I can coat my claws in a solution that will paralyse most creatures." She gave me an apologetic shrug as she held a bottle in front of her. I filled the bottle by squeezing the stinger with my hooves. I was impressed, this was a good idea and if it worked on ponies we could at least try to avoid the unnecessary killing of somepony.
*** *** ***
Getting into Red Light Crossing wasn't a problem; a slow friendly approach, a small exchange of bottle caps and a salve for one of the guards who's 'friend' had developed an uncomfortable itch after an encounter with a prostitute. That had been the main reason for me stopping at the diner, I needed a cooking plate and some work space to make medical supplies out of the herbs I had gathered so far.
We were now walking down Manestreet, about halfway up this road the town was intersected by another major trade route, this made Red Light a four way trading outpost and a lot of caps moved through here daily. Sadly, a lot of the slag got left behind, caught up by the net of drug dealers and prostitutes.
We walked past dilapidated buildings and empty walls, junkies peeked out at us from empty frames and shied away, presumably from me, into dirty alleys. It was still in the middle of the day, so most of the nightlife laid low. The only ones to be around were merchants, their guards, occasional wagons and brahmin. These kept resolutely away from us and aimed weapons at me if I so much as glanced at them.
"So what's the plan now?" Asked Runs Wild as we arrived at an old sky wagon repair shop, its walls were hidden beneath piles of scrap that threatened to cover the entire building.
"First I'm going to get an old friend to look at something." I glanced down at Wild. "He won't recognise me now so don't tell him I called him an old friend." She nodded and I magically opened the oft-repaired door and moved inside.
A wave of nostalgia rolled over me as I entered the repair shop, old gutted machines leaned against the walls, nuts 'n bolts littered the floor and rolls of cable hung from hooks in the ceiling. I took a deep breath, it even smelled the same; Grease, oil, turpentine, burned out arcane components. I wanted to be myself so badly at that point I could taste it... but that wasn't going to happen. I had to suppress a shudder so strong that my body hurt from the effort.
"You okay?" Runs Wild asked me. She just stood beside me, a hoof on my shoulder and I could feel the warmth radiating from it, Luna bless the mare.
"Gimme a minute." I croaked out.
And that's when Meshing Gears walked in from the storeroom. His familiar gunmetal gray coat was streaked in oil and gray seeped into his mane, his utility barding hung heavy with tools. He stopped when he saw us, his jaw fell to the floor.
"What in tarnation?" And there it was, his old familiar drawl. I wanted to run and tell him who I was, ask him if I could borrow the workbench to do some maintenance on my rifle, chat about old times. I dragged my feelings down into a deep dark place in my mind and locked them down there along with the black egg the green alicorn had placed there.
I cleared my throat. "Sorry for bothering you," I levitated the Pipbuck P.R.A out from my bags. "but I wanted to know if you could help me fix this?" I knew he could, the earth pony was a genius with most types of old world tech.
I knew him so well, as soon as Gears caught sight of the Pipbuck all thoughts of being afraid of me vanished. "Where'd ya'll get one of these things?" He said excitedly as he cleared a workbench by the simple method of raking the junk onto the floor. He could barely contain himself as he pulled tools from a wall that was filled with hooks and scribbled outlines for said tools.
I laid the device on the bench and Gears practically jumped at it. "Haven't seen one a these in years." He said as he started to go over the P.R.A. I chuckled inside and a smile escaped my lips.
"I found it in the middle of the desert, believe it or not." I said as he went over the connectors to the missing battery, muttering serial numbers to himself.
He looked up towards the storeroom and bellowed. "Geri! Get me a zap battery! Type C!"
"On it boss." Returned a voice I didn't recognize, had Meshing Gears gotten an assistant? That wasn't like him at all. The voice was low and gruff but at the same time very young. The sound of somepony searching through boxes and containers echoed back to us accompanied by a slight clanking as whoever it was moved around the room.
"Your assistant?" I asked innocently.
Meshing nodded as he hooked up the P.R.A to a terminal, probably to do a diagnostic or something. "Well," He added. "the lil' critter is good at machines so ah let him help occasionally." He swore at whatever he saw in the monitor. "Dagnabbit, ah'll have ta completely reboot the spell matrix."
A thump was heard from the other part of the shop. "Found it!" The voice called out to us and entered. I gasped, for a frightening moment I almost mistook him for a hellhound, but he wasn't. To be completely honest I hadn't seen anything like the creature before me in my life.
The doglike youth stood hunched on a fore-paw, with grossly disproportional arms to his hind-legs. Short bristly fur covered his body and he had a club like tail with spiky protrusions, a network of small scars could be seen under his fur. His eyes were emerald and he had a pronounced under bite with sharp fangs visible.
He wore a brown leather vest with pockets and worn-down tools hanging from it, much like Gears utility barding. Under his left arm hung a messenger bag and around his throat he had a brightly polished collar with small arcane components affixed around it.
In his right paw he held a battery similar to the one I discarded in the desert shack, his left rested on the floor and was artificial, it started down from his elbow and looked more like a claw than a paw, hydraulic components peeped through and a cable ran from it, up along his arm and in under his vest.
I realised that I was staring. "Done looking, ponee?" He asked me bruskly and knuckled over to Meshing Gears, making a clanking noise as the claw struck the concrete. He seemed completely unconcerned with my appearance.
As Geri and Gears worked on the small terminal, Runs Wild leaned over and whispered. "What is it?"
I leaned down and answered. "I have no idea, I haven't seen anything like him before." I saw Geri's left ear turn to us and I shut up. He probably had very good hearing.
I magically cleaned an area of flooring for the both of us and sat down to wait.
After about half an hour Gears walked up to me, balancing the P.R.A. on his nose. "Ah'm done, ya'll can just boot the thing up now and let it register ya as owner."
I grasped it telecinetically and gave it a perusal. "Just one thing, what the hell is it?" Meshing Gears and Geri had done a good job on it and it sparkled, the back plate was back on proper and a small button marked 'power' blinked idly.
"Acronym stands for Pony Research Assistant." He said as I pressed the power button. "Ah had to completely reset the spell matrix ta get it up an runnin', wiped the whole memory."
Dammit, and I had hoped that it would hold some info on... woah. My train of though was interrupted as a cartoonish image of a unicorn in a lab coat walked into my vision, I turned my head but the little pony kept fixed to the same spot relative to my skull. I took a look at the little screen on the device and it poured out a blinding torrent of data, too fast for me to comprehend.
-Hi.- The little pony said in a text bubble over its head. -This is your automated Pony Research Assistant.- She was small and lavender under the lab coat, with a cute little bookish mane. -I'm here to help you in your workplace.- A cartoon book and terminal on a little table appeared.
"What's happening Curatie?" Wild asked me and I turned my head, I hadn't been concentrating so I probably looked straight into space when the little cartoon talked to me. As I turned to look at Runs Wild, the little unicorn helpfully teleported herself and the table into the corner of my vision with a little 'poof' to get out of the way and started to read to herself. Probably a function to let the user talk to others in peace.
"Well, I'm seeing things." I told her and at her perplexed expression I added. "There's a little cartoon unicorn wandering around in my vision."
"That'll be the EFS, or Eyes Forward Sparkle." Gears added. "T'aint a proper EFS since ya'll don't have a Pipbuck on yer leg." He made a gesture to my foreleg while me and Wild listened to his Explanation. "These things were built ta automatically interface with them leg terminals and make work easier for research folks. Only a few hundred of the things were built to mah knowledge."
"Now, how will ya'll be paying for yerself." He said, rubbing his forehooves together.
*** *** ***
After giving him a full checkup, free treatment of some back problems he was starting to develop and giving up half of my bottlecaps, we were walking down Manestreet again.
"What now?" Asked Runs Wild.
"Well, first I'm going to spend some time down in Kickback alley to earn some caps back after repairing the P.R.A." It was actually a quite useful tool, but effectively crippled without working in tandem with a pipbuck. It now rested in my saddlebags and ticked over quietly, drawing maps and absorbing all sorts of data from the ether. The little lavender unicorn had wandered off out of my vision for the moment and would return when needed, she responded to vocal commands but spoke only in text.
"Kickback alley?" Wild asked. "What kind of place is that?"
"A place for back alley medics such as myself. Ah, here we are." I arrived at an alley much like any other, but the road sign on the building beside it could rotate, it was now the right way up. I turned it upside down. "Should tell most of the less fortunate that there is a low price medic in here today and they tell more." I walked in and heard the sounds of a scuffle.
In the end of the alley, a collection of emaciated ponies were kicking and stomping repeatedly on a familiar shape. "Geri?" I shouted. "Hey you assholes, get away from him this instant!"
One buck turned and started to say. "Oh yeah..." But as soon as he saw me his face fell. "Oh Celestia fuck me." The rest of the bullies looked up and froze.
I simply stood aside to give them room to bolt and growled. "Leave." The gang of junkies did so in a hurry. Sometimes, being a monster is useful.
"You think he'll be okay?" Wild asked as soon as they were gone. I didn't answer, I was too busy to run up to Geri, medical bandages and a healing potion already floating out. Geri lay curled into a ball, and as soon as I got up to him he started to try and get away.
"Don't be afraid, its just me, from the shop. I'm just going to take a look at you, make sure that you are okay." He stopped trying to move away but didn't uncurl. Broken rib? I started to scan him, most of what I found was minor; small lacerations and bruising. But he did indeed have a cracked rib, I started to gently knit it together magically while Wild stood beside us, looking nervous. "You’ll be okay, just a cracked rib and some nicks and bruises."
When I was done I gave Geri the potion bottle. He just held it in a paw, looking at me in confusion. "Ponee give whole bottle to Geri?" He narrowed his eyes, looking like he expected a trick. "Why?"
"Because," I started as I picked myself up. "You are hurt and bleeding, that bottle will put you back in perfect health." The cuts were too numerous and to small to bother bandaging when a healing potion would do just as good and faster.
Geri just looked at me for a moment, those emerald eyes narrowing. Then he swiftly popped the top and drank half the bottle, re-corking and putting the half full bottle in his bag. When I started to protest he waved for me to follow as he walked over to a ponyhole cover at the end of the alley.
"Geri was on his way home when bullies came." He answered the unspoken question as he lifted the metal lid, his claw gave him easy grasp of the edge. He made a motion for us to follow as he slunk underground.
"Think we should follow?" I asked Wild. She shrugged and nodded.
I entered last, having to wriggle a bit to get into the narrow entrance (stupid big alicorn rump) and slid the lid back. The ancient flickering lighting still worked down here and we had no problems seeing.
Suddenly the EFS sparked to life. -Sewer detected. Would you like me to provide you with a minimap?- The little unicorn silently asked as she teleported into my view.
"Yes Sparkle." I answered and as soon as I said that a small map appeared in the upper right hoof corner of my vision. I had named her Sparkle because the little avatar needed a callsign in order to properly respond to user input without me having to dig the damn thing out of my pack every time she asked me a question. I just fibbed and named her after the heads up display.
The path was winding and I noticed that he led us in circles a few times, I wouldn't have noticed myself but the little map helpfully made a breadcrumb trail as we walked. This wasn't the primary function of the device, I just ran the operating matrix on survival mode. This was according to Sparkle a function in case of a Stable breakdown to help and aid those stable dwellers who had gotten out.
I strongly suspected that this particular Pipbuck P.R.A. once belonged to the same somepony the alicorn referred to, the one who's shack I had woken up outside and who's duster I now wore. Its a small world. And it was way too convenient to be entirely by accident.
Finally we arrived outside a heavy metal door, and I have gotten a suspicion of where we were. "This is The Cistern, isn't it?" Geri nodded while Runs Wild looked at me in confusion. "The Cistern is an orphanage," I supplied. "and the home to many of Red Light's children."
I didn't know that there was an actual door. The rumor was that the young ones used narrow sewer pipes, too narrow for adults, to get in and out. I glanced at Geri while he was busy tapping a code on an access panel. He was definitely too big to use the pipes but also very young, I guessed that he was barely past the age where ponies usually get their cutie mark. Hence him taking the long way round. The door opened and Geri walked inside and around a bend, me and Wild followed.
Into a small mote of paradise.
The room was huge and resembled a cathedral. A vaulted concrete ceiling rose high above us and thick pillars rose from the floor. Whatever the room had been used for before the megaspells certainly needed some serious space. At the far end of the room a metal door lead further inside, presumably to the access pipes used by the children to get in and out.
Screaming foals rushed past as they played and roughhoused, others were drawing on old book pages with charcoal. Toys were spread everywhere around old but clean mattresses. It was a little place of innocence and I felt my craggy and jaded heart yearn for it.
A little filly immediately spotted Geri and ran up to him, jumping onto his back and yelling excitedly. "Ride! Ride!" He gave the two of us an apologetic look before running off with the foal squealing with joy on his back.
That's when I noticed the only other adult in the room walking up to me. He or she was fully robed and dressed in shawls and bracelets to the point where it was impossible to identify the pony. Until the female ghoul bowed low and spoke.
"Many welcomes to friends of Geri, he usually only bring visitors when they have proven themselves friendly." She had a matronly voice under the rasp and when I looked closely I could see the corpse light of her eyes from under the hood.
I returned the bow. "Greetings matron," Something about her demanded an elaborate tone. "My name is Curatie, I'm a healer and this is my friend and traveling companion, Runs Wild." Wild was still looking over the room in awe and didn't pay attention as I gestured to her with a wing.
We had by now gotten quite the audience of foals, young ponies and zebra youths. They looked mostly on me and my wings, they had probably never seen a pony with wings before and certainly not a big one with wings and a horn. The attention was making me a little uncomfortable. The matron noticed this and shooed most of them away with a hoof.
"Shoo, don't you young ones know that its impolite to stare. Haven't I told you enough times." She turned back to us. "Pardon the interruption, as I said: Welcome to The Cistern." She sat with a creak of old joints, me and Wild did the same.
"This place is incredible." Wild said in awe and I was inclined to agree.
"Thank you child." The matron nodded to the playing children, many of which had stopped to look at the two newcomers. "It does have its problems but many of the older children help out greatly."
"Like Geri," I agreed. "I must ask though. What is he?" I gestured to the youth, who had by now amassed quite a collection of foals riding on his back.
The matron followed his progress. "I am not entirely sure. My memory isn't exactly what it once was," The old ghoul confessed. "but I suspect that he is a descendant of the old race once called Diamond dogs." She shook her head in irritation. "Two hundred and fifty years is a long time to amass memories young lady, and they don't always fall correctly into place."
At my scowl in reaction to the use of lady, she took on a perplexed tone. "Did I say anything wrong?"
I just shook my head and tried to not let it irk me. "No, don't worry about it."
Then I felt something climb up my.. ow! I turned my head and saw that a creme filly had climbed up my back, pulling out several feathers in the process. My horn glowed as I lifted her up to eye level. "Be more careful next time. Pulling out feathers like that hurt." Then I levitated one of the loose feathers up and tucked it behind her ear. "Now go play somewhere." She rushed off as soon as I set her down to show off her prize to her friends.
I felt calm here, at peace. Naturally, it couldn’t last.
The sound of the main door opening and a voice interrupted us. "Took forever to find the damned place, about time too. Let's shoot it up and be done with it."
For a precious lost second I could do nothing, then I roared to the oldest kids. "Get the foals out, NOW!" They scrambled to obey, out of fear for me if nothing else.
"Fuck, I told you to be silent you asshat!" Somepony BIG yelled as he started to run and I heard heavy steel-shod hooves round the corner in the entrance tunnel to the big room. I heard the telltale sound of a minigun revving up and I turned, starting to weave my weaker shield around the entrance to the big room, the malleability of it would make it a useful barrier.
The male earth pony was huge, as big as I was and dressed in salvaged steel ranger armor with no helmet. The armor had been partially gutted, probably missing its repair talisman and had an odd gleam, as if its been obsessively polished. He also wore a minigun battle saddle. Mercifully only one weapon, but the mass of ammo boxes balancing the weapon on the other side didn't make me feel any better.
He stopped just at the other end of my shield as most of the foals had gotten out through the passages behind me. I stood firmly in the middle of the large room, between the mercenaries and the orphans. There was four more behind the big buck. All in mercenary bardings made for combat and all but one sporting single automatic battle saddles.
The last, and only, unicorn had a SMG strapped to his foreleg and was tucking away what looked like a mess of wires and tools. So that's how they had gotten past the door. The unicorn walked up to the shield and made a disappointed sound. "Guess that the caps are gone now."
The big stallion just grinned at me. "Fuck the caps, this is better." Then he looked sideways at the minuscule unicorn beside him. "By the way, you fucked us over back there." Before the unicorn could react an armored hoof crushed his skull against the wall, killing him instantly.
Then he turned to me. "I always wanted to kill one of you lot." He tapped the shield. "Too bad on the little kiddies though, The Don was going to pay us three thousand bottlecaps to exterminate most of the little varmints." He smashed his hoof on the shield, making it flicker slightly. Fuck.
"Why?" I asked. Wild had moved behind one of the pillars to remain unseen and was dipping her claws in the bottle of manticore venom. The matron had moved away to safety in her slow old gait and the room was empty of kids. There was one surprise though; Geri stood behind another pillar, holding a duct taped tin can in his paw and with a big wicked grin on his muzzle.
"He was under the impression that one of them stole from his pocket somehow." He shrugged. "I don't really give a fuck, he was paying good caps to us for killing the rats." Now he reared back and slammed his hoof on the shield barring his entrance, this time much harder and the shield gave. He started to walk inside.
I drew my gun. I was enraged, fury building in me like wildfire. They took payment for killing children? That was low even for mercs. I aimed straight at him and fired two shots. One missed and the other just glanced off his armor and was diverted behind him, helpfully caving in the head of one earth pony behind before the smaller earth ponies could spread into the room.
-Gunfire detected.- Sparkle now dove behind a small pile of sandbags, a green helmet on her head. -Emergency S.A.T.S. protocols initialized.- As she said this, a red outline with a percentage in the middle appeared over the mercenary leader. Giving me a nice clear target to aim at.
Moments before he started to rev the motor of his minigun, I threw up my shield. Keeping my gun outside so I could fire. Then I wanted to slam my head into the floor repeatedly. The battery only had three shots left. Stupid stupid stupid!
But before the leader could fire, a big explosion turned both of our attentions to the pillar where Geri had hidden. The earth pony that was going for him lay in a mangled heap with a big hole in his side. The tin can Geri held earlier was a bomb? Holy skyfucking Celestia.
"Fucking hell. Now I'm starting to get pissed." The big buck growled. Then he bit down on the reins of his battle saddle and fired. The draconian roar of the minigun overpowered any other noise in the room.
I groaned as the hail of rounds slammed into me, no single bullet was strong enough to break my shield but it was getting worn down, fast. I poured power into the shield to keep it up while I ran to take cover behind a pillar, firing as I went. The orbs of magical plasma only slid off his damned armor. That's why the bastard polished it like that, to keep energy weapons from getting a solid enough grip to damage.
I leaped and slid on my hooves behind the pillar just as my shield gave. I threw the old battery aside as I dug in a coat pocket after a new battery. I looked towards Wild, she was leaping and sliding like a circus pony to avoid coming into direct line of fire with the earth pony's battle saddle, she was slowly closing the distance. I suspected she only wanted to rake and paralyze him. I also saw that the merc had gotten a few grazing hits in. I was soo going to throw his naked ass into a pit of zombies if he survived.
"Come out you cunt! Let me get a good line of f... ARRGH" The leaders call was interrupted by another explosion and he roared in fury. Geri was playing peek-a-boo with him while I was reloading. I smiled, then twirled around the pillar to get a few shots off at his unprotected head while raising a new shield.
I managed to get off two shots before he strafed my position with minigun fire. I missed his head completely hitting his shoulder and flank instead, but his armor was dented and blackened, giving my plasma purchase but not much penetrating power.
"Okay that is IT!" He yelled in fury and I heard him stomp closer to the pillar. At the edge of my vision I saw Geri gesture to me and as soon as I laid eyes on him he tapped his left shoulder. I nodded and threw up my invisibility spell, vanishing from sight, then I turned to the right and left my cover.
The big mercenary leader was indeed stomping around the thick pillar on the left side, but as I walked up behind him in order to get a point blank shot at his head, I felt my breath leave me. I collapsed in pained gasps as he put his armored hoof down. "Think I'm a complete moron?" He roared as he twisted. "Do you think I haven't heard of that particular stunt you bitches use?!"
I couldn't breathe, his rear kick had taken me by surprise and it had landed right in my sternum. Tears welled up in my eyes and Sparkle was silently yelling something about crippling injuries. I couldn’t make the text out.
~~Down, just like that?~~ A voice asked me as the armored form stomped around on the ground, looking for me. ~~Get your ass up right now.~~ I had no idea where it was coming from.
"Hurts." I managed to croak out and the armored stallion stopped stomping, listening for me.
~~Life fucking hurts.~~ The strange voice said without warmth. ~~Now get your dumb ass up before I drag you up.~~ I did so, I don't know how but I managed. I staggered away from the mercenary leader, trying as silently as I could to gain some range. My gun was somewhere on the floor, I could look for it later.
Then another explosion made the stallion stagger. Geri was digging for another grenade and leaped back behind the pillar to escape the stream of five millimeter ammo coming his way.
I searched for Runs Wild. She was nowhere to be found, but the still statue of the mercenary she had fought was a testament to her success and I was relieved to find no body among the scattered and destroyed toys, she was okay... hopefully.
But I had no weapons and no offensive spells at all. Then I saw my plasma gun; It lay next to the pillar behind the searching stallion. He was still convinced that I lay somewhere on the ground and truth to tell, all I wanted was to have a lie down on something soft.
I focused my magic and floated my gun towards me. But as soon as the weapon passed the stallion and he spotted it, he turned straight towards me and strafed the room with minigun rounds. I howled as several bullets punctured my skin from my flank to my shoulder. My magic died with a pop and the gun fell.
"That's right! Scream for me you whore!" He roared as he sprayed the room again, thankfully I had collapsed as the first rounds struck me and the second volley went overhead, missing me by inches. I was in bad shape, my horn ached from the strain I had put it under and my body was bleeding badly.
~~Use this, it might help.~~ There it was again. As I heard the voice say this, a new spell started to take place in my mind, the strokes of the horn and pattern of the magic utterly alien to what I was used to casting. I had nothing left to lose. I floated out a healing potion and downed it, feeling the worst of the damage dissipate.
I staggered to my hooves and cast the spell, hoping that it was something useful. I had my doubts and I didn't expect it to be an actual harming spell, that would completely go against my talents as a medic. Although since I became an alicorn I could cast a shield and an invisibility field, both of these were outside of my normal capabilities, what more could there be?
To my surprise, my horn didn't glow blue like normal. Instead it seemed to suck in light like a black hole, darkening in the upper edge of my vision and gaining a onyx look. Then I heard it; The call of ravens.
To my dismay the merc leader seemed to finally locate me, getting an evil grin on his face and walking towards me. I looked down on myself and saw that my cloaking spell had stopped working. Was it interference between two different spells that caused it to stop working? He bit down on the rains of his battle saddle and prepared to fire, only for my spell to finish first.
A dark cloud made entirely from dark birds shot out from my horn and rushed against the stallion. Enveloping him in a swirling mass of black cawing ravens. He yelped in surprise and anger as he started to spray the room randomly with minigun fire, trying to kill of the birds that now surrounded him. It was to no avail, the mass of ravens were probably only an illusion, like my vanishing trick and completely incorporeal.
Again I had drawn up my shield to try and stave off the worst of his fire. But now my horn actually started to hurt. I was on the edge of my magical abilities and if I didn’t watch myself I would have a burn out. I ran towards my plasma gun, praying that both Geri and Runs Wild had the sense to stay away from the mercs random bursts. I skirted the swirling tornado of ravens and was almost at the weapon when a random volley of rounds hit my side.
I staggered and fell, my shield held but I was too disoriented from the fight and the adrenaline to keep my balance against the kinetic force. Until something held me up on the other side of my shield. I turned and saw Geri, his paws pressed against the shield, supporting me. "Get gun stupid ponee!" He yelled. I was now only meters from it and I made it fly with my horns glow.
Then I walked up to the tornado. The merc was still trapped inside as it followed his stumbling efforts to escape. Vile curses flowed out and all were directed to me. The magic charge was dissipating and the cloud of ravens were becoming less and less solid as I neared. When I was near enough to his outline to locate his head I reared to bring my fore hooves down on his thick skull. I dropped my shield and my hooves.
He fell like a clubbed brahmin.
"What the fuck are you?" He panted out as he lay on the ground. I didn't answer, I just stepped up on his chest to see into his eye as I emptied my gun into his unarmored head.
“I need a drink.” Was all I said as I fell down on my haunches.
Footnote: Level Up
New Perk: Stonewall - You gain +5 to your Damage Threshold against all Melee Weapons and Unarmed attacks, and you cannot be knocked down by any means in melee combat (explosives can still knock you down).
New Spell: Unkindness of Ravens - This spell will conjure up an illusory flock of ravens to befuddle and blind your opponents for a short time. This flock can be divided to cover multiple opponents, although this will cause the blinding effect to lessen proportionally.
NeverKnown is away until Friday so Shadowstep helped me edit.