Fallout Equestria: Guise of Chaos

by Fallingsnow

Chapter 2: Relay

Chapter 2: Relay

The morning came following a long night of seeing Outfield's face as I crushed it into pulp beneath my hooves. Floating behind me at all time were those eyes. Judging me. Afraid of me. When I opened my eyes, I had to admit that I felt better. I couldn't see Shade from where I lay to my left, so I rolled to bring my good eye towards her.

Straight down the barrel of a gun.

My gun.

Shade lay with it in her mouth, snoring quietly around the handle gripped in her mouth. She'd pointed it at my face but had seemingly fallen asleep while deciding whether or not to fire. I pushed myself slowly away, rather moving myself than moving the gun and risking setting it off. When I was cleanly out of the line of fire, I stood off to the side.


She mumbled slightly. I couldn't make out what.

“Shade. Time to go.”

I reached out with my magic, the steel colored glow surrounding Broken. I inched it slowly out of her mouth, trying not to startle her. Firing a gun while asleep just did not sound like a good idea. I finally worked the weapon loose and slid it away from her.

Now it was safe to try to wake her. I used my telekinesis, which was feeling much stronger today than it had previously. I used it to nudge her shoulder. Considering my last experience with a waking Shade, I wasn't risking getting too close. We didn’t have any more bandages in case she bucked me in the eye again.

“Shade. Wake up.”

Her eyes shot open and she scrambled for the weapon I had moved away from her. She was panicked, but I did what I could to calm her. Holding my hoof out in what I hoped was a calm down motion, I lowered my head to try and look into her eyes. Her eyes connected with mine and locked on, even as her body was in motion.

“It's Ripple. Don't worry, nopony’s trying to hurt you. It's just time we started towards Blank.” She slowed her search for a weapon before I floated the pistol she had accosted me with towards her. “Don't shoot me.”

She took the pistol from the air and checked it, showing a surprising familiarity with the weapon. Finding it had no ammunition, she backed away from me slightly, an untrusting look on her face. I reached into my bag for the rounds that matched up with the weapon she held nervously.

Homerun's bag. Homerun's ammo.

Stop it. I floated a small pile of ammo to her and she loaded the weapon with surprising dexterity for an earth pony. I hoped she'd tell me who she really was sometime. For now, I went about working through the remains of my armor, which had been through more than it could handle. I couldn't salvage most of the leather straps or any of the plates of armor.

The spikes. The blood. The fun.

Somehow, I did manage to salvage Broken's holster and sling it over myself. Finding myself without armor was disconcerting, but looking at Shade it wasn't so bad. She looked as though she was glad to just not being wearing chains. I placed my weapon into it's rightful place at my side and lifted our bag of supplies with my magic.

Yes. Much stronger today.

Shade was staring at me with a pained look, standing away from me. Something seemed to be bothering her quite a bit. She looked at the ground and kicked at a bit of trash. “I... I'm sorry. I almost shot you last night.”

I nodded lightly. “I don't blame you, I'm sure I've done enough to warrant it. Don't worry about it, once we get to Blank you can be rid of me and get on with your life.”

She looked into my eyes and nodded. I tried smiling, but it seemed to scare her. I'm sure I was terrifying, covered in blood and scars. She nodded towards the door anyways and I opened it with my magic, gesturing with one hoof. “Ladies first.”

The road east snaked its way through the remains of Hornsmith, crumbling buildings lining the streets. From what I could gather, this had been a largely domestic city. I saw more homes than anything else, the inhabitants long dead. When I asked Shade if she knew anything about what this city had once been, she shook her head, muttering something about a unicorn town. Then she just stopped talking.

The silence between us was deafening. I had just so many questions that could be answered by pretty much anypony who knew the area. Was Neighwhere really that bad? Were there any other big settlements other than Blank and if so, what were their relationships with Neighwhere? Trading partners? Enemies? Did anypony not shoot at everything they saw?

It was obvious that her thoughts about shooting me while I slept were really eating at her and I dropped back to match pace. She'd been lagging behind the entire trip and I just knew that a whole day of this would be pure torture. I was not content to listen to just the sound of hooves and metal on pavement.

“Shade. You can talk to me. I don't blame you for wanting to kill me. I really don't.” She looked away. Celestia was this mare hard to get through to. “Look, I know that I might have been a slaver, a murder, whatever I was. Somehow, I'll be able to prove to you that I’ve changed. I've left that all behind.”

Stacked atop the bodies and blood and bones.

At this point I wasn't sure if I was trying to convince her or myself more. I didn't want to be a bad pony anymore, but I wasn't sure if a life like that could really be left behind. I suspected Shade had the same thoughts.

I saw the raider at the same time he saw me. Brown with a joker's mask as a cutie mark. I realized I hadn't turned on my E.F.S and had practically run into the pony as he came around a corner. Broken came out as quick as I could move it, the raider similarly drawing a large revolver with his own magic. I slammed the thick stock into the side of the unicorn's head, interrupting his hold.

The revolver clattered to the ground and I pushed the shotgun into his eye. He froze as I stared him down. I could hear Shade behind me but couldn't risk a glance back. The unicorn smiled. “Hey Two Kick. Good to see you're alive.”

I narrowed my eyes at him.

“Hate really messed you up, didn't he. You really had that one coming, huh? Haha.”

I pushed the barrel further into his now closed eye. “Did I? Tell me about it?” He grinned.

“You don't remember? Really? What, you lost your memory or something?” He laughed at my look. “Ha! You did, didn't you? That's fucking classic.” This pony's joviality was really getting on my nerves. Who laughs at a shotgun pushed into their eye?

“The look on your face. Fantastic. I mean, what Hate said he got off of you is priceless, but so is that look.” I could hear what sounded like Shade shaking behind me as I glared and ground the barrel even further. Here was a pony who knew what happened to me and I was gonna find out, even if it took breaking every bone in his body.

Crushing and ripping and shredding and stabbing and beating and maiming.

No. That was the old me. The one that died in that field. His open eye drifted past me and looked behind me, a look of recognition sweeping through him. He looked scared for a moment, though he still sported the wide grin. I opened my mouth to ask the laughing pony more, but I was interrupted suddenly.

The shot rang out at the same moment a small red hole punched into the unicorns face, right under the horn. The back of his head blew out and splattered his back and the street behind him in blood, brains and bone. He died with a goofy grin on his face. I twirled and saw the smoke curling from the end of Shade's pistol.

“What the hell!? He knew who I was. He knew why I was shot! Why did you do that?!”

She blanched under my yelling and lowered the gun. “He.... that... he.... beat me every night. I couldn't fight back.” The shaking of her legs told me what she meant. This pony was another monster, like me, but this monster had done direct harm to the blue mare I had taken under my protection. I knew that taking this moment of retribution from her would likely remove any chance of me getting her to trust me.

To trust that I was a good pony.

I put Broken back in its holster and sighed. She walked past me and kicked the corpse once before walking off down the road. I paused only long enough to take a quick look through his belongings, finding assorted medicines and ammunition along with a few caps, before going after her. Add this to the list of things I needed to talk to her about.

Back to the stony silence.

We walked like this for another hour.

“I'm sorry.... Everything went dark. I'm sorry.” Her eyes were bloodshot and she was crying steadily. I didn't think that comforting her with a hug was a good idea so I went back to my attempts at verbal comfort.

“Some ponies need to die. It can't be helped.” I really believed this. Every pony like me should be shot in the head at least once. “I'm sure it wasn't my last chance. That's five out of five ponies I've met out here since I woke up in that field who knew who I was. I'm famous.” I shook my head as I lied to myself. “I'm sure the next one will know what I want.” She looked at the ground and turned away from me.

I was fuming inside that I'd lost an easy chance to find out what I needed. Getting away from Neighwhere was our current priority; I'd realized that if it was anywhere near as bad as Shade had said then my walking back in my current condition was a death sentence. I was a tough pony, I had to have been to have survived what I did, but a town full of ponies that had known me for years when I didn't even know myself... that sounded like suicide.

Get to Blank, get a few days rest. I'd be ready to come back with a vengeance.

Something the dead unicorn had said kept nagging at the edge of my mind. Not like the voice telling me to hurt ponies or mock me with information just out of reach, but more of a bad omen feeling. “...what Hate said he got off of you is priceless...” He'd taken something from me before he'd shot me. What could have been important enough for that? I didn't know Hate, but what little I had from the old me told me that he was not the pony to work on a whim. His shooting me had a purpose.

“Shade?” She had taken to walking ahead of me again, I assumed so that I wouldn't see her crying. “What can you tell me about Hate?” The look she gave me was filled with such loathing that I don't think I was fully prepared for it. Her features softened as she saw me flinch slightly.

It took her a while to reply, just walking down the road. Eventually her mouth moved after a few minutes of my thinking she was not going to answer. “Neighwhere is founded on the principle of competition. Everypony trying to be the best at whatever it is they did. Fighting, trading... raping... slaving...” Her voice trailed off as she thought on it. “Hate is the best. Nopony has ever beat him, in anything. You were the closest, from what I've heard. He runs the town, you were his enforcer. You... killed so many that didn't deserve it.”

That had gone straight back to telling me how rotten I really was faster than I had expected. All it had taught me of Hate was that he was better than I was. At everything, apparently. Great.

“Why haven't you run away?” She stopped walking. She knew who I had been, she knew what I was capable of. Why hadn't she left in the night, shot me while I slept, taken any of the chances she'd had. She could have shot the unicorn and myself easily, ending one of her problems.

“I... I don't know. Strength in numbers? An extra gun?” Her eyes avoided mine, staring at the ground. “You're the first to be kind to me in a long time.” Ah. There it was. In this whole world, I was the only pony she knew who hadn't hurt her. At least not that I knew of or that she'd likely mention.

I was her only friend.

An escaped slave and a broken raider.

What a pair.

Shade was walking a lot closer to me than before. Had her admission been a realization on her part? Was she starting to believe I wasn't going to turn and sell her the first chance I got. Do something worse to her? I hoped deeply that she was, without her I was as good as lost.

I was amazed when we made it out of Hornsmith with no further interruptions. There had been a few close calls, but now that I had learned to keep an eye on my E.F.S. we had been able to skirt around any hostiles, though this had slowed our travel greatly. Lacking any medical supplies made the prospect of a fight rather unappealing and we still had a bit of a trip ahead of us.

My PipBuck told me it was midday when we had finally made it out into the endless stretch that was the wasteland proper. Suddenly, I missed the ruined buildings and broken glass of Hornsmith. There was truly nothing out here, a baked and ruined land stretching into the horizon.

“Shade? Have you ever been out here before?” Glancing over I caught her looking at me out of the corner of her eye. I think I almost caught a smile.

“I was born out here, Ripple.”

Yeah. Stupid question, of course she hadn’t grown up in a stable like me. Good ponies didn’t come from stables. They came out like me, monsters that rape and pillage.

Celestia, why was it so hard to talk to this mare?

I felt something hit me in the side. Had Shade hit me? I turned my head as I realized that the impact was on the wrong side. Things slowed down as I saw the tin can spraying sparks at my hooves.  I triggered S.A.T.S. through a reflex I wasn’t aware I had and aimed my focus on the can at my hooves. I kicked it as hard as I could, watching in slow motion as it arched up into the air and exploded not ten feet from me.

Nails burst forth from the explosive like rain, pelting my side and neck. I roared as time caught up and the gunfire began, off to my right. There was no cover save for a small ditch that I noticed Shade was already taking cover in, cowering from the gunfire.  She’d gone back to the not shooting anypony mood, which did not bode well for our continued survival.

I threw myself to the side, crashing into the ditch next to her. I could feel each individual nail moving in my side as my muscles worked and my skin moved with the effort. Shade had a horrified look on her face; I assumed at my condition, but I didn’t care. Somepony needed to die and I knew just how it would happen.

As I pulled my last dose of stampede, I thought briefly about my nice pony attitude. A nice pony could only tolerate so much when the grenades started flying. I jammed the needle into my flank, luckily avoiding any of the embedded nails. The rush came and the pain faded.

That sense of invulnerability swept through me. What was a measly grenade and a few guns to the might of the strongest pony in the wastes? I tensed my legs and propelled myself out of the ditch, streaking over the street and landing on the far side.

I came down right in front of the first raider, who was charging our position with the combination of a knife and chainsaw, a rusted blade grinding angrily through it’s length. I deflected the blade with one hoof, the chain throwing sparks and chunks of my hoof before slamming my forehead into the raider’s face.

My horn punched through bone and brain, killing the pony instantly. With a toss of my head, I threw him aside and rushed the next, a unicorn with a small caliber pistol and a nasty scar across her face.

Somewhere in my mind, I registered the two bullets that hit me in the leg, but the red tint to the world cared not for such minimal wounds. Spinning on a hoof, I planted a kick into her neck, triggering a shell. The blast nearly decapitated the pony, her head flopping about, hanging from a bit of flesh and muscle. Her eyes met mine, a look of surprise and dismay going through her features in that split second.

They’d learn not to fuck with Two Kick Rip, the strongest pony around.

The best! 

The third and final raider, a filthy earth pony who looked bigger than his dead companions, came at me through the spray of blood issuing from the unicorn's neck as she wobbled, seemingly unable to fall over. As he spun and delivered a kick to my nail riddled hide, my only thought was that he had copied my move.

How dare he! Did he know who he was fucking with?! Two Kick was NOT going down to something so blatantly stolen! Slaughter was an art!

I regained my balance faster than he did and threw myself into the air, coming down on his spine with both hind hooves. The blast liquefied his midsection, cutting him effectively in half. I landed on my hind legs amidst his ruined viscera, my front hooves held above me to draw in the adulation of the crowd.

The caps thrown from the stands. The weak kneed mares ready to throw themselves at me for my victory party! The congratulations from the other Paragons as I showed everypony we were the best!

The terrified look from the dual colored eyes peeking at me from a filthy ditch on the side of the road, a bloody hole in her chest. Those cut through the red mist and the feeling of unlimited power faster than anything I could imagine. My blood  lust ended as abruptly as it had started when that needle had pierced my damaged side.

I was suddenly aware of how injured I was. I dropped forward onto all four legs and stepped out of the ruined body. Every movement was agony, but watching as Shade went pale and threw up  was worse. I stepped towards her and her eyes went even wider before rolling into the back of her head as she slumped over, bleeding in the ditch.

I dragged myself to her side and nuzzled her, trying to get her awake. My mind wasn’t working right. Why would she want to see me? All she wanted was to get to Blank and be done with me. I stood still, trying not to think of the amount of metal scattered through my body as I opened one of my bags and drew out some Med-X with my magic. Thank Celestia that neither of us had used this yet.

Injecting myself, I felt some of the pain go away, but it still surrounded me like a thick fog. Straining, I lifted Shade’s unconscious body onto my back and walked back over to the dead raiders. I couldn’t spare the time for a thorough search, but upending a bag that one of them carried revealed to me what I had hoped so desperately for. Two bottles of purple liquid. I ripped the lid off and emptied the first as I fed it to Shade, much as I had the previous day. The second I ripped the top off of with my teeth and downed in one gulp, feeling my flesh begin to knit together. It was probably a terrible idea to drink this when I was half nail, but I needed it. Enough to keep me going; enough to get me to Blank and deliver Shade into the freedom that she so sorely longed for.

You’re losing your edge Two Kick. Leave the mare, take care of yourself.

No! Fuck you. I was going to do this if it killed me. Hate, Neighwhere, none of it fucking mattered if I wasn’t able to deliver this pony to Blank. Do one good deed before I died. Redeem myself in some tiny way from the horrors I was sure I had committed.

It was more than something to do in my free time. It was a mission. A quest from a higher power.

That's no fun. No fun at all!

Neither was dying a violent, meaningless death. Go away.

I began walking down the road towards Blank, keeping a pace that wasn’t slow enough that I would die before I got there but slow enough that I wouldn’t rip myself apart in the effort. I filled my thoughts with those of blue and violet eyes and gritted through the pain.

I had no sense of time as I trudged along that cracked and broken street, time passing oddly. It felt like days at first before feeling like mere seconds. I walked, pushing each leg with the determination that I would not fail at this. All the while, the voice called at me from around those eyes.

I came to a wall.

I saw the sign through a haze of pain and delirium: “Welcome to Blank”.

I saw the gate opening and ponies coming out with weapons drawn.

My voice called out from so far away. “Help her. Don’t fucking bother with me. She’s been shot. Help her.”

I fell to the ground, as was becoming so common for me. I closed my eyes as I smiled. I’d made it.


I jerked upwards as my eyes shot open, sending pain shooting through my side. I gritted my teeth and curled up. I was on a bed. A fairly clean bed. I looked around the room. This was as clean as it got in the wasteland.

To my right, I spotted the blue mare I had died for the second time in two days to save. She was asleep on a couch across the room, curled up and snoring quietly. I could only think that it was odd that she was sleeping in the same room as a dead pony. My eyes stared at her as I puzzled it through. Both of my eyes stared. Raising a hoof, I found that I could see from my previously bandaged eye. The area around the eye was tender and I saw that my leg and especially my hoof was wrapped in bandages. Bandages not soaked in the blood of my victims.

My eyes went back to her as I slowly figured out that I was not in fact dead. A bandage was wrapped across her chest, covering where her wound had been. Taking in all of her, I noticed the little details: The way her hair curled slightly in front of her eyes; the way she kicked lightly at something in her dream; her cutie mark. For some reason, I had never noticed her cutie mark before. A wrench over a heart. That made me chuckle a little.

The sound brought a reaction as Shade’s eyes opened sleepily. Seeing me sitting up in bed she let out a small shriek and was across the room in a second. She was hugging me around my neck. I felt her hooves at my back and smiled as her mane  tickled at my nose.

The door slammed open and a pony with a rifle flew into the room. He’d clearly been expecting me to try and eat her or something. He lowered the rifle slowly as he saw the mare gripping around my neck. He called over his shoulder. “Doc, your patient is up.” He moved to the side as an aged pony pushed his way past, a stethoscope around his neck. He came to me and put a hoof on Shade’s leg, pulling her away.

“Back up now Missy, I need to check your idiot friend.” She moved only slightly but he pushed past and put a flashlight in his mouth. He shone it into my eyes before pocketing it and using his stethoscope to listen to my chest. I noticed only then that he was flying. He was a pegasus. I don’t think I’d ever seen a pegasus pony before.

“Well, checks out. You were mighty stupid, moving about like you did, ya know. Seems like any other pony woulda just laid down an’ died, injuries you took. All my years I’ve never seen such reckless abandonment of a pony’s well being.” He floated back from the bed and his eyes softened as he looked at Shade. “Though I can see why ya’ did it.”

“So, my idiot patient, what’s yer name? All this mare could say was 'please' when she begged me not to let ya bleed out in front of the gate.” Shade still hadn’t really moved from my neck. I tried to talk but my throat felt like sandpaper. I coughed, trying to get my voice back and he pulled out a canteen, holding it to my mouth.

Drinking for what felt like the first time in days, my throat felt instantly better. Coughing again, I found the voice to answer him, weakly at first. “My name? Two.... Ripple. My name’s Ripple.”

“Well, Mr. Ripple, you’ve been out for some time. Six days after the many hours it took me to get all those nails out. Did you roll in the damned things?” I’d probably be better off not skirting the issue with this pony, he seemed to be all about getting straight to business.

“Raiders. They  ambushed us. Nail bomb.”

He shook his head. “Then you decided to drag your bleeding, nail filled flank all the way to our town? To get this mare to safety, wasn’t it? Mighty rare we see chivalrous behavior out here.”

Chivalry? No, that was penance. I smiled as I lay back. At least I’d finally seemed to prove myself to her. For the first time in what I suspected to have been ever, I felt like a good pony. The voice yelled at me in the back of my head, trying to convince me to hurt. No. I was stronger than the voice.

Six days?

“She’s been waiting for me for a week?” Why hadn’t she left, started her life? I’d just get her hurt and killed.

The pegasus looked at her briefly before levelling his gaze back on me. “Yep. Which reminds me. We’ve got payment to talk.” Behind him, the pony with the rifle took to standing in what I had to admit was an intimidating pose. The message was clear. Skip out and suffer the consequences. “Another day and you’ll be right as.... radioactive rain. Good enough to pay up, and I’ve got a doozy for ya’ to help me out.”

He turned and left, exchanging glances with the guard pony. The pony with the rifle glared at me and closed the door behind him. Shade was still attached to my neck and I did not really feel up to asking her to get off of me. The weight was quite nice, especially as I heard her snoring softly into my bandaged neck.

Once I got back from whatever payment I had to make, I would have to have a real conversation with her. I owed myself that much. I closed my eyes, of my own volition this time, and drifted off to sleep.


The next morning came much too soon for my taste. I woke feeling better than I had in days, though couldn’t spend much more time delaying.  I left the room under the watchful eye of the guard, who’s name I came to discover was Ironsight. The crosshair on his flank spoke volumes of his skill with that rifle. I was expecting that I would make a journey with him, but he left me to walk on my own, directing me across the street of the surprisingly bustling town to the merchant’s place.

Pushing open the door, I stepped inside. The doctor was there, as well as a mare I assumed was in charge of the store. She looked up as I stepped into her store and frowned at me. “I assume you are the pony that Intensive Care convinced me to loan all those medical supplies to? You owe me.” The doctor held up a hoof to ward off her angry gaze. “Now now, Traffic, I’m sure that anypony capable of taking a beatin’ like that and walking around a week later is sturdy enough for our little job.”

She snorted lightly, then nodded. “See, you owe Care and I a whole mess of caps. Luckily we have a way for you to pay it off.” I narrowed my gaze slightly. Doc Care stamped a hoof and I heard a rustling outside. “We’ve got a small problem with some raiders, ya’ see. They’ve been squatting just out of town in an old Ministry of Peace depot. We need ‘em cleared out so we can replenish our stock and it only seems right that the pony that used it up should help.”

I groaned. Raiders. My kind were really starting to turn into a pain in my flank. “Now we don’t know you enough to trust you to go out there and come back with what we need, so we’re sending along a little insurance.” The door opened and my jaw dropped slightly. Pushing his way into the building was a tall creature that made the little part in the back of my head that knew more than I did spoke up.

Claws. Beak. Wings. A griffin. Fun to kill.

Traffic looked up at the towering creature and nodded respectfully. “Ashred, one last job for ya.” He glanced down at me, not something I can say I was used to, being taller than most ponies myself. His golden eyes stared at me for a little longer than I would have liked, a predatory gaze. He looked back to Traffic and ran one taloned hand through the black feathers on his head.

“What would that be, Miss Traffic?”

She flicked a hoof towards me. “You and the bandaged wonder here are gonna deal with those raiders out near Flutter’s Cross. Clear the path for the scavenging party. Just make sure he does his part and don’t let him run.”

Ashred leaned down until his beak was right next to my head. “It would be my pleasure, Miss Traffic.” I didn’t like the sound of that.


Traffic had allowed me to stock up before I left and just added it to my tab. Even without Ashred making sure I came back, it wasn’t like I was just going to abandon Shade after how she had reacted to my recovery. I had a job to do, a job to help ponies.

Life was starting to look up.

As I stood there, outside the gate, freshly bandaged and with a number of medical supplies sitting with a fair amount of ammunition, I felt ready for anything.

Ashred had been circling above lazily until I began walking towards the point on my PipBuck. He landed next to me and kept pace, a huge rifle on his back. I was limping slightly and I can admit that the feeling of missing a chunk of my hoof was rather offputting.

I’d reattached my hoofguns with no small amount of effort. Couldn’t help but wonder how Doc Care had removed them, but once they went on I found that it was a fairly simple manner. They locked into carved notches in my natural hooves. The triggers clicked slightly as I walked.

“So. Ripple, was it?” Ashred’s grin was getting on my nerves a bit. “Come on. You can tell me, what’s your game Two Kick.” I stopped. He knew me. I glared death at him and my horn glowed lightly as it gripped Broken. He held up a clawed hand telling me to pause. “Don’t worry, I won’t tell the folks of Blank who you are, but I gotta ask why the number two pony of the Paragons walked into Blank with an escaped slave and enough nails to put a house together.”

I grunted, a stray bandage falling across my eye. I flipped my head to remove it and placed Broken back where it had came from. “Two Kick is dead. Dead in a field with a hole in his head. Did you know him Ashred?” My question came with a hint of menace. Was this Griffin a slaver or the type to consort with the life I had been ejected violently from?

“Call me Ash, please, and yeah, I know you. What, how can you forget such a fine independent contractor as myself? Was the job not to your liking?” That grin again, like he was playing with his food.

“My memory isn’t what it used to be. Two Kick was a different pony.”

He laughed at that. “Sure. Whatever Kick.”

I was remembering what Shade had said about griffins working for somepony named Red Eye coming down for the shipment of slaves. “You said independent? You’re on your own?”

The griffin nodded. “Most of my kind is up north with Gawd or that bitch Stern. Either that or they’re back home fighting the ‘clavers. Me, I found that this area was more... fertile for contracts. Not much competition in the skies.” He tapped my chest with the back of a claw. “You Paragon’s love your competition though, don’t you.”

I pushed his claw away. “I’m not a Paragon anymore. We had a bit of a rough separation. Look, lets not talk about that. Let’s just get this over with and get back to town.”

“Pony of action? I can respect that.” He nodded his head off to the left. “That building with the antenna? That’s Flutter’s Point.” A big building sat nestled up against a hill, an antenna jutting out of the roof towards the sky. Looking around, I noticed that the broken buildings surrounding the Point were plastered with posters of a beautiful yellow mare with pink hair. Though the posters were filthy, a sense of calm radiated from each.

We must do better? Yes we must.

Then the paint started. The mare’s face had been defaced in increasingly more horrific ways as we neared the building. Then the smell hit. It was strangely familiar, but still revolting. Ash’s feathers ruffled as he smelled it and I was glad I wasn’t the only one disturbed by it.

“I’m gonna get a higher vantage point. You just walk in the front door.” Drawing Broken, I nodded at the black feathered griffin. Honestly, it was what I was going to suggest. A winged sniper made the whole idea seem safer. He pulled the rifle off of his back and checked that there was a round in the chamber. “Just keep an eye out for these raiders Kick. They’re... a bit off from what you might be accustomed to.” With a flap of wings and a burst of dust, Ash was gone, launched into the sky.

Leaving me alone in a row of defaced posters. Not a problem, I’d probably faced worse than whatever these raiders could bring to the table. I checked that Broken was loaded and that my hooves were fully armed. I made sure extra shells were easily accessible and began my trot towards the front door of the building.

The front door was ringed with dismembered corpses, nailed to the structure and looped with garlands of organs. Was this raider decoration? Did Neighwhere contain some room I had once occupied, stuffed with corpses and decorated with the remains of my victims?  Best not to think about it.

I stopped as I got near the door. It was wide open, but I heard nothing and saw no sign of active raiders. I took another step and the noise began. It was discordant, wavering. As though a mass of ponies were screaming all at once.

The first came through the door, brandishing a pipe strung with razor wire. He was painted in bright colors and had an insane smile on his face. I pulled Broken up to aim but a loud report rang through the air. A bullet caught the pony in the face, slamming him into the ground in a halt of dust and blood. A spent cartridge pinged off of the ground next to me as the griffin pulled the bolt on his weapon somewhere above me.

The next pony that came through the door was similarly insane looking, but had nails driven into her hooves. I’d had enough nails in my body for a lifetime and fired a round, catching her full in the chest. She hit the dust just as hard but tripped over the corpse of the first pony, spiraling blood into the air as she flipped tail over head.

We waited for another five minutes. The screaming continued but no ponies came out. I sighed. I’d hoped to avoid going into the building with raiders left alive. I looked upwards and circled my hoof above my head. A rush of air ruffled my mane as Ash levelled out above me. “Ash, I’m going inside. I need you to keep covering me through the windows.” He nodded playfully and I glared at him. “Cover me.”

He put the rifle over his shoulder and shrugged. “Yeah, got it Kick. Don’t let the bad ponies get you. Not a problem.” He saluted mockingly and took off again.

I took my first steps inside. The smell was overwhelming and I wrapped the bandage that kept falling across my eye over my nose. The smell of the fresh bandage was oddly soothing. I put another shell into Broken and began down the hall, moving slowly, listening to the screaming.

My E.F.S. showed red in every direction but the front door. I could see how this could be an amazingly useful tool, but noted that it just pointed. I couldn’t tell if the hostiles were above me, below me or on the other side of the wall.

Hey, we can make this fun. Just some stampede and we’ll paint the walls red.

No. Not listening. Good ponies didn’t rip ponies apart and bathe in their blood. They certainly didn’t use other ponies as decoration. I was going to do this the right way. Stay true to Ripple and not give in to the urgings of Two Kick.

A change of pitch in the screaming warned me of the raider a second before he rounded the corner. Unlike the last time this had happened, I was ready. The shotgun boomed in the close quarters, throwing the charging earth pony against the wall, leaving a smear of blood as he slid to a rest. I grimaced as the voice in my head laughed.

Stepping over his body, I put another shell in the magazine. Best keep on top of my ammunition, there was no telling what I’d run into in here. Using Broken felt natural, like I’d been using it for years. One of the few things I was grateful for from my old life was muscle memory. It had saved me several times in the last two days. Scratch that. The last eight days.

Coming to a staircase, I floated the weapon ahead of me, cautiously making my way up. The screaming continued but no raiders attacked me. The hall ahead of me looked out into the front of the building and  I saw a shadow swoop past. Ash had at least not abandoned me in a raider den.

The next raider was much stealthier than the last and actually managed to catch me off guard. He burst from a locker where he’d been silently lying in wait, launching himself at me while letting out a scream. He began swinging a razor at me, drawing a red line across my chest and cutting through several bandages. I dodged back and activated S.A.T.S. Wow. I had to marvel as the pony swung the blade with his teeth in slow motion; I could practically count the hairs in his mane if I’d had the time or the inclination. I aimed at his head and queued up a shot, the roar of the shotgun activating as soon I turned off the spell. The buckshot tore into his face at near point blank range, sending him through a broken window and plummeting to the ground below with a crunch.

A thump behind caused me to spin around, aiming Broken. A mare had impacted the wall hard enough to crack the worn material, propelled by a high caliber round from outside. She fell to the ground in a rain of flaking paint and broken concrete, a wicked looking blade clattering across the hall. I wondered if Ash had let the raider get that close to me on purpose or if he had reacted slowly. I figured the former, as he seemed the type to toy with somepony he was supposed to be watching over. I spotted him on a rooftop across the way, throwing yet another mocking salute my way.

Reading the red dots on my E.F.S. I counted seven raiders left from what I could see and they were all clustered further into the building. I shouted out the window. “Ash, I’m going further in!” I saw him nod and take off. I didn’t know how he’d cover me when I was in there, but despite all of my reservations about the griffin he seemed to be rather effective at his job when he wasn’t cutting things too close.

Heading into the interior of the building, I began noticing the walls. Posters coated every surface. Like these raiders had some strange fixation with the mare depicted on them. I was curious what the Ministry of Peace was. I knew that I’d heard mention of it in my past, but nothing that I could remember. Ministry had a powerful connotation attached to it, but hell if I knew what that was. I’d seen no other mention of the Ministries in the area, only the kind looking pony on the posters gracing walls and billboards across the area.

Before I realized it, I had reached the center of the building. A freight elevator sat in the middle of the room, unused for two hundred years. The room ran right up to a skylight, though I could see the antenna further up, supported over the glass ceiling. Desks and chairs were piled up against the walls on all sides, giving me the image that the elevator had slammed down from high above, scattering everything in this room in its wake.

It was when I was looking up that the raiders made their move, a  bullet punching into my side. Seven at once, rushing from every direction. I triggered S.A.T.S. in a panic, my adrenaline kicking in. I’d fallen right into a trap.Taking stock of my surroundings, I figured that the spell had only enough charge for three targets, leaving me with four provided I could kill each in one shot. Shotgun, kick, shotgun.

I triggered the spell and it all happened so fast. Broken whipped out to the side, firing it’s lethal shot into the throat of a unicorn wielding a sledgehammer. The buckshot ripped out her throat, spraying blood. The second pony, an earth pony screaming as he charged me with a length of iron bar wickedly sharpened into a spear. I hopped nimbly over the thrusting spear and put a powerful kick into his muzzle with a hoof gun, blasting his face across the room with the shot. While kicking, Broken was reflexively reloaded by my magic, with little control on my part. It fired again, tearing the leg off of the earth pony that had shot me at the beginning of the ambush.

Blood splattered about the room as time caught up with me.

Then there were four. A shot from above rang out in a shower of glass, catching one of the remaining raiders in the neck. I had no time to glance up now, but I could just imagine Ash hovering above the glass ceiling, firing down. I levered another shell into the chamber and fired at the nearest raider. Broken was a fantastic weapon and every shot seemed to be a kill, catching the rearing pony in the gut as he tried swinging a meat cleaver into my head.

I felt a blade pierce into my flank as one of them got too close. She was gripping the knife, twisting it in my side with her teeth, smiling crazily up at me. My blood sprayed her face and I jumped to the side, the blade sliding free. Broken swung towards her and fired, blowing the knife and her lower jaw into a slurry of metal, blood and bone. She fell over, her scream changed to a horrible gurgling sound.

One left. A unicorn with a shotgun. He came at me, raising the weapon to fire but was halted in a crunch as Ash plummeted from above, landing directly on top of him. His claws pierced into the unicorn’s side, giving him a firm grip. The griffin lifted the struggling, crushed pony in front of him and wrenched off a leg in a spray of blood. Biting into the pony’s throat stopped his struggles and Ash ripped away, trailing blood and muscle in his beak. He dropped the dead unicorn to the ground and grinned at me. “We make a good team, huh Kick?”

At that moment, a massive crunching sound tore through the room as a door to one end was ripped out of its frame by a powerful blow. The door cartwheeled the length of the room in an instant, faster than either of us could react, catching Ash with a bone breaking impact. He and the door were tangled in a broken heap off to the side as a triumphant roar filled the silence where the screaming had once been. Standing in the open doorway was the largest pony I’d ever seen.

He was painted just like the mare in the posters, but covered in armor that looked to have scavenged from a sky carriage. I watched as several objects fell out of his mouth and recognized them immediately for used stampede injectors and assorted other medical supplies. His eyes narrowed to pinpricks and he let loose another roar, louder than I thought a pony could be.

Look at that. He’s stronger than you. A little stampede would fix that right up.

My inner self stole my attention for a split second, but that was all the giant pony needed. The speed behind his charge was blinding and he hit me like a train. It felt like all of my ribs bent as he slammed into me in a bull rush, throwing me away from him. As I rocketed through the air to slam violently against the wall, I could think only of my broken armor sitting in a dilapidated house somewhere in Hornsmith. A hoof filled my vision and I ducked out of the way as the yellow raider bucked a hole where my head had been. I kicked out with a front leg, hitting him in one massively muscled leg. He didn’t even register the hit, instead clamping down on the leg with his front teeth.

That hurt. I could feel each tooth cutting through my skin as he flipped his head, tossing me over his shoulder almost dismissively. I hit the ground and slid before coming to a stop on a flopping, jawless pony currently bleeding to death. She kicked at my head, but was too weak to do much damage. The massive pony rearing over me ready to stomp down looked plenty strong enough and I kicked out with my rear leg, hitting one of his and firing into it. With a crunch and a roar from his throat, the buckshot tore into his leg, shattering the bone and shredding the flesh.

Instead of stamping down and finishing me, his bulk collapsed on top of myself and the dying pony next to me, giving me a chance. From my position crushed beneath him, I could move nothing but my hind legs. I kicked into him as hard as I could, again and again. I had two shells left in the weapons around my hooves and I put them both into his functioning rear leg and more sensitive areas next to it. I kept kicking after the weapons rand dry, kicking into the gaping wounds. He roared yet again and looked down at me with rage and pain in his drug addled eyes.

Like a mirror, isn’t it.

“No!” I yelled in his face and kicked up into his chest, pushing him in to the air, removing the crushing weight on my chest. He swung at me, just out of reach, his hooves whistling past my face with each kick.

Ash to the rescue, swinging the crumpled door he’d been struck with with both hands. The metal of the door impacted the crazed stallion's head, throwing him off of me. The playful grin was gone from Ash’s face, replaced with a vindictive snarl. He lifted the door and swung it down onto the crippled buck’s side, again and again.

Pulling myself to my hooves I moved to help Ash finish off the wounded raider, though as I recognized the look in his eye, I stopped. Ash had taken his broken wing rather poorly and was pouring all of his rage into the already dead pony at his claws. The door came down again and again with a progressively wet crunch each time. The door was bending with each hit and when it ceased to work as a club Ash tore into the pony with claws and beak, tearing off chunks of armor and flesh with each strike.

When he finally finished, the pony didn’t resemble a pony anymore. Bones and blood and flesh were all that remained. Ash was breathing heavily, his claws and face dripping with gore as he glared down at the corpse. His one wing was at an odd angle, dragging behind him, not tucked up at his back like it’s paired appendage. I lingered, not wanting to get too close to the griffin in case he was still looking to vent some rage. I’d already been shot, beaten, bitten and crushed today. Getting ripped apart by a predator was not high on my list of desires.

He slowed his breathing visibly, closing his eyes and pushing his talons in front of him. The grin came back and he shook his forelimbs, trying to wring them of blood. “We did good, Kick. Time to do some quick salvage, then we call in the teams.” I nodded and we surveyed the room. Ash let out a triumphant yell as he found an unopened medical box and ripped it open, spilling potions and bandages to the ground.

Using the bandages and a few strips of metal he formed a splint for his wing, grimacing as he applied it. I approached and took one of the potions, drinking it and feeling the most of my wounds close. The bullet had gone clean through and the feeling of my skin and internals closing up was rather satisfying. We swept through the room the raiders had been using for storage and I loaded up on scavenged shotgun shells, reloading all of my weapons and dropping the remainder into my bag.

“Ash, what will the salvage team get? Aren’t we taking all of the choice stuff?”

He shook his head, spattering blood about. “Nah Kick. This is a Ministry storehouse first and foremost. That big elevator out there leads down to a cache of medicine from before the war. Sealed stuff, doesn’t go bad. At least if it’s anything like any other Peace building in the area.”

I remembered the cargo elevator from just prior to the ambush. The raiders had really been sitting on top of a goldmine of medicine and hadn’t known it? As we returned to the main room, Ash nudged me with an elbow. “So, you gonna make the call or what?”

“What?” Hadn’t he said he was gonna make the call?

He sighed. “Seriously Kick, you’ve got no sense about these things. Your PipBuck. It's not strong enough for the signal to reach Blank but that antenna should work if you turn it on.” He was pointing towards a terminal on the wall I had not noticed before. He then held up his claws. “I’d do it, but I have a tendency to shred up the buttons on those things. You just get to the important part and I’ll handle it.”

I approached the terminal, its green glow highlighting a series of words.

>>>Ministry of Peace Emergency Relay Antenna #108
>>Current Status: Off
>>Warning: Network to primary hub down, please contact a technician.
>>Turn Relay On: Y/N

I lifted a hoof and searched the interface. I... didn’t think I’d ever used one of these before but I found the Y button sitting there. I tapped it and a light hum came from the machine before the terminal’s text changed.

>>>Ministry of Peace Emergency Relay Antenna #108 Activated<<<
>>Searching for active broadcasts...
>>Active broadcasts found

My PipBuck made a slight sound and I lifted it. It had found several radio signals. From somewhere in the building I could hear music.

The terminal beeped and went into another window, giving me more options. One of them was to transmit. “Hey Ash, what’s the frequency for Blank? How do we call them?” He leaned in past me and tapped a few keys, his claws scratching up the markings on them. He really would have shredded the keyboard if he’d spent more time on it.

>>Transmitting to frequency...
>>Connection found.
>>Speak clearly.

Ash pushed me aside and propped an arm over the terminal, his head right next to the screen. “Miss Traffic? It’s Ashred, respond.”

The terminal crackled for a minute or two with static before her voice came through it. “Good to hear from you Ashred. The raiders dealt with? That idiot still alive?”

He snickered as he looked over at me. “Yeah, we handled them. Bandages is still alive more or less. You can send out the team, we’ll be headed back. Make sure they bring some rags, its a bit ripe in this place.”

He jabbed a button, ending the transmission. I smirked at him. “Bandages?”

Looking down at me, he shrugged. “Can’t call you Two Kick when dealing with the good folk of Blank. They’ll shoot you if they knew you were a Paragon. Most would. Not the most popular of ponies.” He gestured that I should follow him as he began walking out of the room.

I trotted after, glad to leave the room of death behind. “I’m not wearing all these bandages for the hell of it you know. I just had surgery.” He laughed in that dismissive way of his.


Once we were clear of the building, I was surprised how much I was looking forward to getting back to Blank. Back to Shade. Ash was walking alongside, his wing still bound up and keeping him grounded. His mood had soured as soon as we had started the trip back, his playful grin gone. Traffic had mentioned that this was one last mission for him and I wondered if that meant his contract was up. A future of uncertainty would certainly explain it. I could kill two birds with one stone if I played this right, cheering up my companion and getting some information.

“So... Ash. What do you know about Hate? Tell me like you would a pony who’d never heard of him.”

He looked over at me, his eyes angry. Then he lightened up a bit. Seemed that anything that got his mind off of what he was thinking was enough to cheer him up. Even talk about a monster.

“Hate? Well, I can tell you? He pays well. All of you Stable 87 ponies do, you’re just flush in caps, you know. That competition thing, either you’re rich or you’re broke. Hate runs things. I’ve never seen anyone, pony or griffin, with a mind like his. Everything he does has a reason. Every pony he’s killed has been towards some goal of his. From what I can tell he just keeps you Paragons around as a personal hit squad for when it doesn’t suit him to kill.” He grinned wider as he had recalled how well Hate payed. He kept grinning through the conversation save for when he mentioned Hate not killing. That brought a slight frown, a flash of menace.

Enough reminiscing about caps. I needed more information. “What about the Paragons. Who are... we?”

“There’s a tricky one. There’s around a dozen, with you and Hate up top. Tough fighters, the lot of you. Most of you walked out of that stable about five years ago and set yourselves up in charge of a small community. Turned into Neighwhere in a year. I’ve been to a few of your little arena competitions over the years, always a big gathering. One of you Paragons will go into the arena against some beast or a few ponies and just kill them. Gotta say it’s always a good show.” That explained the feelings I’d had when I’d been on stampede and the hallucinations of cheering and showering caps. They were memories.

Glorious memories.

Horrible memories. Though thinking of stampede made me want to take out a dose and put it into my leg. My horn even glowed for a second and undid the latch on my saddlebag before I willed it to stop. No stampede, not now. Ash caught the movement and lifted his brow.

“You always did rather well in the competition. I saw you about a year ago. I’ve never seen that much blood before or since. You were an artist in there.” I felt sick. I hated who I had been. I was changing my long term goal. I was still going to kill Hate, but for what he had done to the ponies of the waste. I would thank him for shooting me right before I broke his neck with my hooves.

“Heh, I know that look. Vengeance, right?” He snapped his claws as an idea came to him. “Tell ya what. You ever go after Hate, I’ll give you a discount on a contract. I need to have a chat with him before somepony takes him out.”

The gate to Blank came upon us before I knew it. It opened under the labor of two earth ponies pushing on a bar, allowing entry to myself and Ash. The streets were cleared, only a few ponies lingering about. I could hear a synchronized noise coming from nearly every building and tensed up. Was this an ambush, had something happened while we had been gone? It had only been a couple hours, what could have happened.

A clawed hand on my shoulder drew my attention. Ash was doing that motion again, the one I was sure meant to settle down. He looked over me and grinned, heralding a clatter of hooves on dirt and an impact from my left. Shade, my beautiful redemption.

She was hugging me around my neck again, a far cry from the shy pony I had met over a week ago. She still hadn’t spoken to me since I’d woken up, but I’d take what I could get. I smiled as Ash laughed and the two of us kept walking towards Traffic’s shop, Shade’s hooves dragging in the dust.

Walking into the shop, the atmosphere had changed dramatically. Traffic was actually smiling, but not at us. She was smiling as a small radio spitting out music. It took her a little bit to notice, but she turned and smiled to greet Ash. Then glared at me, but softer than previously.

“So, looks like I owe you some money. Bringing Pon-3 back to our little community was not a part of the job, but I can only assume that it was you.”

I did what now? Ash shrugged at the odd glance I shot him. “I... did? Brought who?”

She walked around the counter and patted me on the neck lightly. “We’ve gotten nothing on the radio for months until just after you cleared out that building. The DJ is the best source of news and hope in the wastes, it’s a relief to have him back.” Relay active. So that’s what that meant. “Clearing out the raiders covered what you owe. Here’s what I can give you for the radio.” She reached back to the counter and grabbed a bag that sounded like it was stuffed full of caps. She dropped it lightly as I caught it with my telekinesis and dropped it in my saddlebag. I would count it later.

Traffic looked to Ash and I could swear I almost saw a tear in her eye. “Ashred, it’s been my honor holding your contract, but the time is up and your services are no longer required. I wish I had more employees like you.”

She handed over a sheet of paper, which he took and tucked away. He bowed low, showing off the unusually high amount of respect he had around Traffic. “Pleasure’s been all mine Miss Traffic.”

He turned to leave but tilted his head to the side. “Ripple. I’ll see you around.” With that, he was off, a rustle of feathers out the door as he walked off. His words had been strangely ominous and stared at the door for a period. “Well, if you’re done here, there’s no loitering in the store. Go see Care, he’s been asking for you.” There was the sneer I connected with her. I turned to leave and noticed that Shade had detached herself from my neck. She was following closely at my side and I held the door open for her.

I guessed I was doing something right, everything had started turning out fine. Sooner or later, however, I was going to have to head back into the mouth of the beast and deal with Hate. Deal with the other Paragons. Deal with my family.

Oh what fun it will be.