Fallout: Equestria

by Kkat

Chapter Eight: Derailed

Chapter Eight: Derailed

“Something tells me this isn’t a circus act.”


It washed around my hooves, splashed against my legs, carried by the river that was Mane Street.

I was standing in the middle of the river, and it was full of corpses.

“How many ponies have you slaughtered?” asked Velvet Remedy’s voice accusingly. “It sure didn’t take you long to become a mass murderer, did it, Littlepip?”

“v-Velvet?” I looked for her in the storm and blackness. Instead, my eyes found only the bullet-savaged wall of the sheriff’s office. Crude spray paint covered it shouting blasphemies. Raiders had been here. Their sickening hoofwork, sadistic mutilations, on display for every pony to see. I watched as the pony torso that dangled from the ceiling inside, its limbs hacked off and coat shaved to the skin, heave against its chains and fall to the floor with a meaty thud.

I tried to scream as it began to crawl towards me!

With a wet rending, the splayed body on the wall, its flesh flayed back to show off its ribs and rotting organs, ripped itself free and sloughed towards me, splashing in the water.

I tried to back away, only to find my hooves mired in the muddy street! The crimson ichor in the water coated my PipBuck and sunk into my coat around my legs. “Calamity! Velvet? Help me!” I screamed, but my voice carried no sound.

A silent sprite-bot watched, doing nothing, as the lower half of a slaver pony joined the things that crept maliciously towards me, a long rope of intestine dragging out behind it.

*** *** ***

I awoke, my heart thudding hard and my body covered in cold sweat, to the sound and shake of the train. I was weak, but warm and less achy than I had any right to be. I was laying in one of the beds on the train’s passenger car, a blanket over me. Beside me, Velvet Remedy was waving her horn tenderly over my recently crippled leg. To my amazement, my leg felt mended, if deeply itchy.

I tried to shake the specter of my nightmare. This was not the first sleeping terror that my experiences outside had spawned, but this had been the most deeply unpleasant. The incorporation of my companions, or lack of them, somehow made this dream far, far worse.

Velvet Remedy! The last I had seen her, she was fallen in a pool of her own blood, having saved nearly half a dozen foals...

My ears perked at the sounds around me; looking over my shoulder, I saw the colts and fillies from the sheriff’s cells taking up much of the passenger car. They looked weary and beaten; two of them were fast asleep, but one had enough cheer to look at me and grin. “That was awesome!” The colt waved his hoof slowly through the air then stamped it down with a clop.

I gave him a weak smile, my heart finally beginning to calm. Calamity turned from staring out a window to welcome me back to the land of the living.

“We’re... okay?” I was hesitant, half-fearing that this was just another dream waiting to become a nightmare. Velvet Remedy nodded reassuringly.

“The slaves?”

“In the caboose,” Velvet said softly. Less softly, “This train only has the one passenger car, and I felt the foals needed the space more dearly. So it was either the caboose or strapping them to a flatcar.”

Speaking as though I would have suggested something awful was not, I decided, one of her more endearing personality traits.

Suddenly, I remembered my original plan, and the locked pens that the ponies captives had been caged in. “But the locks...?” I knew Calamity could not have picked them, and I couldn’t imagine Velvet Remedy, in her own youth, having plied that skill.

She rolled her eyes at me. “Oh come now. I’m not the locksmith you are, and I certainly do not have the level of telekinetic mastery that you showed -- most impressive, I should add -- but I am a unicorn! I can do basic levitation. Between your missiles and the mines, I was able to... bypass the need for lockpicks or keys.”

The train rumbled around us. Glancing out my window, I saw that we had already traversed the desert and were clearly well on our way up the mountain. The pace of the train ponies was slowing; we were getting close to the peak-point of the mountain track. My conversation with Velvet had lulled, and now Calamity disrupted it completely.

“Our shadow’s back.”

I pulled myself into a sitting position, testing my mended leg. “Shadow?”

The colt who spoke up earlier declared, “Mister Calamity thinks something is following us.” I noticed Calamity was crouched to the window, looking upwards through it… towards the sky?

“Another...” I kept myself from saying ‘goddess’ in reference to the winged unicorn slaver I had battled. “...one of those... like at the sheriff’s?”

‘Ah don’t think so. But there’s a’somethin’ up there. Keepin’ just out of sight.”

“If it’s out of sight, how do you know there is anything there?” Velvet countered. But at Calamity’s look, she relented. “Another pegasus, perhaps?”

Calamity grimaced. “Ah... really don’t think so.” He returned his gaze to the window, quieting.

“At least it has stopped raining,” Velvet Remedy announced, looking out the window. “That storm lasted for days.”

I turned and looked out at the thick grey cloud cover. The water had indeed stopped falling from the sky, and the clouds were a much lighter color, turning the sunlight a drab grey.

“Velvet...” I started.

She smiled at me, and my heart soared, her previous grating remark instantly forgotten. “Thank you, Littlepip. Your bandages saved my life.”

I looked at her, knowing that there was no way those poor excuses for medical aid, magically treated or not, could have brought her to health. I started to say as much but she lifted a hoof to interrupt. “No, but you managed just well enough that I regained consciousness, and from there I could take care of myself,” She cast a sidelong look towards Calamity. “Not to mention you and that interesting friend of yours.”

Calamity nickered in her direction.

I stared at my leg, surprised. Grinning, Velvet reminded me, “I did tell you I’d always wanted to be a medical pony. I studied for it and even apprenticed.”

I looked at the beautiful mare, many years my elder, curiously. “If that’s what you wanted, why didn’t you?”

“Because my cutie mark showed up. One day, I sang a song for an ailing gentlepony, and it appeared. A songbird, a nightingale to be precise. And when your cutie mark appears, your place in the Stable is decided.” There was a sad matter-of-factness in her voice. It was a truth I knew too well.

“I even begged the Overmare. But clearly it was to be my destiny to be an entertainer, my fate was written on my flanks. My voice was the most beautiful in the Stable, and I could not deny that I could sing. Or that I even enjoyed it a fair bit. The Overmare even showed me my geneology, proving that I was the many-times-great granddaughter of Stable Two’s first Overmare, who herself was also a legendary singer.”

I nodded, having heard the heartwrenching music myself while in Turnpike Tavern.

“How could I fight the weight of all of that? The Overmare... she graciously allowed me to indulge my hobby in the small times when it wouldn’t interfere with my new duties of uplifting the Stable’s flagging morale. But my dreams, I was told, were not for me.”

Suspecting the answer, I had to ask the question: “Velvet, why did you leave the Stable.”

Velvet whinnied demurely. “Again because of my cutie mark.” She turned, pulling away one of the medical boxs to show me the nightingale on her flank. Wings outstretched, beak open in song.

“Do you see what it is not, Littlepip?”

I saw what it was. What it had always been. A bird of beautiful song.

“It is not a bird in a cage,” Velvet Remedy said, her voice pleased. “And if it is not, then I was not meant to be either. Come horror or ill, I needed to be free.”

*** *** ***

“Ah’m gonna talk a walk outside, maybe stretch muh wings.”

I looked up from the book I was reading to pass the time. (Turns out, Equestrian Army Today was all about battle saddles.) The train was slowing to nearly a stop. The engine had already crested the peak, and the train ponies were drawing the rest of the train down over the lip and around the next bend before releasing it and jumping aboard themselves. There wasn’t going to be another chance to get some fresh air... or for Calamity to get himself a better look at our shadow.

I nodded, bidding him go. Velvet Remedy was probably on her way back from the caboose; she had been making regular checks on the adult ponies we had rescued, and I was entertaining taking a quick trot myself once she was here to watch the foals.

I waited, time seeming to have slowed to a crawl like the train itself. She was taking her sweet time -- had she possibly gotten lost? No, that was silly; you couldn’t get lost on a train, could you? I chuckled as I realized that, if I ever got lost on the train, my PipBuck’s automap spell would guide me. Poor Velvet, however could she find her way on a train without it?

I had offered Velvet Remedy her PipBuck; but to my shock she had refused it. I stressed how unbelievably useful a tool it was in the Equestrian Wasteland. She said I could keep it as a gift. And as an apology for having given it to me in the first place. She didn’t blame herself for my leaving the Stable, but she regretted having played a hoof (and truthfully a whole pony) in my decision.

I had tried one last time, and she had finally told me flatly, “I escaped that prison, I will not wear its shackle. No matter how gilded a shackle it might be.” At that, she had left to check the ponies in the caboose.

I was brought out of my reverie by the draconic roar of minigun fire. Followed by the death screams of the train ponies.

A mere second later, I heard the switch pulling team (who were currently acting as guards) open fire in return.

The foals began to panic. I was attempting to calm (or at least corral) them when Velvet Remedy returned through the back door, looking worried. At nearly the same moment, one of the train ponies from the switch team burst in, shouting and waving his paws, a lever-action shotgun floating by his side. “Slaver ambush! Protect the children!”

What?! How could they have gotten ahead of us?!

Before I could ask, a grisly pony wearing slaver armor, spiked hooves coated in the blood of train ponies, broke into the passenger car and reared up, intending to end the life of another. I didn’t have time to think; I just drew my assault rifle and fired at him. The train pony ducked, his own gun swinging around and unloading into the slaver. I couldn’t tell whose shot felled him.

Flashes of my nightmare came back to me. I hesitated, but mercifully only after the attacker had been taken down. Then with a stomp I activated my E.F.S. and watched the flurry of red marks fill my forward compass, milling about the few friendlies that were in front of me.

I turned to Remedy, levitating out the needler gun and fitting it with a marked clip. I had not been able to determine what the markings on the needle clips stood for, but I suspected any one of them would be at least capable of incapacitating. “Take this. Guard the foals with your life. I’m going to help up ahead!” Better to take them down before they got back this far, if I could.

Velvet Remedy stared at the needler pistol as if it was diseased. “I... couldn’t.”

Oh for Celestia’s sake. “You have to! You’re not going to survive out here if you aren’t willing to fight back.” I pointed towards the foals. “And neither will the ones you’re protecting.”

Velvet gulped. “I mean... I don’t know how!”

Oh! “It’s easy. Float it up, pointing this end at the bad guy. To shoot, pull this little lever back; that’s the trigger.”

She nodded. Then looked to me as if hoping I would offer another option. “I’m not a killer. I... I don’t think I can!”

“Learn to.” It was a harsh, even brutal, thing to say. But that was the Equestrian Wasteland.

*** *** ***

The train slid down the track, picking up speed but still slow enough for the motley force of unicorn and earth pony slavers to leap aboard. Two earth ponies with minigun battle saddles had torn through the pulling team, shredding the poor ponies into red meat. The barrage of return fire had slaughtered them in return.

I stood my ground on a boxcar several cars forward of the passenger car that held Velvet Remedy and the foals, assault rifle at the ready. My E.F.S. compass was so full of red ahead of me that it was impossible to track individual opponents. Part of me wanted to attempt parley, if only to avoid the growing pain in my conscience. But that was out of the question. No, any pony attacking the train went down. It was with this intention firmly planted that I opened fire on the first slaver to jump her way onto the boxcar ahead of me. My shot went wild and she jumped back down. Dammit!

I heard an explosion above and behind me. Casting my eyes to the sky, I saw Calamity dodging and weaving through the air, a griffin in hot pursuit. The enemy aviator held a brush gun, a much nastier firearm than any I had seen so far, and occasionally slowed his pursuit of Calamity to fire a shot. Calamity, bless him, was not making himself an easy target, and costing the griffon distance with each failure.

As I watched, Calamity suddenly swooped upward, pulling a full loop... and to my dismay the griffon matched his move, looping slightly inside his own to close distance with him yet again!

I heard clopping coming closer, but as I turned my attention back to the boxcars ahead, I saw nothing. Confused, I took a step towards the edge, looking down to see if they were racing up along the ground...

...only to find three slaver ponies racing along the side of my boxcar, passing me! Somewhere, a slaver unicorn was aiding them with spells! A magic glow held their hooves to the side of the moving train. “Luna rape you with her horn!” I growled, feeling incensed at the magical trickery, and swung about the assault rifle, firing into their hindquarters, flanks and necks as they raced down the next boxcar towards the passenger car. Two ponies screamed as they fell from the train, mortally wounded, one breaking his neck in the fall; but the third made it to the gap between cars before I could bring my weapon to bear on him.

The train was moving at a fair clop now. I raced along the roof jumping to the next car and skidding to a stop. I looked down between the cars, and quickly pulled my head back as the slaver spotted me and fired a mouth-held submachine gun into the air where my head had just been.

Focusing, I pulled the wide-eyes slaver up out of his hiding space. Then something hit me from behind, sending a stripe of searing pain up my back! I dropped him, the damnably lucky bastard falling safely onto the roof just across the gap. I was surrounded now; the pony I had missed before had come up behind me while I was focused on this new one, a whip clinched in her mouth that she wielded with hellish accuracy. With a crack of her whip, she knocked my assault rifle out of the air, the weapon sailing out over the cliff face the track was skirting. The SMG slaver had taken my moment of surprise to reload, and now grinned; in his mind, he had already killed me.

Another explosion from above, and two bullets ripped through the slaver, felling him. His body, SMG still clenched in his teeth, slid off the boxcar roof. A moment later, Calamity swooped low over the boxcar and banked sharply, his hooves scraping along the cliff that rose up above us on the other side of the train. The griffon swooped over the train in pursuit. I ducked. The whip-pony wasn’t quick enough and got clipped by one of the griffon’s wings, the hit cleanly decapitating the slaver pony. I felt my heart skip a beat as I saw the blades that adorned the forward edge of the griffon’s wings.

Scooping up the decapitated pony’s whip, I kicked the rocking head off the side of the train. I curled the whip into my saddlebags, brought out my combat shotgun and moved, first to one side of the boxcar then the other. The spell the slavers were using changed the situation dramatically, and I was painfully worried about how many had gotten past me before I wised up to it.

Further up the train, I heard more gunfire as the remaining train ponies fought for their lives. Down the train, I thought I heard Velvet Remedy scream! I turned towards the sound, my hindquarters to the front of the train when something thumped hard somewhere towards the front of the train, and then the train gave a shudder as its wheels crunched through a body that had fallen down onto the tracks.

Calamity landed deftly beside me.

I stared at him in surprise, and he seemed to blush as he hoofed at his mane. “Ah’m ‘fraid Razorwing couldn’t join us. He refused t’ get offa muh tail. Even when Ah swooped between two of the cars.” Calamity smiled, looking around as if trying to find a missing friend. “Ah swear, he was right behind me just a moment ago!”

I smirked. Then pointed a hoof towards the passenger car. “Go help Velvet!”

Calamity nodded and took to the air, not even needing to fly as the now galloping train brought the passenger car right to him. I saw him disappear into the gap in front of it, then and galloped to the aid of the train ponies. As I did so, a frightened voice in my head asked me what my life had become, what I was becoming, that there were so many ponies who wanted to take my life, and that I was charging towards them?

*** *** ***

The last survivor of the train ponies and I raced across the rooftops and dived down into the open door of the passenger car as twin beams of pink magical energy zorched the sky, fired from a white unicorn raider’s battle saddle. The train pony who had been with us seconds ago was now nothing but sparkling pink ash blowing away in the wind.

The passenger car was empty! Sort of. The body of a black-coated slaver hung from the ceiling, filled with needles. The spell on its hooves was keeping it from falling to the floor, even after death. It gave the earth pony with me quite a start. To be honest, I might have shrieked just a little too.

“Ah tell ya, I prefer slavers who shoot bullets!” the train pony gasped, recovering. “Ya can’t wrap a bandage around bein’ turned t’ dust!”

I quite thoroughly agreed.

Velvet Remedy ran in through the back door, coming off the flatcar behind. Seeing the train pony, she motioned for him to head behind her. “Please, go meet up with Calamity! He’s at the caboose!”

“We’ve got a nasty one on the way,” I warned her. “And another four coming behind her. I think these are the last of them, but one is using a battle saddle with magical energy weapons!”

Velvet Remedy nodded warily, then looked up and pointed at the corpse above. “t-This one came in on the roof! L-like an insect!” She was clearly shaken, more at having to take a life than the strangeness of the circumstances, but I suspected she couldn’t bring herself to focus on that. Not yet. I began to wonder if her occasional unpleasantness wasn’t part of some coping mechanism for dealing with the horrors of the Equestrian Wasteland.

The earth pony trotted past her, reloading his weapon and bucking the door closed behind him.

A minute later, Calamity galloped up. “Everypony’s in the caboose and Ah’ve kicked it off! The slavers won’t be gettin’ t’ them from here!” He lowered his head and stomped at the floor. “Here’s where we hold the line!”

There was no time for discussion. Calamity had barely spoken his intent when three slavers, lead by the unicorn pony, came into the car at us. Not from in front or behind, but through the windows! The passenger car exploded into violence.

S.A.T.S. locked onto the slaver coming through the window on my left. At this range, I could hardly miss. Unfortunately, neither could they! Velvet Remedy’s horn glowed as I fired into the chest of my first target, once and again. His armor stopped much of the damage, but it knocked him back, his own shot grazing my cheek. I turned to the second, but not quickly enough to stop him from swinging his magically enhanced sledgehammer right into my ribcage! The pain was blinding! I could hear ribs snapping under my armor!

My squeal of pain did not stop him from bringing down a second blow across my back. Ditzy Doo’s armor dissipated the blow across my body, saving me from a broken back and a very short, paralyzed life.

Calamity had fired off a double-shot from his battle saddle, tearing gaping holes in one of the slaver ponies coming in on his side. Bloody innards splattered across the bed, wall and window. The last went for Velvet Remedy. Oh Goddess, why wasn’t she wearing armor? I watched in horror from the floor as the slaver sank his combat knife deep into her shoulder, barely missing her neck. Blood gushed around the blade and turned her charcoal coat a wet black. Her spell imploded, the magic radiating from her horn fading away in an instant.

I started to get up, crying out again as bright agony slashed through me with fiery fingers. My targeting spell was still refreshing, but my first opponent had already recovered and was bringing his gun to bear. The pony with the sledgehammer swung again, intent on pummeling me into submission: the submission of a corpse.

Calamity fired. The armor that had spared the slaver from my combat shotgun was not equal to my companion’s powerful rifles. The slaver who had stabbed Velvet grasped the hilt of the knife in her teeth, intent on pulling the blade out of the wounded singer, but Velvet’s horn glowed once again, a telekinetic light enveloping the knife. It was simple, weak telekinesis, holding the blade. But it kept the pony from sliding out the blade as easily as she expected, and that briefest pause gave Calamity enough time to turn his barrels on her. He fired again, and Velvet was splattered with wet bits of the other pony.

I was in so much pain; my vision blurred heavily. I was having trouble drawing breath. But at least now, it was (I thought hopefully) only three-on-one. But as the slaver raised his sledge hammer over my head, the door burst open. The white unicorn, standing just outside the door, opened fire with pink magical energy.

With a flash from my horn, sledgehammer pony found himself pushed away, becoming an impromptu shield. An eyeblink later, he was glowing pink dust.

Now it really was three-on-one. And while I had to fight through my pain to fire, my targeting spell had finally returned and S.A.T.S. guided my shots. And Calamity needed no aid at all.

*** *** ***

Velvet Remedy’s horn glowed as she slowly mended my several broken ribs, jumping slightly as the train gave a buck. The pain in my side had reduced to a throbbing, bad enough to wring whimpers from me. “Really, Littlepip, this is becoming a habit.” Her own coat was matted with her blood. The last of our healing potions had been consumed and both she and I wore the last of our bandages. Only Calamity had made it through virtually unscathed.

The slavers lay dead about us, save for the one who had pummeled me with a sledgehammer. His body had been vaporized -- turned to glowing ash. I recoiled at the thought that I might have breathed in some of him.

I turned away, staring at the floor. Though we had won, it didn’t feel like a victory. Instead, I felt that I had lead half a dozen train ponies to their slaughter. And, in the end, I had failed in the fight as well. If Calamity hadn’t been with us…

Reading me far too easily, Velvet Remedy tried to soothe me. “At least you got that one with the horrible sledgehammer. All I managed to do was be a target.

“You are doing more than your share with your healing skills and mending spell,” I pointed out, adding, “Although I’m surprised you didn’t stay with the freed slaves and foals.”

Velvet Remedy whinnied. “That caboose was too crowded as it was. If I’d have tried to force myself in there too, somepony would have suffocated!” She finished tending my wounds, frowning at the increased shaking of the train. Scenery flashed by outside the windows.

“Ayep,” Calamity returned to us, making his way through the rattling train, “Looks like that was the last of them.”

The train groaned dangerously as it tore around a corner, forcing us to catch ourselves. Velvet looked between us with alarm. “Don’t either of you ponies think we’re going awfully fast? How does this train of yours slow down?”

“We use the brakes.”

“And where are they?”

“In the caboose.”

Velvet’s ears dipped back. She stared levelly at Calamity. “The caboose? That would be the big red car at the back, right? The one you just kicked free of us?” I felt a surge of panic.

Calamity grimaced a little. “Ayep.” Pondering, “Y’know, that would explain the look the train pony was givin’ me.”

“I begin to see how you got your name,” Velvet said flatly.

Several minutes of confirming our situation and arguing what should be done followed as the train continued to race down the mountain out of control; soon the three of us were bracing ourselves against every turn. We were still only halfway down, sheer cliffs flying by on either side. In the end, I decided there was only one solution.

“Calamity, fly Velvet Remedy to safety!”

Velvet’s eyes widened, “But what about you?”

Resolutely, I stomped on the ground, trying to ignore the twinge in my recently mended leg and ribs. “I’ll be fine. I’ve figured out another way off.”

The two of them looked dubious. But they trusted me. So with a nod, Calamity and Velvet made their way to the nearest flatcar. “Ah’ll be back for you!” Calamity promised as he spread his wings. The wind tore Calamity and Velvet off into the air.

And then I was alone. On a runaway train!

Okay, I thought to myself. Now it was time to actually think of a way off. The train charged forward towards a mountain curve, hitting it far too fast! The train tilted; I could feel wheels coming off the track!

My horn flared with power, cold sweat breaking across my already too-abused body as I poured telekinetic power into holding the train on the track. The whole train glowed feebly as it ripped around the corner, canted crazily, riding only one side of its wheels!

With a squealing thud, the train righted itself on the track, already headed towards another turn, this one throwing the train’s weight against the rising cliff wall. The rocky wall raked at the train, gouging at boxcars and rending most of the roof off the passenger car with a resounding roar. I clenched my eyes against the storm of splinters.

When I opened them again, wind was buffeting me fiercely through the gaping wound in the train car. I could see another turn ahead, this one even sharper. Trembling with exhaustion, I knew there was no way to prevent the train from leaping the track this time.

I focused again, dreaming I could levitate myself to safety. Groaning with the effort, I felt my hooves leave the ground just at the engine car hit the curve and snapped around it. The massive weight of the train could not follow. With a horrific, screaming shudder, the jackknifing train tore from the track, soaring out over the mountain cliff like a snake with a broken head, and plunging towards the valley over a thousand feet below!

With all my remaining focus, I pushed myself up and away, lifting out of the open roof... but it was not enough. I was still falling, and fast! My efforts only slowed me enough that I got to see the train fall past me, diving down into the dead forest below with an almighty crash. The destruction below me was like the hoof of Luna against the land beneath. Great clouds bellowed up, obscuring the wreckage that I was about to splatter against.

Calamity caught me!

*** *** ***

The three of us -- Calamity, Velvet and I -- trod through the narrow valley under the grey clouds above. I had no idea where we were, save that New Appleloosa was many days travel on my PipBuck’s map. Assuming we could travel in anything close to a straight line. Assuming we were headed there at all.

Based on the terminal entries, the slavers of old Appleloosa were selling the bulk of the ponies they captured to somepony named Stern in someplace called Fillydelphia. I had not lost my rage at what I had read, at the wicked and cruel things these ponies were doing. I kept it at a low simmer in the back of my mind. If I had my way, Fillydelphia was next. But I could not ignore our more pressing concerns.

We were in desperate need of medical supplies. Likewise, the water and food Calamity and I had packed was insufficient to support three ponies for several days. We needed safe shelter and resupply.

Once together, we had rested for several hours. The three of us had just been through a harrowing battle, and it would have been insane, if not impossible, to press on without giving ourselves time out. In truth, we needed much more than we took -- I myself was so weakened by my extreme feats of telekinesis that I found myself unable to levitate even something as small and relatively light as Little Macintosh -- but the unfamiliar and possibly hostile environment did not encourage dallying.

The valley was strewn with black, dead trees and bits of debris. Not from the train, whose crash site was now miles behind us; these told of the devastation of Equestria’s apocalypse. Fallen sky chariots and similar vehicles marred the land. According to Calamity, we were below the outskirts of what had once, high above us, been the pegasus city of Cloudsdayle. Now, there was nothing up there above the clouds. And on the ground, the only grave marker for the sudden ending of so many pony lives were the scattered wrecks of pegasus vehicles that had been too far from the city to be instantly consumed, but not far enough to save those pulling them.

Inappropriately upbeat music (heavy on the tuba) floated like a siren song through the valley. My ears perked, and I began galloping towards the source, my surprised companions scrambling to follow suit.

“Littlepip!” Velvet gasped, “What is it?” Calamity was no less confused; he knew the sound of a sprite-bot, but could fathom no reason I would be in such a hurry to catch it.

Reaching the sprite-bot, I enveloped it with my horn’s magic, dragging it to attention before me. “Watcher!”

Calamity landed, looking at me strangely. Velvet, considerably further behind, dropped to a trot as she saw no sign I was in immediate danger of being crippled yet again.

“Watcher!” I shouted crossly, giving the annoying sprite-bot a firm shake, as if doing so would shut off the music and summon my cryptic acquaintance. “Watcher, I know you can hear me! I need you right now!”

“Littlepip,” Calamity began slowly. “Ah don’t think...” He stopped, eyes widening fearfully as the music ended in a mid-song pop and the sprite-bot spoke directly to me in a voice he had never heard come from a sprite-bot before.

“uh, hello, Littlepip. How can I help you?” The tinny, artificial voice addressing me clearly spooked my wasteland-experienced companion quite deeply.

“I need you to send a message to New Appleloosa! “ I waved a frantic hoof. “There’s a caboose headed down the mountain, without a train. The train pony inside will make sure it reaches the bottom safely, but there are lots of ponies inside, including five young ones, who cannot survive out here on their own. New Appleloosa needs to send wagons to get them.”

Watcher was silent, hesitant.

“Watcher, they’re not in good shape. They have no food or water. Time is of the essence!”

Watcher spoke slowly, “I don’t know, Littlepip. I’m not in the habit of...”

“I. Don’t. Care!” I shouted crossly. “You care about those ponies, don’t you? Do you want to see those foals die?!”

“No! I mean, yes, I care. No, I don’t want to...”

“Then get help! You don’t have time to indulge your shyness, Watcher. Lives are at stake!”

With a pop, the sprite-bot’s song continued. I released it, unsure whether to feel relieved or disgusted.

“Littlepip,” Velvet nickered, clopping up to me. “If you keep ordering your friends around, you’ll soon find you don’t have any.”

I frowned, reminded suddenly of my friendless nightmare. Calamity gave me a look that suggested she might be right. Velvet kept walking, and I fell in line behind her.

Footnote: Level Up.
New Perk: Light Trot – You are agile, lucky and always careful; or maybe you have just mastered the art of self-levitation. Either way, you never set off enemy mines or floor-based traps.