Fallout: Equestria

by Kkat

Chapter Twelve: Must Go On

Chapter Twelve: Must Go On

“So... you think you have what it takes to beat me, on my stage, in my town? Come on down, we’ll see.”


I hoofed a small pile of bottle caps across the sheet metal counter while a scarred pony with a dark tan coat and a roasting meat cutie mark pulled a rabbit shish kebob from the barbecue grill. Guests or not, we were expected to pay for our food; I’m not sure why I had expected otherwise. I picked up my meal, the savory aroma assaulting my nostrils, and carried it over to the table where Calamity was already digging into a bowl of oatmeal.

“Littlepip, what are you doing!??” Velvet Remedy nearly shrieked as she saw me approach. I stopped short, looking at her quizzically. Velvet Remedy looked stricken. “You’re not going to eat that are you?”

I nodded, unable to respond with the shish kebob still in my mouth. My stomach was rumbling. I sucked up a bit of escaping drool and was hit by the flavors of barbecued rabbit. It wasn’t quite what I was expecting, and made my stomach do an odd lurch, but it was good!

“Littlepip...” Velvet raised her hoof to her chest in exaggerated offense. “That’s meat!”

“uhf-huf,” I mouthed through my breakfast, hoping in vain that having established this fact, I would be allowed to eat in peace.

Velvet Remedy’s eyes narrowed. “We’re vegetarians,” she said flatly.

I paused at that. True, all I had ever eaten in Stable Two was apples. But I had assumed that was because it was the only thing we had for eating. And I felt I would be perfectly happy never eating another apple as long as I lived. I thought back to my first meals outside... how I had found cooked meat stored in a refrigerator, and simply assumed that’s what ponies ate in the wasteland. My stomach had fought it uncomfortably, but I figured that was more the result of a lifetime of apples, and that outside food would just take some getting used to. For the most part, I felt I’d acclimated well.

Of course, now that I thought about it, it had been a raider refrigerator. So diet was suspect.

Calamity finally pulled his head out of his oatmeal bowl, winging in on the conversation. “Oh, we c’n eat meat all right. Jus’ don’t much like to. Ain’t really good for our diet.” Calamity looked sideways, his oatmeal-covered lips curling into a frown. “Muh brothers used t’ challenge me t’ hotdog eatin’ contests. Which mostly meant them shoving the disgustin’ things down muh throat.”

Velvet Remedy looked appalled.

“’Course, they were prob’ly disgusting more cuz they were two hundred years old than cuz they were meat.”

I felt my appetite slip. Ugh! By Celestia’s grace, I hoped that they’d at least been kept frozen that entire time!

Velvet Remedy turned up her nose and trotted away from our table. She was just leaving as Gawd alighted next to us with a plate of roasted rats. She watched Velvet shudder in disgust and quicken her pace. Sucking up a rat by the tail and swallowing it whole, Gawd turned to me and asked, “What’s her issue?”

*** *** ***

“I suppose you’ll be heading out after breakfast then?” Gawd asked. Between bites of grilled vegetables and rabbit meat, I had told Gawd about Red Eye’s forces. She’d taken it in with a grave expression. “Did you want that escort?”

It was a question that had plagued me all night. (Not the escort issue, but leaving now in the first place.) We could leave now, put Shattered Hoof behind us completely. Get out before the impending drama, and leave these ponies to the fates they had created for themselves. It was, I had to admit, not without its appeal. Especially considering that the alternatives almost certainly involved getting shot at, with a high chance of dying.

Was there anyone or anything here worth risking my life, or the lives of my companions?

“I-I’ve been considering staying,” I admitted. “Just for a little longer.” Gawd smirked at that.

On the other side of the bottle cap, I didn’t have any place else pressing to be. I didn’t have a home. The one friendly town I had encountered so far had just kicked me out. I was still as lost and adrift as ever before. I felt like I had in Stable Two when I was without my cutie mark, without a place. Same feeling... only the walls had changed. (Even the ceiling was still grey -- just higher.) I was the pony with the PipBuck on her flank -- a symbol that didn’t mean anything special in Stable Two didn’t mean anything at all in the wasteland.

Watcher had told me to search for my virtue. What virtue did I have if I walked away? Okay, sanity perhaps. Was sanity a virtue? Self-preservation?

Truth be told, I didn’t really have a larger mission. Personally, I found slavery a vile practice and I wanted to take on Red Eye. (And yes, I’d seen signs that Red Eye was involved in something big; but it was only curiosity and worry that cajoled me to investigate.) I could leave under the auspice that I was moving forward in the goal of stopping Red Eye, if indeed that was going to be my goal. But the small army just over those hills were Red Eye’s ponies. And if I really wanted to take the slavers on, why not here?

“Maybe we should talk,” Calamity told me pointedly.

Gawd was staring at me thoughtfully, obviously weighing options. Finally, she came to a decision. “If you were interested in staying, I have a contract t’ offer you.”

I raised my eyebrows. “Oh?”

“How would you feel about taking out Deadeyes for me?”

My ears shot up. Calamity stared in surprised. “Me? Why?”

Gawd grimaced. “Because if you don’t, I’ll have t’ do it myself. And while I’m convinced it’s within the wingspan of my contract with Mister Topaz t’ do so, the political fallout wouldn’t be good. Deadeyes’ got a lot of supporters, and I don’t relish watching for the spear in my back.”

“Ah don’t see how hiring us t’ take out this feller is gonna make ya any less of a target.”

“Might not,” Gawd agreed. “But it’s worth a try. If,” she added, turning her stare towards me, “Yer up for it.”

My mind reeled. Was I up to killing Deadeyes? Hell, I’d already been wanting to do that. I’d been contemplating that and more. But to be hired to do so? I was already a vigilante, but was I ready to be an assassin?

I’d been out of the Stable more than a week, less than two. If I did this now, what will I have become by the end of the month? By my next birthday?

“I-I’ll think about that,” I answered honestly. Gawd frowned. Of course she would want an answer right away. There wasn’t exactly much time. We had less than a day before Red Eye’s people marched into Shattered Hoof.

It occurred to me that, considering what I knew of Gawd and the Talons, she’d have more respect for me if I asked: “What would we get out of it? What’s the pay?”

I swear the hint of a smile touched Gawd’s beak. “Deadeyes has a key. Keeps it hidden in his tail at all times. Key opens a vault under Shattered Hoof, down where the old mines are.”

Made sense. Naturally, a place like Shattered Hoof would be built on top of a set of gem mines. They couldn’t have always relied on just the rock farms. When the gem mines ran dry, what else was there to do with them but use them as storage. Diamond Tiara’s last message had even said something about sending the best gems “below.”

“What’s in the vault?”

Gawd smirked. “Your payment, whatever that happens to be. Could be gems. Could be weapons. Pre-apocalypse ponies used the gemstones from Shattered Rock to build magical energy weapons. Considering that the armory was filled with them, it’s a fair assumption that the vault might have even more.”

The idea of storing a mass of magical weapons just beneath a prison seemed more than marginally insane to me. After all, surely they didn’t build the things here.

But then, if I killed Deadeyes, it wasn’t going to be for the reward anyway.

*** *** ***

“You can’t do this.”

Velvet Remedy stomped and snorted about the cattle car, empty but for the three of us. “Littlepip, it’s one thing to kill in self defense. Or to protect others. But this...” She turned on me with a stare that could petrify the Overmare herself. “This. Is. Murder!”

Calamity was scowling. “Ah have t’ agree with Velvet Remedy on this one, Li’lpip,” he said flatly. “Ah understand the Talons, c’n even respect ‘em just a bit. But Ah ain’t a mercenary. You do this, Ah ain’t with ya.”

Velvet cut deeper. “You know that song I was writing about staying noble and true? That was about you, Littlepip. And this is you failing that on every level. To even consider this...” She backed away from me, her voice softening with regret, “I am. So. Disappointed in you.”

I felt like I was bleeding out, dying. But the more they yelled at me, the more I realized I had already chosen my course. I just had to make them understand why.

“Silver Bell.”

Both of them quieted, staring at me. After a long, pregnant pause, Calamity asked, “What’s Silver Bell got t’ do with any o’ this?”

I felt weak, but I clamped down on my resolve. “Silver Bell’s mother and father were murdered by raiders. And they made Silver Bell and her sister watch. Do you remember that?”

I could see Velvet Remedy’s expression quivver. “Of course we...”

“They made. Them. Watch!” I emphasized each word with a stomp of a hoof. “And they made it slow. Really slow and really painful and really horrible!” I asked again, “Do you remember that?”

My companions were both silent.

“Those raiders came from here,” I told them finally, “And they were acting on Deadeyes’ orders.” Spitting, “I saw it for myself in his ledger.”

Calamity spoke first. “Well, now, that changes things.”

Velvet Remedy shook a little, but stayed firm. “What does it change?”

“Ain’t murder no more,” Calamity stated without reservation. “It’s justice.”

Velvet shook her mane. “Revenge, you mean.”

“Nope. Ah mean justice. Pure ‘n’ simple.” Calamity nodded to me. “Ah’m in.” He glanced at my horn meaningfully. “How’s yer TK?”

“Rest did wonders. I won’t be juggling train cars,” I admitted, “But I think I can manage barrels. How’s your wing?”

Velvet Remedy’s eyes jumped between the two of us over and over. With a touch of desperation in her voice, she tried, “Are you planning on finding out which raiders were involved and killing them too? Or are you just going to lay waste to the whole of Shattered Hoof?”

“They‘re raiders,” Calamity said evenly, stretching his wing. “Honestly, Ah been wonderin’ just why we’re helpin’ them out at all. Ah figure, let ‘em and the slavers duke it out. Stomp down what’s left.”

I had another idea. “Actually, not everypony here is bad.” I was thinking of the rock-breaker I had talked with while he escorted me out. “I think... I believe this place could be turned around. Maybe become a trading town instead of a raider fortress.” Even as the words came out, I knew they were stupidly idealistic. But I pressed on. “I’m thinking: kill Deadeyes. Find Mister Topaz and deal with him -- amiably if possible, lethally if not. And leave Gawd in charge.”

*** *** ***

Deadeyes had told me to come back for one more job. Feeling the comforting weight of Little Macintosh in my saddlebags, my sniper rifle and assault carbine now returned to my back and side, I suspected this wasn’t the job he had in mind. But his invitation was the perfect opportunity.

I’d left Calamity back at the yard, reading through Zebra Infiltration Tactics, as I went in alone. He didn’t like that one bit, but I had explained that I planned to take the long way, explore some of the wings of Shattered Hoof that I hadn’t seen yet. Including how to get down to the mine below. Seeing the yard in daylight for the first time, Calamity had immediately spotted the metal plates of a hydraulic cargo lift, but the controls were damaged beyond repair. If it worked at all, it would only be from within the mine itself. There had to be another way. Somewhere, there was a door that went beneath the prison itself, and I wanted to know where it was.

Now, I suspected I had found it.

I was behind the stage in the mess hall. To one side, the curtains, heavy and stained, concealed this darkened space from the large, catwalked area where the raiders ate whatever passed for their meals. Enough dust had accumulated back here that I could tell no pony ventured behind that curtain. Why would they? The space was full of rotting stage props and the skeletons of hundreds of ponies. Countless bones were stuffed into cabinets, spilled out of metal boxes, and formed piles that must have been three ponies high when they still had flesh.

The “guests” of Shattered Hoof had spiraled into barbarism and cannibalism, and eventually every one of them had perished in here. I’d found logs; I’d found graffiti. I had wondered why I wasn’t tripping over their skeletons.

Above, a huge mural spanned the wall. A painting of the same noble-looking soldier pony I had seen a statue of back in Ponyville. Rearing up. Behind him, clear even though the mural was badly faded and chipped, was the Goddess Celestia herself, her divine features beaming with approval. Originally, I realized, this is what every pony who was a “guest” of Shattered Hoof would have seen each time they ate a meal. Until the stage had been built, hiding it away.

There was a barred gate set into the wall, wide enough to pull a wagon through. Beyond, a small kill-zone, only a few yards deep, with two magical energy turrets set into alcoves on each side, powered down. Beyond, a thick metal door. Based on the dead light above, I could tell the door had no power.

I wanted inside. And not because there was a vault filled with possible treasure. Only Deadeyes had a key to the vault, and only Deadeyes had ever seen Mister Topaz face-to-face. If Mister Topaz really existed at all, I was dead certain he was down in that vault. My mind was conjuring up images of everything from a dedicated computer terminal that allowed Deadeyes to speak to a very remote Mister Topaz, to the vault being a Stable, to Mister-Topaz-the-Brainbot.

The gate was locked. I had to push aside mounds of crumbling bones to get to it, holding my breath as white flakes stirred into the air. It took several minutes of effort, but the gate finally opened to my talents. The metal door, however, was another story entirely. It could only be opened by a terminal elsewhere in the building, and only then if I could restore power to it.

*** *** ***

I must have spent hours poking around Shattered Hoof, seeking to restore power to that door. It was just a simple matter of replacing a mouthful of fuses, and swapping out a row of spark batteries, but those proved annoyingly difficult to find.

I did find the armory through a side room off the guard barracks. It was completely devoid of weapons -- no surprise, as most of the raiders seemed to be armed with magical energy weapons that I assumed were looted from the armory. There was, however, a framed news article on the back wall, and behind it, a safe.

As I took the frame off the wall, the photograph caught my eye. The scene was in the midst of a light winter snowfall; picture was of a funeral. From the looks of it, a very important one, as the shadowy figures of two winged unicorns stood in the background, badly out of focus. One was markedly shorter than the other. My mind wanted to turn them into the Goddesses Celestia and Luna.

But that wasn’t what had captured my attention. The photographer’s eye had focused on a mare -- a single orange pony who, unlike all around her, had shunned the formal black dresses worn by others to wear only a black cowgirl hat and a black kerchief about her neck with an image of half an apple embroidered into the front. The camera had caught a splash of light glistening off a falling tear as she dropped a single, beautiful flower onto the casket. The mare’s cutie mark, three apples, was identical to the design on Little Macintosh.

All of Equestria Mourns Big Macintosh, Hero of Shattered Hoof Ridge

Two weeks ago, we didn’t even know his name. But when Big Macintosh leapt in front of a zebra assassin’s bullet meant for Princess Celestia, dying instantly, he also leapt into the hearts and minds of every loving and patriotic pony, becoming a paragon of courage, bravery and self-sacrifice to all of Equestria.

Funeral services were held this afternoon in the western courtyard of Ministry Walk. By decree of Princess Luna, pegasus ponies arranged for a light snow...

*** *** ***

The safe had opened to reveal two (!) Stealth Bucks, the last spark batteries I needed, and a variety of ammo clips which, according to the documents found with them, were magically enhanced. Bullets for Little Macintosh, the needle gun, even Calamity’s battle saddle. Plus two types for weapons of a caliber I was unfamiliar with (although I suspected one type was for the multi-barreled battle saddles I’d seen the slavers use).

I had just saddlebagged my new treasures and was putting the framed article back in place when the sounds of talking raiders froze me.

“...sure they ain’t gonna blow themselves all t’ hell an’ back on the landmines?” One voice, a stallion.

A youthful-sounding mare snorted, “Like I’d care all that much if they did. You have any idea what those damned slavers did t’ my town?”

I hastily finished replacing the frame and hugged a wall behind one of the empty sets of ammo shelves, ears alert.

“Ain’t y’all from Littlehorn? Heard they massacred that place.”

“Naw. But it would have been kinder to. They took all the mares and bucks they could, killed the rest and left them dead and rotting where they fell. But the colts and fillies? Red Eye doesn’t have any use for kids. So they just left us behind to fend for ourselves.”

After a moment of awkward silence, she continued. “Place went bad real fast. Hell, it was bad to start with, so many of us seeing our parents sliced and splattered. But it got a whole lot worse. Got my tail out of there quick as I could. So personally, I’d be more than happy if a good deal of this raiding party died screaming with their legs blown off.”

I could see the shadows of the two Shattered Hoof Raiders move across the floor of the armory as they walked past, too deep in their conversation to notice if anything was amiss.

“Ayep, Ah get that. But if Deadeyes’ trap works, we’ll have a whole mess o’ them slavers as our slaves. Then ya c’n take it out on ‘em all slow and personal-like. Ah’m sure Deadeyes won’t mind if a few o’ his new rock-breakers are missin’ some non-vital internal organs.”

Their voices faded as they turned a corner somewhere out of sight. I let out the breath I didn’t realize I was holding.

My mind raced to put together what I’d just heard. Deadeyes wasn’t, then, wasn’t betraying Shattered Hoof to the slavers after all. He was just tricking Red Eye’s forces into thinking he was -- luring them into a trap. Of course he wanted them to get in without any difficulties.

And he was deceiving Gawd into acting against him. Which, if this plan had the hoof-stamp of approval from Mister Topaz... or worse, was actually Mister Topaz’s plan...

I needed to speak to Gawd. Before I went shooting anypony.

*** *** ***

“I want you to kill Gawd.”

I stared at Deadeyes. This was the second task he had for me?

Feigning ignorance as best I could yet again, “Who?”

Deadeyes snorted. “Gawdyna Grimfeathers. Griffin. Scar running up her beak and across her face. Only one eye. Can’t miss her.” He leaned forward with a sadistic smile. “You do this, you’re in. Part of my crew.” Seeming pleased with himself, he sweetened the deal, “Hell, I’ll even make you one of my personal guards. You’ll get a nice room and some of the better food.”

I was at a loss for words. He was playing me. I knew it. But I was still totally thrown.

I looked around like a drowning pony looking for a helping hoof. And once again, my eyes fell on the picture of Stable Two’s first Overmare, Sweetie Belle. I remembered something that Velvet Remedy had told me. Something the Overmare had told her.

Looking straight back into Deadeyes’ slate grey eyes, I nodded firmly. “Okay. Not a problem.”

He blinked.

“Is that all?” I asked, as if killing Gawd was the easiest thing in Equestria.

He raised his eyebrows. “No... I think that will do.”

I turned as if to leave, took a few steps, and stopped. Looking over my shoulder, “It’s not like ponies here won’t suspect you. You should have an alibi.”

His eyebrows raised further.

“Tell you what. I’ve got a plan that will take care of your griffin problem and leave you looking clean.”

His eyes narrowed now. “Oh do you? Please, do tell.”

“Ever heard of a pony named Sweetie Belle?”

Deadeyes blinked in surprise and then laughed. He pointed at the picture on the wall. “Heard of her? I have every song of hers you can find in the wasteland. Do you realize she actually performed here? Right down on that stage.” He pointed his hoof in the direction of the mess hall. “Take the stairs just outside my office, and they’ll take you to the balcony where the Friendship Warden watched the performance.”

Wow. I had hoped Deadeyes was at least familiar with the mare he had on his wall, but I never imagined the sadistic bastard was a fan.

He stopped gushing, his voice turning colder. “Why?”

I took a deep breath. “Well, by now you know I didn’t travel here alone. One of the people traveling with me just so happens to be a direct descendant of Sweetie Belle. And as it turns out, musical talent runs in the family.”

I had his attention. “Her name is Velvet, and she’s on her way to Manehattan to record some new music for DJ Pon3’s radio station.” Wait... that’s actually a pretty good idea! And it would give me a way to talk with the wasteland’s most famous buck.

“What I’m thinking: I think I can talk her into putting on a performance here. Using that very stage...” My mind was racing, trying to put together a decent-sounding plan as quickly as I spoke. “We’ll do it tonight. Invite everypony in to see it. And... Gawdyna Grimfeathers too.”

Deadeyes, I could see, was liking this idea. And with the battle coming tomorrow morning, he had to be figuring the timing for a morale-boosting celebration was perfect.

“I’ll be hiding up in the balcony. I’ll take two shots. One through the head of the griffin. The other into your table, close enough to look like you were also a target.” I levitated out one of the Stealth Bucks. “I’ll be gone before any pony can catch me or even see who it was. You can blame it on a slaver assassin. Who wouldn’t buy that?”

Especially if everypony knew the slavers were due to attack in mass the next morning.

Deadeye contemplated the plan while I stood there, feeling increasingly nervous. He had to realize this plan put him in the same crosshairs as Gawd, and he already thought of me as her spy. Would he believe I would betray her so quickly, that my loyalty was up for grabs?

“I like it!” Deadeyes broke into a grin. He clopped his hooves together. “Just one stipulation.”

Uh oh.

“This Velvet of yours... I want to hear at least two songs before you go interrupting the show. Including something by Sweetie Belle.”

“um... any particular one?”

He smiled. “Hell, I love ‘em all.” He leaned back. “Surprise me.”

As I walked out of Deadeyes’ office, I took another look around. I remembered how Deadeyes and his guards had gone off a different way just before I stole the ledger. Now, I was unsurprised to find the passage led to stairs that wrapped around to the balcony above. I looked it over. Shadowed. Occluded. It was a perfect sniping position.

On my way back down the steps, I noticed a sickly apple-colored glow which I hadn’t seen before. One of the terminals in one of the desks in the room outside of Deadeyes office was powered up. I was sure it hadn’t been before. Replacing those fuses and spark batteries must have powered it up. Pulling out my access tool, I hacked into the terminal.

There were no menus, no entries. Instead, just a single function. I had found the terminal that opened door to the mines and vault below.

*** *** ***

“I’ll put a bullet through Deadeye’s head,” I told Gawd. “And another into your table. Then use a Stealth Buck to slip out before anypony can identify me. You can blame it on the slavers who are attacking tomorrow.” Gawd was pondering the idea skeptically. “Sure, some ponies might still have suspicions, but not the kind they could act on. Particularly if you take over and lead them to victory against the slavers.”

Gawd shook her head. “I’ve got t’ hand it to you. Yer one hell of a devious plotter.” I felt a rush of pride, and then immediately questioned if enjoying such praise spoke good or ill of me.

A few minutes later, I joined Calamity and Velvet Remedy in the cattle car. Velvet Remedy was prancing around nervously. “A show? With only hours to prepare?”

“An’ why are we doin’ this again?” Calamity was confused. “Whose side are we on now?”

“Same as before. Basic plan shouldn’t change. But first, I want to get those two in the same room together.”

Velvet Remedy opened one of her saddleboxes, pulling out a notebook. “What songs will I do? Most of my music isn’t really raider-appropriate. Somehow, I don’t think songs about peace and love, nobility or freedom are really their fare.”

Calamity whinnied, “Well most o’ the lot are escaped slaves...”

Velvet Remedy was checking down her list of songs. “Well, that one’s out. That one... might work. Oh, that could be fun, but it was originally meant as a duet. (I read in an old magazine that Pinkie Pie and Vinyl Scratch once performed it at Hoofbeats.) I could tweak it for one pony, but it really requires musical accompaniment. Maybe a Velvet Remedy original? How about...?”

I blinked, remembering, “Well, Deadeye’s expecting two songs before the attack. And he says one of them has to be a song by Sweetie Belle.”

Velvet huffed. “And you were going to tell me this when?”

“um... just now?”

She nickered. “Great. Two songs, one by my great, great, et cetera grandmother. Well, at least I know most of those by heart. But the other...”

I couldn’t help but roll my eyes. As much as I adored Velvet Remedy’s music, and fell in love with her in every song, tonight we were just looking for a distraction. It didn’t have to be perfect.

“Ya think y’all will be able t’ keep every set of eyes on you?” Calamity asked.

Velvet Remedy looked playfully insulted. “Why of course, dear. There won’t be an eye for anypony else in that room.” I believed it. I believed Velvet Remedy could keep every eye on her even if Ditzy Doo was in the audience. Suddenly, Velvet Remedy gasped. “Every eye! I’ll need a bath! Oh no, what am I going to wear!?”

“I can help with that.”

Velvet cocked her head. “No thank you. I can bathe myself quite well enough, dear.”

I stammered, flushing hotly. That wasn’t what I meant, but now that she had said it, I couldn’t drive the image out of my mind. My heart fluttered in my chest.

Calamity neighed and turned away. “I’ll give you two some private time for...” he waved a hoof between us, “...whatever this is.” He made a quick exit, muttering something about helping Gawd’s ponies get their magical plasma cannon up and running before Red Eye’s forces got here. I wasn’t paying any attention. I only had eyes for Velvet Remedy, and I could feel my face burning.

“I...” I stomped. “I meant, I have the perfect thing for you to wear!” Focusing my magic, I opened my saddlebags and slid out the most beautiful dress in the wasteland, my find from Carousel Boutique.

*** *** ***

“How can I fix this? How many times must I try?
Please, this time, let me get it right...
Get it ri-i-ight!”

Velvet Remedy was gorgeous. The dress was perfect on her, making her more stunning than I had ever seen her before. Her horn was aglow, and the stage was awash with warm, colored light that shifted with her voice and the mood of the song.

“I rear up on my hooves, throw a buck in the air,
And let firm resolve overwhelm my despair!..”

She’d chosen as her first number that same incredibly heart-breaking song from the radio. Something every pony would be familiar with. And she was more than doing it justice. She was... magnificent.

I crouched on the balcony, covered in the ever-disgusting mattress cover. S.A.T.S. was ready. My sniper rifle was loaded and tucked at my side. I actually hated myself for planning to ruin her performance.

Deadeyes hadn’t been stupid. When I entered the balcony, I found a note had been left for me: One shot to the target, one to the table. The stage is rigged to explode if you shoot anything else.

Celestia burn him! Even if I could get a message to Calamity, he was no better at disarming explosives than I was. (Out of petty spite, I stole his copy of Applied Gemstones.)

Velvet Remedy drew the song to a tear-jerking close. The audience, scores of raider ponies, sat utterly stunned. Even Gawd’s beak had dropped open. There were several seconds of dense quiet, the stage going dark save for the faintest glow from Remedy’s horn. Then an explosion of hoofbeats shook the mess hall, vibrating the balcony and sending bits of debris down from the roof as dozens of ponies hoof-stomped in applause.

I caught Deadeyes shooting a glance up at the balcony. Out of the corner of her eye, Gawd caught it too. She dipped her beak into a tin drinking cup, her gaze never leaving him.

New music began to swell from the stage, an orchestra in a single horn.

Velvet Remedy began clopping a hoof on the stage, setting a rhythm. Soon, most of the ponies in the hall were matching her stomp.

“Enough of this slow stuff, who’s here to party!?” she bellowed out, drawing a roar from the crowd.

My ears were up; my eyes widened. And for a moment, I completely forgot about the sniper rifle at my side. All that mattered was that I didn’t recognize this music. I’d never heard this song!

“Gallop, don’t trot, night’s burning hot, don’t make me wait to go!
Band’s playing loud, screams of the crowd, this here’s what feeds my soul!
If you’re not smiling, you’re not trying!
Start a riot! Don’t be quiet!
Hoof to the floor, just give me more, I need my rock ‘n’ roll!”

By Celestia’s grace! She’s going to set off any explosives under that stage herself!

I floated up my sniper rifle, now terrified of letting her complete the song. With the light and sound now bursting from the stage, Velvet Remedy absolutely had every pony’s (and griffin’s) attention. By Luna, I could probably start shooting and no pony would notice until half the room was down! Well, if the stage didn’t go up in a fireball.

“...Don’t be lazy; just go crazy!
Why don’tcha get that it’s a PARTY?”

Flowing into the perfection of my PipBuck’s targeting spell, I locked onto a sequence of three targets.


First shot tore through the tin cup, splashing Gawd with her drink, and dug into the table. Before anypony could react, the second ripped the top half of Deadeyes’ head clean off, splattering several of the ponies in front of him. My third target was Velvet Remedy, who glowed with a light not of her own making as I telekinetically shoved her back through the heavy curtains and off the stage.

True to Deadeye’s word, the entire front of the stage detonated in a roar of fire and splinters not a breath later. Waves of ponies in the front row fell. I saw Gawd stagger, bleeding from wooden shrapnel.

I activated the Stealth Buck and galloped silently towards the stairs. From below, I could hear somepony yelling, “It’s the slavers! They’re attacking early!”

Completely fair assumption, I thought as I hit the stairs. I was halfway down when an explosion from somewhere outside let me know the panicking pony hadn’t been completely wrong.

As I raced for the terminal, my mind boggled at the coincidence. But no, I realized as I got to the desk and activated the terminal’s single function, it wasn’t coincidence at all. Red Eye’s slavers weren’t going to trust Deadeyes. Just as Deadeyes planned to betray them, they must have always intended to attack early. And right now, every single pony was in here. In accordance with the plan, even Gawd was in attendance, as were her loyalists. We’d pulled all the ponies into one place and left the outskirts and guardposts undefended. Of course they would attack now.

*** *** ***

The Stealth Buck was just wearing off as I dashed into the room behind the curtains. I found Velvet Remedy pulling herself out of a pile of skeletons. Her perfect dress had bones hanging from it.

Panting, I apologized, explaining about the note. She waved it off. “Oh that’s quite all right. I’d much rather be buried in a pile of skeletons than actually join them.” With a smile that melted my heart, “Thank you, Littlepip!”

Then, as an afterthought, “Couldn’t let me finish the song, though?”

Sheepishly, “I was afraid you’d set off the explosives yourself.” I looked back towards the curtains. From the flickering light around their edges, the front side of the curtains was on fire. They were thick enough that the flames hadn’t chewed their way through yet. I looked up. Black smoke was beginning to coat the ceiling. On the other side of the curtains, I heard gunfire and magical energy blasts being exchanged. I looked around for Calamity.

The rust-colored pegasus galloped in a moment later, his black cowpony hat nearly falling off. A key dangled from a chain between his teeth.

Velvet Remedy rolled her eyes with a laugh. “You actually stopped to get the key?”

Calamity turned his head, hooking the chain to one of the guns on his battle saddle. “Hells ya!” He grinned to Velvet. “Dependin’ on who wins out there, Ah’m already makin’ plans t’ swoop back in an’ loot the bodies.”

Velvet Remedy turned up her nose. Even I rolled my eyes. Then I turned and trotted for the gate. “Come on...”

Calamity bit the tip of my tail, stopping me. “Whoa there, dumpling.” He nodded his head towards the gate. I turned to look.

On the other side of the gate, between us and the now open metal door, were four turrets pointing right at me.

I groaned. Turning back on the power turned on the turrets too. How could I have been so stupid as to not realize that would happen. I could have disabled them before, when it was safe.

“We take all four out at once?” Calamity asked.

“No... hold on... let me think.”

“Why are we still going down there anyway?” Velvet asked, clearly assuming the rest of the plan was a bust.

I was tempted to agree. Now, more than anything, “I’m kinda hoping there’s a back way out.”

I lifted my PipBuck and looked at it. “Okay, we’re in luck. I’ve got one more Stealth Buck. I can use it to get up to the turrets and reprogram them, just like the ones back at that pegasus convoy. That way, they’ll let us through, and keep anypony who gets the idea to follow us out.”

We had a plan. I pulled the dead Stealth Buck out of my PipBuck and slotted in my last one. Then I got to work.

*** *** ***

We found ourselves creeping through caves converted to storage, piled with crates emblazoned with the name Shattered Hoof Re-Educational Stockyard. A few were marked with a circle proclaiming them Celestial Tier Priority and branded with either the initials M.A.S. or M.W.T.

“Well,” I whispered conversationally to my companions. “I know M.A.S. is the Ministry of Magic, but I haven’t heard of the other one.”

Calamity stopped, an expression of confusion clouding his face. “How does...?”

“Ministry of Arcane Sciences,” Velvet Remedy explained casually before he hurt something.

A voice, low and deep, rumbled through the caves, bringing us all to a halt.

“So! You’re the little ponies who have come to my town and made such a mess of things. You’ve killed my lieutenant, and now you’ve come for me.”

“Mister Topaz?” Calamity asked, echoing my own thoughts. Either he was using an impressively well-hidden speaker system, or he was using magic to augment his voice. I suspected the latter. And that probably meant a unicorn. Or... a worse idea struck me... one of those pseudo-goddess things like the creature from old Appleloosa.

And here I was, all out of boxcars.

I quickly passed out the magical ammo, giving a prayer to Celestia and another to Luna. If Mister Topaz was one of those monsters, we’d need all the divine assistance we could get.

Calamity quickly changed the load on his battle saddle. Velvet Remedy, however, looked unimpressed. Her horn began to glow, and when she opened her mouth, her voice cried out from every rock and timber in the mines:


Her nicker rang off the walls. Velvet Remedy turned down the awesome until her voice was only a little more terrifying than his. “Now why don’t you be polite? Stop playing games, and come out to say hello.”

I floated up Little Macintosh and prepared for the appearance of what I had now convinced myself was one of those pseudo-goddesses.

As the orange-scaled dragon loomed around the corner, licking his teeth, I realized I was so very wrong.

*** *** ***

“Well,” Calamity shouted as his wings propelled him down the caverns faster than Velvet Remedy or I could gallop. “At least he’s not a full grown dragon!”

I poured on the speed, somehow managing to keep up with Velvet Remedy. Calamity was right, for what good that did us -- Mister Topaz was slightly smaller than a train car, not counting his sharply-spiked tail. He could swallow me in one bite; but for Calamity, he might require two. I didn’t see how that benefited him much.

Using my magic, I ripped another support beam out of the wall as we raced past. I could hear rocks crashing down as the ceiling caved in. I wasn’t stopping him, but at least I was slowing him down enough to stay ahead of those teeth!

“We could have tried diplomacy,” Velvet cried out as she ran for her life. “If Calamity hadn’t shot him first!”

My breath was becoming labored, and stitches of fire were growing through my lungs. I could hear Mister Topaz tearing through the newest collapse. “Left ahead!” I gasped. I was unable to stop and check my PipBuck’s automap, but my Eyes-Forward Sparkle compass indicated we were circling around.

“At least we know the new ammo works!” Calamity spun in place, firing off twin shots at the dragon, then took a hard left, disappearing around the corner. We followed, not far behind. The hall we had just left turned into an inferno, the walls shaking from the dragon’s roar.

The ammo was working. The shots punched right through the dragon’s armored hide. But he was so big that they mostly just seemed to make him mad.

Without slowing, Velvet laughed as we ran past a large metal door. “Well, there’s your vault! Anypony want to stop and open it?”

Smart-assed rhetorical question.

Calamity stopped at the next junction, hovering in a nicely controlled panic. “Littlepip, which way?”

“Should be right this time!” At least, I really hoped so. If not, I was sending us into a dead end. With extra stress on dead.

Calamity disappeared down the right passage.

Luna and Celestia were with us. The choice had been right, and the passageway led us back into the first tunnel. Recognizing it, Calamity had already flown back into Shattered Hoof, where the battle between the raiders and slavers was fully engaged.

Velvet Remedy was next out. But as I raced for the door, Mister Topaz finally caught up. He opened his huge maw, teeth glistening. A drop of saliva fell onto my neck.

The turrets opened fire as I raced through them.

The dragon screamed! The sound rocked the mess hall, and brought a temporary halt to the fighting as every pony turned to stare at the now quite wounded and extremely pissed-off dragon as Mister Topaz blasted all four turrets with fire. Internal components melted with a static hiss and they stopped. I felt the fire wash over me, my coat blackening, my skin blistering under the heat. One of my saddle bags caught fire.

My heart was pounding like it was going to explode. My sides burned from exertion. I tried to yell out to the others, but I couldn’t get the breath. I wasn’t going to make it outside before I collapsed.

I veered away from the others as the fire began spreading from the saddlebag to the harness that held my sniper rifle; I was running for a hallway too narrow for the dragon. Behind me, the mess hall was washed in flames. Mister Topaz was burning to death slaver and raider ponies alike.

And then the dragon was gone.

*** *** ***

I collapsed against the wall of a washroom two corridors away from the mess hall, panting hard. Water filled the sink next to me, soaking my saddlebag and pouring onto the floor next to me. It felt cool against my burn-tortured skin. I flopped over and wallowed in the forming puddle, wishing I could dip every part of me that hurt into it. I was crying.

I tried not to think of how much it hurt. To focus elsewhere. It wasn’t easy.

The dragon, I assumed, had headed back into the mines. He could fly around the mess hall all he wanted, but the rest of the halls were too narrow for him. He was probably born down there or...

Velvet Remedy collapsed next to me, breathing heavily. It was nothing short of miraculous that neither of us were more gravely injured, much less dead. I tried to get up, but now that I’d stopped, my legs were refusing to work again.

“Where’s... the... dragon?” I panted, searching for confirmation of my theory. Velvet Remedy just shook her head. She didn’t know.

“Where’s... Calamity?”

“I don’t... know... Lost... track.”

Dammit. Calamity wasn’t foolish enough to go back down there after him, or the vault, was he? No, of coruse not. He just got separated, that’s all. But if the slavers and raiders were still going at each other in the yard, it wasn’t safe to stand around at the rendezvous point. Would he fly back to Junction R-7 and wait for us there? Or engage the ponies fighting in...

“Oh blessed Luna!”

“Littlepip?” Velvet Remedy, as exhausted as she was, held her ears alert.

I had realized that the giant hole torn in the razor wire over the yard must have been the work of the dragon. And that led me to: “The cargo elevator! The dragon’s going to come up through the rock yard!”

I hissed in pain as I tried to move. Velvet Remedy looked to me with alarm. “Little... pip! Here... let me...” She weakly opened one of the yellow medical boxes she used as saddle bags and pulled out the very last of our healing bandages as well as a syringe. “This... will... dull the pain...” She panted slowly. “Trust me... you’ll need it.”

She was very right. The painkiller helped. I screamed anyway.

When Velvet Remedy had finished, I felt lightheaded and my vision was blurred with tears. I moaned weakly, my knees trembling, as I finally got to my hooves.

“Littlepip, you’re in no condition...” But there was no conviction in Velvet Remedy’s voice, just sorrow. She knew as well as I that we couldn’t stay here. And she knew I had to try to help Calamity.

“Do we... have any Buck in our supplies?” I bit my lower lip, hating to ask her for such a thing.

Velvet Remedy spared me her usual gasp of disapproval, simply bringing out the bottle and passing me a few of the yellowish-orange pills inside.

“Thanks,” I whispered, floating them into my mouth. I stuck my head under the waterfall spilling out of the faucet and swallowed them without chewing.

It took a few moments, long enough that I feared it wasn’t going to have the effect I needed.

A burst of energy flooded through me. I felt stronger, faster, less exhausted and more awake. This... this was good. This would definitely do!

I lifted my soaked saddlebag out of the sink and back onto my flanks, hissing as they rubbed against my bandaged skin. “On second thought,” I thought, lifting it off and letting it float beside me.

Turning to Velvet Remedy, I made an effort to keep from sounding bossy. “Velvet, would you please try to find Calamity? Just be careful. Don’t get caught... by anypony.”

She nodded. “What are you going to try to do, Littlepip?”

I glanced towards the door. “I’m going back down. I’m going to get to that vault. If we’re lucky, there will be something inside that will give us a chance against that dragon.”

“But...” Velvet Remedy frowned, “Littlepip, you don’t have the key!”

With a smile, “When have I ever needed a key to get past a lock?”

*** *** ***

The mess hall was a slaughterhouse. The charred frame of the stage was still licked with flame. The air was choked with smoke. The smell of roasted ponies, some of them still on fire, tried to strangle me.

I was in a hurry, but I still took the time to snag a few of the random, less-damaged weapons from the floor before I made my way past the heat-twisted gate and slagged turrets. Behind me, the flame-broiled crossbeam that once held the stage curtains came crashing down. I made my way towards the vault.

Turning a corner, I found myself face to face with a pony in leather armor wielding a magical energy lance. I couldn’t tell which side she had been on, but it didn’t matter; she immediately dropped into a combative stance.


She thrust the glowing tip of the lance at me. I tried to dodge, my side slamming into the cave wall. A line of stinging agony swept across the side of my neck, my flesh bubbling and melting. “AAaaaugh!”

The pony backed up, swinging the tip of the magic lance towards my head. I dropped to my belly, the lance passing over me, and flung my saddlebags into her face. The pony stumbled back.

As she recovered, I kicked into S.A.T.S. and aimed one of the random weapons at her. My heart sank as I realized it was a magical energy rifle and I had no idea how to fire it. The pony thrust the lance towards my eyes and I swung the rifle into its path, deflecting it. The rifle hissed and warped where the lance’s tip connected.

I dropped everything I was floating and charged the pony, head down. She swung the lance again, but I was inside its reach; the shaft slapped against my side with enough force to bruise through my armored utility barding, but not enough to knock me off course. My horn punched through her armor and buried itself deep into her chest.

I felt the lance bounce off my head as it dropped from her mouth. She tried to pull back, but I pushed forward until I felt her weaken, her body becoming dead weight.

I stepped back, my horn coated in blood. The pony fell at my feet, still breathing shallowly.

I felt the blood trickle down my head. A drop fell into my left eye, tinting my sight with scarlet.

Weakly, she whimpered. “...I don’t want to die...”

I cringed. I tried to blink the blood out of my eye, but instead more drops fell in, blurring my vision. “It’s too late. I’m sorry.” I was, honestly. “I can’t save you.”

I contemplated breaking her neck. She was already dead -- why make her suffer? I raised my hoof...

...And stepped over her. I just couldn’t do that. No matter what I was allowing the wasteland to make me, I hadn’t changed that much yet.

I walked down the shaft a few more feet, then stopped and turned. I floated my saddlebags to me, opening them and drawing out my blanket. I gently laid it across her. Then I floated the weapons up from the ground, leaving the magical energy rifle, but adding her lance to my collection.

I didn’t have any further trouble before reaching the vault.

*** *** ***

The tumblers fell into place and the metal door to the vault unlocked with a click. And then all the alarms went off.

Apparently, while I didn’t need a key to open this door, I did need it to do so quietly.

I planted my forehooves on the heavy metal door and, straining, pushed it open. (Something I almost certainly couldn’t have done if I wasn’t hyped on Buck.) I stepped into the darkness beyond and focused, increasing the light of my horn to illuminate the room.

There were many things I had been expecting. This wasn’t any of them.

The room was filled, top to bottom, with shelves of memory orbs. Each orb was tagged with a date and a “guest number”. There must have been hundreds of them.

My ears and tail drooped. There was nothing in here that would help against...

“Well, well. Aren’t you insistent.”

I spun around. Mister Topaz was crouched at the door of the vault, the dragon’s head sticking in. He was too broad at the shoulders to fit, but he completely blocked my only exit. And one breath of fire would incinerate everything in the vault.

“I was on my way up to chomp a few of your friends outside, particularly that delicious-looking pegasus, when you just had to ring the dinner bell.”

I was able to back just out of chomping range before my tail hit the back shelf, sending memory orbs falling to the floor. I looked around frantically, but there was no place to hide or flee.

“You just had to get yourself eaten first. I admire that perseverance,” the dragon joked wickedly.

“F-first?” Mister Topaz was sadistic, but at least he was talkative. If I could keep him speaking, maybe I could figure a way out. I tried racking my brain for some telekinetic trick that could save my hide.

“The gemstones are dessert, of course. You ponies, you’re the main course.” The dragon scowled, making me want to scream. “Of course, you went and mucked everything up. I spend all this time and effort ensuring a harvest perfect for a final pre-sleep meal, and now most of them are dead!”

His glare was filled with hatred. “You little ponies taste so much better alive.”

I backpedaled, pressing myself into the shelf, knocking down dozens of the little mystical orbs which scattered across the floor, rolling in all directions.

The dragon’s gaze was drawn momentarily to one of the rolling balls. “What exactly were you expecting to find in here anyway? Mountains of gems? Because you thought I’d enjoy needing to call down that imbecile Deadeyes every time I got a bit peckish? Did you even look in the crates?”


He laughed, the breath of his merriment heating the room until I felt I would faint. I lost all focus, my saddlebags and collected weapons clattering to the ground. He glanced at them with amusement.

“Or was it weapons? Did you hope to find a magical shotgun of dragon slaying, perhaps? Because there would ever be any dragon suicidal enough to keep something like that around the house.”

“n-n-no,” I said again, although this time he had been fairly on the nose.

The dragon reached into the room and flicked one of the orbs at me with a claw. “Go ahead. Try one. You died for this, after all.”

I was going to die.

Hesitantly, I reached a hoof towards one of the orbs, but then drew it back. I was sweating profusely. The heat in the room was draining my strength. Soon I wouldn’t be able to stand. And still, the only strategy I had was to keep him talking.

“w-what are they?”

“Confessions.” The dragon smiled cruelly. “Seems the old mare of your Ministry of Morale didn’t exactly trust normal methods of interrogation. Some incident in her youth or something. So instead, they trained up unicorns like yourself to sift through other ponies’ memories, find the condemning thoughts or experiences, and rip them out for public record. Didn’t want any innocent ponies getting sent to Shattered Hoof, after all.”

“wha... but... that’s...”

“Of course, not every pony came out of the process in the same condition they went in, mentally speaking. But what is it you ponies say? Can’t bake a pie without dicing some apples?” He laughed again. This time, I did lose consciousness. Only for a moment, I think. But I found myself laying on the floor with no memory of falling.

“that’s... awful.”

The dragon stopped laughing. “You see, little pony? Look at what you ponies are doing to each other up there. Look at what you did to each other in here. What makes you think your pathetic, wicked species is worth being anything other than dragon food?”

I tried to get up. I just couldn’t. The heat was making all my burns blaze in agony. I felt like I was on fire again, only this time it was worse. I cried out.

The dragon was going to eat me. There were no options, no tricks, no other ways out. I was going to die here. Like this. Alone in a tiny metal room underneath a prison.

But still, I tried to answer. “N-not all... of us... are bad. Some... of us... are good.”

The dragon snorted, adding smoke to the heat. “Yeah, I can see that.” He was staring at me, and it took a moment for me to realize he was staring at my horn. The heat had caked the blood.

Mockingly, he offered, “Well, I suppose some of you are good... with ketchup. Makes you little ponies nice and slippery going down!” I cringed, fearing he would laugh again. The air was almost too hot to breathe. “Although personally, I prefer mustard...”

The mine shaft outside erupted in green liquid fire, the blast catching the dragon in the side with enough force to yank his head out of the room, sending him sprawling.

“Yee HAW!”

Blessed cool air swam into the room, clearing my head. That was Calamity’s voice!

“How’d ya like them apples!” Calamity flapped into view, carrying the magical plasma cannon from Junction R-7.

“Hey Li’lpip! Boy am Ah glad t’ see yer okay! Sorry it took me so long t’ get back. These things are heavy when not properly mounted!” The monstrous, tri-barreled weapon was bigger than he was, strapped to his underbelly with it’s power array attached to the top of his battle saddle with rope.

I found myself giggling half-hysterically. “Y-you look ridiculous!”

“Yeah, well...” Calamity’s jovial voice cut off. “Oh you have got to be kiddin’ me!”


“He’s gettin’ back up! Run!”

Run was a bit more than I could manage. A third of my body felt like it was being held to a flame. I staggered, trying to focus. My saddlebag started to lift.

Calamity fired again, the blast from the cannon obliterating the air, the kick sending the pegasus pony hurling backwards. The dragon roared in pain and rage.

Glorious Luna, what does it take to kill one of these things!?

Telekinetically grabbing the rest my possessions, I dashed out the door. Calamity was biting off the ropes holding the cannon. “Can’t carry you an’ this at the same time.”

I looked back. The dragon was badly wounded, possibly mortally. One of his wings was warped and deformed. The scales on his side had melted back against his ribs. One of his legs was a deformed stump. And still, he was getting back up, his eyes, filled with rage. He opened his mouth to bellow fire.

The fire was only a fraction of the blasts he had managed before. I felt the wave of superheated air that rode in front of it, but the flames didn’t reach us.

Moments later, Calamity was pulling me through the air. Up out of the hole left by the lowered hydraulic cargo lift and into the cloudy sky. We shot past Gawd, engaged in a brutal aerial combat with the two griffins from the slaver camp; out of the corner of my non-blooded eye, I saw her draw that magical energy shotgun and empty it point-blank into the breast of one of her opponents. Beneath us, the chaos of warring ponies filled the rock yard, explosions and bursts of magical energy forming a violent dance of carnage around the dark, hollow square of the lift.

The dragon, impossibly, followed.

Even with its ruined wing, the dragon was faster than we were, tearing through the hole in the razor-mesh in pursuit of us. Calamity would have been more maneuverable had his wing been fully healed and he wasn’t carrying the extra weight. As it was, we were a two-pony flying brick.

As the dragon drew closer, Mister Topaz opened his maw wide. Glancing back, I saw rows of viciously sharp teeth surrounding a dark, insatiable gullet.

I had an idea. “Keep flying straight.”

Calamity grunted, straining his wings for more speed. “Ah hope y’know what yer doin’...”

I opened my saddlebags and pulled out the rest of my grenades. All of them. I noted with terror-tinged amusement that they really did look like metal apples.

“How do you like...” I whispered as I let go of everything but the stems, sending the grenades right into the dragon’s ravenous throat.

Even as they disappeared, it occurred to me that I may have made a horrible mistake. Dragons can breath fire and eat gems. What made me think a few grenades would cause more than indigestion?

A moment later, I learned my reservations were right as the grenades did absolutely no harm to the healthy parts of the dragon... but blew out his damaged side, warped and deteriorated by potent assaults of magical plasma, in a blast of sick gore.

Mister Topaz, a gaping hole in his side larger than three full ponies, was almost certainly dead before he hit the ground messily and skidded thirty yards, leaving a swath of blood and internal fluids.

Calamity turned and banked, taking us back to the Junction. There were still battles raging in parts of Shattered Hoof, but we had both had enough excitement for the night.

“Oh horseapples,” Calamity said wearily. “Ah almost forgot about Velvet Remedy.” Before I could panic, he informed me, “She’s hid herself in the Visitors’ Center. Ah told ‘er I’d be right back for ‘er.”

Gently, he set me down, and then flapped back into the night, looking utterly exhausted. I sat there, waiting for him to return, and at some point I fell asleep.

Footnote: Level Up.
New Perk: Sniper Pony – Your chance to hit an enemy’s head in S.A.T.S. is increased by 25%.