Merry Stewed: An Equestrian Fallout

by TundraStanza

Ch. 7: The Bane of My Existence

The Bane of My Existence

"Are the people you meet to play a part in your destiny, or do you exist just to play in theirs?"



"The Empire's already at Catnip?" asks Host. "I don't believe it."

I'm back in my basic N.C.R. armor and carrying the news regarding Catnip in my mind. I don't really know what to feel right now. Host's tail flicks while she tries to think of what she's going to say next. Meanwhile, I find a bottle of water that looks like a cloud of dust is swimming in it. I'm not really in the mood for parchment, but I do take the time to rub some of the dusty liquid against the left side of my face. For some reason, I recall being informed that dirt is supposed to be good for small wounds. Honestly, why can't I control the type of information I remember?

"Well, thanks for going over and taking a look," says Host as she idly runs a hoof against the rim of her hat. "I wish I could say that my mind was more at ease, but I guess knowing the new situation is important too."

She turns around toward her scoped rifle and slides open the small hatch for a reload. She deliberately grabs at least ten of the rounds meant for such a gun even though only one can fit in at any given time. All of them go over the side of the roof.

"Oops, I seem to have accidentally dropped some of my ammo." She glances in my direction every time she elongates a word. "I hope no pony tries to pick them up, because those are definitely not a reward for a request."

I can't help but chuckle a bit. "If any Imperials come this way, knock 'em dead."

"Like I needed you to tell me that?" Host holds a steady gaze in parallel to the north where her gun is facing.

Meanwhile, I flutter my wings so I can gently descend to the ground. For the next minute or so, I stuff the scattered sniper rounds into my pocket for miscellaneous ammunition. The bleeding against the left side of my head has long ago stopped and all that's physically detectable is a thin scab. I hear some familiar beeping and look up.

"Hey, FRED-E!" I call out. "How was Proper? Did you find Sayer Star okay? What did he say?"

The sprite-bot tweets in affirmation. There's a bit of a clicking noise coming in stereo as a stallion's voice comes through FRED-E's audio.

"Much obliged for the pardon, Forte," says the voice of Sayer Star, "The boys and I are all ready to keep Proper safe and secure. If you ever get the chance, drop by for a visit. I'll put some extra drinks on Deputy's tab for you. End record."

The recording stops with another round of clicks.

"Wait, what did he mean by 'the boys'?" I tilt my head in confusion. "There wasn't any pony else involved with the deal." I shake my head. "You know what? I really don't care. I did my part and got Proper Town a sheriff. If he wants to crumble the fan-tipping buildings, then let him demolish whatever he wants."

FRED-E spouts a strained pattern of chirps and beeps.

I trot around him. "Tartarus if I know, but maybe I'm just too jaded by what I saw while you were gone. Crucified ponies and crippled Powder Gangers were not on my Hearth's Warming Eve list."

The floating robot lets out two off-pitch chirps.

My trotting slows down considerably. "I... don't know what holiday that is." I growl quietly and knock a hoof against the right side of my head a couple of times. "Amnesia's such a shady pit to crawl out of." I briskly trot toward the bar doors. "I'm going to try drinking ale again. See if I say anything else that can piece together what I know deep down."

FRED-E slowly beeps as he floats off to the side of me.

"No, but I wasn't sure while I put you together either," I reply, "Look at how well you're still functioning."

He lets out a high beep followed quickly by a low beep.


I sit down with my head on top of the counter. The wooden stools just don't seem that appealing right now. While the bartender doesn't look like she notices me, she does levitate the menu in my direction.

"What'll it be?" she asks, still bored as ever.

"Huh..." I simultaneously mutter and sigh. "Let me try the 'Mossy Mind Mulch' this time."

"Your funeral." She magically pulls the menu away. Various cups and cylinders float through the air behind her. Some ice and liquids of a couple unidentifiable colors pour through. They make the noise of ice shaking as the two halves are held together just underneath the ceiling's height.

Idly, I turn and see somepony that's not in the N.C.R. outfit. It looks more like a brown leather jacket, actually. Her expression seems relatively neutral, about how I feel right now.

"Come here often?" I ask rhetorically.

"Looking to start a fight?" she asks sharply.

I react by raising my head off the counter. "What? No! I just thought I'd try to converse."

"Well, I'm not here to talk," she says, "I'm here to forget." She sighs. "But right now, the whiskey's making my temper boil instead."

I hold off about one second before I ask, "Did you get your horn blown off by shotgun pellets too?"

"F*** no, I'm an earth pony," she says curtly. "Always have been, always will be. I'm not letting any of you magic types change that core of my life."

I tactfully remain silent for the next few seconds. FRED-E floats closer, but I wave him off. The sound of ice stops shaking and the cup of 'mulch' is slid in front of me. While the bartender remains completely emotionless, the other mare sighs.

"Simmer down, Cast," Ms. Leather Jacket mutters just barely loud enough to make my ear flick. "No pony's asked you to do nothing today."

"Is there... anything I can do to help?" my mouth asks before I realize what I'm saying. "Uh... Cast?"

"Not unless you can convince Jack-As-Sun to let me go anywhere," Cast replies, albeit more gently than before. "My caravan's gone, but the stupid papers are keeping me here. Jack-As-Sun says the road isn't safe. No s***, *ssh*t. The swarms of raiders and giant bugs weren't exactly fine-teeth details."

"And here I thought I was having a rough day," I comment, "Sure, I got to knock a few convicts' heads in a prison raid, but then I had to stroll through Catnip and watch Imperials use crosses as some form of modern art."

"Really?" She half-smiled. "Drinks on me, then."

"Wait, seriously?" I quickly blink twice.

"Yeah," she says while lifting her shot glass. "To having life throw s*** at our faces and living to tell about it!"

"All right!" I holler back as I lift my own drink. The cups let out a clink briefly before Cast downs her contents. Feeling slightly better at this new acquaintanceship, I pour the somewhat tangy 'mulch' down in my lower jaw.
Note: Stimpaks and healing potions alone will not properly restore the condition of a broken limb. Use a medical bag or seek a doctor for full treatment.


It's rather dark. Why can't I feel my everything?

A loud battle theme blasts through the darkness.

"Sweet Amore Cadenza! I'm awake! I'm up!" I yell as I trip over my own hooves. "Ow."

I look around and see my sprite-bot. He's chirping a lot more than usual. He stops briefly as I wobbly stand up on all fours.

"FRED-E, what's going o-?" There's a sudden pounding hitting from within my head. "Gah! Fan-flipping Tartarus! Why does my head hurt so much?"

Something sparks around inside of FRED-E's audio box.

"This is a hangover?" I echo his statement. "Ergh... why did I think drinking more alcohol was a good idea?"

Blearily, I look around myself as much as possible. Despite all the odds, I'm inside what looks like an abandoned workshop. There are a few uneven shelves with tools scattered everywhere. Behind me, there's a makeshift flatbed. It has an ugly brown stain as well as what appears to be a slightly more recent yellow one.

All the while, FRED-E is still chirping and beeping at a rapid-fire pace.

"Wait, I said what while I was drunk?"

He repeats the last bit of the beeped pattern.

I tilt my head. "'Carve the horn to a knife.' I... don't get it." I rub the painful part of my head idly. "Did I say anything else?"

The tweeting pattern is interspersed with a few audible sparks, but I don't see any light jumping out of him. I think he's fine.

"Something about 'integrity' and... a kind something else?" None of this is making any sense. "What in the world happened to me before that shotgun-filled day?"

A certain leather jacket flashes in my mind's eye.

"Hold on. What happened to Cast?" I ask. "Th-That drunkard that was with me at the bar?"

A slower pattern of clicks and chirps passes from FRED-E's speaker.

"I left the bar spouting gibberish after she passed her caps to the bartender?"

He chirps the affirmative.

"Well, spit," I mutter, "That probably gave off the impression that I was ungrateful."

The sprite-bot beeps another pattern, almost sounding concerned.

I sigh. "Yeah, I guess we might as well get going. I've probably already wasted enough minutes on that unconscious gallop out of the bar." I trot over to the door on the far side of the workshop room. "Where are we anyway?"


"Oh, hell no," I mutter as the door swings shut behind me.

This is one burned street that I would rather forget. The bonfire is still alight across the bones and flesh of locals and convicts alike. I cough against a few clouds of smoke that blow past me.

"Why'd it have to be Catnip?" I ask.

I hear FRED-E letting out a few beeps from somewhere, but he isn't obvious. My ear twitches slightly, almost pointing back to the door. I trot over and open it a tad. The sprite-bot pushes his way out to float next to me. There seems to be a hint of irritation in his next squeaks.

"Well, most doors don't automatically close behind me without some kind of device," I insist. "Anyway, we're at a landmark in the easterly direction. Might as well see where it leads."

FRED-E's set of noises starts with a chirp and ends with several beeps.

"No, I'm going by hoof for now," I say as I start trotting around the giant fireplace. "I don't want to saturate myself with more hot smoke than I need to."



"Well, I certainly didn't need this!"

Some unseen enemies are throwing sticks of dynamite over this path of rocks. I can't waste time bucking them all away from me, so I settle for galloping. FRED-E seems to take the hint and speeds up his forward floating to keep up. The Powder Gangers' main hangout is wiped clean. Why are there still explosion-happy reminders of them chasing me? Briefly, I close my eyes mid-gallop.

"Laas... Yah Nir."

Well, there's at least ten on each side, I observe, and they're all scattered. So even if I do manage to hover over and take out two or three, the rest can gang up on my blind spots. I blink the red auras out of my eyes. It's best if I keep running.

*Beep! Beep! Beep!*

That's not FRED-E, I think with eyes wide.

I jump as hard as I can. I feel the explosion lick my back right leg. The blast's tongue feels like it is made of duct tape even though I know that it's a land mine.

"Augh!" I exclaim, "Amore Plucking Cadenza!"

Is there any proper way to describe leg pain? I think I once tried to back in Proper Town, but I'm blanking out on an accurate description because my leg is hurting like crazy! As a sort of compensation, I extend my wings out to hold my shaky three-legged balance. I turn my head to see FRED-E shooting some laser blasts as we withdraw from whoever has claim on this rocky area.

I'm not sure how much further we actually travel. By the time we stop hearing dynamite and land mines, the high rocks are about hoof-sized specks in the distance. I breathe heavily as I stop and shuffle through my saddlebags. There's a stimpak available and I jam it into the leg. I wince at the intrusive metal, but I think the bleeding should hold off for a while. I just hope the next available stop we make has a doctor or at least a how-to guide for proper limb treatment.

FRED-E comments in a slow pattern.

"Yes, I know my leg looks terrible," I respond, "Don't state the obvious."

FRED-E adds a few more pitches.

"Unless you've got the right doctor's equipment hidden in your mechanical slots, I'm not interested in your kind of help. Now come along."

Thankfully, the metal sprite stops beeping.


Standing in front of a giant, fake animal makes me almost forget about my leg trauma. Its head is too large to be that of a dragon's, but its limbs look a tad too large for a common lizard's. I really don't know what to make of it. There's really only one thing I can say.

"That is the second biggest unmoving monster I have ever seen."

FRED-E chirps an agreement.

There is a smaller building a few feet away. It kind of resembles a cheap bed-without-breakfast place. With wings still extended, I hobble on over toward the door. Maybe someone here can tell me where a medical amateur is. Asking for a medical expert is probably too high of an expectation anywhere. Even Doctor Prickard has his faults in the field. Why should anypony around here be any different?
Note: Damaging an enemy's crippled body part enough times will immediately drain the rest of his/her body's health even if it makes no sense.

"Well hello, dearie," greets a mare with a mane that's going gray. "You're new here, aren't you?"

"How'd you guess?" I ask.

"Vacuum is a small village," she replies, "Almost everypony knows everypony else around here and I'm not familiar with your face."

"I guess we're even," I say, "because I don't know you either."

"Oh goodness, where are my manners?" She laughs sheepishly. "I'm Bay Crawdad."

"Forte Pianissimo." I nod before my leg reminds me how much pain it is in. I swear the pain somehow sends a shock that runs up my whole spine. "Sorry to pry, but you wouldn't happen to know where a doctor is, would you?"

"That would probably be Add-A-Stress," says Bay, "If you go out the door and head to the first building on your right, you can usually find her standing next to the mailbox with her two bodyguards. Don't worry about their intimidating looks. They're actually quite nice gentlecolts when you get to know them."

"Okay, soft-sided bodyguards, got it," I say my mental note out loud.

"Although, I'd be more careful around Add-A," she says in a suddenly less gentle tone. "You didn't hear it from me, but she sometimes mixes up her professions."

I blink in confusion. "What are her other professions?"

"Oh, they're nothing too severe in this day and age," comments Bay, "Butcher, merchant, chem-dealer..." She coughs. "Sorry, must have gotten dust in my throat."

"Uh... okay..." I answer with no clue how to feel. "Thanks for the fair warning."

"Anytime, Ms. Piani." Her gentle tone returns.

Is the cure worse than the problem? I think as I take my leave.


Seeing some armored colts surprisingly makes me feel relieved. Maybe the N.C.R. doesn't have to be the sole protector of this wasteland we call home. I ask FRED-E to let me do the talking. I think he chirps that he will comply, but I might be bad at paraphrasing. I trot somewhat wobbly over to the mare in a bloody straw hat. I can see what Bay meant by "butcher".

"Are you Add-A-Stress?" I ask.

She looks up. "Yeah, that's me. What seems to be the problem?"

"I was hoping you could figure that out and fix it for me." I turn to show my back leg in its messed up glory.

"Sure, I could do that," says Add-A, "I mean, what are the odds of me botching up a routine procedure twice in one day?"

Alarm bells go off in my head. "Uh... How many have you done today?"

"None so far," she says while smiling.

There is a long, awkward pause aside from the cough I hear from one of the bodyguards.

"Half upfront, half upon completion," Add-A speaks up.

"Huh?" My daze is broken. "Oh, right... here." I hoof over the first half of the caps that she is charging.

"You may want to close your eyes for this part."

I look at her strangely. "Why?"

"It seems to help the rest of my patients feel better for whatever reason," she answers.

Feeling no better about her choice of cryptic words, I reluctantly comply as I hold my head up high and close my eyes. I hear a few drops of liquid, a saw, and a few other indistinguishable noises. FRED-E isn't freaking out, so I guess that I'm not in immediate danger from this shaky physician. Still, what is she doing this whole time that I'm not allowed to look at?

"And... done."

I open my eyes and turn toward the leg that doesn't feel any different. However, I do notice a bit of bandaging and a lack of explosion marks along the rest of the leg. I slowly set it down on the ground. It doesn't feel numb or in pain. It feels about the same as the rest of my legs. I shuffle around my bags.

"Here," I present the rest of the caps for the fee.

"Thanks, I hope to see you again soon," Add-A says gladly.

Is she trying to woo me or is she wishing more pain to fall upon me? I worry in silence. I clear my throat. "I was told that you're also a merchant and I'm in need of some medical supplies."

"And I need sterile equipment, but let's see what I've got anyway."

As she heads inside to presumably search for wares, I lean toward one of the armored colts and whisper, "Has she always been this strange?"

"Pretty much, yeah," admits the colt to whom I spoke directly.

"It's been over a month and I still haven't gotten paid yet," says the other colt, "Should I be worried?"

Tartarus if I know, I think while shrugging.


My ability to apply quick healing fixes in the middle of nowhere is now back to par with what I had the day I left Fondsprings. Translation: I have healing potions and stimpaks again. I do kind of worry when that doctor/merchant slips a small, metal tin along with my actual purchase. I give the tin back, of course, insisting that I did not ask for such a thing. She looks almost disappointed. But I digress.

I trot back to the hotel, much more comfortably on all fours. FRED-E is oddly quiet after these last few minutes. I briefly wonder if I need to give the order for him to talk again. Then I decide against it, telling myself that an intelligent artificial intelligence can figure it out by himself. I rent a room from Crawdad and ask about Vacuum.

"So what's there to do around here?"

"Well, there's always the gift shop in the big statue of Wingless over there," Bay answers, "It's good for attracting tourists. Other than a few ghouls coming from outside the edge of town, it's a pretty quiet village."

"Wait, ghouls?" I ask with an eyebrow raised in skepticism.

"Oh, but don't worry about that," says the innkeeper, "Our sniper up in Wingless' mouth keeps a good eye on any trouble that might come from that direction."

My eyes widen. "There's a sniper between those jaws?"

"Oh, yes," she answers, "Just be careful if you decide to talk to him. He's in a bit of a grumpy mood."

"Not sure why grumpiness deserves any more caution than ghouls," I comment.

"Well, I probably shouldn't talk," Bay says, "but poor Mr. Baane lost his wife about a month back. It's become a button that ponies in Vacuum try to avoid pushing."

"All... right then," I say slowly, "Thanks again."

"No, thank you, Ms. Piani," she says, "Talking with a new passerby is a lovely break from the norm."

Why does she call me that? I wonder as I step out of the lobby. Rupee Carbuncle called me that too. If they need a shorter name, they can just call me Forte. I shake my head. Whatever, I can't think about this stuff when I'm sleepy.


"There's a five percent chance that you'll blow up."

"Yes, the horn shall become the weapon that slays their false messiah."

"Do you really think I'd ever let you go?"

"Take this as a learning opportunity."

"Sweetie, come back!"


"Don't go!" I sit up in an instant. My breathing is rapid and vocal for a few seconds. It is about this time that I remember coming into the rented room and literally fell asleep.

I think FRED-E asks me what the matter is in his own language.

"I... think it was dream," I say while holding a hoof against my head just above my eyes. I sigh. "I don't even know what was happening."

The light from outside the window looks discolored, as the light of a street lamp. I guess the night isn't over. I grab my dagger in sheathe and wrap the belt around myself. I also grab K.R. in its holster while I'm at it. To these actions, FRED-E beeps wildly.

"Basic protection. You never know when a stray giant moth or gecko will try and get a free midnight snack."

The sprite-bot beeps again with a slightly different pattern.

"Because the armor would probably wake up the locals. An alicorn is suspicious enough as is. I don't need 'potentially armed robber' added to their reasons to distrust me especially after I just traded with a shady drug dealer and/or quack doctor."

He chirps one more question.

"Yes, it does sound ridiculous. I'm going to go see that sniper up close. Feel free to come along with me if you want."

With that, I step out the door and head for the foot of Wingless.
Note: You lack a trusty canteen. Perhaps this is for the best. This personal container somehow forces its way to the owner's mouth, especially when it is most inappropriate to take a drink.

The gift shop door is a bit of a tight squeeze on my way in. FRED-E kindly shoves me three times to get through. I wince at the wing pain, though it doesn't feel desperate enough to need Dr. Stress. I am half-expecting some kind of security to come into this little shop and throw me out, but there isn't even a tripwire alarm.

Not that it really matters, I think to myself, I don't want a hundred little toys that look like really tiny and less rusty copies of the not-dragon statue. My eyes find an upward staircase. Let's see what's in the attic.

The walls on either side of this staircase threaten to crush my wings, even though I folded them. Not to mention, every single one of my hoof steps makes the stairs creak. When I finally get to the door, somepony else on the other side yanks it open. He appears to be a red unicorn. His attire consists of a blue beret and sunglasses.

"What the hell do you think you're doing?" he asks.

"I'm... uh..." I struggle to figure out an answer. "I'm... exploring the nooks and crannies of Vacuum? Heh."

"Uh-huh," he says flatly. Even without seeing his eyes, I can tell that he's skeptical. "I think you'd better leave."

I sigh. "Okay." I tentatively lower my back leg to the next step down.

"Wait," the stallion interrupts, "maybe not. Maybe you should stay."

I'm surprised I don't trip with how suddenly I stop my backward crawl. "Huh?"

"You're that new pony that walked in earlier, aren't you?" he asks. "That means you're a stranger. It would be a start at least."

"A start of what exactly?" I ask while my wing involuntarily scratches the wall to my left.

"Where'd you get that armor that you were wearing earlier tonight?" he questions further.

Hmph, rude much? Monarch thinks.

"It was a gift for helping the N.C.R. clear out a correctional facility of the base of Powder Gangers," I reply.

He turns his head to the side for a moment. He mutters, "So, they're actually doing some s*** now?" He turns back to face me. "If you can convince New Canterlot soldiers to move, maybe you could help me."

"With what?" I dare to ask.

"My wife was supposedly captured by Empire Imperials," he says, "but I know better. Somepony in this very town sold her out under the table."

"Prostitution?" I hazard a guess.

"Probably that too, but most likely as a slave," he corrects me.

"So, you want me to find that Imperial, kill him, and bring back your wife?" I propose.

"Charcola is dead," he says without hesitation.

I blink in surprise. "How can you be so sure?"

"I know, all right?" Eyebrows scrunch just barely above his sunglasses. "I want you to find the bastard that sold her out and bring them to me."

My expression turns deadpan. "Do I look like a detective to you?"

"Like I said, you're a stranger," he restates, "That's a start. Every pony that's a local is suspicious. I'm willing to take a slightly higher chance on someone unfamiliar with the incident. Figure things out from a neutral perspective."

"How can I be neutral?" I ask. "As far as I can tell, I've been anything but neutral with over half the crud I dealt with during this week alone."

He takes a long pause. FRED-E chirps something from downstairs, but I can't make it out.

The stallion finally says, "I'll give you five hundred caps if you take this job."

This time, I take a long pause. Has this guy been spying on my money pouch too?

"Do you want him stabbed or decapitated?" Monarch decides to speak for me.

He shakes his head. "Bring him out in front of this wingless dragon so that I can deal with him. Also, take my beret. Put it on and that will be our signal to show that you're standing next to the right guy."

A tan magical aura surrounds his horn and cap as he levitates the fancy headgear in my direction. Slowly, I take the blue hat by hoof and stow it in my non-ammunition saddlebag.

"I doubt they're going to just admit to doing it," I mention to him. "What should I look for in particular?"

"Dig for details in any way that you can," he says, "Small scraps of physical evidence might be inside ponies' typical hangouts."

I nod once. "I'm Forte Pianissimo by the way."

"Ragic Baane," he responds. "It's probably best if we don't speak again until after this task is done."

"Understood," I say.

As I start climbing down the stairs, Baane turns around to the not-dragon's mouth. I catch a glimpse of the green cross-hair target on his flank. FRED-E's sparking about something, but I have to get going. I have a slave trader to bust.

-You have gained a positive reputation with certain members of the New Canterlot Republic. They are more likely to trust you with specific tasks.