• Published 21st Sep 2013
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Fallout Equestria: Ashes - Relyet



Another Fallout Equestria Sidestory. Two ponies walked across the wasteland, trying their hardest not to be heroes, not to make friends, and not to change the wasteland.

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Chapter 2: Walking back

Fallout Equestria: Ashes

Relyet

Chapter 2: Walking back.


I don't know about you, but I can't make important decisions on an empty stomach

The walk back to Pyresteady from the former Bloodshot base was taking infinitely longer than the walk there. I was certain this was due entirely to the extra baggage we had picked up in the form of the neon yellowgreen pony just a few paces behind me. She'd stopped singing after the third time I ineffectually threatened to cut one of her legs off and leave her in the desert. It was ineffective because she only laughed and told me she was good at hopping, and because Crunch wouldn't allow it, damn his eyes.

I looked over my shoulder again. The silence was so much better, but it was also starting to make me nervous. Her eyes were there to meet my lenses, and she was smiling. I looked forward again, casting green circles on the sand ahead of us. Sunrise was still a few hours away, but I wanted to return to the Raider city as soon as possible and hope the magenta maned menace behind me would find something to distract herself with so we could leave.

I looked back over my shoulder yet again. And her deep purple eyes were there to meet my lenses, an inch away. I gave a startled yelp and jumped to the side, into Crunch's brickwallesque form.

"What?!" I demanded. She stopped laughing at her completely mistaken assumption that she'd scared me and pointed out.

"You never told me your name! How are we supposed to be friends if you don't introduce yourself right?"

"We're not." I cut that idea down sharply, but she advanced closer and had me backing up into Crunch yet again.

"Of course we are, we already played tag and had a slumber party! Here, I'll go first." She (thankfully) stepped back, cleared her throat, and turned her body sideways, taking up an odd pose, extending one leg forward and one leg backward. "It's sooo nice to meet you, my name is Abattoir, but all my friends, that's you two, call me Abbey." At this angle, I was forced to take my first good look at her, and her cutie mark. She bore two white.. faces? No, they were masks. Two masks on her flank, one contorted in a grimace of pain, or possibly rage, the other caught in the middle of a mirthful laugh. I had no idea what it meant. I suppose I had been expecting something like the bloody great cleaver, which I also noticed she'd brought with her, along with a lumpy sack cloth that served as a saddlebag.

I realized she was staring at me expectantly. I sidestepped away from a bemused looking Crunch and again simply tapped my hoof to my chest.

"Luminescence." Then shifted it to the side "Crunch. Can we keep walking now?"Obviously not, as she sank to her haunches and began rubbing her hoof across her chin.

"Ooouh, that's a pretty fancy name, kinda long though. What do your friends call you?" She asked with a grin.

"Nothing, I don't have any 'friends'" I stated simply and matter-of-factly. That set her off like a rocket. She sprang to her hooves so fast she lost contact with the ground for a moment.

"What?!" She demanded. I turned, quickly, and started walking again. This time she didn't walk behind me, instead I found her uncomfortably close to my side. "Well it's a good thing you found me when you did, you poor thing you." She crooned and stretched her neck out, bringing her head closer to mine. I lashed out, jabbing my hoof into her side and toppling her sideways, but she turned the fall into a tumble and ended up back on her hooves, a few feet away and grinning at me.

"Keep away from me." I hissed sidelong at her and resumed walking.

"Somepony got up on the wrong side of the dirt t'day~" She was beside me again, but out of hoof reach. "Still, I need to think of something shorter to call you."

"No you don't, be quiet-"

"Oh. My. Goddesses, I've got it!" She yelped with glee, and pointed one neon hoof at me. "I dub thee... Lumi!" She beamed, then in a little sing-song voice "Lumi, Lumi, it rhymes with gloomy~"

I think I actually felt something in my brain snap at that. There was simply no way that was happening.

"Don't call me that-"

"Cheer up, Lumi! And help me think of something for him." It seemed like it was already set in stone in her mind.

What was that four letter word that lesser ponies resorted to screaming in moments of extreme frustration? I looked up at my companion, who had taken an interest in the conversation now that it was about him.

"Crunch is just fine." I tried to add a note of finality to my voice, but she 'hmmm'ed and cocked her head to the side.

"I agree, it's simple, and snappy, but it needs a little.. mooore. Something to really make it.. pop!" She emphasized the last word by hopping off her hooves again. He looked down at me and raised a massive eyebrow. I shook my head quickly. I was not going to have this conversation.

"I'm not going to have this con-"

"I've got it!" I think she just liked cutting me off. "What about.. Mister Crunch? It says 'Yes, I am a brick outhouse with the strength of ten ponies, but I am also a gentlestallion'."

I looked up at him again. He was actually threatening a smirk at that! Unbidden, the image of him sporting one of those tall, cylindrical hats we sometimes found amongst the corpses of fancier ponies sprung into my mind. I shook my head quickly to clear it away and instead focused forward.

"Just. Just be quiet. Or if you can't do that go back to singing, our names are fine." I saw one of the metal road signs, the ones we'd seen every so often marking the Bloodshot turf. I trotted faster to get some distance between her, and came up close to it. The green circles of my vision cast their light on the sign.

A crudely painted scorpion adorned the triangular bit of metal. I stared at it. I stared at it hard, as if any second the deep blue paint would shift to dark red, and swirl into the shape of an eye. It didn't.

"We're going the wrong way." I stated flatly. I must have mistaken one sign for another and followed a different trail. Were we in some other gang's territory now? Loathe as I was to acknowledge her, Abattoir was from this area. I called out for her to catch up and nodded up at the sign.

"Which gang uses this symbol?" She peered up at it and chortled, shaking her head.

"Nopony uses that symbol."

"Nopony? Not one of the gangs?"

"Nope, none of the gangs would put their base way out here b'cause of the scorpions."

"..The scorpions."

"Yep, they're these big, kinda ugly bug thingies with big pinchers and-" I kicked the signpost and grunted in frustration.

"I know what scorpions are, I was just..." trying to figure out how she'd lived this long while being so brainless. "So, you know where we are?" She nodded. He grunted. "And can you get us back on the path to Pyresteady?" She nodded again. He grunted again, louder. "Okay, now you're actually being useful. Let's-"

I was getting really tired of being cut off. Crunch was next to me, growling and nudging and gesturing with his head. I followed it and cast my gaze out on a half dozen shiny black forms scuttling across the sand from where we'd just come. Abattoir took the time to point at them and explain.

"See, those are scorpions."

"Shut up. And stay out of the way." I lit my horn up and yanked my sword from my side. Crunch spread his hooves. She kept talking.

"But-"

The first scorpion skittered within stomping distance and Crunch reared up his forelegs, crashing down on top of the creature and crushing its head before it had a chance to raise its tail. I darted forward to head off the next, using the flat of my blade as a shield from its stinger. I could see another of the crawling monstrosities right behind it, so after the next thrust I hopped to the side instead of blocking and swung at the striking tail, lopping it off at the tip.

"Lumiiii!

"Not now!" I did not need to hear whatever she was whining about now. The scorpion was taking the severing of its tail poorly, and I had to jump over a wide swiping claw. His companion had scurried from behind him to beside him, and was overly eager to show off how well his tail still worked, making me block and check strikes with my sword before I could swing it again.

"But Lumi, it's important!" Fueled by my rage at the mare, I kicked out with my foreleg at the tailless one's face. It screeched and snapped wildly, catching his buddy on the side and distracting him enough to allow me a quick stab, dead center, then another. Hopping away from the corpses just as another tried to climb over them, I looked over my shoulder.

"By the stars, WHAT?!" I saw 'what'. 'What' was Abattoir dancing in the dirt before another of the creatures while chopping at its various striking limbs. Another lay dead beside her with a half dozen knives sticking out of it. There was another whole batch of them advancing on her from that direction. Jumping away from a snapping claw I looked to the opposite direction. Sure enough, another wave of them was bearing down on us. From all directions, I thought grimly. But no, there was one side of the dunes they weren't pouring over from, the direction I thought of as 'West', but in this confusion I couldn't be entirely sure anymore. Right then.

"Crunch, opening." I backed away from my latest foe, bringing myself closer to the prancing mare. He kicked the scorpion he had been trying to fight into another, creating a tangle of limbs and claws, and headed for the gap. I spun around and was treated to the sight of her dancing on top of the beast, somehow avoiding its tail and chopping at its face.

"You, come on, we're retreating."

"What's my naaaaame~?" She taunted through clenched teeth as she ducked her head down low to avoid a sting. Was she seriously doing this?

"Abattoir, whatever, now move before they cut us off." I glanced back, Crunch doing a decent job of keeping them back.

"But you're my friend, what do my friends call me?" She giggled madly even as the furious creature tried to buck her off.

"I'm not your friend, you idiot! If you don't get going I'm leaving you he-Hagkh!" Even nature was cutting me off tonight. One of the scorpions had taken advantage of my distraction and scuttled in close to drive the tip of its stinger into my shoulder. The one that hadn't been sliced open already. Cursing indistinctly I whirled around, ripping the barb from my shoulder and quickly bisected the creature. Spinning back around I drove the point my weapon into the face of the scorpion she was frolicking on top of. When it crumpled under her she actually looked somewhat saddened.

"Move! Now!" I barked, and she cast an angry pout at me, but finally did move towards the opening. I followed behind, yelling for them to keep going. We galloped between the closing jaws of the scorpion horde and broke over the top of another high sand dune. It was steeper on this side than it had looked from the other, and we were soon half sliding, half galloping down it. I looked over my shoulder, seeing the first outlines of jagged claw poking over the crest. When I looked forward again I was running down the dune alone. My mind reeled, Crunch and Abattoir had been right in front of me, where in Luna's mane could they have-Something was grabbing my tail. There was a yank and I was pulled off my hooves and into darkness.

***

We sat on the cool floor of the small cave formed out of a trio of large rocks that had leaned against one another. Abattoir had apparently spotted it in passing, and had also been the one who yanked me into it. Moments later a wave of skittering black chitin washed past the entrance. It was several more moments before words were finally uttered. It was her, informing me my tail tasted like limes. After freeing it from her disgusting, slobbery mouth, I settled down on the cave floor and told her to do the same. It had been, at my best guess, almost ten minutes, and she was growing restless as a foal.

"I think they're gone, Lumi. Can we go now? I'm bored."

"No. We'll wait until sunrise. Those things only come out at night, won't be as many during the day. Just go to sleep."

"But I'm not sleepy.." If I hadn't already compared her to a foal, I would have when she uttered that mournful whine. I sighed.

"Then do something. Explore the cave." Her face lit up at that, and she sprang to her hooves with a determined grin on her face.

"Yes ma'am!" With that she turned and trotted into the darkness and the rear of the cave. I was the only source of light in the cave, but she didn't seem to care. It still wouldn't take her long to 'explore' though, so I had to act quickly. I turned my gleaming gaze down and looked at the wounds on my shoulders and down my torso. The gashe from earlier, and now the circular puncture from where the scorpion had tried to poison me. It throbbed dully, but otherwise was merely annoying. My horn was aglow, and I was shifting through my own minimal saddlebags. I was not a very muscular mare, so I carried the smaller amount of our collected possessions. I drew out a yellow and silver bundle that had once been a radiation suit, and unwound it. In the center were two plastic bottles of faintly glowing watery sludge. I levitated one out and screwed off the cap, moving it first to my left shoulder, and drizzling it down over the gash, watching the crusty blood wash away down my leg, and the pink wound under it steadily close. I turned to the other side and splashed some across the sting. It dwindled down from the size of a bottle cap to the size of a pinprick, before ultimately vanishing. I splashed a little more down my sides to take care of the cuts from our fight.

"Lumi!" I jolted, almost losing my magical grip and dropping the bottle. I quickly replaced the cap and tucked the bottles back into the radiation blanket. Had she come back and watched? Would I get to (have to) kill her? I turned to look, hopeful, but she wasn't right behind me, gaping in horror and edging for the door with her gun trained on me. She was calling from deeper in the cave. I shook my head and tucked the whole bundle back into my saddlebags.

"What is it?" I called back.

"I found somethin', c'mere." Warily, I rose to my hooves and started towards the back of the cave.

"What is it?"

"Well I can't really see, but it feels like somethin'." A problem I was more than ready to fix. My mane and lenses were giving off their emerald glow with renewed strength after my short bath, and when I came into range, Abattoir's treasure was bathed in green.

She was crouching over a corpse. Of course she was. She hadn't created this one though. From its withered, dried out look, this pony had been here for some time. I leaned a little closer. They had been wearing some kind of jumpsuit with a stripe running down the middle, with colors I couldn't make out in the dim light.

"A dead pony. Astonishing." I sighed, chiding myself for even expecting anything else of her. Then she raised one of the pony's forelegs.

"Not that, dummy, this!" There was a large metallic band encompassing the pony's foreleg just above their hoof. It was dominated by a square screen, but I could see buttons and knobs and dials along its sides. It was a PipBuck. One of those gadgets worn by the ponies that crusaded for justice, that went around righting wrongs, battling evil wherever it lurked. By this pony here, that had obviously, or so I was sure of now, come out here with her shiny PipBuck and little else, looking to stamp out the radscorpion scourge and make these desolate sand dunes safe for all the little ponies.

Abattoir shook the arm of the dead pony I was quickly gaining feelings of superiority over, the PipBuck rattling in place. With how her arm had shrunk and dried out, the device no longer fit snug. She continued nudging and shaking and soon the PipBuck slid off the end of the dead pony's hoof and clattered to the cave floor. It sprung open, laying there like the most deadly of bear traps. A bear trap for the naive. The mare gasped with glee and scooped up the device gingerly.

"Ooouh, these things are so cool... Y'want it?" she held it forward in her hooves.

I froze. There were lots of things I could have felt at that moment. I could have felt quite touched that she would offer to me the rare and valuable device she moments before had proclaimed 'so cool'. I could have felt like this was a sign from some higher power, to don the PipBuck, gallop out into the dune, and singlehoofedly finish the job of wiping out the scorpions at no personal gain to myself, and while I was at it, the town of Pyresteady as well. I could have felt all these things and more, but I was too busy feeling a deep, dark loathing for the device held before me like so much forbidden fruit.

I shook my head and brought my hoof out, softly pushing it back towards her.

"No. Thank you. But no." She looked... disappointed? Maybe. Only for a second. Then she smiled and drew the device against her chest.

"Oh, okay. Then, can I have it? Oh pretty pretty please, can I?" Why was she asking me? I waved my hoof dismissively and nodded, turning to walk back to my own spot in the cave. It wasn't much different than any of the other spots, but it was mine. Then my momentary bout of bone crushing animosity towards long dead ponies and their silly arm computers ebbed enough for me to consider. She had offered it to me, expecting me to want to wear it. She had asked instead if she could have it, I assumed to hold onto it to sell, or maybe pester me with again later. Now that I thought about it, she might actually mean to wrap the thing around her own leg. I started to turn back.

"Maybe it's not such a good-"

GUH-CHUNK

She snapped the PipBuck closed around her left foreleg. For an instant I allowed my mind to fill with the image of her posing heroically in front of Pyresteady's massive gate, shouting that it was their last chance to give up their evil ways before one of the snipers put a hole through her head. Then I thought of all the trouble this could spell, she was now more well aware of her surroundings, she was more well organized, she had access to a spell that could give her a serious edge up in combat, she had... she had.

She had managed to snap the PipBuck on upside down. My slowly mounting worries crumbled away. She was still the same idiotic mare, now with a bit of fancy jewelry on her hoof. I couldn't help but let out a chuckle.

***

Morning spilled filtered sunlight into the cave entrance. I lay still. Abattoir was sprawled on her back a few feet away, one leg kicking in the air. She had worn herself out excitedly showing off her new bauble to Crunch. He feigned interest incredibly well, letting her talk on and on about all the nifty features she was pretty sure it had, until he was practically holding her upright. He had laid her out on a less rocky patch of cave floor, then came to check on me. That mainly consisted of him staring into my lenses and me staring back. I didn't bother sharing with him my earlier paranoia over the discovery of the relic. If it had made her dangerous, he would have shared with me, and we would have.. Left her there, probably. But enough of 'would haves'. We didn't. The two of them slept soundly, and I pretended to sleep. Just as I thought, as soon as the rays of light stretched far enough to touch Abattoir, she was up in a flurry of smacks and yawns and stretches and all sorts of mundane pony wakeup routines. I let her get a good look around the cave before making a show of rising slowly and stretching. I even threw in a yawn, for good measure.

"Mooornin'" she waved her hoof lazily. "What's for breakfast?"

"Walking. We're getting back to Pyresteady now. You can eat there."

"Eeeww, walking. I'd rather have bacon.." She sauntered over to prod Crunch with a hoof. "Arise Mister Crunch, gloomy Lumi says we gota walk." He arose. It was like a pink boulder suddenly sprouting hooves. She waved at him as well, then caught sight of the upside-down PipBuck on her leg, looking like she'd just noticed it was there. She peered into it thoughtfully for a moment before stating "Do we really gota go now? It's only... L zero Nine o'clock... wait."

"Yes, we do." I simply snapped back and stepped out into the sand. We walked back up the steep dune we'd come down, found the sign that had led us (me) astray, along with the remains of our kills from the night before. From there Abattoir spun in circles a few times, covering one eye, before pointing straight ahead.

"That way!"

"... Are you sure?"

"Yup!"

"We're going to Pyresteady, you remember that right? That's what's in that direction?"

"Yup! Promise!" She beamed and fell in at my side, just a hair within hoof reach. I allowed it, for as long as she didn't start singing, and we started to walk.

For as long as she didn't start singing turned out to be five minutes, give or take. She knowingly ducked away from my outstretched hoof, and started the song she'd been singing the day before. Hearing it from the beginning now, it seemed to be about, well, the whole world, and how much she just loved it.

"I love the mountains, I love the clear blue skies" She began, rocking her head side to side to the upbeat tune in her head. "I love big bridges, I love when great whites fly" I tilted my head back and looked up at the sky. I couldn't imagine where or when she'd been able to catch a glimpse of the sky while it was clear or blue. I'd also never heard of a Great White, was that a bird? Maybe she meant the clouds. They looked more like off-grey than white to me. I decided to stop wasting my brainpower on it. "I love the whole world, and all its sights and sounds, boom-de-yada, boom-de-yada, boom-de-yada, boom-de-yada~" She punctuated the 'boom's by bouncing off her hooves four times.

I tuned her out for the rest of the song, I didn't need to know anymore of the ridiculous and probably made up stuff she loved. Fortunately for my ears and sanity, her directions had proven accurate, and the shifting sands underhoof soon gave way to more hard packed dirt. We crossed a set of train tracks running alongside a well traveled road that ran north to south, marking the halfway point in our journey. It was the road to and from Little Cliffside, and far enough away from Pyresteady that I figured it wasn't under constant threat. Just mostly constant. Soon the flame spewing raider den was looming in front of us and I couldn't usher my two companions in fast enough.

We made our way down the main street, and I instantly felt something was wrong. At first I was seeing the usual routine of ponies spotting us and quickly averting their eyes, but this time more than a few did a double take. And soon there were hushed mutterings and chuckles that just made me all kinds of anxious. It didn't take long to figure out the neon yellowgreen mare that was cheerily waving at the passersby was the source of their amusement. I tried not to think about it and hurry the rest of the way to the main building. Abattoir overtook me when she caught sight of it though, and galloped ahead to push the swinging doors in with her head. I caught them with my magic and held them open, sighing and entering the bar behind her.

"Hiiii Bitter~!" She'd crossed the floor incredibly fast and was already at the bar, leaning over it and grinning at the frankly terrified looking barmare. She spotted us coming up behind Abattoir and sucked in her breath.

"O-oh, you're back. And you brought... her with you. Fantastic." She reached out and pushed the enthusiastic mare back with a hoof on her forehead "Hello Abbey, it's... nice to see you again, please don't lean so close to the bottles." She managed to get her back on all four hooves. It had never occurred to me before, but Abattoir must have lived in this town a while. Of course she would have acquaintances among them. Maybe she'd find one of them to annoy when it was time for us to leave. I cleared my throat and jerked my head towards the little speakerbox on the bar. Bitter Drink looked startled for a moment then nodded, pushing back a lock of her mane that had come loose in her struggle to stop Abattoir from climbing over the bar, or whatever she was doing.

"Oh, of course, the job. I guess you got it done then, since you're back, and she's... back with you." She pushed the button on the side of the box and this time decided whispering was unnecessary. "Uh, Mister Joe, the sp... uh, the two ponies you sent out for the Bloodshot job are back." The reply from the other end was almost immediate.

"Are they? Well, don't keep them waiting, just send 'em up-"

"Uhm, sir, they brought... Abbey back with them." This time the answer didn't come quite as fast.

"Is that so? I'll just be a minute, give 'em a drink on the house while they wait." She looked up at us with nervous eyes.

"Mister Joe will be ready for you momentarily. In the meantime, can I getcha anything to drink?" She tried to smile again, but her lips quivered far too much at the corners. Well, I was out, but I turned to look up at Crunch. He returned my gaze with a raise eyebrow and lifted his hooves to mime a gesture of prying something off the top of something else... Oh.

"I'm fine. Sparkle Cola for him." The mare ducked her head under the bar. I heard an odd sucking sound then a louder mechanical whirring. It came and went just as quickly, then there was a thump and it cut off. She reappeared and hovered the bottle onto the countertop, I could see ice crystals clinging to its surface. Oh, well, at least one mystery had been solved today. Good job, gang. The mare tilted her head to scoop up a bottle opener, but when she looked back Crunch already had the bottle between his hooves, and used his teeth to pry the cap off, spitting it onto the bar.

"What about meeee?" I turned my head to the left. Oh right, Abattoir was still there. The barmare chewed anxiously on her lower lip.

"Uh, Mister Joe's offer was only for these two, I'm afraid." Her forehead suddenly furrowed "And even so, you still have an unsettled debt to pay, as I recall." Abattoir looked suddenly abashed, but shook her head.

"I'm still gona, I swear, but... but!" She gestured with her hooves at Crunch, who was sipping the ice cold beverage. "...Free drink!" Was what she finally came up with. Instead she got Bitter Drink, scowling and shaking her head. She groaned and let her head fall to the bar, languishing there for a moment before looking sidelong at me.

"Heeeey Lumi, wana buy-"

"Absolutely not."

"Shoot." She huffed and went back to being facedown and drinkless. Thankfully the box buzzed softly just then, I don't know how much more I could have taken.

"Alright Miss Bitter, send them up, all of them."

***

Bazooka Joe was sitting at his desk when we entered this time. He was looking at one of those boxy terminal things that I'd encountered a few times out in the wasteland. They almost always needed passwords, and the rare one that didn't had just proven to be so many useless letters on a screen, some dead pony's diary.

"Sorry about the wait, something just came up." His office looked... very clean? Was it dirty before? I couldn't remember. Something about the shelves seemed different. I don't know if I even noticed the shelves before. Some of them held, amazingly, a few intact books. In between them were various knickknacks. And explosive devices from complex to simple, and all presumably live. "So, how'd it go?"

"They're dead." My bluntness seemed to surprise him, but he nodded.

"Well done. I already have some of my representatives out at the site evaluating your work." He what? Was somepony following us on the job? That could be very bad news. He must have anticipated my reaction because he quickly explained. "I trusted you to get the job done, they left just this morning. They have confirmed the deaths though, so you'll still be getting paid in full. I just had a few questions for you." His eyes flicked subtly to my left. I think I knew exactly what kind of questions he had.

"As long as it doesn't take too long."

"Oh, I don't think it will. I jump straight to the point. I can't help but notice that one of the former BloodShots is sitting in this office." I turned to look at Abattoir, sitting in the chair next to me and humming something. My horn lit up and I kept my gaze on her.

"Of course. There was just a little bit of a distraction before, I'll kill her now." Now that there were no countertops and ovens and piles of knives for her to-What was that bastard laughing at? Joe's laughter rattled through the respirator on his muzzle, and he was shaking his head.

"No, no, that's not necessary. She's clearly cut all ties with the BloodShots and returned to being an unaffiliated raider." His breathing returned to normal as the fit of vile laugher left him. "I'm just curious how she avoided getting caught up in the wholesale slaughter that befell the rest of her comrades."

I dispelled my magic and sat glaring at him. I so very much did not want to answer that question, and he knew it.

"No clue either? Maybe I could ask somepony else." He turned to my right and looked into Crunch's eyes, getting a stone faced stare. "How about it Crunch, and ideas?" I felt my jaw clenching tightly. He swung his head to my left again. "Abbey?" Was all he had to say.

"We played tag! I was trying to prepare supper, but she really wanted to play. She's reeeeally good at it, but you know I'm the best." She beamed as she recounted her twisted vision of the events. "Then we had a little slumber party and she asked me to go on a walk with her." She suddenly sprang to her back hooves on top of the chair, tipping it back onto its back legs and balancing there. "Then, the scorpions showed up and we played with them a little bit, then we found a cave and Lumi gave me a present!" She shifted her weight to lower the chair back onto all fours, tipping herself forward and catching herself on his desk with one foreleg, the other extended out to him to show of the PipBuck. "And then we came here and Bitter wouldn't give me a free drink b'cause she's a slag." She dropped back into the chair and sucked in a few mouthfuls of air.

There was so very much wrong with that story, I didn't even know where to start. Joe just nodded at her coolly.

"Thank you dear. I'm sure you've already become great friends, but she's not a full citizen yet, and you know the rules." We were not-I'm not a wha-what rules?

"Ooooh, c'moooon JoeJoe. She's gona be, ain't she?"

"That's her decision. And I need to talk to her about it now, so why don't you head back downstairs?"

"But..." She started, but his hoof fell down to the matching box jutting out of his desk.
"Miss Bitter, I'm sending Abbey back down, be sure and give her that free drink this time." He released the button and nudged a switch, cutting off the terrified sounding response from the other end. Abattoir lit up and leapt out of her chair, barreling into the door and leaving it hanging open as she galloped down the halls. I reached out with my magic and pulled it shut again.

"Precious little scamp, isn't she?" He chuckled at me.

"I'm not her friend." That was the first thing I needed to get out of the way, I decided. He nodded his head sagely.

"I know. But everypony is a friend to that one. It'd take monumental effort to change that, I think." I remembered the way she'd danced on top of the scorpion. I was inclined to agree.

"Just saying. What rule?" That was next on my list.

"The rule that only full, contracted Pyresteady citizens can form a gang and bolster its ranks. No matter how much either of you want it, you're not allowed to employ her."

I could have kissed him.

Okay, I couldn't have, physically, but I thought I could-No, not even mentally could I actually do that. Okay, I could have thanked him very deeply, and actually meant it. I didn't, though. Instead I just let the relief wash through me. She wasn't allowed to come with us! I had to stop myself before I actually became giddy. And I still had a question or two of my own.

"I don't plan on becoming a citizen. Or being here very much longer." I waved my hoof at the window that looked out on what I saw was the Raider side of town. "But about her. When we came back, the ponies on the street, they were..." Acting strange would be an understatement.

"They seemed amused that she was with you." He had raised himself out of his chair. I nodded. "Well, most all of them will have heard the stories, and figured you had a whole heap of troubles comin' in your future." He turned to face the window I'd gestured out. "Basically, the common belief around town is that she's cursed."

Well, that was interesting news. But I could easily see that idea catching fire amongst the raiders with more superstitious tribal backgrounds.

"I guess that's the easiest way to explain it, being a full grown mare cursed with the mind of a five year old." He looked back at me strangely from the window.

"What? Oh, no, that's just her being herself. No, I mean the way misfortune seems to befall those around her. You didn't experience any tragic stroke of ill luck while travelling with her yet?" His eyes peered into my lenses, urging me to think. The most obvious answer was the scorpions, and I was ready to say so in the blink of an eye. But I held back. Sure, I was more than ready to blame the incident on her, but because her ever yapping mouth had distracted me from following the right signs, not because some ludicrous curse had willed it to happen. Still though…

Bazooka Joe narrowed his eyes slightly and continued.

"I'm not a superstitious stallion either. I don't quake at the thought of curses, hexes, ghosts, goblins, or ghoulish figures. But I do believe what I have on paper." He gestured a filing cabinet off to the side of his desk. "The last dozen gangs I rotated Abattoir into all suffered some kind of trouble. Either a little accident, as small as things constantly falling off shelves, up to the time she helped the Sand Snakes capture a supply caravan full of pristine new guns, only to have every single one end up misfiring the first time anypony loaded them." He had made a circuit around the whole office and now settled back into his chair, letting out a groan and a dry chuckle. "And of course, the worst tragedy yet to befall the latest gang to take her in, the BloodShots. Maybe you heard about it. A mare with a bloody great sword showed up out of nowhere and cut 'em all to ribbons."

I changed my mind, this curse nonsense was definitely a crock. I was here because I walked here, and I killed those ponies because it would net me a great deal of caps. And I was ready to collect those caps and get out of this stuffy office. I slid out of my chair.

"I get it. I don't care anymore. I want my caps." He looked like he might subject me to another hour of ultimately pointless banter, but finally pulled out a drawer, scooping up a satchel and hefting it front and center onto his desk.

"Very well. One thousand caps for a job well done." Crunch stood up as I untied the cord around the top of the sack, pulling it open and peering in. It was full of bottlecaps of course. I nodded and pulled the cord tight again, tying it and heaving the whole thing into Crunch's waiting saddlebags.

"But." I stopped rearranging the satchel to the bottom of Crunch's saddlebags and looked into those eyes steely blue eyes. They were hungry, intelligent eyes, I had never fully taken them in before until I saw them looking at me in that strange way. "Before you trot off into the sands again, I'd like to offer to triple that amount, if you're still available come nightfall. There's a big job going down, one that was all set to be carried out by a certain lieutenant of mine. Unfortunately somepony threw him into a table, and he's still recovering."

I turned my lenses up to Crunch. We hadn't really stayed here too long yet, and only had these few caps to show for it. He matched my gaze and I could see him thinking the same thing. But in the end he shrugged his shoulders, leaving the decision up to me. I sighed, and turned to face the armored stallion waiting so patiently.

"So, what's it going to be?"








Footnote: Level Up, now? I only killed, like, three scorpions...

New(old) Perk: RADical Regeneration: There must be something in the water, or maybe in you, but you regenerate much more health when consuming irradiated water.
Companion Perk: Cursed: Whenever Abattoir is in your party, you might be plagued by a sudden case of 'bad luck'. You do believe in curses, don't you?
Skill Note: Melee 50



(Still goin' strong. Thanks again to Kkat for starting it all, and to the Wasted Days sim mods for letting me use their nice comfy Little Cliffside setting)