• 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 3: No good deed goes unpunished

Fallout Equestria: Ashes

Relyet

Chapter 3: No good deed goes unpunished

In other words, you shouldn't look a gift horse in the mouth


I took the job, of course. I should have answered after we made it to the door though, because as soon as I accepted, Bazooka Joe launched into a detailed explanation of the plan he must have thought I wanted. I'll show mercy on you, and summarize. A few weeks past, an Enclave scouting team had been sighted, tracked, and brought down by some particularly enterprising raiders. The pair was turned over to the slaving half of the town, and the armor sent to some ponies Joe referred to as his 'tech boys'. One of the suits was apparently still functioning, or turned on or whatever the suits were supposed to be, and his boys had found out it could send a distress beacon. So the plan was to bring the suit out to some remote spot in the hills, set off the beacon, and when more Enclave showed up, ambush them as well. It sounded like a stupid plan to me. According to him the worst case scenario was if they only sent another scout party to check it out, and the best case was if they flew in something called a 'Vertibuck' and dropped off a whole squad. Somehow that seemed a little backwards to me.

My head was beginning to ache when we finally left the main building. We had the rest of the day to prepare for the job, and Joe had encouraged me to spend it getting to know some ponies around town. He clearly wasn't as smart as he looked. Instead, I got to know where they sold things. Pyresteady had a bustling inner economy, by which I mean some ponies lived inside buildings full of crap, and would give you that crap for caps. Crunch had ammo and guns to sell, (He must have gone back to pick them up while I was out). Unless the job called for it, neither of us bothered with the things, and our collected knowledge of them left much to be desired. So we usually dumped every bloody one we could recover on the counter and took what we could get. For once, we'd found a shopkeeper didn't look repulsed to receive a pile of guns covered in pony remains. That was nice.

The other shops I could see seemed to be selling things I wasn't buying, like barding, foods and drugs. After getting our caps I figured we were done shopping and was all set to go find a rock to hide under until night time. Making my way down the street I noticed a shop I hadn't looked in, and hadn't even realized was a shop until I saw somepony exit with a baseball bat in his mouth. Looking again at the building I realized it didn't have a name, just a large painted image that bended in too well with the graffiti. It depicted an axe with its handle lodged in a pony's skull.

How could I resist?


Pushing the door open on the strange axe-skull shop, I was greeted by shelves and barrels and bins full of every conceivable item you could imagine one pony swinging at another. From simple farming tools with sharpened edges, up to those curious giant metallic sledgehammers I saw occasionally in the hooves of Rangers, I was in a haven of close quarters death dealing. As amazing as it was, the display of weaponry was the second thing I noticed. The first thing I noticed was the massive bipedal creature behind the counter, hunched over something. A creature with great curved horns, large powerful arms that ended in thick four fingered hands, and two stubby legs that ended in thick cloven hooves.

A minotaur was seated across the room from me.

Well, this could be interesting.

He looked up from his work at the sound of the door closing behind me. His gaze lingered on me, suspicious, but only for a second.

"Welcome." He grunted in the most unwelcoming way. "Let me know if you can't find something." With that he turned his head back down, and I heard a rhythmic squeaking sound start up and saw sparks start to jump up into the air in front of him. Coming closer I saw he was seated on a strange pedaled device, pumping it with his legs, causing a large stone wheel to turn, which he was pressing the blade of a small shovel to. I watched for a moment, quite impressed actually, before he stopped pedaling and looked at me again. "Help you with somethin'?"

My horn lit up and I eased the sword off my back, hovering it over the countertop.

"I'd like this sharpened. And polished."

He reached out, taking the handle in one of his hands and liberating it from my magical grip. He held it easily with one arm, carefully examining the blade. The blade itself was a dark sooty grey color that could be mistaken for black. I usually tended to take great care of the weapon, but those twice damned scorpions had done a bit of damage with their carapaces.
"This is... a good weapon. And in such fine condition. Don't know how it got to be this curious color though."

He turned the blade over in his hands, checking out the other side, but I could see him glancing at me out of the corners of his eye. I'm sure he'd been expecting much worse with his usual bloodthirsty clients, who seemed to have as much respect for maintaining their weapons as I did for music. I turned my head, looking back through the store, checking to make sure there weren't any other shoppers, lurking behind the shelves. Satisfied that we were alone, I raised my head and once again spoke old words, in an old tongue.

"A warrior's soul is reflected upon her weapon. Maintain the soul, maintain the weapon, and the two will be in harmony."

He stared at me. The only sounds were the muffled street noise leaking in from the outside. He was silent so long I started to think I had made a mistake. Then he looked away from me and answered back.

"And is your soul as black as your blade, little pony warrior?" He chuckled, and started to pump his legs again, bringing the wheel up to speed and starting to hone the edge of my sword.

The minotaur language was an interesting one. It consisted mostly of various goat-like bleats, grunts, and snorts. No doubt anypony walking in on our discussion would be very confused at the sounds being exchanged.

"You are a long way from the minotaur homelands." I watched him hone the edge of my favorite killing tool with great care.

"Caledonia grows restless. I decided long ago the nomadic life on the open plains of my ancestors was not for me." He laughed again, a ponderous, throaty laugh. "And what about you, little warrior pony? Are you far from your homeland too?"

"Yes." I replied simply. He might have been expecting more, but I wasn't prepared to give more than I already was. Crunch and I had walked Caledonia for some time as well. It was a big, dry region to the south of the Equestrian Wasteland, a tourism spot before the war, or something like that. It was also home to the minotaur, and the New Caledonian Alliance, who I vaguely recall didn't care for each other. Whatever.

"Well, hopefully you will see it again someday." A smile touched his muzzle. I thought it not very likely, but I didn't voice those concerns. He raised the blade off the wheel again, turning it this way and that before speaking to me in Equestrian again. "You mind if I hold onto this a little longer? A weapon like this deserves special care. I promise, when you get it back it'll be as good as the day it was forged."

My immediate reaction was to refuse and for added emphasis rip the sword from his hands with my magic and threaten him colorfully and at great length. I suppressed that urge quickly, thinking about it slowly. This wasn't a silly pony asking to 'borrow' my only real possession, this was a creature with great respect for weaponry offering to do me a favor. I nodded my head.

"Of course. I guess we'll find something else to do, we've still got... some hours, or so, before nighttime." Time, for me, was usually a guessing game.

We stepped back out onto the much louder street full of shopping raiders, and I shut my eyes behind my lenses. I didn't actually know what else we could do. I wasn't in a hurry to socialize with anypony in town, I couldn't think of anything else to buy, I-

I opened my eyes again and looked into a pair of deep purple eyes. Cursing unintelligibly, I back trotted into Crunch and brought the rest of Abattoir into focus.

"You should watch where you're goin', Lumi." She tittered.

"I wasn't going anywhere." I stepped around her and started to walk down the street. I didn't know which way I was going, but it was away from her, and that made it the right way. She was immediately following at my heels.

"Well, where ya goin' now?"

"Nowhere."

"Sure looks like you're goin' somewhere." She had a smile on her face when I whipped around to glare at her.

"What do you want?" Maybe just asking directly would save me some headache.

"Did you two ever get to eat breakfast?" She asked cheerfully.

"Yes." I replied immediately. She was obviously here to invite us to dine with her, and I was having none of that.

"Oh good, then you can join me for lunch now!" She grinned and clapped her forehooves together. I kept walking down the street. Of course, it had been hours since our early morning return to Pyresteady, it must have slipped into midday while I wasn't looking. It didn't matter, I was NOT going to have lunch with her, nor any other kind of meal, I was going to find an empty building to barricade myself behind until the sun went down.

Abattoir had other thoughts, I found out, as she took my tail into her mouth again before I could break into a gallop. Emergency scorpion fleeing was one thing, but this was unforgivable! With a strange clickity clicking sound in my ears, I started to turn my head to say just that when she started to walk backwards, pulling me with her no matter how I dug my booted hooves into the road. Damnable earth ponies and their damnable muscles.

"How dare you!" My horn lit up and I groped for the handle of. My sword! The shop with the skull and axe was still well within my sights, but it was shrinking every second. I started looking in the immediate area for something to stab or bludgeon her with instead, when Crunch, sweet merciful Crunch, finally stepped forward and placed a massive hoof on her shoulder. She looked up at him and released my tail, and I quickly put more distance between myself and her. Crunch came to stand beside me.

"Took you long enough." I rasped at him, keeping my gaze on Abattoir. "Now, before she gets any other ideas, stuff her into a mailbox and let's find someplace to-what are you-augh!" Again, teeth. On the scruff of my neck this time, lifting me off my hooves and depositing me across Crunch's back. He smirked at me and then trotted back to Abattoir, who was fighting hysterics.

"What in Equestria do you think you're doing?" I hissed from his back, bobbing with the motion of his shoulders as he toted me down the street, following the lead of the ever cheerful mare. How, I lamented, had it come to this? I was being betrayed. She had bought Crunch off when my back was turned, and now he was carrying me towards certain doom.

***

I may have overreacted. A little. After being unable to gather my hooves under me and climb off with Crunch still moving, I was forced to slump across his back and let rational thought back into my brain. I had calmed enough by the time the large two story building that was our destination loomed in front of us, bearing a sign with a name and a stylized image of a charred pony head skewered on a stick. Thinking clearly now, I kicked myself for forgetting. Occasionally, Crunch got hungry. He must have decided we were, in fact, going to have lunch with Abattoir, no matter how much the thought made my skin crawl.
At least he was gracious enough to let me down before we walked in. Abattoir led the way in with a bellow.

"Ma! Pa! I brought friends for lunch!" She called out. Two unicorns, a mare and a stallion, looked up. He was behind a counter, she was out in the main room standing over a table of annoyed looking raiders. That caught me by surprise. I had figured Abattoir had come here from someplace else to make a nuisance of herself, never had it occurred to me she'd been born here. I continued to think that over while Ma approached and led us through the room to an available table.

"Nice to finally meetcha, sugah, we've heard sooo much about you." Ma gushed in a way that made me cringe. I wondered just how twisted a tale she'd made of our very brief time together in the wasteland.

"Whatever you heard, good chance most of it isn't true." I slid into one of the chairs around the table. Abattoir took one to my right, Crunch just sat on his haunches, still well over the top of table.

"Oh, I'm sure, hun." She chuckled, her horn glowing as she levitated a large, yellowed paper into the center of the table. "So, what'll y’all have?"
I turned my head away from the menu. "Nothing. I'm not hungry. Big breakfast."

"Rat kebobs!"

"And you, big fella'?"

I tried closing my eyes again and ignoring my surroundings. I heard the clopping of Crunch's hoof on the table. The mare seemed to get his order on the third clop, and scurried off. For a few moments I just listened to the ponies around making small talk. It was almost tolerable.

"So, whatcha gona name your gang?"

It couldn't last.

"I'm not. I told you, I'm not staying here." I opened my eyes again and looked at Abattoir. I could have kept them closed and just turned my head towards her and it would have the same impact, but I didn't want her sneaking in close on me again.

"Aaaaww, how come? It's nice here!"

"No."

"Buuuuuut-"

"No. Shut up."

I turned my head, hopefully signaling the end of the discussion. I could see Ma at another table, and Pa had disappeared. I watched the unicorn mare scrawling orders onto a pad of paper, something in the very back of my mind was still bugging me about Abattoirs parents. Behind me, Abattoir seemed to be trying to impress on Crunch how wonderful a place Pyresteady was.

Finally, Pa appeared at our table bearing a tray in his magic. He levitated two sticks down before Abattoir, chunks of cooked meat and some other things I assumed were vegetables arranged in a row. Then he lowered a large bowl of bubbling brown... stuff in front of Crunch. I stared at it.

"What is that? It looks like a bowl of... Brown!" Pa just laughed at that.

"Radroach chili, one of our specialties. Care for a bowl yourself? Ah, careful there fella', that's hot-" Crunch had the bowl clamped between both hooves. I wanted to look away, but I just couldn't, as he raised the whole thing to his muzzle and tipped. In a matter of moments, the bowl was empty and he was licking brown from his lips and Abattoir was clapping her hooves together. He placed the bowl back onto Pa's tray, and gave the table a thump with his hoof. Pa looked stunned, and when the second thump came he jumped.

"U-uhn, I'm sorry, that was amazing, big guy. Another?" He smiled pleasantly. To my horror, Crunch nodded. I slid out of my chair, I could not watch this. Leaving the two of them at the table, I trotted up to the empty countertop and took one of the stools there. After a moment I saw Pa come through a swinging door with another tray and bowl of that disgusting stuff, and after another moment Ma was sliding up behind the counter and smirking at me.

"Sooo, a slumber party?"

"I was passed out. I'd just lost a bit of blood." I groaned. "I wouldn't believe anything she told you. You must know by now your daughter isn't entirely there, right?"

She gave me an odd smile, one of her eyebrows raised. That feeling in the back of my head again. Before she could answer though, I heard a yell from across the room.

"Oi, top shelf, ten o'clock!" Ma whipped her head around in a flurry, her horn glowing. I followed it, a bottle of sparkle cola surrounded in her yellow magical glow. She raised it up to one of the shelves behind the counter, where it had presumably just fallen from, nudging it as far back as she could.

Then she turned back to smile at me, like what had just happened wasn't completely out of the ordinary. But it had snapped the final piece into place in my head.

"...You're not really Abattoir's parents." It was half a question, half a statement. They were both unicorns, she was a dirt pony, it made no sense.

The sudden silence was deafening. That also made no sense. I looked over my shoulder, blank faces looking up from all the tables (except the one Crunch and Abattoir occupied. He was muzzle deep in another bowl, and she was watching him with glee). Then there was laughter, chuckles, ponies shaking their heads and going back to their meals.

"No hon, we ain't. She just calls us that 'cause it's the name on the front of the building." She was smirking too, but there was some softness behind it. It did little to suppress my sudden urge to burn this entire building down, stupid sign and all. Ma- Or whatever her name really was, nodded to the stallion who was heading for Crunch's table with yet another bowl. "We ain't even really together, the only thing that little bastard ever put in me was a bullet!" He favored her with a playful smirk.

Well, so much for that plan. They probably couldn't dissuade her any more than I could. I sighed and brought my head down on the countertop.

"Well you've still got to know a lot more about her, how can I make her leave me alone?"

"Scarier ponies than you have tried, trust me. You get used to it, she's actually pretty sweet."

"You've been very helpful." I grumbled. She chuckled and stepped closer.

"Well, I guess there is one thing you could do, if you haven't already tried." She whispered conspiratorially. My ears perked up and I leaned closer as well.

"Yeah?"

"Fake your death?"

So very helpful.

***

"Six bowls."

We were walking the streets of Pyresteady again. They were much less crowded.

"I can't believe you ate six bowls of that... stuff!"

The sun was sinking behind the clouds, and I guessed most of the raiders had raiding to do. We had our own appointment, but first I needed to return to the shop with the axe and skull.

"Don't listen to her, Mister Crunch, that was awesome!"

I would have to shoo her off soon before we made it to the gate. For now I just stared ahead at the door set under the painted sign. Pushing inside, the minotaur from before was still seated behind the counter, a small metal gizmo in his hands.
"Ah, welcome back, little pony warrior. I have been waiting for you." He stood and started to turn towards the shelves behind him, when Abattoir caught up and burst into the shop.

"Hiiiiiiya, Crush!" She waved her hoof in the air, as if trying to get the attention of a pony miles in the distance, rather than across the floor from her. A smile crossed the minotaur's broad muzzle.

"Ah, and she brings a friend too. I have not seen you in some time, Abbey." He bleated a quick greeting before continuing to turn, scooping a bundle wrapped in cloth off the shelf. Abattoir budged in close at my side to watch as he laid the cloth on the counter and pulled back the folds. My sword sat in the center. I could practically taste the sharpness, and the whole surface shone like polished obsidian, even in the dim lights of the shop. True to his words, it looked brand new.

"That's... amazing." I was speechless as I gripped the sword with my magic and brought it up to get a closer look. "It's perfect. How much do I owe you?" I wasn't even sure I'd have enough caps to pay for such a fantastic job.

"My usual sharpening fee of 25 caps should cover it." He said casually, showing a proud grin. I would not hear of it, and insisted on paying more, this was most definitely worth it.


In the end, I still say I underpaid, but Crunch and the minotaur (Who's name turned out to be Crushing Blow, Abattoir explained) kept me from giving him the rest of our thousand caps from the BloodShot job. The first thing I did after leaving the shop was brandish my new, wickedly sharp blade at Abattoir and promise to skin her alive and turn her inside out if she ever dragged me somewhere like that again.

Now we were making our way towards the main street, so we could meet up at the front gate with whoever was going to be coming with us. The swordpoint hadn't chased Abattoir off, so it was time to put my hoof down.

"Abattoir, you can't come with us, we've got a job to do." I stated firmly, stopping in the middle of the street.

"Whaaaat, says who?" I had a feeling she knew damn well who.

"Bazooka Joe."

"JoeJoe is a cheesehead." I summoned up the mental image of Bazooka Joe and his broad orange wedge of a mane. There was no real answer to that.

"He's also the one in charge, take it up with him. We've got to go."

Finally, mercifully, she seemed to understand and huffed, turning to walk off with a "Fiiiine, but you'll wish I was there!" We continued on to the gate.


The sun had fully vanished behind the cloud cover when we trotted up to the motley bunch waiting at the main gate. There were seven of them, four in heavy armor made of metal plates and various heavy weapons on their battle saddles. The other two were wearing what looked like the remains of lab coats patched with leather, and were standing near a cart bearing a pony in a fully enclosed suit of black armor. Oh, wait. Okay, there were six of them and an empty suit of Enclave armor. It's been a long day, okay?

Then Bazooka Joe trotted up and made it seven again. He was in his own piecemeal powered armor, with the addition of a very large rectangular object mounted on his right side. And was giving me a strange glare.

"D'you know you're lit up like a lightbulb? I could seeya halfway down the street."

"What are you doing here?" I asked moments before Crunch dropped a heavy sheet of cloth over me. Sighing, I used my magic to adjust the cloak so I could see out of it, making sure it draped over my tail and blanketed my mane well enough.

"D'you need some RadAway? I don't want those Enclave buzzards spottin' you from a mile up and flyin' off." I had forgotten how annoying this part always was. Despite myself I was silently thankful Abattoir seemed completely oblivious to it.

"I'm fine. They won't, I know how to handle myself. You didn't answer my question."

He just smirked and turned to the assembled rabble, barking at them to pack it up and start walking. I followed him out the gate after them. I thought maybe he was just going to ignore me, when he suddenly growled sidelong at me in minotaur.

"A king who cannot fight is no king." I was lucky there was no way for my surprise to show on my face. After a moment he smirked at me "It's an old Minotaur saying."

Quickly feigning ignorance, I nodded. "What does it mean?" And continued to play along when he told me, even giving a dry chuckle. "So, you're a king now?"

***

And so we walked, out into the desert hills. Joe had taken the lead after our short conversation and was keeping a good pace. I didn't talk with any of the other raiders, and they returned the favor. After what felt like an hour, a halt was called. Ahead of us and spreading out to either side, the sandy ground became overtaken with large mushroom shaped rocks of increasing sizes, looking like some kind of alien forest. From here we would be splitting up. Two of the armored ponies were went to skirt around the rocks to the right and take up positions. One more was sent in with the labcoat ponies and the suit, to help them incase whatever Enclave showed up managed to reach them. The final raider and Bazooka Joe departed to the left, with Crunch and myself left to take up our hiding places here.

Making sure my cloak was secure, I trotted a short ways into the rock forest and found a suitable towering rock to nestle behind, and waited. With no way to track the passage of time, I couldn't tell you how many hours we sat behind that rock, but it had to be at least one. And it was the most peaceful one-or-possibly-more hours I'd had in the past two days. Which was nice, considering what was to come next. Crunch and I had some things to discuss.


He nudged my shoulder and I brought myself back to attention. There was a sound just on the edge of hearing, but it was growing rapidly. It soon became a distinct, grating hum, like the humming of a row of florescent lights, but with much more power behind it. A black shape was descending from the grey-black nighttime sky, just outside of the rock forest. A large, oblong shape, rounded and broad in the front and tapered towards the back into a wedge. Two wings jutted out from its sides, angled upwards, with twin propellers that were starting to kick up sand. The vehicle descended gracefully, settling down on its wheels. The propellers started to slow, the humming sound losing power and pitch, and a large section of the back started to shift and whirr, lowering itself to the ground to form a ramp. Dark figures trotted down it, their hooves clanging loudly on the ramp. They were talking, but there was still too much noise from the Vertibuck powering down to make anything out. Six of them appeared in total, five of them lifting into the air on wings I could barely see, each flying out into the rocky maze behind me. The fifth stayed behind on the ramp to watch them, then stamped back up inside.

Well, looks like it was time to get to work. I stood up, shaking my legs out slightly before crouching low and starting to slink towards the ramp. Light spilled out of it, along with a conversation I was able to catch part of when I took the first step into the sloped entrance.

"-know what she'd be doing out in a place like this. This is way out of her scouting assignment."

"Me either, but we can't ignore a distress beacon. Just keep your EFS up and find her, I don't want to spend any more time down here than I have to."

"Yes ma'am!"

One of the voices was coming through a speaker set in a very complicated looking control panel. The other was the pegasus mare standing in front of it with her back to me. Right then, this would be easy. Remember, subdue the pilot. The point of this job was captives. I could handle that. I'd left my sword with Crunch just in case. Now I just had to tackle her, get her down and unable to fly this thing away. I was right behind her, within pouncing distance, I was ready to take her down.

The tall metal cabinet beside her rattled. She turned her head from whatever she'd been controlling with the control panel to look at it, then continued turning when she saw my gleaming green lenses from the corner of her eye.

"What the fuck!?" She shouted, whirling to face me fully, leveling a little silver boxy object at me with her mouth. I flung the heavy cloak from my back and into her face, diving to the side as a red bolt of energy blindly struck the vertibuck's floor. She fired three times before stopping to focus on untangling herself, giving me plenty of time. She tossed off the cloak and got a facefull of my back hooves. Now, I'm no earth pony, and my bucks were nothing to write home about, but I could still throw my weight around. She dropped the laser pistol and tumbled backwards, into the pesky cabinet that had caused all the trouble. I crouched, ready to leap onto her and grapple her down. She stood up, blood just starting to drizzle from her snout. Then the cabinet came down on top of her.

I stayed crouched for a moment, looking at the toppled bit of storage. When Crunch ambled up the ramp to join me, I finally relaxed and looked at him

"That was easy." I gave the cabinet a kick, and it shook, a muffled voice calling out.

"Ooouhg... Uh, hello? I think I'm stuck, could... could you give me a hoof?"

That wasn't the voice of the mare who'd shouted before, and it sounded more like it was coming from inside the cabinet than under it. I looked to Crunch. He shrugged. I shrugged back and my horn lit up. With a bit of effort, I managed to tip the large metal rectangle upright. The pilot was out cold on the floor. I reached out and tried the handle with my magic. The cabinet door creaked open and another pegasus tumbled out onto the floor in a groaning heap. She was wearing the same dark tan colored uniform the other one was, but hers looked more simple, and she looked much younger to boot. With a flap of her wings she managed to rise to her hooves, panting.

"Thank you..." She caught her breath for a moment more, just staring back at me, before yelping in surprise and whipping her head down, snatching a silver cylinder from a pocket in her uniform. She clenched her teeth and one end of it extended with a snap. "Wh'rsh my sh'shtur!"

I just stared. Despite the angry look in her eyes and the weapon held in her teeth, she looked entirely unthreatening somehow.

"What?" She adjusted her hold on the weapon and mumbled more clearly.

"My sister! W-where is she!"

More staring. I looked at Crunch, maybe he'd know what to make of this. He just raised an eyebrow at me. I looked back at the mare and shrugged.

"No clue what you're talking about." She jabbed at me with the rod. I brought my hoof up to swat it away, and when it struck a sudden bolt of pain raced through my body, lighting up every nerve for a fraction of a second. I jumped back from her second swing, and Crunch stepped in, thrusting one of his massive hooves into her side. She cried out, making the shocky-stick thing fall from her mouth, and crumpled to the floor. Crunch placed his hoof in the middle of her back and pinned her in place while she coughed.

"Ooowwuh... P-please, don't kill me, I'm just looking for Grace!" I took a seat on my haunches and looked down at her.

"We're not going to kill you, shut up. I don't know who that is." She winced and cleared her throat wetly, blinking.

"You're... not?" I sighed and shook my head. She just lay there for a moment, her heavy breathing the only sound inside the strange flying machine.

"...What are you going to do to me?"

"Not up to us. We're just here to take out the pilot and make sure she couldn't fly anypony out." I looked down at the still unconscious form of the other mare. "Thanks for helping with that, by the way."

"It was an ac-" She started to explain, then suddenly her eyes grew wide and she looked somewhere behind me. "Look out!"

Really? She thought she could use the oldest trick in the book on me? And even if I did look, Crunch was there to keep her-

BANG

Somepony shot me from behind.

I stumbled forward and my mask hit the floor. I heard a vaguely familiar voice behind me and felt the hot barrel of a gun inches from my neck.

"Y'think you can just waltz into my town and put me out, huh?" The dirty brown earth pony hissed around the bit of his gun. "Well I got news for you, sweetheart, nopony makes a fool outa Mudslide. And unless you wana new hole to breathe through, you should tell your troglodyte to back down."

"Relax, Crunch." I saw some of the tension go out of my companions stance. Mudslide chuckled, pressing the barrel of the gun into my neck.

"Yeah, Crunch, just chill. You wouldn't want me to get nervous and pull this trigger, would ya?"
There was a burst of static from the control panel.

"Captain, was that a gunshot we just heard? There’s still no signs of Lieutenant Grace, her signal seems to be mov-"

Then we heard two explosions. Or, the same explosion from two sources. Once through the speaker box, and a split second later through the open backside of the vertibuck, distantly. Then there were more explosions and faint gunshots, like the sound of a thunderstorm building on the horizon.

"What was that?" The pegasus asked fretfully, glancing from the ramp to my temporary captor.

"Sounds like Joe and them just started. Means I got plenty of time to find a nice spot to bury you two."

There was another bang. Not from Mudslide's gun, of course, this was the bang of metal on metal. Turning my head I saw a wrench had fallen from a shelf on the opposite wall, separating itself from the other tools and clanging to the floor.

I sighed.

"Uhm, l-look out be-" The pegasus started, but Mudslide cut her off with a sudden violent scream, wrenching away from me. Jumping to my hooves, I spun and saw him clutching the side of his head. A few feet away, I saw most of his right ear on the floor, along with his gun. He spun away to face the ramp, to face Abattoir who was beaming at him with a new knife clutched between her teeth.

"I toooldya. You were totally wishing I was here just a second ago, weren't ya?" She hardly acknowledged the seething Mudslide when he galloped at her in a rage.

"Psycho bitch!" He spat, lashing out with his forehooves. She danced aside, gleefully giggling. She did the same for his next three flailing strikes, taunting.

"You're not very good at tag, y'know?" She finally seemed bored of dodging, and instead of ducking back she slipped inside of his next strike and gave him a fresh slice from her kitchen knife.

I watched her for a moment, since there didn't seem to be anypony else about to skip up the ramp and make the vertibuck even more cramped. Now that I wasn't chasing her in a rage or trying to get her to stop playing with scorpions, I could appreciate the gracefulness of her moves. She could jump and hop and bob Mudslides clumsy swipes and land on as few as two hooves and still keep herself balanced and ready to strike back. I wouldn't be saying it out loud, ever, but I had underestimated her based on our first meeting.

Our first meeting where she kicked knives at me. Right, enough of this.

"Abattoir, that's enough, move." I stepped forward, my horn alight and my sword hovering at my side. She skipped around Mudslide. He was bleeding from a dozen small cuts and breathing heavily, tilting to one side. He looked pathetic. She came to rest beside me, and I felt Crunch on the other side. I imagine we looked pretty intimidating. I hoped so, as I pointed my sword at the wounded buck.

"Go."

"Go where?" He glared at me and spat.

"Out. Out there." I pointed out into the darkened dessert. "Back to your shitty town, or wherever. Just get out of my sight. And the next time I see you, I'm going to kill you." I wasn't in particularly clever threat making mood tonight. Mudslide's eyes passed from me to the two nearly as dangerous ponies at my side, and he eventually spun around, galloped down the ramp, and disappeared into the night.

***

"I distinctly remember explaining the rules of gang member recruitment to you, Miss Luminescence." Bazooka Joe chuckled beside me.

"I told her not to follow me. You should be talking to her about this." I looked back to find her. Abattoir was chatting with the two labcoat raiders, and helping pull the cart, now freshly laden with a total of seven suits of powered armor. Beyond them, the raiders led the pegasi, stripped of their suits and chained at the neck. There were the five who had flown into the rocks, the pilot who'd come to a short time after Mudslide slunk away, and the mare that had hidden inside a cabinet. In the time between the captain awakening and Joe's raiders arriving to claim them, I had learned she was a rookie recruit of not even a week, and had stowed away on the vertibuck because the suit giving off the beacon belonged to her sister. This detail set the captain screaming at her, and had Crunch not been pinning her down I think she would have attacked the younger mare.

"She seems to think you 'needed' her to follow you, you know? Guess she was wrong, that was nice work with the vert' pilot. I expected there to be nothin' left but blood and chunks." I sensed he was only half joking. I shrugged.

"I can hold back when I want to."

"That feisty filly should be glad you were in a good mood then." The captain. When it was her turn to be wrestled into a collar, she managed to knock a tooth out of one of the raider bucks. The bruise on her cheek was really starting to swell when I looked back at her again.

"Whatever." I didn't feel like talking the rest of the way back so I let him lead the column and fell back to join Crunch, walking alongside the row of captive pegasi. The captain was staring forward into the night defiantly, the others in various stages of sulking or raging. Except the little stowaway mare, she was still sniffling. She'd started crying when it was her turn, and it looked like she hadn't stopped yet.

I could feel Crunch's eyes on me while I walked beside him. I repeated what I had told him during our 'conversation' behind the rocks.

"Tomorrow. After we get paid, we'll see." I looked up at him. He snorted and looked away.

Once we reached the great gate of Pyresteady, our group split up. Abattoir bid us 'nighty night' and continued on with the labcoat ponies and the cart towards the raider half of town. The armored raiders led the pegasi away to the right, into the slaver half of town. Joe, Crunch, and I made the rest of the trip north towards the main building. After my third single word response to his chatter, he took the hint and let me make the trip in silence. We split when we reached the second floor, Joe heading up the third story stairs, and myself making my way to the complimentary room I'd been given. I let Crunch have the bed, taking a spot on the floor, and waited for the rest of the night to pass by.



In the morning I headed straight for Bazooka Joe's office. He was on his terminal again, looking at it's screen while hunching over a plate of what must've been breakfast. Eggs, I thought, and strips of bacon. He had removed the respirator to eat, and smiled at me when we entered.

"Good mornin'. Sleep well?" I nodded.

"Fine. I'd like the payment for last night." I didn't bother slipping into one of the chairs in front of his desk, this shouldn't take long. He licked his lips and sat upright.

"Of course, of course. Eager to be on your way, I guess?" He continued to smile, and bent down to get at his desk drawers again. He drew out three bags, similar to the one we'd got yesterday, piling them up on the table. "There you go." I nodded and quickly lifted them with my magic, shoving them into Crunch's saddlebags. Crunch stared at me as I did so. I sighed.

"Thank you. We'll be leaving soon. I just have some things to take care of. Where did the pegasi end up?"

"From last night?" Joe raised an eyebrow. "The Spa. That's where the new slaves are processed, held, and trained. Looking to buy a few slaves for the trip?"

"A few." Joe nodded and waved his hoof dismissively.

"Alright, up to you. Be careful though, you could end up running into Ironclad down there, and he's... an ass. He's supposed to have an office up here, like I do, but he's usually down there with his mares." Joe's mouth twisted downward as he explained, before looking at me again. "No offence." I shook my head and he leaned back in his chair. "Well then, I guess this is farewell."

"Guess so." A turned and started towards the door.

"Remember, if you change your mind, you're always welcome to set up here, you'd really fit in well..." He continued behind me as I reached out and pulled the door open with my horn.
"As long as nopony asked too many questions about what you are."

I slammed the door shut. In a flash I leapt across the floor and came down on his desk. I nearly put my hoof in his breakfast. My sword was out, and hovering just above his neck. He continued to relax in his chair and smile at me.

"Oh, put it away. Not like I'm saying I could give them a lot of answers. You're not a mare who leaves a very easy trail to pick up."

"Stop. Talking." I inched the blade closer to his neck. He smirked.

"Or what, you'll cut my throat? I'm not some anonymous raider that can be swept under a rug and forgotten. My death would attract all sorts of that pesky attention you're so keen on avoiding." Luna damn him, he was right. I pulled my blade back a few inches. He nodded his head. "It's nothin' personal, you understand. Y'don't get to be in a position like mine if you blindly trust every mysterious hired gun that offers to work for you. That's a fast way to earn a bullet in the brain." True enough. I sighed again and backstepped off his desk and onto the floor. "I had to make sure you weren't a Reaper, or some kind of Hizai assassin." I wasn't entirely sure what either of those meant.

"I'm not." I offered. He laughed again.

"No, you're not. You're a mysterious entity. In all the places I could determine for sure you'd popped up, you never stayed for more than a week, tops. Just stroll in, find somepony that needs something violently killed, then fade into the horizon like a fog." He turned his head to look out the window. "So you're either a mare that's running from something, or chasing after something. I don't know, I figure I'll never know, satisfying my curiosity isn't worth my life. Just thought I'd extend my offer before you faded away. That's all." He kept his gaze on the divided city.

"... Yeah, well. You're a cheesehead." Ha. Showed him. I stowed my sword and left his office without another word.

***

Navigating the slaver side of the town was easier. The streets were clearer, and ponies seemed more likely to move out of your way out of some twisted politeness. Or maybe I was just a pissed off looking mare with a sword trotting down the street. I couldn't tell.

The Spa was easy to find, making up for the extra time I wasted listening to Joe. It was one of the larger buildings, very wide with a roof that tapered upwards into three points. The front entrance and walls were all entirely glass. Pushing the door in I entered a reception area with annoyingly bright white tiled floors. A bored looking mare in a red dress sat behind a circular desk, a magazine open in her hooves. There was a little bell on the counter. Gritting my teeth, I rang it and she lifted her gaze. Her eyes grew slightly but she stopped herself from gaping at least.

"Oh, shit, you scared me! Uhm, what can I do for you?"

"Some pegasi were brought in here last night. I'd like to buy them."

The receptionist mare furrowed her brow.

"How did you know about..."

"I helped. I'd like to buy them."

"Uh, you can't..." Wasn't expecting that.

"You're slavers, aren't you? You buy and sell ponies." She nodded. "I'd like. To buy. Them."

"They're new, I mean! They haven't even been processed."

"Who processes them then?" I did not have time for this.

"I'm not at liberty to-"

"Fine. Let me speak to Ironclad." She was looking more worried by the second.

"D-do you have an appointment? Mister Ironclad is a very busy stallion."

Well, fuck this. I looked around the room. It was square, with a multitude of doorways leading off to different halls in deeper parts of the building. And there, above one of them, was one sign bearing the word 'Administration'. Alright then.

"Sure do. I'll just let myself in." I turned away from the mare and headed to the doorway, stepping through and ignoring her distressed calls for me to wait.



Instead of the usual office I expected to find when dealing with 'Administration' signs, the hall led me into a large room dominated by a huge circular tub, with stairs leading up to a raised platform behind it. The tub was full of bubbling water, and mares. At least ten of them were ringed around the edge, all smiling and grinning impishly at the lone unicorn stallion. He had a dark, slate grey coat and a styled jet black mane, and he lounging backwards in the tub with both forelegs out at his sides and draped over the shoulders of a mare. Busy stallion indeed.

He raised his head when a few of the mares murmured something at him, and glared down at us.

"The fuck're you? How'd you get in here, did Cherry let you in?"

"I'd like to buy some ponies. The pegasi from last night." He detached from the far edge and swam closer to us, sneering at us with contempt.

"So talk to one a' the bitches that handles the sales, an' get the fuck outa my office!"

"They have been processed yet."

He was about to unleash another torrent of bile filled slaver speak, but then realization must have struck him and he figured out what I was saying.

"I said get-... Last night? OH! The enclave pigeons! Shit, bitch, ain't you ever heard of patience?" He snorted and laughed, and many of the mares soaking behind him tittered along with him. "You take a special likin' to one of 'em while you were beatin’ on ‘em, then? Sure, I guess I can bend the rules, if the caps are right. Which one didja want?" He grinned, levitating a squat little glass full of ice and some brown liquid.

"All of them." I hadn't specifically waited until he took a drink, or anticipated that my words would shock him so, but the spit take he made was undeniably satisfying.

"You fuckin' serious?" He choked, wiping his muzzle with a towel again. I nodded.

From behind us, another stallion came galloping into the room. He was squat and thick, but not entirely with muscle, and wore an ill fitting formal suit. And he was huffing and puffing from what had to have been only a short run.

"I came... quick as I could boss... these ponies givin' you trouble?" He tried to snarl at us menacingly, but his wheezing breath just made it impossible. Ironclad rolled his eyes, swimming back towards the other end of the tub and climbing out onto the raised platform. He started to towel himself down with his horn.

"Yeah, we're talkin' business in here, ya mook, get the fuck out." The buck looked back and forth from us to his boss, then turned around and huffed and puffed his way back down the hall. "Good help is so hard to find, y'know?" He tossed the towel aside and descended the steps, looking sideways at the tub. "Ladies, keep yourselves hot, I'll only be a moment."
I rolled my own eyes and slipped into the hallway. Ironclad joined us, a fresh glass of whatever his drink of choice was floating beside him.

"Shall we?"



He led us back into the lobby, where the receptionist and the out of shape guard were conversing, both of them stiffening visibly when Ironclad strolled by. He stopped, and told them have a team of handlers sent down to the storage room. Then we turned and took one of the other open doorways. This hall was much longer than the other one, and had more doors that led into other rooms. Most of them were closed, and disturbing noises often wafted out from them. The few open ones offered glances into small rooms with large canopied beds.

We stopped at one door that was different from the rest, metallic and white instead of the fancily carved wood of the others. Ironclad levitated out a key and unlocked it, opening the door on a set of descending metal stairs.

"I hope you know, if you're fuckin' with me on this, I'm gona make you pay for makin' me walk down here. It's so dirty, and depressin' as hell." He jokingly warned, and took the lead. We came out into a large basement that must have once been used for storage or maintenance supplies. Now it was used for the storage of ponies.

It was large, bare concrete square of a room, with piles of metal shelves pushed into one corner. The rest of the corners and walls were taken up by large cages. They were all mostly empty, but one contained seven haggard looking pegasi. Most of them had raised their heads at the sound of our approach and were staring at us. Ironclad led us up to the cage and gave them a prize winning smile.

"Rise and shine, my little chickadees. It must be your lucky day, 'cause you've already got a potential buyer." He gestured to me. The pegasi started to sit upright. Most of them didn't look like they agreed with him. Most looked scared. Then there was the captain with her angry glare and ugly purple bruise on the side of her face. And where was... Oh. The smaller mare from before wasn't lying in the close clump the others seemed to have formed, she was stretched out on her side against the opposite end of the cage, looking much worse for wear. Dried blood crusted her nose, and she had her legs pulled in tight against her stomach and chest.

"That's right, this eternally generous mare hasn't just offered to buy one or two a'ya, she's gona buy the whooole flock!" He chuckled, and flashed his grin at me. "That is right, isn't it?"

"Just tell me how much." I would be lucky to get out of this damnable town before noon at this rate.

"Four hundred caps a head." He turned to look at the pegasi when he told me this, I couldn't tell why, but it meant he wouldn't see me tapping my back hoof a few times. 2800 caps? That was nearly our entire take from the job. Shaking my head slightly I lit my horn up and opened Crunch's saddlebags.

"Done."

I was pulling out the sparse 200 caps from one of the sacks that we would be keeping for ourselves, when the door opened up the stairs. Two more ponies in suits trotted down, these ones with strange padded vests on over top of them.

"Bout time. C'mon boys, let's get these fine packages wrapped up nice and pretty so our friend can be on her way."

The handlers nodded, but hesitated.

"Sorry boss, we, uh, had some trouble at the front desk, but Butterball is taking care of her."

Her? Or dear sweet Luna, please, no. A moment later the door clanged open again and Abattoir skipped down the steps two at a time, followed by the red faced guard.

"Ehehe, I toldya you'd never catch me. Hi Lumi!" She jumped over the other two guards who turned around and tried to grab her, landing behind them on her forehooves. The guard I knew as Butterball had too much momentum to stop, and bowled into them, sending them down in a tangled heap.

"What are you doing here?" She balanced on her forelegs for a moment before dismounting, beaming.

"You didn't come n'get me after breakfast, I thought you forgot about me. Whatchoo doin' here, buyin' some new friends?" That was just disturbing. She rushed past me to the cage filled with the confused looking pegasi. I groaned, and looked to Ironclad, wondering if he'd have her shot or something.

The grey stallion was looking at Abattoir with a terrified expression, and backing away from her.

"Y-you. I told you never to come back here!" This was interesting. Not necessarily an unusual reaction, but the sudden change in the stallions mood was definitely interesting. His outburst made Abattoir turn to look, and she pouted, advancing on him.

"Aawh, not even for tea?"

"No! Get away from me, get outa here you fucking lunatic!" Thinking quickly, I reached out with my magic and grabbed Abattoir's tail, holding her back, and stepping up beside her.

"I'm guessing you don't like her much." He looked at me in shock and spat.

"Of course! She's a fuckin' walking curse, no good never comes from havin' her around!" Huh? So he was a superstitious stallion. Wonderful.

"I agree. Fortunately for you, she's only here because of me. I'd be happy to leave and take her with us, once I finish my purchase." I gave him a moment to let the relief show on his face, before adding. "But now that I think about it, 400 a piece is a whole lot of caps."

"What!? You're gona haggle now, you bitch? Those are pegasi, rare as fuck in the wasteland."

I eased my magical grip, and Abattoir, ever eager to be a good sport, inched towards Ironclad with a growing grin. He yelped, and I latched on again, stopping.

"Okay, okay! 350, that's a bargain!"

I dispelled my magic all together, and Abattoir raced across the floor. Ironclad squealed and covered his head with his hooves. When whatever he had been dreading didn't befall him, he peeked. I had my hold on her tail again, having stopped her less than a foot from him.

"200, that's as much I we charge for any regular slave! And I'll throw in some bomb collars for free, anything, just get her away from me!"

***

The seven pegasi's chains clanked as we walked. We were making our way back to the main street. Crunch was beside me, holding the end of the chain in his mouth. The pegasi were being sulkily silent. Abattoir was on the other side, giggling ecstatically.

"-and he was so scared, he looked like he was gona piss himself!"

"Yes, I was there Abattoir."

Having her assist us in bringing down the price of the seven had been, admittedly, mildly amusing. I suspected it wouldn't make what had to come next any easier for her to understand. We stepped into the broad street that marked the halfway point through the town, and I stopped.

"Abattoir, we're leaving."

"Cool, where're we goin' now?"

I shook my head and pointed to myself and Crunch.

"No, WE are leaving. Just us. Not for work. We're going far away, and you can't come with us. You live here, you work here. So this is goodbye."

She stood and stared at me, her brow furrowed slightly. I had spoken slowly and evenly, like I was trying to explain to a foal. Her head dipped forward slightly, and she didn't say anything, so I took that to mean she understood. I walked past her towards the gate, and heard the clanking as Crunch follow me. At last, we were leaving, and she wasn't coming with us.








"HEY JOE!" An ear splitting scream filled the air. I spun around. Abattoir had both hooves cupped around her mouth and had shouted towards the main building. Amazingly, the distant form of Bazooka Joe appeared at the balcony that surrounded the upper floors of the building, along with a couple other ponies. She continued to yell.

"I QUIT! I'M GONA GO WITH LUMI AND HAVE AWESOME ADVENTURES!" She what?! She couldn't do that, there had to be some rule, he had to tell her she couldn't do that! For a long moment there was no response from the distant raider leader and I prayed that meant her ridiculous request had been denied. Then Joe raised one hoof around his mouth and shouted back.

"Okay! Have fun, good luck you two!" And then that bastard waved at us as Abattoir came trotting up to my side, grinning as wide as I'd ever seen her.

Fuck. That was the word.


Strolling out the gate was a bit of a blur to me. Understandably, word traveled quickly that the cursed mare was leaving, possibly for good. By the time we made it from the far end of the street to the gate, a small crowd had gathered to wish her farewell, most sarcastic, but some genuine I had to figure. Ma and Pa, or whoever they were, I never did learn their names, were among the genuine I suspected.

We found the road about half an hour after leaving Pyresteady, and started to follow it north. We only walked a short while, long enough that the Raider town had disappeared completely whenever I looked back. I stopped walking. I realized Abattoir had been talking the whole time, but it wasn't important.

"This is far enough." I turned back to face the train of captive pegasi, who all stopped to stare with looks of worry and apprehension. The captain was the first to speak up.

"For what?" She sneered. I opened my saddlebags and levitated out an oddly shaped key, the one that fit into the metal collars with the orange lights they'd all been fitted with, the only reliable way to remove them without making them explode.

"For you to go."

A few of them exchanged glances, and the captain narrowed her eyes.

"This some kinda joke? Think you're gona turn us loose then hunt us down like animals, you sick fuck?!"

"Shut up." She continued to seethe at me as I stepped closer. The others pulled back as far as the chains joining their necks would allow, but she stood her ground. "This isn't a trap. I'm removing those collars, and you're going to go." It levitated the key closer. "There is only one catch."

"Is that so?" I could see by the look on her face she had been expecting at least one.

"Whatever story you tell, or report you make or whatever, when you get back up behind your clouds; I wasn't in it." She looked at me strangely, studying, looking for signs of the trap.

"What?"

"You heard me. Tell them bandits got you and you had to escape on your own or something. You can tell them you crashed your ship into Celestia's glorious golden flanks for all I care, just don't include me in any of it."

The others were looking on with reserved hope, and even the captain was starting to glare less.

"Why?" I just stared at her until she shook her head. "Alright, stupid question, crazy ground ponies... And just what happens if we get up there and decide to tell it true anyway?" She raised an eyebrow. This mare had balls.

Wait, forget I said that.

"I'll come up there and kill you. Clouds or no clouds. Any more dumb questions?"

Snorting, she shook her head. I moved in to slide the key into the lock on her collar, and it popped open. I saw her tense, and for a long moment I thought I might have to kill her after all. But she didn't attack, and instead backed away from me with her wings spread. I moved along the row, unlocking the other members of her squad, who all quickly followed her example and scurried to a safe distance. Until I got to the end of the row and moved to unlock the youthful mare with the watery eyes.

"Don't bother with that one."

I looked over my shoulder, the mare echoing my "What?"

The captain was pointing past me, at her.

"You aren't coming back with us." I shrugged, and slid the key into the lock. Her collar fell away, but she didn't move, just stared back at the captain. She looked even more on the verge of tears again.

"But..."

"You, practically a civilian, stowed away on MY ship and interfered with MY mission, leading to the capture of not only myself and my squad, but to my ship falling into the hooves of a filthy tribe of raiders. As far as I'm concerned, you aren't coming back at all."

Someone sounded a little bitter. I looked at the trembling mare. Sure, she'd knocked a cabinet over on her, but she'd hardly made that much of an impact. I noticed again the fresh bruises on her legs and face, and probably torso. I had just assumed those came from her rough handling at the hooves of the slavers, but none of the others bore similar marks.

I focused again as the captain finished laying down the law on the smaller mare's exile from the sky. It wasn't really my problem, so I was just about ready to leave if they didn't wrap this up soon. From beside me I could hear Abattoir eating one of the rat kebobs Ma and Pa had given her in parting.

Finally the captain took to the air with the rest of the group following her. I could tell one or two who looked apologetically at the mare left on the ground, before they faced skyward and started to ascend faster.

"Let's get going." I turned and started to walk. Abattoir finished the last rat on her stick and fell in opposite Crunch, licking her lips. We managed to walk a minute or two before Abattoir poked my side.

"What?" I turned, and she was pointing behind us. Turning my head I saw the pegasus was perhaps ten feet behind us. She had her head hung and was staring at the cracked pavement.

"What are you doing?" I asked loudly. She looked up and stopped suddenly.

"Uhm... I'm... I thought." She looked around uncertainly, digging at the ground with her hoof.

"You can't come with us." I made that as clear as I could make it.

"How come?" Abattoir asked from my side, but I ignored her.

"But! I don't... I can't go anywhere else, back the other way is... that horrible place, and up is. Up is..." And she was crying again. I turned to face her fully.

"That's why you can't come with us. You're weak." She wiped her hoof across her face and stomped it indignantly .

"I won't be! Please, you're... You're first halfway decent pony that I've seen down here!"

I laughed. It surprised me too, but I did. The way she winced, I could tell it was just as harsh as it sounded to me. She wasn't convinced though.

"You bought us and set us free! Why would you do that if not to be a good pony?" I let my laughter die down and shrugged.

"I really wanted to piss off Ironclad, that's all." That sounded believable. She didn't know I'd only just met the slaver stallion. "Doesn't matter. You can't come with us. I don't need a weak slave, or a scared, useless pony getting in the way."

I turned back and started walking again. I passed by Abattoir, who looked at me with her brow furrowed, but just got back to her hooves and followed. Another minute passed by.

"Wait!" Why couldn't ponies just get the hint? She was still following right behind us. "What if I promised... to get back the money you spent?"

I turned back. This time I looked at her, long and hard. At her dark turquoise coat and rose colored mane, both just starting to grow dirtied and matted by the wasteland. The tattered uniform. The hopeful, pleading stare.

I started to trot back towards her. She only backed up one step, reflexively.

"Listen to me. Very carefully. Our work isn't easy. Our work isn't safe." I started to explain as I walked, closing in on her and bringing my mask within a foot of her face. "If you truly, truly plan to come with us, to work with us, then you will be strong. Or you'll be dead. I don't really care. Understand?" She took a deep breath and nodded.

Well shit. I really thought that would work. I suppressed the urge to sigh (I'd done enough of that today) and trotted back towards Crunch and Abattoir, and could hear her following behind me. I nodded over my shoulder as I got close.

"Fine then. Abattoir, you're in charge of keeping an eye on her, I guess." I trotted past her.

"Wait, what?"

We would be on this road forever. I looked over my shoulder one last time. Abattoir was looking confused, from me to the pegasus. I couldn't tell why, she'd been here for the whole conversation. I nodded at the just as puzzled looking pegasus.

"Her. She's coming with us, for now. You're in charge."

Abattoir's confusion broke into a grin, and she brought a hoof up to her muzzle. The pegasus furrowed her brow angrily.

"What now?" I asked, exasperated.

"I'm not a mare!"





... Huh





Footnote: Level up?!


Skill note: Barter 15



(Woo, this chapter turned out bigger than I thought it would. Thanks again to Kkat for starting it all, and thanks to the cool cats on the Wasted Days FoE sim for lettin' me use the Little Cliffside region, and extra special thanks to you for reading!)