• 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.

  • ...

Chapter 6: Digging

Fallout Equestria: Ashes


Chapter 6: Digging

You girl scouts want to hear a story? Once upon a time there was a magical place where it never rained, the end.

"... Is that all?"

"I think so." Air Heart turned the paper over to check the back side. "It's not much to go on, is it?"

Abattoir yawned from beside Air Heart, her chin propped up on top of her hooves. "I was expecting more explosions..."

"I'm sorry Luminescence, but I don't think we can do this, this date is from almost three hundred years ago, and he wasn't even in Equestria when he wrote this entry..." He furrowed his brow and stared back down into the ancient journal page.

Abattoir flopped onto her back, her eyes rolling up "And why would a stallion want to be called Aunty anything?"

"It's Ante." I pushed myself to my hooves. "It's a poker thing."

"Oooh!" She stuck her tongue out. "I'm not allowed to play poker anymore."

"Wh-" I started, then shook my head. Of course, curse nonsense probably. As if sensing my annoyance, an old hat stand near the door fell over with a wooden thud.

I was still staring at it when Air Heart lifted his head. "I bet you've got a really good poker face, Lumi."

There was a second of stunned silence, then Abattoir exploded into giggles, rocking on her back. I heard the deep bass chuckling of Crunch (that traitor), standing watch by the door. Air Heart looked up at me with a small smile and gave a half hearted "Sorry." I wasn't sure if I preferred this over scared and sobbing.

I let out a ragged sigh. He was right, this job was doomed to fail. "Just. Think." I said haltingly. "If that... Bluegrass buck did live here way back then, could we find out about it?"

It was many moments before anypony broke the silence. It was Air Heart. "Well, I don't know how organized pony governments were before the war, or even during the war really, but in the Enclave they keep track of everything."

"Sooooo the Enclave might know?" Abattoir had regained her composure and was wandering around the lobby, half listening.

"No, but whoever was in charge back then might have kept some records, maybe an old town census or something like that. It's a long shot though, a very long shot." Air Heart was pacing in circles around the lobby, staring at the dirty carpeting now.

"We'll have to take it."


"Old records from before the war?" Cactus Flower looked at us curiously, pushing her hat higher. We'd caught up to her in the middle of her apparently routine patrols through the streets, and were now following in her leisurely wake.

"Yes, we were hoping you could point us in the right direction." Air Heart had been elected by majority vote (Me, Abattoir, Crunch, and Sword) to approach her with our need. "We didn't want to bother you, Sherriff, but this town doesn't seem to have a mayor. A-and it's for a job, for somepony in town, of course."

Cactus looked past him at me for a moment before chuckling. "Firstly, we have got a mayor, but I'll save ya the trouble of trackin' her down, she's useless. Useless for what you're after, anyway." She craned her neck, took a few more steps down the sidewalk, then pointed up to the far hilltop where the only buildings that you could call 'tall' this side of the bridge sat. "Lives up there in Cliffside Suites. Doesn't affect the town much anyway. Nice fancy place, feels like the city again, but it ain't easy gettin' up there..."

"Oh, I... I see." It was much more entertaining watching somepony else have to pretend to care about these things. "Soo... You can't help us?"

"Oh, right, that's what I was sayin'. I can't promise nothin', but I reckon anythin' like that'd be in the old town library, across from town hall."

"Okay, good. Can you take us there?" I spoke for the first time since we'd found her. She chuckled and started her patrol again.

"Maybe. If you paid me to."


"Yep. Town hall n’all that is outside the walls. Ain't safe out there, dangerous stuff. I'd take ya, reckon you’d find some other folks'd come too, but it'd cost ya."

I stepped past Air Heart, who was looking worried again, and caught up to Cactus Flower. "What kind of dangerous stuff?"

She turned on a corner and took a new street, and we all followed. She took a moment to scan the street and look purposefully at a small group of adolescent ponies running by before continuing. "Geckos and other critters wander in sometimes. Scavenging ponies and bandits run rampant, though I don't think any of 'em actually live out there. Y'see a ghoul from time to time, duno how they get all the way across the bridge. And then there's the, heh, plantlife."

From the way she looked at us, I figured she gave this speech a lot to passersby. I staunchly refused to take the bait, hoping she'd move on.

"Oouh, whasat mean?" Abattoir appeared at my side and crooned.

"Well, I reckon you heard by now 'bout how stuff grows around here?" Abattoir nodded along enthusiastically. "We don't know what makes it grow so good here, but whatever it is, it works out there too. Only nopony's been around to mow the grass, or harvest whatever grows there, so the lawns have gone a little wild, y'know!" Again she looked like she expected a certain response to this revelation.

This time it was Air Heart who gave it to her. If I didn't know any better I'd swear these two had dragged me into one of their stupid plays. "Y-you mean, the plants out there. They're... alive?"

"Darn right! They won't get up and chase after ya, but they might make a grab for ya. They got spines and thorns and some of 'em even bite! All around, nasty business." She finished with a solemn nod of her head. I saw Air Heart and Abattoir exchange glances. Two completely different glances, of course.

"Just tell us the way to go." There was still half a day left, and I was not going to spend it listening to her mangle the local accent.


"Have I mentioned that I have a r-really really bad feeling about this?"

"Yes, you have. Stop mentioning it." I grunted at Air Heart as we trotted closer to the gate marking the western edge of Little Cliffside. This gateway, unlike the opposite one to the east, was closed and more heavily guarded. I looked up into the two junk towers on either end of the gate, and one pony even waved back. Cactus Flower said she'd radio ahead to tell them to expect us, and two more guard ponies were waiting on the ground by the gates with ropes in their mouths. When we drew close enough, they gripped the ropes and started to pull, the heavy metal doors sliding along a track that had been dug out for them.

"Wait." Air Heart piped up again. "Abattoir isn't back yet, shouldn't we-"

"Nope." And I started to trot out the open gate. Crunch slipped out after me, leaving Air Heart gasping and flapping his wings in confusion. After a moment I heard him let out a worried groan and gallop after us, then the sweet sounds of the gates starting to close behind us.

"She said she only had a little shopping to do, you said you'd wait for her."

"No, I said 'okay, bye', never said anything about waiting." I tried to shut him out and pulled out the map Cactus Flower had given us, and tried to spot possible routes to the town square where all the important buildings had been crammed. It was an old pre war map, so some detours might be needed if we ran into too much debris, or whatever else Cactus had said was out there.

"B-but but but, I thought she was your fr-" He stopped short when I whipped my head around to look at him, and cleared his throat. "Okay, not your friend, but, I mean, she was with you when you... when I..."

"When I bought you." He winced and nodded. "She was, but that's only because I hadn't been able to shake her yet. Maybe you haven't noticed, but she's very irritating." Just keep walking, keep looking at the map.

"Why was she with you in the first place, if you hate her so much?"

"I didn't have a choice!" I snapped, the edges of the map crumpling slightly in my magical grip. "I had to make the offer, she joined her path to mine. But it's not my fault if she can't keep up. She'll get over it, I'm sure."

"I... I don't understand..."

"Just shut up then, and keep your eyes open for critters or biting plants or whatever." I stowed the map and continued down the road, flanked by my two silent followers.

Now that I looked around, I could see how this place could be considered dangerous. The near identical houses continued on either side, the front lawns overflowing with vegetation. Tall, thick grasses and tough bushes, cacti and wildflowers, so thick in some places the houses behind them disappeared.

The street ahead grew increasingly clogged with abandoned waggons and stripped down carriages as well, making the whole thing look choked and congested, lots of cover and places for things to hide. But it was the most direct path towards what had been the center of town, unless I fancied cutting through lawns and weaving between rows of houses.

I reached the first abandoned waggon and lifted myself up onto the back ledge, to peer over some of the clutter in the road.

"How's it look, see any monsters yet?" Abattoir called from behind me.

"No, there aren't any monsters, and keep your voice down." I growled as I slid back down to the concrete.

"If there's no monsters, why should I hafta keep my voice down?"

"Bec-" I had started, but stopped suddenly. Abattoir smiled curiously and cocked her head, Air Heart looked like he couldn't decide if he wanted to laugh or hide. "Where! Where did you come from?"

"Seriously, Lumi? You need to get out more... y'see, when a mare and a stallion love each other veeery much..." I swiped at her head, but she ducked away and giggled at me.

"Not that, you idiot. You were gone, we left you behind! Did they let you out the gate after us?" Of course there was no reason they wouldn't, I just wanted some ponies to blame.

"The gate? Pfft, they didn't hafta open it, I jumped over! And thanks a bunch for startin' without me, just for that, you don't get any of the Moon Pies I bought~"

I sighed and hung my head slightly as she pulled out one of the wrapped chocolate disks and tossed it to Air Heart. It really was looking like I'd have to kill her to get rid of her. "Is that what you had to go shopping for, snacks?"

"Well duh, you didn't buy anythin' to eat or drink, or any healin' potions or... adventure stuff, and who knows how long this quest is gona take!" She sat down and ripped open a Moon Pie package with her teeth.

I always forget the food thing. I knew Crunch looked after his own supply, but with these two insisting on following me...

"Oh, that's right!" Air Heart swallowed a mouthful of marshmallow "Since I'm going to be our... Doctor? Medic... Uhm, whatever. I should keep track of our medical supplies and things, right?" He looked up at me from the little impromptu snack break that had broken out behind the abandoned waggon and smiled nervously. "We do have some healing potions, right?"

I actually did let out an amused snort that made Air Heart jump slightly. "We might have some left... The last time I remember, Crunch and me bought about ten when we stopped someplace down south, Hope or something." I looked up and poked Crunch "How many do we have left?"

Crunch rolled his eyes ponderously and bent down to dig in his saddlebags, pulling out small glass bottles filled with purple liquid and setting them on the concrete between us, until ten of them sat in a little circle. Then as an afterthought, he bent forward and snatched up one of the pies with his teeth. "Yeah, we've got some healing potions."

Air Heart poked at one of the bottles and nodded. "You didn't take any when you got wounded, so I figured you were all out. Medical help is so readily available above the clouds, it's easy to forget how rare they are on the ground, and very important not to brag about it." He blinked his eyes and cleared his throat "Well, that's what they always said anyway."

"We don't use them very often. You can hold onto them if it makes you feel better." He smiled and started to stack the bottles into his new saddlebags.

"I won't take all of them, just in case we, uhm, get split up or something. Do we have anything else, purified water or rubbing alcohol or-" Abattoir turned and dug a hoof into her bags, pulling out a wrapped cloth bundle and dropping it next to the potions. It fell open to reveal a small hooffull of rainbow striped inhalers, various pill containers, and several bundles of needles ranging in appearance from wholesome to sinister. Oh, and a bottle of vodka. "What in Celestia's name is all that?"

"Party favors!" Abattoir beamed.

"Drugs" I grumbled, and raised my lenses to stare at her. "Is this what you needed to shop for too?"

Abattoir gasped before starting to sort through the pile, pushing the pills and tins and small silver needles towards Air Heart "Noooo, this is my own private stash. But since you wana be our nurse, you can have the boring stuff."

Air Heart flushed slightly as he knelt down to examine the gifts. "Uhm, t-thank you, I guess? Let's see... Med-x, that's a good start... Buck, aaand... Are these mints?" He started to add them to his saddlebags "I don't know much about drugs, but I'm sure some of it will come in useful."

"What else did you buy, then?" I was still staring at Abattoir.

"I bought a great big bag of noneya."

"..." I was not going to indulge her, no matter how expectantly she smiled at me. He brow slowly started to furrow, as if holding the expression was physically demanding.

"C'mooon, you gota say it."

"No I don't. I take it back, I don't care what-"

"What's noneya?" Thanks, Air Heart.

"None-ya business~!" Abattoir burst out laughing and fell onto her side, kicking her legs in the air.

"Maybe you two should join a circus."

"I agree, y'almost had me in stiches." Said a gruff and unfamiliar voice.

We all looked up at the unicorn buck hovering a shotgun down towards us. "Didn't anypony tell you it ain't smart to sit around out here and yell about how well supplied you are? Hell, I can still see the gate from here, and I’m surprised ya made it this far." He chuckled. He had a bandana masking the lower half of his face, but I imagined he was grinning from ear to ear. "Now, I'll be takin' that stockpile of goodies, and all your food and clean water. Just put 'em on the ground and back away, and nopony needs to get hurt."

I saw Air Heart already reaching back into his saddlebags and kicked him. "Better idea. Are you busy?"

"Busy robbin' you, but after that, schedule's wiiiide open." He chortled, but his eyes remained cold and firmly locked on me. Beside me, Crunch snorted angrily.

"How about I pay you six potions to lead us somewhere. We need to get to the center of town, and you know this place better."

He seemed used to hearing bargains for safety from his victims, but I doubted his usual victims looked like us. "Six ain't as much as ten, why should I take you anywhere and risk my hide when I could have the whole lot?"

"Your hide isn't much safer here, and if you force me to, I'll strip it off you piece by piece." My own horn lit up and I just barely gripped the handle of my sword. We continued to stare each other down for a moment until the barrel of his shotgun lowered a few inches.

"Middle of the town, y'say?"

"The old town library."

"... Alright. But I'll be havin' the potions now." He lowered the shotgun further and slipped it into a sling on his side. I released my sword and instead scooped up the six remaining potions on the ground and floated them up for him to snatch. Then he levitated one of the remaining Moon Pies into the air as well. Once the potions were safely tucked away and the treat was hovering in front of him, he turned his head to the sidewalks and called out. "Alright you lot, we've got a job to do, c'mon on."

Four more ponies appeared from various hiding spots in the grass and clutter. Their weapons remained on us for a moment, before they tucked them away and came closer. The unicorn buck jumped down from the back of the waggon and joined them in the little semi-circle they formed around us. "The name's Grinder, I'll be your tour guide for this afternoon. Remember, we all got eyes on ya, and if ya fall behind, ya get left behind." He pushed down his bandana, grinning at us with a mouth full of pointed metal teeth, and bit into the pie.


"You're a really sucky leader" Abattoir informed me as we followed Grinder's gang down another street. So far, we'd only encountered two other groups of bandits, and only one of which had to be shot at to drive them off.

"You said that already. And hour ago." An hour ago, when it was already starting to get dark. Now the sun was threatening to disappear somewhere behind the clouds.

"Oh yeah. Well, you are." I kicked her ineffectually and trotted ahead, towards Grinder. He glanced back at me, his shotgun hovering in front of him.

"Are you planning to keep going much longer?" I asked.

"Maybe. Y'got a problem with that?" He glanced at me again.

"Not me, but I don't have as much confidence in my... in the other two with me." I looked back. Crunch was in the middle of the spread out ring of scavenger ponies, still looking grumpy. Abattoir was flitting around one of them probably talking about something stupid. Air Heart was lagging behind still, the blue buck who comprised the rear guard having to spur him forward again. The buck had been pleased to announce that he'd be happy to watch our backs, giving Air Heart’s flanks the most meaningful of looks, and had grown disappointed and surly the moment he stepped behind him. Everypony had gotten a good chuckle at his indignant shout of "You ain't no mare!" Except Air Heart. And me, of course.

"I'll have a word with mine, you have a word with yours." And he called for his gang to gather close. I trotted back to Crunch and signaled Abattoir and Air Heart. Air Heart was panting when he caught up to us.

"We might be stopping to spend the night somewhere." I announced

"Ooouh! Slumber party?" Abattoir clapped her hooves together a few times.

Air Heart furrowed his brow and spoke between gasps "Y-you don't have... to, I can... keep going a little... more."

"No, you can't. Not unless you want Crunch to carry you." He huffed and tried to pull himself up to his full height, but he kept swaying in place, and would have fallen over if Crunch hadn't put a hoof out to stop him.


I waited for Grinder to come out of his own huddle before going out to meet him. "My lot says they wouldn't mind a bit of a kip."

"Mine could use the sleep. Lead the way." I said, and waved up the street. He smirked, those strange teeth of his glinting in the fading light, and simply turned towards the sidewalk and started up the path of the most intact looking home in the row.

The grass had overflowed onto the walkway, but it was easily trampled down as Grinder led his crew and mine up towards the front door. He named a skinny mare as Minesweeper and sent her in ahead of us, where she poked the door open with a pool cue and probed around inside the threshold for a few moments before mumbling that it was safe to go inside at least.

The inside was about as dusty as you'd expect, with a small foyer leading into a hallway, doors immediately to either side, and a stairwell going up.

"Alright, clear out, clear out." Minesweeper demanded, a metal disk in her mouth. She placed it on the front door step, then shut the door, and placed a second disk just in front of it.

Air Heart watched this procedure closely. "That's to keep w-whatever's outside... outside, right?"

"'course." Grinder chuckled, stepping through the doorway to the right, into the kitchen. "Nothin' wrong with a little home security. You weren't plannin' to anywhere t'night, I hope?" He smirked at Air Heart, who just shook his head quickly. Then his grin disappeared behind the fridge door and he started looting. The other members of his crew had dispersed as well, I thought I could hear two of them upstairs fighting over a room.

"Hey, save some for me!" Abattoir called out, and galloped into the kitchen to join Grinder.

I wanted nothing to do with their little foraging party, but something in the kitchen caught my eye enough to draw me inside, while they started hurling plates out of cupboards. The stove set into the counter looked as dusty and undisturbed as anything else in the house, so I pulled the door open and stuck my head inside.

Set down in the bottom corner of the stove, glinting through a bit of caked on char, was a triangle shaped talisman. I had to stick both hooves inside and stomp a little bit, but eventually I pulled it free of its setting and held it up to the meager light. It looked like the one on the blue scroll, and had been next to a picture of a stove. I reached out and wrapped my magic around it, concentrated on the squiggly rune set into the blackened gem, and the tiniest flicker of blue flame burst from the tip.

I trotted back into the hall, leaving behind the kitchen that was turning into a warzone, and found Air Heart exploring the inside of a broom closet under the stairs. He jumped slightly when I spoke behind him. "Don't cause any trouble. Try and find a safe spot to sleep." And then I started up the stairs, found a room that hadn't been claimed, and slipped inside. By some stroke of luck, I seemed to have picked one of the master bedrooms. The bed was large enough to hold five ponies my size, which must have been the universe's idea of a joke since I didn't plan on using it at all. Crunch seemed happy with it though. There was also a sliding glass door that let out onto a balcony, one of two I'd seen sticking out of the the front of the house coming up the walkway. It seemed as nice a place as any to spent eight-ish hours, so I sat myself down in the middle of the room and settled in to wait.

I wasn't waiting long before the door opened and in clattered Abattoir. Her saddlebags looked fuller, and her tail looked strange, I glimpsed some streaks of silver in it before she disappeared behind the bed. "Phew, that Grinder knows how to pillow fight, but in the end, I won those beans fair and square~" And because that needed no further explanation, she yanked one of the blankets off the bed, tossed it onto the floor, and flopped down on top of it.

Right. Back to waiting.

For another five minutes. Then I became aware of a dull scraping noise getting closer to the door, punctuated in between by soft grunts. The door opened, and Air Heart entered backwards, tugging a bare mattress. He peeked over his shoulder and spotted me sitting up in the middle of the room. He yelped and dropping the bedding. "Oh, you're still up! Uh, so, I was thinking we should sleep together." Abattoir snorted and chuckled from her corner and his turquoise cheeks went scarlet. "No, I didn't mean-! I meant... you said get a safe place to sleep, and I figured, it'd be safest with we all slept to... er, in the same room..."

He continued to look sheepishly at me. I hadn't said anything yet, so I tried something a little clever, and let out a grumbling snore. He jumped slightly, then leaned closer. "O-oh.. uh, alright then, I'll let you... sorry." And he tried to be quiet as he finished pulling the mattress inside and dropped it into a corner. Taking one last look back at me, he knelt down and flopped over sideways, yawning into his hooves. "Must be really tense..."

The silence stretched on as my three companions all dropped off to sleep, and for a few hours everything was nice and quiet and still.

Then Air Heart sat up again. I couldn't tell what time it was, still well before morning would be anywhere near. He'd been tossing on top of the mattress for a while before, now I guessed whatever was bothering him in his sleep had forced him up. He rose to his hooves slowly, stifling a groan. He made his way past me, and I couldn't see him anymore, but I heard the sound of the glass door sliding open, then the faint beat of wings as he took off for another late night flight. I didn't bother to get up and step out to watch, the last thing we needed was for him to spot me and plummet somewhere in the ruins.

After another interminable amount of time I heard the sliding door open again, and heard his hooves on the carpet. He crossed the room, but not towards his bed. Instead he approached the door and pulled it open, then stepped out into the hall.

Huh. That was probably worth wondering about. I wasn't about to get up and follow him yet though. It was the middle of the night, and unless he stumbled into the front door and set off the mines, he'd be alright.

Or so I'd like to dream. I heard movement down the hall, and more doors being opened slowly. He was searching the house? Then a door opened and I heard a muffled apology, then the sound of one pony bodily pushing another into a wall, and a different voice grumbled something I couldn't make out.

It rose to my hooves and moved to the still cracked open door. "-knew you'd show up eventually. Wavin' yer ass at me the whole time. Knew it..." The blue buck laughed harshly, his words slurring together.

"I wasn't... N-no, I... I was just l-looking for the ba-bathroom." Air Heart was almost inaudible. I'd have to stop this or the whole house would be awake soon. The buck's drunken laughter wasn't helping. I tried to push the door open a little further.

"The plumin' in these houses hasn't worked in a long ass time, thought a bright little bulb like you'd know that... Or are you just so fresh out'a the clouds you thought you'd never have to look real hard for a place to shit?" When Air Heart didn't offer any other response but a quiet murmur, he snorted again. "There's a lot you got to learn about the ground life, sweetie. A lot I could teach you. Why don't ya ditch those noponies you're sloggin' with, an' c'mon back to my room?" He said in a sickly oversweet groan, then his tone dropped a few pegs. "Stuck up bitches the boss brings won't give me any tail, but you're a lot prettier n'them anyway, I bet you-"

"I said no!" I stuck my head out the doorframe just as Air Heart shouted, in time to see him backed up against a wall opposite an open door. Tucking his head into his uniform, he whipped out the shocky stick thing. It unfolded and Air Heart jabbed it up into the chest of the buck who'd been looming over him, causing him to jerk violently backwards and grunt in pain. I gripped my sword in my magic just as the buck recovered and swiped Air Heart across the face with one hoof, sending him sprawling. But before I could dive out into the hall, a greenish-yellowish blur slunk past me like I wasn't even there, and Abattoir called down the hall.

"What's goin' on here?" Her voice sounded slow and soft, like she was just asking the two of them what the time was.

"Nothin', g'back to your room, go back to sleep ya'loony." He hissed, raising a hoof to put it down on the back of Air Heart's neck. Abattoir hummed and took a step down the hall, her head cocked to one side.

"Oooh, you wana play? With him?" And she chuckled. A cruel, spiteful chuckle as she pointed down at Air Heart, while he looked up with wide and watery eyes. "With that wimp? Wouldn'tcha rather play with somepony who can handle it?" She purred, and took another step closer. The buck was looking totally nonplussed, eyeing Abattoir warily. "Wouldn'tcha rather play with somepony who knows a thing or two?" She snickered again, stepping closer. Now she was standing over Air Heart and looking up into the confused buck's eyes. "Wouldn'tcha rather play... with me~?" She turned her body sideways to show it off, tossing her half shaved mane back with a brush of her hoof. I thought I was going to be sick.

The buck was speechless, but Air Heart was gasping and whimpering from the floor "A-A-Abbey... w-what..."

But she didn't even glance down at him. Then the buck lifted his hoof off Air Heart's neck, taking one step towards Abattoir to close the distance between them while she shook her rump side to side slightly, making her tail sway and those silver streaks glint in the- Oh.

"Maybe I-" was all the buck got out before Abattoir whipped her backside around, her tail swinging up and colliding with his face in a clatter of silverware. She continued to spin in a circle and came around for a second and third swipe, staggering the buck. He had several cuts along his face now, and a fork stuck in his shoulder.

Abattoir grinned at him and taunted, shaking her rump in a much less sexy way. "You said you wanted a little tail."

"Laugh it up, you're gona pay for that!" And his head whipped down and drew a combat knife from a holster at his side. Abattoir responded in kind by producing the hoof length cleaver. To his credit, the buck didn't balk. He lunged in to make good on his threat, and Abattoir's far bigger blade turned his away. It was actually a bit pathetic to watch his clumsy, drunken swings. Abattoir quickly disarmed him after a short minute of ducking and dodging, her heavy blade coming up and smacking into his neck with the dull edge. His breath went out and so did the knife, and Abattoir dipped forward onto her forelegs and kicked him over with her back legs.

Instead of doing the smart thing, when the buck sat up again, he had drawn an automatic pistol from somewhere else in his barding. "That's enough!" The announcement came from two sources at once. From myself, as I stepped out into the hallway with my sword drawn, and from Grinder as he stepped out from the door right beside mine. Further down the hall I saw another door open and the heads of Minesweeper and the other mare poke themselves into the hall.

I didn't want to look, but I couldn't help glancing at Grinder and catching the amused smirk on the unicorn's face, before it turned into a scowl. "I think that's enough excitement for one night. Everypony should get back to bed. Bludger, might I have a word? Now." Grinder side stepped and motioned inside his room, which he seemed to have taken all for himself. The buck pulled himself up straight and stepped over Air Heart, who was still recovering in the middle of the hallway, and disappeared inside the bedroom. Grinder glanced back at us once, then followed him inside and shut the door.

Abattoir knelt down and poked at Air Heart. He looked up with wide and watery eyes and sniffled. "I'm s-s-sorry, I-" But Abattoir put her hoof to his lips and shushed him, pulling him onto trembling hooves.

"Hush, you're just havin' a bad dream, let's go back t'sleep, eh?" She started to guide him back towards me and the room behind.

"Oh... k-kay..." He hiccupped softly as I stepped back to let them through. "Y-you... you really think I'm a w-w-wimp?"

"Nuh way, 'course not. That was all pretendin' back there, just had to get that meany jerk to play with me instead. Too bad he was such a sore loser~" She chuckled, nudging him and trying to get him to join along. He just hiccupped again. "C'mon, cheer up, you can share my bed t'night."

"But.. That's j-just a blanket, I'm the one with a bed." Even with all the shock, there was still room to be confused.

"Oh, good, then I'll just share your bed, that's so generous of you~"


I closed the door and crossed the room while Abattoir guided Air Heart back to his mattress. "Try to get back to sleep quickly, there's still time before dawn." Not sure if they heard me anyway. I opened the sliding glass door and stepped out onto the balcony myself, sliding it shut and sitting down. Several street lamps were flickering brightly in rows up and down the streets.

I wasn't waiting long. The door on the opposite balcony opened and I heard the buck called Bludger. "Alright, alright, I'm out, now what's the big deal?"

"The big deal is I warned you about actin' like a prick. You wan’ ta go b'hind my back and have a little fun once in a while with somepony we capture, okay then. But those ponies paid for a nice smooth trip, and I gave 'em my word." The cool voice of Grinder followed after. I sat perfectly still at my own end of the house and listened.

"Didn't realize I signed up t'be a tour guide. I asked to come on this little scavenger hunt for the caps and the cooz, to build some rep with one of the top gangers in Big Cliffside. Not escort some tourists with a soft old nag." Was he that old? He didn't look it to me, but I was terrible at guessing ages.

"After takin' that beatdown from that little filly, I'm surprised you think you've still got a 'rep'."

"I was drunk, she... she had silverware! I got hit in the eye with a spoon... doesn't matter, nopony's gona blab about it, I'll get her next time, tomorrow on the road probably..."

"Oh good, I thought you'd say somethin' stupid like that."

"What're yo-HEY!" I turned my head to see Grinder pushing Bludger up against the railing of the balcony.

"I don't need any no brained, trigger happy little shits like you givin' my organization a bad name, givin' me a bad name. I could send ya back across the bridge to find a new gang, but that leaves a chance I might see yer face again..."

The stunned buck was too out of it to realize what was going to happen, but I saw it. Grinder's grin widened, then his mouth opened, and he struck like a wild dog, sinking his pointed teeth into Bludger's neck and crunching down. Bludger's scream never made it out of his throat before it was crushed, and then he could only gurgle and flail his limbs. Grinder shook his head violently, wrenching him away from the balcony, then he reared up and tossed the corpse clean over, where it disappeared in the wild grass of the front lawn.

Grinder peered over the balcony to examine his work, then turned to gaze across at me. His teeth glinted wetly in the light of the street lamp. "Lovely night, isn't it? Wish I could stay up and watch it a bit more , but I'm feelin' all tuckered out. Goodnight." And he turned and slipped back into his own room.

It was another few moments before I went back inside. I sat down in the middle of the room again and saw that Abattoir had brought her blanket from her side of the room over and draped it over Air Heart and his mattress. And she had also joined him under it, snuggled up against his back with her hooves draped over him.

"I'll never understand ponies..."


It was quiet in the morning. I waited until I heard someone else stirring out in the hall before I bothered to rise and wake my companions. We met Grinder and his remaining three gang members in the kitchen, where he seemed to be a good mood, and they all shared a few cans of something or other before setting out again.

Out on the front walk, I stopped to look into the foliage covered lawn. I thought I saw an impression in the grass, but there was no corpse to be found. But there was an old overturned lawnmower that had nearly been consumed by a bush. I hacked away enough of the brambles to get at the underside, but the blades were far too rusty, and crumbled when I tried to pull them loose. Shrugging, I returned to the group. Better luck next time.

It was an hour into the walk before Air Heart's voice drifted into my ear and broke my focus. "Huh?"

"I said... Well it's nothing, it's not important or anything but... where's that, uhm... the buck, I forgot his name..."

"It's not worth remembering. He's gone, Grinder fired him last night."

"Oh." He sounded surprised, and glanced back the way we had come, then let out a fairly impressive sigh.

"Don't tell me you feel bad for him. I'll have to smack you."

Air Heart jumped slightly and shook his head "What? Oh, n-no no no, it's not that, I don't, he was... anyway... No, it's just, no matter what Abattoir says, she was right, I am a wimp."

"You're not."

He looked so surprised at me he almost tripped into a large pothole in the road. After recovering some he furrowed his brow and stared at me. "But..."

"You fought back. You fought poorly, yes, but you did fight. A wimp would have just laid there, like a doormat or something, but you didn't. You just need more practice." He blinked at me, then drifted away silently. I shrugged and let him go. That was something for Abattoir to deal with.

We passed the morning picking our way through long abandoned streets. I tried to keep track of our progress on the map, just in case we took a turn that seemed wrong. I doubted very much at this point he would lead us into some sort of trap or anything, unless last night's display was a needlessly complicated act for my benefit.

Sometime in the middle of the morning, we stopped for a short rest. Everypony drank from canteens or bottles of water and caught their breath. I just stood by, watching, until the sight of the bottles being passed around reminded me of my own water supply.

"I'll be right back" Was all I said to my companions, with a lingering look up at Crunch so he'd understand, and turned towards the sidewalk again, and the closest cottage. We were getting closer to the more upscale sections of town, and the sizes of the homes had increased along the way. On the map, I'd noticed that many of them featured tiny blue squares inside the green squares meant to mark their back yards.

When I finished chopping through an overgrown gate to the backyard I found a large pool set into the ground and full to the brim with pale, cloudy water. I swirled my hoof around in the water for a moment, then pulled it back and dug out the bundle in the bottom of my saddlebags. I dipped the empty bottle into the murky water and filled it, then topped off the second, and rewrapped them snugly in the rad suit and stuffed the whole thing back into my bags.

Abattoir was holding up her leg with the PipBuck wrapped around it, Grinder and another of his ponies gathered around her. As I got closer I could hear the steady tick-ticking of the device. "-yeah, you should get one of these, they totally kick ass!"

"So I've heard." Grinder looked up at me as I rejoined the group and smirked. "Good piss?"

"Good enough. All ready to go?"

"Just about, but we entered a radiation patch or something a ways back, her doodad here started kicking up a fuss. You lot might want to take some Rad-X" He levitated out a small orange bottle and pried off the top, floating one of the pills into his mouth, then three more over to the two mares and remaining stallion in his party. "I'd offer some, but I'd have to charge, you know..."

"Crunch." I simply turned my head to him. He stuck his nose into one of his overlarge saddlebags and returned with a mouthful of little orange pill bottles. He spat one onto the ground and dropped the other five back into the bags.

The others just looked stunned, so I had to kick the bottle in Air Heart's direction to make him move. He scooped it up shook out a pill, popping it into his mouth and passing the bottle around to the other two. Then his hoof was pointed at me and one of the little green pills was resting in it.

"I'm good, I took one when I went just now." I waved him away. His concerned gaze lingered on me longer than I was comfortable with, but he dropped the pill back into the bottle, then when Crunch didn't make any move to accept it back, Air Heart pushed it into his own saddlebags. "Alright then, let's get going, I want to get this done today."

We continued on through the neighborhood, and after about an hour Abattoir's PipBuck fell silent.

For once, I got my wish, and the next time we had to stop, it was because we'd entered the town square. Four roads, including ours, met in the middle of it and formed a circle around a large cobbled stone platform and a raised fountain with a typical rearing statue in the center. Several tall and important looking buildings were arranged in a ring around the curving roads.

The two most impressive buildings stood facing one another at opposite ends of the circle. One was large and square and mostly wood, with an extra large parking lot. One side of the building seemed to be overgrown with ivy, and there was a little statue beside the entrance of a mare wrapped in some kind of dress, blindfolded, holding up a set of scales. Part of the front looked like it had been demolished, with a huge gaping hole in place of a door.

The other building was brick and stone, with a very large front entrance of stone steps and tall pillars. This building had two statues, and at first I mistook them for griffons. Looking closer, I saw they had the front halves of lions, and the rear halves and wings of some other bird of prey.

"That'll be the library, then." I pointed to the latter building. Everypony looked back at me, and Air Heart smiled nervously.

"Right. That's what the sign says, after all." I spotted a stone cube with words set into in large golden letters.

"Guess that means this is where we leave ya." Grinder and his three ponies had drifted off towards another road, but were all facing us.

"Guess so. Nice working with you." I said curtly and turned my back to them.

Abattoir stood up on her rear legs to wave with her forelegs and shout "Bye bye!" Then she was galloping in place beside me.

"Uuhm... thanks?" Air Heart stammered, and then scurried across the road to catch up.

We trotted about four paces before Grinder's voice called across the once busy roundabout. "One more thing!"

Oh, come on, would he really? I turned back around, and he was trotting towards us casually. He drew up in front of us, his deadly grin hidden behind his mask once more, and stuck out his hoof. "Mind if I have one more of those pies?"



"Of course!" Abattoir was quick on the draw, and tossed one wrapped package across the gap. Grinder caught it and nodded his head in her direction.

"Thank ya kindly. You're not half bad, you lot. If you're ever unlucky enough to cross the bridge, look me up, eh?" And with that, he turned and trotted away. He joined his own group and together they trotted down one of the other streets. I stood stunned and watched until they had completely disappeared. I only turned my gaze when I felt Air Heart poking me.

"Oh, sorry. I thought you'd... uh, nevermind."

"He was nice." Abattoir chirped as I brushed past them.

"He was a little scary, but I guess he could've been worse." I heard Air Heart agree behind me, while we started up the stone stair to the wide double doors.

I thought back to the image of his silhouette on the balcony tearing out the throat of another pony.

"Yeah, he could have been worse."


Inside the library was extremely dusty, with several tall windows placed around the building letting in the faint sunlight. I could see countless rows of shelves with countless more books upon them, and staircases leading up to other floors, with no doubt even more shelves and books.

"Wow..." Breathed Air Heart, flapping his wings a few times as his eyes drifted to the exceptionally high ceiling.

"Pretty fancy." Abattoir smiled and trotted over to a wooden table, one of several scattered about, with a skeleton slumped over a book.

"I hate this place. Let's not spend any more time here than we have to." Crunch snorted laughter at me as I trotted off towards...

I closed my eyes and sighed. Ireally had no clue what I was looking for in here. Curse that Fiddle Sticks and his ancestors. Curse that meddling pegasi and his nosey nose.


Curse that door I just walked into. I raised my head and found myself looking through a glass pane set in the door, at a small room with more tables. I could see more shelves and stacks of books, but also the grey and green rectangle outlines of terminals.

"Well, that should be a good place to start, nice work!" Abattoir appeared at my heels and I stepped aside to let her through. She pushed a skeleton out of its seat and hunched over the nearest terminal while Crunch and Air Heart caught up.

"If you tell me what that sign says, I'll cut you in half." I snapped as soon as I saw Air Heart point up above the door, where a little wooden sign was hanging from a pole. His cheeks went red and he lowered his hoof. "Good."

Inside, Abattoir was mashing away at the keys of her own terminal, so Air Heart sat himself in front of another and started to type. "Huh.. looks like it's not even locked. That's lucky, I don't think I know the first thing about hacking.

"It's a library, why would they lock them?" I said from a corner of the room, where I kept my hooves busy by examining my sword. It didn't need sharpening again, probably wouldn't for a while, but holding it and checking for nicks gave me something to do.

"You never know. Up there they always tell us never to walk away from our terminals with it still logged in." He shrugged and started to scroll through a list he had opened up. "How are you doing over there, Abattoir?"

He tried to peek over at her progress, but her screen was facing the other way. She grinned broadly, still hammering away on the keyboard like it was a piano. "Great!"

"I started looking for anything that might have to do with the history of this town in general, what are you searching for?" I rose to my hooves and started to trot around the tables while Air Heart questioned her.

"I have no idea!" Abattoir answered cheerfully as I came around to her side. The screen on her terminal was cracked and dim. "This thing isn't even on."

Air Heart stopped to stare at her, and it was a stare I could be proud of. But he couldn't hold it, the amateur, and broke into a grin mirroring Abattoirs. "Well, forget about it then, I found a book we should look for. It's a collection of histories of old frontier towns of Equestria, this place is bound to be in there somewhere, it could give us someplace to start at least." He told her which section the book should be in and sent her off out the door, then went back to his screen.

I sat back down and let the silence grow. The occasional rhythmic taping of the terminal keys had a certain calming effect. Eventually the tapping slowed though, and Air Heart looked at me. "Luminescence?"


"Would you'd feel bad if we end up not being able to do this job?"

"I don't quit on a job." I replied without hesitation.

"Not once?"

"Not yet."

He nodded his head slowly "You've had a lot of jobs, then?"

My head swarmed with images of past events before I squashed them down. Shaking my head, I glanced to Crunch. He was stacking books into shapes on the far side of the room. "Yeah, a lot."

"And that's why you're so..." He lowered his head and chewed on his lip for a moment. "So strong? Why all the... blood and stuff doesn't make you sick anymore?"

I stomped my hoof on the carpeted floor, putting an end to the images "There's worse than blood and stuff out there. You get used to it, you get stronger."

"I don't know if I want to be stronger like that." His head was still bowed. I didn't answer him this time, and eventually he went back to his search.

A moment later, I decided he needed to hear it, and murmured quietly. "You might not have a choice."

Neither of us had bothered to speak again by the time Abattoir returned with the book. Air Heart took it and smiled, laying it open on the table beside him. "Thanks Abbey. Let's see if this helps us any." And he started to read.

I don't know much you enjoy reading (it must be some, or you wouldn't be here) but even if you're a huge fan of it, watching somepony else read turns out to be much less enjoyable. I would never succumb to boredom like Abattoir, who was trying to one up Crunch and building a fort out of the books, but this was taking a long time.

"Wow... a town like Ponyville... All from one earth pony family and some apples..."

"Could you try to speed it up a little?"

He huffed at me indignantly "I have to make sure I don't miss it, this place wasn't always called 'Cliffside' you know" Then he flushed when he realized he'd snapped, and lifted the book to hide his face "Sorry."

I stood up again. "Forget it, just keep reading. I'm going to go make sure this place is really as empty as it looks. Come get me when you've found something." I trotted around the tables and pushed out the door.

Outside the room, the library was just as quiet. I slipped around the checkout desk at the entrance, took one of the staircases up, and weaved through a few rows of shelves. I wasn't looking for anything specifically, but walking around felt more productive than sitting in that room.

Emerging at the end of another row, I spotted one corner that wasn't cluttered with shelves or tables, and featured only a single chair and a large colorful rug bearing an stylish image of the sun. I had some time to kill and it was spacious enough for some practice, so I stepped into the middle of the rug and lifted my sword into the air.

I started simple, slashing through the air and parrying invisible strikes, focusing on my hoofwork. I spun and blocked high, hopped back and thrust forward. I imagined landing my strikes on phantom opponents, faceless, featureless ponies. Slowly, faintly, I began to see them. Duck, slash, parry, thrust. After a while their features became clearer and I could see them all, ponies surrounding me. I blocked a swinging pipe wrench and slashed open the throat of a mare in dirty overalls. I rolled aside as a sledgehammer smashed into the carpet and knocked the hooves out from under a stallion covered in pony gore. On and on they came and I cut them down, losing all track of time. Then I heard the rusty squeal of a door open behind me. I spun around in time to see the terrified young mare, with a revolver trembling in her lips. I did not raise my sword, I did not swing, and she shot me. Like always.

Then I realized I was hearing my name being called, and the library crashed back into place around me. I was panting slightly, and there were several slashes in the sunny carpet. Shaking my head, I turned towards the source of the calling, intending to catch up and make them stop shouting. I froze when I heard more movement, not running hoofsteps, but a faint skittering. I scanned the corner and looked for the source, but gave up when the sound grew fainted and eventually faded. Just radroaches in the walls, I guessed.

I went to the top of the stairs and Air Heart spotted me. "I found something!" He had the book tucked under one of his wings. Sighing, I trotted down to meet him, Abattoir, and Crunch on the first floor. He smiled, cleared his throat, and held the book open in front of him with his wings. Somehow. "Nestled in the southeast corner of Equestria, the area now known as Cremello Resorts is famous for its seaside views, temperate climate, and celebrity residents. Not many people know this beautiful vacation city started its days as a simple gem mining town. In the year..."

I cleared my throat and he stopped with a jump. "Could you just skip ahead a little to the helpful part?"

"Oh, fine, but this really is fascinating stuff." He flipped a couple pages with the tip of one wing, then cleared his throat and started again. "Today the city is home to several current and former celebrities of the fashion, literature, and entertainment industries, including Sapphire Shores, Photo Finish, and A.K. Yearling..."

"A little more" I said impatiently.

"Fine, okay... Let's see, here. Even back in its humble mining days, Cremello Town attracted famous ponies, such as Haughty, great grandfather to Hoity Toity, and Bluegrass, distant relative of our own Octavia Melody." He turned the book around to show me some pictures on the page. He tapped the bottom one, a faded black and white photo showing three ponies standing together on a wooden boardwalk. A young stallion with a large black instrument case resting across his back, a strange mare wearing some kind of dress and shawl decked with beads , and an older looking buck wearing a suit, a wide brimmed hat, and a bit of a beard. "Down here it says 'Bluegrass, shown with his wife Xabi, and manager Ante Up'"

Air Heart closed the book with a snap, grinning proudly. I let him enjoy it for a few moments. "So we've got a picture of him, we know he lived here, that's a pretty good start."

His ears fell back against his head and he seemed to deflate "A start?"

"We've still got to find out more, I doubt just one picture in a book will be enough for Fiddle Sticks."

"I tooooldya this'd take a long time. Betcha glad I went shoppin' now, eh?"

Air Heart nodded his head and opened the book again "I guess you're right. But this picture should be a great help!" He started flipping through the book towards the end.

"It's only one old photo, and it doesn't show much of the town around them either." I trotted around his side to chance a glance at the pages he stopped on and lurched back. The lines of text were small, sadistically tiny even, but he poured over them carefully.

"Not the photo itself I mean, but usually in books like these they'll have a little section that tells you where they got all their pictures from... ah-hah!" He tapped one absurdly small row with the tip of one wing. "That picture was borrowed from a newspaper, and a local one from the sound of it!"

Abattoir patted Air Heart's shoulders again and whistled "Stop the presses, we gota smarty trousers here~" Making him flush and raise the book again.

I looked up at Crunch for his take on the matter. He shrugged. Then I glanced around the library floor. "Do they keep newspapers in here too?"

Air Heart joined me in scanning the walls. "That's a good question... I know some pre war libraries found a way to store old newspapers, something with film rolls or something. Everything's on cloud terminals now."

Abattoir leaned against the checkout desk and pulled one of those grins that made my mane stand on end. "We could always ask Mareian" She said with a casual nod of her head.

"Mareian?" Air Heart turned to her and tilted his head.

"Don't-" I tried to pre-empt her.

"You know, Maaaaaaareian~" She stretched the word into a note and I sighed. "Madam libraaaaaarian~" Recognition bloomed in Air Heart's eyes and he snickered as Abattoir took up one of his hooves between hers and continued in that weird sing-talk I was all too familiar with now "What can I do, my dear, to catch your ear~?"

"Hey, why do I have to be Mareian?" Air Heart huffed in between the song.

I turned away and started to trot. I didn't know where I was going, as long as it was away from those two. Abattoir followed behind me without skipping a beat. "I love you madly, madly Madam Librarian, Mareian!"

"GNYAH!" I shouted... something and broke into a gallop. Again, where wasn't important, as long as it took me out of earshot. They tried to keep up, but were giggling too much, and soon the words faded and I considered slowing down. Why couldn't those scorpions have eaten Abattoir back in the desert?

This was no use, what was I thinking running off like this. I should turn around, go back there, and give them a very sharp and pointy reminder of who was in charge here. That sounded like a great plan. Then I realized I was still galloping through the library in time to see the partially open door that I crashed into. I skidded to a halt just shy of bonking my head on a large machine that was almost entirely taken up by a huge screen. There were some knobs and dials along the bottom row under the screen. Taking a few steps back I saw there were several more of the machines set up against the walls, and between them were tall metal cabinets with tiny rows of numbers on their drawers.

"Luuuuuumi, where aaaaaare you?" Abattoir's voice wafted in from the door. Shaking myself out of the shock of nearly tackling the strange machine, I turned around and trotted back out into the library.

"Over here, stop shouting."

"Over where?"

"Just keep following my voice."

Abattoir appeared at the end of one row and grinned at me "You're such a drama queen." Air Heart and Crunch shortly emerged from another row and trotted closer.

"Shut up. Let's just get back on track, where were we?" I turned to Air Heart, but he was staring at something over my head. Looking back, Abattoir was too.

I tilted my head back and saw another sign dangling off a pole. "What is it?"

Air Heart opened his mouth, then squeaked and clamped it shut again, looking at me nervously. I waved me hoof and nodded "Yes, okay, you can tell me what it says."

"Newspaper archives..." Air Heart mumbled and slipped around me into the room.

"This is actually gettin' kinda eerie, you ever been here before?" Abattoir chuckled and followed Air Heart.

"Was just a coincidence. I wasn't looking where I was going." I looked up at Crunch before I went after them. "I think there's something in here, keep your guard up." Couldn't hurt to be careful.

Inside, Air Heart had somehow turned on one of the huge rectangular machines, the screen now lit up and grey. "Wow, a real, working microfiche reader. These were all over the place before the war, before terminals started getting more advanced..."

"Can you work it?" I watched him run his hoof along some of the dials and knobs.

"Uuuhm, probably?" He shrugged and trotted to one of the cabinets. He pulled out one of the drawers, revealing rows and rows of folders, hundreds of little tabs sticking up with dates on them. He selected one at random and opened it, reaching inside delicately and pulling out a large sheet of something. It was shiny and green, and there were rows and rows of tiny boxes in a grid covering the whole surface. Trotting back to the machine, he found a thin opening on the front and slotted the sheet into it. On the screen, the front page of a newspaper appeared, showing an image of a stallion in a tall hat standing on a stage and cutting a ribbon with an oversized pair of scissors.

"Huh. Neat." I shrugged. It was, I supposed, an interesting tool.

"Yeah, look, all the new renovations to the east side were completed on time thanks to Mayor Tumbleweed. I duno who he is, but he's got my vote!" Abattoir grinned while she squinted up at the image.

Air Heart snickered at her, then reached up to fiddle with some of the knobs. The image suddenly zoomed in much closer. So close I could see Mayor Tumbleweed's cutie mark. It was a tumbleweed. "Let me just get some practice in, then we'll get to work finding the issue we need..." He nudged some of the dials, making the paper scroll to the left and right, then up and down. "It's really sensitive. Might take a little more to get used to."

He lowered his hooves and pulled the book out from under his wings, opening it to the back page again and showing it to Abattoir. "This is the date we're looking for, go ahead and start looking" Then he turned to me and chewed his lower lip for a moment. "Are you... good with numbers?"

I sighed and leaned forward "Just show me the date. I can figure it out. And also shut up." He nodded meekly and pointed out the tiny line of numbers with the tip of one wing. Okay, I could work with that. I had to walk far into the back of the room to find a drawer where the last string of numbers matched up, then started the arduous task of flipping through every one of the tiny tan colored folders looking for a matching date.

I thought watching someone else read was the height of dullness before, but it's nothing compared to sorting through hundreds of files one by one. I'll spare you the gory details, but in the end, Abattoir managed to find the right file, and we all gathered around the micro-whatever-reader.

The image of a yellowed and faded news paper front page filled the screen. It showed several ponies in suits gathered on either side of a railroad track, with another smaller group in the middle. One pony with an oversized hat was using a hammer to drive in a spike. Why this was front page news was anypony's guess.

Air Heart put his hooves on the knobs and started to scroll through the pages. "So, Luminescence? Once we find wherever we're going next, how about we set up camp in here and set out fresh in the morning? I mean it's getting late in the afternoon..."

I turned and looked out into the library lobby. I could still see the town square outside, and the windows were still letting in plenty of filtered sunlight. "I don't think so. Depends how far it is, but there's still a lot of daylight left."

He nodded and resumed his search, passing by one page then backtracking. "Ah, here it is!" He'd settled on an article topped by two pictures. One was the same one from the book of a trio of ponies, Bluegrass, Ante Up, and the oddly dressed mare Xabi. Beside it was a picture of a stage, with Bluegrass off to the side clutching his fiddle over his shoulder, and the mare standing in the middle of the stage shaking a tambourine. Standing on two legs, free of her shawl, revealing her stripes and long curling mane.

"Zebra..." I whispered.

"She's pretty." Abattoir piped up next to me.

"Apparently pretty enough to make him settle down here and give up traveling." Air Heart tapped a section of the article. "She was a... 'local performer', and he met her on a visit, then just suddenly decided to marry her and buy a house, huh..." He twitched one of the knobs and scrolled further down. "Guess his manager didn't like that, the two were heard having some kind of fight recently... er, well, when this was written, I mean." He keep scrolling and came to the next page, and we all jumped. "Oh, well look at that."

It was another picture, this time of Bluegrass and Xabi sitting on their front porch of a cozy looking two story house. "That's the address there, isn't it?" I leaned out and pointed to the row of numbers etched onto a plank of wood beside the door.

"Uhm, yes... But this was taken such a long time ago, I doubt that house is still there." Air Heart furrowed his brow as he stared at the picture.

"Guh." I grunted in frustration and sat down on the carpet. Short of bringing Fiddle Sticks all the way up here, we couldn't get this new information to him, there had to be something more. "Okay, if they built over it, would the new house have the same address?"

Air Heart raised an eyebrow at me, then shrugged after a moment of silence. "Maybe? I guess we could write it down or something... Let me see that map you got." I unfolded the map between the two of us and he squinted at it. "Mmh, it doesn't have any addresses, just streets... Might have to just go outside and find the nearest one to figure out which way to go. An older map might be even more helpful, but I don't know where we'd-"

"OH!" Abattoir piped up from her spot on the floor where she'd been rolling an empty can back and forth. "Map!" She jumped to her hooves and walked over to one of the idle machines, and started banging her foreleg against it.

Air Heart and I stared at her for a while. I was content to watch her do it until her leg came off or she broke the machine, but Air Heart was more concerned, and trotted closer to her, mumbling softly. "Ah, Abattoir, are you... What are you... doing?"

"Just... one... more!" She struck one final blow and there was a noise from the device on her foreleg. Oh, of course, the PipBuck. I kicked myself and joined Air Heart in looking down at the screen, mentally reminding myself not to forget it again. "See, map? It's got the whole town in here!"

"Amazing! I guess this could help us find our way, but... what's that?" Air Heart pointed at the screen. There was a little floating diamond shape set a short distance away from where we were.

"Duno, press some buttons." Abattoir shrugged, then blinked and turned her head to stare blankly at the door.

Air Heart tapped one of the buttons and the map was replaced with words. I sighed and stepped back, letting him do his thing. "It's a log? It's keeping track of everything we've done, now it says we have to... find the home of iron will?"

"What does that mean? And how does it know where to go?" I asked, a touch annoyed at the device, and myself for forgetting it. Air Heart thought for a long moment, then just shrugged and went back to looking at the screen "Well that's helpful. I guess we know where to go now." I waved my hoof in front of Abattoir's eyes. "Hey, get ready to go. What are you staring at?"

She blinked rapidly and waved her free hoof in the air before her "I can see shapes! I see the diamond way out there!" I turned my head, but there was nothing to see. Then I looked closer at Abattoir and saw the barely visible green haze covering her eyes.

"That's the EFS, it shows you the way to go, and some other stuff." I explained while she turned her head side to side and grinned madly.

"Waaaay cool... Hey, what're all those red bars?"

"Hostiles. Probably outside. Not any of our business unless they come in here, but keep your guard up." I turned again to the direction she was facing, but whatever she was seeing must have been well outside the library walls.

Air Heart had dropped the PipBuck and looked absolutely spooked. "W-what should we do? Will we run into them when we leave? Maybe we should stay here, even though it's not dark yet, I mean-" Then a shrill scream penetrated all the way into our deep corner of the library. Nopony moved for a second, then in a very un-Air-Heart-ish fashion, the pegasi broke into a gallop and disappeared out the door.


Crunch, Abattoir, and I raced after Air Heart. He was a quick little stallion, when he wanted to move, but I really didn't want to see where he felt he needed to be so quickly. We reached the front doors of the library and he burst outside, with the three of us close behind. I saw past him, to the crowd of ponies gathered at the edge of the fountain in the middle of the square. There were two ponies piled on top of a mare, while another mare was trying to push the head of a younger filly under the water. At the moment they were all staring up at the rest of us.

"Hey!" Air Heart shouted out, stomping his hoof once. The ponies exchanged glances, then shouted back.


"Stop that!"

"Buzz off, bitch, or you'll be next. Now, you gona hand over your caps, or d'you wana take a swim first?" The mare resumed her struggles to drown the other, and she renewed her own efforts to kick free.

"Listen to them Air Heart, let's go before they change their minds, this doesn't concern us." I tried to caution him, but he shook his head fiercely. He snapped his head down and drew out the shocky-stick, then spread his wings and jumped forward off the library steps. He soared towards the pair sitting on top of the struggling stallion, and for a second I thought he might have the drop on them.

Then they looked up and met his eyes, and all at once he remembered his aversion to flying, and came crashing down on top of them in an ungraceful heap. I, of course, sighed, then drew out my sword and galloped into the square. "Help Air Heart!" I shouted over my shoulder at Crunch.

The mare pushed the filly into the fountain and turned on me, drawing a pistol and firing as I approached. Several rounds landed in my chest, but I kept galloping and her eyes grew from angry slits to wide open ovals. My slash took out one of those ovals in a spray of blood, and the mare reared up, screaming and kicking, until I landed a jab into her torso and sent her backwards into the fountain as well.

Unlike the unfortunate mare, the filly was climbing out of the water. She shook off some of the wetness and sputtered a few times, then pointed at the confusing melee that had become of Crunch, Air Heart, and the other three scavengers. "Hey! Get offa my sister, fuckers!" Seriously, kids these days.

"Stay here, we'll take care of it." She looked up at me when I spoke as if just noticing I was there. She looked me up and down and slowly raised an eyebrow.

"Who are you supposed to be?"

"No one." I deflected the question. I didn't see much need to jump into the fight, Crunch and Abattoir were wrestling and cutting down (respectively) the larger stallions while Air Heart tried to jab the smaller with his shocky-stick. I could clearly make out his voice crying 'Sorry!' between each attack, and shook my head. I slipped into the group and smacked the closest stallion on the rear with the flat of my blade.

That got his attention, and he spun around to come face to swordpoint with me. "Go. Now." I swung my sword to point at other stallion Abattoir was bouncing on top of "You too."

"Right. Gone." They agreed and made a swift retreat. I watched them go and slowly sheathed my sword again. Well, that was the easy part down, now comes the hard part.

Air Heart was checking on the mare the scavengers had been trying to flatten when I rounded on them both. "Are you alright? D-do you need a potion, or, uhm, something?"

"No, thank you, is my sister okay?" The light orange mare took Air Heart's offered hoof and pulled herself up. The filly, who shared the same coat color, trotted around my legs.

"I'm fine, Val. Lucky these weirdoes showed up, eh?" Who, us?

"Hush, Citrus! That's no way to thank somepony." She hissed at her sister before smiling up at us. "And who do we have to thank for coming to our rescue?"

I glanced around the town square, but it remained deserted, so I raised my hoof and introduced our group, pointing around in a circle. The older sister smiled and nodded, while the younger fixed her eyes on Abattoir and mouthed something to herself. Then the older picked up where I left off. "Well, I'm Valencia Orange, and this is my little sister Citrus. Again, I just can't thank you enough for helping us."

I saw Air Heart open his mouth and cut in so quickly I think I startled the pair. "Actually, you can, with one hundred and fifty caps." Every eye turned on me and stared. Air Heart looked the most shocked, while Abattoir just looked amused.

"I'm... I'm sorry, what?" Valencia asked, confused.

"Oh, I get it." Snapped Citrus. "You're probably in cahoots with those other ponies!"

"If I was, wouldn't I ask for a lot more?"

Valencia reached out and tried to pat her sister on the head "She's right, she's only being fair, they didn't have to jump to our aid like that. It's the least we could do." She explained and started to reach into her saddlebags.

The filly rounded on her sister and stomped her forehooves " Siiiiis, I told you to stop bein' such a pussy." Then she pointed up at me and gave me a taste of her own scowl. I gave it a 7 out of 10. "And where do you come up with that, like we owe you so many caps?"

"My usual rescue fee. One hundred per adult, fifty per filly."

"I'm not a filly! I'm sixteen!" Citrus stomped indignantly again. I lowered my gaze to her and stared back, but it was Abattoir who finally said it.

"If you weren't a filly, you'd have to pay an extra fifty caps." She politely pointed out, still smirking.

"Wait, wait, we can't-" Air Heart finally broke out of his daze and looked back and forth from Abattoir to me, gaping.

"Fine! Val, give 'em their caps, let's get the hell outa here." The filly kicked at the ground and turned away from her sister, who flushed and dug out the small pile of caps.

"I am sorry about her, here you are, I... uhm, thanks again." I looked down at the caps on the ground, then tried to find Crunch's eyes, but he had gone back to keeping watch in the direction the two scavengers had fled. The pair started to move off, and I shook my head.

"Wait. Air Heart," I pointed at him and he jerked backwards. "Give them a healing potion for the trip."

He continued to gape for a moment, then blinked his eyes and started nodding rapidly "Oh! Yes, of course, h-here." He dug into his saddlebags and trotted over to give it to Val. She accepted it and smiled again, though a bit less than before.

"Thank you. You four have a safe trip too. There's always more bandits and raiders out here after the sun goes down."

"That's it!" Citrus suddenly yelled from across the road, then turned around and galloped back, pointing wide eyed at Abattoir "You're Abattoir, you're a raider! Our brother's in the Monkey Wrenches, he wrote about you in one of his letters!" The filly looked to be hovering between excited and frightened and unable to choose which one to settle on, while Valencia just looked embarrassed.

Abattoir beamed and tapped her chin thoughtfully. "Orange, orange... Y'mean grumpy ol' Manny? I remember him."

Citrus snorted and laughed, and Valencia took that opportunity to mumble "Mom said we're not supposed to talk about him, Citrus." But the filly just waved her hoof dismissively.

"He said you managed to blow up a wagon when you were just supposed to be changing the wheel!" Citrus' laughter petered out as she went on. "And he said you were scary, I couldn't believe that! Because you're cursed, and you make bad stuff happen..." She trailed off and took a few sudden steps backwards.

"That's nothing but nonsense from superstitious raiders." I said quickly, very eager to see the end of this conversation. "There's no such thing as a curse that causes random acts of-"

Then several things happened very rapidly. There was a upsurge of water and, somehow, the mare I'd half blinded sat up in the fountain. She'd brought her gun back up with her clenched tightly between her teeth, and her remaining eye was burning with whatever spark of life had remained in her this long as it fixed on me. Then came the scrape of concrete, and the statue of the rearing pony in the center of the fountain came crashing down onto the mare with a soggy crunch, and splashing us all with a wave of irradiated water.

"... Hehe... bad luck?" Abattoir mumbled finally, with a chuckle that made my mane stand on end.


Understandably, the Oranges parted ways with us rather quickly after that. Abattoir still had her map marker up in her EFS, so I told her to just lead the way, and we set off down the streets once more. I was hoping the shock and adrenaline would keep Air Heart stunned for the duration of the trip.

It didn't, of course.


I sighed. "Why what?"

"Why did we have to take their caps?"

"Because you don't know what 'not any of our business' means." I looked back at him, and he lowered his eyes to the ground. "Because you went and made it our business, so those ponies had to pay. Besides that wasn't even a whole lot of caps."

"But, aren't we allowed to help somepony just because it's the right thing to do?" I saw the mare bleeding from one eye as she fell backwards into the fountain. Dead, or good as anyway.

"Not when a life is ended in the process. Then someone has to pay." I turned my gaze forward again, once more silently praying Abattoir was taking us in the right direction.

"That raider? But... what does that have to do-"

"Stop. Talking. Now." I turned to face him, hoping again that the full frontal conflict would be enough to end this line of questioning before it went any father. "That's just the way it works. I don't have the time to explain it to you, even if I wanted to. No more questions until we find this... iron house or whatever, got it?" He shrank back and nodded, but his eyes stayed fixed on me and flicked up and down in a strange way. Before I could turn back around he reached out and placed his hoof on my chest. I jumped and brushed it off. "What now?"

"Didn't you get shot?"

I looked down again at my torso, unblemished and intact, and shook my head "No, she missed. No more questions." I left him deep in thought and faced forward, once again finding Abattoirs deep purple eyes almost pressed against my lenses. "What?"

"Noooothin'!" Then she skipped backwards, did some sort of cartwheel, and started trotting down the road again. I picked up my old pace after her, and heart Air Heart's hooves behind mine short after.

I became aware that Crunch was trotting beside me. Last I'd seen he'd been watching our backs, but now he was right next to me. I glanced sideways and caught his eyes. "Why does everypony have to bother me all at once right now?" I mumbled. He snorted and nodded his head towards Air Heart behind us. I looked, and saw him with his head drooping and his gaze fixed on the cracked road. "No." Crunch narrowed his eyes and I turned my own away. "You're serious? I warned you. It's better this way, I can't make either of them understand, and I don't want to." I felt his heavy hoofsteps grow even heavier beside mine. "I can't have them-" Then he leaned down and bit the tip of my ear. "Fine!" I shouted after wrestling with his teeth for a moment, and just like that he smiled at me and slowed his pace, falling back to the rear and pushing Air Heart towards me.

Air Heart was looking startled, and I shook my head and kept trotting. "Pardon me, Air Heart. I'm annoyed, and that situation wasn't... entirely your fault. You showed great courage back there. You should be proud." I spoke slowly and deliberately, and my jaw didn't seem to want to unclench, but he get the message and lifted his head.

"Thanks. I don't know what came over me. I've never picked a fight with anypony before, but I've never heard somepony screaming for help before either..." He tilted his head back and gazed up at the quickly darkening blanket of clouds.

"It's not easy to help ponies." I dropped my voice low, making him look at me strangely and lean closer. "Ponies are selfish, and greedy, and cruel. Some of them can't be helped. Some of them don't want to be helped. Remember that, if you're going to keep helping ponies."

He furrowed his brow again and looked at me with concern, then cracked a small smile and looked away. "I'd guess you'd just get more annoyed if I said I don't quite understand, right?"

At that, I chuckled. Lightly, so only he could hear "Yes, a bit."

"Why do you help ponies, then?"

"That's something I can't tell you" I looked back for Crunch again. He was smiling at me. He wanted this, but... "Yet."


The home of iron will. I don't know what I was expecting from a place like that. What I was expecting the least was just any old house. But when Abattoir finally stopped and waved both hooves over her head and called "And heeeere we are!" She was gesturing at a simple house.

Well, simple was the wrong word. It was a pretty impressive house, and made a pretty impressive ruin too. Like all the houses in this slice of town, it was wide three storey building surrounded by a high metal fence that stood over even Cruch's head, with an even bigger front yard than the house we'd bunked up in the night before. Behind several of the homes I could even see some kind of trees growing, though the leaves that covered them were ugly and brown.

The front gate was overgrown with the same coiling ivy that obscured every inch of the surrounding fences like a curtain. Both Abattoir and I had to work at sawing through the thick growth to get the gate to open. It gave a token squeal of protest, and we were inside.

With the thick ivy and plant life obscuring the gaps between the fence, and the height of the fence itself, I was left suddenly feeling much more enclosed. I could only see as far as either side of the yard, and up to the house.

"Let's get inside and start looking." I said, and started up the curing garden path towards the front porch.

"It's so late, could we stop here for the night?" Air Heart asked over my shoulder. I looked up at the grey-black clouds. The sun was most certainly set, or just on the verge of it.

"Maybe after we've found something." As much as I hated it, having that PipBuck Abattoir picked up guiding us would make it much easier to find whatever it was we were looking for. Speaking of, I looked back and saw her poking curiously at a bush with some purple berries dotting it. "Don't eat those. Hurry up and get over here."

"I wasn't gona, geez!" She trotted down the path, rolling her eyes.

We found the front door unlocked, and the last thing I noticed before entering the house was the address. It didn't matter now, but it was indeed the same numbers from the old photo.

The front entrance led directly into a large living room. Even through the layers of dust and dirt I could tell who ever lived here had enjoyed a higher standard of living. A huge curving couch fit into the corner, shelves full of knick knacks and trophies, and some kind of large complicated machine stacked with numbered metal disks. But the thing that drew the eye the most was the ludicrously large painting hung over the back of the couch. It depicted a very muscular blue minotaur giving a thumbs up and flashing an award winning grin.

Air Heart crossed the living room and looked at a little metal tag on the bottom of the frame, then whispered, "Oh... he's Iron Will. I guess that answers that question. I've never heard of a famous minotaur though."

"They weren't very common in Equestria, less so during the war." I replied, trotting closer to give the painting a better look. "The biggest herds lived in Caledonia, though some were scattered around the Badlands. Never heard of him though."

"Weren't the minotaurs on the zebra's side?" Abattoir asked from over by the strange contraption, sitting on it and fiddling with some of the levers.

Air Heart shrugged and turned away from the painting "Not at first, they were mostly neutral. Some might have been hired by the zebras, but the majority of minotaurs remained nomadic as long as they could... At least, thats' what my history teacher said. He also said everything down here was dead and rotten and all the ponies were mutated savages. And, you're not, so... he might be wrong."

I shook my head and left the painting behind as well. "It's not important, Abattoir, where is it saying to go now?" Abattoir sat up on the padded seat of the machine and blinked her eyes, then shrugged.

"I duno."

"Can't you see the arrow?"

"Well yeah, but it's just sorta..." She waved her hooves in the air over her head "Hangin' there in the middle of the room. I don't think this thing can just find everything everywhere ever."

"Fine, we'll just have to look around."

"So what you're saying is..." She hopped back down onto the carpet and narrowed her eyes at me. "Let's split up and search for clues?"

I sensed a trap, possibly leading into another Luna damned song, so I turned and picked a hallway at random to escape down. "Whatever you want, sure, let me know if you find something!"

I could still hear her giggling all the way down the hall. The first door I found was a bathroom, the second, a kitchen, then the third door at the very end of the hall led into a dark garage. With no real clue what I was searching for, I stepped into the gloom. There was a large empty space in the middle where some kind of wagon must have sat in the past, while the walls around were decorated with assorted tools and junk.

With the glow coming off my mane piercing through the shadows, I spied a conspicuous shape shrouded in a tarp pushed into one corner. The tarp itself drew me more than any curiosity to see what it hid, but when I pulled it away and saw the well preserved lawn mower gleaming in the light, I counted that as a nice bonus. I pushed the machine over and knelt down, peeking at its underside. The blades were slightly grass stained, but otherwise pristine. With a little bit of leverage, both my forehooves, and a good amount of my magic, I was able to pry loose one of the heavy blades. I wrapped my prize in the tarp and eased it into my saddlebags, then as an afterthought, snagged a bottle of wonderglue from amid the junk. At this rate I'd have everything I need by the time I got back to Cliffside.

When I returned from the garage I was actually slightly pleased to hear Air Heart shouting that they'd found something. "Alright, alright, I'm on my way, where are you."

"Upstairs!" Came the answer. I returned to the living room and followed the staircase with my eyes until I spotted Air Heart leaning on the top railing. I trotted up to join him and he led me down a corridor, into a sparsely decorated office. There was a bookshelf with a total of three books, one of them bearing a picture of Iron Will himself, a desk with a terminal, a small metal rack with more weights of increasing size stacked up on it, and a safe set into the wall behind the desk. There was also a framed newspaper article hung up on the wall showing the minotaur in an ill fitting uniform, looming over several other terrified similarly uniformed ponies mid shout.

"Interesting." I walked over to the safe. Abattoir was standing on her hind legs and leaning against the wall with her ear pressed to the safe's dial. "Don't tell me you can pick that."

"Shhh..." She held her hoof to her lips. "I can hear the ocean..."

Of course. I turned to the terminal. "How about that?"

Air Heart stepped up to the desk again and furrowed his brow. "Well, I think I managed to make it to the right screen, but it's either broken or I did it wrong. I can't make sense of any of this."

I glanced at the screen, expecting to see the usual gibberish, and was not surprised. No, scratch that, I was very surprised. There was gibberish, of course, long lines of it, but mashed in between them were symbols I recognized. The thick blocky scrawls of the minotaur language were unmistakable.

"There, that one." I tapped the screen at the word for open, hoping this Iron Will fellow really wasn't that bright. Air Heart looked skeptically at me and I tapped it again "Do it, just try that one." He didn't stop looking at me that way until he tapped the keys, making the little glowing box shift down and light up the symbols. Then he tapped once more and the lines were gone, back to the usual junk I couldn't understand, and Air Heart's jaw just fell open.

"How did you know?" He finally gathered himself up enough to ask, both eyebrows raised in shock.

I hope you won't think less of me if I told you only then that it occurred to me assisting him with that password would possibly reveal some sensitive information about me. After rapidly running through all possible solutions in my head, I shrugged, turned away from the desk and trotted over to the window. "Lucky guess. Anything useful in there?"

From the silence I figured he must be giving me some sort of disbelieving stare, but I just kept looking out the dirty window. Sometime between our arrival and coming up here to the office the sun had finally decided to set, and darkness had fallen across the town. Again I could see the scarce few streetlamps casting cones of light, but this time I was high up enough and facing the right way to see the distant city across the gap. There were more lights to be glimpsed in between the ominous towering buildings. Something bright flickered across my vision, and I noticed for the first time a lighthouse standing to the west, closer to the sea, sending out a wide swooping beam of light.

Then I remembered I was in the middle of a conversation with Air Heart. "-just looks like old journals, but not the ones we're looking for. This Iron Will really lent heavily on the caps lock... Oh, well there's this. Abattoir, step back." I stepped away from the window and watched as Abattoir dropped back onto all four hooves and hopped away from the safe. Air Heart hit a button and the door popped open an inch with a soft hiss.

"Cool!" Abattoir exclaimed and flung the door wide. I joined her in peering into the depths of the safe, and Air Heart followed suit. There was a sizable stack of bits taking up one side that I paid little attention to, a pair of books and a folded up pile of tan colored clothing, and lastly a little silvery square object sitting in the center of the safe.

I didn't know what to look at first, so I settled on levitating out the stack of cloth and unfolding it. It turned out to be the uniform from the newspaper photo, and it was a lot of uniform. This Iron Will must've been huge by even minotaur standards. "I think you were right, Air Heart. Whatever we're looking for probably isn't in here."

But Air Heart was busy inspecting the books. "Wow, autographed first edition Daring Do's?"

"We can't take those with us." I was going to nip that in the bud. He looked shocked and nodded his head.

"Of course we can't take them with us, they're priceless artifacts! I'd better put them back!" He quickly stuffed the books back into the safe, then scooped up the metallic device instead. "Huh, I've seen these, they're used with PipBucks to record audio." He tilted the object towards me and I saw two tiny black spools of ribbon through the front, and a slot along the bottom. "Here, Abattoir, hold out your arm."

Abattoir complied, chewing on her lower lip and grinning "Ouh, I hope it's a song~"

Air Heart found the slot near the top of the screen and plugged the recording into it, then tapped a few buttons. Suddenly, the gruffest of gruff voices blasted out of the speaker.

"Attention, the contents of this safe are the personal belongings of The Incredible Iron Will, and if you are even thinking about stealing them, Iron Will is going to introduce you to a whole new world OF PAIN! If you are Iron Will himself, please disregard this warning, and remember to give mom a call and pick up milk at the store!"

We all stayed silent for several moments. Finally Air Heart disconnected the recording and chucked it back into the safe "Maybe we should just put everything back and get out of here." I had to reach out and stop him from slamming the safe shut.

"Just relax, it's a hundred year old message. Iron Will is not going to put you in a world of pain or whatever. Crunch, come over here." With a thump, my large companion dropped the weight he'd been absently lifting and trotted over to present his side to the safe. I stuck my hoof in and pushed about half of the stack of bits into his saddlebags, letting them fall in a jingling, tinkling jumble. He looked back at me and gave a snort of annoyance, but he deserved a little mess to clean up after biting me earlier. "You two can split the rest, I guess."

"A-Are you sure?" Air Heart asked nervously while Abattoir giddily scooped some of the remaining portion into her grubby bags.

"Yes, bits aren't worth as much as caps, and I can't really take them all."

"Well, okay then" He said as he eased the remaining piles into his own bags. Then her prodded around inside the safe. "I guess that's everything in here. What should we do now?"

"Keep looking. Where else haven't you checked?"

"Can't we call it a night?" Air Heart sat down heavily, his wings drooping "We made so much progress today, isn't that enough?"

"You just don't wana go down there when it's dark~" Abattoir said from behind the pegasus, who shot back onto his hooves and tried to stifle her, but she just laughed and skipped away.


Air Heart looked sheepishly at me for a moment, then looked down at his hooves instead "I, uhm, found some other stairs, but they go... down, y'know, not up, and..."

"A basement?"

"Yup!" Abattoir had skipped around the room and ended up over my shoulder, where I swatted her away from. "But he was too scared to go down b'cause it was daaaaark~" She put on a look of fright and trembled beside me until Air Heart rushed in, cheeks ablaze.

"I did not! I only meant, I mean... she's the one with the light source, I said we should wait for her..." He said in a fluster, then looked over to me and tried to smile politely. "Which, by the way, you're looking a lot, uhm... b-brighter tonight! Uuuunless that's a bad thing, in which case I take it back!"

I just held my head in my hooves and sighed.


"Seeee, you big scardey pony, it's not so bad down here." Abattoir said as we spread out from the bottom of the wooden stairs that had led down into a very spacious cellar. The floors and walls were all wooden as well, and creaked loudly in several spots.

"I wasn't scared." Air Heart huffed and tried to hide behind the book of old towns he'd brought from the library.

"Quiet. Spread out and see if you can find anything that looks, I don't know, old." If only that damn useless device could be more specific.

"This whole place looks old." Abattoir tapped one of the wooden beams set around the cellar, which creaked in response. I was suddenly struck with a brief but powerful urge to kick her out of the basement lest it collapse on us. Then I shook my head and looked down at the wood under my own hooves. It did look well worn and well traveled.

"I think you're right." Air Heart had joined in, inspecting one of the corners where an old wooden rocking chair sat. "I think this might even have been left over from the house before, they didn't bother to dig it all up."

So this could be Bluegrass' basement. I looked around in a circle slowly, and heard Abattoir hopping around the room. Creak, creak, creak. Lots of squeaky boards. I started to walk with my head low, twin ovals of green light bathing the floor as I stared closely at it. I went from one corner of the basement to the other, wondering if it could really by this simple. Then I felt it as I went across, a patch of boards with much more give than any others, with scratches on the sides of a few of them.

"Over here." I called out, and the three of them closed in on the spot. I tapped it a few times, then pushed in and felt the boards give slightly. "I think there's something under here."

Air Heart squinted and knelt down to examine the boards, poking and prying at them with the tip of his hoof. "Hmm, it's possible. We could try pulling them up, if we had a crowbar or something..."


Air Heart gasped and stumbled back out of the way as the large stallion lifted both forehooves into the air, then sent them crashing into the floorboards. There was a tremendous crack and several of the boards gave way. Crunch and I pulled the scraps of wood out and pried loose the remaining bits of board, until the face of the floor safe was clearly visible, surrounded by dirt.

"Wow..." Air Heart was still catching his breath as he leaned to peer down the hole we'd made. "How do we open it?"

"The same way we found it. Keep going, Crunch."

Crunch looked a little skeptically at me, then shrugged and stepped over the hole, lifting one of his rear legs and starting to stomp down on the safe. Air Heart winced and looked at me. "Are you sure-"


"Yes." I said, with the tiniest bit of smugness in my voice. The door to the safe had buckled inward, and took some prying to lift open, which I did while Abattoir clapped her hooves at Crunch. I peeked inside and saw a few scraps of paper and an ornate wooden box. I levitated out the papers and held them to Air Heart, while I brought the box out and set it on the floor.

"Could he have done that on the safe upstairs?" Air Heart asked, eyes still wide as he took the papers under his wing.

"Probably not. That was a Stable-Tec safe up there, made during the war. But this," I waved at the mangled door of the safe "Was made before the war, more than a century before it even." I shrugged and poked at the box. It had no lock, just a latch, and the dark wood was carved with fancy pattern. I lifted the latch and opened the lid, and looked down into a red velvet lined case, where a large hunk of wood and metal sat nestled in an indent opposite an identical empty space. I lifted the object out and held it up. It looked like a gun, it had a wooden bit and a trigger, but instead of a barrel it just had six long tubes, and some kind of protruding metal lever on the side. I pulled back on the lever and could hear the clicking of gears, then when it stopped I pointed at the far wall and pulled the trigger. The lever snapped forward and I saw a small spark shoot out in the darkness. But other than that, nothing. I looked down into the box again and saw a little black bag, and inside I found several small metal balls.

I was utterly unimpressed, but Air Heart seemed fascinated. "That's another antique, a pre-pre war firearm!" He leaned in close to observe the ancient gun held up in my magic. "You'd have to fill each of the tubes with something like gunpowder, and stuff the bullets inside. It's an amazing piece of technology."

"It's neat, I guess." I said as I set the gun back inside the case and closed the lid, lifting the whole thing up.

"You're going to take it?" Air Heart seemed surprised by that.

I moved towards Crunch but he deftly turned himself away from the levitating box, until I gave up and lowered it into my own bags. "Fine, you big baby. And I guess. It's rare, right? Might be valuable."

Air Heart chuckled and shrugged. "Maybe to a collector." Then he kept smiling at me while I continued to stare at him. Eventually he started to look uncomfortable and fidgeted on his hooves. "... What?"

"Read." I nodded at the clump of papers he still had clutched under one wing, and he jumped.

"Oh! Right, those, o-of course..." He cleared his throat, held them in front of himself and shuffled them around a few times, then lowered them again and huffed. "Wait, no."

"What is it now?" It was then that I noticed Abattoir had been unusually quiet, and saw her sitting in the old rocking chair, grinning madly.

"No, this time you're going to say please, and I mean it. Otherwise I'm not reading anything else for you."

Oh merciful Luna, give me strength. "Just read, or-"

But he huffed again and powered through, but he did turn his head away to keep from meeting my gaze. "Or you'll do something bad like pull out my own skull and beat me to death with it or something. Well fine, do it then, but you'll have no one left to read things but Abattoir." I glanced again at the yellowgreen pony watching from the chair, who was having to bite down on her hooves to keep from bursting into laughter. Trusting her to read anything to me right was probably the height of terrible ideas. But I wasn't going to be beat yet.

"Why is that so important to you?" I looked at Air Heart again and took a step forward.

He gulped, then took a step forward as well. "You said I'd be acting like a doormat if I just laid there and took it. Well I'm not gona lay here and take it from you either!" He pointed dramatically at me, and both Crunch and Abattoir started laughing together. He went even redder, but kept going. "I mean, you shouldn't be so bossy to us! Even if you don't wana be friends, we should still act like teammates, and that means asking politely when you want their help with something!" He dropped his pointing hoof with a stomp.

I just let it all soak in, listening to Abattoirs snorty giggles and Crunch's booming laughs. I took another few steps forward, and saw Air Heart's breath catch in his throat.

"Very well then. Please, read the pages."

Air Heart's knees buckled and he almost fell to the floor as he let loose the breath he'd been holding. "R-r-really?!"

"Yes. But this does not mean we are teammates. And if you ever yell at me like that again." I leaned in close and dropped my voice to a whisper. "I'll turn your hooves into ashtrays. And I don't even smoke."

I stepped back and he nodded quickly, gasping for air as Abattoir skipped over and threw one leg over his shoulder "Eey, I knew you could do it! That book really did a number on you!"

"What book?" I asked as I sat down on the floor, where Crunch joined me a moment later with a smirk still on his face.

"He was reading a book that Iron Will fella' wrote before we went to find you, and suddenly went on and on about assertiveness and junk and said he was gona stand up to you. I never knew he had it in 'em though!" She cheered again and shook the pegasus, who just crumpled to the floor and fanned the pages out in front of him.

"W-well I... I just was a little tired of... n-nevermind, I'm sorry I yelled, let's just see what these say and then we can get some sleep." Air Heart cleared his throat a few times and began to read.


Bluegrass' Journal, entry no.6

So I finally performed my first show up on stage last night. Ante introduced me to the owner of the bar, he's a griffon, can you believe that? I think the show went pretty good too, a lot of those drunks even tried to dance a little to it.

I didn't expect to get paid so well though, even with Ante taking out his "'finder's fee". But when he brought the bits he also brought something else, some old door handles and a bunch of tiny metal hooks. He said it was a practice technique to hone my precision, but I'm not the naive citypony he thinks I am, he's testing if I can pick locks.

Don't know how impressed he was though, I got most of them to open eventually, but those tumblers are tricky.


Bluegrass' Journal no.22

Ante and me are on the move again. I'm really getting to see a lot of southern Equestria, and I think I'm getting used to sleeping on the train.

We're riding first class this time, that last club's security was so pathetic we were able to make off with much more than we thought.

I know it's a little wrong, but I'm not spending my bits like water the way Ante is, I'm saving mine up to come on home, once I'm done...

Still thinking about you sis, I'll see you soon.


Bluegrass' Journal no.103

Got way too drunk last night, but it was a real cause for celebration. Ante's crew really came through, and we managed to knock over one of the biggest casinos in Las Heygas. We'll be reading about it in the papers tomorrow.

Ante did something weird last night, or I think he did. I think he tried to kiss me, but he was so drunk, and he didn't say anything in the morning, so maybe I dreamt it up after all that Wild Pegasus.

Not that your brother's a colt cuddler, don't go getting that idea. Anyway, Ante's letting me plan our routes more, and I'm working my way back up north. I think it's finally time I came home.


Bluegrass' journal no.110

I met someone in this little town we've stopped at, Cremello. I was walking home one night and she bumped into me. She tried to steal my wallet, so I swiped her purse at the same time. You should have seen the way she blushed.

She's a zebra, and a dancer, she lives with a buffalo and some griffons and other ponies in a camp outside of town. She invited me back there after we met and I played a little for them. She was so beautiful when she danced, I can't get her out of my mind. I'm going to go back to see her tomorrow, Ante Up can be patient for a while longer.


"So, it looks like Fiddle Stick's parents were telling the truth." Air Heart said, looking up from the pages.

"I guess he was cooler than I thought." Abattoir shrugged, then poked at the last page he'd read. "There's somethin' on the back of there."

"Hmm?" Air Heart turned the page over, and I saw a thick black blob taking up the top section of the page. "It's all scratched out..." There were two more scribbled out messages on the backs of two other pages, but the last one remained readable, and Air Heart read it out slowly, his brow furrowing as he went on. "Bluegrass, if you want to quit, that's your decision... Come to the horseshoe where we stashed the loot, and I'll give you your share, then you can go on and spend the rest of your life with that... that gypsy? The hoofwriting here is terrible."

"Ooooouh, somepony was jealous!" Abattoir rubbed her hooves together like she'd just learned a juicy bit of gossip.

"Ante Up, obviously." I rose to my hooves and stretched them slightly. "Any clue what the horseshoe where they stashed the loot might be?"

Air Heart kept looking at the poorly written note, but nodded. "Uhm... Oh, yeah, that's an easy one." He blinked his eyes a few times before dipping into his saddlebags and pulling out the library book. With practiced ease he flipped to the section about Cliffside and tapped a picture of a large group of dirty looking ponies standing together in front of a large cave entrance. "The Golden Horseshoe was the first and biggest mine built back when the town was in its prime. That's my best guess anyway-"

"AHH!" Abattoir yelped and flailed her hooves in front of her face.

"What!?" Air Heart gasped, jerking to his hooves with his wings wide.

"The arrow, it's gone!" She blinked and waved towards the ceiling, then turned her head and stared at a wall. "Oh, there it is, but it's all tiny again. Mr.Arrow, have you lost weight?" She snickered a bit, while Air Heart caught his breath and tugged at her PipBucked hoof.

"Don't scare me like that, Abbey... Huh, I guess I was right. The map says Horseshoe Mines." He smiled up at me when I took a step closer to study the map. I saw where we were, in the thick of all those homes, and I saw where the mines were, to the south outside of the city. "So we know where we're going tomorrow, that's good right?" I looked back at him, his hopeful smile. He wanted us all to act like a team. He wanted us to act like friends even, to get to know things about us. He wanted me to say please.

"Tonight." I said, and turned and trotted to the stairs. "Come on Crunch." I heard his heavy hoofsteps following mine back up the stairs, as well as Air Heart's half stuttered protests.

"W-wait what? Y-you can't- I mean it's late a-and- shouldn't we all just get some sleep?"

"You can sleep. I'm going to go to the mines and find whatever I can, I'll be back before the sun comes up and we can get back to Cliffside, get paid, and you'll be that much closer to paying off your debt for good."

His steps faltered a little but he kept chasing me as I continued through the halls towards the front door. "But you don't even know how to get there! And it's the middle of the night, aren't you even a little bit tired?"

"I saw the map, I'll find it." I reached the door and pulled it open, the pitch black lawn and cool night air greeting me. I turned to look back at Air Heart and drew my sword as well, pointing it at him. "And I don't care whatever some books you've been reading say, I'm still in charge. The only thing I'm tired of is this job, so I'm going to go finish it, with or without-YOUPHFF!" Then something hauled my rear legs out from under me and pulled me out into the night. I even dropped my sword.

Footnote: Leveled up! Is this really the best time?!

New Perk: Frightening Presence: A little redundant, don't you think? You can use your spooky looks to scare open new dialogue options, or terrify low level foes into thinking twice about fighting you.

Skill note: Hacking 5. You hate terminals, don't you?

(Great Caesars toast, this chapter got out of control here! Again I intended to finish this little jaunt in one chapter, but I quickly realized it was much too early to drop a 30,000+ word chapter on y'all so soon, so I found a way to split it nice and neat. Once again, thanks to Kkat for this wonderful playground of a setting, thanks to my pal No One for the heaps of advice I've been getting, and thanks to the Wasted Days staff for letting me toy with their location. See y'all next time <3)