• Published 20th Nov 2013
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FoE: Snippet Story - Windrunner

Set at various points in the Fallout: Equestria universe. Each chapter is intended to be a unique story unto itself. So many references, both ludicrously obscure and blatantly obvious. Even the title. No, not that. You will never figure them all out.

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The Grim Velvet Monster of Silent Lake


It sat by the edge of the quiet unmoving lake, forever staring at some fixed point in the distance. Its hide chewed and rotted, torn and broken. How it came to be here in this place was an unknown. Any that ever saw the hideous thing ran for their lives as if the great walls between goodness and evil had simply fallen asunder. One eye hung askew, set back as it was on its strangely sloped head. It had at one time been a source of mirth. Now it sat as a harbinger of dread, instilling fear in any unlucky enough to chance upon it. As with many things in the world what passed before had become near-about meaningless.

The storied histories of ages full of prosperity and happiness ended in one quick swing of fates fickle sword, leaving the world to its decline into decay and obscurity. Its rounded back sagged, its twisted feet lay splayed to the sides, discolored patches across it gave to it the look of something tormented by long exposure in the unforgiving wastelands. No pony dared approach the small forever placid lake at the base of the mountains. The rumors of a vile monstrous apparition were enough to deter even the hardiest of wanderers from the effort. The calm water, a most valuable commodity in a land destroyed was not a big enough draw to entice an adventurous soul to come near.

Stories of a cruel, forever smiling monstrosity spread across the region. The edge and outlying areas of the lake were immediately abandoned after the war ended so suddenly and with such great violence. Though far removed from any major blast or other disaster the water had proven undrinkable. Time enough passed for it to look clear and inviting once more. None would try. If anything held true in the wastes it was that rumors of monsters could turn out to be very real. This clearly present fact was enough in itself to prevent taking advantage of this valuable oasis of potentially potable water. This is also what led to the crude reward posters looking for anyone brave enough to clear the area.

"I can't believe I let you talk me into this, Tisket. You and your need for 'entertainment' have almost gotten us killed three times in the last two months alone, I almost wound up with two heads and you almost lost yours! Next time, I pick the mission and that is final." A lilac unicorn mare with a # for a cutie mark was berating a hefty teal-coated earth pony. He wore unusual color banded barding that looked like it would fall apart at any moment which inexplicably remained in place.

"Oh come now, Tasket. We both know you would've enjoyed the chance to talk to yourself. You do it enough already. Besides, it doesn't matter anyway." Tasket harrumphed as they looked at the poster pinned to the edge of the disused crossroads.

It was written atop an old paper already on something that seemed like it was a signpost at one time. An ancient advertisement under the writing heralded a very faded 'Buy a Cheval Corsega LS, twice the cart for twice the pony.'

"That is a very strange sign, Tisket." Her tone was a little apprehensive.

"Do you really want to go there? They say that a disgusting creature guards the lake, but I suppose that sort of thing is right up your alley." He just grunted in response. His eyes were transfixed on the amount of caps being offered if anypony could prove it safe to approach the far off lake.

She could almost imagine seeing a pile of caps reflected in his gaze. Tasket waved a hoof in front of his face. At first he didn't even notice.

"Hey Tisket look..free money!" He snapped out of his reverie.

"I can almost hear the clinking of all those caps already." The most sly expression graced his face. She poked him in the ribs.

"Hey, what was that for?" He was now frowning at her in quite a display of emotion.

"Oh, just to remind you the last time you said something like that the repairs cost more than what you got." She was snickering under her breath.

"Just you wait, we are going to hit it big one of these times out." He looked dreamy again.

"Something will probably get hit alright..again." She snorted.

"You know it won't matter.." she shook her head before he could finish.

"Let's go, Sis." They marched on.

"This doesn't even sound like one of our normal missions, Tisket. It wasn't on the list at base camp." They were walking towards what had been the edge of a forest. Off in the distance stood the small shimmering lake. The shadows of a far off mountain range could just be made out. Distances in this type of terrain were terrifically deceiving. It took an entire days marching just to come within sight of it.

"We'll camp here tonight before getting any closer. I don't think wandering around in the dark is a good idea." Tasket pointed a hoof at a potential campsite. Previous experiences wandering taught them not to make campfires too visible.

Drawing attention was often a big mistake when dealing with the denizens of the wastes.

"Why did we have to take a mission so far away to begin with anyhow? It was almost 200 miles from camp.." She sounded perturbed.

"The reward for locating an old military weapons cache would have been enormous. At least we got this." He held up an odd looking greebled shoulder mountable rifle.

"Yeah, with no ammo..maybe you can sell it to cover our expenses." She teased. He frowned.

"I don't wanna." He stuck out his tongue. Tasket rolled her eyes and looked off towards the lake.

"I just hope this isn't another long haul for nothing, that old pony talking about the reward seemed a bit addled if you ask me." The promise of a large pile of caps erased any reservations Tisket might have had about checking it out. In light of their previous mission having been nearly fruitless save for finding the ancient magitech rifle, getting a pile of caps would be heavenly.

"We don't even know what that rifle fires. Why keep it?" Tisket made a point of carefully cleaning it each night before sleeping, by now it looked positively shiny.

"You may have got all the brawn in the family Tisket, but I got all the brains as you well know. Would it hurt you to listen to me a bit more often?" She sighed.

"Did you say something? I wasn't listening." Tasket groaned at the reply. He was eying the bulky rifle dreamily.

"Tisket, we don't even know what that thing does. Just consider selling it, will you?" A nod was all she got. He looked over a terribly drawn map they were given back in the areas only small settlement. They were now a long way northwest of what was once Fillydelphia. They nor any other pony would try to approach the city proper, dark things were known to be happening there, and terrible rumors flew.

Although not impossible to obtain, fresh water was still a valuable commodity. One of the few residents in this outlying region even gave them a small enticement of fifty caps to help secure their services.

"Look over there, Tisket." She'd spotted a small structure, really nothing more than a tiny ancient shed. Carefully they peeped inside.

"Seems empty, we can sleep in here." There was just enough room for them both to squeeze in with their saddlebags and equipment.

The shed if it contained anything was picked clean by some soul either brave or desperate enough to come out this far.

"Not much, but better than sleeping outside I suppose." She commented.

"I can't wait to get back to my quarters at base camp. I haven't slept on a real bed in weeks!" She pulled a small ragged sheet out of a bag, spreading it out on the floor.

"Your quarters aren't much bigger than this shed." Tisket was laying out his weapons to check them over.

"Yes, but I don't have to share it." They filled in some time before settling in for the night discussing where to start searching around the lake.

"We should start at the southwest end, the lake is thinner towards that area so it should go faster and be easier to finish scouting out." She pointed at a section of the map.

"Alright, we have one slight problem. Our previous endeavor has left us low on ammo for both my pistols and for your sniper, better carry a grenade each and carry a shotgun instead." She pulled two scatterguns off their straps. One was scuffed and had a wide stock to it, on the other the name Pepper was engraved on the barrel.

"Aww, I hate using those things Tasket. I'm no good with either of them." He mumbled.

"Oh quit your bellyaching. You're the one that missed eight times with those expensive sniper rounds." She was glaring.

"That wasn't my fault and you know it, we were practically in a tornado." Tisket tucked the odd rifle away with his other gear.

"Yeah, a tornado you caused by messing with things you know nothing about." She looked pretty smug.

"How was I supposed to know that big red button with a skull on it would do that?" She rolled her eyes in exasperation.

"Next time you see anything..or want to touch anything at all, just think to yourself what would Tasket do? Then, don't do it anyway." It was his turn to sigh.

"You think you just know everything don't you, Sis?" He got comfortable on the sheet beside her.

"No, which is why I don't go rushing headlong into every possible situation. You managed to make getting a wrench dangerous before." He yawned.

"I remember like it was yesterday." She glared at him once more. "What?" He asked.

"Tisket, It was yesterday!" He was a bit embarrassed at that.

"Oh. Let's just get some sleep now." he said and they drifted off. The days and nights in the Equestrian wastes share a similar hue, it is merely far more dull and dark. Next mornings slow, ever so slight lightening of the sky above shed no real new light on the ruined land.

"Weapons check out. Ready to go, brother of mine?" She asked chipperly.

"You seem awfully enthusiastic today, Sis." He gently rubbed the sleep out of his eyes and stretched with a crack.

"Oww oww." She was chuckling at his misfortune.

"Hey, that hurt ya know.." They gathered up their gear and prepared to head out.

"Whats the matter, getting old?" She snorted.

"We're the same age!" His indignant reply just made her laugh some more.

"Could have fooled me, creaky." He slipped into his dimly multicolored barding, mumbling to himself.

"Hey Sis, how come you won't wear any barding? We have run into a fair amount of dangerous things in our travels." He was genuinely curious as she never wore any kind of protective gear.

"I'm not a fighter. I am a tactician, a strategist. It works best when we're utilizing your sniper, but I have good instincts and can analyze a situation quickly. Why do you think I always let you go first?" She smiled while finishing attaching her saddlebags and gear.

"I would be no good at all in a straight up fight if it weren't for Pepper here." The two shotguns were equipped with bit-catch firing mechanisms allowing an earth pony to fire either with ease. Peppers stock was custom, made to carry many extra shells pointing outwards at an angle for fast reloading. A unicorn such as herself could fully reload the heavy scattergun with frightening speed.

"Why not use a sniper as well then?" He asked while she connected Pepper to a quick-release carrying belt across her back.

"This weapon is best for me personally and great for backing you up when anything manages to get close-in. Peppers spread is exceedingly wide so I don't have to aim much." She gave him the generic shotgun.

"We have quite a surplus of shells built up, if we do get in a scrape just blast away." She paused momentarily and decided to add:

"Away from me."

"Remember neither of these have a whole lot of range. I don't like it, but if there is anything to shoot at we have to work our way in closer first." They headed towards the lake in the distance. It was likely the lake was fed by mountain runoff. If it proved safe to drink it would be a valuable resource for travelers, and for those seeking to provide more drinking water for further off destinations. Tasket always carried an ancient pair of binoculars that she procured during a previous adventure.

"Ya know, the Captain is gonna be worried we are so late returning." He mentioned.

Peering through them, she could not detect any movement as the area was carefully surveyed.

"Oh that old blowhard can wait. there are more than enough mercs around besides us." Tisket took the lead.

"Yeah, half of whom get killed or are all talk. Just trying to take advantage. We complete the missions we accept." She took great pride in this simple fact. They were good at what they did. They garnered a fair reputation for themselves this way.

Travel was generally slow across the wastes, avoided whenever possible by all but the most stout. This state of affairs meant news spread equally as slowly, especially far away from the few still functional transmitters. Interference from magical radiation permeated much of the landscape. Even short range broadcasts were subject to fits and starts of functionality. Nonetheless sometimes signals did reach far off places away from beaten paths. Nopony dared think it possible to rise once more to the magitechnical heights their civilization once enjoyed. At one time though struggling with a ceaseless war they enjoyed creature comforts never imagined possible before.

The rich attained ever loftier amounts for their coffers on the backs of others. In every possible way the war was taken advantage of in the shadows. Resource trading even continued under hushed guard. Nowadays this meant sometimes things were found in ever such odd places. The two siblings marched towards the edge of the lake with Tisket some distance in front. The rest of the lake was ringed by forest presenting a more hazardous trek they would have to undertake, for now they cautiously searched the open area.

"This seems safe enough Sis, there isn't a single thing here." Tasket magicked out an empty container to take a water sample then tucked it back in.

"Sure it looks safe, everywhere looks safe at first glance. We have to prove it actually is, so keep your guard up. Something feels funny to me around here, like we're being watched." Moving on, neither of them noticed the small ripple in the otherwise unmoving water. After thoroughly checking around the waters edge they set off towards the dense forest ringing the rest of the lake.

"There used to be some kind of town called Hollow Shades off to the west through there I think, but nopony goes trekking through the forest. I don't know if its still there." She wiped some sweat from her brow.

"And before you ask, we are not going to go looking. It could be dangerous and it's way further out of the way." She made plain they were not going to do that.

"We only need to make sure it is safe around the general vicinity of the lake proper, anything else is not our problem." Tasket pointed at the treeline.

"This is gonna be tough. Looks like we're in for another long slog. Thanks a whole lot, Tisket." Her frown was decidedly unpleasant.

"Cheer up Sis, we are getting paid for this after all. Where is your sense of adventure?" He gave his sister a gentle hug.

"Like you said, we're the best." That did seem to lift her spirits a bit.

"Alright alright, just don't go getting overconfident. We better keep it quiet from here out until this area is secure." She turned off a small receiver she always carried on the off chance of hearing stray signals, also doubling as a sort of makeshift radiation detector as static levels severely rose when close to sources. It was not a reliable means of detecting it, but most of the ancient technology long ceased functioning or was pillaged by whomever could get their hooves on it.

The unique magitech rifle could potentially fetch a very high price from the right buyer. Here and there ancient pieces of what had been railway ties could be seen, a line ran straight into Hollow Shades before the war. Now who knew what might lurk in that unknown place far off through the dense forest. Dead or not, the trek would be nearly impossible through the seemingly serene region. She knew Tisket held even more of a desire for frenetic action than herself, and that was saying a whole lot. She could just envision him trying to undertake such a journey, and constantly worried what her brother might do if he should ever find himself without her guidance.

She did not think him to be an idiot despite his idiosyncrasies, but he was impulsive and rash to the extreme. Through their years of travel together they faced down many foes, some of which might even have been deemed mighty. This was actually part of the problem. They always came out ahead, but ever just barely and only due to them working together. He really was too confident. She tried to talk to him about it, but it was one subject he always brushed off as being unimportant.

"How long have we been away from camp anyway, Tasket?" He asked of his sister. His ability to keep track of time was rather a bit lacking.

"A good month and a couple weeks now. A couple extra days isn't gonna change much. There will almost certainly be new missions on the board by now, but first thing I'm doing when we get back is sleeping on a real bed for a few days. They better not have tried to rent out my quarters again either, I paid for those up front. When we do get back do you think you can avoid getting into trouble for just a few days, please Tiskey, please?" He could tell she was really worn from this extra long excursion.

"Alright alright, I get it. You're grumpy and worn out, I could use some downtime myself anyway. Once we are done with this, we will take a break." She looked relieved.

The hours wearily dragged on as they found their way through the dense treeline. Many of the trees were dead which presented more of a problem than an entirely living forest would thanks to some nearly exploding upon being touched. That so many of the trees did still live was either testament to them being quite hardy or perhaps the mountain ridges that ringed them far off to both sides provided some modicum of protection. Altogether this made traversing the area far louder than would have been preferred.

"Wouldn't all this have brought anything or anypony out if they were here?" Tisket asked as yet another fallen branch popped under hoof.

"Probably, but we need to finish circling the entire lake to be sure. I won't do something we took on halfway. We need to find a campsite, at this rate it will take us at least another day to finish up." They headed on for an hour before finding a small clearing.

"Will this do, Sis? It looks safe enough, and we haven't heard or seen anything but ourselves. I am starting to think this whole thing was just some rumor that got seriously out of control." Settling in for the night, Tasket still felt like eyes were upon them.

"Tasket, when we were sort of near Manehatten a while ago, well.. you saw that saw that black armored figure go running off in the distance too, right?" She nodded slowly.

"At first I thought it was just a trick of the light that far away. I hope it wasn't one of those technology obsessed crazies, they do hang out around there. It looked weird somehow. I thought it looked like a unicorn but they can't wear that stuff, can they? It was so far away though. Probably just the light.." Panning around her binoculars she decided to put them away.

"Too many trees. I can't see ahead of us at all in here. Well, here we go again." Picking their way through the forest was a time consuming and tedious effort.

The lake came right up to the edge of some trees. Their steps were chosen cautiously to avoid sinking as well, delaying them further. Many hours passed as they excruciatingly worked their way northwards. The trees simply were not thinning out in this area.

"Better tack on another whole day to this, Tiskey.." She moaned.

"Oh relax Sis, its not really hard work. Let's use that clearing off to the west a bit to camp tonight." Was his response. The next morning they continued the painfully slow journey until finally passing mostly out of the forest near the base of the mountains.

"I know I said this would be a cakewalk, but this seems almost too easy Sis." Tisket wanted at least a little adventure in their adventure. They quickly became wearied of carrying weapons at the ready, but both knew better than to put them away in such circumstances. Often the moment one feels safest can prove the most dangerous. This however was proving to be the least exciting mission ever undertaken by either of them.

"This will be the easiest 500 caps we have ever..." Tasket walked into her brother who suddenly stopped moving.

"Oof, what are you doing?" She grunted and turned towards the waters edge where he was looking.

"You have got to be kidding." They both burst into fits of laughter for a long moment.

"Really, really? hah hah ahaha. Oh that is rich. Seriously, this is what got them all scared?" Light was glinting off its button eyes hanging askew. She pulled hard to remove it from the mud nearly ripping it in half.

"This is just some old toy somepony dropped who knows how long ago." As she shook the ancient toy it was practically disintegrating while the mud flaked off. It looked like a turtle assembled together from random bits of cloth and stuffing, old springs and wire. Slipping it into one of her saddlebags Tasket sighed.

"This could be a problem. Will anypony even believe this is what it was?" Tisket placed a hoof over his face.

"Who knows, but that seems awful small to get all worried over. Don't ya think?" She shrugged in a most nonchalant way.

"We have almost circled the entire lake anyway, the easiest route back is to just keep going. I don't want to climb back through all that." She rolled out the crude map to point out her proposed route.

"Yeah, since we're going that way anyway we should pass near the base of that mountain." Tisket looked off in the distance, it would not take them more than an hour to get that far.

His estimate was thrown off once again by the deceiving terrain. It instead took them a good three hours to reach the mountains base.

"This has been the most boring mission ever, Sis. I'm so bored my boredom is getting boring." Tasket was looking through her binoculars again.

"I am almost starting to agree with you. So I have some good news for you. There is a cave entrance over there. If we were really lucky it could be an old hidden weapons cache or something. Want to check it out?" Tisket was practically frothing at the mouth upon hearing the news.

"I'll take that as a yes." She reached out and closed his mouth.

"Remember, caution." He nodded back as they both set down any unnecessary gear for the moment.

"I will look in slowly with a dim light spell, we don't have any of those old flares left unfortunately. That leaves me going ahead. Stagger position." They headed for the wide cave entrance. It was obscured from further away by brush and lots of dead brambles, that she'd seen it hidden in the distance at all was sheer luck even with her keenness of vision and perception.

Tisket took a position off to her right and behind slightly where there was open ground if they needed to move back quickly.

"I am only doing this because places like this actually can hold something of real value." She prepared her spell, keeping it dim as possible. Holding Pepper where she could fire safely if need be. She peered into the darkness within, ever so slowly moving forward. Suddenly she started moving backwards at a high rate with an alarmed expression on her face. He knew to move back as she did. She was whispering even as she unhooked her grenade.

"I should have known, Bloodwings!" She seethed through gritted teeth as she telekinetically hurled the grenade inside the cave mouth. Even as it was being thrown a hissing growling was heard, just as it landed one of the huge mutant bats flung out of the cave with another two directly behind. Right as the old grenade exploded the one in the rear was half crushed under the falling rubble. One was pinned down, but the other two were circling wildly overhead.

"Fire fire!" Tasket pointed Pepper straight up but was holding back due to the shorter range. Tisket's shotgun was a little better but he was unused to handling it, especially for aiming at something strafing above.

It took him a moment to be sure of a shot just as one dived out of its circle straight at her. She fired Pepper's super wide spread nearly point blank into the beasts face leaving it to screech and scream as she jumped backwards landing on her back heavily with it just missing raking her while Tisket finally got a bead on it and fired, blowing off its wing. The massive creature twirled and smashed into the ground with a heavy thump, letting out a final shrill screech. It lay still. Panting, the pair quickly moved away from the thing. A quick glance to the former cave entrance made it obvious the other quickly perished after being pinned by the falling rocks.

If there were more in the cave beyond the rubble they thankfully could not get out. There was still one high overhead to deal with. It was coming. The remaining bloodwing swooped out of its circle while Tisket unloaded several blasts that only struck glancingly. It was extremely agile and fast. It tilted downward further into a straight dive past Tasket's head, causing her to perform a combat roll out of the way at the very last instant. It dove and twisted in an almost figure eight pattern while they both fired at it, the shots crossing hit it from both angles at the same time, cutting it in half and into several pieces. The dead body flung off in two separate directions with a wet thump. Its head landed directly in front of Tasket splattering her front with blood. She gave out the slightest hint of a fearful sound.

"Oh yuck, gah. Disgusting. Eww eww eww." She tried to shake some off. Tisket came running over from where he wound up during the scuffle. Seeing the blood on her he went a bit wide-eyed. Breathing heavily he reached her position.

"Tasket, Tasket! You okay?" He was generally a nonchalant sort of fellow and rarely serious, but his expression was grave. Even a single scratch from a Bloodwing could prove poisonous on its own. She was not bitten which would have been even worse.

"I think so, they didn't hit me or touch me. Close one though." She huffed.

"That was a bit more than we bargained for. It at least explains why this area has such a bad reputation aside from the toy thing. We will definitely get paid now, since we have two explanations." She rubbed the back of her head where she landed quite hard on the firm ground.

"We should get away from here, that racket could have been heard for miles and we don't need any more surprises. I've got to get this off me before it stains, or seeps into my skin or something." They headed back to pick up the gear and trotted off at a fast pace towards the water where she could wash off.

Even during the run to the lake they knew to fully reload their weapons. Ten minutes of rinsing was wearing. It was finally coming out. It was taking some serious scrubbing to get the blood off Tasket's coat.

"Uhg, finally. That was disgusting. I can't believe that even happened. Why, oh why did it have to land like that?" She complained. Tasket was standing watch a meter away. What he did not realize was he was looking in the wrong direction. They'd let themselves fall into a false sense of security. Tasket firing Pepper into the lake repeatedly caused him to spin around.

"What are you doing, Task..' He was cut off by a large tooth-filled snout popping out of the water where she was firing.

"What.." Tasket screamed and unloaded shell after shell into the things rocky armored hide, not deterring it very much. Tisket began pumping out shots as well, it was just enough to keep the slimy creature at bay.

"Tiskey, incendiary!" She screeched while diving away just as the ghastly things snout swung past her, a jagged tooth slicing her left foreleg painfully. Tisket finished popping in an incendiary shell, firing into its mouth when it went to snap. The huge armored reptile thrashed wildly with smoke coming out of its nostrils, looking like some demonic entity.

It smashed around seeking relief only to be fueled by rage at the unceasing burning in its gullet. Tasket half circled then ran in, jamming the barrel of his gun straight through its eye, pulling the trigger as he did so which made the head explode outwards in a rain of brains and gore that splattered on them both. Its heavy body twitched and slumped against the ground to finally lay still.

"AAAH!" Tasket was laying off to the side, wincing and moaning in serious pain from the gash across her leg.

"Tasket, hang on!" He unfurled the cover of one of the saddlebags which contained some medical supplies.

He splashed a little water across her leg to clean it as best he could, causing her even more discomfort then wrapped her injury with thick gauze.

"The wound is not too deep Sis, I think it'll be okay." He tried to comfort her. She gurgled a little and looked a bit pale, probably more from surprise than anything.

"Now I have to get cleaned off somehow..again." She bemoaned her misfortune. They were both completely coated in blood and pieces of who knew what.

"Hey, do you know how hard it is to clean barding?" He was closest, his barding was now a singular rust color.

"Gotta get this stuff off it, and our weapons." This proved an even more difficult task for Tasket than before. Painkillers of any sort were not cheap or easy to come by. She popped the very last of their supply. If this did not warrant medication she could not imagine what would. Even with the drug she was hurting badly.

"Ohh, why does medicine make you feel worse and better at the same time?" She complained. The drug made her feel sick and lightheaded. She could not complain about the reduction in pain.

Several hours later they finally completed their circuit of the lake.

"We can't possibly get back to that little settlement before dark with my injury. We can use that old shed again I guess." They slowly marched back towards it, reaching it just before nightfall. Even with her wound their pace was far faster than it was back in the thick forest.

"Unh." Tasket groaned heavily.

"This is going to hurt for days." She limped along carefully to avoid reopening the wide gash, but the gauze still looked pretty pathetic with the drying blood that seeped through it.

Ever so gently she removed the used gauze to inspect the wound. Tisket softly wrapped a fresh piece around it. The used piece was soaked right through with her life's essence.

"Ah, better. I need to immobilize this leg for the night so I don't accidentally yank it the wrong way while sleeping or something." Tisket bounded off, shortly returning with some solid sticks which they tied around the leg with a strap off one of the saddlebags.

"That was too exciting. Never seen one of those flying things or whatever that rockodile thing was either, especially up that close." Tasket gingerly put down the sheet again, favoring her injured leg.

"Yeah, I kept a small piece of the wing I blew off, and a scale as evidence of our troubles." They were both tired and a bit dirty from their efforts.

"We have once again made the wastes a slightly safer place. At least we'll break even on this one. Just wish I didn't have to use up a grenade during that, those things are rare and expensive ya know." She gazed forlornly at the wall.

"Aww cheer up, we're only hurt a little and not dead, right? We even have a couple of legit bragging rights. This piece is going in my trophy collection." Tasket groaned.

"Thanks for reminding me of that weird collection of yours. Do you really need to keep a souvenir of everything we do?" Tisket's collection was probably one of a kind, containing all sorts of things picked up during their outings from an empty energy shell casing to rocks he once threw at a radroach nest.

"You keep the strangest things Tisket. You have a veritable museum of curiosities by now. You could retire and charge admission." Tasket knew neither of them would likely live long enough to consider old age ever being a factor, but it was nice to dream. Besides, adventure was in their blood.

"Retire, Sis? Ha Ha. Nopony retires in the wasteland. No Pony. Anyway, I couldn't stand it. So boring. I'd climb the walls." He did not know in that moment how close he sounded to a particular mare that once said something similar.

"Besides, who can afford that? Not that many places I would like to spend the rest of my life anyway. How about you?" A very far away and very unexpected explosion lit the night sky outside for a half moment before fading, interrupting their conversation.

"What in pony hell was that, Sis?" She blinked in confusion.

"Manehatten, that blast came from its general direction. Must have been quite a pop, whatever it was. Guess somepony else is having some fun tonight. Too far away to matter to us." She shook her head.

"Aww, and here we are missing out." Tisket grumbled.

"Really, nearly being crushed and torn apart by bloodwings, not to mention almost being eaten by an overgrown lizard wasn't fun enough for you?" Though he put on a brave front, such firepower as was employed was something even they would hesitate to face.

"Like I was saying, I need a break for a few days. We'll pick up our reward in the morning and make a beeline for camp at as much pace as I can manage, we can be there in three days or less, agreed?" She gave him a little nuzzle.

"Yeah, sure. I know we have been going for a long while now. Umm, Tasket?" The way he was looking at her made it clear he had a serious question to ask.

"What is it, Tiskey?" She gazed at him.

"You and I both know how our lives will end, right?" It was a serious question. Tasket gave a slow shallow bob of her head.

"I try not to think about it, but we are mercenaries after all. Guns for hire. Live fast, maybe make a bundle in the middle and die hard. You know, I'm actually okay with that." Tiskets eyes glinted slightly in the dim light.

"So, you really do want to go out like our parents did then?" She looked off dreamily.

"I'm fine with it. They were trying to accomplish something much bigger. I don't know who or what set them on that course but I agree with the idea. If we can make a big enough impact on the world in the right way then I am all for it." Tasket closed her eyes a moment.

"Tiskey, you know it will likely amount to nothing. Even if nopony knows it but us, our parents were heroes for what they were trying to do. Just remember, no one gets to be a hero just by wanting to be one. That said, I do like the idea of being real heroes. Just like them." She rubbed her face. Getting teary-eyed was not usual for her.

"Time for sleep, I'm pretty tired after that. If you are on the same page, we will talk more about this back at camp, okay?" She said while stifling a yawn.

"I am, Sis. I truly am. I really really needed to hear what you thought." Neither of them could know the explosion that night signified something that would come to directly affect their fates.

"You gonna be alright for the night, Sis?" He looked concerned.

"I'll be fine, it just stings now. I hate that so much. Why couldn't I have been shot cleanly through instead.." She grumbled.

"Never thought I would hear you complaining about not being shot." Tisket giggled.

"Oh, shut up and get some rest." They turned in for the night. Tasket now suffered particular difficulty actually falling asleep thanks to her aching leg. The minutes dragged by slowly, leading up to no passing hours.

Her occasionally twinging leg kept rousing her from near-sleep. Quietly, she moaned in frustration. After a long time of this cycle of sleep and wakefulness, exhaustion took over to grant her the sweet release of dreams and freedom from pain. It was not the most restful sleep, but a far cry from the drawdown of endurance inflicted on those unlucky enough to suffer through the slow healing of such a serious injury during wakefulness. What they for decades came to call dawn broke. Tasket struggled to remain asleep a while longer, it was useless. It did not hurt quite as much now that some time passed, allowing for her leg to heal some. It would still be slow going. A wrong move or slip could easily reopen the wound.

Grindingly the two worked their way back towards the tiny settlement. It was not really close to where Fillydelphia once lay, but near enough to possibly be considered within the reach of the once bustling city. The huge city once held an enormous population of ponies. Now as with everything else it sat wasted and torn to ruin. In the distance crumbling shells of buildings once full of life lay tilted and somehow sickly to see. Few would dare brave heading into the central region for fear of who, or what may now reside there. An unexpected chance encounter was often enough to end those who were unwary.

"So, by my count that is no less than three separate threats we took out. I doubt the residents have more to spare than the caps already on offer so I am going to insist they owe us some other way. Never hurts to have a favor on call, does it Tiskey?" Tasket would be hobbling along for at least a another two or three days, which would mean not reaching base camp for half a week or more.

"Oh yeah, someone owing us a favor for a change sounds sweet!" Tisket could hardly stand the slow pace of travel, but even he was wise enough not to separate unless absolutely necessary.

Splitting up would mean halving their remaining firepower and lower their chances of survival should anything else come up.

"Who did that old wreck of a pony tell us to see if we were successful? Wasn't his name really weird, like Doormat or Faso, or something?" Tisket nodded. They approached a rundown building as nondescript as every other building in the area.

"That sure is an odd name. Oh well, it takes all sorts." Tasket was talking to herself to keep her mind off the nagging throbbing in her leg.

Tisket knocked on the thick wooden door. The door itself almost looked out of place. It was made of fairly solid wood and did not seem rotted or old as it should be. The knocking was answered by somepony calling out.

"One moment, please." Followed by a clattering din from within like hundreds of plates fell over all at once.

"Uh Tiskey, I think we better be careful." He voiced his agreement, then the heavy door swung inwards making a terrible squeal on the ancient hinges that barely held it to the frame, a hideous cacophony that could barely be called music drifted out from inside. Tasket would have covered her ears if she were not still hurting too much to make such a move.

"Oh my aching head." She finished saying, just as a tall blue unicorn stepped into the light from within. He wore a huge wide-brimmed purple hat with a feather atop it, it was adorned with all manner of glinting shiny bits and baubles. He wore a ridiculously oversize pair of slotted shades which covered half his face.

"Who seeks the great Doremifasolatido, master of all things music?" He spoke with pomp and flair. They noticed he was trailed by a long faded purple cape with what must have once been white trim.

"Uhh, we're here about the reward for the lake that we just cleared." Tasket generally did most of the speaking when dealing with others. Tisket used his vocabulary in the same way he used his weapons.

"The lake, so many have come before..me, and claimed..to have done that impossible mission, seeking reward ill-deserved!....wait, did you say you cleared it!?" His manner of speaking kept going in and out of a halting, irritating manner.

"You dare come to me and claim the impossible! Off with..." Tisket pulled open a saddlebag to bring out the piece of wing they procured along with the large scale and toy. Tasket also pointed to her injury.

"You've..done it...you've done it! Oh...joy of joy..such joyous rapture, the lake is safe?" He still seemed incredulous, but beginning to accept the fact.

"We can only say the area seems safe. You will have to find somepony who can tell you if this water sample is drinkable." Tasket set the bottle down.

"Say, have you seen anything suspicious around here lately?" It could not hurt to ask.

"Not..a thing. They say...strange things..are happening way over in Fillydelphia itself. Not my..business." Tisket and Tasket shot each other a questioning glance. There seemed no point pressing further. Tisket chimed in.

"Anything else we can do for you?" Tasket sighed.

"Let me..go...check." He slipped back inside for a long moment before returning.

"There might be something at a later date. You have proven..yourselves...most skillful." He seemed to be gazing past them rather than at them.

"Uh, sir?" He blinked.

"Oh, oh yes." He mumbled.

"You have done us a great service..and...well deserve....these caps long set aside...for..somepony such as yourselves." His speech pattern left them both rather annoyed feeling. He brought out a box containing the promised 500 caps.

"Whilst we are quite grateful for the reward, I must point out we were informed there was only one threat." She pointed at her leg again.

"I will..tell the..local residents and...inform the few merchants in the area that you are indeed friends of..us all and should be given...the fairest of treatment." Tasket was becoming ever more annoyed looking. She would not ruin a chance to build up and spread their reputation.

"Now I, Doremifasolatido must return to my creative works! Your success has inspired me to reach new heights." With that he turned and went to trot inside, tripping over his cape and tumbling in through the door.

"Umm, oh ah yes..uh good day." He hurriedly closed the door.

"By my mane, Tasket! what the hay was up with him?" She shook her head at his question.

"I don't wanna know Tiskey. I just don't want to know." She huffed.

"Now that is out of the way, let's head for camp. I'm gonna be laid up for a while once we do get there." She sighed. Though she hated to admit it, even she couldn't remain still for too long before climbing the walls. Tasket supposed they got it from their parents. They never seemed able to stay still for long either.

They managed to remain close to them, love them, teach them and keep them safe just long enough for both to grow up before heading out on what they both now assumed was their final foray into the unknown of the furthest wastes. The day they realized their parents would likely never return was a harsh blow. Even knowing what could await one outside the confines of the old merc camp, it stung. Their parents somehow managed to be exemplary role models despite living in the harsh reality that now comprised the wastelands. Having some set of values to aspire to, any truly good set was rare. The pair felt some sense of pride in this. Though any values here were most definitely skewed, Tasket reasoned as long as they tried to do the right thing it would have to suffice.

They walked past the scattered remains of a skycart that likely crashed over a century ago. The thought that two living ponies were knocked out of the sky was one they tried not to consider too closely. They also tried not to consider how many ponies actually died during the war and after. The number was a thing of legend and mind-numbing to contemplate. Though obtaining their reward raised Tasket's spirit considerably, she was still in a great deal of pain. Tisket underestimated how deep the cut was. It would likely take her a full week or more to recover properly. Still, she realized how lucky she was not to have been hurt worse or lost a leg.

Because of this she arrived at the decision to obtain some form of appropriate leg protection from the armor crafter back at camp. A haggard old griffon that went by the name of Blite. As far as she knew he was the only armorer around. She looked off, lost in thought. They would be sleeping outside for the next few days. Limping along, she really could not decide precisely what would be an appropriate design for leg armor. The thought struck her that perhaps she could have the armorer devise something that draped off from the center of her back, only covering the outsides of her legs. Perhaps ending with some kind of place holding attachment just before her hooves.

She truly hated confining and restrictive clothing. Full armor would be worse than the time her mother made her try on an old dress. She despised the things. Why ponies ever wore clothes at all, she simply could not fathom. Somepony once told her that ponies used to hold large gatherings where all the ponies would wear immaculate, ornate clothes of such fanciful richness and decadence that it boggled the mind to see it. She could barely stand wearing one layer of clothing, let alone two or even more. Tasket shuddered at the thought of being so constrained. The pair took great pains to ensure nopony saw the direction in which they headed. They were consummate professionals, always cautious.

For 500 caps some ponies might delude themselves into thinking they could take it from them by force. Killing the innocent was not in their purview. They were not however above defending themselves. Innocence being a highly subjective thing in the wastelands, they would do what was necessary. Both Tisket and Tasket realized they thus far in life were far more fortunate than many of the other inhabitants. They were also blessed with parents that actually cared enough to give them as decent an upbringing as was possible in such a world. Their parents told them all the old stories, the wondrous things ponies and to a lesser degree, griffons, created long ago.

The evidence these stories were based in fact lay all around them in the ancient structures and occasional technology that was found. Some of it even still functioned. This alone made the wastes a more dangerous place to explore and live in. Her injury would not allow Tasket to reach more than a slow trot, anything more would risk opening it again. Nonetheless they were making good time back towards camp. She could hardly wait to reach the safety of its walls, and her bed waiting within. The small base itself was established far to the north of Manehatten. It finished construction halfway through the war as a griffon mustering and offloading point. During that time it doubled as a supply and maintenance center.

Griffon design weapons, armor and the like were generally unavailable, which led them to adapt pony weaponry for their use. Now the small base housed only a few descendants of the griffons stationed there. Once the war ended they chose not to attempt returning to their homeland. At that time, travel of such distance would have proven only suicidal. The trip might be feasible now, but those here never went to the griffon lands. This was home.

"Tisket, when we get back I'm gonna look into some leg protection. Before you pipe up about how I said I don't wear barding, I said leg protection. Nothing else. I don't even want to wear that, but this incident made me feel a bit more vulnerable than usual." Tisket set about making camp for the night.

It was much safer in this area being within the general vicinity of the merc camp, but still a good idea to exercise care in ones decisions. Many a careless sort found themselves in dire straights. Wildlife over time became twisted distorted things through exposure to the seemingly random effects of leftover balefire radiation, amongst other things and wandered far.

"Another night in the wild, Tisket. I so need my bed." Tisket nodded.

"I do happen to like my bed as well, Tasket." She snerked.

"Could never tell. You don't ever seem to relax." He set down his bags and weapons.

"Oh, I just get bored easily. You kinda do as well. I know." There was no choice but to agree. Near dark on the fourth day they were finally approaching the old base. It was mostly intact thanks to having been so far from any significant blast, balefire or otherwise. It also did not suffer being targeted by raiders, steel rangers or any of the other assorted and still warring factions by this same virtue of distance. It was largely left forgotten until once again becoming a mercenary station. The defensive walls and a few mounted blaster cannons were refitted and re-energized over time. Spare parts were acquired and brought in occasionally.

Actually attacking it now would prove an expensive and deadly endeavor for anything short of a large well equipped army. No force of that size still existed as far as most ponies knew. Two missions both offering a grand reward for completion of either perpetually remained on the posting board. One asked for a fusing relay or compatible technology to bring the main cannon up to power. When they tried powering it up five years ago the huge cannon simply spun around on its enormous mounting ring, grinding to a halt as the ancient relay blew out. Griffons never did anything halfway. During the war they were mercenaries and were so still. Even a mere supply base was completely outfitted.

The oversized coastal defense cannon was never fired during or after the war. The base was just large enough to house a full wing of 11 griffons which now lived within the base confines, plus a few boarders here and there. Tisket and Tasket earned just enough of a reputation to rent quarters on a continual basis. The other ever-present mission should be easier to fulfill. As yet nopony could manage to find a way to unjam the main gates hefty mechanism. This left the gate wide open and the base far more vulnerable than it should be. It was jammed open this way since the war ended. Though the bases heavy defensive turrets were formidable in and of themselves, these two serious deficiencies were something the resident griffons were always complaining about.

An unusually buff griffon stood guard at the gate. His feathers were black as night itself, his hindquarters as well, lending to his imposing stature. He recognized the pair immediately, waving them past.

"I'll get ta tellin cap yaor back. Ya've been gone a good while. Ye look pretty beat up too." He intoned gruffly. The heavily muscled griffon pressed an intercom button recessed into the side of the gate. The familiar walls were a most welcome sight. The base itself consisted only of a few scattered buildings inside. A barracks and a command structure under the cannon, plus a small solar power collector were the only things of any importance. All looked extremely worn.

A couple utility and ammo storage sheds were the only other things of note. The armorer was off at a work table fiddling with an energy rifle, his personal weapon. For the most part the independent griffons here were well armed, if nothing else. This group desired no direct connection to other talons operating in the wastes, relying mostly on themselves. The base seemed to have been designed with expansion in mind, but nothing was added to it. As Tasket looked about she stopped in her tracks. Tisket shot her a sidelong glance and stared at a sight never seen here: she caught sight of the tail end of an armored pony wearing strange completely blackened power armor as he walked off into the barracks.

"Who in Equestria was that, and whats a fricken steel ranger doing here, why wasn't he vaporized on sight?" Tasket asked the guard.

"Dunnae. Ee said his name be Down Range or somesuch. Just shawd up one day wit' a bunch'o'caps begging for lodging. We gav'im ol' Gretchen's room, bless her poor dead heart. Never shows his face, keeps to himself. Pays 'is rent. Good'n'uff." He shrugged and flicked his tail.

"Even detached 'is weapons ta store as part'o'the deal. Oh, ah'n welcome back." The welcome seemed cold.

"Yeah right, Arascain. We all know you griffs just care for the caps we pay for our rooms." Tasket made a duck face.
"Ahck, off wit' ye." With that the the guard turned away. The duo made their way into the barracks, wearily heading to their rooms. The main room was just racks of steel bunk beds. Griffons were used to sleeping stacked up like this. Ponies tended to avoid upper bunks for obvious reasons of practicality. They were fortunate enough to secure two of the four side rooms for their own use.

"Tisket, I am heading to the showers. I need a good soak after all this time." The base housed a mini water talisman obtained during a serious confrontation many years ago.

Normally this object would have made the base a target, but it was damaged in the fight over it. It really only provided enough clean water from the makeshift oceanic intakes for those living here. It was damaged further over those years by the strain of purifying heavily contaminated ocean water. Locating a replacement was unlikely. It ran only on borrowed time. If it did fail, the small water tower would only have enough remaining for a few days at most.

"Alright, Sis. I'll go buy our usual ammo loadouts?" Tasket looked back and nodded, heading off into the showers. The showers did not have temperature controls. It was always lukewarm.

The spraying water felt wonderfully refreshing and invigorating. Each denizen would only get a ten minute allotment per week to save wear on the talisman. Nonetheless this was heavenly. She did not plan on doing anything strenuous for most of the week anyway, using up all ten. Feeling so much better she headed for her room and sprawled out on the compact bed. They were not mattresses so much as thick pads of some spongy material. So much more comfortable than she felt in weeks she quickly fell into a deep and dreamless slumber. Awaking the next day feeling much better she slowly walked out the door and across the open area to the command room. The captain would probably want to see her.

She was simply too tired the day before. One of the few other pony boarders was in the room with the captain. Tasket could not help but overhear as she approached.

"Cap, I tell you it's him!" The captain was an unusually small griffon. His stature was terrifically deceiving. The jagged scar across his chest where no feathers grew out was testament to this. Any that ever tangled with him found themselves facing a whirling ball of slashing explosive rage.

"You and your obsessions are amusing, but it cannot be him." The captain responded.

A very average-sized red-coated earth pony shook his head vigorously.

"It's him, it is I swear. I saw his face when he went in the lavatory!" The captain pointed at him.

"Are you telling me you watch ponies relieving themselves, Tanner?" The ponies face somehow seemed to turn even more red.

"N..no!" The small white and yellow feathered griffon twitched his tail. The ponies eyes having gone wide with embarrassment decided to leave it be, quickly exiting.

Tasket's leg was beginning to itch, though this was a very good sign, it was annoying her to no end.

"Haya cap, what was that all about?" The captain looked at her crossly.

"You." Tasket knew this game, he was only toying with her. She decided to play along.

"All about me? Why, I am so very flattered you would keep me so near and dear to your heart. You old blackguard." The captain burst into a deep rumble of a laugh.

"You can read me like a book, can't you Tasket?" She smiled at him.

He was a more friendly sort than many of the griffons she ever met, but knew better than to get on his bad side.

"You and your brother are some of the only truly serious pony mercs I have ever seen. We'll make griffons of you yet." He motioned for her to come closer.

"I would rather you didn't, cap..it sounds kind of unpleasant, and painful." She moved up in front of the desk he was sitting behind.

"Hah! I see you have a new battle scar. Wear it with pride" He gazed at her leg.

"Yeah, about that.. I would like your permission to request a special from the armorer." Her injury would be hurting for days.

"You, armor? That's a new one. Didn't you say you would never wear any?" His gaze upon her was very attentive.

"It's not like that cap, just something light for the legs. Our last excursion proved a little more than our usual fare." He nodded.

"Alright, you have my permission to make the request. Now, I do have another matter to discuss with you." This was unusual.

"Don't suppose you know Gunnar?" It was difficult not to know all of the griffons by name here, but she did not really know him in any way.

"Not really. What's up, cap?" This got her quite curious.

"I know you two have been looking for a big payoff for a long while. Interested in taking on a serious job?" His gaze became very intense, almost glaring.

"How serious, sir?" Was all she could think to say.

"Normally I wouldn't do this, Tasket. I have a request to make of you." She blinked at this.

"The reason Gunnar has always kept to himself is because the talon company he was formerly part of got themselves completely wiped out during the execution of their last contract. He was the sole survivor. On either side." His eyes betrayed a look of sadness she never saw before.

"That company followed a tradition. I do not necessarily agree with it, but it is his decision." The captain almost seemed to be on the verge of tears. This could not be good, but she sensed opportunity.

"I wish to commission you and your brother to escort him to the Badlands." Her heart skipped a beat.

"Wait..but that is..." he was already nodding.

"Cap, that's fifteen hundred miles from here. One way, if you could go in a straight line!" He chuckled at her response. It was always hard to read his mood.

"Yes, it is. Gunnar is getting older. The tradition was, if any of them managed to live long enough to start falling into decline he or she would try to head out into the Badlands. Their final mission and honor." He looked upset saying this.

She'd never heard of such a thing, it sounded crazy. Weren't there already enough ways to die, why head out on some ludicrous suicide mission? She held her tongue.

"As a matter of honoring his fallen company members, and as the last of them he feels it his duty to follow this tradition. It was all I could do to convince him to stay until I could find someone to escort him." She was hesitant, this was a huge undertaking he was asking of them.

"Why doesn't he just fly straight for it, cap? It sounds important to him." He stretched his own wings one at a time.

"Aside from the danger, he can barely fly. His wings were badly torn up in that fight. Lucky he still has them at all. He has been with our outfit almost fifteen years since. I will sorely miss him." He waited for an answer.

"Let me talk this over with Tisket before accepting. I also need a few days to heal up. Okay, cap?" She felt a little nervous about this.

"I think I can keep Gunnar from going off on his own for a while yet. Don't take too long to decide. I don't like it, but I do want to help him fulfill his mission. We would do it, but we are all tied to contracts ourselves currently." He paused.

"Isn't he tied to a contract then?" Perhaps she shouldn't have asked. Why would he be the only exception? The griffons here did not follow precisely the same rules as the rest, but still.

"Ever since then he has only assisted us or other griffons in carrying out or obtaining contracts for themselves. I can understand him not wanting to take one. The damage to his wings also makes him less of a deal on his own." That seemed to make sense.

"He is also very good at spotting a bad contract. After the mess their commander got them into he has tried very hard to steer us towards good deals." He took a deep breath.

"Even when we thought he was wrong. We quickly found out he is never wrong when it comes to a bad one. To be clear, he is only the third in that talon to live this long. If it were not for these things I wouldn't allow it." Reaching under the desk he pulled out a bottle of alcohol. It was very rare.

"To ease your pain." He poured a quarter glass, shoving it over to her.

"Cap, you don't have.." Shushing her he slid it over.

"Consider it a promise of reward." She rarely got anything this good. It was worth the burning sensation.

"Thanks, cap" She finished it off.

"Speaking of contracts, some of them are new or up for renewal and renegotiation. I better have Gunnar check them over before he really does go. Now, out." Tasket knew better than to hang around. Going back towards her quarters she noticed a pony trying to peek into one of the side rooms as the door closed. It was the red one from earlier.

"Hi!" He nearly jumped straight in the air at the sound of her voice.

"Don't sneak up on ponies like that! I almost bucked you right in the face." He said. She snorted.

"Ya look more like you almost wet yourself." His face once again seemed to take on an even redder sheen.

"Ahem. I am trying to convince somepony, anypony, I know who that mysterious armor wearing stallion is. No one will listen to me!" He looked like he was quivering.

"Calm down. Tanner, was it?" A quick nod and she continued.

"We already know his name, so what are you going on about?" Shaking his head so hard the rest of him was shaking, he turned.

"Come with me." He motioned her to follow. Curiosity got the better of her. Following into his room she saw him opening a small locker.

"I saw his face for a second. He does take off that armor when he thinks nopony is around." Tanner produced an ancient comic from within the locker. Setting it on the small bed he gingerly opened the pages to reveal 'Adventures of Magnificent Vol. 7. The Reins of Castamare'. He pointed a hoof at the face.

"Him, him!" Tasket frowned at this odd insistence.

"Let me get this straight. You're trying to tell me some fictional pony from who knows how long ago is somehow walking around here. You hit your head really hard recently or somethin?" Tanner gave an exasperated sigh.

"I adore this comic. I have a collection of things like it and know this one by heart. I know that face I tell you." Hmm.

"Tanner, why don't you just ask him?" Delicately he put the comic back in the locker and nudged it closed.

"He won't talk to anypony. I know how this sounds. Go on, just call me nuts like everyone else." He really was serious.

"No worse than another." Tasket was already regretting following.

"Alright, look. Even if it isn't him, he is not a steel ranger." He meant it. She tossed him a questioning glance.

"Don't tell anyone about this. I saw him once before, a few weeks before he got here. Over near Manehatten." Tasket was truly beginning to question this ponies sanity.

"He did something I thought suicidal. From a distance I saw him approached by two rangers. You know how they are about their stuff.." She just bobbed her head.

"They asked him to identify himself. I could not make out what he said. Then things got all wild." This was not sounding good. Was he a rogue ranger or something even more dangerous?

"They ordered him to remove his armor, but..." Tasket tapped the floor impatiently with a good hoof.

"He ordered them to walk away backwards or face Tragedy. He also said something about them not wanting to learn what true pain is." How odd was all that?

"Well, what then?" This was actually getting a bit interesting.

"They DID, both of them just walked away...backwards." This pony could be real trouble.

"All I can do is wish you good luck with that. I have stuff to do." Tanner looked particularly dejected.

"Uhg. Come on, don't look like that. Tell ya what, I'll look into it right now." His eyes went wide.

"No, wait." He said, too late to stop her as she went out across to the mystery ponies door and knocked heavily. A thudding heavy stepping sound was heard as he cracked open the door to reveal his helmeted head. She couldn't help but notice the horn-shaped protrusion atop it.

"I am terribly sorry to bother you, but are you Magnificent?" A wailing horrified sounding wail was heard from within the helmet as the door slammed in her face.

"Well, that did not go as expected." Tanner was just standing there staring.

"Are you crazy?" Tanner looked horrified. Tasket shrugged, walking off to find her brother. The stunned red pony stood there with his eyes wide for a long moment before shuffling off to his room once more. A few moments later she located Tisket outside under a lean-to looking over the most expensive weapons for sale here.

Sabine, a continually shocked looking and absolutely average female griffon behind the display would normally just glare at them, but through long association became so used to their perusing she paid little mind.

"Always imagining buying things we can't afford, Tisket?" He frowned at her question.

"Can't you let me dream, Sis?" She smiled at him widely.

"Want a real dream, Tisket?" Turning to face her directly he was very surprised to see her smile. She was not usually so happy seeming.

"Are you alright, Tasket?" Poking him in the ribs like she sometimes did got his full attention. She motioned for him to follow her over to a weathered table where they could talk.

"I have something to tell you. I know you'll be excited, but we need to think long and hard about it." Now that got his attention.

"The captain has offered us an enormous one-time contract. Do stop drooling, Tisket. It is a very dangerous, very difficult mission." She looked him in the eyes.

Tasket explained the specifics, letting the real scope of the request sink in a bit.

"Oh, wow oh wow oh wow." Tisket's eyes were practically popping out of his head.

"Focus. This is serious. Probably the most serious thing we have ever been asked to do. The question is, do we really want to take it on? Especially since..." She trailed off. He shut his eyes tightly, obviously thinking very deeply about it.

"This could be our one big chance to shine, Sis. Let's do it." Tasket knew this was his likely reply.

"It could also be our ticket to being very very dead." It really may be the one chance they would ever get.

Neither of them ever made such an obviously life threatening decision before.

"If we are agreed I will tell cap we can set out in three days." She waited. Tisket was enthusiastic, but clearly considering this one.

"Tasket, we both know what will happen if we don't do something soon..." His voice trembled slightly.

"Shh. Don't talk about it. We will go." She left the table. The next morning they informed the captain. He was ecstatic hearing of their agreement.

He would actually be able to keep Gunnar from leaving for a few days with the promised escort.

"This is a great relief for me, you two." He usually did not speak so informally, especially to non-griffons.

"You seem to be healing up quickly, but are you certain you will be up to setting out in three days?" Tasket nodded.

"Good. I could not stand the thought of Gunnar trying to make it all by himself. I know how tough he is, but I want him to have a real chance of completing his mission. Do not disappoint me." The pair made their way back to the barracks common room. Griffons called the bunks an aery, having no qualms about the arrangement. Ponies were slightly more solitary.

"Get as much sleep as possible, Tisket. We have such a long lonesome road ahead." For once he simply agreed with his sister. The following two days were nearly agonizingly slow. Tisket was having an especially hard time containing his enthusiasm. Only once in that time did either see the armored pony anywhere, did he simply never come out of his room? Tanner seemed to be nowhere around either. Eventually the morning of their departure arrived. They were waiting in the command room for Gunnar to come in. Tisket was speaking to the captain.

"Cap, in the excitement of the moment I forgot to mention something." His harsh gaze betrayed his mood.

"It better not be something that will affect your ability to carry this out." She quickly continued as he said this.

"Oh, no cap. Just we cleared around that lake way off to the southwest of here. Don't know if the water is any good, but I figured you should know. I forgot with my injury and all." Hard to read as ever.

"That is a welcome tidbit. Which is a good reason for me to give you these." He opened a case. "500 caps for expenses."
He set a box down heavily. This was a welcome surprise.

"Get this right, both of you." Gunnar stepped into the room right after this was said.

Immediately a tense sense of meeting and parting settled. He was a fairly large griffon, a couple feathers protruded atop his head like antennae. His once golden coloring seemed faded, but still striking. His wings hung at odd opposing angles. Each foot was colored black. His very presence carried an air of power and quiet authority almost overwhelming the captain's own.

"These two?" His voice was deep. One could almost describe it as thunderous. This was not a griffon to be trifled with. He looked them over, his gaze felt like it penetrated straight through them.

"They will have to do." The captain stood and offered a farewell to his longtime second.

"I would wish you good luck, but you won't be needing it..will you?" Gunnar gave a respectful final salute, the captain reciprocated.

"Goodbye, captain." Anything else these two already said to each other years ago. He would say nothing more, slipping towards the exit.

"Whatever it takes, get him there, though it means his life. Complete this mission and return." They both gave a quick salute as well before turning to leave.

"Well..we're in it now, Tiskey." They looked the part on the outside. Tough. Focused. Inside they were both happy as could be for a chance to well and truly prove their mettle. Meeting Gunnar at the main gate they found all the currently present griffons alighted atop the walls in salute to their brother in arms, each wearing impressive full battle gear. It was a tremendously rare and imposing sight. Taking only one good look around he returned the salute, then turned to march out. From a myriad of weapons each of them fired a single shot straight into the air. A loud celebratory cheer went up as they joined him, setting out on their journey.


A steely shadow in the dark very far away gave rise to enabling a twisted desire's fruition.

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