• Published 24th May 2014
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Fallout is Dragons - Stories from the Maw - Newbiespud



An anthology of short scenes related to the Fallout is Dragons podcast campaign.

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B-Team #1 - When All You Have Is A Hammer


Previously, in Dragon's Maw...

In the few weeks since their arrival in the Maw, the Dragon Mawlers Inc. prospector group had gained a powerful reputation. Defeating four dragons, restarting Radio Crackle, and changing the fate of every place they visited and every pony they met was bound to make that happen. As their actions rippled out, and as the Mawlers became more aware of various issues in the Maw, it became clear that reputation alone wasn't going to be enough. They couldn't be in two places at once.

The solution was DJ Smack Talk's idea. He sent out a call to anypony who was an ally of the Mawlers: Come to Skyfall and see what you can do to help the Mawlers out. About 15 ponies answered, and the Mawlers had to decide what to do with them. Not all of them were strictly combat-ready, and furthermore they couldn't in good conscience ask for ALL of them to give up their day jobs and aid them in their quest. But if they could narrow it down to a few ponies, about four to six, they could form a secondary team of agents to address problems throughout the Maw - a B-Team to the main group's A-Team.

After much deliberation, the Mawlers agreed on six people: Excalibur the unicorn, Zephyr the pegasus, Ten Paces the minotaur, Short Circuit the pegasus filly, Stalker the unicorn ex-slaver, and Lilypad the unicorn Steel Ranger Star Paladin. Perhaps a less-than-ideal group that was sure to have its conflicts, but the Mawlers felt that these six had the right combination of knowledge, skills, and power to be an effective team.

The decision was made, but there was the Slayer Base crisis to deal with first. Both teams traveled north to restore balance to the Steel Ranger HQ, which was thankfully (though quite bloodily) resolved in a day.

The next morning, the two teams met one last time to trade information and discuss their respective tasks. Lilypad had put together a list of "quests" in various locations throughout the Maw. It was eventually agreed that the Mawlers would head south traveling counter-clockwise through the Maw, while the B-Team headed east and clockwise. This would allow them to cover all their bases and hopefully meet up again somewhere on the other side.

The B-Team's first task was to head to Gold Rush, the northernmost town of the Maw, and investigate the resident construction pony named Hammer for corruption.


Lilypad liked to travel alone. She'd worked very hard to rise up through the ranks and put herself in a position where she could do that. Her reasons were myriad and possibly rooted deep in her psyche, but she was good at it.

Now she was being asked to babysit five others. Not just VIPs or assets or even other Steel Rangers, but five wastelanders with their own motivations and agendas. And in Short Circuit's case, it was almost literal babysitting, tech and explosive skills aside.

But in the risk assessment part of her mind, Short Circuit was the second least of Lilypad's problems. The first least was the minotaur, Ten Paces, who despite his imposing strength seemed to possess a permanent monk-like zen. The rest of the former Black Lotus Traveling Company was somewhat more concerning. Zephyr was a proud, flighty, and carefree thrill-seeker; not uncommon for a pegasus. Excalibur, on the other hoof, had become more withdrawn after his recent disgrace down in the Tainted Abyss, burying his anger under a flimsy facade of aloofness. If it weren't for the two young stallions' inseparability and their strangely powerful exosuits, Lilypad would never have agreed to take both of them along.

Yet as bad as they looked on paper, none of it compared to Stalker. Ex-slaver boss. Dangerous, morally objectionable, and used to being in charge. A perfect cocktail of insubordination and general anti-teamwork. Keeping him under control would be next to impossible. It was good fortune that he had an axe to grind against the Executive and a debt to pay to the Mawlers, but how long would that last?

"So, wanna tell us 'bout this first mission of ours?" Stalker said, his drawl ending the awkward silence that had haunted them since leaving Slayer Base. Lilypad shot him a mildly annoyed look for breaking her reverie.

Zephyr came down from where he was flapping above them and landed next to the group. "Yeah, let's hear it! This is our first time working together as a team on a super-secret mission, right? Can't go on a mission if we don't know what it is. Is anypony else excited? Because I'm excited." The suited blue pegasus had a wide grin on his face, and his wings twitched with barely restrained energy.

"Looks more like you're nervous," Excalibur muttered. Lilypad silently agreed.

"Hey man, just trying to have a good first time! You gotta have the first one go well, 'cause that, y'know, sets a precedent for the rest, right? C'mon, look at this all-star cast!" Zephyr gestured at the present company. "This is the best team we've had in, like, months! I want this to go as well as possible, because if this whole thing works out, there's NOTHING we can't do! C'mon, who's with me?"

"Aw yeah! Hoofbump!" Short Circuit cheered. She and Zephyr bumped hooves. "Yeah!"

"Yeah!"

Lilypad mentally added "abandonment issues" to her developing psyche profile of Zephyr. Though after what happened in the Backstab Curse territory and Slick's recent departure from the Black Lotus group, she supposed it was understandable.

"Getting back to my question..." Stalker drawled slowly, looking meaningfully at Lilypad. Ten Paces just nodded.

The Star Paladin stifled a sigh and adjusted her stance to face the group as a whole. "Our first task takes us back to Gold Rush. For some of you, it may have been a while, but it's the first town you find coming out of Flametongue Pass, so I assume everypony's been there at least once."

"Been there? I live there!" Short Circuit pointed out. "Well, I guess not right now, but... I'm still the one who set up the electrical grid!"

"That's right, and we'll be relying on your familiarity with the town during the operation," Lilypad said.

Excalibur tapped his chin with a hoof. "I remember Gold Rush. We didn't stay there long. Even for a 'small town,' it was tiny."

Short Circuit nodded. "Yeah... Most ponies head after the dragons and, well... don't come back. And the ones that do either leave the Maw or settle down in Skyfall or Ribcage."

"Yeah, but I remember about three buildings and a bunch of tents and shanties," Excalibur said. "Not exactly the pinnacle of wasteland civilization."

"Hey, we make it work!" Short Circuit exclaimed petulantly.

This time, Lilypad didn't bother to hide her sigh. "Ponies, please... I recall being asked about our mission?"

"Oh, right, sorry," Short Circuit mumbled. Excalibur just shrugged.

"Right then... A few days ago, Skyfall engineer Silver Wrench traveled to Gold Rush to speak with Hammer and Nail, Gold Rush's local construction experts."

"Nail does most of the work, Hammer just bosses him around," Short Circuit explained. Lilypad gave her a stern look, and the filly meekly lowered her head with an apologetic expression.

"Anyway... Silver Wrench returned with a letter for Skyfall's mayor, Chase. The contents of the letter hid magical runes that, when read, caused the letter to explode. The Mawlers investigated and determined that the letter was most likely from the Executive. Which means-"

"Somepony in Gold Rush is takin' caps from the Executive," Stalker finished.

Lilypad shot Stalker another glare, but continued. "Our job is to investigate Gold Rush, figure out if the Executive has an agent there and who it is, and then deal with the situation."

"It's probably-" Short Circuit covered her hooves over her mouth.

Lilypad shook her head. "No, I'm done. The floor is open."

The filly lowered her hooves and said, "It's probably Hammer, though. He's lazy and greedy and... Well, he was never exactly harmful before, but I just don't see anypony else being corrupt enough for that. Except maybe Blue Moon... but he's double-dead now."

"Well, that was easy," Stalker remarked. "Open and shut."

"Not so fast. We need proof before we go dispensing wasteland justice on random ponies," Lilypad said. "It could be someone we haven't considered, or it may be more deep or widespread than we think. We should get all the facts before we take action."

Stalker rolled his eyes. "How reasonable. And boring."

"At ANY rate... If we do our jobs right, we might learn something about the Executive. He's been playing the enigmatic puppetmaster for a little too long; I'd like to put a stop to that. Making sure Gold Rush remains secure is also a priority."

"Of course. Can't wait to be big damn heroes." Stalker raised his hoof in a mock salute and intoned in an announcer's voice, "And once again, the day is saved, thanks to... THE B-TEAM!"

Short Circuit giggled and saluted.

Excalibur grimaced. "Are we... Are we still going with that name? 'B-Team?'"

"It's as good a name as any," Lilypad replied diplomatically. "Do you have an alternative?"

"Well..." Excalibur shuffled one of his hooves against the desert ground. "I was kinda attached to Black Lotus..."

Lilypad gave Excalibur a firm look. "We are not a traveling company. We are not Prospectors. The best description I can think of is a 'volunteer operations unit.'" She fixed her gaze on Zephyr next. "This is a temporary arrangement at best. And if it doesn't work out, then we can part ways and pursue our own goals. That was my condition for joining this team. So as far as I'm concerned, 'B-Team' is perfectly appropriate. Impersonal, unglamorous, and nothing worth getting attached to. Any questions?"

Zephyr and Short Circuit looked utterly crestfallen. Stalker was smirking at her. Excalibur just looked away, pretending not to care, and Ten Paces was as unreadable as ever.

"No, ma'am," Stalker finally answered, still holding back a grin. "I had one, but then you answered it for me."

Slowly, begrudgingly, the group resumed their eastward march towards Gold Rush.

"The question, if yer wonderin', was 'Do you have a stick up yer ass like every other Steel Ranger?'"

Lilypad willfully ignored his comments after that.


The thing they don't tell you about traveling the wasteland is that it isn't all high-octane, deadly, and/or wacky encounters. Sometimes it's just boring. Walking across a balefire-scorched desert boring. So it was for the several hour hike to Gold Rush.

The group's morale slowly improved a while after Lilypad's decree. Short Circuit seemed to be a hard filly to keep down; her natural enthusiasm and energy gelled well with Zephyr's flighty nervousness, restarting the social engine of the party as it were. Excalibur participated mostly to keep Zephyr grounded and play the straight man, while Ten Paces offered a nod or a grunt once in a while. Stalker watched on with a sort of paternal fascination.

Lilypad was lost in her thoughts the whole way over. She regretted saying what she had, but at the same time didn't. This was her show to run, and if she wanted some semblance of professionalism here, she needed to set that standard down early.

But she'd botched it. Slammed down too hard on Short Circuit's and Zephyr's fragile sensibilities. Thoughts of how she could've said it better plagued her the whole way over.

When Gold Rush finally came into view, it took them a while to realize that it looked a little different than any of them remembered. There were more buildings than before, and some of the old structures were taller. What had been metal shanties before were reinforced with wood and plaster. Wiring and lights stretched from rooftop to rooftop. The humble settlement was starting to look like a real wasteland town.

"Did... it always look like that?" Excalibur was the first to ask.

Short Circuit, however, went from a look of wonder to sudden distress. "Oh no... But the generators... That yield... The wiring... AAAH!" And the little pegasus buzzed off towards the town at high speed.

Lilypad wasn't so lost in thought that she couldn't react instantly. "Zephyr! Go with her and keep her safe!"

"Oh, uh... Okay!" The older pegasus was confused, but half-saluted and flew off after Short Circuit, his bigger wings allowing him to catch up.

"I'm going, too," Excalibur said before galloping off after them. "To keep an eye on Zephyr!"

"Not a bad idea," Stalker said.

Which left Ten Paces, Stalker, and Lilypad behind as a subgroup, keeping their normal pace as they approached Gold Rush's outskirts.

Stalker looked towards the other two. "What do you think that was about?"

"Short Circuit was this town's electrician," Ten Paces rumbled, making Lilypad jump a bit. "Still is, I suppose. Whatever was done with the town was clearly not done with her consent. And if it was done poorly, her expertise and her responsibility to the town will demand she fix it."

Stalker gave the minotaur a grin. "Nothin' gets by you, does it?"

Ten Paces grunted and said, "Just stating my observations."

The former slaver focused on Lilypad. "Still... Somethin' like this in just a few days takes a lot of caps, don't it? And we've got rumors of bribery from a very affluent pony... That sound like proof yet?"

Lilypad sighed. "Almost."

"So what's stopping us from putting an end to this bastard Hammer and calling it a day?"

Glaring at Stalker, Lilypad said, "I want to know what the Executive wants with this town. I want to know if he has any other agents besides Hammer. And I'd like to make sure that, when we remove Hammer from his position, we don't unknowingly bring doom upon the town through any Executive backlash."

Stalker grinned and looked forward again. "Good to know. I mean, I knew, but I wanted to make sure you knew - that we were on the same page."

"And you wanted to test my patience," Lilypad added.

"Nah, that's just me havin' fun." The slaver gave her what could only be described as a 'sarcastically smouldering' look. "Yer cute when yer annoyed."

Instantly, Lilypad saw a way to strike back. "Oh, is that what this is about? I get it now."

"Eh, not really..."

"No, I see where this was going in your head." It was Lilypad's turn to smirk. "The hard case Steel Ranger and the worldly ex-slaver, unresolved tension billowing out into a reluctant attraction..."

Stalker started to laugh despite himself. "Yeah, yeah... Makes a good story though, don't it?"

Lilypad put on her best condescending smirk to match Stalker's earlier one. "A little predictable and - to be honest - played out, in my opinion."

But Stalker grinned back. "Oh, so you're a... what's the word, connoisseur... of boring, predictable romances?"

The Steel Ranger's smirk disappeared. That had been a good jab.

"I'd ask you two to get a room," Ten Paces cut in, "but I worry that one of you would end up dead."

"Just havin' some fun, Ten," Stalker replied. "Nice to know our fearless leader has a sense of humor... even if it takes a little bit to coax it out."

Lilypad said nothing and rolled her eyes, a signal that she was officially done with this conversation.

After that, it wasn't too long before the three of them reached the town proper, entering through the openings in the makeshift metal wall into the vaguely defined streets between the buildings, tents, and shanties. Close up, all the new additions to the town - the lights, wiring, new structures, and reinforcements - looked even more chaotic than it had from outside. The town hadn't gotten much cleaner or prettier with all its new contents; just bigger and more brightly lit.

"There's more ponies here than before," Ten Paces noted. At a glance, Lilypad had to agree. The town's population seemed to have grown a bit, though whether they were permanent residents or just passing through was uncertain. But ultimately, where there had been only a couple dozen ponies before, there now seemed to be more than double that, putting it more in line with Skyfall and Ribcage in terms of population count.

"It's only been a few days," Stalker pointed out. "Which means these have got to be new immigrants. Either more ponies comin' in or goin' out. Or both." There seemed to be a few more traveling merchants and wasteland types, as well as ex-raiders with the signs of recently washed-off body paint.

There was a more secret detail that worried Lilypad, though: The matter of Scarlet Shawl and his revitalized super-garden, and the town's protection deal with the Famine gang in exchange for food. Would more permanent residents strain those resources and put the town in danger? Could the Executive be after that, too?

"Ah, I think we found them," Stalker said, pointing upwards.

Short Circuit was flitting about above them, inspecting the wires and power boxes while muttering to herself. A couple of hardhat-wearing ponies followed her from below, politely asking her to stop, while Zephyr and Excalibur watched at more of a distance. As some point during this process, the filly had put on some rubber leg coverings for her forelegs.

After following the wires for a while, the filly seemed to find what she was looking for: A power box mounted to a pole that had yellow caution tape all over it. Before the hardhat ponies could stop her, Short Circuit threw it open with a violent flair.

Electricity immediately crackled out of the opened container, arcs crossing and sparks flying. Short Circuit wheeled on the construction ponies and shouted, "SEE?! I KNEW there was something wrong! Look at this! Look! THIS is what happens when you draw three times as much power from the grid, shove in two extra generators to compensate, and don't bother to properly BALANCE IT!!"

The two earth ponies looked at each other unsurely as Short Circuit ranted on.

"Ugh, I had this grid foolproofed before I left, I swear! Let me guess, you have random outages about four times a day, right? And how many fires have there been since I left, huh? HUH?!"

"O-Only one," the pony on the left meekly replied, before his partner gave him a firm smack to the back of the head.

"RRRGH! Okay, okay okay okay." The filly hovered back to the sparking power box and put a hoof on her chin. "If I had a map of all the wiring in town, I could rearrange everything and get all the proper resistors in place by dinner... But chances are, this was all a hack job without proper planning, so I'll need to make the map myself, which means I'll be up all night trying to..."

"Uh, hold on, you can't do that," the earth pony on her right said. "Not without permission from Hammer."

Short Circuit whipped back around again, and this time it looked as though steam might pore out from her flared nostrils. "WHAT."

But the construction pony stood his ground. "This is a matter for the construction crew. We can't have any interlopers messing with the infrastructure of the town without our supervision."

"Interlopers?! I...! YOU'RE the interwhatevers! Who are you guys, even?! This was a perfectly fine power grid before you guys showed up and... and built all this!"

The left-side pony backed up a few steps, but the pony on the right stayed and glowered at her. "Move along, little filly. Or go talk to Hammer. Don't. Cause. Trouble."

That was when the hardhat pony noticed the point of a spear under his chin. With a smirk beneath his glowing horn, Excalibur said, "Too late."

Lilypad, watching from a distance, panicked a little. This was supposed to be a covert operation!

The cowardly construction pony took a chance and started running from the obvious threat. Zephyr reacted quickly and tackled him to the ground. The brave one stood completely still as his partner was subdued, the spear holding him hostage.

"Oh, for pity's sake..." Lilypad started running towards the commotion to break it up.

"Now what's going on here?!" another voice called out sharply and with authority, such that everypony kind of froze in place. Lilypad slowed to a trot as she saw Thunder Spear, the current elected mayor of Gold Rush, get there before her.

Short Circuit fluttered over to the mayor in a hurry. "Thunder Spear! Are you seeing this?! How could you let this happen??"

"Alright, alright, calm down, we'll get this sorted..." Thunder Spear replied hastily. He looked to Excalibur, Zephyr, and the construction ponies and said, "You two, get off them. And you two, I'll clear up this little misunderstanding. So go back to, well, whatever you were doing."

Excalibur put his spear away and Zephyr let the cowardly pony up. The brave one looked to Thunder Spear and said, "This is a matter for the construction crew. We had it under control..."

"And I'm the mayor," Thunder Spear shot back. "Or have you already forgotten that? If Hammer has a problem, he can bring it up with me."

After giving him a dark look, the hardhat pony picked up his friend and left.

Lilypad chose that moment to step into the fray and glare at Excalibur. "What did you think you were doing?"

Excalibur shrugged. "Showing him that we weren't to be trifled with." He looked off to the side, towards the retreating ponies. "Hmph, 'had it under control'... What kind of pony has a spear to their jugular and says something like that?"

"Kid, don't look now," Stalker cut in, "but as we speak there's about six pairs of eyes on you that aren't us. Most of 'em lookin' out from under hardhats. Ya dun goofed."

Lilypad nodded. She'd noticed the various watchers down the streets and alleys around them. "If you'd done anything more than tackle the coward, I think you would've been mobbed by half the union."

Excalibur scrunched his face in annoyance before looking away and grumbling something under his breath.

"So who're you ponies, then?" Thunder Spear asked. He looked up at Ten Paces and added, "Well, people."

Ten Paces shook his head. "Don't worry. You get used to 'ponies' as a general term."

"Mr. Mayor, these are... well..." Short Circuit hesitated. "I guess we're called... Well, we're kind of a part of..."

Lilypad stepped forward and leaned in a little bit. "We're aligned with the Dragon Mawlers. Think of us as a 'B-Team.'"

Excalibur sighed and rolled his eyes.

"Ah, Lilypad." Thunder Spear nodded and looked back at Short Circuit. "So they're with you, huh? Got yourself a little adventuring party?"

"Sorta." The filly smiled uneasily. "Hopefully, this'll turn out better than my first one..."

Thunder Spear gave her a little hug, tussled her hair a bit, and stepped back. "Well, it looks promising enough. But we're all digressing a bit here. What brings you back to Gold Rush, besides the state of our electrical grid? Oh, and speaking of, would you mind...?"

Short Circuit reluctantly closed the power box and took off her rubber shoes. "Well, we're here to investigate..."

Lilypad covered her mouth with a hoof. "We're passing through, but as a favor to our mutual friends, we're also checking to see if anything needs doing around town, or if there's anything suspicious that needs investigating." She leaned in to Short Circuit and said, "Let's not announce it to the whole town before we get started, shall we?"

Short Circuit nodded meekly. Lilypad removed her hoof, and the filly added, "Yeah, that."

"I... see." Thunder Spear gestured vaguely at the built-up town around them. "Well, you kinda got a taste of it already. Not sure what else I can say that you haven't probably already observed."

"Well, we can see the 'what,'" Stalker said. "Just not sure of the 'how' and 'why.'"

"Right." The mayor took a few moments to think, and then said, "So as I understand it, word finally got out that the dragons have started to fall. Years of telling people this is a deathtrap, and now we're telling them that you just might be able to reach the hoards after all. So we've got more ponies coming down from Flametongue, and they always come through here first. A few merchants and businessponies saw the opportunity and decided to set up shop down here for a while. Then you've got ex-raiders and ex-cultists going out, some of them staying because they've got nowhere else. Put all that together, and suddenly our little town's gone up a few sizes."

"You had a need for better housing and facilities, and Hammer stepped in," Ten Paces observed.

"With a vengeance," Thunder Spear said with a nod. "I mean, we call them construction ponies, but Hammer and Nail were just good at scavenging scrap and putting them into house-like shapes, and we thanked them for it. But out of nowhere they started getting legit materials and hiring extra help."

"Any idea where they got the caps for all that?" Zephyr piped up.

"Hammer said they found a stash of caps after the Mawlers cleared out Glaurung's territory. I'd believe him if I ever saw him leave his tent, much less the town."

Lilypad frowned. "I sense you're not totally opposed to how suspicious this all is."

The grizzled veteran just let out a sigh. "Like the minotaur said, we needed this. And what's more, like you saw, Hammer's crew have been acting as a pseudo guard force. A bit corrupt, but at least keeping the peace as we've gotten larger and more populated."

"Okay, but..." Lilypad lowered her voice a it. "What about the food problem? And your deal with Famine?"

"Oh, that?" the mayor replied, looking a little surprised at the question. "Why, that's the smoothest part about all this. Scarlet Shawl's been throwing himself into his work nonstop - honestly, wish I could ask him to step away for a while, but my hooves are tied. But his dragon-blessed greenhouse thing has been keeping up. We've got more than enough food to feed everybody and pay our dues to the Famine gang. Certainly no surplus, but... we're going strong right now."

Lilypad was impressed. That was a lot of food to be producing on a weekly basis. Whatever Nidhogg's ashen remains had done to that little patch of land Scarlet Shawl was nurturing, it must've been very magical indeed.

"And, uh, yeah," Thunder Spear finished lamely. "That's the situation as I see it. Hope it helps."

"Almost," Stalker replied, his voice taking on a rather mysterious tone. "One more thing, just to get us started: Out of all the new buildings Hammer's put up, which would you say is the most suspicious?"

Thunder Spear thought for a little while again, before saying, "Well, there's the Dragon Express building. One of the first structures he made, it was for some sharp-looking guy wanting to set up a shipping company in the Maw. It's probably the best-looking and best-built place in town, and it gets a fair amount of business. Plenty of ponies going in and out of there every day, and it seems a lot of Hammer's hired help also double as laborers there."

"Well, damn," Stalker said with a chuckle. "That's plenty suspicious. Why haven't you checked it out yet?"

"I did. That's how I know all these details. But I didn't get too far before I was-" Thunder Spear cleared his throat, "-politely asked to leave."

Excalibur smirked. "I guess we'll have to finish the job, then."

"Just try not to break too much," the mayor advised. "Like it or not, we've got an infrastructure here. I'd rather it not all fall apart in one day. Oh, and don't get killed. Hammer's crew can get a little... brutal, much as I try and tell them not to."

"Thank you for your help," Lilypad said, bowing her head a little. "We'll do our best to protect the town while we're here."

"Hold up!" Short Circuit cried out. "What about my problem?" She flitted right up in Thunder Spear's face. "Thunder Spear, listen. I can fix all this, get rid of the outage problem and prevent any fires from happening again. But you gotta get these hardhat guys off my back. I may have to disconnect some things, but I promise I'd have everything back up better than ever in 12 hours, 24 tops!"

"I'd be more than happy to," Thunder Spear assured her. "But you really should talk to Hammer and make sure he gets the word out that you can do this. Otherwise, the construction ponies might get a bit more aggressive."

Short Circuit huffed. "Alllriiight... Guess we gotta talk to Hammer anyway."

Thunder Spear nodded at them. "I'll let you get to it. Something tells me I'll want plausible deniability for the next hour or so." With that, he walked back down the street whence he came and rounded a corner out of sight.

The six members of the B-Team rounded up for a quick powwow. "So, whatcha thinkin'?" Stalker said to Lilypad. "Divide and conquer again? Same groups?"

"In order: Yes and no." Lilypad pointed to Ten Paces. "You go with Short Circuit and Zephyr to speak to Hammer." Then she pointed at Excalibur. "You're with me and Stalker investigating Dragon Express."

Ten Paces nodded affirmatively. Excalibur made a show of thinking about it before he finally shrugged. The group split into their respective teams, and Lilypad addressed them as a whole. "Our goal is to coax out any evidence of corruption, and look for ways to leave Gold Rush better than we found it. Agreed?"

A chorus of "agreed" answered her. She nodded and said, "Alright, let's go."

Unfortunately, after a brief round of getting directions from passerby, it turned out that their destinations were off in mostly the same direction. So the two teams walked together awkwardly for a little while.

"So, uh... Why am I not watching Zephyr this time?" Excalibur asked just to break the silence.

"Hey!"

Lilypad rolled her eyes. "Because talking to Hammer requires diplomacy and a level head, and investigating the shipping company will probably involve magic, force, and violence."

"Oh. Well... okay then," Excalibur mumbled.

Ten Paces let out an affirmative grunt. "Makes sense."

Mercifully, they came to an intersection where their paths split, and the two teams went their separate ways. Short Circuit, Zephyr, and Ten Paces took the path away from the proper buildings part of town and towards the shanties and tents. As it turned out, despite having built up every other part of the town, Hammer still lived in the big old tent he and Nail shared before the expansion started.

Short Circuit recognized the tent when they saw it, a large off-white thing with a tarp stretched over the top to protect it from the rain. It looked relatively humble, even compared to the reinforced shacks nearby. A couple of hardhat-wearing ponies (Short Circuit had called them "Hardhats" and it just stuck) were leaving the tent as they approached. The front entrance flap of the tent was loose, so the three of them walked right in.

The inside was big enough that Ten Paces only had to hunch over a little bit. It also looked completely different from the outside. The inner walls of the tent were lined with some kind of red silk. An orange carpet spanned the central length leading up to an ornate wooden throne, surrounded by a veritable dragon's hoard of... food. Boxed snacks, loaves of bread, slabs of cooked meat, and even a few bowls of fresh fruit were piled up around the central chair, upon which a fat green earth pony (much fatter than Short Circuit remembered) sat.

So jarring was the transition that the group had nothing to say for a few moments as they just took it all in, and they barely noticed the lanky green earth pony standing in front and to the side of the one on the throne. "Hello. Do you have business with Hammer?"

"Naaaail."

The lanky pony winced. "...Yes?"

The fat pony opened up a box of snack cakes. Some crumbs fell onto the jeweled bracelet around his hoof. "You didn't use my full title."

Nail let out a groan. "That's because it's long, dumb, and I don't remember it," he growled bluntly.

"Then let me remind you. It's Superior Dear Respected Wise Brilliant Unique Great Shining Father Leader Symbol..."

As half the B-Team just stared on in horror, Nail sighed and muttered. "Just give it a minute. We'll be here a while."

"...Beloved Half-Price Guarantee Victorious Supreme Sun Moon..."


Far away from all that, Lilypad's group closed in on the large Dragon Express building. Just in quality and workponyship, it stood out against the rest of the structures around it, to say nothing of the neon sign somepony had nailed to the front of it.

"Subtle," Excalibur quipped.

"The Executive doesn't really do subtle," Stalker replied. "It's all broad strokes. He puts a gun to your head, a bag of caps in your lap, gives you an offer you can't refuse, blows you the hell up anyway, and then walks away. And if you're lucky, in that order."

"Fair enough."

Lilypad opened the front double doors, and the trio stepped into a very fancy lobby. If the outside had been of standout quality, the inside was like stepping into the Old World again, warping back in time to life before the war. Encouraging Ministry posters lined the walls. Hardhat workers came and went, stamping timesheets along the way. There was a break room off to one side, a wing of offices to the other side, and the back wall had multiple service entrances to a great hall large enough to be a factory or a warehouse - though without internal windows, there was no way to know from the entrance. And to top it all off, there was a slick, well-dressed pony stationed at the front desk.

"Hello, travelers!" the pony, a tan earth pony stallion with a golden mane done up in a slick do, welcomed them cordially. "I'm Opportunity, and you've knocked on the door of the Dragon Express Shipping Company! What can we do for you this fine day in the Dragon's Maw?"

"Just browsing," Excalibur said noncommittally.

Lilypad said nothing, observing the room and the workers around them. She noticed that the hardhats in the room were keeping an eye on them in turn.

Stalker resisted the urge to roll his eyes at Excalibur's low-effort cover story. He shot the armored unicorn a look before smiling and stepping up to the front desk. "What my friend meant to say is that we're in the market to move some things up to, uh... New Appleloosa. So we're lookin' around at all the options available."

Opportunity looked confused for a second. "There are other options?" He shook his head a little to clear his mind and said, "Well, New Appleloosa, huh? That's pretty far, but that should be well within Dragon Express's range!"

"Is it, now?" Stalker said slyly. "You guys must be able to reach half the wasteland."

"Well, it helps when you have a..."

One of the hardhats off to the side of the room cleared his throat loudly.

"...p-pegasus helping out. Y'know, flying and all that."

Lilypad and Excalibur exchanged a look.

"B-But really, it's nothing special for a courier service, save for our... well, excellent service. Just give us a package and a destination, and we charge by distance and by risk."

Stalker tapped his chin with his hoof. "Really now? Well, if I said I was transporting some heavy ordinance to help out our friends in New Appleloosa, what would that cost me?"

"Oooh... Quite a bit, sir. If it's heavy, that means we can't fly it, so we'd have to walk it there. Probably with a heavy guard to fend off bandits."

"So I'm in the position to drop several thousand caps on you guys," Stalker pointed out. Then he leaned in towards the slick stallion. "And I ain't spending a cap unless I'm absolutely sure. I'd like to take a look at your operation real quick. If I'm satisfied, you get my business. If not, I walk out."

Opportunity's eyes darted over to the two hardhats, who didn't make any overt motions since they were being watched but just stared intently back. Focusing back on Stalker, Opportunity gave him a sheepish grin. "Sorry. That's... uh... private. Confidential. All... those things."

Stalker stepped back, a frown on his face. "Well, shoot. Guess I'm a little rusty at this speechifyin' thing. Guess that leaves the other way."

Lilypad was losing count of her panic attacks today. "No, don't...!"

"Excalibur."

As the hardhats were starting to move, Excalibur's horn lit up. The curtains on the external windows closed instantly, and his spear glowed with a strange light. "Say cheese."

A blinding flash filled the room, followed by sounds of stabbing and two stallions groaning out their last breath. Lilypad and Stalker had managed to close their eyes before the flash, and so were quickly able to gaze upon the scene of Excalibur cleaning off the blade of his spear as he stood over the two hardhats.

Lilypad put a hoof on her forehead in frustration. "No, no, no...!"

Stalker reached over the counter to grab Opportunity, who hadn't closed his eyes in time and was still affected by the unnatural flash. The stallion squeaked and wailed, "Please, please don't kill me! Mmph-"

The stallion was muffled by Stalker's hoof covering his mouth. "Now listen here," Stalker said in a conversational tone with an angry edge. "If it weren't obvious already, this 'legitimate business' is bein' run by the Executive. Maybe you've heard of him, maybe not. Best advice for you is to get out of town while you still can."

"Rrrgh," Lilypad groaned. But she pulled herself together and focused on the task at hand. Stepping up to the counter, she stood beside Stalker and said, "Don't leave through the front door or the warehouse. Head to your home, find your things, and get out before anypony becomes suspicious. Understand?"

Opportunity's eyes opened, his vision gradually returning, and he nodded twice.

"Remember, no screamin', no talkin' to anypony else about this," Stalker added. "Else we'll have to off you too." And he slowly loosened his grip on the stallion, who wisely kept his mouth shut as he blearily made his way towards the back rooms, out of sight.

Lilypad rounded on Stalker angrily. "What the hell was that?!" Then on Excalibur. "Both of you! Did you plan this?!"

Excalibur, finished cleaning his spear, shrugged and stowed his weapon away. "No. I improvised."

"Look, cut the kid some slack," Stalker said with a sigh. "We were at the exact moment, the tipping point, of those two numbskulls getting too suspicious and doin' something about it."

"We could've handled it better!" Lilypad argued. "For instance, by knocking them out instead of killing them."

Stalker considered it. "Yeah, but then you run into the risk of them wakin' up and tellin' someone else, or their boss..."

"So we tie them up and gag them, then decide what to do with them once the danger has passed."

"Hmm." Stalker looked pointedly at Excalibur. "Yeah, Cal, why didn't you knock them out?"

The green unicorn was shocked. "What?! You're taking her side?? But isn't she the one who said we needed - what was it? - 'magic, force, and violence'?"

"Oh, I suppose it's my fault, then," Lilypad muttered. "Well, let me clarify. We needed magic, force, and violence... applied with precision and care, and preferably not before warning me first." She shook her head and looked towards the back wall. "As long as we're here and have free reign, we might as well take a look around. Stalker and I will investigate. Excalibur, you hide the bodies, clean up the blood, and guard this entrance hall. If any other suspicious ponies come looking around, knock them out."

"Come on... I'm on guard duty?" Excalibur whined.

Lilypad fixed him with an intense glare. "You made the mess. You clean it up."

Excalibur shrunk back a little under her gaze. "...Okay. Alright. I'll... get right on that."

Stalker and Lilypad made their way toward the back doors while Excalibur got to work cleaning up the bodies. Stalker moved to the central set of doors and pushed them open for Lilypad. "Ladies first."

Lilypad rolled her eyes and walked through. She was greeted with the sight of shelves upon shelves, boxes upon boxes upon crates upon crates. This was definitely a miniature warehouse, taking up two stories' worth of vertical space and the rest of the considerable horizontal space the building had to offer. Perhaps it'd be fairer to call it just a very large storage room, but it had all the trappings of a warehouse, including a walkway encircling the second floor wall and what looked like a control room up and to the very back of the room.

The ex-slaver next to her let out a whistle. "I dunno what the Exec's movin' through this place, but apparently it's a lot of it." He went down the central aisle and inspected some of the boxes. "What do we got here... Labels for sender, recipient, payment, contents..."

"Get down!"

Lilypad dragged Stalker into one of the side aisles as a muffled metallic thunk sent something whizzing past Stalker's head. Getting up from his sprawled position, Stalker grimaced and muttered, "What the..."

The Steel Ranger tapped her Pip-Buck. "Eyes Forward Sparkle. There's a red blip on my compass. Probably hidden in that control room up there."

"Just great..." Stalker growled. He blinked once in realization. "Wait. A silenced bullet? A gun??"

"Seems like it."

The stallion groaned. "We're pinned down by a dragon-pony hybrid. Well, fu-"


"...Fundamentally Great and Powerful Hammer, copyright Team Four Star," Hammer finally finished.

Zephyr looked up from the paper he'd been writing this all down on. "Wait, what wazzat last part?" he asked, the pencil still in his mouth.

Short Circuit let out a frustrated strangled growl and floated up into Hammer's fat face. "Are you done? Because we've got some serious business to discuss, mister!"

Hammer quirked an eyebrow. "Oh. Short Circuit. You should've told me it was you."

For a few brief seconds, the little filly seemed to ponder the possibilities of strangulation without hands. At least, judging by the way her forelegs reached out towards Hammer's neck, trembling a bit.

"Sir," Nail muttered, "I think she's mad about the mess you made of the town's electrical system."

"What's wrong with the electrical system?" Hammer asked lazily.

"Sir, probably the fact we have regular power outages, one building almost burned to the ground, and that we messed with her carefully optimized grid in the first place."

"Oh." Hammer cleared his throat. "Well, what did you expect? You ran off to help out those Mawler guys. Somepony had to stay and maintain things."

"I specifically told everypony to leave it alone! I had it all figured out! I even left a note on every power box!" Short Circuit cried.

"Naaaail."

"What?!"

"Why didn't you tell me she left a note?"

"Sir, you're the one who ignored them and threw them away."

"Nope. That was obviously your fault. How could you, Nail."

Short Circuit, still hovering, put her forelegs on her hips. "You're not fooling anyone, Hammer."

"Well, note or no note! It doesn't matter," Hammer declared. "So many ponies kept coming in looking for shelter. We had to make more places, which meant we needed more power. I'm not going to apologize for doing what we had to do."

"Then apologize for doing it poorly!"

"Oh yeah? Well how about you try merging two generators into the same power grid to provide electricity to the whole town without shortages or fires."

"Maybe I will!!"

And with that, Short Circuit buzzed out of the tent. Zephyr chased after her. "Hey, wait!" Which left Ten Paces alone in the tent with Hammer and Nail.

"Naaaail."

Nail sighed. "What?"

"Did I accidentally give Short Circuit permission to mess with the entire electrical system?"

"I think you did, sir."

"Wellll crap."

Ten Paces grunted. "Hmph. It will only benefit the town. You should let her do as she pleases."

Hammer shook his head. "It's going to be a big problem... But then again, not my problem. Somepony will deal with her."

The minotaur lifted his hat up slightly so he could look directly in Hammer's eyes. "You're not going to let your underlings know that she has permission?"

"I didn't actually give her permission, now did I?"

Ten Paces reached for one of his pouches. "So Short Circuit, following the power lines, is about to stumble onto something you don't want discovered. In order to silence her, you're going to leave her out to dry when your subordinates start getting hostile, perhaps even violent."

Nail's eyes widened. "That's... uh, awfully perceptive of you."

"It was a lucky guess." Ten Paces drew out a metallic disc from his pouch that fit into his hand. With a flick of the wrist, the disc revealed three curved blades, forming the glaive he'd retrieved from Smaug's horde. "Now, I'm going to threaten you with violence until you tell me your secrets. You will tell me what I want to know."

"Pffft, as if," Hammer retorted. "Nail. Kick his ass."

"Um, I don't exactly have a weapon," Nail mumbled, looking uneasily at the glaive Ten Paces was holding.

"You're a construction pony. You build civilization out of raw materials and salvage. Figure it out."

Nail still looked nervous, but took a tentative fighting stance anyway.

Ten Paces, however, softened his stance a bit to look slightly less aggressive. "Nail, this is the chance you've been waiting for."

"What?"

"Naaaail, don't listen to him."

"You've toiled under this pony you once called friend for years and years," Ten Paces continued. "You've done what needs to be done for the good of the town. You've watched patiently as your boss abused his power to usurp this town... watched, perhaps, for far too long. But you were no fool. You knew what was at stake, and what would happen if you blindly took action. But now, Nail, now is the time. Let me and my team do what needs to be done, and I promise we will provide a way out."

"Naaaaaaaaaaiilllllll..."

"You know what I'm talking about, Nail. This is the chance you've been waiting for."

Nail hesitated for the longest time...

...and then stood by Ten Paces' side.

Hammer's brow wrinkled in something resembling fury. "Well, well, well. Didn't take you for a turncoat, old friend."

"It was either this or keep listening to your annoying title until I snap and murder you in cold blood," Nail deadpanned. "Be thankful that we're going with this option."

Hammer grumbled something under his breath, then said, "Alright, look. I've got caps-"

"Don't even try," Ten Paces cut in.

The fat, spoiled laborer pony finally started to sweat. "Guards..."

Ten Paces quirked an eyebrow. "What was that?"

"Guaaaaards..."

Nail looked up at the minotaur. "I think he's trying to call some of the hardhats over to protect him."

"GUUAAAAAAAAAAARRRRDS!!"

A faint rumbling of hooves could be heard approaching the tent. Ten Paces turned towards the entrance and took an aggressive stance. "Very well, then."


P-TING!

A sniper round pierced through part of one of the metal shelves, causing it to shudder a bit. Lilypad and Stalker maneuvered to another aisle and took cover behind the side of the shelf rather than the length of it. The shooter was moving along the walkway above them, allowing him to change his angle of attack and forcing the duo to move every so often.

"Frackin' Gunsmith's Curse..." Stalker growled. "Frackin' hybrids..."

As the shooter was moving to a new position, Lilypad stuck her head out briefly and activated SATS through her Pip-Buck. Time slowed to a standstill, allowing her to see the enemy clearly in mid-run. She could've also queued up a few attacks, but without a gun her only option was a few energy blasts with her horn, which would've drained her energy quickly and would be inaccurate at this range anyway. It was probably best to wait for a better opening.

Lilypad deactivated SATS and took the cover behind the shelf next to Stalker. "Male dragon hybrid. Light barding with marks from the Cult of Tiamat. Looked like a... silenced .45."

"A .45? With a silencer?!" Stalker echoed incredulously. "Goddamn, where's the Exec gettin' this kind of good stuff?"

A few bullets crashing into the crates above them rendered the question moot for now.

"Alright," Stalker muttered, "we've got about forty seconds before that bastard gives up and calls for help or somethin'. We need a plan. You got SATS, right?"

"Yeah, but it's too far for me."

"Not for me." Stalker magically lifted up one of the throwing knives from his belt. "Think maybe I can tap into your SATS system?"

Despite the situation, Lilypad found herself a little befuddled. "I... I'm not sure. Never tried that before."

"I'm pretty accurate without it," Stalker admitted. "But we might only got one shot at this. Jus' wanna be sure."

"'Be sure,' he says," Lilypad quipped, "and then he suggests an untested technique that's outside the Pip-Buck's specifications."

Stalker groaned. "Alright, alright! I thought it was a cool idea and I really want to try it out! C'mon!"

A few more silenced shots bounced off the shelves, and then there was tapping on the grated walkway above them. Lilypad sighed and nodded. "He's moving. Now or never."

Stalker and Lilypad started to move out of cover...

Creeeak!

"Woah, look at all this stuff! Is this a warehouse? Why are all the power lines converging here?"

The duo froze. Stalker glanced at Lilypad. "Was that...?"

Lilypad thought for a second, then her eyes widened. "Short Circuit. Second-story window!"

"Okay, a control room... What, so they routed all the station controls through here? Hey, wait, who are- AHH!"

Stalker and Lilypad rushed out from the shelves into the main aisle. Above them, through the control station window, they could see the hybrid holding Short Circuit with a gun to her head.

"We're done here," the hybrid stated coldly. He pointed the .45 away from Short Circuit, still holding the filly in his claws, and aimed at the two ponies below. "No witnesses to the Executive's plans."

Neither of them had to say anything. Lilypad stretched out her Pip-Buck-laden hoof, and Stalker's horn lit up. The hybrid pulled the trigger just as time slowed to a stop for Stalker.

When time resumed, a bullet struck Stalker's barding before he lashed out with a volley of throwing knives aimed at the gun. The knives hit their mark, cutting into the hybrid's hand and forcing him to drop the weapon. The .45 clattered off the side of the control station's panels and down to the floor below.

Short Circuit wriggled out of the hybrid's grip and gave him a quick buck to the chest. It wasn't terribly strong, but it knocked the wind out of him for a second. The hybrid tried to grab at her again, but was interrupted by a second volley of knives from Stalker below.

"Should've aimed a little higher!" Stalker taunted, wincing as the light wound in his chest leaked a little blood. He telekinetically recalled his thrown knives and prepared for another round.

The filly had gotten far out of reach at this point, and Lilypad was charging up energy in her horn for an attack as well. Sensing that things weren't going his way, the hybrid reached for the power controls near him and flipped as many levers and switches as he could. The lights in the storage room flickered and died. Sparks flew. In a moment, the only light inside was the gray natural light from the upper windows.

"What?! No! No, what did you do?!" Short Circuit raced back to the control station, but by that point the hybrid had already dashed for the window she'd opened and jumped through it.

"You two stay!" Lilypad shouted at the others. "I'll follow!" She raced out of the storage room, hoping to go around through one of the side doors and get on the hybrid's trail before he got too far away.


Zephyr, who'd nearly lost Short Circuit as she'd flitted about, only caught the last few seconds of the warehouse encounter before the hybrid came barreling out the window he was watching from, knocking him aside. Catching his balance midair, he shook his head, shouted, "Hey, wait!" and took after him.

With his exosuit enhancing his speed, and the hybrid dealing with a wounded hand, Zephyr was able to catch up quickly. He dove down and tackled the hybrid to the ground, the two of them crashing in one of the alleys behind Dragon Express.

Zephyr grinned. "Haha! Gotcha now-" The hybrid's non-wounded hand grabbed him by the throat and silenced him. Before he knew it, Zephyr was thrown against a wall with unnatural strength, dazing him for a second. A second that allowed the hybrid to spread its leathery wings and take to the air.

By the time Zephyr had stopped seeing double, Ten Paces had arrived on the scene investigating the disturbance. Not really questioning why the minotaur was there, Zephyr pointed up at the retreating hybrid and said, "He... He threatened Circuit!"

Ten Paces took in the scene. Due to the hybrid's haphazard switch-throwing, the town was experiencing a severe power outage. Several power boxes nearby were sparking with uncontrolled electricity. Above all this chaos, the hybrid was trying to fly away unnoticed.

The minotaur drew back his hand, still holding the bladed glaive, and threw it towards the power box.

The glaive collided with the power box, and the electricity jumped to the spinning metal. The glaive, charged with electrical power, flew back to Ten Paces' hand. The minotaur didn't seem even fazed by the current jumping to his skin as he brought his arm back for another throw. With all his might and a great shout, he tossed the spinning, electrical glaive at the retreating hybrid.

With surprising speed, the glaive caught up to the hybrid and collided. The electricity exploded outward on contact, shocking the enemy with an entire town's worth of power.

The hybrid, now slightly smoking, when into a spinning nosedive and crashed down to earth in the middle of town.

Ten Paces' glaive returned to its master, who caught it confidently. "Huh. So that's its power," Ten Paces calmly observed, before retracting the blades and placing the disc back in his pouch. He then offered his hand to Zephyr to help him up.

Zephyr looked at the minotaur, then up at where the hybrid had been, then back at him with a grin. "Wow. Glad you're on our side."


During all of this, Excalibur was still in the lobby, mopping up the bloodstains with equipment he'd retrieved from the janitorial closet. When the power went out, he just rolled his eyes and muttered, "Gee, sounds like fun..." before getting back to his mopping.


Ten Paces, Zephyr, and Lilypad broke through the growing crowd in the street to look at the fallen, charred body of the dragon-pony hybrid.

Lilypad looked up at the minotaur questioningly. "I applaud the quick thinking on your part, but... How did you know to get over here so quickly? I thought you were all with Hammer."

Ten Paces tipped his hat a little, smiling ever so slightly. "Oh, that..."


Earlier...

"Hold on," Nail said, holding a hoof in front of Ten Paces. "Let me try something."

The lanky earth pony stepped out of the tent to confront the six or so hardhat ponies approaching them. One of them glared at Nail and growled, "Boss called for guards. Is he in trouble?"

Nail nodded. "Yeah, but listen. Hammer's about to get what's been coming to him for a long time. If he goes, I become the much nicer boss. How about you guys just let nature take its course?"

"Guuuuaaaaaaarrrrrrrrdsssss! Don't listen to Naaaaaaaaiiiillllll!"

Nail winced, but responded with a smirk. "You won't have to listen to that stupid title ever again."

The hardhats glanced amongst themselves. One of them shrugged and said, "Yeah, sounds good." This caused a cascade of passive agreement from the rest of them, and they all walked away.

As Nail re-entered the tent, Hammer let out a huff. "Is loyalty worth anything in the wasteland? What about all the caps I pay them?"

"Not the caps you pay them," Ten Paces corrected, turning back towards Hammer, "the caps the Executive pays them. You're just the middlepony. But to answer your question: Loyalty is earned, not bought."

"At best, it can only be rented," Nail added.

"Grraaaaah... Fiiine. What do you want to know?"

Ten Paces retracted the glaive's blades. "What problem is Short Circuit about to run into?"

Hammer sighed. "If she follows the boxes and wires long enough, she'll find most of the power's routed and controlled through the Dragon Express building. Don't ask me why; that's just how it turned out. But DE is mostly a front for the Executive to ship supplies to all his operation cells in the Maw and beyond. Anyone who goes poking around too much is to be taken out. No exceptions. No witnesses."

Ten Paces tensed up. Short Circuit was about to be in real danger. Looking to Nail, he said, "Think you can take over the interrogation for a little while?"

"Yeah, sure. I'll soften him up for you," Nail replied. Ten Paces dashed out of the tent, and Nail muttered, "Not that he can get much softer..."


"Now that... is a fantastic story."

Stalker rested against one of the crates as Ivy, the local griffon doctor, dug the bullet out of his chest and patched him up with some enchanted bandages. The rest of the group had gathered up in the mini-warehouse in the back of the Dragon Express, along with Thunder Spear but exempting Short Circuit. The filly was already getting to work undoing the damage and drawing up a new, updated power grid for Gold Rush's needs.

"I wish I'd had more of a part in it," Excalibur grumbled.

Zephyr gave his longtime friend a big, squeezing side-hug. "Ah, don't worry about it, buddy! We'll be the big heroes next time."

"I appreciate what you did today," Thunder Spear said, "and I'll make sure the folks around here keep it quiet. But there's no getting around it: Gold Rush is owned by the Executive now. He's got too many caps flowing through this place."

Lilypad grimaced. The mayor was right. The Executive had built up this town from its humble roots - he could easily bring the full weight of his force on it and destroy it, too. Today's success hinged on them not overly disrupting the Executive's operation. Dragon Express would continue to carry their enemy's goods, and the hardhats would remain Gold Rush's security force.

"At least Nail's in charge now," Ten Paces offered. "He'll put the Executive's free caps to better use, and keep the town's safety a higher priority."

"I know, I know," Thunder Spear mumbled. "It's just... This hasn't been a free town for a while. We've been owned by the Famine gang for who knows how long. And now we gotta stay on this Executive's good side? What if we get stretched too thin, is what I'm saying."

Lilypad tapped her chin. "Maybe they're not mutually exclusive problems. Maybe Famine already knows that the Executive's moved in, and has allowed it."

The mayor's eyes widened. "Well, in that case... That's a whole new kind of problem, right there."

"But that's a maybe," Lilypad added with a wave of her hoof. "No concrete evidence just yet."

Thunder Spear stepped up to Lilypad and gave her a serious look. "I don't like relying so much on the help of strangers, but... If you're with the Mawlers, if you can help get Gold Rush out of this mess..."

Lilypad nodded. "We'll do what we can."

"I guess that's all I can ask."

Ivy was done healing Stalker at this point. Stalker levitated a bag of caps over to her as payment. With their business concluded, Ivy and Thunder Spear walked out of the warehouse just as Nail was coming in.

"How are we?" Ten Paces asked the earth pony.

Nail rubbed the back of his neck with his hoof. "I convinced them to give you guys twenty more minutes of free reign, no questions asked, no reports to the boss. But after that, you gotta get out of here."

Stalker got up to his hooves with a groan. "Well, guess we gotta get started." He walked over to one of the shelves they'd been hiding behind earlier and started looking through the crates. "There's one o' these I had my eye on for a while... Let's see what's inside."

When Stalker pointed out the crate he was talking about, Ten Paces grabbed a crowbar and cracked open the nailed-shut container. With a great effort, he lifted off the cover to reveal... caps. Lots and lots of caps, stacked up in tight columns that were kept in place by some kind of metal rack.

Zephyr's eyes brightened up. Excalibur's jaw had dropped. Stalker just grinned maniacally. Ten Paces made no reaction.

Lilypad levitated a lone cap from the crate into the air. "They're..."

Stalker's grin widened. "Yeah?"

"...pristine." Lilypad passed it over to Stalker's magic. "New."

Stalker examined the cap very closely. He also brought out one of his own caps to compare against it. The one he already had was bent slightly and had a few notches. The one from the crate was perfectly formed and clean. "Haha... So it is." He put the cap back in the crate. "And what does that mean?"

"It means we're rich," Zephyr grunted.

"No." Lilypad covered the crate with the lid. "We're not taking any of this. It would make them suspicious, and we're already more on the radar than I'd like as it is."

"Aww..."

Stalker examined the label on the crate once again. "'Sender: Glitter Springs.' Well, that's helpful. There are multiple boxes with this sender, too. How many do you think are in this storage room right now?"

"How many caps is the Executive mailing, and where are they coming from?" Lilypad continued, thinking aloud along with Stalker.

From the entrance of the room, Nail cleared his throat. "Uh..."

Stalker looked up from the crates. "Yeah? Speak up, son!"

"Well, I was working over Hammer a bit, right? And I might've made him a little scared for his life in the process."

"That must've been therapeutic," Ten Paces remarked.

"Heh heh, yeah... Well, anyway, to make me stop, he started jabbering about how he's got vital information about one of the Executive's secret operations. You said 'Glitter Springs,' right?"

The B-Team looked amongst themselves, then back at Nail. "Yeah..." Excalibur said tentatively.

Nail shrugged. "Well, looks like Hammer might know more about that. So I guess go talk to him. He'll be, uh... real compliant now."

Ten Paces tipped his hat. "Thanks, Nail. You've been a great help."

"Just doing what I can."

With a grin, Stalker looked to Lilypad and said, "So, fearless leader. Think this B-Team's up for another mission?"

Lilypad looked at those present. Excalibur didn't look like he cared either way. Zephyr was ecstatic about their victory as a team, regardless of his part in it. Ten Paces was unreadable as usual, but the command performance he'd put into this mission was probably a sign that he was on board. Short Circuit would probably be fine by tomorrow, once she'd finished repairing the town. And Stalker...

Well, the jury was still out on Stalker, but he was useful so far. It wasn't time to throw in the towel yet.

The Star Paladin sighed, briefly thought about the events that had led her to this point in her life, and said, "Alright."

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