• Published 9th Apr 2012
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Fallout: Equestria - Memories - TheBobulator



One crazy pegasus, one roboleg, a contingent of Steel Rangers, and an adventure of infinite detours. Put all that together and what do you get? A rip-roaring mosh pit wrecking its way across the Wasteland, leaving nothing but confusion in its wake.

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Chapter 27: Where did the light go?

Chapter 27: Where did the light go?

“You're me, but I'm me too. How can there be two ‘me’s? It's not scientifically possible. You are not scientifically possible!”


So. It was Violet, myself, and I all sort of staring at each other in a rotary fashion. Also there was a placeholder pegasus off to the side that I didn’t care about. Myself and I were having a pretty intense staring contest and I couldn’t help but get a little confused about why Myself had purple eyes. It was disconcerting to be staring at my own face which was mine but not technically mine, so I rolled my eyes and pretended to lose interest.

The most obvious course of action was to completely ignore Myself’s pointless blabber and instead focus on my own. “I don’t care if you’re a one-eyed one-horned flying purple pony eater. I. Want. The. Chair,” I slowly demanded. It wasn’t because I wanted to sit in it, it was more because Myself was being a party pooper. If that meant stealing a chair, I was damn sure going to put my big fat butt in that dumb little chair.

“Frosty, Frosty, Frosty. This is about more than just a chair. This is about us, our beautiful hate–hate relationship. Granted, you have no idea who I am, but regardless…” Evil Frosty gestured her claw-leg at her right hind leg and sneered at me. “Let’s just say we still have some unfinished business.” The leash clutched in it dropped to the ground with the motion.

The leashed pegasus, on observation, looked like she had zero idea where she was. She was in serious dead fish mode—mouth slightly agape, glassy eyes, and somewhere between lucid and asleep. Probably just another crazed fanfilly or something. Heck, I’d go nuts for me if I were her.

A match struck in my peripheral vision, the blue flame touching the end of Ice’s cigarette. He took a puff from it and purposefully paced toward the not-me. The letters “BRB” formed out of the smoke he exhaled, then it and Ice vanished into smoke. Huh.

While I had been distracted by my short attention span, Violet leaned in closer to me and whispered, “Well, I didn’t know you had a good twin. There’s a surprise twist I wasn’t expecting.”

I put the glowering look I was giving myself on hold to lean back over to Violet and shoot her a sidelong glance. “Good?” I asked.

“Yes. Implying that you are the evil twin,” Violet matter-of-factly stated.

Rude. “Thanks for the vote of confidence, Violet,” I dryly replied. I quickly turned my attention back to Myself and mockingly bowed. “Excuse me, I need to discipline my book horse.” Using one of my wings, I corralled her over to one side where we could talk in somewhat reasonable privacy.

“Come on. You’re embarrassing me in front of me,” I whined.

Violet eyed me—as in, the chair thief Frosty. She lowered her voice and mentioned to me, “On a more serious note, something isn’t quite right here. I can faintly detect magic coming off of her, but I don’t know what it is yet. It’s something I haven’t encountered before, and the only other time I’ve had this problem was with you and your strange magic signature.” The look on her face spelled confusion and doubt, which was a rare sight. “Maybe if you can keep her talking, I can figure out who that really is.”

A swirl of snowy dust accompanied Ice’s appearance. “I’m back. It’s a very advanced illusion spell. It’s cute.”

“Illusion spell?” I asked. “What?”

“What?” Ice shrugged. “They’re not very hard to see through—for me, anyway.”

Violet turned to me. “What?”

“Wat?”

“No, what did you say?”

Just a teensy bit louder, I repeated, “Wat.”

“Before that.”

“Also wat.”

From the other end of the room, still lounging lazily on my chair, not-me loudly cleared her throat. “Are you quite done with that, Frosty?” she impatiently demanded in a somewhat impatient manner.

The argument with Violet could be put on the backburner for the time being. “I don’t know. Am I?” I replied to myself.

Not-me’s response was interrupted by the placeholder pegasus I’d been ignoring suddenly getting wobbly on her hooves and collapsing to the ground. Rather than attempt to stand up, the pegasus starting rolling around and kicking out her legs at random. “Glory to the trains,” she gurgled, face smushed against the floor. “Blessed be the steam.”

I wasn’t sure what was weirder—the pegasus’s actions, or the fact that an obsession with trains seemed to ring a bell in my memory. “What’s up with her?” I asked at myself.

Fake Frosty glanced at the crazy pegasus—not me, I meant the other one—and flashed an evil grin. “Don’t you find it a little odd, Frosty, that everypony in this town gets along even though some of them literally eat shit for a living?” She gestured out there and I had an idea of what she meant—Wastelanders, raiders, ponies like that. “It’s amazing what you can find when you keep an ear to the ground. I’ll soon have an army at my hooftips, and your Enclave buddies already did all the hard work for me. Killing them was relatively easy, and enslaving this other one was trivial after she got too close to the transmitter.”

Not-me then snapped her head to the side and scowled. “But how in the everloving shit did you find me? You’re dumber than a rock and you’re still managing to interrupt my plans again. Was the first time just not enough? Now I have to figure out an excuse for why there’s a double of me running around. Even the pegasi that were controlling this project couldn’t believe that you—as in, I managed to find this place.” She shook her head. “But no matter. I’m going to find out how to properly control these ponies, and once I do I’ll be unstoppable!”

…I really couldn’t tell if she had answered my question at any point during that mini-tirade. “For the record I have no idea what you’re talking about,” I half-lied. Okay, so unicorns, earth ponies, zebras, griffons, and raiders were all working together peacefully due to their common interest in worshiping trains. And the Enclave was involved somehow. And Officer Frosty knew about it, which meant it probably had something to do with my missing memories.

As much as it often seemed, I wasn't stupid. I could see the giant, glowing neon arrow pointing down saying “This is important!” Maybe if another generic hero-type were in this situation they'd try to put all these mysterious puzzle pieces together, but I really couldn't care less. Whatever was going on was definitely just more trouble than it was worth.

“Hmm. A collective, captive audience? Suggestible and unified? Intriguing,” I heard Ice sort of mumble to nopony in particular.

A burst of static interrupted our tirade. “Ma’am. A patrol of Unbroken Steel Rangers is headed this way. Crossing Guards in the northeast sector tried to persuade them to turn around, but they would not be deterred.”

“Hold on, I gotta take this,” not-me snapped. She politely turned her head away and tapped the earbloom in her ear. “How many, and are they being pursued?”

“Just two, ma’am. No sign of Heretics just yet. I’ll have my guards keep you posted.”

“Don’t bother. I’m on my way.” Evil Frosty sort of regarded us, then snapped, “Don’t go anywhere.” She began to stomp out of the tent, muttering under her breath, “Good help is so bucking hard to find nowadays. Guards! Make sure nopony leaves.”

The moment not-me angsted out of view, two heavily armed ponies in full combat armor trotted up to the tent, stopping just short of the entrance and plonking themselves down on the spot, facing us. Hmm. The assault rifles that they had mounted on their battle saddles wouldn’t so much be a problem rather than just an inconvenience. I could probably deal with one, but the other was going to be an issue.

Since they weren’t going anywhere, I decided to ignore them for now and turn my attention back to the rest of the conundrum at hoof. If memory served, most of these command tents had a full-sized radio and a terminal stashed around somewhere. All I needed to do was find it, but either the previous owners hadn’t set it up or the other me didn’t know how to use it and had done away with it.

In the time that not-me had given us, I had managed to discover the neatly-packed radio still in its box and quickly unpacked it. I extended the little antennae and then sort of sat there. What was I doing with this? Radio stuff wasn’t really my thing, since everypony else seemed to always program my radios for me. There were so many little buttons and dials on this thing, and the displays were just jumbles of lines and numbers!

…And just in time to save the day, here was Officer Frosty! “Hang on, moron. I got this.” Without missing a beat, she flicked a few switches and twiddled a few knobs while rhythmically pumping the hoof-driven generator built into the side of it. She seemed delighted at the sound of static bursting forth.

As it stood, all I heard was static and garbled nonsense. So did Violent—er, Violet, since she chimed, “It’s difficult to work out math and magic with all of that noise over there.”

Whatever Officer was looking for, she wasn’t finding it. She even plugged in the headset and pressed it to her ear. Little knobs were tweaked, switches were flipped in all sorts of directions, and one of the displays lit up periodically with squiggly lines. After a bit of trial and error, a voice could be faintly heard coming in and out of focus. With a few nudges of a tiny knob, the voice became as clear as it was going to get.

“…eats. This is a test of the emergency alert capabilities. In the event of a credible threat to Enclave operations, this channel must be kept clear and online. This is a test of the emergency alert capabilities. Indigo-level operatives must transmit on the channel Bullseye with the response to ‘Marshal’. This message repeats.”

One of those sentences did not match the others. We listened to it loop another time, just in case. I was in the middle of being confused, as per usual, when I was interrupted. “No matter how cool you think you sound, playing radio mare is not going to make me any less angry about all of the static,” Violet angrily snapped. “Knock it off.”

Mean noises coming from Violet was really par for the course, so I dutifully ignored her and let Officer get back to fiddling with knobs. The channel that Officer stopped on wasn’t like the others—it wasn’t dead air or garbled nonsense. A slow regular beeping tone was the only thing on this channel.

I was about to ask what the point of this was when Officer tapped the mic and slowly enunciated, “This is Coal, broadcasting from Waste Relay Oh-Four. Challenge is Marshal, response is Outlaw.” There wasn’t an immediate response. The two of us stared at the radio for a solid ten seconds, then she tried it again.

Even if Violet was still shooting us mean and/or confused looks, Officer kept it up. Every minute or so she’d repeat her statement and tap the mic between the pauses. There was still the looming threat of Eviller Frosty coming back before Officer was done doing whatever this was. In the event that bad got worse, I’d probably just go stab Myself out of sheer convenience. It was either that, or she’d stab me in my face for my own convenience. Her convenience.

“And what about Violet?” Gale rather abruptly commented.

Yeah, I could also stab Violet in the confusion.

Just for thinking that, the mare herself perked up again and asked, “What did you say about me?”

Officer shushed everyone by angrily demanding, “Quiet! I’m working.”

Right on cue, the noise on the frequency was replaced with what sounded like someone liberally rubbing a microphone all over a tumbleweed. After a brief moment, somepony coughed and a decidedly gender-indistinguishable radio voice answered, “Holy shit, okay. Okay, okay, hang on. I’ve got the follow-up. The thing says something about a Full House and then a bunch of other stuff. Hand, River, Flop? Oh, I need the proper response to those. Yeah.”

How new was this guy? It seemed like I wasn’t the only one with that thought—Officer groaned in exasperation. “The proper responses are Pocket, Flush, and King.”

There was silence on the airwaves as this guy probably went fact-checking. While he did that, I remained blissfully ignorant about what exactly was happening. Either Officer was getting us out of this mess, or about to cause a bigger mess.

Radiohead finally returned. “You’re uh, confirmed to be you. Hang on, I gotta pass you along.”

And there he went, only to be replaced with a different indistinguishable voice. “It’s really you, Coal? So Snowmare is still alive? What’s the status on the ground team there?”

We glanced at the collared and leashed pegasus on the floor who was now happily rolling in the dirt. “Indisposed is a good word for it, sir. One pony accounted for. The rest are nowhere to be found, sir,” Officer reported.

“Right, we’ll be dispatching a recovery team for you. New orders—hold tight and we’ll have home ASAP. If your location becomes compromised, contact us on this channel and Dipstick will let us know. Whatever you do, do not engage existing Enclave forces. Go to ground.”

I pantomimed saluting and immediately barked, “Roger, roger.”

“Be safe, Winds. It’s dangerous out there, and friendly patrols will not recognize you as an allied operator. Heck, nopony thought you were still out and about after that tip-off. I, for once, apologize for not trusting how well you’d turn out. Help is on the way. Over and out.” The signal once again resumed its periodic beeping and Officer seemed satisfied, for the moment.

I was actually just more concerned whether the help that the Enclave were promising me had air quotes around it or not. Regardless, it would still be a nice change of scenery. My musing was put to an end when I came back just in time to interrupt myself.

“Hey! What do you think you’re doing? Where did you get that?” Evil Frosty snarled. “Why, why, why must you be so difficult? Is it literally impossible for you to follow simple directions? Sit down, shut up, and stop interfering with things.”

I crossed my legs and sneered back, “Yeah? And what’re you going to do if I don’t?”

~~~~~

There was yet another annoyed sigh, and I pointedly didn’t make eye contact with the exhalee. Instead, I tried to distract her by mumbling, “I can’t believe there are stockades here.” Three of them, in fact—all arranged in a half-circleish display mode on top of an elevated little concrete platform for the convenience of spectators, presumably. It was also mildly cruel and unusual that the market that we’d passed earlier was just within sight. Comforting to note, however, the radroach curry was still squirming. Joy.

Shifting my weight back and forth was the only way to get comfortable while locked up in this dumb stockade—a squat little wood and iron structure, just a bit higher than head level with both my forelegs and my neck locked in it. Not-me had been smart and confiscated my power armor first.

Problem was, being locked in this thing left my rear half in a position that nearly begged for sexual assault. I didn’t have the comfort of my power armor anymore, so it was just a matter of mister peripheral vision and kicksies to keep me safe.

And of course there was Violet, who was still making deflating noises at me—I was just going to pretend she didn’t exist—but I wasn’t really sure how much help she’d be anyway. She had simply teleported out of her chains when nopony was paying attention. Thankfully, Violet had casually stolen back my gear and was currently carting around my stuff. If I needed somepony to tell me I wasn’t being smart, I had Gale for that. Then again, Violet wasn’t the one in a stockade. On a technicality, Gale wasn’t either.

“Frosty, I’m seriously considering leaving you here so that you’ll learn from your mistakes. On the other hoof, both of us know otherwise.”

“So that means you’ll save me?” I hopefully asked.

Violet faltered, then decided to pat my head. “Sure, let’s pretend that’s what I meant.” she flashed me a wry grin.

On the topic of rescue, I remembered that Riverbed was still wandering around somewhere. “No, but seriously. Can you go grab Riverbed? I have no idea what me is up to, and if the Enclave rescue team comes for me and not me, I’m going to be very inconvenienced and they’ll be really bucking surprised when it happens and stuff. So will I, but that’s her problem.”

“Any more ‘and’s’, or are you done?”

I tapped my chin. Rather, I tried to tap my chin and got annoyed that I couldn’t. “I think that’s really it. Can you find out where the other Frosty went? Assuming all goes well, Riverbed and I’ll figure out how to get out of here before I find out about it.” As I pondered, I realized that I could talk my way out of anything since “Frosty”—and by extension, I—seemed to be in command here.

“Okay. I’ll go see exactly what your doppelganger is made of—quite literally, mind you—and the explosions and screaming will tell me where you are later,” Violet agreed. “And now just one last thing to check.”

I was about to ask what she meant when everything suddenly went dark and slightly hay-scented. “What’s going on? Where did the light go?” Instinct began to take over and I felt my eyes begin to droop. “It’s really dark and—” I widely yawned. “I guess I’ll take a nap. No time like… the present.”

“I… wasn’t expecting that to work.” There was a pat on my head. “Um. Good birdie. Now think about what you’ve done.”

X~~~X

“Guuuuuuy, where are we going?” I whined.

“We’re going to talk to the Cargo Master so that you and your friends have a place to stay,” the shaved bear leading me through town grumbled. At some point in our narcolepsy-fueled adventure, Frosty must have had grown a pair of gigantic balls to have yelled at this pony earlier. The guy was huge! And all he wanted to do was apparently love me, care for me, and cherish me. Wishful thinking perhaps, but it made me giggle on the inside.

“Eh… you can prob’ly find your own way, though,” the pony continued. “I still have to, euh, make sure boss lady isn’t gonna flog somepony.” And with that, Cuddle Monster pranced away without even giving me a proper hug goodbye. Rude. As I took collection of my surroundings, I also realized the guy was completely wrong—I had no idea who I was looking for or where I was supposed to be going.

The last time I’d been here was ages ago. Whoever this new group was had renovated the heck out of Value Town. King was nowhere to be found and neither was Value Belcher’s Value Flophouse for the economically impaired. That also meant that they’d probably kicked out Doctor Balanced as well, which would be unfortunate. The dingy little run-down buildings had somehow gotten even worse off between the exchange of ownership as well.

So I did what I did best—wander about until I got bored. I’d eventually stumble across whoever Cargo Master was, so a bit of sightseeing was probably fine. We weren’t in a rush anyway. Still, finding somewhere for us to temporarily crash was still priority. If I got it done quickly enough, I wishfully hoped of spending the evening gently rubbing the birdie’s tummy. Of course Frosty didn’t like it, but she’d learn. Everypony did at some point.

Except Violet, because apparently somepony had rubbed all the fun right out of her.

Back on topic, I still found it a bit odd that the ponies here were so… diverse. Wastelanders, raiders, scribes—literally anypony from any faction in the Wasteland was represented around here, sans birdies. I wasn’t going to be one to judge, but it did strike me as odd. But hey, I wasn’t going to complain about the wide array of eye candy.

Speaking of eye candy, a neat and orderly line of ponies were making their way past, so I paused on ogling bystanders in favor of the party train slowly scooting past. I politely took a step back to observe. Besides the weird fact that they all wore similarly patterned scarves accompanying their mismatched outfits, they were also chanting “Chugga, chugga, chugga” with every shuffled step.

Weeeeeird.

Once the creep train had passed through and everypony went back to their business, I returned to my intent observing. Like that one—he had a raideresque sort of rugged charm about him. He also had an adorably dark and potentially edgy color scheme to swoon over—dark red on pink. Earth ponies always looked good in dark colors, especially in red. Whatever wasn’t red was marked up with black and dark gray war paint. His mane was styled the only way raiders knew how—spikes and pointy shapes. On a whim, I mentally named him Studmuffins and began to search the meager crowds for a suitable mate for him. A cursory examination of the crowd would help me locate a suitable match.

In an instant, I found her. There was something about the little pink unicorn mare that I immediately tagged as “waifu material”. Her white mane was tied up in a professional little bun, perfect for the Wasteland mechanic on-the-go. The brownish-red smock and barding combination she was wearing was just a size too big on her on her, but it even complimented her unknowing fiancé. The two of them would make an adorable couple. That, and I was somewhat interested what the combination of lightish red and dark red coats would result in.

They’d have pretty-lookin’ foals regardless.

My fantasies of aesthetics and complimentary colors were politely placed aside so that Violet the fun-killer could have my full attention. “You need to go save Frosty,” she flatly told me with her usual bored look. A small cloud of Frosty’s stuff was lazily orbiting her butt, which was hella distracting.

And take time out of non-consensual matchmaking? “Why me, guy?” Heck, the word "sensual" even pops up somewhere in there! How was I expected to work if my little pegapet kept getting herself into trouble all the time? What she needed was a birdcage and a cuttlebone to gnaw on to keep her out of trouble.

Once again, Violet sighed. “Because you have guns and I’m busy with deciphering the many oddities of Frosty Winds, Frosty Winds, and her nonsensical ramblings.”

I cocked my head at her and pointed out, “You repe—” My voice stopped making noise, so I defaulted to energetically pretending to scream bloody murder. Magic was a load of cheaty nonsense that I had no control over.

The sparkles coming off of Violet’s horn stopped once I stopped trying to keep talking. “It will make sense once you see it. Our Frosty is tied up in the stocks. Get her out while I do a bit of my own research.” She unceremoniously dumped the pile of Frosty-loot in front of me and trotted away in search of more fun to consume. Fun for the fun god. Streamers for the throne.

Somehow I managed to sling Frosty’s deceptively heavy saddlebag plus armor onto my back with a bit of rope and creative rigging. With a tired groan, I hefted all the gear on my body and rose to my hooves again. I wasn’t going to be winning any pegapet-chasing competitions, but at least I could still go save my pegapet.

Thanks to the convenient nature of Violet being vague, I relied on my keen sense of direction to point me to my favorite pegasus. However, as I slogged along the street, I noticed everypony slowly congregating away from where I was going. There was an air of caution and murmurs of haste in the gathered hodgepodge of ponies.

The whole situation I was in simply screamed weird, because they definitely got along with each other. Raiders, Fiends, Wastelanders, and several other diminutive factions I didn’t recognize all paid no heed of their allegiances. Nearly all of them were wearing some sort of matching stripey scarf or scarf-like object. Their murmurs of “trains” and “blessed be the steam god” and “I have to pee” were nearly identical in neutral tone. Before I could think of how weird this actually was, I caught sight of a pair of armored Steel Rangers stomping around, generally causing trouble like they usually did.

It was actually a lot of one of them bellowing “Where is she?” at everypony he came across and the other tagging along and pushing the traumatized ponies out of the way. Briefly, I considered turning tail and joining the wave of ponies limply lethargically escaping from them until I accidentally made eye contact with the Ranger’s blank helmet-face. He got the idea that I needed a yelling at and he began to wade through the crowd at me.

My first instinct was to blend in. Steel Rangers liked getting what they wanted, and anypony that thought otherwise would usu— Wait, was that a suppressed minigun? Each of the brown barrels were capped off with a fat transparent-ish purple suppressor instead of a covering shroud for the entire assembly. Coooooool. Now I really wanted one.

Getting distracted by shiny guns gave the Ranger just enough time to bellow into my face. “Where is she?” he demanded again, this time nearly blowing out my ears. It really didn’t help I didn’t know who he was looking for.

I took the safe path and cautiously answered, “The last place you look?”

“Don’t give me that lip service. Tell me!”

“I’ll give you lip service, guy!” I automatically threatened. The helmet remained silent for once. The beginnings of a gloat died in my throat when my brain finally caught up to what I said. “I mean, uh, that’s not what I meant. Like, you know what I—er…” Blushing, I nervously chuckled, “Offer still stands, guy?”

The helmet kept impassively staring at me, which was making me nervous. Ponies around me were surreptitiously backing away as well, which was making me even more nervous. So I did the one thing that every mare should have in their arsenal—point and scream in pure unadulterated fright. And damn, did it do the trick. Both Steelios, plus a good number of the crowd all looked at all of the nothing I was pointing at. With the heavily-armed tanks distracted, I made my escape by gracefully galloping away at top speed.

I wasn’t sure where I was going, but “in the opposite direction” was a good start. Several ponies loudly protested when I blitzed past them at top speed with Frosty’s stuff wildly swinging behind me. Maybe some of them got hit, but I didn’t stop to check. Once I was around a corner and out of sight, I stopped to catch my breath in what used to be the town square.

Convenient, too. I spied my favorite little dusty cyan butt pointed in my general direction. The rest of Frosty was stuck in a public bondage device, giving me perfect access to her back half. Ooh, I could just barely make out her cute li’l belly button if I ducked my head low enough! For whatever reason, she was also wearing a canvas bag on her head as well. That was my cue to go see if she was okay by checking for a pulse.

You know, around her hoofsies. And her soft wingsies. Ears too, just in case. Maybe even squeeze in a quick belly rub for her comfort. However, resolve trumped greed this time. “No, not in public. Like, just check for a pulse and see if she’s okay. Control yourself, guy,” I muttered to myself. “No touching means no getting shot at.”

In Frosty’s case, not getting choked to death. Or kicked to death. As I casually trotted toward the little pegasus, I couldn’t help but stare longingly at the adorable tummy just begging to be gently massaged. Still, caps were caps and she was the one paying me. It was just unfortunate circumstance that I couldn’t grope my boss while her life was probably in danger.

Again.

Anyway, I sort of stood in front of the stockade and waited patiently for Frosty to acknowledge my existence. A minute passed before I noticed the spreading puddle of drool growing on the ground under Frosty’s head. It was also then I realized she was fast asleep, gently snoring away underneath the bag on her head. Her ears and her protruding hoof periodically twitched at every sound.

It was really, really, really difficult to resist the urge to do anything I wanted. Frosty was generally a heavy sleeper to my experience, and with that information I knew I could get away with it. Difficult didn’t mean impossible, though. I summoned up the emergency reserves of my will and kept my hooves to myself. Saving Frosty came first, then I’d collect on my well-deserved victory cuddles.

The obvious first move was to remove the bag on her head. The face of true beauty awaited me: somewhat like a dead fish, still slowly leaking drool everywhere. I winced, recoiled a bit, and paused.

I put the bag back on her head. Maybe posture had something to do with Frosty’s sleeping face. When she had been in the box, there had been a cuter little sleepy face. Hmmm.

Either I woke her up or I refrained from inappropriate touchings. Doing both was really pushing it. With a prayer to the deer gods, I yanked the bag back off and immediately gave in to batting at Frosty’s ears. It only took another minute of being entertained by Frosty’s flicking ears before the mare herself woke up with a snort.

“Wha? Is it morning already?” Frosty blearily blinked and looked around. I let her stew in confusion for a reasonably entertaining amount of time while she tried to remember where she was. After four or five tugs, Frosty stopped trying to pull her head back through the hole in the public bondage device she was still locked in and groaned. “Oh yeah, this is a thing,” she muttered bitterly, shifting her hind legs and giving those fluffy wings a flutter.

Since this was a twice-in-a-lifetime chance, I continued to fondle Frosty’s little earsies even as she tried to squirm away. “Aww, such a fussy birdie,” I cooed.

To my disappointment, birdie didn’t think that my ministrations were helping. “Stop! Get me out of here!” When I tried to continue the pettings, Frosty began trying to bite at my hoof.

I gave up in favor of keeping my hoof exactly how it was. “Okay, okay.” In mid-thought, I remembered I shouldn’t be messing around nearly this much. “It’s probably for the best since I think those Stink Raiders are probably coming this way, guy.”

Frosty tilted her head at me and flopped one of her ears. “What?”

“Yeah, Steam Radigators,” I smartly responded.

“What?”

Usually ponies understood it by now, and I wasn’t expecting to have to come up with another on the spot. “You know, the Smudge Razors.” After those words left my mouth I realized that wasn’t some of my best material.

Suddenly, Frosty’s eyes did the thing again and then it wasn’t her anymore. “She means the Steel Rangers, Frosty.” Whichever one it was, she was sort of looking off into nowhere to the right.

“Oh. Oooooh. Steel Rangers, I get it now.” Frosty-eyes returned and she thoughtfully hummed to herself. “Sheesh, how many of those do you have?”

There was a list I had compiled in the little notebook in my vest pocket. It was very complete collection of adorable little nicknames, but there were just too many to know off the top of my head. “Um. Soot Rainers?”

I really wasn’t sure which Frosty or Frosties were speaking, so I gave up on trying to figure out which was which. “There is a possibility that one of these detachments is under Rumcake’s command. That, or word will reach him one way or another.”

“And where are you going with that, exactly?”

“All I am merely suggesting is that we could link up with him again. Luna knows we could use some help.”

“Wait, what about Middy? His petrification should’ve worn off by now, right?”

“Just him and Riverbed? That wouldn’t work. Where did Middy even disappear to, anyway? I thought Violet was supposed to be carting him around.”

“Well, we could get still these Rangers to help me out, yeah!”

“Well, I was actually—”

“Riverbed! There should be a set of holotags in my bag somewhere. Show it to the Rangers and get them to help me out of this.”

My ears perked up as Frosty finally addressed me. “Or I could just break you out myself.” I eyed the flimsy little metal brace holding the whole contraption together and figured it wouldn’t take much to snap it.

“Of course, or that. Then f—”

“No, what we—”

“Frosty.”

“Stop interrupting me.”

“Frosty.”

“If we just—”

“Frosty!”

“What?!”

“We cannot talk at the same time!” Frosty yelled at herself. After waiting an extra moment, she calmly spoke, “Thank you. As I was saying, why don’t we have Riverbed here unlock these stocks so that we can go find the pony posing as us.”

“But I run this place, and I’m pretty sure that I told everypony else to flip their shit if I managed to escape. Riverbed is still just Riverbed. Who’s gonna buck with ten Steel Rangers?”

I thought back on the yelling match I’d spotted earlier. “Think fewer.”

“Seven?”

“Less.”

“Five? Five is a nice round number.”

“Two.”

Frosty’s face scrunched up in concentration, which was adorable in its own right. “…Hey, haven’t I heard this one before?”

“Have you?’

“Have I?”

“Well I dunno, have you?”

“I’m almost sure this already happened.”

“Hm.”

The other Frosty ended up ruining our fun. “We can figure this out later. Rescue, remember?”

With her mind back on track, normal Frosty demanded, “Oh yeah, Rivvie—go get the Rangers!”

“Or I could—” I began to suggest.

“I was implying that Riv—”

Listening to Frosty argue with herself was starting to get on my nerves, especially since she literally could not make up her mind about what she wanted. “Screw it, whatever. I’ll go see if the Sandwich Rippers will help you.” As I began to trot away, I could still hear my birdie chasing her tail in the background. Silly birdie.

Even though I had technically volunteered for the job, I really didn’t feel like searching for the Syrup Raisins after my first meeting with them. Those ponies were famous for holding grudges. Hmm.

Hidden underneath one of these sewer grates was a ladder to an underground bar that was open to all sorts of scum and villainy like me. If these new guys hadn’t changed too much, that meant Ass Burgers’ place should still be open. He was an angry little guy that didn’t take shit from anypony. If anypony from the old Value Town was still here, it was probably him. That, and I really wanted more of his microbrewed cider.

In an instant, I made up my mind. Cider today. The world could wait until tomorrow. Besides, Frosty would be fine. On the off chance that Ass Burgers had been evicted, I’d have to go save my pegapet.

Of course, talking about the Smarm Reactors this much would inevitably summon them into existence. I nearly walked into the big angry one’s butt and managed to avert terrible disaster only by veering into a wall instead. Problem was, doing that only grabbed the attention of the less angry one. Chain reaction brought in big angry one as well.

The two of them turned on me, their guns still on full display. Huge, angry, and ambiguously ugly shouted, “Hey! You’re that mare from earlier.” Uh oh.

I immediately averted my gaze and blurted, “No I’m not, guy.” As momma always said, they can’t see you if you don’t make eye contact. Sure, she was usually wrong, but it definitely made me feel better about it. Smart Racoons weren’t usually that dumb, but what they lacked in intelligence they made up for in firepower. If I answered wrong, I’d probably be toast right here.

On the other hoof, Shaft Rammers weren’t really the helpful kind either. I didn’t even know where Frosty had gotten holotags from. If these two were the “shoot the messenger” kind, I’d definitely be toast. One hundred percent toast. Ultra burnt toast. With cheese.

Frosty actually wanted me to make conversation with them. I was contractually obligated to at least attempt it, even if I really didn’t want to. “Uh, actually. Hang on, guy. Like, I’ve got a thing for you or somethin’.” Under the watchful glare of the two armored ponies, I awkwardly shuffled through Frosty’s stuff for several minutes searching for these holotags. “Heh, hang on. They’re somewhere.”

“What do you want?” came the angry noise.

Between scraping flattened snack cakes off of the bottom layer of Frosty’s pack, I paused and tapped my chin. “Well, I want a lot of things.” A low-pitched whirr generally associated with a minigun made me quickly formulate a proper response. “Friend of mine is in a pickle and specifically requested for your help,” I hastily spewed.

That seemed to at least distract them from deciding to shoot me. That gave me time to continue searching through Frosty’s stuff for these holotags she had been talking about. Several things bothered me about the past hour or so of my life—what had happened to Value Town? What was wrong with Frosty? And what was with all of these mismatched train fanatics? More importantly, why were these two on their own? Where was the rest of their squad?

But I’d have to not get blown up by these two first. “So, the morons that run this place decided to publicly shame her. As much as I’d like to break her out myself, she thinks I don’t have the firepower to take care of the inevitable retaliation from the residents,” I slowly explained. Wow, there was a lot of random junk in Frosty’s bag. “I’m a mercenary she hired and—”

Angry Fatty tapped the Talons logo stenciled on my armor and huffed, “Talons are griffins, not ponies. You’re not fooling anypony.”

“Long story.” The truth, but that usually didn’t work. Most ponies didn’t actually listen, and I nearly never got the benefit of the doubt. I decided to fall back on my backup explanation instead. “Well, it’s mostly to discourage anypony stupid enough to believe it,” I calmly lied in practiced fashion.

Small Fatty—the other one—stepped into the conversation. “Rumcake, we might as well. We’ll need caps to keep going and we still have no idea where she is. If we leave a good impression on this community maybe they’ll help us.”

After taking a second to consider those words, Big Fatty asked, “What will you give us for saving your friend?”

“My everlasting gratitude?” I suggested to him. When the helmet stare didn’t budge, I rolled my eyes and huffed, “Wow, guy. Fine, lemme see what I’ve got.” Setting aside Frosty’s pile of stuff, I searched my various pockets and pouches for any spare tidbits that Snack Ravagers liked to hoard. On the topic of tidbits, all I had was caps—lots of them. I had nearly enough to buy up the mushroom farm/winery/thing now, thanks to Frosty. “Okay, guy. I can give you one hundred fifty caps. The dumb unicorn following us around might have other stuff we can probably spare.” It was a good amount of money, but it wasn’t more than I could feasibly scrounge for or that I could literally suck out of somepony.

Big Angry was probably still scowling at me under that helmet. At a nudge from Small Angry, he seemed to give in. “Fine. We’ll do it. Anything else?”

Yay, problem solved. “Oh, right.” I went back to digging through Frosty’s stuff and conveniently found the holotags she had been talking about. “She told me to give you these, guy.” The shiny surface caught the light as I hoofed it over and I barely made out the name “Frostivus Kay Winds” stamped on it.

Curious. Birdie hadn’t told me she had a silly name. Also curious was the little blue shiny bit—what the butts was it for?

What I hadn’t been expecting was a nuclear meltdown. “Where did you get this?” Big Angry somehow got even angrier, and he began to bellow at me. “Where? Where did you get this?!

I was caught off guard by the sudden outburst and immediately shrunk, ears pinned and heart racing. Where the balls did that come from? I was under the impression that we’d gotten past that part and straight to the quest-giving section. Courage, Rivvie! You’ve faced down bigger and hornier.

With determination seeping back into my veins, I took a stand for myself and shouted back, “She gave it to me, ya big lug!”

“Do you realize how long I’ve been looking for her? She killed my friend!”

I angrily exhaled through my nose and snapped, “What of it, guy? I’ve killed her friends. Whatever, guy.” Well, at least I thought I did. Those Enclave pegasi that I’d shot-gunned back when they tried to take Frosty away were probably her friends. Or something.

“We have unsettled business,” he firmly stated. “Tell me where she is before I crush your bones to paste. Last. Chance.”

“That’s not going to bring Tangie back, Rumcake. If you antagonize mercenaries, Talons or not, you’ll just make it worse for the rest of us.” Little Angry tapped Big Angry—Rumcake—placed her hoof on his back and made a motion to pull him back. “Look, there are still other ponies to ask. The train cultists have been amicable enough whenever we’ve dealt with them. We know she’s in the area.”

Hold on, did I hear that right? “Wait, wait, wait. Tangie—Tangie the Tangerine is dead?” I hastily interjected. “What happened? I’ve been traveling with Frosty for a while. Last time I checked, Tangie was alive when I left with Frosty.”

Dirt began to go airborne as Angry Butt stomped the ground impatiently. “Frosty killed her! She needs to answer for her crimes or face justice as I see fit. Last chance, mercenary. Where is she?” he sternly demanded.

Whatever Frosty had gotten herself in, hopefully I didn’t have to rescue her from her about-to-be rescuers. “Yeaaaaah. Whatever, guy. Dunno when Frosty got the time to shoot up Tangie, so like I think you’re really just looking for a scapegoat. ”

Even though I didn’t show it, I was frantically plowing through—heh, plowing—the new information that these two had dropped on me. Was that why we’d left Fruity in the dust? Had she snuck off and executed Tangie while I’d been busy with Talons business? With my news delivered, I decided to wander off in search of beverages for thinking over.

“Hey, I’m not done with you.”

Turning, I automatically answered, “Like, I should go.” When that didn’t provide me a way to get away, I pointed past him and innocently asked, “What’s that?”

“What’s what?” While Angry Fatty slowly stomped around to look, I hightailed it out of there at mach one.

Just out of earshot, I heard him roar, “Shit, not again! I’m gonna bucking paste her the next time I see her.”

X~~~X

“So… how’s it hanging?”

Once again, I groaned. “Stop.”

“Sorry.” Gale stifled a giggle. “You look like you’re a little tied up at the moment.”

I tilted my head as I worked that stretched little pun out to the miniscule limits it had achieved. “Eeeeh. I dunno. Not feeling it,” I decided.

“Maybe it’s because your sense of humor is a bit locked up,” Gale immediately retorted.

Pointedly staring at the very not-stuck-in-a-stockade Gale standing to my right, I flatly responded, “No you’re not. Although I am now wishing you were.”

“You don’t know that.”

I arched an eyebrow at her. “I think I do. Also, that’s my line.”

“And by extension, mine as well.” She stuck her tongue out at me in a very un-ladylike manner. “So there.”

If I could cross my legs and pout, I would have. “I don’t like your logic.” All I could manage was a half-wiggle of my hooves.

This time I was stuck by the full force of the least amused glare in the world. “I’m very well aware.”

I was saved from any more passive aggression by Violet loudly appearing out of nowhere, slightly out of breath and wide-eyed. Me being me, I politely waited for Gale to come up with something suitably snarky first since she seemed to already be on a roll. She took notice and gave me a curt little nod, which I took as a sign that it was now my initiative. It was that, or she was looking for my go-ahead for something tremendously facehoof-worthy.

The sight of a tuckered-out Violet was too hard to resist, so I braced myself for the inevitable retaliation as I chuckled, “Riverbed was right. This is why you need protein.” Right on cue, my mouth stopped making noise thanks to Violet’s dumb mute button for my face.

Even as I continued to make angry mouth-gestures at Violet, she snapped, “Says the pony whose main source of food is snack cakes. Three square meals a day does not literally mean that the meal needs to be a square.” There was a moment where I was afraid that she would continue to deflate like she always did these days, but she instead settled with an exasperated groan. “Just listen—whatever is posing as you isn’t a pony. Not only that, but the ponies here seem like they are under the inf—”

“Skip,” I interjected. Catching the annoyed glare, I shut up and wiggled my claws before I got muted again. “Continue.”

Violet waited to make sure that I was actually done before continuing her former line of thought. “As I was saying… there’s something definitely unnatural about the ponies in this town. Tangerine told me about Rumcake and Sparkle’s encounter with the Cult of the Train, and these seem to be the same ponies. Except that doesn’t make any sense because this is an isolated community far from where the Rangers were, and a cult with ideas this stupid shouldn’t be able to spread so quickly.” She paused and chuckled. “We should leave before they decide to assimilate us into the Blorg.”

“The what?” I blankly stared at her.

“…How can you, of all ponies, not understand that reference?” In a brief moment, Violet had just gone from moderately exhausted to simply upset.

I tried to shrug. “Well, I don’t really expect you to be funny. That, and I have this weird feeling that whatever you just threw at me is one-hundred percent more nerdy than I’m willing to put up with.”

The face of complete and utter disappointment was a lot more adorable-looking than it should have been. “You have no taste.”

“You have no sense of humor.” For a moment, we passively-aggressively glared at each other. Part of me—standing to my right, excitedly bouncing in place and waving a giant foam mallet in the air—really wanted to continue for the sake of entertainment. Unfortunately, I was losing feeling in my one not-robot hoof. “Now get me out of here before I die from boredom.”

Glancing at the meager gathering of ponies nearby, Violet asked, “What if they get angry? That thing that put you in here is still in charge. There’s no way it’s going to let you just waltz away.”

The group of ponies that Violet was looking at was yet again a confusing mishmash of random ponies of varying factions, but all of them seemed to be carrying small arms or nothing at all. “There’s like what—two guards? I can beat ‘em up,” I confidently responded. That was also assuming that they were the same guards that I had seen earlier.

“What if more show up?”

I pretended to look hurt and insulted by that remark. “Are you implying I can’t beat off a whole bunch of guys?”

Violet smirked. “I won’t believe it until I see it.”

“You have no idea what you’ve just put yourself in the middle of.” I’d show her, then we’d see who was laughing.

With a slight chuckle, Violet said, “I think you’re the one in the middle.”

“What?”

There was yet another pause from Violet. “Wow, what’s wrong with you?” Suddenly, she looked a lot more concerned than amused. Bemused. Mused. Substitute as necessary. “Normally you’re on top of stupidity and innuendo.”

I sighed. “I don’t know. Maybe I’m a little out of it right now.” I violently rattled the stockade I was still clamped in and yelled, “Or maybe I’m still stuck in it!”

Violet furtively looked left and right, then a pale hazel glow surrounded her horn. “Okay, fine. Let’s get you out of there and I’ll let them shoot you first.” Something plinked, then the pressure around my neck and hoof vanished. I backed out of the wood device and firmly planted all my hooves to the ground. Breathing a sigh of relief, I shook myself hard to stretch out my muscles. One last cat-like stretch popped the rest of the kinks out of my system.

“Cool.” Sighing in relief, I bounced on my hooves and prepared myself for combat. Now for the fun part. A wild grin inched onto my face and I yelled, “Come at me!” As my expectant gaze darted back and forth between the several remaining ponies, I slowly realized that none of them really cared. I might have wilted a little out of disappointment. “Wow. Okay, we might have overblown the situation.” If only the gunfire and panicked screaming in the distance were a little closer, we’d have some fun.

Violet similarly glanced at our surroundings. “Just a mite,” she balefully observed. “On the topic of mites, speak of the devil.”

The not-Frosty came barreling at us at breakneck speed. Her coat was dirty and pockmarked with debris and weird green stuff oozing out of her wounds. She had a strange-looking little suppressed submachine gun clamped in her jaws and a murderous look in those stupid purple eyes of hers. That look also probably meant she figured out that I wasn’t locked up anymore.

“Hooves in the air,” the other me demanded at me, still brandishing the suppressed submachine gun in my general direction.

I briefly considered my options. Either get shot, or… eh. Maybe if I had a larger selection of reasonable options in my life I’d stop making such dumb decisions all the time. “No,” I decided.

Dumber Frosty somehow couldn’t grasp the definition of ‘no’. “What?” She even nearly dropped the gun she was holding out of surprise.

Crossing my forelegs, I smirked and replied, “I said no.”

She looked down at the gun then back at me, puzzled. “Why not?’

There were a variety of reasons, but I liked where this was going. “I don’t want to.”

Purple eyes darted to the submachine gun and back. “But I’ve got a gun,” she weakly protested.

In a mock exhausted manner, I groaned, “I don’t care.”

“But…” she sputtered. “That doesn’t make any sense!”

I smugly sat there and grinned. “Too bad.”

“But I—you—th—” Anti-Frosty threw the useless weapon to the ground and screamed a very un-ponylike scream into the air. “You ruined my life—no, everything that I had been working for ever since I met you. Since then, I have been following you for weeks. I have spent precious hours of my miserable life becoming you. And of all the ponies in the Wasteland, you are the only one that has prevented me from achieving what deserves to be mine!” She took a few breaths, then cried, “How can somepony as stupid as you manage to ruin this—this perfect day!?”

The irony, of course, was that I still didn’t entirely know who this guy was. “You really need a chill pill.” Unbidden, thoughts of Sparkle suggesting Dash came to mind.

“This! This is what thwarts me,” Angsty shouted. She picked up the submachine gun again. “I am going to end this farce right here, right now.”

Uh oh. This time, she actually looked like she was going to kill me. In panic, I was about to ask Violet what to do when I noticed the conspicuous absence of Book Horse in my immediate vicinity. The only plan I had was to take her by surprise and maybe steal the gun once she dropped it. So I did the only thing that made sense and turned my back on her.

“No you’re not,” I insisted.

The barrel of the gun pressed against the back of my head. “I beg to differ.”

Now that the two of us were nearly touching, I had an opportunity like no other to pull off the one close-quarters move I knew best. As quickly as I could, I snapped my claw-leg backward and hooked it around her neck, squeezing tight. Ignoring her yelp of surprise, I then leapt and swung my body forward, torquing my leg into an overhead throw. Just as I’d expected, I went flying forward and landed on my back while my unfortunate cargo had her head mashed into the ground.

The result? One horribly distressed copycat clutching her bleeding face and several hundred hours of watching action movies finally paying off. Just pulling off the move made the back pain worthwhile. Being the victor, I leapt up onto my hind legs and shouted, “Boom! And the crowd goes wild!” Victory also meant that I deserved an obligatory hoof pump and wing display.

Just to ruin the atmosphere of course, nopony went wild. It was a lot of shock, awe, maybe a bit of offended gasp. Not even a limp air horn could save me from the deafening lack of enthusiasm from the spectators to our fight. In fact, it seemed like it had gotten even quieter than when the fight had started to begin with. More to the point, the spectators seemed to have thinned out more since our argument started.

“Sheesh. Tough crowd,” I muttered. Lowering myself onto all fours once more, I looked over the state of not-me and decided that she’d look a lot better with a black eye. Obviously, I fixed that little problem.

Vigorously.

At that very moment, the cries of pain and impending doom reached a sudden crescendo. Several armored guards came stumbling out of a side street, with what remained of their armor riddled with bullet holes and impact dents. One of them—the squad leader, by the looks of it—caught sight of me and yelled in panic, “An enemy has broken through the line! Get to saf—hgrukwhyamionfireghrkh.” Whatever else he was about to say was interrupted by a stream of flaming lead.

And there he was. Rumcake “Domestic Abuse” Rum. Once again, wading through all sorts of his problems by liberally applying force to it. Before the two surviving guards could make up their minds on whether they wanted to run or fight, they were both gunned down like their unfortunate ranking officer. Rumcake violently stomped across the corpses and turned his spinning minigun on me.

A crackle of static burst from his helmet. “Stop sending your hirelings and face the consequences of your actions!” Rumcake’s helmet boomed.

I blinked at him. If there was anything a mare hated, it was definitely clingy stallions. However, the first bit definitely wasn’t me so I bent down and whispered to not-me, “I think he’s talking to you.” Doing that also brought Rumcake’s attention to the fact that there were two of me—one battered, bruised, and bleeding while the other looking quite pleased with herself.

The comforting sound of Gale materializing by my side broke the air of indignant confusion. “Hey… why is he angry? Like, ‘murder an orphanage’ angry? I’d put our caps on something to do with our doppel… oh gods—” She came to a sudden realization and gasped, just as I did as well.

“We could start a dating service called Doppelbangers!”

“What? No! Frosty, what if this doppelganger was taking our place while we were out traipsing with Violet and Riverbed? Damn it, why weren’t you paying attention while she was monologuing?”

“I was expecting you to!” I whined. “Listening to exposition is boooooring.”

“Uuuugh.” Gale buried her face into her wings and groaned. “Why do I have to be your figment of imagination?”

“H-help… Honey, help me…” the not-Frosty pleaded at Rumcake. She even did the whole dramatic reach thing with a bit of tremble for effect. “Please. Save me.”

I blankly stared at the overly dramatic doppelganger on the ground and disapprovingly sighed at her. “Really? Come on, nopony actually does that in real life. That’s for trashy romance and weird slash fiction.” Looking back at Rumcake, I chuckled and gave her another kick. “Nopony is that stupid.”

My grin began to falter when I realized his minigun hadn’t stopped pointing at us. Or spinning. “Why are there two of you?” Rumcake asked slowly, deliberately.

“She imprisoned me!” Other Frosty suddenly shouted, her face still bloodied and bruised. “I’m real! She’s the fake! She took my place back in Strongbox. Please, help me!”

What? “Hey, cut that out!” I exclaimed, slamming her face down back into the dirt. I then noticed that Rumcake had shifted his gun so that it was now pointed only at me, and immediately realized that my reaction was a pretty terrible one if I was trying to convince Rumcake that I was the good guy.

“So you did it…” Rumcake whispered, wide-eyed, before his features settled on an enraged scowl.

“I didn’t do anything!” I hastily retorted. “And what do you even mean by it?”

“Don’t act dumb, imposter.”

With the fullest extent of sincerity in my voice, I replied, “I’m not acting. I’ve been told by many ponies that I am legitimately this stupid.” Which really wasn’t very nice of them. “Also, I’m the real Frosty; she’s the evil imposter!” I shouted, pointing down at the whimpering copy of me lying beaten and bloody in the dirt.

“I’m s-sorry… please help me,” Other Frosty continued to beg.

Drama queen. Sheesh.

“You will pay for your crimes!” Rumcake bellowed at me, tears forming in the corner of his eyes. His minigun began to spin up again. “Death to the pretender!”

Oh shit. “WAIT! No no no! Stop stop stop!” I shrieked, flailing my forelegs uselessly as I looked down the barrel of his gun as he started to pull the trigger…

Then time froze and helpfully reminded me I had a ninety-eight percent chance to punch Rumcake in the face.

“That was literally the worst place to choke.”

I gasped and choked on my breath for a moment before replying, “…That’s rude.”

Ice Storm casually trotted past me and stopped between my face and the minigun pointed at it. “Is that a way to talk to the stallion that just saved you?” he almost jokingly chided at me.

As such for S.A.T.S, I expected to be immobile and restricted to selecting targets for the spell. This was not the case as it seemed. I retained full mobility and rude-gesturing functionality, which I immediately began to implement once confusion wore off.

But first, Ice Storm. Somewhat angrily, I prodded his nose and flatly stated, “Yes.” The puzzled reaction was priceless, so I did it again for my amusement.

“You… you have zero idea what is happening, don’t you?”

“Yes.” I paused and thought about the wording. Yes, I did have no idea? No, I didn’t have any idea. Yes? No? “No? Yeah, let’s go with no.” I frowned. “I know that stupid Rumcake thinks that I’m the imposter-Frosty and was just about to murder me, if that’s all you mean.”

Ice Storm let out a weary groan. “Okay, here’s what’s going to happen. Your face is going to be paste unless I save you.” He took a step to the right and cocked his head at the minigun barrels behind him to make his point. “And I can save you, but laws of magic demand that I get your permission first.”

Gee, that sounded ominous. For the sake of argument, I crossed my forelegs and and pouted. “What if I don’t want to?”

“Then I’m going to be very upset and disappointed with you. Also, you’ll die.” Even so, Ice was still sporting a dumb grin the entire time he’d said that.

Seeing as one option was going to kill me and the other might potentially kill me, I decided that the chance of being not dead was probably the smarter of the two. You’d think it would be an easy decision, but the way Ice Storm was grinning was making me doubt myself. “Okay, fine. You can be my hero.” With my decision made, I dramatically threw myself at him and draped myself over his shoulder. “Kiss away the pain.”

With me still dramatically clinging to him, a thoroughly perplexed Ice stammered, “What?”

“...Stand by me forever?” I tried.

There was a moment of incomprehensible silence that we shared until Ice carefully peeled me off of him and flatly stated to my face, “If these are song lyrics I’d like to point out that I have no idea what’s going on.”

Something seized me by the back of the neck and threw me to the ground before I could remember any more lyrics. “Get to the fun part already, dork!” Toasty snarled at Icy.

“Wow all sorts of impatient today okay then let’s get started shall we?” Ice Storm quickly blurted.

“Save me, hero!” I continued to pursue my new interest in theatre, embellishing my cry with a dramatic swoon. However, Ice was busy doing something else with Toasty and I ended up face-planting into the dirt. “You were supposed to catch me, hero.”

“Okay, Toasty’s ready. Here, this is for you.” I looked up only for a cigarette to be shoved into my mouth. Ice was already puffing away on his, the blue flame glowing with each breath. Just a bit behind him, Toasty was sort of half-smoking and half-gnawing her own, and I could have sworn her mane was ever so slightly beginning to ignite from the embers floating from it.

“Sorry, I don’t smoke.” I regarded the cigarette in my mouth and reiterated, “I only smoke when I’m on fire.” Then for clarification on the matter, I added, “Rather, when fire is on me.”

The familiar little silver lighter that Ice always carried around hovered by my face, its little blue flame dancing beside my unlit cigarette. “Welp, today is a pretty good day to start.” And then without waiting to see whether I was okay with it, he lit me up.

When I took a breath to fling an annoyed remark, I accidentally took a puff from the cigarette. The smoke rushed straight to my lungs and made me shut up as something in it began to work through my body. A sense of ease and relief washed over me. Why not just take another puff? This felt fine for now.

“Alright. Toasty, you’re up.”

I found myself standing up on my hind legs in an instant. “Let’s rock and roll!” Toasty crowed, punching my claw and hoof together.

Then I noticed that Ice was nowhere to be seen either. “This is going to hurt a lot, then a little more. But this hurts you a lot more than it hurts me, so sucks to be you.” A cold creeping sensation began to crawl over my back and up my wings. Pinpricks of pain followed, which were washed away by an almost relieving pulling sensation. “On my mark. We’re going to need the frost nova once I drop S.A.T.S. Just like we practiced, okay?”

“Yap yap yap. Let’s roll!”

“Resonate!” the two of them shouted at the same time. An electrical tingle bolted up my spine and metaphorically fried my brain. All of a sudden, it felt like a raging hurricane was building in my head. Time began to proceed again in slow motion as S.A.T.S. wore off.

An inky, murky, deep bluish darkness burst forth from the base of my hooves and enveloped them, inching up my body and sinking into my fur. I felt myself growing stronger and even gaining a bit of height as more and more of of my body was covered with the dark tendrils. My mane began to dangle into my vision and I watched it in bewildered wonderment as it became wispy and dotted with cute little sparkles. The last of the changes happened to my claw—

Then one moment it was the three of us—minus the other hitchhiker Frosties—and then it was just us.

A burst of deadly ice shards radiated out of… me, I suppose. Any surface they struck immediately began forming dense clusters of ice crystals and frost, which immobilized Rumcake’s minigun before it made it up to full speed. The shock of the blast stunned him and even made him take a few terror-induced steps backward. As we drew up to our full height, we roared, “Paladin! Does the light forsake you?” A decisive claw gesture caused the growing shards of ice to crack and shatter into nothingness, except for the ones disabling the minigun. Theatrics aside, maintaining the spell freezing things was catastrophically draining our reserves and it was already starting to strain our body.

“W-whwahwhat are you?” The fright in his voice was apparent. No doubt he’d ever seen such a grand display of raw power incarnate. He stomped his hooves and seemed to buck up his courage again. “You will die for your transgressions so that Tangerine’s spirit may rest!”

“And why must I die? I’ll just kill you instead,” we condescendingly sneered.

Lunging, Rumcake wailed, “You killed her!” Dodging the power-armored hooves was easy, but knowing that a single touch would severely impair us was reason enough to remain wary. On the third swing, he overextended and left himself open. “You killed Tangerine and you’ve hurt Frosty! You made me hate her!”

We paused in mid-swing, maybe out of surprise. Instead, we straightened up and began to chuckle. “Mortal minds... so easily manipulated.” The culprit was crawling away from our little scuffle, but we easily caught it in our grasp. It squirmed and futilely tried to bite us, but we simply ignored its attempts at injury and brandished it at Rumcake. “This creature perpetrated these acts, not I.”

Turning our attention to the doppelganger Frosty in our grasp, we began to squeeze a bit tighter on its throat until it was gasping and choking on its own incompetence. Little by little, his struggling began to slow down. We reached out with our dwindling reserves of power and latched onto its own. A relieved grin appeared on our face as magical energy began to surge back into us and out of the rapidly less Frosty-looking thing in our grasp. In moments, its disguise had been completely stripped away through all the magic that we had stolen from it, leaving behind a dazed and injured bug-looking thing.

Rumcake looked at me, then to the bug-thing, then back to me. It looked like a lost puppy, completely confused as to what was going on. “Who are you and what did you do to Frosty?” he demanded, back to brandishing his minigun again.

“Who are you to question the power of night incarnate?” We paused for a moment, then quizzically looked back at the bug in our grasp. “Wait, this doesn’t bother you? Seriously? Huh, okay. Uh. This is a bit… uh… let me just set this aside.” Hefting the bug-thing, we judged it to be at least five meters’ worth of entertainment and pitched it at a nearby wall.

The satisfying crunch-splat noise of impact was enough for a chuckle out of us, so we turned our attention back to matters at hoof. “I am Paladin Commander Rumcake Rum and I will not be fooled again! Release Frosty or I will be forced to end you myself.”

We planted our hooves in the ground so that we could charge forward and body check him. He was thrown off balance and knocked onto his back, which presented an opportunity for us to leap onto his stomach. ”Your parents didn’t love you enough and that’s why they gave you that stupid name.” To add insult to injury, we punched his helmet until it popped off.

“My parents are bread! It’s—”

“And now you will become toast!” Unfortunately for us, choreographing a finishing blow was the wrong call because Rumcake panicked and knocked us off of him with a hasty painful jab at my ovaries. Kidneys. Sensitive body part. Point being, we tumbled backward and heckled, “Laugh, damn you. That was funny.”

A little voice inside us pleaded for us to stop, to face reason. Another vocally encouraged us to vigorously pulpify the bug-thing. A third cheerfully pointed out that it was, in fact, getting away quite quickly. We took our eyes off of Rumcake to track the bug, only to get body-checked by the power-armored stallion himself. If it weren’t for the fortified body that we had created, we would have been a nightmare-shaped pancake on the ground. Even with a body bolstered with raw magicka, it still hurt and was rapidly draining whatever magicka we had left that was keeping us three-dimensional.

It took our last reserves of strength to wrestle ourself out from under the Ranger and knock him onto his back. We leapt on top of him and wrapped my talons around his muzzle so that he would be forced to both look at me and shut up. “You’ve been fooled. Tricked. Been had.” We sighed. “We are not your enemy today, Paladin Commander. Your dear Frosty is very much alive in us, and perhaps she has the capacity for forgiveness.” A dull pulsing ache in our head and limbs was becoming more strain than we could bear. “But my power fades and you’ve consumed far too much of my time. Today there will be a truce, but tomorrow… well, tomorrow we may not be so forgiving.”


Footnote: Level up!
New Perk: Mysterious Power (Level 2) – In addition to the previous tier’s bonuses, this skill now significantly boosts damage resistance and imparts a temporary shield regardless of character race. There is now a cooldown period where this skill cannot be used.
Current Sub-perk: Confused – You gain +1 to Perception.
New Status: Waking Nightmare – Meddling with powers beyond your comprehension will have consequences. For now, you gain +5 to Speech when wearing a hat.

Author's Note:

Wow, okay. Sorry for the long wait. Been busy with side projects and classwork. Expect a new story at some point in the future.

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