• 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 29: Kept you waiting, huh?

Chapter 29: Kept you waiting, huh?

“Well, you're good at a lot of things... Just not nest making, ice skating, animal waking, snow clearing...”


Emptiness stretched out in all directions. There wasn’t a sign of any landmarks or any features that would imply any sort of terrain as far as the eye could see. The flat, bleak whiteness of the landscape was jarring, to say the least. Interestingly enough, I couldn’t locate the sun or any other similar light source—which begged the question of why the shit was it so bright? I pawed at the ground, finding it curiously lacking in any sort of texture other than “hard”, and groaned.

All I needed was a little lie down to think. I simply laid down where I was, rubbed my eyes, and muttered, “Okay, guys, any ideas?” It didn’t help that the ground under me was perturbingly temperature neutral and it didn’t really help me think. It just didn’t make any sense. There was no immediate response so I let them have a few minutes to take it all in. Out of boredom, I did my best goat impression and experimentally held all my legs in the air. No wind, either. Huh.

On the topic of unnerving, there was an odd amount of silence from myself. Usually one of me would have piped up with some input by now. “Gale?” I hesitantly called out. “Toasty?” If this was some sort of practical joke, it wasn’t funny. At this moment in time I was legitimately disconcerted. “Filly?” With each lack of response, I grew increasingly panicked. “Guys? Anyone?” At this point, I’d even take Officer to give me a thrashing.

Then it all sank in. I was well and truly alone.

Alone.

All alone. Just me. Hold the myself and I. The idea of being on my own was so impossible that I couldn’t even begin to comprehend how to deal with it. Who was I supposed to ask for advice? For idle chatter? Overwhelmed by grief, I slumped to the ground and held my head in both of my hooves. Goddesses forbid I’d have to actually have to care about somepony else’s opinion. I felt something soft on my head. Wait—did Dad’s hat really make it in here with me? I yanked it off and stared at it to make sure that it was really here with me.

Wait. I looked farther down and glared at my left foreleg, which was decidedly not a robot claw-leg anymore. I’d appeared to have regained my old foreleg from before I misplaced it. While interesting, it wasn’t nearly as interesting as the presence of Dad’s hat. Curiously enough, it wasn’t all dirty and crumpled like I expected it to be—it looked nearly brand new and undamaged. Having it made me feel more at ease either way. I replaced it on my head and tried to survey the area properly.

In all of my panic, I somehow hadn’t noticed the wait a minute that sign hadn’t been there before. I cautiously approached it to investigate. The print on the oaken signage was curly and had this “ye olde Equestriane” look to it. It was strangely out of place, given the bleak whiteness and nothingness of my surroundings. Just looking at the brown-and-black made my head hurt. I squeezed my eyes shut so I could focus, then began to read the wording out loud. In my own words, of course. Ye olde grammare was literally the worst.

“Fear for thine soul, ye damned and blah blah doom and gloom…” I skipped that part and cut to the more interesting bits. “This is Limbo, land of souls lost and forsaken. Pray to your elder gods for salvation… blah blah blah more doom and gloom.” I scanned the rest of the sign for anything useful. “Oh, here it is. Only the worthy shall find salvation and pass unto Purgatory

Oh good. So far all I figured was this was a shitty place for somepony as self-entitled as me with an exit I would probably never find. Worst case scenario, I was going to spend the rest of eternity licking this place like a salt lick. Maybe the next pony that waltzed through would have a better idea—or even just a religion that would maybe get me a free pass to the next area. As I turned and spun around to see if there was a conveniently placed exit behind me, my tail must have brushed the sign. I heard a loud thump from behind me and by the time I pranced back around, it was gone.

I stared at the blank ground where the sign used to be. Well, shit.

My mind desperately craved for something else to interact with, something to break up the monotony of the sea of white. Anything. Anything that could give me a point of reference. No PipBuck meant no compass and no map. No directions meant I could very easily get turned around where there wasn’t even the common courtesy to provide me with a damned horizon. Anything! Even a rock would make me feel better!

On that extended and wildly hopeful thought, I demanded into the nothingness, “Hey universe! Gimme a rock.”

Lo and behold, the universe didn’t give a shit.

An idea floated to the surface—considering all the ironic events in my life, the universe had shown it probably was listening, but it didn’t like helping me out. For all I knew, I was still somewhere in its jurisdiction. “This is such a perfect view I have. Nothing could possibly ruin it.” I braced for what was coming in unrestrained glee. Let there be rocks. Let there be rocks. Roooocks.

Nothing happened, so I tried it again. “Let there be rocks!” Still nothing. “Damn you, universe! Damn you and your selective hearing.” I waited for a few more seconds, hoping that one would suddenly appear. Still nothing. With that half-baked plan down the drain, I began to entertain the idea of simply walking off in a direction and seeing what happened.

I waited for Gale’s inevitable interjection, just in case.

I waited a little more.

My heart wrenched when I remembered she didn’t exist. When I remembered that she probably never existed in the first place. Trying not to panic, I asked myself what would Gale actually tell me. “It’s a stupid idea” maybe? Maybe it was more like her to tell me that I should take the initiative. I stared off into the nonexistent sunset, lost in thought. Strange as it was to say, I really missed being insane. At least I had somepony to talk to all the time. How was I supposed to get anything done now?

Guidance lost, I decided that the best method of approach was to simply pick a direction and start walking. Anything that happened next was going to be future Frosty’s problem. I resolutely decided on “forward” and took the first steps to nowhere. The endless expanse of nothing stretched seemingly forever and each step failed to give any indication of progress. Still, with nothing left to do an nopony to talk to, I forced myself to keep walking.

The endless monotony of my surroundings left nothing to observe or snark at as I mechanically dragged myself along. How much time had passed? If this was the afterlife, it really sucked. Maybe it’s what I deserved for being a terrible little pony. Granted, I hadn’t been the worst, but I knew deep down inside that I didn’t deserve heavenly light and something about loads of honey. Surely I deserved a sunset. Sunrise? A sun, at least?

In the midst of my self-loathing and universe baiting, I hadn’t noticed that the “ground” beneath my hooves had transitioned into a soft, almost sandy consistency until I plowed face-first into the colorless equivalent of a sand dune. I stood there, confused and somewhat bothered by this sudden change. On the bright side, I wasn’t drowning in sand. Very interesting.

To my surprise, a drab-blue earth pony was sitting on top of the sand dune I had been eating. He looked incredibly unassuming with his plain black mane and tail, and as far as I could tell his cutie mark looked like a bunch of crossing lines, almost like knitting or sewing or something along those lines. “Yeah, I’ll admit that’s fun for about f’kin ten seconds.” I dug myself out of the sand, shaking little grains out of my mane.

What a rude little pony. One of us needed to be the sensible one, so I decided to ask the sensible question. “Who are you?”

“What’s it f’kin mean to you?” Mister Rudey McStutter spat.

Rude.

Mystery stallion continued to glare at me in disgust, so: “I’m about to call you ‘Speech Impediment 2’ if you aren’t going to cooperate. And let’s be honest—we’re not going anywhere and I am extremely blueballed on snark.”

“F’kn…” Speech Impediment 2 hummed, mostly to himself. “Name’s Sewn Britches.”

“Frosty.”

“You got a f’kin last name?”

“Nah,” I lied, for no particular reason.

“What’re you in for?”

“Bad decisions. Laziness. You?” Not technically a lie this time, really.

“Some ice cube psycho tortured me over the course of an hour, blew me up, and shot my face off. You know, typical Wasteland justice.” Seeing the pained cringey look I was giving him, he snapped, “Don’t gimme that f’kin look. I got over it.”

“Rough.” We shared an awkward silence moment. “Did you deserve it?”

“All I’ve f’kin got is time to think.” Eventually, he did quietly sigh. “Yeah, a little. You?”

I shrugged. “Dunno. Still getting over a few things. Dead being one of them.” There was also the little problem that the four or five of the ponies that I talked to the most just didn’t exist anymore, but I was really trying to not let it bother me. To distract myself I asked him, “How long have you been here?”

“Doesn’t f’kin matter. Shit’s all the same. This is it. This is where assholes like us go to when we die. Absolutely f’kin nothin’.”

“You sure? it was all flat and stuff a bit back uh… that way?” I gestured in a general direction of where I thought I had come from. The initial grand plains of absolute nothing that I had started out in was seemingly gone. Instead, the view was just more of the implied general sandiness that I was already sitting in. Weird.

“Yeah, an’ a few hundred f’kin kilos that way—” Britches pointed in the exact opposite direction. “That’s ice ‘n’ stuff. Past that’s some f’kin grass.”

“I like the sound of grass.”

“F’kin calm down. It’s pale just like everything else.”

“Aww.”

Silence fell upon us. Mister Speech Impediment seemed to be out of dialogue options for the most part. All he really did was lounge in the sand and occasionally pick at his nose. Seeing as it was a good time to take my leave, I stood and instinctively shook myself because of the sand. I gave him a little nod and made the decision to keep walking. Maybe there would be something, somewhere, eventually down the line that would be worth it.

So I left Sewn Britches in the literal dust in favor of brighter and/or bleaker lands. I began my trek once again, only stopping periodically to check whether I’d actually made any progress. Without any landmarks to reference, it wasn’t really possible to know. The terrain hadn’t changed for a long while. I didn’t know how long I walked, only that there wasn’t much else I could be doing.

I’m not sure what I expected the afterlife to be like, but I don’t think I’d ever thought it’d be so listless and sad.

Out of nowhere, a little section of ground vanished with an adorable little popping noise. A tan horn emerged from it, followed by the rest of the unicorn—complete with funny glasses and messy mane. He looked oddly familiar, but I just couldn’t really place it. He rotated in place, took notice of his surroundings, and spoke back down into his hole, “Oh dear. Oh dear oh dear oh dear. We are definitely not in Equestria anymore. Wolfie, I think we might be lost.” Before I could go bother him too, he disappeared back down his hole and the missing bit of ground replaced itself behind his disappearing head.

Weeeird. I galloped to where the spot roughly was and found nothing. The sand refused to part beneath my hooves, even if somepony had been under it to begin with. A few angry thoughts began to form, but I realized halfway that I really just didn’t care enough. Besides, some things were better left unanswered. I found myself waiting for a response from myself again on the tail of that thought and angrily bap’d myself again. Bad thoughts, Frosty!

So I continued to walk. I wasn’t sure why. Maybe it was a remnant of the Wasteland-adventurer in me, never sticking in one town for more than a few days at a time.

I suppose there really was a little explorer in me, eager to discover new things and reach the next horizon.

Now it was all just white. I kicked up some pale sand, nearly invisible against the white sky,

I kept walking.

~~~~~

Beyond any of my expectations, I managed to run across a door. All things considered it was a nice door. Solid oak, plain other-wood trim, little window-shaped indent thingies, and a cute little brass knocker in the middle. Curiously enough, there wasn’t a handle for the door.

Common sense said knock but my nonexistent gut told me to be a smartass about it. I heaved the brass ring on the door and let it drop twice. “Pizza delivery for a last name ‘Pony’.” The lack of response from the door wasn’t exactly unexpected, but for something that was this out of the ordinary—considering the absolute complete lack of color—I had been hoping for something amazing. Undeterred however, I knocked again. “Candygram.”

Before I had time to ask myself whether the third time was the charm, the door swung inward and revealed to me its shiny, incandescent, retina-searing interior. I might have also been screeching at the time as my eyeballs metaphorically melted out of their sockets. The only reason I stopped was because the afterimage of the door faded, revealing Mort simply standing in the center of what looked like the interior of a marble-themed elevator, gold trim and all. I closed my mouth and scooted myself in next to him without another screech.

The silent look of disbelief or whatever it was on Mort’s skull as he watched me enter gave me the inexplicable need to politely shut the door behind me. A gentle chime from the ceiling followed and the elevator car distinctly began to whirr in place. I stood beside Skele-Pon, mimicking his stoic blank expression and asked, “...So what now? Isn’t my life supposed to flash before my eyes?”

A pause. “That was it,” Mort simply stated at the door.

I broke act and huffed, stomping the floor. How come every answer I’d ever gotten from Mort was cryptic? “What do you mean by ‘that’?” Even as Mort tried to keep impassively staring at nothing, he couldn’t ignore the seething glare I was currently burning into his hood.

He gave me a sidelong glance. From what I could tell, it seemed like he was giving me one of those ‘do I have to explain this to you’ looks. “That bit just then. Before you got here. Well, before you got to Limbo.” Gesturing at the door, he twirled his hoof around in circles as if it would help me understand.

Outraged, I threw my hooves in the air and demanded, “Where’s the rest of it then?”

Mort simply shrugged. “I wouldn’t know. I’m honestly not sure how it works.”

The likelihood that he actually didn’t know were remote at best, especially considering that this was part of his job. “How? You’re literally Death. How can you not know?” Alternatively, he could easily be lying to me and I wouldn’t know any better.

As if he’d heard me thinking about it, Mort slowly pivoted his skull to glare down at me. “Just because I lead souls to the afterlife doesn’t mean I know what you’re all hallucinating about.” An air of fear washed over me as I was stared down by the fiery motes of light in the skull. It was only for a moment, but it was still just enough to make me shut my pie hole of witty remarks.

Logic was never one of my strong suits, but I felt like I also shouldn’t just take those lies sitting down. On the train of that thought, I stood up as well, accusing him with a jabbing hoof. “Are you implying this is a figment of my imagination?”

Mort didn’t even hesitate with his own counter. “I’m implying that there are implications.”

I felt the need to one-up him. “What if I implying that your implied implications are uh… implied?”

“That’s a logic loop. You should stop.” Satisfied, Mort returned to staring at the closed doors.

With a heavy sigh, I admitted defeat. “You’re right. That’s enough nonsense. Can I mosey on off to the afterlife now? I’m just tired of all this.”

“Oh, but there’s more,” Mort conveniently added.

I rolled my eyes and yet again threw my hooves in the air. “Of course there is.”

“Now, your life will flash before everyone else’s eyes.”

I wasn’t having any of this metaphysical bullshit. “I don’t know what that means, so skip.”

The feeling of Mort’s burning orbs on me made me keep my eyes on the floor by my hoofsies. “But it will give you insight to your own char—”

“SKIP,” I insisted.

A frustrated growl came from the hooded skull. “Don’t be a child.”

There didn’t seem to be any escape, so I tried changing the topic. “Wait, how come your voice isn’t all BIG AND ANGRY and all that stuff?”

“This is my inside voice. Hey! You’re changing the—”

Ooops. “Skip, skip, skip.”

Growling, Mort stamped one of his bony hooves. “Everypony has to experience it before they leave Limbo.”

“I’m not denying that I have to experience it. I am exercising my right as the lazy piece of shit I am to not have to pay attention to it. And maybe not have to participate in it either.” As the little motes of light in Mort’s skull grew increasingly red and fireball-like, I smirked. This was my moment to literally piss off Death, and by everything divine I was going to exploit this opportunity. With an even more cocky grin, I shrugged, “It’s too late. You gave me entitlement, the strongest power in the universe.”

To my slight alarm, smoke began trailing out of Mort’s hood. “That’s not how enti—”

I maintained the stupid cocky look as I stared Death in the face. “Skip.”

“Consider this a warning.”

“S—

<~~~>

“Sir… I’d like out. I understand what you are trying to do for the Enclave, but this isn’t what I expected from ‘protect and serve’. All of the cloak and dagger, all of the lies and deceit—I can’t keep my story straight. There are ponies asking questions, sir. I don’t know if I can keep doing this without becoming a liability.” On the other side of the table sat darkness and silence. “I’m sorry? Sir.” I held my breath and prayed to the Deer gods that the commander would be okay with it.

The victim of poor lighting thoughtfully hummed to himself. “I see.” His hooves slammed against the table so hard that the miniature cloud-on-a-stick bobbled and tipped over onto its side. “Unlike the rest of this room, I want the electrician vivisected so I can mount his tiny little brain in a microscope!” In response to his bellowing, I kept quiet out of respect and terror. The mini-cloud, unaccustomed to such abuse, began to wildly poop out BB-sized hailstones at an alarming rate.

Several wayward bits of ice bounced off my left foreleg as I arbitrarily decided to tap the edge of the desk. My ears were still slightly ringing from the unexpectedly violent outburst. “So… um. I guess that’s it, sir.” Uneasily, I shifted in my seat and shooed away the miniature hailstones spilling off my side of the desk as an excuse not to make eye contact.

“You’re scared. I get it. Fresh out of flight school and you’re working for us.” More ice was starting to pile up into small mounds and I couldn’t stop staring at it. “Lucky for you, the science boys have been working on something for the nerves. What with all the new recruits looking for a home, there just hasn’t been a replacement for good ol’ fashioned liquid courage until now. You interested? Squelch your doubts right quick.”

Out of courtesy I glanced at the stallion in the dark, but I was still horribly fixated on the tinkle of hailstones threatening to engulf the surface of the desk. “Is it safe?” Only after I’d said that did I notice that I could also be referring to the microbiome forming right before my eyes. Oh well.

“I’d be lying if I said yes.” Oh good, unnecessary risk! Just what the doctor ordered. He caught the worried look on my face and hastily added, “It’s mostly safe, don’t you worry. It’s more of a ‘it’ll either work or not’ scenario.” Hearing that did make me feel better, but I was actually now just more alarmed by the mountain of ice populating a majority of the table surface.

I tried to casually not bring attention to it and the hailstones encroaching on my floor space. “Worth a try.” As I came to terms with the new arrangement, I did wonder whether he legitimately couldn’t see the malfunctioning cloud because of his lack of lighting or if he was actually just going to let all this ice pile up.

Oblivious chuckling came from the dark. “Excellent. I’ll have the boys get ready for you.”

///

The scene abruptly changed. I was on the ground, lying on my back with blood and carnage everywhere. Bodies—armored pegasus bodies—lay around me. Two ponies stood over me, one wearing some familiar-looking combat armor and the other was… was me. Wild eyed and slightly foaming at the mouth, I suddenly began to realize why ponies were so scared of me.

Wait. This was starting to look a lot more familiar. The mare in the combat armor was Riverbed!

Oh no. That meant…

Against my will, fully knowing what was about to happen, my body began to move. I clambered onto my hooves and took several determined strides to stop in front of another downed pegasus. The stallion that I was watching from gasped, “If you’re going to hurt her, you’re going to have to go through me.”

I watched myself—the Frosty—get a nefarious look on her face, an evil glint in her bloodshot eyes. She and Riverbed turned and nodded at each other, then looked back at me. Riverbed smirked and simply responded, “I think I can live with that, guy.” She raised her shotgun.

///

Now I was crouched, my blue foreleg trapped in a—wait am I Butt Slave?

Then, I heard me speak. “I’m going to open the trap now. Don’t move too suddenly—can you do that?” The sound of myself’s voice wasn’t what I expected. It was almost melodious the way she spoke. Middy only fearfully grunted in response. “Three.” Gale began to pry the jaws of the trap apart, slowly but surely.

In the midst of hearing Middy scream, I heard him interject somewhere in there, “I mean really w…ho the buck starts at threeaaaaauuugh!” Gale didn’t stop pulling until the trap was nearly all the way open.

“Carefully move your leg—and use both of your hooves, quickly!” Middy didn’t seem to be paying much attention. In fact, he was more caught up with screaming more until Gale remarked in a dry tone, “Oh no, I’m losing my grip.”

Middy took one huge deep breath, then hastily heaved his leg out of the way with a pained scream. The bear trap snapped shut behind it, just a hair too late. “Whew, thanks for the help. What was your name?”

I watched me, warm gaze and sickeningly sweet smile in effect, hold out my claw. “My name is Gale. Pleased to make your acquaintance, Midnight.”

///

I was in a chokehold; a very familiar cybernetic claw had latched itself around my neck. I was in an underground train station, and before me was a very angry pegasus in a hoodie.

“You think you’re so clever, don’t you?” Hoodie yelled, the sarcasm incredibly obvious in his voice. “You think you’ve got everything thought out.”

“I do,” the Frosty choking me in her grip retorted, spittle flying from her mouth with each word. “I don’t want to deal with you, so this is where we part ways.”

I remembered this! This was where Tangerine and I met that group lead by the half-zerba.

Oh shit. I was the half-zebra. Also, ew.

Hoodie chuckled. “You know what? I’m not shocked at all that you’re going to run,” he scoffed. “You’re nothing but a coward and a traitor.”

“Whatever gave you that idea?!”

Hoodie irritably flapped his wings, displacing his cloak. “It’s like you’re a little sheep without a dog to keep you in line.”

“You’re in no bucking position to say anything, zebra-hugger,” Frosty shot back. “You’re a traitor to the Enclave, and your friend is a traitor to Equestria! Whatever grand ideals you think you have mean jack shit when all you do is become yet another freeloading mercenary going about the Wasteland!”

Before I knew exactly what was happening, Frosty was squeezing my throat so tightly it was difficult to breathe. I was could barely make out somepony preaching about trains and other garbage before I heard my voice sigh in exasperation. “Look, I have places to be and better things to do than stand here and listen to you. Let’s make this brief.”

I squealed as I felt Frosty press the barrel of a shotgun against my head. There was a violent flash of light…

///

A heavy-hoofed blow to the top of my head rattled me out of focus. It left me dizzy and disoriented, trapped in a headlock that the Frosty was undoubtedly keeping me in. The unicorn I had possessed kept struggling. “Come out, come out, wherever you are!” Frosty bellowed. “Wouldn’t it be a shame if I have to make this little piggy squeal?”

The unicorn’s eyes darted back and forth, searching for something. Then, an assault rifle appeared from around a wall. I felt the unicorn groan. The pony behind it, one that I recognized as Pestilence, scooted out. “Don’t hurt him!” This scene was all too familiar to me—the first of the wonder triplets. That meant that this was War’s perspective.

“It’s a little late for that,” Frosty darkly chuckled. “Put down your guns, and your little buddy here might live to see another day.” My axe blade pressed harder into War’s throat.

“Don’t do it!” War boldly choked out. Already, I could feel tendrils of magic reaching out for the grenades that would inevitably be the cause of our demise.

“Drop ‘em!” I heard myself demand, unaware of the looming danger.

“Little cuz…” War coughed. Plink. “Just remember…” Plink. “I love you, an’ I’ll be with you forever.” Pestilence started to back up, solemnly nodding. Plink. “Even after I TAKE THIS BITCH ON THE HIGHWAY TO HELL!” Plink.

Frosty reacted like anypony would react when unwillingly strapped with grenades. “Let me go, freak!” she screamed in panic.

“Sayonara, bitch!” Then the first grenade blew.

///

Next thing I knew, Frosty was lunging at me over a counter. I felt myself hesitate, too fixated on those rage-filled bloodshot eyes and bared teeth. The razor-sharp talons seemed to reach impossibly far, closing around Famine’s—my—throat. Bits, bobs, and all assorted items went flying everywhere. His one unrestrained hoof feebly attempted to throw her off, to no avail.


Slowly, color began to fade from my vision. “Wow, you’re taking a long time to asphyxiate.”

“Frosty, what the buck are you doing?”

“Self defense. He asked for it.”

“Cut it out!”

“You know, that’s a very poor choice of words.”

///

“You know, one day your mouth is going to get you into trouble,” I heard me snarl. From what I could gather, we were inside a building—specifically a run-down library. Oh shit. Oh shit I was Tangerine. No, no, no! Wasn’t this the part where I strangled her?

Just like that, Tangie turned her head right into a clawful of stained and chipped talons to the jugular. As she was lifted into the air, I got a good look at myself. Dirty, unkempt hair and equally disgusting fur framed the face of a maniac. A giddy scowling sneer was plastered on my face, no sign of remorse visible. Tangie struggled to inhale and her vision began to visibly dim.

“You’re lucky that I need you to get around, or I might have been a lot more enthusiastic otherwise. I’ve had a shitty few hours and poking fun at me isn’t bucking helping. I’m being treated like a damn animal—again—and you think it’s funny?” Frosty snarled.

Tangerine choked in response.

<~~~>

It took me a few moments to realize I was back in my own body. “Wh… what was that?” I shuddered. “Did I do that? That was me?”

“Yes. Your life, as spectated by those you’ve wronged.” Mort impassively returned to facing the closed doors, stating, “Since I know you have absolutely zero attention span, I’ve given you some of the more important parts. At least those will leave a lasting impression.”

The events I’d witnessed replayed themselves in my mind over and over. “Oh. I’m actually just an asshole. Wow.” I ended up falling onto my butt. “Wow. Okay.” It hadn’t ever really occurred to me before. My actions were usually a result of literally everypony else either being a jerk, vaguely attempting to murder me, or a combination thereof. The thought that I was the monster had never really occurred to me, despite having joked about it. Now, in retrospect, I was horrified by my actions. So much unnecessary violence. No! No, that had all been Toasty’s fault. That hadn’t been me. Right?

The dinky little bell chimed again, and this time the doors creaked open. As I stepped out of the “elevator” after Mort, I observed that this place looked suspiciously like a dentist’s waiting room. A multitude of chairs, ponies, and furniture resembling all sorts of styles reminiscent of days gone by populated the entirely too-large right side of the room. To my left, several doors—all marked with “Wait your turn” and an assortment of motivational posters (Hang in there, cat!)—lined the wall along with an open receptionist’s window staffed by an extremely transparent pony.

Shaking off the lingering dread of my past sins crawling on my back, I played along like the confused little pony I was and thoughtlessly tagged along with Mort to the window in the wall. The ghostly receptionist pony smiled at us and launched into conversation with Mort. I stopped listening about fifteen seconds into the pleasantries and nonsense that hadn’t been explained to me. Instead, I couldn’t help but be annoyed at how effortlessly ghosty-pony’s luxuriously long mane managed to flow in the air. Did she use ghost shampoo or just normal shampoo? I’d literally murder somepony to get my mane shimmery and smooth like that.

Wait, no, I would not literally murder somepony for that. That was not me.

With that sort of mane envy on the brain, I didn’t hear Miss ‘my mane is to die for’ trying to get my attention. To be fair I didn’t really notice it at first because of the see-through hoof phasing back and forth through my nose. Only after the receptionist mare threatened to stick her whole head into mine did I finally figure out I was being talked to.

I jerked myself backward out of face-merging range. Receptionist mare looked a little peeved, probably repeating herself again for the eighth time. “You’re not religious, are you?” Her voice had a funny lilt to it—something rough, like Scoltish. She did sound an awful lot like the star of Bravehurt after all. I began to idly fantasize about her screaming inspirational lines into a flock of sheep.

Oh right, I’d been asked a question. “Nah. It’s just easier to take the Royal Sisters’ names in vain,” I honestly replied.

“That’s all. Take a seat and come back to me when you’re ready. If you can’t make up your mind, don’t worry about it too much. Judgement isn’t to be taken lightly.” Receptionmare gave me a little sideways smile as she shuffled away a pile of paper with my name on it. I shrugged, trotting away to the nearest vacant chair.

Mort followed me. I settled myself into the uncomfortably hard foal-sized chair to think. As my eyes wandered, I took notice of the rest of the waiting room’s population. A huge majority of the ponies and other non-pony beings around me were blurry outlines and fuzzy shapes. “Hey, what gives?” I asked, referring to the massive coffee-colored dust bunny to my left. Weird.

“Not everyone here is technically ‘here’. Time is more of a suggestion in this place. It’s the same reason why I’m not bound to a specific point in time. What you’re seeing are imprints of their presence.”

Overlooking the room again, I observed, “That’s awfully convenient. I bet it’s because there isn’t enough processing power to render this many actors at once.”

“...What?”

A perfectly crisp, clearly visible pony stood out to the rest. “Oh, hey! I can see that guy. I’m off to talk to him. See you later, Morty.”

Mort wearily sighed as I tromped away. “Fates be with you, Frosty.” When I turned back around to throw some more witticism at Skelepon, he was gone. Rude.

Back to the—hello, sexy. Tall, dark, and handsome over there looked to be another pegasus, just like me. He kept his mane in the classic mohawk style, longer than regulation, and with the yellow and drab greenish stripes neatly in order. Dark gray fur and those funny mane colors somehow seemed familiar to me, yet I couldn’t quite put my talon on it. Hoof. Whatever.

It seemed like TDaH (Tall, Dark, and Handsome. Pay attention.) could see me too because he caught my eye and waved me over. “Oh hey, I remember you from the bar—that night before things went to shit. You buy it during Cauterize? Seems to be a lot of us ending up here."

Cauterize? Cauterize happened? Things must have gone worse than I expected for the Enclave. “Oh, I totally missed it. I died from procrastinating too hard apparently.” He gave me the universal ‘what the buck’ look-and-gesture combo. “Long story, bad decisions, and yes it’s true,” I interrupted. “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you anyway.”

The stallion crossed his forelegs. “Try me.”

It was simpler to give him the short version since I probably had enough stupid material for a book at this point. “I was given an impressively long amount of time to get something done or die and I somehow just didn’t really get around to it because I was just too distracted by side-questing adventures that I ended up running into.” Finished, I happily clapped my hooves together. “Then I died.”

The little hamster wheel in the dark gray pegasus’s head might have needed a little grease, but he eventually figured it out. “Because you waited too long?”

I nodded. “Yep.”

He nodded with me, perhaps sympathetically. “That sucks.”

Recalling what Mort had said to me, I asked, “Who are you again? My memory isn’t as good as it used to ham sandwich.” I also reminded myself to come up with another equally witty phrase for my terrible memory.

The stallion held out a hoof. “Nosedive. Last I remember, you were talking my ears off.” He stared at me in thought, hoof still outstretched and presumably awaiting something in return. “Frosty, right?” I tilted my head and tried to recall it, his face, the event—anything. Nada.

My face lit up. Yay, somepony that I hadn’t tried to murder yet that knew my name! “Hey, yeah.” If only I was as good at remembering trivial things like names as he was. “So, uh. How’d you eat it?”

Something akin to a content sigh came from Nosedive. “You should have seen it. Went down like a hero from one of the vids.” He scooted over in his seat and invited me to sit down next to him. ”Bit of a story though, if you care to listen.” Since I wasn’t really in a rush or anything, I was game for story time. I sat down in the offered seat and pointedly ignored his intentional disregard for my personal space. “So we get shot down in the middle of bucking nowhere, right? Had to lock my armor, holding my squad leader to keep her from getting thrown as we went down. Our other squadmate wasn’t so lucky—got herself captured while we were still coming to. Figures, right? So then blah blah blah…”

At some point I think I fell asleep out of boredom. Or maybe I died for a second. Again.

Thankfully, he was so caught up in posturing and vigorous motions that he didn’t seem to have noticed. “Anyways, we managed to rescue her, but my wing got pretty mauled in the process. That was right when… I guess we’re calling them ‘alicorns’ now… right when one of them showed up, along with a whole horde of ponies, and a wing of griffons besides. Real long odds, especially with Tailwind injured and my wing shot. Snap couldn’t bring herself to make the call, so I did it for her. I opted to stay, buy them some time to get away. It was hard, yeah, but… damn, if I won’t remember that look in her eyes.”

He shook his head, as if trying to get himself back on track. “Wasn’t any sort of epic stand, but I managed to blow some of those buckers away before they got me.” He broke into a grim smile as he continued, “Took a hit to my cannon’s cooling array, and that was pretty much that. Before it went, though, I took enough of ‘em with me that I guess they figured it wasn’t worth the effort to keep looking. Thought the storm would finish off the rest of my team.

“I… I never got to tell her how I felt. Snap, I mean—my team leader. My biggest regret is that I just didn’t tell her sooner, you know? The opportunity was always there. I just never took the first step. As strongly as I felt...” He gave a heavy sigh, hanging his head. I obligatorily placed a comforting hoof on his shoulder.

The sight of such a tough guy down in the dumps about this prompted me to speak from experience. My hoof still on his shoulder, I placatingly told him, “Don’t sweat it, cool guy. Love isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Trust me.” He looked up, blinking away some of the funk that seemed to have fallen over him, curiosity taking its place. “I had a love-at-first-sight moment. It turned out to be awful. He’s an abusive control freak and I never acted on it until it was too late. Love makes you stupid. You probably don’t need it anyway.”

With a coarse laugh, he replied, “Maybe you’re right. At any rate, they don’t need me—those two are strong, especially together.”

I voiced the first thing that came to my mind. “Gaaaaaaaaaaaay.” Like any sensible pony which I was not, Nosedive glared at me for ruining the mood. I immediately changed the subject. “Hey, you're a dude. Riddle me this—what’s with you guys being all selfish and demanding and shit? Is it just a stallion thing or is it just Rumcake being an asshole?”

Confused, Nosedive asked, “Who?”

Right. Context. “Former love interest. Keep up,” I clarified.

Nosedive stayed silent, possibly regarding his options. “Have you considered you might be wrong?”

In mock indignation, I spat, “I'm a mare. I'm never wrong.” Well, usually I wasn’t wrong. “Unless when I am,” I quietly added.

I could have sworn that Nosedive slouched back in his seat and adopted the classic psychiatrist pose. “Let’s hear it.”

Now was a time as any while we were on a heart-to-heart discussion. “Well. Uh. There was the time where he tried to kill me. And there was that other time where he decided that exploding public bondage was a good relationship goal to reach.”

“…Huh. From the sounds of it, maybe it wasn't meant to be? He sounds like a real piece of work. I’d beat him to a pulp for you if I wasn’t dead. No proper stallion would dare treat a mare like that.” Nosedive tilted his head sideways. “Wait. Wait, wait, waaaait a tic. Have you ever been in love before? Proper, good old-fashioned love. Not this abuse bullshit.”

Confusion dawned on me as I trawled through my past experiences. “I don’t remember. Memories got stolen; wasn’t motivated enough to get them back I guess,” I admitted. “There’s bits and pieces left over.”

“Love is… well, it’s a state of mind. It’s sort of like having somepony you can’t live without. Somepony—or someone, I won’t judge—that changes your life. That’s a huge generalization of course.”

Ponies who dodged questions were terrible ponies, and I wasn’t going to be one of them this time. “But… I don’t know. It wasn’t covered in basic. I didn’t really have time back then, and from what I remember from my wasteland adventure…” I began to actually go through the ponies I knew and had interacted with, just to be sure. A small scoff came out of me when I realized I’d been stupidly naive to believe in Rumcake loving me. “The only pony who I really did care about like what you’re saying is this crazy mare named Riverbed.” I slightly frowned to myself, remembering some of the things we did. “She was always there for me, you know. Out of all the ponies I knew, she’s the only one that I didn’t try to murder or want to mur—”

Yet more realization struck me. Not only was this much revelation bad for my soul, but Riverbed was filling out a dangerous number of categories. “—der… And I like her. And I’d begged for her to come back,” I quietly whispered to myself. There were always stories of things like this happening. Nopony was ever expected to believe it, and I’d dismissed it as a joke every time. Why did these things happen to me? “Holy crap. Rumcake made me gay,” I breathed in horrified—guess what—realization.

The thoughts in my mind vanished in an instant. I slumped in my half-seat and really took a step—metaphorically—back to really process that thought. “I think he scared me into being gay.” Being the helpful stallion he appeared to be, Nosedive began to uncontrollably laugh.

“It’s not funny!” I slapped the giggling stallion for all I was worth.

Taking several gasping breaths, Nosedive wheezed, "You do realize that you can be friends with someone and care about them without that leading to a romantic relationship, right?" The little hamster wheel in my mind creaked to life, processing this new revelation.

Great. And now I felt silly. "Oh. Is that how it works? In books it always seemed like sex was the end result of friendship." I tried to hide my face in my wings so he couldn’t see me turn pink, but it was too late—it only caused him to laugh even harder. Any more insistence from me was met with yet more laughter. Nosedive was a lost cause to my own misfortune so I plodded off to find something else to do.

I found myself trapped in thought instead. After the turning point, the part where Rumcake tried to kill me out of kindness—had that caused me to turn to Riverbed for companionship? Impossible. Firmly shaking my head, I reminded myself that I was somehow the one straight mare in the entire wasteland and it needed to stay that way. It was probably just coincidence, right? All this excess thinking was only causing problems. Time to face the music. I returned to the window where the ghostly receptionist was busy playing tic-tac-toe with herself and slammed my hooves against the counter with all the confidence of a mare tormented by whining. I declared, “I’m ready, assholes. Bring it.”

Nonplussed, “Take a number, darling. We’ll call you when a representative is free.”

“Oh.” I plucked the slightly transparent ticket from its dispenser and returned to waiting.

~~~~~

Going into it, I didn’t know what to expect. The receptionist ghost didn’t tell me more than “you’ll do fine”. I was just barely holding my nerves together as I walked down a featureless and dark hall, anticipating the worst. A pair of heavy-looking doors waited for me at the end, pale orange light bleeding through the cracks.

I placed my hoof on the door, ready to push it open, then hesitated. There were voices. A lot of voices. Some of them sounded angry, some bored, and many more indiscernible. “Okay, Frosty. Let’s get this over with.” Taking one more deep breath, I shoved the door open and emerged into the light.

What greeted me on the other side was like I’d walked right into an old holotape. Before me lay the interior of a lavish old-old-old-old-world courthouse, wrought of wood and iron. The high-vaulted ceiling was held up by six square pillars of solid dark wood, textured with intricate carvings. I kept absentmindedly walking forward, right into a short little pedestal where I assumed I was supposed to be standing.

Before I got to checking out anything else, a griffon’s skeleton in a Mort-like outfit appeared behind the even taller raised judge’s box. It surveyed the room, spotted me, then nodded. “All are present. Rise for the Adjudicators.” Three identically cloaked shapes floated out of a side door at the end of the hall. The one in the lead was a cat skeleton carrying its own adorable scythe with its bony tail. Whatever was following it had a skeleton far too small to see, but it had its own miniature floating scythe and hood. The last one made me pause and stare in confusion—it was a gigantic set of jaws filled with too many teeth. Yes, in a hood. No, I had no idea what it was.

“Will the jury please refer to docket nine hundred twenty three in today’s schedule. The tribunal for The Death of Ponies, subject Frostivus Kay Winds will now begin.” To the left—my left—was a sort of fancy holding pen packed with various animated skeletons in equally diverse attire. I was about to dismiss the whole lot as unimportant distractions until my gaze was drawn to a pony-shaped skeleton wearing an ill-fitting lime suit. I tilted my head, mildly surprised. Mort? What was he doing here?

Wait. Cue rewind.

In my fearful haste, I hadn’t noticed what he was wearing. “Are you… are you wearing a suit?”

The incarnation of death was wearing a gaudy pastel green, ill-fitting three piece suit with his standard hood tucked into the collar. The legs were obviously too loose, the chest was too tight, and his equally green tie was too long. He also looked just as uncomfortable as his suit, which I got a chuckle out of.

I HAVE JURY DUTY TODAY.” Mort pulled an ornate golden pocket watch out of his suit jacket. “IT DOESN’T START FOR ANOTHER TEN MINUTES.

Jury duty. This is what he’d meant.

“It seems like our esteemed colleague has yet again found himself with a severe case of having a conscience. Misappropriating a reaped Soul and unsanctioned actions to the Fates is a serious infraction, as you all know.” Griffon Death tapped the gavel in his talons against the bones in his opposite claw. “Mort. You know the drill. Explain yourself this time. Make it interesting, will you? I’m sure the others would appreciate a new story.”

“I met Frosty the second time during her final moments, as you’d expect.” Mort sounded unsure of himself, almost hesitant. “She… did the things that everypony does. Cried. Asked questions. Begged.” After hesitating again, he continued, “Unlike others, she finished her crying. I answered all her questions. All she wanted was a chance to make it all right, swearing vengeance and all that fluff. I saw fit to grant her a provision, considering—”

Griffon Death slammed the gavel, cutting Mort off. “Just because you are purveyor of their death does not grant you the right to alter their existence. This is not the first infraction, Mort. Why must you meddle in their affairs?”

Back in the pit of spectators, Mort was steadily growing a moat as the other Deaths scooted away from him. “It is within my jurisdiction to contract lost souls to do things that I cannot, whether the Accord or other complications arise. There were complications, and I contracted Frosty’s soul before it turned into an onryō. I’m sure the Gatherers would appreciate it. They’ve been far too busy as of late.”

“That’s none of your concern,” Griffonbones snapped.

Not to be a spectator to my own life, I asked, “I’d like it to be my concern.” Multiple dirty looks from everypony—including everybody without eyes. Eye holes. Et cetera. Um. Never mind.

Mort’s gaze drifted to the floor, the motes of light in his eye-holes dimming. “You hadn’t seen what her life had become. She deserved solace after all she’d been through.” The use of past tense both confused and alarmed me. Didn’t he mean me—as in, now me and not past me?

Throughout this whole interchange, I had my eye on one of the three Adjudicators. It didn’t seem like they were paying attention, what with being very obviously asleep. I raised my hoof and interjected, “Objection. Cat Death is sleeping.” Literally everything in the room dropped what they were doing to glare at me. Very quietly and respectfully, I squeaked, “I’ll stop now.”

The griffin skeleton shot me an extra-firey glare before returning to his duty of savagely decimating Mort’s reputation. “You’re out of line, Mort.”

“I didn’t complain about the ‘demigod bird-cat of legend’ disaster, as you may or may not recall. There’s a comic, did you know? Crawgnak the Bird-barian!” Murmurs of agreement rippled through the room. “Besides, the pure concentrated angst Frosty was harboring because of her sudden but inevitable betrayal would have created a vengeful spirit large enough to create physical impact.”

In lieu of an indignant outburst, I forced myself to settle with an upset muzzle scrunch. The last thing I needed was to piss off every...thing in this room. I’d show them angst, grumble grumble.

“If you insist on questioning judgement, let’s look at yours.” Griffon McChucklebones fixated a steely glare on Mort. To my surprise, he turned his attention to me next. “We’ve reviewed the incredible circumstances of your fate. Would you like to know how you came to be here? You’d be impressed at how far you’ve been diverted from your true calling.”

“I don’t—” Mort began, but was instantly cut off by a thunderous clap of wood on wood.

This. Is. My. Court! Speak again. I dare you.” Everything in the room dared not make a noise. With the walls still ever-so-slightly vibrating, Griffon Death stared down Mort and waited. Mort visibly wilted in his suit as a result and respectfully lowered his head. “That’s what I thought. Why don’t we tell Frosty what you’ve been doing to her?”

Mort didn’t respond. All he did was stare at the floor. “Yes, why don’t we tell Frosty what you’ve blah blah—what he said,” I snapped at the two of them.

This time, Griffy wasn’t even upset at my interjection. “Which half would you like to know about—which ending, per se? The good ending, the one where you have a fulfilling and somewhat limp existence?”

“Spoiler warning. Rude.” I crossed my forelegs, indignant glare in full effect. However, the idea of knowing what could have been itched at my mind. With hesitant curiosity in mind, I asked, “What changed? How did all this bullshit happen?”

“Unlike a certain someone here, I respect your choices.” He pointedly glared at Mort. “The split begins at the moment where rookie Pony Death decides that he’d show up early to a reaping. He thinks to himself, ‘it’s only a few seconds anyway, what’s the harm?’ What he doesn’t know is that the pegasus that is about to have a catastrophic stroke is paper-pushing some very sensitive files. He flops on the ground, dead, moments later. In that action, he makes a mess—one that a lazy intern is forced to clean up instead.

“If that pegasus had died and his soul harvested at the proper time, he would have had enough time to put the goddamn box down and think to himself ‘by golly I’m having a stroke’. Instead, we have ended up with you shuffled into a stack of potential candidates destined for an experimental initiative that your Enclave was unknowingly putting together.”

Confused was a good word for my emotions and thoughts right now, but I had questions that needed answering. I politely raised my hoof and waited for permission to speak this time. Why couldn’t he just go back and fix it if time didn’t apply to these guys?

Either these guys had mind reading powers or I was predictable, because McNuggets pointed a bony talon at me and spoke, “No, he can’t go back and fix it because he’s already been there. Please save your questions for the end.”

I slowly lowered my hoof.

“That’s where it starts. From there, Pony Death tries to fix this—you and the smattering of other lives that are wrenched from their fates, as you were. But the dominoes begin to fall. The only way to stop the chain is to remove a link.” Gesturing with his gavel again, Death McBirdcat continued his victory lap. “That became you, the most convenient of the fates. You were of the first to meet an early grave, but the only one with the determination to carry on.

“You are blind, Frosty Winds. Blind to the game you are a part of. All because of HIM.”

“You dare blame this on me?” Mort demanded. “Unlike you, I have been doing my duty. We were sworn by oath to—”

Yet another gavel slam, this time sending me airborne for nearly a whole second. “An oath that you have disregarded time and time again! You manipulated her Remembrance for your own means! Don’t think that just because you’ve a scythe and a cowl gives you the right to treat a Soul like a plaything.”

Wait. Wait, wait, wait. Remembrance, as in remembering? As in memories? I arbitrarily drew the lines, connected the red yarn, and screeched at Mort, “You took them! Why couldn’t you just tell me? Everything could have been so much easier. For you, for me, for everypony.”

“I took away the memories that would corrupt your soul in order for you to serve my purposes,” Mort bellowed back. “It was only the end bit. Your betrayal. The hate, the anger, the desire for revenge. Those bits. I have no idea why the rest of your memories are missing.”

“But!” The realization that literally everypony I knew had betrayed my trust at some point angered me to no end. The fact that my memories were missing and Mort had decided, on his own, that it had been better that I had even fewer of my memories—of my identity—to work with. Anticipating the impending response, I exhaled hard and simply agreed, “Fine. Sure. Whatever. I don’t care anymore.” Mimicking some choice lyrics, I threw my hooves in the air.

“Your indignation is understandable. I’m… I apologize for my actions, but it was all in good intentions. It was for your—”

Those were the magic words. I bucking exploded. “What? For my own good? Everypony thinks they know what’s best for me. You think you know what’s best for me?” Thoughts of Rumcake came to mind and were immediately eviscerated.

“Well, yes.” Lamely, he added, “I was going to give them back, by the way.”

“Oooh, I see how it is,” I thickly sarcasm’d at him.

“There will be silence in my court!” Griffon Death suddenly swung his gavel to point at me. “The sins on your Soul are insurmountable. Whether you defend your actions or admit the wrongs of your way will de—”

Already knowing my answer, I crossed my forelegs defiantly. “Nuh-uh. I’m not taking any of it back.” After seeing the things I’d done and knowing exactly what else I’d done, I resigned myself to fate. I was an asshole, and boy howdy I was going to go for gold. One sin or a million, I was probably going to the same place anyway. Might as well go for a high score.

Silence. One of the spectators dropped something on the floor. “What.”

“I made my choices,” I began. “Well, okay. To be fair, part of the murder spree is because somepony wanted somepony dead and that wasn’t really any of my business arguing a counterpoint. That’s on the Enclave and maybe my weakness for compensation. That, and I have a very low tolerance for bullshit.”

Seeing Bonergriffon look lost for words made me wish for a camera or an artist’s rendering. “I… I see,” he finally stammered.

I sighed, nodding. “So yeah, I probably deserve whatever I’ve got coming.”

Still a bit rattled—get it, rattled? Bones? I’ll stop—Griffin Death tapped his gavel and intoned, “The choice you have made, while admitting to guilt, will be considered in the final judging. Your Fate will be determined by a unanimous vote from the Adjudicators.” He paused to overlook the crowd, me, Mort, the two-and-a-half other judges, then spoke again. “Due to the delicate nature of this decision, I call a vote to move this tribunal to recess.”

They did. Well, two out of three did. No prizes for guessing who didn’t vote.

“While the Adjudicators make their decision, this tribunal is dismissed.”

SLAM.

~~~~~

The doors to the courthouse opened, releasing everyone inside to the absolute nothingness beyond it. Still, the various Deaths wandered off in their own directions, while other souls like me and the smattering of other sentient creatures aimlessly milled around on the ornate stone steps. Boredom was about to overtake me when a familiar voice from behind me made me drop everything and turn around to face her.

I never thought I’d ever see her again.

Tangerine hadn’t changed much since she’d… died. Yeah. Even though I’d allegedly been the one to kill her, she still stared at me in that same slightly-terrified-but-in-awe sort of look. “Frosty… Is it really you?” she asked, stars in her eyes.

“No, I’m just an immaterial manifestation of what could totally just be a figment of my imagination shaped like me.” But that look of wonderment and joy made me actually think for once. Maybe she deserved a less stupid answer. “Yeah. Hi.”

A blur of ecstatic orange fur tackle-hugged me hard enough to kill me if I were alive. “It’s good to see you again, Frosty. I didn’t think I’d—” She let out a choked sob into my chest. “I’d ever see you again. You, you. Although I guess given where we are I’d prefer if I didn’t.” Terrible as I was, I breathed a sigh of relief. At least she knew it wasn’t me that killed her.

I uneasily laughed. “Yeah. This place blows.” What remained of my dignity and common sense—whatever Gale had left behind when she’d moved out—reminded me that I should probably be a lot less snarky considering that Tangie was vigorously watering me. “So uh…” I started. I wasn’t exactly sure how to change the subject. “How’s things?”

“Good, I guess. Well, good enough. I’ve had time to think.” It was more like ‘time to take in all these revelations and ignore them’, but that was future dead me’s problem. Present dead me had to deal with Deadgerine. Ponies having time to think in this place was starting to seem like a pretty popular trend I should probably be getting into. Later.

“Apparently I haven’t passed on because I need closure. That’s why I’m stuck here. I think it’s because I’m waiting for you.”

“Kept you waiting, huh?” The temptation to strike a pose was almost too much to resist, but I kept it together. No posing—this looked like serious talk.

Tangerine fixed me with a steely unmoving gaze, something I’d never seen her do before. Ever. “I need to tell you something. Something important.” Uh oh.

Mentally, I was already responding with snark. Instead, I forced myself to simply default to a simple, “I’m listening.”

“And I need you to please, for once in your life, take it seriously.” As per her wishes, I stayed quiet and dusted off mister angry eyes for one last showing for Tangie. To my great relief, she took notice and even smiled a little. “Thanks.” She took a deep breath, visibly preparing herself to break some news. “I love you, Frosty. At first I didn’t like you, of course. But once I got to know you and see you in action, I…well, fell for you.”

And then there was the part that I tried to murder her that she was conveniently leaving out. Goddesses… I was the asshole in this relationship. I literally Rumcake’d Tangie. Great. “I don’t see what’s to like about me. Everything you knew about me wasn’t even me—just psychosis and angst. I’d also like to remind you that I tried to kill you once.” Even though it did make her ears droop, I forced myself to not directly look at her and instead dramatically turn away to stare off at the ceiling. “I’m a bad little pony and I’m sorry that I won’t ever live up to your expectations. If it makes you feel any better, I found out how much an asshole I was not that long ago.” I finished with the ‘tragic stare into the floor’ move to complete a suitably angsty mood. Nailed it.

Just as planned, I received a pity pat on the wing. “You’re not really a bad pony, Frosty. It’s just… you’re just misunderstood. You don’t even understand yourself,” Tangerine murmured.

A tear came to my eye. “Aww, don’t say that. You’re making my privilege blush.” Too late did I realize I broke my no-posing rule. Welp, too late.

Tangerine angrily bopped my nose. “Knock it off, I’m trying to be serious! I love you, Frosty. I need you to know that.” I stopped acting and scrunched my muzzle at her, which only earned me another bop.

More love, love, love. Whatever Rumcake and I had was definitely not love, yet I had absolutely no idea if what Tangie and I had was love. It was a lot of one-sided loving, really. “Are you sure it’s love and not delusion?” The same thought applied to me as well—was it love, or was I just fooling myself into thinking that Rumcake actually cared about me? “And, uh, are you absolutely sure you’re gay? No offense or anything, but this is kind of important in this context.”

Tangerine actually laughed. More of an amused giggle, really. “I’m sure, Frosty. It’s not like the flamboyance flamingo shows up and tells you you’re gay. I kissed a filly and I liked it. Ta-daah. Super. Gay. For, uh, you.”

Hang on. Haaaaang on. I felt a song coming on. “What about the taste of her cherry lipstick?” I chirped, about ninety percent sure those were the right lines.

Confusion crossed Tangie’s face. She squinted and tilted her head at me in thought, then hesitantly added, “Wait, didn’t it go ‘the taste of her cherry Trotstick?”

“You’re the lesbian.”

“Thanks, Frosty,” Tangerine replied, deadpan.

“I’m here all week.” I grinned. Those happy feelings faded in an instant, leaving me to question, “But I have to ask… why me? I’m being serious. I legitimately don’t get it at all.”

She smirked. “Even if I couldn’t bear you at the time and sometimes I’d rather deepthroat a cactus, there’s something about your dashing looks and… I don’t know, coolness, awesomeness, whatever—there’s just something that’s distinctly you that I’m inexorably attracted to. To me, you’re wild, mysterious, exotic, and just a little bit broken that I can’t help but love. Even despite all your terrible qualities, it's just really... fun to be around you. I don't think you realize just how soul-crushingly bleak life is usually like. Wasteland life sucks, Frosty. I've spent most of my life feeling miserable and scared and helpless—all the Steel Rangers have, trying to fight this desolate world of ours that's never, ever going to get better.”

“I… I don’t…” A choking noise came out of my mouth instead of any of my usual confused remarks as my brain struggled to come up with a good response. “You have to understand, Tangie. It’s not that I don’t like you or that I don’t appreciate the sentiment.” I took a deep breath and internally braced myself to utterly crush all of Tangie’s last hopes and dreams. “It’s just that I can’t really say the same. I mean, I like you like you, but I don’t know if I can love another mare. It’s just weird to me.”

“And I know that!” Tangie protested. “I was going to learn how to turn into a stallion, just for you! I could be both! I want—wanted to be with you. What about then? Could you have loved me then?”

I firmly planted my hoof over her muzzle. “Nope. Nope, nope, nope.” Philosophy or whatever this counted as wasn’t one of my strong suits, and I really didn’t want to argue it. I saw the hurt beginning to form in Tangie’s eyes and I realized exactly what I’d said in context. “Wait! That’s not what I meant. Back the gender express up.”

Wording here was so diabolically sensitive that I hesitated to explain myself. “I’m not going to even start arguing the existentialism of gender and all that crap. I don’t care. Maybe it would work, maybe it wouldn’t. All I know is that I really, really, really like dicks, so also by extension also the thing attached to it as well. I haven’t bothered putting in any thought on the contrary, what with all the angst and disappointment. All I can really say is that maybe I’d be okay with Guygerine, but I’m not entirely sure it’d be the same. Does that work for you?” No need to bring up the fact that Rumcake might have scared me sideways to Tangie after all.

With that hastily-planned speech out of my mind, I let out a relieved sigh. To my great surprise, Tangie wasn’t bawling or trying to kill me. Honestly, she didn’t seem that upset at all. “I know. I just needed to say it.” Wiping away an—imaginary?—tear, she weakly chuckled and said, “You know what the other scribes called me when they were getting to know me?”

Her actual name? “Tangerine?” I automatically guessed. I was already too busy trying to come up with a joke that involved gender and the changing of the gender fluid, a la headlight fluid.

Tangie mirthlessly huffed at me. “Coffee. Now that I think about it, it all makes sense.”

“Yes, because coffee is orange and adorable. I see it now,” I dryly observed.

The barest hints of a sad wry grin appeared on Tangie’s face. “They call me Coffee because I’m really bitter and most ponies don’t like me without changing some aspect of what I am.”

Ouch. Right in my cold, dead heart. “That makes me feel like an asshole, thanks.” The little hole where Gale used to be reminded me that I probably deserved it.

“Sorry, it’s just how I am.” If the look she was giving the floor was any indication, she was already sulking.

“If it’s any consolation…” I exhaled exasperatedly. There was really only one way to stop all this mopey nonsense, even if it literally metaphorically tore me apart on the inside. I jabbed her on the nose. “This does not leave this plane of existence. Ever.” No time like the present and now was a good time before I got regrets.

“Wh—” was all that made it out of her mouth before I headbutted her in it. With my mouth. Violently. With tongue. Both of us were equally surprised by the force I was putting in it.

Hey, give us a minute. Perv.

~~~~~

Tangie was still gushing over the kiss. Every time I tried to get up and wander away from divorce court, she would grab my closest body part and launch into more detailed descriptions that were causing me to turn increasingly red. At least I knew I wasn’t a terrible kisser. In my mind it made up for everything I’d done to her throughout our adventures. And it probably served as a ‘sorry I tried to murder you’ as well.

The adorable lovestruck unicorn continued to cling to my left foreleg. “So… are you super gay now?” she cooed. That better not have been hope in her voice.

Although thinking about it, I hadn’t really cared that much. Either I was in denial and ‘this is for Tangie’ drowning out my true feelings or I simply just still didn’t like it. “Not feelin’ it. Definitely more weird than hot,” I admitted. “Dunno, though. I’ll swap the ol’ gender fluid and take it around for another thousand miles.” Who was a witty pony? I was a witty pony.

Tangie frowned, but at least she wasn’t all upset and whiny about it. “That’s, uh. I mean—” She ended up staring right into my eyes and that somehow got her all flustered. Stammering, she blurted, “There’s a McHayburger’s down here. Wanna catch up over some shakes?”

Wat.

X~~~X

Since I was the only one left that Rumcake had to do his dirty work, it came down to me to somehow wrest Frosty back into his good graces. “Sparkle, get me more ammo. Sparkle, dig a new latrine. Sparkle, tell me I’m pretty,” I outwardly bemoaned. “Sparkle, Sparkle, Sparkle. Sheesh. He’s taking the breakup hard.” The worst part was, each Ranger he’d lost made Rumcake that much more self-loathing. Losing Tangie had been a tremendous blow to him—and me. Frosty had been the last straw.

So it was up to me, the great and overworked Sparkle to save the dragon, slay the princess, and do the laundry all before I returned to Rumcake. Several residents had helpfully pointed me in the direction of where Frosty had gone, thereby saving me a whole load of effort. Too bad nopony was willing to help me move rubble to climb stairs. As I neared the top, I heard Frosty talking to herself again. There was a better chance of a favorable outcome if I waited for an opening where I could interject without interrupting, so I decided to wait.

“...can do it. It’s been ages since I did this on my own.”

“Then let me!”

“How did Frosty even get around like this? This leg doesn’t even have sensory feedback.”

“I can work it. C’mon! Let me drive. Gimme, gimme, gimme!”

“I cannot have you murdering everything that moves now that you have no conscience.”

“You’re no fuuuuun.”

After listening to all that, I resolutely decided that negotiating with a crazy mare could wait until later. Laundry however, waited for nopony.


Footnote: Frosty provided solace.
New Perk: Desperate Measures – You’ve failed once. You won’t let it happen again. Taking fatal damage instead sets you at a single health point, increasing all your SPECIAL stats by 2 for a short period of time.

Author's Note:

This chapter was a huge disaster to put together. Fallout 4, life, vacation, communication. Glad it's finally done. As a reminder, opinions in this fictitious piece of literature involving small talking nuclear horses do not necessarily reflect upon me or my editors.

Featuring special guests Sewn Britches- from Adder1's The Last Sentinel, and Nosedive- from guest writer Relentless's Frozen Skies.

Also welcome new editor LeprechaunPoni!

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