• Published 17th Nov 2011
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Fallout: Equestria- The Last Sentinel - Adder1



It's hard to kill memories when you remember everything.

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Chapter Fourteen: Murphy Can Go to Hell

Chapter Fourteen: Murphy Can Go to Hell

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And wouldn't you know it? It looks like we're back to a full audience. Well, I'm not here to keep you waiting.

Join me.

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<====ooO Ooo====>

Click-clack, clickety-clak went Midnight Talon and Silver Skean. I just couldn't help it. I felt the itch ever since my magic returned, and I needed it scratched- particularly after yesterday. Yesterday was... trying for me, to say the least.

“Frost,” Rig snapped from across the fire. “Seriously, make water for us already.”

My horn flared up an icy blue and I hastily formed a pair of cylinders, melting the insides to form cups of cool water for her and Azrael. In seconds, I went right back to playing with the balisongs as I condensed a bit of moisture to sip up for myself. I was doing some experimenting this time, performing techniques independently rather than mirroring the blades. I was sloppy at first, and I actually dropped one or both of them a few times. I just had to take it slowly, work myself up.

Rig facehoofed as I continued. “Frost. Really. Stop it.”

Midnight Talon snapped shut. Silver Skean unfortunately clattered to the cave floor, earning yet another scuff mark. “... I'm sorry,” I apologized, stowing them away and sublimating my ice arms.

“Let's just get things over with,” Azrael spoke with a slight edge to her tone, “then we can deal with the emotional baggage.” Rig and I shared a moment's glance, nodding in uneasy agreement. “So. What's the plan now?”

“We head to Stable Seventy-Two now, right?” Rig looked, almost leered at me.

I opened my mouth... and then frowned. “We might have a problem. We don't have any RadAway or Rad-X, do we?”

“I have some,” Azrael responded. “It's all I managed to scrounge from Alhambronco.”

“Show me.”

And so she did, opening up her saddlebags. “Will this be enough?”

“The Rad-X is fine, but...” I shook my head. “RadAway's not even close.”

“Let me guess,” Rig grumbled. “The Far North has pockets of heavy radiation.”

“To be more precise, it's one huge pocket of heavy radiation.” I flattened my lips. “Radioactive snow and ice abound. I have no problem with radiation. You two, on the other hand...”

“And now you're immune to radiation?” Rig huffed.

“Don't ask how- I don't know myself,” I sighed. This was going to be a long day. I could tell already, this was going to be a long, long day. “I just know that I am, or I'd be dead several times over.”

“How deep into the Far North is your Stable?” Azrael inquired.

“About a half-day's flight,” I replied. “We'll need at least ten doses of RadAway. For both of you. And that's a conservative estimate.”

“That bad?” the griffin huffed.

“It's alicorn heaven, to put it simply. And all it took was a single airburst balefire bomb...”

“Hold on a sec.” Rig stared. Her photoreceptor was still exposed, though the metal plate that formed her face was now mostly covered back up. “'Alicorn?' As in... Princess Celestia and Princess Luna?”

“Yes, what do you mean?” Azrael questioned.

“You mean to tell me that you haven't heard of them?” I raised an eyebrow.

“Only rumors, rumors that alicorns do exist,” the griffin replied. She glanced at Rig. “And I meant new alicorns.”

I frowned. “Well, they're not just rumors.”

They both stared at me.

“Say what?”
“Beg pardon?”

“I have no idea how, but alicorns do indeed roam the Wasteland,” I explained. “They're not hostile, thankfully. They usually just invite you to join this... 'Unity.' Something about evolution, converting unicorns into alicorns because they thrive in the Wastes. And they do- radiation heals them instead of harming them. I don't know about taint or enervation, though.”

“Only unicorns?” Azrael raised an eyebrow

“Only unicorns are invited to join this 'Unity' of theirs. Nopony else and nobody else can join, not even ghouls.”

“So I take it you've encountered them before?” Azrael inquired. I merely nodded in response. “What's your stance on them?”

“I...” I sighed. “I don't know. They downright epitomize blasphemy of the Goddesses, but...” Another sigh. “Just don't ask me about them. I try not to think about them. I'm just glad they're not hostile.”

Remember, folks, this was forty years ago. Things are... different now. But back to the story...

“We'll work it out when the time comes,” Rig spoke up. “Now, what's the Far North like? You came from there, right?”

“And I was born there,” I replied, nodding. “It's much like you'd expect given the name. Snow, rocks, ice. Nowadays, just throw in some magical radiation.”

“That's it?” Azrael raised a near-invisible eyebrow, skeptical.

“That's it,” I answered. “The only things we might encounter up there are alicorns and feral ghouls. Flying should allow us to get by most of them without trouble, and snowstorms won't be an issue with me around. That leaves the radiation as the sole problem.”

“So where are we gonna get the RadAway, then?” asked Rig.

“Well, I was hoping that there would be more... here...” I wanted to avoid saying her name. “We'll have to find another town and hope that they have some.”

Rig gave me a half-lidded stare, photoreceptor partly closed. “That's a terrible plan.”

“Do you have anything better to suggest?” I challenged her, voice firm. Right words, right way.

“We could go to Stalliongrad,” she answered. “I mean, you said snow's radioactive, right? They should have tons of RadAway.”

“Which they won't give away,” I rebutted. “Trust me- getting the RadAway in the first place in sufficient amounts is hard enough for the people there. They won't be willing to part with it if they're already struggling to get enough to last them.”

Rig crossed her forelegs with a huff. “Fine...”

“Where are we going to try first?” Azrael inquired. “Vealville probably hates us, and the same can be said of Hoofstead. Tenpony Tower perhaps?”

“As much as I hate that place...” I grumbled, leaning back, “fine, it's an option. It'll be on our itinerary. Look, I've been in the Wasteland for a while, I'm sure you can imagine. I know the land well. There's a town nearby, due a few kilometers southeast of the Great Mid-Equestrian Divide. Or, at least, there should be.”

“Why do I get the idea I'm not going to like where this is going?” Rig sighed.

“It's been thirty years since I was last there. I'm not sure if it's still around. And, if it is, I have no idea what state the town is in.”

“What's the name of this town?” Azrael questioned.

“Cutthroat.”

The griffin blinked. “No comment.”

Rig facehoofed. “Yeah, I don't like where this is going.”

With that, I laid the plan out. “We'll touch down on the outskirts, check to see if the town's still standing. If it is, we'll only stick around long enough to shop and get out. I don't want to stick around that place, but we're hurting for RadAway and,” I opened up my saddlebags to check, “I have only two mags left of THV. Now, if there's nothing else to be said or done, let's get moving.”

* * *

Well, Cutthroat was still standing, at least. The town was situated in what was left of a section of suburban housing and businesses. Of the scarce few buildings that survived the spellfire apocalypse and made up the town, several of the buildings had collapsed since I last stopped by. What was left looked like an inn, a restaurant of sorts, and a couple of houses encircled by a thin wall of scrap and barbed wire. Rubble and debris littered the cracked streets strewn with rubbish. And it was tiny. All of Cutthroat could have easily fit inside the department store at Vealville.

“I'm not seeing any griffins,” I reported. Yet again, we were scouting the town out from afar, lingering near gently rolling hills of dust and dirt. “Picking any up, Azrael?”

“None,” Azrael responded. “But we may have some problems. Three to be exact.”

My eyes locked onto a trio of earth ponies starting out from the restaurant, my vision blurring for a moment as I focused my ice lenses. They were clad in gunmetal-gray power armor that covered every inch of their bodies, including their tails. Respirator units formed from their muzzles, and a single headlight hung over their dark eye holes. Heavy battle saddles sat on their backs.

“Wonderful.” I frowned. “Town's intact, but we've got three Steel Rangers.”

“Yes.” Azrael nodded. “They're on a supply run for the local chapter it seems.”

“Day keeps on getting better and better doesn't it?” Rig sighed.

“Azrael, is there a store still standing at all here, and does it have RadAway?” I asked. “We shouldn't go down there if we don't have to.”

“Hm.” That was not a good Hm from her. “I've got good news and bad news.”

“Alright, let's hear the bad news first,” I grumbled.

“It coincides with the good news actually,” she spoke. I didn't like where this was going. The last notable time this happened, a flamethrower was involved. “The good news is that there is a store. It's in the restaurant. It's actually a bar, to be exact. The bad news is that the shopkeeper and bartender is a ghoul.”

Rig frowned. “So you can't tell if there's RadAway.”

“No, I can't. We'll have to see for ourselves.”

“Well... the Steel Rangers won't be a problem, right?” Rig asked. “I just have to keep my helmet down.”

I tapped my chin, sublimating my ice lenses. “It'll probably be easier if I just head in by myself to handle-” They both glared at me. “... or not.” I pointed at Rig. “But you've got a PipBuck.”

“I got it, I got it,” she huffed. “No biggie.” Her horn flared up, and the device winked away a few seconds later. “See?” She flipped her welding helmet down over her face. “They won't suspect a thing!”

“Fair enough,” I grunted, standing up. Ice crinkled over me, reshaping as I assumed my standard female disguise. After a few minutes of adjusting and taking a look in a reflective square, I asked, “How do I look?” My voice was suitably softer and lighter.

“Pretty hot,” Rig remarked. That earned a stare from both myself and Azrael. “Er, I meant good enough!”

“... right then. Let's go. And let this be a warning- watch your saddlebags.”

Well, nopony stopped us at the gate on the way in. Rather, there was nopony to stop us. Not a single town guard was around to patrol the area. We were getting a few stares from the ponies lingering on the streets, mostly directed to the midnight-black giant at my side.

“Mind your left,” Azrael spoke calmly to Rig. The mare wheeled to find an earth pony walking toward her from behind, now quickly veering away not that she caught sight of him. Then her KP-12 started lifting away on her other side, wrapped in a yellow glow. She looked around just enough to catch it in her peripheral vision and teleported it away into her own gray field. A unicorn on the other side of the street walked back into an alleyway nonchalantly.

“Bastards...” Rig grumbled. “Town should be called Cutpurse.”

“Again, watch your saddlebags,” I repeated.

But now we had a different problem- the Steel Rangers were also heading straight for us.

“Shit, why're they coming at us?” Rig whispered.

“Dammit, because I'm wearing Dead Boys armor.” Azrael scowled. “Not good. I should have gleaned further. The local chapter knows of the technology they possess.”

“Just let me handle the talking,” I shot at them. “Stay quiet. I can handle this.”

“Halt!” The lead Ranger commanded, drawing us to a stop as we met. His voice was slightly distorted and muffled by the helmet. “Identify yourselves, savages.”

Oh, of course. Those type of Steel Rangers. Let's see... the lead Ranger who addressed us was armed with a pair of IF-36H light machine guns. The second was equipped with a XM-32 AGL grenade machine gun and a Rackingwell CZ-42 minigun. The third had a boxy magical energy rifle (I couldn't identify the model) and a M220 FLASH (I gulped) multi-tube rocket launcher. Confrontation would be ... less than ideal.

I motioned to my friends. “I'm Ginger Snap, that's Rig, and that's Soraya. We're just passing through.”

“Hm. You, griffin- are you with The Dead Boys?”

“No, she's-” I started.

“I didn't ask you, savage. Last I checked, the griffin has a beak to speak with. Now,” He turned to face Azrael, “are you with The Dead Boys, griffin?”

“I speak for her,” I said firmly. “She is not-”

“Shut your mouth, or I'll blow it off!” the Ranger snapped. “Last time- are you with The Dead Boys, griffin?”

“No,” Azrael replied flatly.

“Really now?” He challenged her, maintaining his stance despite his almost comically puny size in comparison. “You wear the armor, and it's tailor-made for some... thing... of your size.” Yep. That type.

“I am disavowed,” she spoke, keeping calm.

“Well, whatever the case is,” the Ranger huffed, “you're coming with us.”

“Under whose authority?” I asked, voice level.

“Mine.” He turned to me. “Don't get your panties in a knot. We're just taking it in for questioning.”

“And you would be?”

“Paladin Chocolate Pudding.”

I managed to keep a straight face, and Azrael was able to do the same. Rig, however, let out an involuntary snort of laughter.

“Think that's funny, savage?” he growled, leaning forward and kicking up her welding helmet before any of us realized what he was doing.

Nobody moved for a full five seconds. I tensed.

“Well well well, what do we have here?” the Ranger to his left, a mare, chuckled. “Looks like we've got a cyberpony, sir.”

“And what a find it is...” Chocolate Pudding nickered, turning back to me. “Well, it looks like we're detaining both of your friends, savage.”

“I'm afraid you'll be doing no such thing.” I glared at him.

“You have no say in the matter,” the paladin huffed. With a single nod of the head, three sets of battle saddles were primed and ready and the Rangers shifted to the side to surround us. Rig gritted her teeth, her indigo eye glancing between them while Azrael remained impassive and immobile. “We have the authority to use lethal force if you do not comply, and we are not afraid to use it.” As if to make a point, all three of them took aim at us.

“See, there's a problem with that,” I spoke, sublimating the ice in my throat all the while so that my voice warped back to its normal, grave tone. The paladin's head tilted in confusion. I pressed my hoof to my hidden breastplate. “In moon's shadow.” As my senses sharpened and my fur darkened, I sublimated my disguise to give the appearance of “growing” out my armor. I fought to maintain a stern expression- I wanted to smirk very, very much as they drew back in surprise.

“Twilight fucking Sparkle...” the third Ranger stallion murmured.

“I report to a higher authority,” I finished. I glanced at Rig and Azrael and nodded. I sprouted an ice arm and popped Midnight Talon open in a helix technique, Rig teleported Luna's Fortitude out beside her in her gray aura, and Azrael drew up on her hindlegs. Her wingblades shrieked as they punched into the cracked road, and Valkyrie sparked open to bathe us in its eldritch, green glow. I should remind you that the scythe itself is considerably taller than a pony is long. I noticed that a pony intent on pickpocketing from Rig promptly stiffened up and started backing away, eyes shrunk to tiny pinpricks. “Now, then. I suggest you leave.”

The two lower-ranked Steel Rangers started backing away, but one look from Paladin Chocolate Pudding and they straightened out. To his credit, he at least tried not to look terrified by us. Turning back to me, he scoffed, “Are you threatening a Steel Ranger with a fancy kni-”

I cut him off by lashing out with a snarl. The chamber of his right LMG fell apart. He flinched and shut up right quick. He was showing weakness. Push in. Infiltrate and exploit.

“Yes, I am threatening you with a fancy knife,” I growled, twirling my balisong around dangerously, using Hoofdinis and Vipers to keep them guessing when I would flash the blade out. “One with a blade fashioned from a hellhound claw. Ask your Elder if he's heard about a certain 'Sentinel.' He may remember a unicorn who got very angry when a Steel Ranger patrol group tried to detain him for his armor. One last time.” The blade flashed open with a Zen Rollover. “I suggest you leave.”

“I will not stand for this,” Paladin Pudding growled.

I glanced at his legs long enough for him to notice. With a Half Twirl, Midnight Talon was in a backhand grip. “That can be arranged.”

“Salsa, Pop, prepare-”

He turned around to find his follow Rangers running away.

He looked back at us before galloping after them. “I'll see you two reprimanded for this!”

We held our ground for the next few seconds as they fled. After they were out of earshot, Rig and I promptly burst into laughter while she winked her AKMB away and Azrael put away her ghostfire scythe, settling back down onto all fours.

“Hah, that was so awesome!” Rig whooped.

“I'll admit that went well given the circumstances,” Azrael said stoically.

“Hoo... hoo...” Rig calmed down, giving me a playful punch on the back. “That was so bad... ass...” Her laughter died quickly and her expression grew serious again. My jovial expression vanished with it. Yikes. Everypony staring at us didn't make matters any better. Rig punched me again, hard enough to make me wobble a little. “But this doesn't change anything, foal killer.”

Well... that stung. “Uh... right.” I coughed, the mood quickly ruined. “To the bar, then?”

Rig was already heading there. She reached a hoof up to swing her welding helmet back down, but she hesitated. “Oh, what's the use...?” she grumbled as she continued on her way inside, teleporting out a cigarette into her mouth with a gray flash and lighting the tip. Azrael and I shared a momentary glance. Her expression was as blank as ever. I sighed and headed after her, the hybrid falling in step,

I smelled and heard the interior of the bar before I saw it. Alcohol, Dash fumes, cigarette smoke (not just from Rig) the raw smell of gunpowder, casual conversation, giant guffaws, chiding chuckles, loud laughter, snide snorting- all of it rushed out the moment Rig opened the door. Wincing from the sudden assault on my nostrils, I nevertheless pressed onward and inward. I needed to get used to this. I needed to.

The inside of this general store-restaurant-bar mishmash was much as I had expected. The interior consisted of a large, central bar area with an elliptical counter in which rows of shelves displayed the store's wares and the bar's liquor. While Miranda's wares stood attention like soldiers fresh from training camp, the bottles and jugs on the racks were haphazardly strewn about with no sense of order and mingled with the various food, ammunition, and medical supplies. The lighting was... off. It didn't feel right. It was dim- after all, there was no power- and specks of dust fluttered gently downward where the light streamed in from the boarded-up windows. The lighting just felt irritating to me, so wrong. It gave everything in the building a certain graininess, a certain grittiness. This was further reinforced by the almost completely wooden nature of the building's interior. Once polished, the deep brown surfacing was cracked raw with age. Spots and stains were everywhere- whether a given spot was from booze or blood I couldn't tell for sure. A particularly large shaft of light shone through the ceiling from where the section containing the restrooms caved in, the rubble forming an oddly comforting level of contrast in light and shadow. The old jukebox was spared from the destruction, but just barely- a large chunk of the overhanging ventilation had fallen only centimeters away.

Ponies of all walks of life populated the bar stools and the booths that formed another ellipse around the edges of the restaurant. Ponies bare, ponies armored, ponies in pre-war springtime wear, ponies that looked only a stone's throw away from a raider- I found it hard to focus on just one. My ears twitched, trying to pick up every piece of conversation- boasting over bounties, complaining over caps, groaning over gambling, chattering over chems. I could pick up everything with my ears. They twitched in a frenzy to all the conversation to the point that they vibrated constantly. My brain was trying to make sense of every single snippet I was taking it. All that information was coming in at once, the voices melting together into a steadily growing roar- the roar of the Wasteland, the roar of the big, empty bastard-

Take it easy, Frost. Settle down, take it easy. Compartmentalize. Divide. Focus only on what's necessary. Protect the Princess through any...

... means.

Best... forget that... last... part...

“Frost,” Azrael called to me.

I glanced at her. I had been standing still and blocking her way into the bar the whole time. I steeled myself and pushed forth into the cacophony. I muted what I didn't need and focused on what I did. I maintained my blank, hard expression. It's all in the façade.

Rig moved ahead and settled into an empty stool at the island bar. I settled down next to her. Azrael finally managed to slip inside with a horrendous scraping sound as her wingblades caught on the door's frame. It was at that point that everypony quieted down, first to a light hush and then to dead silence as all eyes fell on us. Yep. A unicorn mare with a cybernetic eye showing, a dracopony stallion in nightmarish armor, and a gigantic, ebony griffin who had to stoop her head in order to stand inside.

The bartender moved from around the other side of the messy stack of wares to get a look at the newcomers that hushed the entire room. He was indeed a ghoul pony, dressed in beaten, ratty trader wear that was partially stitched together. It had started falling apart at the seams, as if the wearer just gave up on keeping it in one piece. It seemed oddly fitting for the ghoul.

He looked at the three of us with his milky eyes, one-by-one. He grimaced and threw out his forelegs incredulously. “Is this some kinda joke?” he rasped.

Laughter- snorts, chuckles, snickers, yuk-yuks, guffaws- filled the room. I just regarded him with a blank, half-lidded stare. Azrael palmed her face. Rig just stared in confusion.

She said as much. “I don't get it.”

“A Lunar Guard, a cyberpony, and a giant griffin walk into a bar...” I murmured.

She promptly facehoofed. The act resulted in smashing her cigarette, and she replaced it with a grumble.

“So, what can I get for yehs?” the ghoul asked, leaning onto the counter. “Drinks? Hell, I think I might actually be a bit tipsy, lookin' at yehs.”

“No,” I answered, shaking my head. “We're looking for some supplies.”

“Boring,” he grunted. “Well, what can I-”

“Hey!” one of the bar-goers seated at the end called out. “Isn't that the one griffin with the bounty?”

The room fell quiet and all everypony stared right at us in almost comical unison. No... no wait, they were looking past us. Rig and I turned around back toward the door. There it was- a wanted poster featuring a hasty sketch of Azrael with a positively puny pony beside it for size comparison. Wanted for betrayal. Dead or alive- dead 2,000, alive 10,000.

And right next to it? Me, wanted for violation of bounty protocol. Dead or alive, dead 250, alive 500. All too conveniently, the sketch's shading made my change in appearance negligible.

Rig deadpanned. “Oh you've so got to be shitting me right now.”

I turned back to the crowd. I picked up a lot of sounds- namely clicking and the rubbing of metal against leather. I brandished Midnight Talon with a cherry picker and Night Fang in a flourish. Azrael tensed. Rig wisely levitated Luna's Fortitude out.

Alright, Frost. Right words, right way. “Folks, do you really want to pick a fight with us?” I growled, glancing at Azrael, namely the Kord 6P50 on her back. Ice armor shimmered over my form in a series of cracks.

A shot pinged off of my armor, and the room went to chaos.

“Oh Goddess-fucking-dammit!” Rig growled, vaulting behind the counter with me, both of us firing blindly to cover ourselves. Midnight Talon was at her throat in an instant, and she glared at me. “Frost! Really?!”

“Sorry!” I yelled in reply, turning away, ears tucked back from the clatter of gunfire. I poked up to hose down the opposite side of the bar with Night Fang to cover us. “Azrael, get clear of-”

I was cut off with a great whoosh of wind and a great crash followed by more light streaming into the building from the entryway. I looked back to see a gigantic hole where the door used to be and several sliced-up ponies. The coppery scent of blood filled my nostrils, making my slit-like pupils narrow as my vision focused. “What?” the giant snapped.

“Never mind, never mind!” I yelled back as Harbinger started opening up. Everything seemed to move just a little slower to me, myself a little faster. I inched back to deal with an earth pony with a sledgehammer who clambered into the bar to avoid the hail of gunfire. I lashed out with my blade, taking off his muzzle and the weapon with it. The coppery scent of blood filled my nostrils as I finished the gurgling bastard by lopping off the top half of his head.

“Too many, too close!” Rig growled, spraying with Luna's Fortitude. She fired almost silently amidst the boisterous gunfire and shouts before ducking back from the inevitable return fire. A throwing knife pinged off of her armored welding helmet, and she cringed as she started swapping out for a fresh triple mag.

“I... have to... agree!” I grunted, pulverizing a group of ponies pinned down by Azrael's ruthless barrage of 12.7 NSVT. I ducked down as bullets started rattling against my armor, taking a moment to speed-load a new magazine. Wait, Rig was reloading. I was reloading. Azrael wasn't firing anymore, probably reloading.

Horseapples.

An earth pony armed with a shotgun popped out from the other side of the counter and fired point-blank at my face before I could chamber the first round. The force of the buckshot at such close proximity cracked the ice and sent me staggering back into Rig, knocking her over and causing her magical fields to implode violently. The fresh magazine she was changing for flew across the room... and smacked into the jukebox.

“We... have got... to better coordinate ourselves!” I growled as I mentally berated myself for my slow reaction and hosed down the shotgun pony. I was surprised to hear the warped winding-up of the jukebox.

I was less-than-enthusiastic about the song that flipped on, though. A cheery, old beat as if from a beaten radio flowed in, quickly snapping back to our time and being joined in by drums and a cello. And...

Sun is shinin' in the sky!
There ain't a cloud in sight!
It's stop rainin'; ev'rybody's in a play!
An' don'tchu know-
it's a beauutiful new day, hey-yey!”

“Oh come on!” I pouted as I got off of Rig, repairing the cracks in my armor. “Mister Blue Sky? Seriously?” I sprayed out at a group of ponies to keep their heads down as I vaulted over the counter and rushed them. “Worst... battle music... ever!” (Runnin' down the avenue [pant, pant, pant, pant],)

“Not now, Frost!” Rig grunted, teleporting her magazine back and slamming it home (see how the sun shines brightly in the city,).

“Little help!” Azrael yelled from outside. A group of ponies made it to the doorway while we were occupied and were popping off shots (on the streets where once was piity!).

“Oh, fuck off!” the earth-coated unicorn growled and sprayed them down with extreme prejudice. She turned back and ducked to avoid a spray of gunfire that splintered the counter she was just propped over. “Frost, keep 'em busy, dammit!” (Mister Blue Sky's livin' here today, hey-yey!)

“I'm on it, I'm on it!” I yelled back (Mister Blue Sky, please tell us why). I slashed out with Midnight Talon at the nearest would-be hunter, a unicorn mare in combat armor. To her credit, she raised her combat knife to block in time, but my blade easily sliced clean through it- and her face. Emptying a bullet into her to make sure she stayed down (uselessly, now that Azrael started firing from outside again and punched out her spine in a spray of shattered vertebrae), I spun to give a hard buck into the stallion beside her (you had to hiiide away for sooo long [sooo long]! Where did we go wrong?). He fired wildly with his .44 Magnum revolver, but I heard a shatter and a fleshy rip as a lucky shot punched through my armor (Mister Blue Sky, please tell us why you had to hiiide away for sooo long [sooo long]!). I felt no pain as I rounded on him, but I fell short in my lunge and fell to my knees. I swore as Night Fang barked and cut him down, pockmarking him with great, many holes (Where did we go wrong?).

“Cover me!” I yelled, pulling myself under a booth table to inspect the damage. I took only a quick glance- not one but two Magnum rounds had punched through and tore up my hindleg. I downed a healing potion and waited for the wound to knit together (Hey, you with the pretty face!). A unicorn had other ideas as a Type 001 sub-machine gun poked down at me. This time, I reacted fast enough to knock the barrel aside and pushed back up over while the SMG spat into the wall. The unicorn, in the open with no cover, widened his eyes as I simply stabbed up into his gut with my balisong and yanked back (Welcome to the poonyy race!). His intestines spilled like a piñata gone wrong. “I said cover me!” I growled at Rig as the stallion swayed before slumping into his own viscera. I was already back on my feet and moving onto the next group.

“Well sorry for being too occupied to save the foal killer!” she snapped, viciously plunging her AKMB's spike bayonet into an earth pony mare's throat and ripping it out (A celebration- Mister Blue Sky's up there waitin', and today is the day we've waited for, ah-ah!). She then rounded toward me. “Duck!” I did so as she fired into the Wastelander behind me as I simultaneously delivered a buck to his bullet-riddled face and continued to focus on the one before me. “There, happy?” (Mister Blue Sky, please tell us why you had to hiiide away for sooo long [sooo long]! Where did we go wrong?)

“No, I had him!” I retorted, kicking my adversary's foreleg out to cause him to fall forward to the floor and stabbing into the brain case with Midnight Talon (Hey there, Mister Blue! We're so pleased to be with you!).

“Well better late than never, huh?” Rig huffed, then balked as her cigarette got shot out of her mouth. She glared at the mare who struggled to cycle the jammed bolt action on her hunting rifle. “That...” The cyber teleported her throwing shovel out and caught her in the face, “was my last one!” (Look around, see what you do! Ev'rypony smiles at you!)

“Hold your fire!” Azrael called from outside, starting to head back in. The right side of her neck was bloodied and she was favoring her left foreleg- she was clutching her other bloody hand. “They're done.” (Hey there, Mister Blue! We're so pleased to be with you!)

I scanned the room, moving about slowly but menacingly. The few ponies left were cowering or had simply hid under the tables the entire fight. I advanced toward one, and he tensed, backing up further. (Look around, see what you do! Ev'rypoony smiles at you!). They were, in fact, done. Glancing about the rest of the room, the restaurant somehow managed to look even more trashed-up than before. Tables were overturned, wood was splintered from bullet holes big and small, and the central shelves were a mess from their shattered contents. That's, of course, ignoring the twenty-five new bodies littering the floor and the jagged hole that remained of the doorway (Mister Blue Sky!).

“You alright, Azrael?” I asked her as she downed a pair of healing potions in quick succession, her wounds starting to stitch up.

“I'll live,” she replied, stoic as ever. She flexed her mending claw experimentally before punching at the floor. She splayed out her talons and settled back down with a nod of approval (Miiiiister Bluuuuuue Skyyyyyyy!).

“Rig?” I turned to the cyber.

“Fine, fine,” the cloud-maned mare huffed, then added icily, “Shouldn't you be more concerned with yourself?”

“My... self?” Oh, dammit. I started checking for bullet wounds. Uh... yikes. My ice armor was cracked in multiple places- reddened by my spilled blood, in fact (Miiisterr Bluuue Skyyyyy-yyyyy!). My previously injured hindleg had torn up again while in the process of mending and ripped open again. I cracked the seal on another healing potion and slugged it down appropriately. Rig just shook her head.

Meanwhile, the bartender ghoul slowly rose up from behind the other side of the counter, where he hid the entire time. He looked around the restaurant, raising his forehooves to his head in incredulity. His milky-white eyes locked with mine and Azrael's. (Mister Blue, you did it right,)

I saw his muzzle dip down toward his foreleg, and adrenaline rushed to my head. Time slowed to a crawl and I brought up Night Fang, taking aim at his TMP machine pistol as he brought it up. As my finger tensed around the trigger, I was surprised to find the weapon shot out of his muzzle. My reflexes wound down and I looked to see Rig advance on the ghoul with Luna's Fortitude, backing him up against the shelves of merchandise as Azrael and I advanced toward him (but soon comes Mister Night creepin' over! Now his hand is on your shoulder!).

“Celestia's flaming tits!” he babbled. I sprang on him in an instant, Midnight Talon hovering over his eye. “Holy fuck! Holy fuck! What do you want?!” (Never mind, I'll remember you this-)

“We just-” I paused. “We just- oh for the love of-” I turned around and emptied a burst into the jukebox (I-I-I-I'll rememrmbrrr yrrrrr jshhhhhhhh... wrrrrrrrrrrrrr...).

I blinked and eased up a little, my response coming out a little more innocently that I intended. “We just want some RadAway...”

* * *

As chance would have it, he had RadAway. Twenty packets, in fact.

As my luck would have it, exactly thirteen of them had punctured during the wild shots during the firefight. Thirteen.

“My bad,” Azrael apologized.

“Ugh...” I facehoofed. “We'll take all of it, all healing supplies, and all seven-six-two. THV would be nice, if you have any.”

The ghoul deadpanned at us. “Ten-thousand caps.”

I deadpanned right back. We only had maybe two-thousand with us right now, though that barred the trading goods we were packing. “You sure don't look new to this bartering business.”

He smacked his rotten lips and swept his hoof around to indicate the destroyed restaurant around him. By now, everypony else had (wisely) left. “For damages.” He leaned across the counter. “And for keeping my lips sealed if anypony asks about you two.”

I raised an eyebrow. Two can play at that game. “Damages, hm? Suppose I do pay that astronomical fee. What are you going to do with it?”

“Beg yeh pardon?” The patch of skin when his eyebrow used to be raised to mirror mine.

“What are you going to do with all those caps?” I repeated. “Not like they have any repairponies anywhere close around here. Not like they have any wood anywhere close around here for that matter. Just patch it up with scrap and sheet metal. You've got plenty of it lying around.” He opened his mouth to rebut. “And you don't have to leave town for it.”

The ghoul pony frowned. “Six-thousand. No lower.”

“Just to stay tight-lipped?” I swapped eyebrows.

“With a total ten-five-hundred bounty on your heads, that's a helluva fuckin' deal,” he nickered. “Now pay up.”

“I hate to interrupt,” Azrael spoke, “but bearing in mind that there are already nineteen ponies here who witnessed my presence, I frankly see it pointless to pay you to cover it up.” She loomed closer. “Even if you were planning to stay quiet.”

“Well, I still want my caps,” the ghoul growled.

I shrugged. “You asked.”

And then we proceeded to dump out what we managed to scavenge from the Manehattan and Alhambronco raiders, the Dead Boys at Vealville, and the, uh... things we didn't need from Miranda's store...

I alone gave him a FN F200, a Calicolt AR, a Phantom M4, a pair of tire irons, a Carcano rifle, three combat knives, a R91, a Spitzer 977, several piles of scrap metal, and a bottle of whiskey. By the time we were all done, we couldn't even see him behind the counter.

“And you can have all of what’s on the bodies,” I finished.

The ghoul bartender peeked out from around the counter, took one look at the pile, and then looked back at me. “The hell are yeh?”

“Me?” I smiled. “I'm the Sentinel, that's a Stable cyberpony, and that's the Angel of Death. How's that for a bar joke?”

* * *

A few minutes later, we were on our way out of the town. We were attracting a lot of stares.

Azrael spoke up first, “Well, on the bright side- don't even think about it.” An earth pony colt reaching up into her saddlebags froze before slinking away. “He's still thinking about it. Well, on the bright side, we've got some RadAway, a carton of cigarettes, and more ammunition. Especially for your IF-55, Frost.”

“Even if it's only five mags' worth,” I sighed, eying Rig as she teleported out another cigarette, hesitated, and slipped it back into the packet. “Can we talk, Rig?”

“What is there to talk about?” the cyber grunted, limping along.

“Please?”

She hesitated, sighed, and spat, “What?”

“If we're going to work together, we're going to have to work as a team,” I told her. “We can't let our... personal disputes... get between us in a life-death situation like that.”

“Coming from the buck who went in solo to kill a mother and daughter,” the cyber snorted.

“Rig...”

She wheeled on me. “What, you expect me to forgive you just like that? I said I was sorry for beating the shit out of you last night. That doesn't mean I forgive you, not even close.”

“Rig,” Azrael called.

“What?” she snapped.

“I've killed hundreds of innocents,” the avian spoke as if boasting about it. “That includes women and children. I pulverized them or let them burn.” Her tone grew stern, acidic. “You knew this from the onset, both of you. You knew this from the moment I asked to join you two. Did that change how you viewed me?”

Rig stiffened, mouth taut as she looked away.

“And what of you?” Azrael questioned. “You've got blood on your hooves. You killed griffins that night back in Stalliongrad, and without remorse. Did it occur to you that they might have been parents, children, brothers, sisters? What about the raiders in the Manehattan suburbs? Vealville? Alhambronco Here? Now to be fair, they were all trying to kill us. But that doesn't change the fact that you still killed without a second thought like anyone else out here.”

“Azrael,” I sighed cool mist. “That's enough.” I looked back at Rig. She was averting her gaze, her eyes shifting back and forth as if contemplating one thing and another.

“I merely wish to offer perspective on the matter,” the griffin said, turning to me.

“But you forgot your context,” I spoke firmly to her. “You went too far.”

The giant regarded me for a few seconds and relaxed. “Forgive me.”

I turned back to Rig, watching her just stare at the ground. “Let's take a break here. Let's just gather our thoughts and plan our next move.”

* * *

I could hear him, the big, empty bastard. I could hear the Wasteland's laughter. The Wasteland is everywhere, everything- and it corrupts everything, everywhere. Looking at Rig as we stopped and ate in the land of blood and dust, I could feel the Wasteland poking holes in her defenses and infiltrating her.

We ate quickly and in quiet. After the ear-numbing firefight just a little over an hour ago, the silence was deafening. It left my ears ringing as if in the aftermath of a nearby explosion (I thought back just a few days ago, on the way to Hoofstead, and the grenade; I quickly snuffed that flash of memory out). I was happy for any noise, even if it be something as vile as the whisper of the Wasteland's wicked wind.

I couldn't take it. I had to activate the transmorgrification charm. I reached a hoof up... and hesitated. No. I had to take it. I had to. I can deal with it. I can endure. I just... had to do something. I settled with sprouting a pair of scraggly arms and undoing the clasps on my neck. I removed my helm, ran a hoof through my spiky, unkempt mane, and let out a misty sigh.

That earned a glance from the other two- a sign of life, at the very least. Rig glanced at me for a moment. Her “eye” was starting to grow back. I thought the photoreceptor alone to be unsettling; seeing the white and part of her iris reform clashed with it and gave it an even more disturbing look. She finally gave in and winked out a cigarette, lit the tip, took a deep drag.

“I'm starting to see why people like this...” she muttered around it. Exhaling the fumes through her nostrils (which sent mine twitching in irritation), she turned to me. “Sorry.”

I looked up at her in question.

“You're both right,” Rig sighed and ruffled up her mane. “As usual. Just...” she sighed again, “I guess I expected too much. You come in and save me, help me, train me...” Another sigh. We were a big group of sighs now. “You just seemed so amazing to me. Your were always just trying to help. I mean, you were bounty hunting before you met me. Then you just dropped what you were doing and do all this even if there's no reward in the end. I guess... I guess I just built you up on this... this pedestal, I guess. You said you were corrupted- hell, I saw how you acted around Silas and the bastard Sewn Britches.” She shook her head and lifted up her PipBuck. “Only a few weeks ago.” She let her foreleg fall. “Not even a month. Damn.” She looked at me again with that unsettling natural-unnatural gaze. “Just... sorry.”

“Don't apologize,” I said, closing my eyes and exhaling deeply. “I... violated our trust. I couldn't face the fire. I... I don't know if I still can.” I paused for a moment to open my eyes and stare out into the bleakness. “You know... when I was torturing Langson, I hated him because he thought three-thousand pieces of machine-pressed metal were worth more than all those lives. I hated him because I made that mistake so long ago. I hated him because of how similar we were. And... look at me now, doomed myself by repeating the past.” I snorted. “I killed to keep my secrets buried. Not even material things- secrets. I bet the bastard is laughing at me in hell.” I clicked my tongue and shook my head. “I'm such a hypocrite. And the funny thing? I hate hypocrites. I guess that makes me the king of hypocrites.” Another shake of my head and a long pause. “I'm rambling theatrically, aren't I?”

“Yes,” they both answered.

“Agh,” I growled, pressing a hoof to my face and letting it slide off. “I'm sorry. I really am. But... I know that it can't ever be enough.”

The cloud-maned mare looked at me for a long time, letting her cigarette slowly crumple into ash. Finally, she said, “I can't forgive you. Not completely, at least. I'll try to forget, though. I'll try to focus on the good. I'll try” She took another deep drag and looked back at Cutthroat. Suddenly, she started chuckling.

“Rig?” I canted my head, eying her.

“Ahhhhh... sorry, sorry.” She eased off. “Just thought- every single city or town we've been to? Always gets trashed by the time we leave.”

“A keen observation,” Azrael huffed. I caught the ghost of a sarcastic smile on her beak.

And suddenly, I found myself chuckling too. Now I was the one being eyed, though the light smiles were a nice change of pace. “What's so funny?” Rig asked. I kept laughing, perhaps a touch crazily. “Frost! Seriously!”

“Hah... heh... well,” I smirked at her, “now I don't mind stopping by Tenpony Tower next.”

The young mare snorted, “Is it really that bad?”

“Imagine everypony inside- specifically everypony- like one of those Steel Rangers, just without the armor and a bit more glitz,” I answered. “Yeah, it's really that bad, save maybe a couple ponies. DJ PoN3 and maybe an assistant. If Beat Blaze's advice got through that is...” I cringed a little upon remembering him.

“D'oh!” Rig facehoofed. “Why do I keep on forgetting to turn it on?” She fiddled with her PipBuck, and soon, the familiar, deep voice of the DJ came over the air, beating back the laughter of the Wastes.

-activity in the Trottingham area. For those who're there, keep your eyes peeled. In other news, a pilgrim bound for Stalliongrad informed me that Alhambronco, the one-stop-shop town in the Great Mid-Equestrian Divide, was burned to the ground. No survivors. Now folks, I have no idea who did this or what motivation they had, sorry to say. I mean, that town was so isolationist it puts Caledonia to shame sometimes. If anypony, anyone out there has any more dirt on the dust- children, let ol' PoN3 know, alright? That town was the link for anypony who ain't a griffin to get to Stalliongrad. With that town dead, traffic between the Capital Wasteland and the Far North is gonna trickle to a halt.”

The three of us shared a momentary glance.

More trouble on the horizon, folks. Remember The Dead Boys, those griffins I told you 'bout earlier? For whatever reason, they are, in fact, relocating from the Westerns. Reports are coming in that their leaders are arriving in the Capital Wastes. I've got next to nothing on these bastards, but for the time being, treat 'em as raiders. Don't deal with them- just don't. Vealville's already gone dark, with eyewitness reports detailing some sort of, and I quote, 'chain-armed freak show.' To those in the area, steer clear of Vealville. Assume it to be destroyed.”

I flattened my lips, and we shared another glance.

Sorry for all the depressing news, children, but you know how it is. I'm here to bring you the news, no matter how bad it hurts. Let's cheer you up with a little bit o' something wicked this way comes, hm?”

No way. Absolutely no way.

Yes way! That familiar oldies guitar intro trickled in, and I found myself slowly cracking a smile as I started singing out (much to Rig's and Azrael's astonishment).

I was walkin' down the street when out the corner of mah eye,
I saw a pretty little thing approachin' meeeee!
She said, 'I've never seen a buck who looks so all alone-
ah could you use a little company-hyyyy?'”

Their surprise faded and I was greeted in turn with smiles as we rose up to our feet and started off.

'If you pay the right price, your evening will be nice,
or you can go n' send me on mah wayyyyy!'
I said, 'You're such a sweet young thing- why'd you do this to yourself?'
She looked at me, and this is what she said:

'Ohh, there ain't no rest for the wicked!
Moooney don't grow on treeeees!
I got bills to pay, I got mouths to feed-
there ain't nothin' in this world for free!
Oh no I can't slow down, I can't hold back-
though you know... I wish... I cou-ould...
Oh no there ain't no rest for the wicked
until we close our eyes for goooood!'”

By now, we were all bobbing our heads to the tune, Rig cranking the volume up.

Not even fifteen minutes later, I'm still walkin' down the street,
when I saw the shadow of a stallion creep outta siiiiight!
And then he swept up from behind, he put a gun up to mah head,
he made it clear he wasn't lookin' for a fi-iiight!
He said, 'Gimme all you got! I want your money not your life,
but you try to make a move, I won't think twiiiice!'
I told him, 'You can have my cash,
but first you know I've gotta ask
what made you want to live this kind o' li-yiiife?'”

And together:

He said, 'There ain't no rest for the wicked!
Moooney don't grow on treeees! (Wow, did Azrael have a lovely voice!)
I got bills to pay, I got mouths to feed-
there ain't nothin' in this world for free!
Oh no I can't slow down, I can't hold back-
though you know... I wish... I cou-ould...
Oh no there ain't no rest for the wicked
Until we close our eyes for gooood!' Huh!”

And then the instrumental interlude dropped in, and I trotted with a spring to my step as I looked from Rig to Azrael, smiles wide on our faces. I cantered back and forth between them, urging them to join in. The earth-coated unicorn skipped awkwardly on her feet, while Azrael lumbered heavily with her earth-shaking footfalls. It didn't matter- we were having the time of our lives.

Well now a couple hours passed, and I was sitting in mah house-
the day was winding down and comin' to an eeeeend!
So I turned to the TV, and flipped it over to the news,
and what I saw I almost couldn't comprehe-eeeend!
I saw a preacher buck in cuffs, taking money from the church!
He stuffed his bank account with righteous golden biiiiits!
But even still I can't say much because I know we're all the same-
oh yes, we all seek out to satisfy those hii-iiiits!”

And together again!

Ya know there ain't no rest for the wicked!
Moooney don't grow on treeeeees!
We got bills to pay, we got mouths to feed-
there ain't nothin' in this world for freeheeeee!”

I slipped my helm back on, tucking my horn through the hole, clasping the plates on.

Oh no we can't slow down, we can't hold back-
though you know... we wish... we cou-ould...
Oh no there ain't no rest for the wicked”

I grinned slyly, lowering my gaze.

until we close our eyes for goood!”

* * *

On the way to Tenpony Tower, we took the long way around the Manehattan ruins to avoid the raiders. Now that we went beyond the suburbs and the northern reaches of the ruins, Manehattan's endless, seamless urban tapestry unfolded before us. Crumbled neighborhoods and businesses meshed with one another, remnants of a world long gone. Skyscrapers- pinnacles of the Age of Industry- filled the skyline, rickety husks whose metal creaks and groans carried along the dead wind. A single, stark monolith- the Manehattan S.P.P. tower- dominated all of them, reaching far into the clouds. The thin line of the Four Stars monorail system that once scuttled citygoers from all across the urban expanse threaded almost invisibly across the horizon. I couldn't help but avert my eyes in memory of the name that graced that specific rail line. My gaze instead fell to the pockets of ghastly, green balefire that continued to burn after all these years. Those fires seemed to suck up all color in the world, leaving everything in dull shades of gray. My gaze drifted downward to the earth, memories of so long ago trickling back.

A small hill, once green and graced with a patch of wildflowers... bright... cheery...

Now it was a mound of dust and dirt, the flowers a withered black. Amidst them was a small patch, a small circle where the Wasteland earth showed through, scorched a little blacker than the rest of the ground surrounding it.

“I should have died.” I pointed downward with a hoof, unable to help myself. “Right there.”

Rig and Azrael turned to me as I spoke. “What do you mean?” the earth-coated mare asked. It was then that I realized what I had just said.

“Just...” I sighed, “forget I said anything.” The world fell silent once more, save for the echoes of gunfire in the distance. My gaze turned back, turned northward to Hoofstead. I looked back at them. They were still turned toward me awaiting an answer.

“Frost,” Azrael spoke, “if you want us to trust you, you've got to start giving us reason to.”

I frowned and reluctantly told them, “There's a reason I didn't explore my home... alright? There's just some things I didn't want to see.” Another sigh. “Before I headed for the Far North and Stable Seventy-Two, I tried to return home to save...” I closed my eyes and snorted. “Who they were isn't important. I failed to reach the city in time and was caught at the edge of the balefire detonation radius.” My eyes flashed back open and I glared at them. “I should have died. I didn't. I stupidly brought it up without realizing, got it?”

Silence for a few seconds.

“Were they your family?” Rig asked.

“Who... they were... isn't important!” I growled at her. It was an inequine growl. It startled all of us, and I shuddered. “S... I'm sorry. I choose to keep some memories buried for a reason.” Still another sigh. “Sometimes I can't help but remember.”

The rest of our flight went on wordlessly.

But I could hear the Wasteland's laughter.

* * *

Tenpony Tower, the Manehattan hub of the Ministry of Arcane Sciences. It was a monolith of ivory and ebony. One side was almost pristine- most of the numerous fractured windows and Gothic-style masonry were relatively intact. The other side was a blackened slate of balefire-scorched stonework, warped and bubbled glass, and a patchwork of scrap metal that kept the tower from listing. It rose several dozen stories into the sky narrowing in increments, and it was topped by a radio antenna with multiple transmission dishes. Beneath this was a penthouse floor ringed with a patio balcony. The... Celestia Line of the Four Stars transit system stopped here under a terminal arch.

We touched down on the terminal platform before the cobblestone courtyard that ringed the base of the tower. The walls surrounding the building were once ordained with beautiful paintings of legendary unicorns- Manehattan was the City of Lights and Legends, after all. Now they were all but scorched by the sickly spellfire that destroyed Manehattan, the gem housings that once warded off deterioration picked clean. Only one remained in relatively pristine condition- that depicting a lavender mare with a deep purple mane and tail laced with a single line of pink amidst streaks of aged gray. A flank-blanket bearing the number “10” was plastered to her side, and the background was filled with autumn colors. Twilight Sparkle, Ministry Mare of Arcane Science and Bearer of the Element of Magic. The caption bearing those lofty titles was still legible.

“Heh... The Running of the Leaves...” I murmured. “She never won.”

“Did you know her?” Azrael inquired.

“Not personally,” I answered. “The only time we actually met was...” I trailed off. That memory was too close. I pushed it down, pushed it back.

“Later?” Rig asked.

I nodded lightly. “Later...”

We approached the high steel gates of Tenpony Tower. The guards that garrisoned the structure were listing, as if bored beyond belief of their menial labor. Incompetent whelps.

“Name and business,” a combat armored unicorn at the station drawled, leaning his head against his hoof as he inspected the other. He was seated behind a booth made of reinforced glass, his voice crackling through an intercom. He didn't even bother making eye contact.

“Frost Windchill,” I answered, my tone firm and stern, “Rig, and Azrael Razorwing. We're here to resupply and come bearing information regarding Alhambronco for DJ PoN3.”

The guardpony finally looked up at us and gaped. “Holy shit!” He beamed ecstatically. “You're the Sentinel!” He flapped his forehooves in excitement. “Guys! Guys! It's the Sentinel!” The previously slacking sentries perked up and murmured, looking down at us. Hm. I wasn't expecting a... fancolt... but it would nevertheless make it easier to get into Tenpony Tower. “Wait... that's a Dead Boys griffin! The hell you doing with one?” And then we suddenly found all of them aiming their respective weapons at us. Safeties flicked off and charging handles were ratcheted back.

Of course. Things were never that easy, were they?

“She's a disav-” I started.

“Holy buck, that's a 'she'?!” one of the guards blabbered. Azrael visibly frowned and her eyes went half-lidded.

She,” I repeated firmly, eying the guards to see if any of them would interrupt, “is a disavowed Dead Boys griffin. She is no longer with them.”

“But-” the unicorn at the window stammered. I leveled my hard, draconic gaze at him. Sometimes, the art of rhetoric involves knowing when words just aren't necessary. He flinched and looked back. “Uh, Chief? What do we do?”

An orange-furred earth pony with much cleaner armor strode up behind the unicorn. He lacked a battle saddle; instead, a revolver was sticking out of a holster on his chest- easily in mouth's reach. His eyes were a cold blue.

“Hello, Chief Bright Star,” I greeted. “It's been a while.”

The greeting wasn't reciprocated. “Last I remember, Frost,” he huffed, voice gruff, “you were green.”

Right. I pressed a hoof to my breast. “In moon's light.” My senses dulled and my strength left me in seconds. The unicorn guardpony gaped once more while Bright Star merely cocked an eyebrow. I sprouted a pair ice arms, and out came not one but both of my balisongs. Midnight Talon and Silver Skean clickety-clacked, mirroring one another. I couldn't afford trying to be (too) flashy by performing techniques independently. I also didn't want to accidentally send one of them flying at a guardpony should I mess up...

“H-How... his horn's not even lighting up!” the unicorn guardpony exclaimed, baffled.

“Yeah, it's you, alright,” the chief of security huffed. “You can stop putting on the show.”

I closed both blades with a windmill motion and pocketed them. “Now that that's settled, would you kindly let us in?”

Bright Star hesitated. “Look, Frost, you might pass inside because everypony knows you because of the DJ, but your friends? Uh-uh.”

“What's wrong with us, huh?” Rig asked, raising an eyebrow.

“Number one, you've got a giant griffin with you with a fucking...” The orange earth pony stared. “Twilight Sparkle, is that a Kord 6P50? Twelve-point-seven NSV and all that jazz?”

“NSVT,” Azrael corrected.

“Well, I'll be damned...” he chuckled. “That's one bad motherfucker.”

“Is everyone a gun nut?” Rig grumbled. “I mean, seriously!”

Chief Bright Star coughed, “Anyway, your friend's a giant griffin with a fucking Kord on her back. That's gonna scare the living betwilight out of everypony inside. Also, your friend's a robopony-”

Not a robopony,” Rig cut him off sternly.

“Whatever the case is,” he growled, “you've got that eye. Look, point of the matter is, Frost- you're good to go. Rest of you? Nope, no can do.”

I sighed cool mist, “Chief, just let them in. They won't misbehave, and the ponies inside could use a little rustling, wouldn't you say?”

Sometimes, not even right words the right way can work, folks. That's the unfortunate reality. “Sorry, it's policy, Frost. Besides, you can handle all the supplies and talking yourself, right?”

“No,” Rig and Azrael spoke firmly, simultaneously.

Chief Bright Star raised his eyebrow again. “Well looks like nopony's getting into Tenpony then.”

“One moment,” I said, ushering my friends back toward the Four Stars terminal until we were out of earshot. “You seriously don't trust me to go inside alone?”

“No,” they both spoke firmly, simultaneously.

Well, that stung. “Do you want to scour the Wastes and hope that we can find RadAway there instead?”

“Unfortunately, we might have to do it,” Azrael spoke.

“I'm sorry?” I turned to her.

“When they recognized me, they recalled griffins that entered Tenpony Tower. When I delved further into the shopkeepers, I found that they bought all RadAway and Rad-X available for sale in the entire building.”

I deadpanned at her. “You're kidding.”

“You're kidding, right?” Rig asked, crestfallen.

“I wish I was,” Azrael closed her eyes. “Moreover, I have reason to suspect that those griffins were plainclothes Dead Boys.”

“Are you sure?” I questioned.

She hesitated. “I can't be sure. Frost, I just have this gut feeling. No other griffin organization would need to purchase such things to my knowledge. Perhaps Talon Company, but that organization has been languishing as of late. They're losing business to The Dead Boys. Just trust me on this one.”

“But why would they want RadAway or Rad-X?” Rig asked. “Well, other than to enter an irradiated area, of course.”

“I don't know,” Azrael replied, shaking her head. “It doesn't bode well, however.”

“Something to investigate when all this is said and done,” I murmured. “But now the problem is- no RadAway. We're going to have to scavenge, that's for sure. I still wish to inform DJ PoN3 of Alhambronco, however, and I still want to restock at least on healing supplies and food.”

“Well, you're not going in alone,” Rig huffed. “I'm definitely not going to let you.”

“I think I can convince Bright Star to let you in,” I sighed coolly, then turned to Azrael. “You, on the other hand...”

“I'll be fine waiting outside,” she stated. “There's ponies around. I'll be fine.”

“Are you sure?” Rig asked.

“Positive,” the griffin responded. Rig and I looked at one another before I started off, the cyber limping along after me. “Just... get a cloak, if you can.” We both paused, looking back at her before nodding and moving on. “A big one, maybe two small ones sewn together.” We paused again to listen before moving on. “Preferably black.”

We both stopped, and Rig nickered impatiently, “Anything else?”

Azrael shuffled on her feet a little. “Sweets would be nice.” Rig and I shared a glance before heading back off to the guard gate.

“Well?” Bright Star huffed.

I smacked Rig's welding helmet down, eliciting a surprised cry out from her. “Will this do?”

He shook his head. “Looks too out-of-place. Still like to be able to see her face. Ponies get freaked out a little when you can't see the face. Don't know what's hiding.” Rig knocked up her helmet and glared at me.

That was your plan?” Rig leered at me.

“Plan A,” I answered. “Chief, by any chance do you have any sunglasses?”

“Heh, you're really intent on getting her inside, aren't you?” Bright Star grunted. “Yeah, I know where this is going. That'll work. We've got some.”

“So we're in?” Rig asked.

“You're in.” He nodded. “Just one thing. You'll have to disarm.” Rig opened her mouth to protest, but he cut her off. “You can keep your weapons. We just want your ammo. All of it. That includes whatever's in the chamber.”

“Oh.” She blinked. “I guess that's fine.”

“And whatever blades and bludgeons you have.”

I frowned. “That's not fine.”

“Too bad.” Bright Star sat down and crossed his forelegs. “It's policy. You want in, you want shades, you follow it to the dot. You'll get it all back once you leave.”

I glanced at Rig, who shrugged. “Fine.”

The checkpoint opened up, and the unicorn from before flared up his horn and waved it over us. Visible through our armor and saddlebags were every magazine, bullet, and grenade. He began the process of disarming me. Seven magazines from the IF-55 and ten for Night Fang- plus the rounds in the chamber. Then out came Midnight Talon and Silver Skean.

Then came Rig's turn. The unicorn stallion balked and let out a whistle. “You all probably want to get comfortable,” he called out. “This is gonna take a while.”

By the time her grenade count passed ten, every guardpony was staring at her. By the time it exceeded twenty, Chief Bright Star mouthed, “What the buck...?”

And then came the mines. And bullets.

“Frost,” Bright Star eyed me, “where the hell do you make your friends?”

* * *

Shortly after, Rig and I were trotting down a mezzanine of high-class (bearing the Wasteland in mind, of course) shops. Everything was brightly lit by the glittering overhead chandeliers. We were attracting a lot of stares, most of them directed to me. I wasn't sure if they were recognizing me for my appearance as described by DJ PoN3 or staring at me for my appearance period. The ponies passing us by and chattering about in the shops and cafes were covered with makeup, had their manes and tails neatly groomed, and either wore no clothing at all or elegant pre-war suits and dresses. Only the occasional security guard wore armor, and even then they were prim and proper. I didn't need my enhanced senses to smell the superficiality in the air.

“I can see why you don't like this place...” Rig murmured. Her eyes were hidden behind a new pair of shades, her welding helmet stowed in her saddlebags. Another cigarette was lit in her mouth. “Everypony here reminds me about my so-called 'friends' back in Stable Three...”

I nodded to her. “It gets worse. Trust me.”

“Heh... Azrael's already cluing me in to that,” Rig sighed. “She says the general store is-”

“Up ahead, on the right, three stores down,” I finished. “I know. I've been here before.”

“Is that how you knew Chief Bright Star, then?”

“Yes. I just never intended to ever set foot in this place again for reasons all too obvious.”

By now, we stopped in the general store, owned by a violet unicorn with a wavy, pink mane. The prices would have sounded tantamount to robbery if we were in the Wasteland. Haggling with him (Yes. That was a male I was describing.) definitely put my bartering skills to the test. In the end, we were still down to only a little over six-hundred caps for just five healing potions, one super restoration potion, and a new cloak for our griffin-pony friend. And five cans of food.

“Azrael said she was glad you specifically told her father and brother not to head to this place,” Rig nickered. “She was trying to help you out with bartering there, but that guy was so stuck up he was in the clouds.”

“That's one way to put it,” I nickered in turn. “Wait, how...? Telepath. Right.”

Rig nodded as I led her to the elevator and started the long trip up. “So... meeting the DJ now?”

“Yeah, or at least an assistant.” No need to give it away. “Believe me when I say they’re probably the only decent souls in the entire building.”

“Judging from the broadcasts, I wouldn't be surprised,” she huffed, spewing out smoke. “Hey, Frost?”

“Yes, Rig?” I turned to her.

The earth-coated mare sighed, levitating her shades off. “You... You did good. Owing up like that to me and Azrael after that. You know... that you did what you did. Even if it wasn't under the best of... situations. Circumstances. Whatever, Azrael...”

I snorted. “I only followed your example. You were found out, and then you confessed. And I only did what I promised Her.”

“Your love?” she asked.

“Yes.” I nodded slowly. “Yes. Rig... Azrael, I know you're listening too... you both know by now I'm not a good pony. That's not just for what I did back in Alhambronco. That's what makes me different from you. Rig, you only lied because others might judge you based on your appearance. I lied because others might judge me based on what I've done. No matter what good I do now, I know that I'll never live it off.”

“How bad is it?” Rig asked. “I mean... I get that you think the Royal Sisters are dead, but-”

“Rig,” I cut her off. “I... know they are dead. I know. There's no denying it.”

“How?” she asked.

“I just know, alright?” I scowled, closing my eyes. “I just know!”

“Well, how bad is it, then?” she sighed. I opened my eyes and looked at her, into those almost perfect indigo eyes. “Look, you say that we won't understand, but if you're going to play that game, we can't trust you anyways. You're making us assume that you've committed unspeakable atrocities. We can't follow you around in any case if that's what's up with you. So what do you have to lose beyond that?”

I looked at her for a long time as the elevator continued climbing the floors at its lax, leisurely pace. “Is that Azrael talking?”

“Yeah,” she answered. “So what?”

“Well it looks like you've beaten me at my own game.” I closed my eyes and sighed once more. “Once we're out. I'll let you glean me all you want once we're out.”

* * *

The elevator doors parted to reveal a rich foyer of lightly blemished marble. A fountain dominated the area, where a brass alicorn reared up with wings spread. The stance was powerful yet elegant. Water cascaded from a talisman embedded on the necklace into the rippling pool below. Rig gasped and stepped forward, but she immediately locked eyes with the pony before us and drew to a halt. I was already looking this pony over. She was a slender, red-coated unicorn with a frizzled, silvery mane. Her eyes were a lively green and were currently open in surprise. Her cutie-mark was a jukebox.

“Whoa!” she exclaimed, jumping at the sight of us. Then she beamed brightly. “Hah, well isn't that mighty convenient? Great to finally meet you in person, Sentinel! Was about to head down to find you myself when word reached me that you were here at Tenpony Tower with information on Alhambronco!”

I raised an eyebrow. “We haven't met yet.”

“Oh, where are my manners?” she facehoofed. “Sorry, got caught up in the moment. I'm Treble Clef, DJ's assist-.” The elevator doors closed between us. I hit the button to get them open again and found her smiling apologetically. “Sorry again, lemme get outta your way...” As she stood aside to let us enter the foyer, she coughed, “So anyways, I'm Treble Clef, DJ's assistant.” Oh. Sure. Definitely the assistant.

“Frost Windchill,” I introduced myself in turn. “Pleased to meet you. This is Rig, my...”

I paused, at a loss for words for a few seconds. She piped up and completed, “Friend.” She chanced a small smile. “Sorta. I guess.”

“Well, nice to meet you both!” Treble nodded. She blinked at Rig. “Whoa. What's wrong with your eye there?” I glanced back at her.

Oh, dammit, she forgot to replace her shades.

“Uh... I...” she sighed. “I'm a cyberpony, okay?”

“Oh, okay,” the red-coated mare shrugged and went on without missing a beat. “Hey, listen, Frost, may I speak to you in private? Sorry to be a bother.”

“Hey, wait,” Rig spoke up. “You're... not put off by that?”

“Put off by what?” Treble blinked, leading us to a double doorway with a plaque reading Twilight Sparkle Athenaeum, our hooves echoing their clacks on the marble floor. I noted that above us and accessible via gently curving staircases on both sides was another set of double doors. This one had a plaque reading M.A.S. Emergency Broadcast Station (Authorized Unicorns Only). I let the ghost of a smile form on my lips from the nostalgia. “You being a cyberpony?” She broke out into a laugh. “Come on, the DJ has ghoul informants, too. Granted, it's annoying because then he has to send me to go outside to talk to them because of the picky ponies downstairs, but cyberponies aren't too out of the question in all honesty.” Rig breathed a soft sigh of relief, smiling lightly. Treble looked back at us, stopping. “Again, sorry to be a bother, but may I speak to you in private, Frost?”

I sighed, “See, there's a ca-”

“No,” Rig said quickly.

“I know, I know!” I grumbled at her. “Miss Clef-”

“Oh, you can just call me Treble,” the red-coated mare chuckled. “No need for formalities when it's already cranked up to eleven at Tenpony Tower.”

“Ah, Treble, then,” I corrected myself, “we would rather stick together if that's no problem.”

“You're together then?” She raised an eyebrow, turning around at us.

“Heh?” I deadpanned.

“What?” Rig balked.

“Oh, no no no, of course not! There's... quite an age gap, and-”
“With him? Hell no! Hell... no! I mean, he still has hallucinations of-”

We both stopped talking as Treble just kept her eyebrow raised and looked from me to her and back.

I cleared my through and simply said, “No.”

“Uh... huh...” Treble just stared at the two of us. “I... suppose I can get that to work, then.” She led us onward once more. “So, what have you been up to, Sentinel? It's been a while since we heard anything about you.”

“Bounty hunting the 'wrong' way,” I answered, “and getting a bounty of my own head for doing so.”

“The 'wrong' way?” She raised an eyebrow. “What do you mean?”

“Deciding whether or not I want the mark alive or not. Some- many, actually- are worth more to me... dead. This slaver for instance. Wanted alive. Killed him.” I paused, memories of the resulting battle for Stalliongrad flashing past my mind's eye. “He was only wanted alive for the relatives of the enslaved to exact revenge on in any case.”

“So that's it, hm? Well, better than devolving into a raider, I guess. But seriously, it's been ages since we last heard of you- ten years, I think. You've really just been doing it all this time?”

“All this time, yes,” I answered.

“How old are you now?” she questioned. “You don't even look all that old.”

I glanced at Rig and we shared a slight smile. “There's an interesting story to all of that,” the young mare answered her.

“I can guess,” Treble huffed.

No, you couldn't.

She led us onward to the lower doors that led to the Athenaeum, which opened seemingly of their own volition. It was a massive library with enormous shelves stacked with rows upon rows of neatly-organized books separated by author, title, and subject. I remembered the first time I entered this place- I was completely taken by surprise by the number of intact tomes that far exceeded even Stable Seventy-Two's collection. There were bookshelves towering high and reaching from wall to wall (save for small reading nooks). The pillars supporting the room even had shelves that wrapped around them. In the center of the room was a desk propped up not by legs but was actually a short-stacked bookshelf in and of itself. Three vaulted windows allowed the cloud-filtered sunlight to trickle in, now dwindling from the day's approaching end. Above one of the bookshelves was a sprawling, panoramic painting of a desolate valley of dust and dirt.

“Holy hay...” Rig whispered, jaw hung and eyes wide in awe.

“Quite the collection, huh?” Treble smiled. “These are all the volumes, novels, tomes, and manuals from the pre-war era up until the spellfire apocalypse, all in their original, unaltered, uncensored forms. I can't imagine anypony reading even a portion of one of the bookshelves in a single lifetime.” She gestured to a pair of sofas facing one another with a small coffee table (made up of small bookshelves in the same vein as the desk nearby) in between. “But business, business. Let's get to business.” She seated herself.

Meanwhile, Rig and I shared a glance.

“What?” Treble blinked.

“We're kinda dirty...” the earth-coated mare smiled uneasily.

“So?” she laughed. “We can clean it up lickety-split! Now let's get to business!”

Rig turned back to me, and I merely shrugged. We took a seat beside one another, opposite the silver-maned “assistant.”

“Alright, what do you have, Sentinel?” Treble inquired, her horn firing up in a mellow yellow as a notepad floated out beside her. A pen joined it with a string of eager clicks. See, I'd much rather have telekinesis in that case. “What happened in Alhambronco?”

I breathed out a chilly sigh, eyes downcast. I felt Rig rest her hoof on my shoulder and looked down at her. Her indigo gaze told me all I needed to know.

“Raiders under the command of a Dead Boys leader by the name of Javahl burned the town to the ground,” I told her. “There were... there were no survivors.”

Treble nodded slowly, the pen scribbling away. “I see.” Her eyes were glazed over like a pony who's seen too much and seen it happen time and time again- melancholy but muted. “And you're sure- absolutely sure- they were with The Dead Boys?”

Rig nodded. “Absolutely.”

“Javahl was on-site,” I added, “and we killed him.”

“Were the raiders equipped by The Dead Boys?” Treble questioned.

“For the most part, they appeared to possess the usual selection and quality of weaponry,” I answered. “They had flamethrowers, however. It is inconclusive as to whether or not they were already in possession or were provided for.”

“And any motive?” Treble inquired, putting a hoof over her mouth in thought as her pen continued to take down notes.

I looked at Rig, and she looked at me. “I don't recall one,” she whispered.

“He never said,” I murmured in turn.

“And that's all she wrote,” Treble said, tucking away her stationery. She placed both hooves against her chin for a moment before sitting back up straight. “Now, there's a reason I wanted to talk to you in private, Frost. Given that you trust your friend Rig here, though, I can let it slide. But,” the red-coated mare held up a hoof in warning, “do not let word of this get out. I've only let a few other ponies know about this. Your friend outside is fine, but otherwise, you better zip your lips, lock 'em, throw away the key, bury said key-”

“Okay, we get it, we get it,” Rig cut her off. “We'll keep quiet about it.”

“I'm good at keeping secrets,” I said in turn.

“Then you're about to learn the DJ's trade secrets,” Treble clapped her hooves together once. “You saw the M.A.S.E.B.S., right? This place isn't only a broadcast station- it's also capable of surveillance. Several decades ago, one of the DJs or his assistants hacked into the S.P.P towers you see everywhere and gained access to observation cameras about a third of the way up. Those are the DJ's eyes in addition to our volunteer reporters and correspondents. We can see everything in Equestria and its territories from the station. It's how we stay up-to-date. You following me so far?”

“Yeah, I get it,” Rig replied. I merely nodded in affirmation.

“Well, around three years ago, we lost connection to the tower over the Almarinian Sea to the west,” the silver-maned mare continued. “Connection just went out, just like that.” She snapped her hoof against her other fetlock for emphasis. “At first, DJ and I just thought it was the Enclave. After all, that was when they were waging the Resource War against Aldorna.”

“Hang on a sec,” Rig cut in. “Resource War? The pegasi fought with the griffins three years ago?”

I nodded. “From my understanding, raw materials are hard to come by when you live in the clouds. Once the mountains were stripped bare, they sought to wrest what they needed from other territories. Aldorna was the first and only so far. So is that why we knew so little of the outcome, Treble?”

“Yeah, tower connection just shut off toward the beginning of the conflict,” she answered. “But moving on, there was nothing we could do about it. But just like that,” another hoof-fetlock snap, “we lost our eyes on all major NETO territories, including East Aldorna, Caledonia, and Neighpon. We don't get reporters from there, so with the Almarinian Sea tower down, we couldn't get any dirt on those.

“Now, fast-forward six months. We lost connection to the Seaddle tower. Again, it's hard to get reporters from over there because of the Great Mid-Equestrian Divide and the Big Rock Candy Mountain Range. So, again, the DJ and I just assumed the Enclave were making their return to Equestrian soil. Well, we didn't get jack about some return of the 'great and powerful Grand Pegasi Enclave' or anything like that, and a few griffins that came from over there made no mention of the Enclave. DJ and I just assumed it was a fluke, then. After all, who knows if the S.P.P. towers could last this long? Sure, Stable-Tec products can for sure, but the fact of the matter is that now we lost more monitoring power. Everything from the Westerns to the Moojave to the Big Rock Candy MT went to static. Eventually, we got used to it. No other tower connections failed since. You both still following? Good. Because we're fast-forwarding to the present.”

“You lost another connection?” Rig asked.

“Whoa-hoh, Nelly,” Treble laughed, grimacing and holding her forehead, “yeah, we sure did- connection to the Burrlin tower. That was three-and-a-half months ago. With that, we lost everything in the Far North, and most importantly, Stalliongrad.”

“So that's why news from Stalliongrad was so slow...” Rig mused aloud.

“You got it.” Treble pointed to her. “There's more. Two days later, we lost connection to the Trottingham tower, and with it, our eyes on the Great Mid-Equestrian Divide including Alhambronco. The notion of component failure was becoming real, real dubious at this point.”

“Are you suspecting sabotage?” I inquired.

“Damn straight, Sentinel,” the red-coated unicorn mare huffed. “Damn straight. While we sent some mercs to discover the root of the cause, I asked an old friend to look into the issue. You might have known him. Beat Blaze.”

I felt... suddenly a little colder. “Yes. I knew him very well.”

“He was in Vealville and was helping you out with your hunting, if I recall,” Treble continued. “Have you ever wondered what that maneframe he used was? No? It was an intermediate hub from the M.A.S.E.B.S. to the Trottingham tower. Beat Blaze was trying to deal with the connection issue that whole time since. But before all that, do you know what we learned about just a few weeks ago?”

“What is it?” Rig asked.

“We learned about The Dead Boys,” she responded. “We learned about their attack on Stalliongrad. What's more, we learned they're a big power in the Westerns, now headed to the Capital Wasteland. And guess where they stopped first on the way here?”

“Burrlin,” I surmised.

“Right on the dot.” Treble nodded. “Apparently within hours of us losing connection with the tower there.”

“Same thing for the Trottingham tower?” my cyber companion inquired.

“Same thing for the Trottingham tower. You know, Beat Blaze was very close to bringing the connection to it back online. It was only a few hours from being reestablished before it went kapuut.” A pause. “I heard he passed away. I'm sorry, Frost.”

“Nothing to be done about it,” I sighed a cool mist. Nevertheless, my mind did a play-by-play of every single moment of that night- the flashing lights, the blasting tunes, blood and death everywhere, the deadly buzz of Grapevine's minigun, the Hunters...

The Hunters.

I widened my eyes in realization just as I became aware Rig was calling out my name.

“Frost,” she said, tugging at my foreleg. “You alright?”

I turned back to Treble, “I can corroborate with your suspicion. The night of the Dead Boys' attack on Vealville was when the repair attempt failed, right?”

“Yeah, that's right,” the silver-maned mare responded.

“Three Hunters attacked us that night,” I spoke, then noticed her puzzled expression. “Ah, advanced machines equipped with silenced- really silenced- weaponry and stealth fields. They were mainly after my friend-”

“The disavowed Dead Boy griffin,” Treble surmised.

“Right,” I nodded, “but while going after her, the last one instead self-destructed to destroy the maneframe. The Dead Boys really are trying to shut down the uplinks. And they've been here too.”

“What?!” Treble exclaimed. “Been, as in past tense?!”

“As plainclothes, and it appears that they only appeared to have bought off your entire stock of RadAway and Rad-X that's been put up for sale.”

“Weird, though...” Rig murmured. “If they wanted to just ruin your surveillance ability, they would've just destroyed the tower outright, right? But even if, Azrael said she only had a gut feeling they were Dead Boys plainclothes...”

“Still is grounds for concern, though,” she said, crossing her forelegs. “At least it answers one question. All the better, because they just knocked out our connection to Fillydelphia. That's where they appear to be relocating, if I'm not mistaken. Now, the big question of the day- why? It's obvious now that The Dead Boys don't want to be monitored specifically by me and DJ PoN3, but to what end? That's what I want to find out, and I already asked several other Wasteland heroes that stopped by to try to dig up some dirt, namely in the Fillydelphia area. Sentinel, will you help us out? Please?”

I exhaled softly, “Soon. I'm currently in the process of trying to locate at least one water talisman for my friend here. Her Stable lost its water talisman, and it needs a replacement within... three months' time, right?”

Rig fiddled with her PipBuck. “Yeah, a little over that.”

“I'd love to ask the DJ to help,” Treble spoke, “but the last time that search ran, all water talismans either turned up fragmented, belonging to existing settlements, or under Steel Ranger control. I think the chapter near Arbu has a pair, but...”

“I don't want to deal with Steel Rangers,” I grumbled.

“Nobody does.” She shook her head.

“Treble, we're trying to access Frost's Stable in the Far North,” Rig spoke up. “We know for sure that there's at least one functioning water talisman there, but we need at least thirteen more packets of RadAway to get there safely. I know that all the stuff here has been bought up already, but can you help us out?”

“Oh, just RadAway?” Treble smiled. “Well, I can arrange that no problem! Just...” She tapped her hooves together, “there's some good news and some bad news.”

Oh, luck. You never fail me.

“What's the bad news?” both Rig and I asked near-simultaneously. This caused us to eye one another in surprise.

“The bad news is that, first, we don't have any available for sale,” the red-coated unicorn replied. “We also won't be able to get a resupply for at least three to five days.”

“But... you're getting a resupply, right?” Rig brightened up.

“That would be the good news, yeah.” Treble nodded with a smile. “We're gonna get more, guaranteed. Scavengers and traders never pass up on Tenpony first because of the good caps, and there's dozens of hospitals in the Manehattan ruins. I guarantee we'll get more than enough, and I'll make absolute sure to get at least thirteen set aside just for you. If there's anypony here that the richies will listen to, it's DJ PoN3.”

Rig cheered and, to my surprise, jumped over to Treble and hugged her. “Oh, I could just kiss you!” She blinked. “Can I kiss you?”

“Uh... sure?” Treble answered awkwardly. Rig pecked her on the cheek in an instant.

“Rig...” I eyed her.

“Eh... heheheheheh...” Rig laughed and smiled uneasily as she released the still wide-eyed mare and slunk away. “Sorry... I'm going to go hide in a corner now.”

As Rig headed off, I turned back to Treble. “So-”

“Let us never speak of this again,” she spoke quickly.

* * *

“No comment.” Those were Azrael's first words as we exited the security checkpoint with our ammunition back.

“What?” Rig blinked. “But-”

“No. Comment.”

“Okay, okay... jeez...” the cloud-maned mare, grumbled.

“I trust you understand what transpired?” I asked her.

“Yes, now would you kindly give me the cloak?”

I sighed and smiled, producing an ice arm to draw the fabric out from my saddlebags. She snatched it out of my hands and drew it over herself with a contented sigh.

“So...” I began.

“No comment.”

I chuckled. Of course.

“Well, Frost?” Rig trotted up to me. “What's the plan for the next three days?”

“Likely set up camp here,” I answered, leading us to the Four Stars terminal. “We want to be around when Tenpony Tower restocks.”

“And?” Rig deadpanned.

I sighed coolly, “And... tell you my... story...”

* * *

Footnote: Frost- Maximum Level

Rig- Level Up! Level 10 Reached!

Azrael- Maximum Level

Unlockables added: Soundtrack- Mister Blue Sky by Arcane Lights Orchestra

Soundtrack- Ain't No Rest for the Wicked by Caged Elephant

Concept Art- Frost Windchill by Adder1

Commission Art- Stand Off by MisterMech

Author's Note:

My thanks go to the usual group of amazing authors for the epic collection tales under Kkat’s Fallout: Equestria. My gratitude goes out especially to ErrantIndy, QuackmanBrony, and Broadestpeak for pre-reading this chapter for me. Special thanks too for MisterMech for the commission art depicting the showdown scene in this chapter. Lastly, thank you for reading. Constructive criticism is always encouraged!

And check out the Ask Frost Winchill tumblr!

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