• 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 Six: Not What I Expected

Chapter Six: Not What I Expected


The storyteller had stopped just in time, letting those who wanted to listen to DJ-P0N3's broadcast take their leave for their radio sets. He waited patiently, answering questions politely now that he wasn't in the middle of telling his story. This continued for the better part of the hour before the audience filed back into their places.

Yes, it's big. Yes, it's important. But it will also be explained later. I told you I couldn't start from my birth with this one. This is a story of the Wasteland, in the Wasteland. It will start in the Wasteland, it will end in the Wasteland. Just have patience and bear in mind this is important for me too. Everything will become clear in the end. All I ask is that you just hold your judgments until the end.

The old unicorn in Lunar Guard armor smiled lightly as the audience returned to their proper places.

So, what's going on this time with Stable Dweller and Security?

Interesting... well, good on them. They're both doing a fine job clearing up the mess our world has become.

A filly asked him why he wasn't out there doing the same. He saved a young mare from a slaver, aided the retaking of Stalliongrad and helped defend it from the Dead Boys. Why wasn't he out there doing more?

His expression grew stern, and he leaned in a little toward the filly.

Kid, there's reasons. Number one, I've made a promise to tell this tale, and it's not because of the kid who asked me yesterday. Number two, I've done... many things I'm not proud of in the past. I've also made a promise to make them known. Number three, do you think I've just stopped trying to make a difference for the forty years between my story and now? I've just lost some... oh, I'll get to it in the story eventually...

Look, kid. I do what I can. But I'm not a knight in shining armor coming to save the Wasteland, no matter how much I look the part. I'm no hero. In fact, for some of the things I've done, you could damn well blame me for a lot of things here.

Just... hear me out. Save your judgments against who I am and what I've done until after I'm finished. Then I'll get out of Junction R-7 and be out of your hair, alright?

The filly said in a tinny voice how that wasn't what she meant...

I know. But things could change by the time my story's through.

I'm not who you think I am. What I wear and what I've told you so far should be evidence enough.

Now then. Last I remember, you folks are here for a story. Let's get right to it...

Shall we?

* * *

Azrael Razorwing. So that's why the Dead Boys were in that factory. They weren't after something. They were literally after someone.

And fuck me now, that “someone”, that cloaked gargantuan of a female griffin looming over me was Silas' sister. I tried to keep a straight face, an even tone, and say the right things the right way. She was the one with a Kord 6P50 under her cloak after all.

“Well... I guess I can say that clears up a lot of things.” I blinked.

Oh wow, Frost. The right words the right way. Nice job.

“Indeed.” The hooded griffin stared down at me with those empty eyes. She didn't blink once.

“Well... are you going to do it?” I asked her, ready to make a move. As much as I probably deserved to die, I had a Stable mare and possibly a good few slaves I had obligations to. I had to keep those obligations.

“Do what?” Azrael asked. She sounded... amused?

“Well kill me of course,” I huffed. “You know what I've done.”

“Yes... I know what you've done.” She leaned to the side a bit, floor creaking under the shift in weight. “You cheated my younger brother of his prey, you humiliated him, and you also caused the deaths of seventy-three people today in Stalliongrad. You also killed Langson. Father didn't want him killed.”

“So, are you going to get right to it?” I tensed, ready to whip out Midnight Talon. No, screw that. I was ready to whip out all of my weapons. In fact, I'd better get started-

“No.”

“... heh?” I stared at her. I unwittingly let Midnight Talon clatter to the floor as I whipped her out.

“Say what?” Silas looked just as stunned as I was as I bashfully looked down, snatched my blade up, and stowed her away.

“I'm not going to kill you,” Azrael spoke calmly. “Rather, I should be thanking you.”

“... heh?” I stared wider.

“So... thank you.” The giant griffin nodded lightly at me.

“... heh?” I gawked. Again, nice job with the right words in the right way, Frost.

The odd sensation of somepony turning in her (Yes, very specifically “her”) grave made me shudder once more.

“... you're not used to this... are you?” She canted her head slightly to the side. She certainly seemed amused. “First off, in one-upping my little brother, you took the wind out of him. Put him in his... place, if you will.”

“Sis!” Silas exclaimed, looking rather... pout-y.

Oh, come on, folks. Gimme a break. I can't find the right words all the time for details.

“Like I said before, he is very brash, very hot-headed,” Azrael continued speaking as if the interruption never took place. “We were getting desperate with getting all the caps we needed to keep Langson quiet, and so he decided to take up bounty hunting, going on about how he was going to be, quote, 'the best bounty hunter ever,' end-quote. And that he would save us from our troubles single-handed. Ridiculous, really. So overblown. I think the desperation just got to his head. I'm glad you taught him a lesson.”

“Sis, you know I'm standing here, right?” Silas really pouted this time.

“Yes, I'm well aware.” Azrael turned her gaze on him for a second before turning back to me. “Now then. Second, even if you caused the deaths of so many Stalliongrad citizens, it's basely our fault for being here in the first place, riding on the hope that Silas would actually bring in the caps to help us bribe Langson. I suppose... we were as much fools as he was in the end.”

The male griffin grumbled something under his breath. I didn't even manage to catch it, dazed as I was by the realization that I didn't have to fight for my life again tonight.

This was... not what I expected.

“Yes, I realize it's overkill on you, Silas,” she exhaled lightly. “And lastly, I honestly wanted Langson dead myself. Of course, you'll have to answer to our father.”

I heard the door in the kitchen slam open as a third griffin stormed in, clothed in light combat armor and of average stature for an adult griffin. A pair of lever-action rifles crossed over his back. And he looked pissed.

“And cue that.” Azrael stepped out of the way, motioning for Silas to do the same.

The senior Razorwing growled in a gruff tone, “Alright, I want to know exactly why our door is unlocked after what just hap-” It was then that he finally noticed me. “... who the hell is this, and what is he doing in our household?” Before anyone could respond, he added, “And what the hell is he wearing?” Again, before anyone could respond, he added, “And Azrael, mind your manners. Take off your hood when you're indoors. You're in our household, young lady.”

“Yes, father.” She bowed her head apologetically. And then she raised a claw up, a black-scaled claw up to peel back her hood.

The first thing that struck me was that her head feathers were a midnight black. It was a coloration I'd never seen before on a griffin. Normally, they'd range from all sorts of dark colors but always have a white-feathered head. Silas and the senior Razorwing, for example, were dark brown with white heads.

The second thing that struck me was her eyes. Now that I could see them in up close and in a well-lit room, I noticed they weren't actually blank, white, empty... things. She had irises, she had pupils. But they were a both light-gray color, almost blending together.

The third thing that struck me was that she hadn't blinked during all this time. Not since I'd first seen her in that alleyway just outside.

I realized it, and I almost couldn't believe it. If I was a lesser pony, I would have reeled from it.

Azrael was blind.

As I was too stunned in the revelation to speak, Azrael spoke instead. “To answer you, father,” she said, “this is Frost Windchill. He came to our household for answers behind the attack on Stalliongrad, and yes, he picked our lock to do so. Lastly, from what I've gleaned, he's wearing Lunar Guard armor.”

Azrael was blind.

So how the hell did she know that?

“What exactly does that mean?” the senior Razorwing asked.

“It means, apparently, that he wears the armor of the Canterlot Palace Guard,” the ebony griffin replied. “More specifically, the Royal Guard that served as bodyguards to the Goddesses when they were alive. Still more specifically, the Lunar Guard, bodyguards who specifically served Princess Luna.”

“Then how the hell did you get that?” he asked me, leering and tapping my breastplate.

Well, time to lie again.

It was passed down to me from-” I bellowed unexpectedly, breath expelling powerfully from my lips, causing all of us to jump in surprise, the griffins covering their ears. Azrael especially cantered back heavily on the floor.

I looked down at my breastplate to find the gem smack-dab in the middle of it glowing an angry blue, the draconic eye shining bright.

Oh of course he had to tap there of all places.

I pat at the gem, causing it to deactivate as the Razorwings slowly unblocked their ears and eyed me. I cleared my throat and spoke, “My apologies. For future reference, I... really suggest you don't tap that. It's a gem enchanted to allow the speaker to use CAPS.” Their expressions were blank. “The Canterlot Augmented Pony Speech spell?” Still blank. “The traditional Canterlot voice?”

“The what?” Silas blinked.

“Oh... never mind. Now, then. My armor was passed down to me from my father, who inherited from his own father. This goes back several generations to my ancestor, a Lunar Guard who managed to reach a Stable safely.”

The senior Razorwing turned to Azrael and asked, “Well? Is he telling the truth?”

“I don't know,” she answered calmly, shaking her head.

“... what do you mean you don't know?” He leered at her.

“That I honestly don't know,” she responded, still calm as ever.

Silas looked baffled himself for a moment before raising an eyebrow at me and asking, “Are you a ghoul or something?”

“Hm?” I raised an eyebrow at him. I was about to make a snide remark about whether or not I looked like one. But then I remembered I was treading in a griffin household and decided to play safe. Right words, right way, Frost. “No, I'm not a ghoul, Silas.”

Wow. That was easier than I thought.

“He isn't a ghoul.” Azrael shook her head. “I've gleaned that much. But again... I don't know if he's telling the truth. He seems to be trustworthy enough from what I've gleaned from other people, however.”

“Whatever the case is, let's rewind a little.” The senior Razorwing sat down on the couch and crossed his forelegs. “So, instead of politely knocking like any other decent equine, hell any decent pony would, you picked the lock to our door and barged in?”

“And killed Langson.” Silas added. He pointed a claw at the bathroom.

The senior Razorwing widened his eyes and dashed to the doorway, peering inside. He snaked his head back out, glaring daggers. I promptly had all three Razorwings' eyes on me. “Give me one good reason why I shouldn't have you forcibly removed from our household.”

Think fast, Frost. Right words, right way.

“I'm here for answers behind the attack on Stalliongrad,” I spoke, keeping my tone level and calm. Ugh, I was hating myself for talking like that. Now be firm. “And before you say that I have no authority, I think that as the one who helped these people reclaim the city from raiders years ago, I have the right to ask and the right to know just exactly why we had a hostile force with that level of that firepower and committing all those lives attack our city, our home tonight.” Alright, good. Now press them. Be assertive. “I know my methods are questionable at best and intrusive at worst, but I must know what all those people died for.” Add some aggression, play off guilt. “Because I certainly hope they didn't die for some stupid, insignificant reason.”

Now that's the way to do it, Frost. But it was still a risky gambit, and I was readying myself to go for my weapons yet again.

But a relenting sigh escaped the senior griffin, and he told me, “Alright. I suppose you deserve some answers. Let's just all maintain some semblance of decency and civility here.” A glance at Silas, and the younger griffin quickly got the message. “Let's all have a seat shall we?”

I felt the tension hanging in the air ease up a little as the Razorwings moved to take their seats, namely on the sofas. Azrael practically took one up for herself, and I was left to sit directly next to the father.

“Now then,” I let out an easy sigh as I called upon my knowledge of griffin formal greetings, “I suppose we'll have the formal introductions. My name is Frostbane Hokkaido Windchill, but I wish to be called Frost. I hail from Stable Seventy-Two of the Far North. I take the role of the local bounty hunter.”

The Razorwings simultaneously cocked a set of feathered eyebrows at me for a split second. They were a family alright.

“My name is Garador Razorwing,” the father spoke. “I hail from Seaddle of the Westerns. I currently take no role.”

To say that one has no role in griffin culture is a source of great shame, especially if it comes from the father or mother. The fact that he was willing to tell me this meant that he vested some trust in me at least.

“My name...” Azrael paused to glance at her father. I have no idea why she did this if she was in fact blind, but he gave a curt nod at her. “My name is Azrael Razorwing. I hail from Seaddle of the Westerns, like my father. I take no role.” She motioned to her brother. “This is Silas Razorwing. He hails from Seaddle of the Westerns, like my father and myself. He takes the role of bounty hunter.”

Interesting. If a child was not yet considered to have risen to adulthood, the eldest sibling was to give the formal introduction for him or her. The fact that she designated him as the only one with a role in the family was something I also found peculiar.

“I'm surprised you know the proper griffin formal greeting.” Garador regarded me with an even stare and a level head as we went to less formal matters. Body language was everything when it came to first impressions for griffins. Equinpologists must take great care when addressing griffins as such. That he didn't look down on me nor bow his head down meant that he saw me as an equal, and so I did the same to him. “How is it you know?”

“At our Stable, we had the luxury of possessing a very diverse library,” I explained to him. “It is through the combination of plenty of free time and curiosity that I learned much of what I know. It's come to help me in many unexpected ways since.”

Garador nodded lightly and asked, “So what is it you already know? You've certainly had the time to meet Langson, the bastard.”

“All I know is that you came to Stalliongrad and you bribed him with large sums of caps to keep your location secret from the Dead Boys,” I answered him. “I must also add that I apologize for killing him, as I did so with full knowledge that you wanted him alive. I...” I suddenly found myself at a loss of words. I tried to think of why I wanted to kill him. Justice? Anger? Blood-lust? My memory went a little fuzzy as I tried to recall, and the Razorwings were waiting for an answer. They trusted me enough to vest with me some potentially damaging knowledge of their family. I had to vest my own trust in them. “Honestly, I don't know why I killed him. When I heard that he was the one who betrayed your location to the Dead Boys and caused all this just over caps, I just wanted him dead. I wanted him to suffer. There's no other way I can explain. I must also apologize for cheating and humiliating your son from obtaining the bounty for the caps necessary to keep Langson quiet. It... makes me responsible for what happened tonight as well.”

Garador knew this matter of trust. “You're sure you don't have any griffin blood flowing through your veins?” He smiled lightly, if only for a moment. “Frost, honest-to-Goddess, the only reason I wanted the son of a bitch alive was so I could kill him myself after this mess was over.” Oh. Not what I expected. Well... that made things a little easier on me. “So. How did you kill him? You wanted him to suffer if I recall.”

“Just dislocated his arm and sent an ice spike through his wing before the real magic began.” I smiled. Good Goddess, I was smiling about this? “Oh, I should probably mention I am a cryomancer, and I am only a cryomancer. I can perform no other magic, but I like to think I perform it rather adeptly. Now then.” I leaned closer, still smiling. Why was I still smiling? “You see... when people know that their death is imminent, it brings out their true nature. It shows who they really are inside. Langson proved to be an idiotic buffoon and a desperate coward. I stabbed into his gut. The way he was lying and the way I did it, it wasn't going to be lethal. But... I made him think it was, that his stomach enzymes would acidify his insides for a slow, painful death. I gave him the alternative of drowning himself to death, and he took it. Heh, he sure took it.”

“You made him kill himself?” Garador eyed me.

“I sure did.” I smiled. Goddessdammit, why was I smiling? “I wanted him to stoke as deep in the flames of hell as he could get.”

He crossed his arms and nodded lightly. “Impressive. I think I can let it slide then. Now then, I'm talking too much. You were the one who wanted to ask the questions. Ask.”

I nodded. “Mister Razorwing, who are these 'Dead Boys'? What do they want with your family?”

“The Dead Boys...” Garador began, frowning and exhaling sharply with contempt, “are a paramilitary organization. A mercenary organization in layman's terms. I don't doubt your knowledge of our kind, Frost, but I must remind you that we griffins are an honor-bound race if not often a greedy one. The Dead Boys take that to the next level. They do anything for caps, whether it be the cleansing of a wholly innocent village, taking the head of a good man or woman, or bringing hell to what's left of Equestria. They would shoot up a defenseless mare if it meant a job. If doing good brought in more income, then they would've done that. I think you and I both know that heinous acts and atrocities are what rake in the most caps in the end.”

He breathed out a deep sigh, then glanced at Azrael. The giant griffin lifted her cloak up and out of the way.

My Goddess. She was wearing that skeletal body armor, the armor of the Dead Boys. And, I also noted, she was indeed of completely black coloration. Her feathers, even the scales on her arms and legs were black as can be.

I opened my mouth to speak, but I quickly closed it. I couldn't make judgments just yet. After all... with what I've done...

“We had the misfortune of joining the Dead Boys,” Azrael spoke, frowning. “We were poor, we were defenseless, and the unfortunate, inconvenient truth of the world is that life isn't fair and life isn't free. It's only all the more true in the Equestrian Wasteland. We needed the caps, and we needed support from a flock. It was why we joined the Dead Boys.”

“It ended up being more than we bargained for,” Garador continued as Azrael let her cloak fall back into place. “We had the means to protect ourselves now, but it was all behind an organization that did nothing but hurt Equestria more. We had the money, but it was all dirty, blood money. I liked to think that the Razorwings were better than that. Now... here's the part where we answer your question about what they want with us. Silas, go ahead. Tell him. Please.”

Garador had a grim expression, as did the others. That didn't bode well.

“The Dead Boys don't like it when members of the flock fly the coop,” Silas explained. “Once a Dead Boy, always a Dead Boy. Birth to earth, womb to tomb. That's the bullshit they spew out anyways. They didn't take kindly to members leaving, so we had to do it in secret. Some bastard snitched on us, and one of their leaders with her personal henchmen cornered us. We were told to stand down and remain or they'd kill us. We knew we couldn't stay. They already found out that we'd tried to leave, and they would watch us closely from then on to make sure we didn't try again. It was do or die.” He paused, exhaling sharply and looking away. “Or do and die. We went against them. And mom died because of it.”

Oh. Oh dear...

A tense silence clung to the air. I was relieved when it was broken.

“But not before I killed said leader,” Azrael spoke, a hint of sorrow and anger echoing behind her voice. I don't know why, but in contrast to her normal, too-calm tone... I found it oddly comforting. Perhaps that she showed more emotion than I expected of her so far. I don't know why. “We managed to get away, and we've been trying to find a safe place to hide ever since. The Dead Boys are not a beast but a hydra. I cut off one head, but there were many more left to assume control. And so the Dead Boys started hunting us down for revenge. When we heard about Stalliongrad, we couldn't resist and flew here. We were followed.”

“By Langson.” I put the pieces together now.

“Yes.” The gargantuan breathed out a sigh. “He was easily manipulated, thankfully. We made a deal. We would cough up two-thousand caps every month, and he would keep his beak shut. You know the rest.”

I took it all in and leaned back, still making sure to keep my head level with them.

“We lost almost everything we had to those bastards,” Garador finally spoke again, voice laced with fury. “We lost our dignity, our honor... and my wife. But make no mistake, Frost- we're not them. We're disavowed Dead Boys, all of us. We fought for this city just as hard as anyone else did. Except for Langson of course. Hope the bastard roasts good in hell.”

There was one last question, and I couldn't keep it in any longer. “Did you see the Memorial?” I asked.

“No, but I know of it,” Azrael spoke. “I'm guessing you wish to know if there's any correlation between the Dead Boys who fought for this city during the Great War and the Dead Boys who tried to take it tonight.”

I nodded. “They don't deserve that name. They're an insult to the people who gave their lives to save the city so long ago.”

“There is no correlation,” she told me. “It's merely a coincidence.”

“Well it's a sick, twisted coincidence if you ask me.” I sighed. “Well, what do you all plan to do now?”

“Leave,” Garador spoke. “As soon as possible. Frost, we're not fools. Well... maybe we're fools for thinking that Silas could help us hold out here a little longer, but not fools of that kind. The Dead Boys already know that we're here. Even if we did wipe out the attack party, the fact they didn't return would've alerted the higher-ups anyways. Staying here just means that they'll attack Stalliongrad again and again until we're dead.”

“And then likely kill everyone and ransack the place,” Silas added bitterly.

“Where will you go?” I asked.

“Everywhere and anywhere we haven't already been,” Garador replied. “No place is safe, only safer. I guess we'll start with the Manehattan area since it's close. Maybe Tenpony Tower. The Wasteland's full of nothingness anyways. We'll find somewhere. Now, does that answer all your questions?”

“Yes.” I exhaled a cool mist, getting up. “Though, I must say that I really don't recommend Tenpony Tower. The place is full of stuck-up, bloated, aristocratic egos. Unless you like being around that type, I suggest you look elsewhere. Thank you for your time, all of you. And for not killing me, I guess.”

“And thank you for killing the bastard in a satisfactory way.” He nodded lightly at me, rising as well. “I've got to get going myself. Snowbourne's gonna have my ass on a trophy plaque if I don't tell him what this was all about. And I'll keep your words on Tenpony Tower in mind. Farewell.”

Garador left in a jiffy, and I was on my way out as well.

“Wait,” Azrael spoke, causing me to pause and meet her gaze. “It was a pleasure to fight alongside you, even if for only a few minutes. I must thank you for causing that Heavy to turn around and give me an opening.”

“You're... welcome,” I said. What else could I have said? And so I bid a quick farewell and left, taking off for the Hammer and Horns.

The meeting with the Razorwings...

Not what I expected. I suppose it all worked out in the end.

But I still felt so, so guilty.

* * *

The Hammer and Horns was certainly a lot more crowded than I remembered. Chief Thunderhooves was now performing maintenance for the weapons that had got beaten-up during the firefight of the century. Needless to say, there was a pretty huge line, and I decided to just take the back door through the storeroom to get inside. It was known enough that he had to be repaid in kind for his generosity in cleaning out during the hour before, and he was often paid more than what was necessary. Large stacks of caps were tucked behind the counter with every satisfied customer.

Like I said, folks, buffalo often receive much more in return for what they give. All in due time.

“Glad to see the store held up, Chief Thunderhooves.” I smiled at him, approaching the counter.

“You and I both, Frost,” he replied with a light smile of his own, currently fiddling with a battle rifle for the griffin at the front of the queue. “My inventory is getting filled out quite nicely again with all these battle saddles and weaponry scavenged off of the dead.”

“Win-win as always. Do you happen to know where Rig is by the way?”

“Oh, your friend?” He paused in his work. “She is in the back with Xamuros and Sly.” He then leaned toward me. “I would like to think you owe me. She expended all my hydrazine.”

“... all of it?” I stared.

“All of it,” he responded, dead serious.

“She had fun out there, didn't she?” I couldn't help but chuckle.

“None of the Dead Boys broke through, so I am a happy buffalo.” He shrugged, continuing his work.

“Well, I'll happily pay good caps for all the flechettes, two-kilo slugs, and forty-five ACP you still have along with a dozen units of seven-six-two SR for Rig.” I slid a large bag of caps across the counter. I didn't care if it was far more than what I needed to pay to cover the cost. You know my reasoning. “Something tells me we're going to go a while without a resupply. This will also likely be the last time we meet for a while again, so... again, thank you for all that you've done for me and for Rig. Hágoónee', Shih-chai' Thunderhooves.”

Lá'aa, hágoónee'.” He nodded, taking the bag and sliding a good batch of ammo boxes over to me. “Now go and spend time with your friends already. And good Lorn, Higgs! How on Equestria did you wear the rifling down so much?”

I bowed lightly and took my leave for the firing range where, as expected, my friends were. I'm not one for long good-byes.

“-was scared out of my wits, yeah, but that didn't stop me from sending my pickaxe into his face!” Rig was beaming as she noticed my entrance. “Frost!”

“Hey.” I smiled. “I'm guessing you're telling them what happened while I was gone?”

“Yeah, you bet!” the still smoky-faced mare exclaimed.

I huffed softly in amusement, turning to the other two. “So, how are things going?”

“Well, I'm gonna have to wait til tomorrow to snatch all these claws.” Sly frowned, opening up his saddlebags to show they were already chock-full of them. “Sometimes, I really hate Regulator policy.”

“Checked in on Zasili while you were out,” Xamuros told me. “He took a few pieces of shrapnel to the side, but he'll be alright. So, did you find Silas? Find out anything?”

And so I told them. About the Razorwings, about Langson, about the bounty hunt. I told them what was necessary, leaving out the more private details of the Razorwings.

“Wait...” Rig looked crestfallen. “That means that...”

“It means that I am also to blame for the attack, yes.” I nodded. “In killing Sewn Britches and saving you, I partly caused this attack to happen earlier. Perhaps I just plain caused it. After all, the Razorwings were riding on the hope that Silas would get the bounty. If they managed one more payment, maybe they could have realized they had to leave the city after seeing what a bind they were in. And if they left, then all those good people wouldn't have died tonight.”

“Oh come on, how could you have known?” Rig tossed her hooves up.

“I don't know if I could have.” I sighed. “That doesn't excuse my part in it.”

I couldn't help but wince. I tried to kill it all away, but I remembered everything.

I couldn't show it. I couldn't say it. I kept silent.

“But you saved me!” the earth-coated unicorn exclaimed. “Come on, at least take something out of it!”

“One good life saved for seventy-three good lives lost.” I slanted my lips. “Wasteland math for you.” I fixed my gaze on her. “I don't regret saving you, and I know that in saving and helping you, I can save hundreds. But it still happened.”

“We don't always see the evil we do.” Xamuros nodded lightly, sharing a momentary glance with me. I knew what he was thinking. He knew what I was thinking. Was it really just a few years ago...?

“Hey, can't we just lighten the mood up here?” Sly pat me on the back. Which activated the pneumatic ram on his powerhoof and sent me stumbling to the ground. “Shit, sorry!”

“... Rig?” I looked up at her.

“Yes, Frost?” She looked down at me.

“By now you should be able to realize that the Wasteland hates me.” I sighed, getting up. “A lot.” It had good reason to.

“It's kinda obvious,” the cloud-maned mare chuckled a little uneasily.

“Well, again, sorry tonight didn't turn out like we wanted,” I apologized as I dusted myself off, craning my head back. No dents in my armor, thankfully.

“Well, it's still 'tonight', right?” Sly grinned. “Last I checked, we can still have tonight turn out the way we wanted. Our food might be cold by now, but hell we've got the night ahead of us Mister Three-Hours-Of-Sleep.”

I smiled. A little.

* * *

I was glad we were able to salvage a good night after what had happened. Surprisingly, that was the mindset of a lot of other citizens of Stalliongrad. The Rusty Steed was just as crowded as before as when it was when we got back.

I won't bore you folks with the details this time. We chatted, ate, drank. Of course, Rig and I settled for ice cold water instead of liquor. She just told what happened at the Hammer and Horns while I was gone.

Now, after everything was said and done and we bid our farewells- Oh what is it now?

One of the colts in the audience asked, “Can we hear what happened to Rig while you were gone?”

Murmurs of agreement, namely from the children rang out. The storyteller looked from one end of the audience to the next and chuckled softly.

Alright, alright... you're sure making me work for my eidetic memory. That's photographic memory, people, you can put your hooves and claws down.

Okay... let's see, how did it go?

Ah, yes.

“So, back at the Hammer and Horns you were talking to Xamuros and Sly about what you did before I entered.” I brought up as we finished up our half-eaten meals. “What happened while I was away, hm?”

“Yeah, you never got a chance to finish up your story.” My zebra friend smiled. “Come on, let's hear it again.”

Rig smiled and set down the frozen cup of water I made for her. She began, “Well, after Frost left, we were in a bit of a bind. The thing with flamethrowers is that even though they're fiery and awesome and cool and awesome and amazing and awesome and... uh, awesome, they kinda attract attention. The result? Pretty much every Dead Boy that caught sight of me kept their distance and started prioritizing me. Me! The pony with only a few minutes' worth of combat experience!” She paused, tapping her chin. “Granted, I did kill a few griffins, but good Goddess, why me? … uh, Frost? I should've asked a long time ago, but it's okay for me to say things like that, right?”

“Again, it's fine so long as you don't escalate to anything... obscene,” I answered. “Well go on.”

“Okay, alright.” The young mare continued. “So, now I couldn't really use the Mark Twelve. I fell back on Luna's Fortitude, and hoooooo-ey' did it-”

“She.” I corrected her.

“... er, 'she' take them down!” Rig grinned. “Well... when I was using S.A.T.S. at least. When I didn't, they just kept moving too fast for me to hit them, and all that incoming fire forced me into cover behind the sandbags. Thankfully, with all of the Dead Boys occupied with trying to take me down, that freed up the others. They were armed with machine guns, so they had no problems firing off enough bullets to hit at least something. While I was reloading, I noticed how the one next to me was aiming where he expected the griffins to fly toward instead of firing directly at them. I tried doing that, and I had much better luck hitting my targets.”

“Heh, you learn fast.” I chuckled, then frowned at Xamuros. “Wait, you mean to tell me you didn't teach her how to lead her shots?”

“Right... slipped my mind.” Xamuros scratched the back of his head. “Kinda forgot about it with targets. You know, since the ones we have that actually move aren't really far away from the counters?”

“What's this about leading my shots?” Rig asked.

“Well, you see, bullets don't hit their targets instantaneously like magical-energy weapons do,” the zebra explained. “For distant targets, you'll have to do what's called 'leading your shots'. You realize that your bullets take time to travel to whatever you're hitting and fire where you anticipate your target is heading so that your bullets and your target meet that place at the same time. That's what you learned to do in that case.”

“Oh, well that's good.” She smiled. “Now that the fire was split between the five of us on that rooftop again and I was the only one with a suppressed weapon, one of them made a point of me getting to a nearby rooftop and firing from there while the Dead Boys were occupied with them. I did just that. Between S.A.T.S. and this whole 'leading my shots' stuff, I was able to take down about six griffins before they wised up to me.

“One of them climbed up from below and popped up at me. It scared the wits out of me, but I slipped into S.A.T.S. and took a bit to catch my breath and plan my next moves. I noticed that the temporal spell lasts indefinitely so long as you don't use up any of its energy to place shots, so even with the surprise, it didn't stop me from taking time to calm down and plan out my move. The bayonet on Luna's Fortitude didn't look like it would cut it that time, but it didn't stop me from teleporting my pickaxe out and spiking it into his face. I saw a couple coming up using my radar, and I brought up the good old Mark-Twelve to light 'em up.

“Aaaaaand, then I ran out of fuel. I thought up a lot of things in the second that followed. First, aw man! I'm out of hydrazine? Then, oh shit. Chief's gonna be pissed. Lastly, I'd drawn attention to myself. Again. And I didn't have any sandbags nearby.

“So I did what I thought was the best plan of action. I jumped off the building.”

“You jumped,” I repeated. “You jumped off the building.”

“Yep.” Rig nodded.

“Uh... how tall was that building again?” Sly inquired.

“About... three books?” Rig shrugged.

“... what?” The three of us stared.

“Books?” Rig blinked at us. “You know, stories? That's what you people refer to floors as. Weird unit of measurement if you ask me. I mean, I think that's a lot taller than a book, or at least any book I've seen!”

“It's a... complicated thing,” I explained. “For now, just bear in mind that referring to a story in context with a building or construct of some sort is equivalent to describing the floor number or count.”

“Oh, gotcha.” Rig nodded. “So yeah, three stories or floors or whatever.”

“Three stories sounds a bit more reasonable and all, but three stories up is still three stories up,” Sly spoke. “You hurt yourself on the landing?”

“Nah, not really,” she chuckled. “I'm a tough mare. Well, not a mare yet... oh, never mind. Point is, I jumped down into the alley, landed without hurting myself, and waited for the gunners on the rooftop to get their attention again and for things to calm down before going back up. By the time I got back up there, two of the gunners were down and I had to take their place.” She took a moment to breathe out a sigh. “Most stressful moment of my life, I tell you. I couldn't handle it with just Luna's Fortitude, no matter how good it... er, she is.

“Look,” she continued, leaning back a little, “I'm an engineer and repairpony. I solve practical problems. I see I'm not putting enough fire out and I see two sets of unused machine guns lying next to me. So I improvised a solution. I teleported the mechanisms holding the MGs onto their battle saddles away and used telekinesis to fire all of them in simultaneously with Luna's Fortitude.”

“You can do that?” I asked, rather surprised myself.

“Well, yeah!” Rig nodded, smiling a little. She scratched at her mane, made difficult by her welding helmet. Doing so actually caused it to flip down, eliciting a grumble from her as she flipped it back up. “I mean, I'm an engineer and repairpony. I've gotta juggle multiple things with telekinesis at once, maybe even teleport multiple things at once. Wielding three guns at the same time was something new to me, especially trying to aim all of them at different targets. But I made it work well enough until Stalliongrad's own griffins pushed the Dead Boys back. I damn near shot at them too, but before I pulled the triggers, I saw that the griffin I was aiming at was using a pair of revolvers. It reminded me of that griffin you were talking to that night when you saved me, Frost, so I hesitated.

“Well, until he shot at me.” Rig added.

“He... he what?” I stared. Silas shot at her? Oh the next time I saw him, he was going to be in a whole world of-

“Actually, behind me,” she replied. “There was a Dead Boy I didn't even notice sneaking behind me with a powerfist, and the guy plugged him up real good. Frost, I wish you could've told me that the radar had so many problems with it! Like, it doesn't tell you elevation, distance, or even what's behind you!”

I had to take it in for a bit. Silas saved her?

Great. I felt bad now.

“So yeah, other than securing the area after that, nothing else happened,” Rig said, finishing. “What do you think?”

Sly spoke up first. “You taken?”

The ensuing reactions were appropriate and predictable. I facehoofed, Xamuros spat out his drink in a spray, Rig stared, and Sly screwed up his face at having his food sprayed over.

“Cuss, Sly!” Xamuros finally facehoofed. “Really?”

“Sly,” I spoke, eyes half-closed, “you realize she's a month shy of eighteen, right?”

“And she's awesome already at such a young age!” Sly shrugged. “Though, okay, now that I think about it, it's kinda pushing it.”

“Yeah... kinda is...” Rig leaned away from the giant, raising the patch of skin where her eyebrow would have been. “So, uh... what did ya think of the story?”

I crossed my forelegs and regarded her, happy for the change in subject. “Well, it was certainly not what I expected. You're definitely learning fast, and you did a reasonably good job of putting what you learned to practice. Again, I'd say you're definitely set for traveling with me. If you could handle this hellish night with hundreds of mercs bearing down on the area, I think you can handle the occasional raider nest just fine. As for your storytelling ability...” I chuckled lightly, smiling, “you're a bit too objective. Put a little more detail, a little more of your own thoughts. It does the work of telling us what went down, but it told us little else. Spice it up a little.”

“What?” Xamuros laughed. “Frost, I thought this was a performance review, not a story critique!”

“Heh, you think you can do better or something, Frost?” Rig nickered.

Folks, the little pony in my head was rolling on the floor laughing at this moment. I couldn't help but feel a smile tug my lips upwards as I replied, “Perhaps in the future. After all, I did promise I would eventually tell you about how we took Stalliongrad back from the raiders.”

“Then I'll be dying to hear it.” The earth-coated unicorn smirked.

“Trust me, he tells stories like no one else I've ever met.” Sly beamed before guzzling down the rest of his mug. “Between his voice and his personal style, there ain't a better storyteller in the Wasteland.”

… hey, he said it folks. I'm not putting words in his mouth. Besides, I'm not the boastful type.

“Well, it's getting a little late,” I spoke, getting up. “Rig and I have to get up early to start for the Manehattan area tomorrow. It's a long walk. Sly, it's been great to see you again. I'm glad that at least we had some time to catch up. Now hound up all those claws for Regulator HQ, alright?”

“Hah, will do, buddy!” the giant laughed heartily, patting me on the back.

I tensed, expecting yet another shockwave-inducing impact.

It never came.

Everyone at the table blinked in confusion, myself included as I straightened out again and Sly pulled back his powerhoof. He regarded it with a puzzled expression, holding it up to his face to inspect it.

And then it set off, sending him sprawling backward and tumbling to the floor. I just stared, incredibly surprised and terribly worried. Rig was holding both of her hooves to her mouth, eyes wide.

Xamuros... just looked at the collapsed giant for a few seconds before turning back to the table and sipping at his drink.

A large, powerhoof-equipped hoof shot into the air. “I'm okay!” Sly yelped. He took a moment to get back up and smiled. “So yeah, uh, take care!”

I nodded to him, then spoke to Xamuros, “Wees goed en sorg, my vriend. Ek is bly ons is nou op beter terme.” Be well and take care, my friend. I'm glad we're on better terms now.

Dieselfde an jou,” he replied, and we both shared a light bow to one another. The same to you. “I think that was the first time I caught a mistake from you, Frost.”

“Dammit.” I frowned. “Zebrikaans is supposed to be my best foreign language. Well, other than Esmaneol. But that's an easy language.”

“I got the meaning well enough,” the zebra chuckled, extending a hoof out toward me. I locked elbows with him and we brought each other strongly into the other's shoulders. A proper Caesarian-era hoofshake, folks. “Safe travels for you both, Frost Windchill and Rig.”

“Luna be with you both,” I said to them, starting off. “Come on, Rig. Let's head to my home.”

“Your home?” she asked. “We're staying there for the night?”

“Well, we certainly won't be sleeping on the streets.” I huffed lightly. “Come on. Let's get out of this noisy place and let me show you.”

* * *

“Well... it's kind of... simple,” Rig remarked as she stood in the doorway, a bit miffed by the fact that I just slept on an old mattress.

“I'm not one for decorations or extra amenities,” I told her. “I only have what's necessary. I spend most of my time away anyways. I mainly just use this place to sleep when I'm in the area and for storage.” I nodded to the bathroom where I stored all my things. “But anyways, that's not the shining point of my place anymore. Come along.”

And with that, I guided her past the corner to the main room, where that... that beautiful, lovely thing sat. I was happy it had been untouched by the battle.

“Wow...” Rig stared in awe of the Steineigh. “So that's a piano...”

“A truly marvelous invention,” I nodded, standing beside it and nuzzling the wood, the honest-to-Goddess real wood of the lid. “I owe it to Sly and Xamuros for this...”

“And you know how to play?” the young mare inquired.

“But of course!” I laughed. “Why else would they have gone through the trouble of painstakingly repairing the components, tuning the strings, and restoring the woodwork?”

“Can you play right now?” Rig asked.

“Hmph, is this a serenade now?” I joked. “Absolutely. I had time to practice while you were training with Xamuros and Sly. Take a seat. I think tonight calls for a good one.”

“Uh... take a seat where?” The cloud-maned girl swept her hoof across the room, indicating the lack of anything resembling a seat.

“Um... anywhere?” I smiled apologetically to her, sliding onto the bench and sprouting my ice arms to lift both lids, properly setting the peg in place for the larger one that exposed the strings.

And I began to play. Dumka, it was called. It's a... Slavic form of music. This one in particular was by Tchaikhoofsky. A simple title for such a... powerful song. And a damn difficult one, too. Heh, I still can't play it perfectly, and I still can't play it without working up a sweat. Yes, folks. Once you hit the eighth page, it gets really hard. Really, really hard.

So, if you would thus kindly show as much respect as Rig did that day. I ask now that you all close your eyes... and just listen. Paint a picture behind those eyelids.

With that, the storyteller stood up and strode over to the upright piano in the corner of the room to play once more. He slid into place on the bench, ice arms sprouting from his shoulders and hindlegs reaching down to the pedals. He played a few random notes to get a feel for the keys again and went silent.

And then a light whisper, so very faint. But it was audible to everyone in the room from the sheer silence.

This is for you, my love...

The first, broken chord cried out, flowing into a ballad of sadness and struggle, a struggle unknown. For a better life, for a better future. Each note resonated with magnitude, with depth. Each note sang out to the equine heart, echoing in hopelessness.

And then a frenzied cry of despair, calling to the night, flowing in time with that ballad of struggle. It flowed into something new, but something so equally despairing. The heavy-handed bass portion rang with an impact that sent shivers through bone. It went higher and higher and higher and higher, fluttering faster and faster, and lighter and lighter...

Happiness. Jovial, honest happiness. The transition was so quick, so sudden. What happened to the sadness, the struggle, the hopelessness, the despair? There was no more evidence of it in the quick spring of a rhythm. And then it came back, just as suddenly, as if fighting for control. But it lasted only for a few moments before the uplifting, heart-soaring felicity sprung back, batting the darkness away.

It grew soft, tender, easy, relaxing. And then it grew and grew and grew to a blazing-fast virtuoso, an unbelievable display of speed and dexterity as the notes whizzed by, oh those hearty notes whizzed by. It was followed my more heavy-handed notes, continuing the soul-lifting spree.

Fragility. Delicate, careful fragility. Another sudden transition. What happened to the happiness that itself had come from nowhere out of the sadness? It was peculiar, shocking even. But that fragility grew stronger as it continued, traveling lower and lower, thrumming deeper and deeper and deeper and deeper, and slower and slower, and growing louder and louder.

Then came a mind-blowing, insane, ludicrous sprint across the keyboard, blazing upwards... and then blazing downward, upward, downward. Upward, heavy-handed, thrumming deeply as it ended. It was followed by another reverberating spiral upwards, slow at first and picking up speed.

Happiness, it was back, overwhelming everything else. Every impact of the keys sent bones jarring, hooves and claws trembling. And then as soon as it came... trouble. A gnawing trouble that boomed over everything else going upward, then going upward again. And then it went downward, staying just as pervasive, and then it went downward again. It culminated in a powerful cry out, emotions mingling and melding into something that could only be described as as an outcry, slowly dying downwards. It then beat upward, resisting pitifully before settling back down.

Happiness returned again, overpowering as it beat triumphantly through everything. It resonated heavily. It was almost overbearing, it was so- the sadness.

The sadness.

It came back. It sneaked in, thieving hope. The transition was so smooth in contrast to the others, and yet it had done it so loudly, so boldly. It was more surprising than any of the previous, sudden transitions. It died down, taming itself.

And then that broken chord again, made whole. And yet so, so empty. The ballad of sadness, the ballad of the unknown struggle. It was empty, hollow. It had worn itself out and was decaying away. There was no beauty, no emotion. Only a crumbling husk. It held up until the very end, on the verge of collapse.

It all came down quietly.

But yet it carried a weight far greater than anything the piece had ever shown.

The storyteller let out a sharp, sudden exhale, slumping against the piano, ice arms falling off and shattering against the floor as he panted and gasped for breath, sweat matting his coat. Several members of the audience called out for someone to get the doctor while Roanoke, the griffin by the jukebox, rushed to the storyteller's side as he pushed himself up from the piano, staggering off of the bench to the floor.

I'm fine.

He held out a hoof to stop the griffin, who wavered and hesitated for a few seconds before withdrawing.

I'm fine. Just... don't clap, not yet! Just... just let me cool off.

The storyteller breathed out deeply, seating himself still and holding his hooves out with eyes closed in focus. His horn fizzled and sparked a few times.

Come on... come on, this next part's important. Come on. Come on!

His horn shot out a few more dying sparks.

Please.

His horn shot out a flurry of sparks before it flared up, a halo of ice forming and collapsing inward around it. The storyteller let out a deep breath, cool mist expelling from his mouth. He then curved his lips into a grin.

Thank you.

Hooves rattled against the floor and claws rapped together as the audience clopped out for him.

Wait, I-

Oh...

Never mind.

Thank you kindly, folks. Thank you kindly.

The clopping died down and the storyteller continued with his tale.

Yeah... Dumka takes a lot out of me.

Which isn't surprising that what happened today was exactly what happened that night forty years ago.

“Frost!” Rig cried out, running to my side and helping me up off the floor. “What happened?”

“Difficult song, really difficult song,” I panted out. “I can't help but work up a sweat whenever I play it. It's why I've never been able to master it. And... this tends to be the result.”

“Well Sparkle Almighty, why did you even decide to play it, then?!”

“Because I wanted to,” I answered. “Now... quiet down and let me get rid of this burnout.”

I focused, sparks and fizzles bursting from my horn before I got it to flare up. The refreshing coolness returned and I stood up, shaking the fatigue away.

“That was... amazing...”

“Thanks, Rig,” I smiled. “I-”

Wait a second. That wasn't Rig.

“Frost, that wasn't me,” she told me.

“Yeah, I know,” I growled, wheeling toward the door, forming new ice arms.

Azrael was there, standing in the doorway. Not what I expected.

“Forgive me for intruding,” she said as she peeled back her hood.

“Oh, it's just you,” I sighed. How the hell did she get up here without me noticing? Her footsteps were loud enough to wake the dead! … and... so is Dumka. Right. Of course. “Dammit, I really need to get a proper lock on that door!”

“F-Frost?” Rig stared wide-eyed at the griffin. “Who is this?”

“Oh, this is Azrael Razorwing,” I responded. “The griffin I was telling you about earlier.”

“He's huge...” Rig said in a tinny voice, definitely intimidated.

“She.” I corrected, facehoofing softly.

“She's huge...”

“I'll take that as a... compliment?” Azrael raised a feathered eyebrow, barely visible due to her color. “But anyways... that song was amazing. Where did you learn to play like that?”

Remembering that Azrael wasn't an enemy, Rig added, “Yeah, that was beautiful, Frost. How did you learn that?”

“Rig, how is it that you trust her so easily when it took you so long to trust me?” I stared at her.

“Well, uh... because I honestly didn't expect to see another good pony out in the Wasteland,” she smiled guiltily.

I kept on staring.

“Okay, it's that and because you spoke of her as being an okay person, alright?”

“... very well,” I nodded, a little more satisfied. But it was time to lie again. “I happened upon a pub with a pianist during my travels. I had the caps, he had the knowledge. We imparted one to the other, and things went on from there.” I frowned. “But enough about me. Why are you here, Azrael?”

“Again... forgive me for intruding into your household.” The gargantuan bowed lightly. A sign of apology in this case. “I didn't intend to, but I neglected to realize you had no lock.”

“I gotta get a lock on that thing,” I grumbled. “You are forgiven. Now again, why are you here, Azrael?”

“First, what is your friend's relationship to you?” she asked. “Your name is Rig, yes?”

“Yep, just Rig,” the young mare nodded, “but... Frost and I aren't really together...”

“That's not quite what I meant,” Azrael shook her head. “This is important. I wish to know if one of you is in charge or both of you are. That's what I meant by relationship.”

The two of us shared a glance. We both knew the answer, and her nod toward me affirmed that. “I am the one in charge,” I told her.

“I... wish to make a proposal to you,” the black-feathered griffin spoke. She was picking her words carefully. “Will you hear me out?”

“That depends.” I crossed my forelegs. “Am I going to like what I hear or not?”

“It could go either way, but... it is more likely that you won't.”

Oh, luck. You never seem to fail me. At least she was being honest.

“Well,” I sighed out a cool mist, “let's hear it.”

“To put simply,” Azrael spoke, “I wish to join you two.”

At that same exact moment, my ice arms fell off and shattered against the floor while Rig's welding helmet flipped down of its own volition. She grunted in annoyance and used magic to flip it back up.

“Okay, I'm going to ask now.” I inhaled, exhaled. “Why?”

“Three reasons,” the giant griffin answered. “One, the Dead Boys are primarily after me. I'm the one who killed one of their leaders, so I will be the one hunted down the hardest. They won't go for my brother and father nearly as much as me. Two... forget about two.” She continued before I had a chance to ask. “And three, you're headed to Manehattan, yes? It's a long walk there. I understand that you can't hold up a pony and fly at the same time, Frost. With me, I can carry Rig for you so we can all fly. It will drastically cut travel time, particularly important when you're running on a schedule.”

What. The. Hell.

“Azrael, you better start picking your words a little more carefully right about now.” I narrowed my eyes. “How do you know about that?” And then I remembered a certain key fact- Azrael was blind. “And moreover, how the hell did you get up here?” I added.

Azrael went silent. Even though she kept her expression firm, I could tell she was doubting whether or not to tell me.

Press her, the little pony in my head told me. She will give in.

Time to call upon good old equinpology.

“Azrael, what separates you?” I asked her.

The female griffin widened her eyes a little, both eyebrows raised. Rig was looking at me with a questioning expression in lieu of her eyebrows being singed off. “What's up with that?” the young mare inquired.

“When griffins make a civil attempt to form a friendship, that is the first thing asked with no exceptions,” I explained to her. “The reason is that griffins have no easy way to distinguish one's calling in life. They don't have cutie-marks or glyphmarks like ponies and zebras respectively possess. So they ask what separates oneself from the others.”

“Your knowledge of griffinkind continues to surprise me, Frost,” Azrael canted her head to the side ever so slightly. She was regarding me. She then leveled out her head. Equality. “Frostbane Hokkaido Windchill and Rig, the information I plan to trust you with is to remain secret as best you can. Do you understand?”

“'Frostbane Hokkaido Windchill'?” Rig stared at me. “Why didn't you tell me your full name?”

I sighed. “Rig, I-”

“It's bucking awesome!”

Oh. Not what I expected. Damn, I'm saying that a lot, aren't I?

“Rig, I prefer just Frost,” I told her. “My full name, even my first name is... just a bit too snobby. Too aristocratic. It's not who I am. I hope you respect that.”

“Ah... well, okay.” The young nodded a little.

“Alright, Azrael.” I turned to face the griffin, keeping my tone as reassuring as possible. Right words, right way. “I understand, and I intend to keep it a secret. If anything, I'm good at that.”

“And if Frost will do his best, then so will I.” Rig flashed her that lovely smirk. “I'm good at keeping secrets, too.”

As if a magical cha-ching sounded off, she exhaled and spoke, “Many things separate me from the others. My coloration, my size. My... disability.” She sighed again, clacking her beak in distaste. “I'm blind. There's no denying that. But I am gifted. I have the ability to see not through my own eyes but through the eyes and thoughts of others.

“I'm a telepath.”

I couldn't help but gawk. While I was wondering how on Equestria this was possible, it did make sense. That piercing feeling when we met, how she knew where the Dead Boy Heavy was coming from and how to deal with him, how she knew details neither Rig nor I explained to her, and even how she managed to find her way around on her own. It was because she could glean it all from our minds. It even explained the dialogue between the Razorwings.

“How?” Rig finally broke the silence.

“I don't know the exact reason,” Azrael answered. “Perhaps if there was an exceptional psychologist, doctor, neurologist, or anyone of the sort left in the Wasteland, I could know the answer for sure. But since there isn't one as far as I know, I only suspect that it has something to do with my mother. She was, after all, a unicorn.” Rig's mouth fell ajar, eyes wide open. Me? Well... I was less surprised. It made some sense. It was the first in a long time that I've heard of such an inter-species relationship, but it was definitely not the only one I've heard of. She continued, “My mother also had a black coat. It would... explain my peculiar feather coloration. It is, on the other hand, a little more questionable to trace my size through my ancestry. All I can tell for certain is that there is no other griffin I've met with the ability to perform magic of this sort.

“This brings me back to 'two',” the griffin went on. “I find both of you very peculiar. You see, I can glean practically anything from any living things within a mile radius, even all at once. I can 'read' what they see, hear, feel, smell, taste. I can read their thoughts, their intentions. I can even read their memories if I concentrate. Likewise, I can also interact with their minds. I won't go into detail on that. I speak too much already.”

Goddess above us all...

To glean all of that from anyone and possibly everyone within a mile and more importantly interpret, make judgments, and react based on that information immediately made her incredibly, unfathomably intelligent.

And then she could look into the past of anyone within that mile radius.

I suddenly felt very... very afraid of her.

“Wait, so what's so peculiar about us, then?” Rig asked.

“I am twenty-one years old,” Azrael said. “In all my years, I have always been able to read any normal living thing. You two... you two are different. I can't fully read either of you. I had to glean what I know of your situation and the location of your household from your friends Xamuros and Slyther.” She fixed her gaze on Rig. “I can read what you sense and what you currently think and intend, but I can't look into your past.” She now fixed her gaze on me. “And you... I can't read you at all. I can feel your presence. I know you are there and that you exist, Frost, but I can glean nothing else from you.”

And I knew exactly why. I found my fears laid to rest.

“Okay, so in all these years, you've found two ponies you can't fully 'read',” Rig regarded her carefully. “So what's the big deal? It's a big Wasteland.”

“There are only two things I've confirmed as of yet that I can't fully read,” the black-feathered griffin replied. “I can't read ghouls. I can sense their presence but everything else is tainted if I try to glean it. I suspect it has something to do with the necromantic forces that affected the poor souls. I also can't read machines because they quite simply don't have a mind or consciousness or subconsciousness for me to glean from. Even if such machines are advanced enough to have such things, I cannot read them because then it is not a mind, consciousness, or subconsciousness as I know them.”

She suddenly canted her head at Rig, who stiffened a little.

“... Rig?” I called to her. “What's wrong?”

Azrael seemed intent as well, but then she canted her head to the side for a moment and resumed the neutral body language.

“She's wondering what's the case with you.” The griffin looked at me.

Oh. Not what I expected. Then again, all of this explained Silas' peculiar question earlier.

“I'm not a ghoul, and I'm certainly not a machine,” I said. That much was true. Now came the lie. “I'm just in a different category, I suppose.”

“Seems so.” Azrael bobbed her head slowly in agreement. “You're neither a ghoul nor a machine. I can still sense your presence, but everything else is just plain... blocked. Not tainted, but obscured and shielded. But now you know my reasons for wishing to join you. To protect my family, to satisfy my personal curiosity, and to help you as well. Now, will you accept my proposal?”

I canted my head, regarding her carefully on my own. “What did your father and brother have to say to this?” I asked her.

“It took a bit of convincing, but my... talent- I suppose you could call it that- allowed them to see my view on it in the end. They have already spoken to Militia Chief Snowbourne and are making preparations to leave.” Azrael sighed, her tone softening. “Look, I know this is a lot to ask of the two of you. By joining with you, that makes my problems with the Dead Boys yours. I'm hunted. That means you will be caught in the crossfire. At the same time, I think I offer far more firepower to the both of you, an extra hand, and a way to speed up travel. If it's not enough, my family is willing to offer additional incentives.”

I thought about it. Here was an extremely powerful potential ally and a griffin who I've seen do at least some good for the city of Stalliongrad by fighting to defend it, and the same went for her family. Here also was a griffin who chose not to fight me but to understand me. There aren't enough of those people in the Wasteland. And then here was a griffin who was willing to risk quite possibly never seeing her father and brother ever again to better insure their safety, something that she could also quite possibly never fully ensure.

The Dead Boys would be chasing after us. Honestly, that part was the least of concern to myself. I had a bone to pick with them on the basis of their policy as an organization and their attack on Stalliongrad. Oh, and their name. I was more concerned about how that would affect Rig. She was inexperienced still, and that meant vulnerability against such a well-equipped, better-trained foe. But then she had me... and Azrael.

The incentives... I knew my ability. I knew I could sweet-talk my way into getting those incentives. But I'm not that type of pony. I'm not an extortionist, at least not for a good cause and certainly not for a family who had already lost and given up so much.

Finally the matter of trust. I didn't know Azrael completely, but she showed me enough. She vested enough trust in me to reveal at least part of who she was and what she's done as well as her secret, unique ability. That mattered.

I made my decision. It was all too easy.

I glanced at Rig.

She did have a lovely smirk.

“Here's the question,” I finally spoke. And then I smiled. “Who gets the bed?”

I formed an ice arm to my right, palm open. Azrael curved her beak up into a thankful smile and raised her right foreleg to her side in turn. We swung them inward and clasped hands tightly.

I nodded. “Welcome.”

She nodded in turn. “I am welcomed.”

* * *

Footnote: Maximum Level
Companion perk added: Extrasensory- With Azrael in your party, you have the ability to detect and identify non-ghoul and non-machine entities within a mile radius. You can also determine their disposition. However, the party now has a Vilified status with the Dead Boys and any informants or allies.
Unlockables added: Soundtrack- Dumka by Tchaikhoofsky

Author's Note:

I wish to thank Kkat, Somber, Mimezinga, and all of the authors of the Fallout: Equestria Side Stories Compliation document group, linked here. I also wish to extend my gratitude to Kookamater and SonicBoom for pre-reading this chapter. It might have taken longer than I would’ve liked, but I still nevertheless appreciate it. Lastly, I thank you as the reader. Cheers.

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