• Published 11th Jun 2012
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Fallout Equestria - The Zone - Sweetwater



An ex-slaver named Buckler must survive in a very different part of the Wasteland.

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Chapter 10 - Confrontation

Chapter 10 - Confrontation

Excuse me, AJ, but we didn't travel all over Equestria searching for you to come home without you!

Day 3

I backed away from the window, shaking slightly. In the street below the group of ponies started to move, half turning their attention away from me to move towards the building. As I continued to back away one of the ponies turned to the leader and I could see communication between the two, despite the taller pony wearing a respirator. He nodded once in reply to the words of the leader and then the scene completely disappeared from view as I backed up too far to see over the window sill.

The room I stood in now felt much quieter and emptier than before. I felt almost like it were expanding outwards around me, creating a threatening void in which I stood alone. I could hear ringing in my ears and I simply stood, staring at the window that, from this angle, only showed the black clouds in the sky and the buildings around this one. The clouds loomed ominously, the beautiful falling lights from earlier now noticeably absent.

The sounds of movement suddenly echoed from downstairs and I shook my head. I found myself suddenly brought back to the urgency of the situation. Downstairs, I knew, were a dozen ponies that could potentially want to kill me. I didn’t recognise their barding, which suggested that they weren’t Steel Rangers or Loyalists. That left either Freedom or some other unknown group. I had already experienced pain at the hand of the former, even if I was now doing a job for them. If it was the latter then the future was uncertain. While they might also want to just help me, the risk of them just shooting me dead was too high for me to walk freely up to them.

I exited the office and made a beeline for the room that Burnt Fuzz was holed up in. Healed or not, now was definitely not a time for her to be locked in a room. The desk that blocked the door appeared to have been moved slightly. Clearly the raider had tried to open the door while I had been out, but the pony’s small frame hadn’t been enough to force the door. I braced and pushed against the desk, my horn lighting up as I did so. Through a combination of force and magic I quickly shifted the desk away from the door and it immediately burst open. Burnt Fuzz stood in the doorway, her expression dark.

“About time you let me ou-!” Her outburst was cut short by my hoof connecting with her mouth, silencing her. Her expression changed to one of shock, before returning to an irritated scowl. I pulled my hoof away and to my own mouth, shushing her, before pointing towards the stairs across the corridor from us.

As if on cue, a voice sounded through the building. “If you’re in here, come out. We are not here to hurt you, we only wish to help.”

Fat chance, I thought as I stood perfectly still. Burnt Fuzz’s disbelieving expression seemed to mirror my own thoughts. There was a pause from the speaker and a new voice could be heard from downstairs - quieter and talking with authority directly to someone.

“Find him.”

I felt my heart begin to race. They obviously weren’t going to be true to their word. I felt light headed as I considered our options. I was pretty sure there was at least another exit to this building - I thought I had seen a door on the opposite side of the floor that was labeled as an emergency exit. Unfortunately that meant going through the cubicles and past the stairwell that the ponies would no doubt be making their way up. We had to be careful.

Grabbing Burnt Fuzz and pulling my pistol from my holster I began to make my way across the office floor, dropping low to move through the cubicles with increased stealth. Burnt Fuzz followed my lead and we slowly moved forwards, heading for the emergency exit. As the sounds of ponies ascending the main stairwell echoed through the building I found myself envying Soft Step. Her ability to move with complete silence would be useful in this situation, as well as her skill with dispatching enemies silently. My pistol and rifle were certainly useful, but they were by no means quiet weapons. The minute I used one the group would be alerted to my position.

I heard the first of the group reach the top of the stairs and shout out towards the cubicles.

“Hey! Come on, come out! We won’t hurt you.”

I faltered slightly. Something about their voices seemed convincing - like they really didn’t want to hurt us. A thought occurred to me - the EFS that my PipBuck gave me changed colour depending on the disposition of the pony it detected. I swept my head back and forth, looking for the dots on my EFS. They were everywhere, but that didn’t necessarily mean the ponies were on this level. The dots themselves were strange, they appeared to be flashing rapidly between red and yellow - hostile and friendly. The magic didn’t seem to be sure what they were like. I groaned inwardly. First my VATS and now my EFS, this PipBuck seemed broken beyond repair by the magic that had almost killed me.

Unable to rely on magic, I poked my head out cautiously between two cubicles. Two earth ponies in full-body barding and respirators stood at the entrance to the stairwell, looking around and tracing their sight with twin-rifles in battle saddles. Neither was looking in our direction - it was safe for us to move on. I signaled as much to Burnt Fuzz, and we snuck onwards towards the emergency exit.

I was glad as we moved that the normally wild raider was proving capable of moving silently. Despite her normal attitude, she understood when a situation wasn’t in our favour. As we made our way past the desks and cubicles I considered actually giving her a weapon. She was still unarmed and if we were caught by the dozen or so ponies looking for us it would be only myself against them all.

My horn glowed and I pulled my rifle out in front of me. My pistol swung around and I offered the gun to Burnt Fuzz. In a situation like this, her shooting me was the least of my problems. However, instead of taking the gun eagerly like I had expected, the pony shook her head at my offer. I pressed the pistol forward again, urging her to take it, but she just shook her head and sat back on her haunches, folding her front legs. I shot her a confused look but withdrew my offer, keeping the rifle out and slipping the pistol back into its holster. Now wasn’t the time to argue, even if I didn’t understand what she was doing.

Our progress suddenly froze as a pony walked out between the cubicles a few yards away. Slowly, as if aware of our presence, he turned, bringing his guns around to face us. I didn’t give him time to finish his turn. Instead I brought my rifle to bear and fired once at him, ducking away from the row of cubicles the minute I did so and dragging Burnt Fuzz with me.

The stealth part of our chase was now over. Every pony in the building would have heard that shot and would come straight for us. Now it was just a case of making it to the emergency exit and running. I could see the door growing closer and closer as we ran, keeping low but going as fast as I was able. Shouting came after us but I ignored it - we were close now and it didn’t matter. My body protested and I felt a wave of nausea grow as we closed on the door, but I pushed past it. We couldn’t stop. We had to keep going.

Suddenly we were at the door. I grinned - we were out now. I grabbed the handle in my magic and pulled, the heavy door protesting and groaning with the age of centuries. Still there were no gunshots from our pursuers - I presumed that they had realised they couldn’t stop us and were going to regroup to intercept us. I doubted they could. They would have to find where the exit came out first.

The door opened and the stairwell beyond was revealed. My heart instantly dropped at the sight before me. I suddenly had a very good idea why the group hadn’t fired on us. They hadn’t needed to, they knew what we were running into.

A flashing red and yellow dot appeared on my EFS and a large, hulking figure detached itself from the shadows of the stairwell beyond the door. I fell back on my haunches, dropping my rifle to the floor as the creature reared up on its hind legs - it was useless against this creature. The black fur of the beast’s head brushed the ceiling and it let out a low, bestial moan, revealing a set of powerful jaws as it did so. A pair of dangerously intelligent eyes set their gaze at us while two vicious-looking paws came up to rest in full view. I felt sick.

A voice spoke from behind the figure of the bear before us.

“Please don’t be afraid, we just want to talk to you.”

*** *** ***

The group of ponies gathered around us as we stood outside the newspaper office. Directly before us stood the smaller, green-coated earth pony that I had seen before, the one that seemed to hold authority. He wore the same full-body barding that the rest wore, although up close it became clear that the armour they wore was heavily modified and patched - nowhere near perfect condition. I supposed it was to be expected from Wasteland barding.

He had been the one who had escorted Burnt Fuzz and me out here. Or rather, he walked alongside us as his bear walked ominously behind us, snorting and sniffing and growling in a way that kept the both of us on edge. Despite the actions of his bear the pony kept a jovial demeanour as we walked, reassuring us that we were safe. As we continued to walk more of his group had joined us, until all dozen of them finally formed a circle around us in the street, with the bear standing directly behind the lead pony.

He ran a mossy green hoof through his grey mane and I found my eyes drawn to his forelegs. The arms of his barding weren’t even, I realised. The sleeve of his raised foreleg stopped halfway down the leg, while the other one reached all the way down to a boot that covered the hoof. My head suddenly swam and I put my own hoof to my head, dropping the line of thought and staring at the ground as I tried to fight the sense of rising bile in my gut.

A hoof placed itself on my shoulder. “Are you okay?”

I raised my head and nodded, not trusting my mouth to open safely. I found myself staring into the eyes of the green lead pony, grey like his mane. My eyes widened briefly and then contracted as I found myself caught off-guard by the kindness in his expression.

“You and your... companion seem to be in a sad state. This is raider territory you know. What compelled the two of you to come here alone and in such a state?”

I swallowed, confident that I wasn’t about to throw up now that the moment had passed. “We’re here for a job. The raiders here have been causing a nuisance to a nearby town and we’re here to take care of them.” The words flowed out easily and the stallion received them with a kind smile. I caught myself before I revealed more. “What about you? Are you and your group here for them?” If they were, I feared that I wouldn’t be completing the job given to me.

“You could say that. It’s true we were looking for the raiders in this territory, although we are not here to kill them. Not initially at least.” He didn’t elaborate, and instead leaned around to look at Burnt Fuzz as she swept her eyes restlessly over the armed ponies around us. “Indeed, we thought the two of you might be raiders when we first spotted you. Your mare companion especially has the look of a raider. Is she with you voluntarily?”

“She’s fine. She’s my guide in this place.”

“Of course, of course.” The earth pony nodded and his brow furrowed, as if thinking. His smile returned within a few seconds and then he placed a hoof to his chest. “My name is Gravebloom. I am the leader of this little band.” The same hoof suddenly swept around to indicate his party. “May I ask your names?”

I nodded. I wasn’t sure how I felt about this pony, but he seemed genuine enough. And besides, what harm could a name do? “I’m Buckler. This is-”

“Burnt Fuzz.” The mare in question answered quietly, cutting me off.

“It’s a pleasure.” The green pony smiled warmly. “It has occurred to me that we have similar business here, you and I, and our goals are not mutually exclusive. Would you object to our two parties joining for a time? This mare no doubt knows the area better than us all, and we have the means to ensure you come to no harm.”

He wasn’t wrong. The dozen ponies around me could no doubt have easily killed us in the newspaper office if they had wanted to. The bear that stood sniffing the floor was easily capable of taking us both out with a few swipes of his claws. If we had tried to shoot when we had opened the emergency exit the fight would have lasted a few seconds. His offer was a good one, and although I was still wary, his actions thus far weren’t cause for suspicion. He had explained why he had come after us and his explanation seemed sound.

“Sure.” I answered and I turned to look at my companion. “Is that okay with you, Burnt Fuzz?”

“Yeah. Sure, whatever.” The mare seemed strangely subdued and unwilling. I frowned.

“Sorry Gravebloom, could you give us a minute?” I smiled apologetically and started to lead Burnt Fuzz away out of earshot.

A frown flashed across his face for a split second before the easy smile returned. “Of course, but please be quick.” He pointed a hoof to the darkening sky. “It is getting late and I would rather we finish here before nightfall.”

I nodded and whispered to Burnt Fuzz. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine.” She spat. “I just don’t like these ponies. I’ve heard of them, they’re all some religious nuts. You can’t trust them.”

“You were a raider.” I deadpanned. “I trust you.” It wasn’t entirely a lie.

“Shut up!” She shouted, her expression turning instantly to one of anger. I brought up a hoof and tried to ease her. She breathed heavily and returned to a semi-normal state, looking at the floor as she spoke. “It’s not like that. They’re just weird, okay?”

‘Weird’ in the Zone was relative, I thought. But by the look on Burnt Fuzz’s face and her words, she clearly had a problem with the group standing impatiently waiting.

“It’s just a little extra security. I’m taking their help and you’re taking it as well. Don’t forget what you’re wearing.” I decided to assert my authority, we needed the help and I didn’t want her getting in the way.

She narrowed her eyes but nodded solemnly. I turned to walk away and signaled to Gravebloom that we were ready, satisfied with her response. As we returned, however, the mare let out a final jab back at me.

“You’re wearing one too.”

I stiffened slightly, my thoughts instantly going to the bomb collar around my neck that she was referring to. I thought briefly about saying something, but we were back within hearing range of the larger group. I decided it wasn’t worth it.

As soon as we rejoined the group they set off - Gravebloom joining Burnt Fuzz and I at point with two armed ponies as the rest walked just behind. The bear walked at the very back, pulling his enormous mass with strong strides of its four paws. Every few yards Burnt Fuzz would point or nod certain direction and we would turn to follow her.

As we walked I continued to consider what Burnt Fuzz had said. Watching her guide us, I started to wonder if I should have paid more attention to her opinion. She was the one that knew the Zone the best. But the grey pony seemed so willing to help, I wondered if she was right about them.

“Gravebloom.” I started, choosing my words with care. “I have to thank you for your offer. We’re all much better off this way.”

The shorter pony nodded. “It’s only natural for ponies of the Zone to help each other.” He paused and looked at me. “Even if they have only recently joined us. Am I right?”

“Yes you are.” I smiled at him, then suddenly wondered if I’d answered two questions of his at once.

“The truth is, my companion wasn’t sure if we should trust you. But I think this has done both of us some good.” I chose my words carefully, despite the openness of my confession. In front of me Burnt Fuzz’s back stiffened slightly, but I ignored her.

“She’s right to be wary, but she needn’t worry. Cooperative ponies have nothing to fear from us.”

I decided to push my luck. “So who exactly are ‘you’? Do you come from a settlement?”

The stallion’s casual smile widened to almost a laugh at my question. “Not at all. We’re a collection of like-minded individuals who travel the Zone, embracing all that this fantastic place has to offer. We care for it and in return take in the lessons it has to teach us, like a farmer who harvests food in return for caring for the seeds.”

“Teach you? Teach you what?”

“Why, everything! Surely you’ve felt the Zone touching you, even in the small time you’ve been here. Little thoughts at the back of your mind, visions given to you by the magic in this place? The Zone is a living being that wants to communicate with us, and teach us to be better.” He spoke with conviction and his eyes sparkled with every word. I was starting to understand what Burnt Fuzz had said about him being weird.

This wasn’t the first time I had heard about the place being alive though. It was starting to seem like a common opinion among ponies living here, even if they didn’t take it too far.

“The Zone speaks to all of us.” A nearby unicorn wearing a respirator spoke with a feminine voice. In her armour and with her face covered it was hard to tell she was female. “But some of us are more in tune than others. My brother and I were born on the outside. We had another being speak to us when we were small, in our dreams. She called herself the Goddess and she claimed she could unite us all.” She scoffed. “Then one day we were part of a trading caravan that came through the pass into the Zone. The Goddess instantly went silent, and we were aware of another presence. This presence that had scared off even the Goddess left us in awe. We found Gravebloom and he showed us the way.”

She spoke so reverently of the Zone and Gravebloom. It was fascinating. I had maybe felt something on the edge of my thoughts, maybe, but these ponies spoke as if there was some great being here they had exclusive access to.

“So are you travelling here because of some message you’ve been told?”

Gravebloom chuckled. “The Zone is not so explicit. We have had hints that we will find a new companion here, one that will help us in our ultimate goal.”

“And that is?” I pressed.

“To find the center of the Zone of course. The power at its heart will lead us to new horizons.”

The center of the Zone. I remembered the map in Death Toll’s office, with the big black spot around the middle, surrounded by red. If what I knew was right, these ponies would be insane to try to make their way there. Gravebloom and the mare had seemed so confident, I was starting to wonder if they were as stable as they seemed. Then again, I hadn’t exactly been keeping sane company recently. Some of my notable companions were a pony who enslaved me and a raider, a group of religious nuts couldn’t be too bad.

*** *** ***

“We’re here.”

Burnt Fuzz’s voice cut through my thoughts as she came to a stop. Before us stood a decrepit building covered with signs of vandalism. Crude phrases were drawn on the wall with various phrases and empty Dash inhalers were strewn around the entrance. Sitting off to one side was a battered cage that looked like it had one been designed to hold a large bird. The complex designs of the metalwork suggested that either the owner or the bird had been important, but now the metal had been dented and bent - apparently to hold something much larger. This was definitely a raider hideout.

I walked up beside Burnt Fuzz. “Do you think they know we’re coming?” Would they have seen Choke Hold coming? Would she have been taken by surprise on her own? It was getting very dark and the raiders knew this area better than anypony else. It was a very real threat.

The raider shook her head and pointed at the empty windows of the four stories of the building. “They would have already started shooting if they did. We’ve been lucky.” She held up a hoof and shook it at me while smiling wickedly. “We’d be full of holes, like cheese.”

I ignored her warped sense of humour. “So they’re either inside unsuspecting or out raiding?”

She shrugged. “Probably. There ain’t nopony stupid enough to come here usually so they’ve got no reason to keep watch. If they’re out they’ll be coming from that direction.” She pointed down a thin path that led off past several buildings. “The trade routes are that way. If they’re out hunting stupid caravans trying to sneak past in the dark, they’ll be that way.”

Choke Hold wouldn’t know that. If she made it this far she would have gone straight into the building. Regardless of what everyone else thought, finding the raiders wasn’t my objective here and I had to take the option that would get me nearer to finding Choke Hold.

Gravebloom and his group were checking the area, several even moving to circle around the building. They looked every bit the organised force. It was no wonder they had trapped us in the Equestria Today building, they actually scouted out the area before charging in. Gravebloom was standing with his bear and two other ponies, including the mare that had spoken before.

“What are your plans now we’re here?” I asked the lead pony as I approached. “You said you weren’t here to stop the raiders, but are you going to anyway?”

“We were planning to wait here until the pony we are searching for shows themselves.” I mentally put a hoof to my face, not able to believe that these ponies were content to just wait for a pony they didn’t even know and weren’t sure was going to arrive. “But I also wish to help you. While we have no reason to go after these ponies specifically like you, raiders as a whole are a blight on the wasteland.” He waved a hoof towards their building as he continued. “They have no respect for the world around them and are content to destroy. For a plant to thrive the rotted parts of it must be pruned and returned to the soil.” As he finished his eyes briefly came to rest on Burnt Fuzz before returning to me, his smile returning as he did so.

Burnt Fuzz narrowed her eyes and began to swish her tail slightly in response. I stepped a little closer to Gravebloom and placed a leg firmly in front of ‘my’ raider. “So you’ll help us?”

“Yes. Thorn and Stem will follow you into the building, if that is where you wish to go.” The pony indicated the two ponies standing with him. The mare nodded at me.

“My brother and I will not be missed here. Between the two of us, Stem and I will be enough to ensure your safety.” The stallion in question said nothing and I wondered if he could even speak. In their full-body barding and respirators I certainly believed they could be of help. Stem carried twin grenade rifles on a battle saddle, while his sister’s battle saddle sported a pair of heavy rifles.

Beside me Burnt Fuzz muttered under her breath. “Enough to kill us if they don’t like what we do as well.”

I smiled awkwardly, pretending not to hear the raider’s comment and hoping the other three hadn’t either. “We’ll be glad to have the backup. We’re going to go straight in after the raiders, to be finished as quickly as possible. Is that okay with you two?”

Thorn nodded. “Lead the way.”

I gently shoved Burnt Fuzz ahead of me as I nodded and turned to enter the raider hideout, leaning close to whisper to here. “They’re just going to help us and then we’ll leave them. Relax.”

“Don’t blame me when it goes wrong.” Was her only response.

I took the lead as we entered the broken building, Burnt Fuzz a step behind me and the two armed ponies bringing up the rear. I found myself slightly more wary of their presence as I drew my rifle in the darkness of the corridor, but I was at least relieved that it wasn’t the bear standing behind us.

We headed cautiously through the shadowy corridors of the building. I soon realised that the building had once been a hotel of some sort. Rows of doors, some open, some firmly shut and some either hanging off of their hinges or just missing entirely, lined the corridors. The place was in as much a state inside as outside. Debris and junk littered the floor and we had to be careful not to kick anything that would make noise as we moved. The longer we could keep the raiders unaware of our presence the better.

My EFS was useless. It still showed Stem and Thorn as flashing red and yellow dots and wasn’t showing anypony else in the vicinity. Occasionally a red dot flashed briefly into vision before disappearing again like a ghost.

Suddenly we rounded a corner and the scene changed from simply messy to outright destroyed. Bullet holes riddled the wall and one patch of wall had been completely caved in, revealing a room beyond. A corpse lay across the floor in a pool of blood. While not quite fresh, the blood wasn’t old either. Judging from the obvious wounds, the pony had been beaten and stomped to death. His face was a mess, his horn was completely smashed and a hoof that had apparently been reaching for a submachine gun laying just inches away was bent at a painful angle. My stomach roiled at the sight and I fought to keep it under control. This was no worse than what I was used to, but my body wasn’t in a good state as it was. The sight was enough to push it to the edge.

“Looks like somepony already came this way. You might be too late.” Thorn commented. She was right of course, this was the work of Choke Hold. I had been right to come straight in here, she had headed straight in to confront the raiders and this was the result. Obviously the raider had been minding his own business when Choke Hold had surprised him. It looked like he had only got off a single spray of bullets before being mercilessly beaten by the large earth pony.

Burnt Fuzz moved closer to the gun laying across the ground, before coming to a stop and looking at me. I realised she was asking for permission and nodded at her. In this situation everypony should be armed, enslaved or not. She eagerly picked up the weapon in her mouth, checking to see how many shots she had left as she did so. I wondered why she was so willing to use this weapon and not the pistol that I had offered her previously, but didn’t voice my question. Instead I looked around as the mare busied herself with looting what was left of the raider.

I peered through the gloom into the hole in the wall. I wondered if Choke Hold had caused this as well, it definitely seemed like her style. The room beyond appeared to be a storage room of some kind, and my heart leapt as I spotted the tell-tale yellow and pink of a medical box in the darkness. I vaulted the remains of the wall and headed straight for it. My haste proved to be a mistake as a soft beeping sounded as I approached the box and a slight glow appeared just below me.

On instinct my hoof struck out. It was too late to back off the mine, but I might be able to catch it and disable the explosive. Through some miracle my hoof connected with the little button on the first try and the beeping stopped. My heart was beating ridiculously fast and I felt light headed as I looked down at the flat explosive. Goddesses knew how I was able to disable it before it exploded, but an unexploded mine was a useful weapon. Gripping it in my magic I lifted it and slipped it into my saddlebag, feeling the weight shift as it settled.

I breathed heavily to slow my heart and my head began to clear. I looked up at the box on the wall. Locked, just my luck. I narrowed my eyes as I brought out my tools to open it. The lock wasn’t complex but I was definitely not at my best. It took me several tries to open and put me down to my last couple of lockpicks. The results proved reward enough however - opening the little yellow box gave me two healing potions and a Rad-Away, as well as a syringe of Med-X and a bottle of semi-irradiated water. An excellent haul, and worth almost being blown up for.

I slipped the healing potions and Med-X into my saddlebags and held out the Rad-Away in my magic. I brought my PipBuck up and flicked to the radiation meter. With the red eye in my pack flooding me with radiation to heal me I needed to keep an eye on the levels.

Just as expected, my levels were dangerously high. The little indicator sat just under halfway up the meter and made me gasp a little. It was no wonder I felt so bad, according to this I should be showing the symptoms of pretty serious radiation sickness. I instantly chugged the Rad-Away and watched as the little line started to move further down the meter, bringing the radiation level back to a slightly better position. It was still higher than I wanted it, but at least it was slightly better.

Jumping back over the broken wall, I returned to the other three. Burnt Fuzz looked much happier now she held a weapon in her mouth, bringing to mind again why she had rejected my offer in the Equestria Today building. She spoke around the grip as we started to move on.

“Ooo ‘i’n’t b’ow up ‘en.” She mumbled. I shook my head.

“No I didn’t blow up. Did you know about that mine?”

The raider shook her head but giggled a little as I glared at her disbelievingly. She spat out the weapon and smiled at me. “I didn’t, but it was funny watching you panic. I’m impressed you disabled it. You should be careful. There are traps everywhere and you might not always be so lucky.”

“She’s right. Always check before you move forwards.” Thorn chimed in behind us and I scowled. They didn’t have to tell me this. I may have been new to the Zone, but I had grown up in the wasteland. I wasn’t some naive stable pony; I knew all about traps.

Suddenly gunfire erupted from somewhere above us and was cut short within seconds. The four of us instantly took up battle stances and stood completely still, waiting for some sort of follow up. The sounds of a fight could be heard from just above us and the ceiling shook, sending aged plaster dropping to the floor below.

After a short time it seemed like we were safe. I indicated forwards and whispered to my companions. “Let’s go. Stay quiet.” Somepony was definitely still in here, but whether it was raiders or Choke Hold remained to be seen.

Burnt Fuzz and I kept our weapons pointed firmly forward while Thorn and Stem kept an eye out for attacks from behind. We had to be careful, once we made a single shot the whole building would know we were here.

As if on cue, the sound of running hooves could be heard from our left. Instantly stopping, all four of us were prepared as a blood-splattered light brown mare rounded the corner and started charging right for us. It seemed she was running away from something though, not towards us. She skidded to a stop and her eyes widened as her brain registered the four ponies standing aiming at her. Turning to run, she barely managed to start moving in the opposite direction as our bullets hit her body.

In that instant I realised why Burnt Fuzz had refused my pistol. She was not a good shot. Half of the rounds that erupted from her machine gun went wide and her shots cut a line across the hallway as the recoil shook her small body. It seemed her method was to spray as many bullets as possible in the general direction of the enemy and hope it hit. It was something common among raiders. They favoured high odds over precision.

The body of the raider hit the floor and we started running. All stealth was abandoned now, I just wanted to find the other raiders and take them out quickly. We found a flight of stairs, ascending quickly. A sign just above the stairwell pointed the way to a meeting hall. I looked at Burnt Fuzz and she nodded, pointing in the direction the sign indicated.

We didn’t encounter another raider as we made our way towards the hall, but as we neared gunfire sounded again. It was immediately answered by a loud thump and a scream of pain. The pair of double doors that led into the hall burst open and a raider shot out and hit the floor with a crack, followed rapidly by a screaming stallion. Both met death under our gunfire, although I wasn’t sure if it was required for the pony on the floor. That crack had sounded pretty bad.

We cautiously pushed open the doors to the meeting hall, ready for whatever lay beyond.

The scene before us was one of destruction. The room had originally been designed to hold dozens of ponies for events and gatherings, and as a result had had a stockpile of chairs and tables. This was evident by the smashed wood and broken tables that littered the room. Tabletops lay stacked against one wall and were riddled with bullet holes, cracks and holes where they had been used as target practice, among other things.

The dozens of filthy mattresses had been dragged into the hall for the raiders to sleep on, a common practice in the wasteland, and various bodily fluids around the room showed exactly what the raiders had been using it for - sleeping quarters and a living area. Half of a metal drum sat in a corner smoking with crude stools in a circle around it, while the walls were decorated with all sorts of things. It was the perfect living space for a raiders.

Or at least it had been. Now it served as a tomb for several raiders that lay across the floor in growing pools of their own blood. Some seemed to have been caught off guard, one in particular lay near the door on a mattress and had probably been killed as he slept, while others had grabbed guns to fight back. It hadn’t done any good. They had simply been able to die with a weapon, rather than without. The pony standing at the center of the scene had not discriminated.

Choke Hold was closing on the last living raider as she desperately reloaded and fired a 10mm pistol at my old companion. Most shots in the magazine missed, but one skimmed Choke’s shoulder and the other hit her dead in the leg. It didn’t matter, the huge sickly green mare simply walked up to the raider and hit her once with a powerful swing of her spiked hooves. She flew through the air and connected with the floor. Choke Hold immediately charged at her and brought her hooves up, then down - crushing the raider under her weight.

Thorn and Stem went to aim at the mare, but I brought up a hoof in front of their weapons. “Wait!”

“Who the hell is that?” Burnt Fuzz hissed at me.

“A friend, trust me.” I assured her as I lowered my weapon and walked away from the three ponies, towards the mare. “Choke Hold, it’s me!”

The huge earth pony turned and affixed me with a terrifying glare. Her pupils were pinpricks in her eyes and her brownish-red mane was plastered to her forehead with sweat. Judging from her appearance and actions, as well as her being able to shrug off direct hits, she had probably taken some sort of combat-enhancing drug - rage maybe. It would certainly account for the ferocity of her fighting.

“You.” She hissed angrily. She started towards me, keeping the same stance she had when she had approached the raider. I smiled despite my waning confidence. I’d forgotten what Choke Hold was like to be around. “What are you doing here Buckler?”

“I-I survived the raider attack. I heard about a pony that sounded like you coming this way so I thought I’d come to find you.”

The back of her hoof struck me and sent me sprawling to the floor.

“YOU SURVIVED?!” She practically screamed at me as I scrambled to my hooves. “All those ponies died and YOU survived? You useless fuck!” I noticed now that she was crying a little underneath her rage. She went to hit me again and my horn flashed, shielding me from her hit with a short barrier spell.

Bad idea. She screamed wordlessly in fury as I backed away. I panicked. This was not how this was supposed to go. I was supposed to join up with her and leave. We had to stick together, why didn’t she understand that?

“You and your shields! Always hiding behind them! Never actually helping in the fights! YOU COULD HAVE SAVED THEM!”

“I tried. There’s only so much I can do to-” My words were cut off as she loomed over me.

“You tried.” Her tone was dangerous. “Trying wasn’t good enough. You see this?” She waved a hoof over the scene around us. “Those raiders killed our family. In return I killed them and then I followed the ones that ran! I made it through this Goddess-forsaken place and I killed every fucking raider I could find! I’m avenging the ponies that died, what are you doing? You’re fucking weak!”

Her hoof slammed down onto the ground with the sound of metal on wood and I heard the floorboards crack.

“That’s real nice.” Came a voice from the door. “But he came here to kill raiders as well. Tried to find you as well, apparently.”

Oh no. I turned to see Burnt Fuzz walking towards us. Thorn and Stem were still standing in the door, their weapons drawn but otherwise not moving. “No.” I mouthed, shaking my head at the raider walking towards us. This was a very bad idea.

“Who is this?” Choke Hold growled at me as Burnt Fuzz continued to approach. “What is this?”

“Burnt Fuzz.” She answered shortly. “How about you get off him? I need him to stay alive right now.”

“Is this a RAIDER? Are you travelling with a raider Buckler?” The huge mare turned away to stare dangerously at the smaller one, who suddenly seemed to realize the danger and stopped, staring straight back.

“She’s my slave. She’s guiding me through the Zone. Look!” I pointed at her bomb collar in a vain attempt to calm Choke Hold down. She closed her eyes and swept her brown-red mane from her eyes. Her next words were scarily quiet.

“Raiders killed everypony you knew, and now you’re travelling with one while I kill them?” She started towards my companion. “Well it doesn’t matter! She’s done her job, you can get rid of her now!” She squared her shoulders and launched herself towards Burnt Fuzz. “Here! Let me!”

“No!” I shouted, my magic flashing and a large silver barrier appearing directly in front of Burnt Fuzz. Choke Hold collided with it and the barrier flickered, sending a wave of pain through my head as I fought to keep it up. I looked desperately towards the two ponies in the door, but they made no move to stop the raging green mare. Thorn’s horn had lit up, but I could not see any noticeable effect.

Having had her charge stopped by my barrier, Choke Hold rounded on me. “How dare you! How dare you protect a raider!” She leant forward and bucked the barrier hard, breaking it. She turned quickly and smacked Burnt Fuzz so hard I felt myself wince. The small pony flew through the air and collapsed against the wall, groaning in pain.

But it seemed like the large mare was done with the raider. Instead, she turned and started running straight for me.

“You could have saved them Buckler!”

I dodged her charge and brought my rifle to bear, aiming directly at her.

“You didn’t save them!”

She came at me again and I fired a warning shot as I backed off.

“You don’t deserve to live when they died!”

Bang.

“You useless.”

She closed in on me, forcing me to retreat until I hit the wall. Nowhere to go.

“Little.”

She hit me once as I mustered my magic for another shield. This one was barely able to protect me from the brunt of the blow.

“Piece.”

The second blow came quickly and connected easily. I staggered.

“Of.”

Another blow sent me sprawling to the ground, the rifle dropping from my grip. I felt my skin tear at the spikes accompanying the terrible force of the impact.

“Shit.”

The word was emphasised as she kicked me hard in my exposed side. Blood erupted from my body, I wasn’t sure where - I was numb from the beating. Choke Hold stood over me, panting hard and kicking me viciously as I lay on the floor.

“Why did it have to be you?” She whispered, readying herself for a final blow.

I whimpered. This wasn’t how it was supposed to go. We were going to leave this place and rebuild. She wasn’t supposed to hate me. I wondered if I had known this was inevitable, but ignored it in favour of the happier alternative. The death of our fellows had made me forget how different we were.

“Stop.” The sudden, authoritative voice, echoed through the room. I twisted my neck from my position on the floor. There, standing in the doorway with his whole group, was Gravebloom. I felt a brief rush of joy. Surely he was here to save me. “He’s had enough.”

“Who the fuck are you?” Choke Hold sneered at the small green pony.

“I’m Gravebloom. I’m here to find you.” What?

“Me? Why me?”

“You’re connected to this place, I can feel it. You should have realised it by now, surely. You’ve felt stronger, more powerful since you came here. Your actions seem guided and your instincts have saved you from death many times in the past few days.” What on earth was he saying?! Choke Hold wasn’t some spiritualist. She could barely put on a battle saddle by herself.

Gravebloom smiled and approached Choke Hold unarmed. It was strange, seeing the two similarly coloured ponies of much different build standing opposite each other. Choke Hold seemed uneasy, but nodded.

“Who are you? Are you with him as well?” She pointed at me, lying on the floor in agony. My PipBuck clicked angrily at the radiation being poured in to me as the artifact tried desperately to heal me. Gravebloom regarded me sadly.

“We were, but your former friend seems to have been a tool sent by the Zone to guide us to you. We have no need of him now, his fate is unavoidable.” So why not just let her kill me? “We are a group of ponies similarly touched. We seek untold power given to us by the magic of this place. The Zone can grant any wish.”

“Any wish.” Choke Hold repeated his words quietly. I could practically see her being drawn in by his words. She wanted power, and an opportunity to be part of a group again, I realised. “What do I have to do?”

“Simply follow us, and help us in our goals. We will help you and arm you and soon they will be your goals as well. But this is not the place for this.” He cast his gaze around the room, lingering briefly on Burnt Fuzz and I. “Leave them, their spirits will be taken in by the Zone.”

He extended a hoof and lead Choke Hold out. I watched them go, the bear leaving last - following his master even in the cramped quarters of the hotel. The sounds of their exit soon faded out, leaving me alone in the deathly silence of the hotel.

I groaned and clutched at the places where Choke Hold had hit me. I was sure things inside me were broken, and I couldn’t work up the energy to use my magic, or even lift my arms enough to search my saddlebags for the healing potions from earlier. My vision began to fade out as the pool of blood around me grew and I groaned. I wasn’t even sure if Burnt Fuzz was alive and I couldn’t look to check in this state.

I wasn’t sure why I had protected her from Choke Hold. Maybe something the big mare had said about not being able to save ponies had got to me and I had felt the urge to protect the mare who had guided me and saved me from death more than once.

She was right though, I hadn’t been able to protect her. I hadn’t even been able to protect myself. My cutie mark said that I was supposed to protect ponies. It was my destiny, but so far I had been unable to protect anyone. My father was dead, as were all the ponies I had that were even close to family. Nimble and Soft Step, two ponies that had been trying to help me, had disappeared because I hadn’t been able to protect us. Burnt Fuzz was dead after all she had done to help me. I was useless.

I screamed and thumped the floor, closing my eyes in pain. From across the room I heard voices, but they were useless to me now.

“Hey, what the fuck happened here?”

“They killed ‘em! They fucking killed ‘em all!

“Oh fuck, oh fuck, oh fuck. Are they still here?”

“Look! It’s the cunt! What’s she doing here? I thought she got caught.”

“Hey, this one ain’t one of us!” The voices were distorting now, as if the speakers were teleporting all over the room even as they spoke.

“He’s fucking dead, look at him.”

“I think he’s still breathing.”

“Well just kill him. He’s probably the one who did this. A big damn hero trying to come in here and kill us!”

“Yeah, just fucking kill him.”

“What th-.”

The last thing I heard before I blacked out completely was the sound of gunfire.

*** *** ***

The world around me held a orange hue. I lay alone in the meeting hall, my body unmoving. All the other bodies were gone, including Burnt Fuzz’s.

I frowned. I shouldn’t have known that, but somehow I was looking down on the scene even as I lay in it. I couldn’t feel any pain, even though I could now see the wounds in my side clearly. They were horrific and the me in the ceiling recoiled as the me on the floor groaned. We were the same me, but somehow I was doing two different things.

Suddenly I heard the sound of panting. Turning to look at the door, I watched in horror as a Timberwolf entered through the door and approached my fallen body. I wanted to reach out, to protect the part of me that lay on the floor, unable to see the creature, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t move.

The wolf came to a halt a few strides from my body and sat. His entire body spoke of feral power as he regarded me. The surreal mix of natural and unnatural that emanated from his entirely wooden body was fascinating. The hundreds of twigs and spikes of wood that formed his coat bristled as he brought his head up, letting out a single howl.

The sound reverberated through my body, shaking me. It spoke of sadness and melancholy, but also of anger and violence. My coat stood on end as the single long note continued and a chill ran through my spine. This was the sound of a creature for the Zone. Something foreign, yet altogether familiar. It was a simple sound, but it spoke of such danger that I couldn’t help but feel terrified until it came to an end as suddenly as it had started.

It had been the sound of death.

*** *** ***

I faded in and out of consciousness as the world changed around me. I was being carried, by what I didn’t know. I could hear muffled voices. They were saying words, but I couldn’t seem to understand them, as if a filter was sitting between my mind and my ears to stop me registering what it was they were talking about.

“-you were right. Still, what the hell was he doing out here?”

“With a raider no less.”

“Yes thank you Haze. How is she doing anyway?” Haze. That was a name I knew.

“She’s fine. I don’t see why we saved her as well.”

“Shut up Haze.”

“Look, he’s back. See if he can do it now.”

A glass bottle was pressed to my lips and a liquid poured down my throat. It burned as it went down and I shuddered and coughed at the taste. Alcohol?

“Easy there Buckler, it’ll help.”

I opened my eyes and found myself staring at a moving dark sky. No, I was the one who was moving now. I blinked and the sky seemed to take on a metallic blue hue. Again, and it was gone. I tried to roll to see the sources of the voices but my body protested. I was forced to lay there as the clouds above me flew past.

“I can’t believe we found you. We tried going back to find you but you weren’t there!”

“Nimble shut up. He’s not in a state to talk, or even listen. Look.”

I heard mumbling.

“That’s what I thought. Give him another, he needs it.”

Again a bottle was pressed to my lips and again the liquid was poured down my throat with that same burning sensation. I shuddered and shut my eyes. I felt numb, but the liquid combined with the movement of the sky was doing my head and stomach no favours. I was tired, I realised. Really tired.

I began to drift off again, the burning in my throat and growing pain in my body doing nothing to stem the tide of sleep that was trying to pull me under.

“I think he’s off again.”

“Don’t worry, we’ll be there soon. He’ll be fine.”


Level Up!

New Perk: Intense Training (Charisma) - Your recent conversations could have gone better, but you’ve definitely learnt from them. You gain +1 Charisma.


This Fic is based on Fallout Equestria, which you can find here: http://www.equestriadaily.com/2011/04/story-fallout-equestria.html

Huge thanks to Kkat for writing it and creating the world for us all to play around in.

More thanks to my pre-readers and editors.

Locations and events in this story are inspired by the 1972 novel Roadside Picnic, the 2007 video game S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl and the 1979 film Stalker. Familiarity with these pieces is not required but is encouraged (They're good.)

Any resemblance to any other pieces of fan fiction is merely coincidental.

Any criticism is welcome and encouraged.