• Published 11th Jun 2012
  • 1,289 Views, 22 Comments

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 4 - Warm Welcome

Chapter 4 - Warm Welcome

“We are home!”

Day 0

I returned slowly to consciousness in the dim light of the morning. I stood slowly and groggily surveyed my surrounding, subconsciously noting that I had got into the habit of waking up in the midst of a battlefield. The ponies that we had killed the night before lay where they had fallen but looking around I couldn’t see my captor, or any of the ponies’ weapons. My rifle was gone again as well, so obviously the pony travelling with me had decided again that I couldn’t be trusted with a weapon and that it was safe to take it off me again.

It was probably a good decision on her part.

My stomach grumbled and alerted me to the amount of energy I had spent over the past day and the little that I had eaten. I cocked my head and tried to levitate the can of vegetables I found the day before from my saddlebags.

It didn’t respond.

I tried again, and once again not only the can but the straps and flaps of my saddlebags failed to even budge. I concentrated on my horn and started to panic when I couldn’t even summon a simple spark. My heart was beating like a jackhammer in my chest as a wave of possibilities assaulted my mind. I’d obviously strained my magic too much with my spell, but I hadn’t expected this. How long would I be without magic? Would it even come back? Would it be weakened, or perhaps strengthened from the effort? This last thought calmed me a bit, but I was still panicking. Without my magic or a weapon I was defenseless,save for my sparse barding that only covered my body down to my flank, and my arms only down to the elbow.

I heard the sound of approaching hoof-steps and tried to calm myself, taking deep breaths to slow my heartbeat. Soft Step entered the clearing as I struggled to regain my composure.

I brought my head around and pulled the can I had wanted from my bags with my mouth, the explosive collar proving a hindrance to my ability to reach them. I laid it down and sat then clumsily brought it back up to my mouth with my hooves, ripping the tab off before devouring the bland vegetables within. I swallowed a mouthful and looked at Soft Step before nodding at the fallen ponies. “What did you do with their stuff?”

She shot me a look of contempt. “Nice try. I stashed all their weapons away in case I need them. You’re getting nothing, little pony. ‘specially after last night.”

I was curious now. “What do you mean “stash them”? How do you remember where they are?”

“I use this.” Her horn glowed and a device floated out of a pouch on her barding. It looked like a small screen, similar to the one on my PipBuck, but with only a thin backing behind it, rather than the bulky one and the cuff that my PipBuck had. “It’s a Stable-Tec Data Assistant. Not as fancy as your gadget but it does the job - stores all sortsa info.”

I nodded and returned to my food, trying not to make it look too obvious how inexperienced I was with eating with my hooves. The longer she was unaware of my lack of magic the better. I chewed and thought about the new bit of information I’d just learnt. I wondered just how advanced the S.D.A. was, whether it also had S.A.T.S. I hadn’t noticed her using it if it did, but it obviously had a map and notes of where I could find supplies. If I could get hold of it I would be set, if only I had a way to get it off her. She still had all the weapons and I was more useless than usual, not to mention the fact that she had the trigger to the explosive death that the device around my neck promised.

I swallowed the last of the can’s contents and threw it away into the smoldering remains of our fire from the night before. No sooner had it landed than Soft Step was on the move. “Move, little pony!” she yelled. “We’re almost there!”

I resented her insistence on calling me that, but followed as she moved between the tree line. Somewhere a dog howled, and sent a shiver up my spine. I hoped we weren’t here long.

We weren’t travelling for long, she was right about being almost there. After a few minutes of walking the trees started to thin and we emerged into the open air at the crest of a large hill. Below us at the bottom of the hill a chain-link fence stretched as far as I could see. It struck me as strange that the fence wasn’t run down or broken like most constructs in the wasteland, it looked almost new and the metal column between the lengths of fence were barely rusted.

Beyond the fence I could see the more familiar worn-down building that the wasteland was home to, including a couple of large collections that looked to be villages. Following the fence west with my eyes brought my gaze onto a break in the fence filled with large concrete walls. Inside the walls seemed to be some sort of compound, with a large multi-story building looming over the perimeter walls. I could see a metal gate set into the concrete walls, firmly locked and the only visible way into the area.

“Where are we?” I asked.

Soft Step pointed to the fence with her hoof. “Beyond that barrier is the place we call the Zone.”

I laughed. “A place called the Zone behind a mountain range called the Rim. Not really the most imaginative of names a pony could think of.” My observation was rewarded with a sharp kick in the ribs, sending me groaning to the floor.

“Listen here, slaver! This place is dangerous! The Zone is no joke. It’s alive and it wants to be respected. Or you’ll be punished and we don’t want that. Not until we’re done.”

I groaned again and nodded, trying not to further upset the obviously crazy pony glowering over me. Sometimes the wasteland felt like it was tormenting ponies, true, but in reality it was just a joke to people. She seemed to legitimately believe that this place could think and feel.

The mare gave me another smack with her front hoof to drive the point home and started treading confidently down the hill towards the fence below. I stood and followed down the hill, expecting to descend as easily. Instead I felt myself sliding in the mud, struggling to find a grip. I lost my balance and went tumbling down the hill, landing in a heap. Soft Step nudged me with her sawn-off. “Get up, you’re going to get killed like that.” She walked directly up to the chain link fence and turned to face me, nudging her head to the west to indicate that I was to go first.

I huffed and pulled myself to my hooves and walked up to the fence in front of her. Turning towards the compound I started to walk. After a few seconds I heard the familiar clopping sound as she followed after me, no doubt aiming her weapon carefully at my rear. I walked tentatively along the fence towards the large concrete walls, wondering what new troubles lay beyond it.

*** *** ***

The cracked walls and rusted gate loomed in front of me, the entrance to Soft Step’s Zone quite firmly shut. The gate itself was raised a couple of inches off the ground to accommodate a barely visible railway track that led through it. The track was almost completely rusted through, it had sunk into the mud and led off in an almost straight line towards a different part of the mountain range that we had travelled through.

Soft Step was examining the building behind the wall a little bit away, apparently looking for something. Whatever it was, she seemed satisfied with her conclusion and walked back up to me, bringing her head up to mine and whispering to me. “Stay here little pony. Don’t make noise unless you hear the gate open. If that happens...” she paused for a second “scream and run.” With that she turned and started to follow the train tracks away from the compound, searching the ground around her for something.

Leaving the crazy pony to her business I dropped to the floor and tried to peer through the small gap between the floor and the bottom of the metal doors. The doors themselves were surprisingly thick but I could still see beyond them to the compound on the other side.

The train tracks that passed beyond the gated entrance led down to a large courtyard, with small buildings on either side and the single large building just out of my field of view. Standing in the courtyard were three ponies, each wearing what looked like advanced combat barding that covered the majority of their bodies with strong protective weaves and plates, and each armed with a battle saddles. I wasn’t surprised that Soft Step didn’t want to make noise, these heavily armed ponies looked like they were on guard, although I wasn’t sure why, or who they were - the barding style was alien to me.

I was about to withdraw away from the gate when a new pony walked into view from behind a view. Now I instantly knew who these people were, and I was even more sure that attracting attention to myself would be a terrible, terrible idea. The pony was encased head to hoof in the instantly recognisable power armor of a Steel Ranger. I had only seen such armor once before, and that was from far, far away. This close I was in awe of the powerful looking metal pony with his heavy weapons and advanced technologies. I almost wet myself when a second one stepped up beside him.

I stepped back away from the gap as silently as possible. Everypony knew how dangerous Steel Rangers were (it was easy to see why) and everypony knew that if you got in the way of their obsession with wartime technology you were as good as dead. I glanced at the PipBuck on my leg and felt my heart race. We needed to stay away from whatever it was these guys were looking for.

There was a metallic clunk from behind me to the south and I turned to see Soft Step lifting a large round metal plate some 50 yards away. She beckoned and I trotted up to her, glancing around to check that the gate wasn’t opening and a squad of heavily armed ponies rushing out to gun us down. Instead I heard a dog howl somewhere.

The plate she held had been shifted to reveal a round hole sunk into the ground with a rough metal spiral staircase leading down a way into darkness beneath us. I started down the stairway, but she stopped me as I stepped onto the first step.

“Wait at the bottom. Don’t move.”

Something about her tone made me sure that I was going to follow this particular order. I descended the spiral staircase into the darkness below, bracing myself for something - I wasn’t quite sure what. My hooves threw up foul smelling liquid as I walked straight off the last step into a pool of stagnant water. I heard another clunk from above me and I was plunged into complete darkness for a brief second. Suddenly a light shone and illuminated the tunnel we stood in as Soft Step descended behind me, yellow light shining from her horn. We stood in a large pipe full of disgusting liquid that led off in either direction beyond the reach of the light.

“This is a sewer.” I commented absently, and found myself shoved up against the tunnel wall, Soft Step’s shotgun level with my forehead and her face directly in front of mine. Her expression was a mix of rage and fear that unsettled me deeply. Her warning came through as a quiet hiss.

“Shut. Up.”

She released me and I breathed deeply, nodding to her that I understood. She nodded back with an angry look in her eye and levitated the mask that rested at the base of her neck up to her mouth, pulling the strap around her head. Now masked, she started off down the pipe into the darkness with her sawn off pointing in front of her.

We were walking north through the pipe according to my compass, back towards the compound. The light in front of us soon revealed a second spiral staircase that led up to a metal door set into the concrete wall that probably led up into the compound. The sewers probably passed beneath the compound and far beyond into the area and I found myself wondering just how long we would be walking in the pipe.

I hoped it wasn’t long, I was uncomfortable down here. Not only did it stink of stagnant water and pony waste but the darkness around me felt as if it were trying to crush me, and I could hear splashing from an unknown source in the distance that seemed to also worry my Captor.

As we walked I tried to summon my own light from my horn. I was briefly able to summon a faint glow from the tip of my tired horn, but my magic still hadn’t fully recovered and after a few brief seconds the small light spluttered out. I wasn’t sure just how confident I should be in the rate of my recovery, but it was comforting that I was at least regaining it slowly.

Not far past the second staircase I heard a wet growl echo down the pipe that sent shivers up my spine and set the mare in front of me on edge. She stopped and stared into the darkness with her shotgun in front of her. The growl didn’t sound again and eventually we started again, her in front and me behind, occasionally looking behind myself apprehensively.

We approached another staircase and this time slowed. Soft Step pointed up the stairs and I nodded silently, climbing eagerly up the metal steps and trying not to make a sound. I reached the metal cap at the roof of the tunnel and heaved with my side, pushing the lid off and over the hole while trying to stop my collar from digging into my neck from the strain on the lid. The lid started to budge, allowing the sunlight to shine into the tunnel below me and suddenly gave and slid completely up and away, making a grinding noise against the hole which I regretted.

I clambered out of the dark tunnels and embraced the light eagerly. Although we had only been in there a few minutes I felt as if I hadn’t been outside in hours. I hoped we wouldn’t be going back in any time soon.

Soft Step materialised beside me and placed the lid back over the hole we had just emerged from. Like the first one it directly next to the railway that led away into the distance, away from the compound that we had just passed under. I wondered if the pipe followed the railway all the way, or the other way around maybe.

From the back the compound was far less impressive, even at the distance we were standing from it I could see cracks and holes in the imposing concrete walls, and the back metal gates were completely missing. However the Steel Ranger squad were still inside I knew and I wasn’t ready to go wandering into the place.

Soft Step had removed her mask and was now surveying the landscape around us. The view was familiar, the standard blasted landscape and dead trees of the wasteland, with a small collection of houses on the horizon with the familiar cracked road of the wasteland leading up to it from away to the east. I watched as the mare breathed in the air around us and breathed heavily, a slight smile playing on her lips for a few seconds as her gaze swept along the landscape before coming to rest on the collection of buildings.

“That’s where we’re going, little pony.” She said evenly, nodding at the houses in the distance.

“And then?” I asked. She shrugged and poked my explosive collar.

“I dunno. That’s as far as we go.”

“So then you’re going to sell me and leave?”

She shook her head and muttered “You’re a slaver. Brought it on yourself.” I could see I wasn’t going to get anything else from her.

“Well shall we go?” I asked, trying to hide the fear I felt at being this close to the journey’s end, and started off directly towards the houses across the dead earth. I managed two steps before I felt a familiar sharp feeling against my throat. I backed up, startled, as the yellow glowing combat knife floated up in front of my face.

“Not that way. There are some places in the Zone you don’t walk straight through. You go around, you zig zag, you double back. But you never go straight there.” Her voice was low and steady as she explained this new rule to me. The knife rotated and pointed towards the road in the east that led into the town. “There. Sightsee.”

I nodded carefully and started off in indicated direction as the knife floated away. I approached the road with Soft Step behind me, presumably keeping watch in case I broke another rule, and I reflected on how we had probably doubled the distance for no reason. I wasn’t complaining though. I had no clue how to get away, but with no certainty of where I was going when we arrived I needed to try to take out this pony now, while I still could.

A dog howled somewhere nearby as I reached the road and turned to follow it towards the village.

*** *** ***

A little way down the road the mare behind me suddenly shouted for me to stop. I immediately obeyed and she walked up beside me, concern written on her face. I followed her gaze and only found myself looking at open air and the road.

Then, for a second, I thought I saw something. I squinted at the spot and saw it again, clearer this time, mere yards away - a small fluctuation in the air followed by a barely visible crackle of electricity. It looked like some sort of magic, but none that I had ever seen.

Soft Step’s saddlebags opened and she levitated out a clinking bag, holstering her shotgun. Using her magic she opened it and floated out a metal nut. She stepped forward and sent the the nut flying at the distortion. The area around the point in the air exploded with blue lightning as the nut flew through whatever the thing was. I started back and shielded my eyes with my hoof, my mouth open.

“What was that?!” I shouted at the mare.

“Anomaly.” She replied bluntly. “It’s part of the Zone. They’re everywhere.”

“Why? What the hell are they?”

She shrugged. “Dunno. They say that when the bombs dropped on the Zone they didn’t do the same thing that they did everywhere else. They fucked with reality and filled the Zone with things like this.”

My mouth hung open as I processed this new information and tried to think. “So do we go around it?”

“Yes.” She replied bluntly, throwing another nut. This one set off the anomaly a little to the left and the world lit up with lightning again. Another two joined it and although one set off the explosive electricity, the other went flying past it without triggering the surge. Soft Step was concentrating on these bolts and appeared to be noting where they were hitting. She threw two more, one between the paths of the other two, one to the left again of the bolt that didn’t set it off.

An idea struck me as she let the nuts go. The world flashed with light and I immediately turned, bucking her hard in the side. She staggered off and her horn glowed, wrapping her magic around the shotgun she had just holstered. I bucked at her again and her concentration broke, sending the weapon flying to the ground as she toppled backwards. Her front leg flailed as she fell and connected with the anomaly. It instantly exploded with blue lightning and engulfed her entire foreleg. She screamed and dropped to the floor, convulsing in pain.

Her scream of pain turned to one of rage as she rose again and pulled her combat knife from its sheath. She limped forward swiped at me with the vicious blade and I backed off from her swings. I’d expected her to be in worse condition after being bucked hard twice, but the lucky connection with the anomaly seemed to have done more damage.

I tried to summon a magical shield, but my horn still refused to respond and she managed to slash across my barding with the knife, tearing a shallow wound in my body.

I reared up and tried to bring my weight down on the pony, but she dashed out of the way and tackled me hard. We rolled and she pinned me down, my face in the dirt and her knife digging into my back.

“Still no luck slaver.” She hissed in my ear.

Suddenly a laugh rang out across the wasteland. I twisted my head around and saw three earth ponies standing nearby. The lilac pony in the middle wore a heavy brown trenchcoat over mail barding and wore a dual assault rifle battle saddle. She was flanked on either side by two ponies wearing the same barding the others I had seen were, each holding a submachine gun in their mouths aimed at my head. Behind them was our destination, certainly close enough for them to have heard Soft Step’s scream and our scuffle. I felt like screaming in frustration.

The lilac pony spoke as Soft Step rose to meet her, making sure to keep her knife held firmly in my back while simultaneously drawing her shotgun.

“What’s this?” she asked, indicating me in disgust.

“Payment, like we agreed.”

“This ain’t what I-” She began, Soft Step cutting her off mid-sentence.

“You asked for a pony as payment.” My captor pointed out angrily, pointing at me. “I’ve brought you this one.”

The slaver scowled at the mare next to me, who met her stare with her own as the ponies flanking the leader adjusted their stance for a fight. I could feel the tension in the air as the two mares stood defiant, until finally the slaver broke the silence.

“We’ll have the pony, but you ain’t getting anything.” She said casually. “That’ll teach you to not to cheat ponies.”

Soft Step started forward, rage written across her features, but the two guard ponies bringing their weapons up to aim at her head was enough to bring her to a halt.

“Go home.” The slaver said coldly. “Be glad we ain’t shooting you dead. You can even keep his stuff.”

The feel of cold steel against my back went away and I rose to my hooves. “You heard what she said, little pony.” I heard Soft Step say. “Give it.” The knife reappeared a few inches away from my face.

I pulled off my barding and dumped it on the ground, then my saddlebags. It was over, I knew. I’d failed to escape when I was with a single pony and now a full slaver group had me I would have no possibility of escape. Soft Step left the barding where it was, but pulled on my saddlebags behind her own, and with a last vicious look at the lilac slaver, left.

The three ponies marched me at gunpoint through their little “village”, which consisted of five run-down houses, while four more watched from the doorways. They shoved me into a roughly made cell in one of the little buildings, little more than a locked room with metal spikes rammed into the gaps in the broken-down wall. Another pony lay on the hay-covered cinder block pushed up against the most intact wall that passed for a bed. The pale yellow stallion with light grey mane watched me enter the cell, but the minute the door slammed shut behind me he turned over and ignored me.

I sat against the wall and considered the situation. In a way, I was lucky to be alive, even if I was now a slave. The faint restrictive pressure around my neck reminded me that I still wore the explosive collar Soft Step had put on me. I didn’t think she had ever given the key, or the detonator, to the slavers. The thought of her being able to explode me was a worrying one and I wondered if she was that vindictive and vengeful. After all, if she killed me the slavers would get nothing from whatever deal they’d made. I pushed this thought to the back of my mind and settled down against the cell wall and watched the light outside start to fade.

A large brown buck wearing the barding of the slavers walked up to the bars in one of the holes in the opposite wall. He examined me and nodded slightly.

“Nice strong lad. You’ll work hard, ay?”

I just stared back at him and he grinned. “Of course you will. Not stupid, are you?”

More staring.

“I hear you’re not from around here. Shame, but you’ll learn. And I’ll be watching in case you do something stupid.”

He grinned at his own little joke and wandered off to one of the other buildings in the camp, from which I could vaguely hear the telltale sounds of drinking through the rapidly approaching night. Howling started in the distance and I slipped down the wall to the floor, letting sleep take me.

*** *** ***

I woke to the sound of shouting and barking piercing the night air outside. The yellow stallion with the grey mane was sitting by the bars of our room and looking out to the yard outside. I joined him and looked out.

The slavers were under attack. As I watched two ponies came out of a building to the west side of the yard and were set upon by three dark shapes. In the dark and from a distance they looked vaguely like the dogs that I had taken down in the past few days, but even from here I could see that these shapes were far too large and bulky to be any old dogs. The two ponies fired again and again at the shapes, and even managed to drop one before the other two piled onto them, slashing and biting and bringing the slavers to the ground.

An explosion rocked the world and I saw fire erupt from the roof of another building. I backed away from the bars, sweating. The demons were tearing apart the camp and I could hear the gunfire and subsequent screams as another pony fell to their claws.

“What are they?” I whispered. The yellow pony didn’t respond for a few seconds and then shook his head.

“I don’t know. Even in the Zone I haven’t seen things like these before.”

A thumping at the cell door snapped us both away from the bars. We backed off to the far wall away from the door, and braced for battle with our bare hooves. The wooden door exploded into splinters as a massive force struck the thing.

A large creature entered the room by squeezing through the, now empty, door frame. It reminded me of a dog, except far larger and bulkier, bigger than myself at least. Its size, however, wasn’t the most striking thing about it. The creature’s hulking body seemed to be made up entire of wood, from its razor sharp looking claws and branch legs to the twigs on the creature’s hunched back that formed into a sort of spiny fur cover. The creature growled deeply and started stalking towards us, teeth bared and back arched low, ready to pounce low if need be while its eerie pupil-less glowing green eyes stared us down.

Suddenly the brown buck from the earlier burst through the door frame after it, his body covered in heavily bleeding wounds and the combat shotgun in his mouth firing wildly at the massive figure facing us. To my surprise it took three hits from the gun easily and turned, growling, to the pony. It ducked low for the next shot fired and jumped straight at the stallion, sending him flying backwards to the floor and knocking the gun from his grip.

It was on him in a flash, biting and tearing with its sharp claws and teeth. They looked like wood, but they easily tore through his barding like it was just simple cloth and crushing the pony under its weight.

I stared in shock and horror at the creature destroying the slaver, completely frozen. The pony who had shared the cell with me, however, wasn’t so hesitant. In a flash he was over to the shotgun on the floor and lifting it in his mouth. He fired rapidly four times directly into the creature’s head. The first three shots each sent splinters and chunks of wood flying from the things head, and the fourth exploded it, spraying a green, sap-like gore everywhere and sending huge chunks of wood flying.

The creature collapsed on top of the unfortunate pony beneath it and I heard something crack. I felt bad for the guy. Intentional or not, slaver or not, he had saved us and it hadn’t gotten him anywhere.

The yellow stallion turned to me and indicated back to our cell. We quickly bundled back inside and huddled against the far wall, him with the shotgun in his mouth and aiming directly at the door, and me shaking, praying to whatever Goddesses might be listening that another creature wouldn’t come looking for their pack member.

We sat like that until the sun rose again the next morning.

*** *** ***

We walked out into the vacant village in the morning twilight. Half-eaten dead ponies lay strewn across the yard and occasionally we saw the corpse of one of the monstrosities, but they were only one or two compared to the dozen or so slaver corpses.

We passed a corpse in relatively good condition and I knelt down to examine it. The barding was ripped in two and entirely useless, but her pistol lay nearby. I uncertainly tried to levitate the weapon from the ground, hoping that my magic had returned by now.

I was happy to find I could wrap the pistol in a faint glow and levitate it a few hooves off the ground, but I had nowhere to store the weapon and it was still too heavy for my still recovering magic and I wasn’t ready to carry the weapon around in my mouth without training. I dropped it and kept going, hoping that I wouldn’t need to defend myself any time soon.

My former cellmate was surveying the area, examining the bodies like I had been doing. He held the shotgun’s grip tightly in his mouth, as he had all night, but he removed it as I approached him.

“The slaver said you weren’t from the Zone.” He said quietly. I nodded and he sighed.

“That’s a shame. But it can’t be helped.” He paused and looked around again before speaking again. “You can come with me, to a safe place.”

I smiled at the word safe. “Where?”

He pointed east, to where I could only see a collection of steep rolling hills. “Barn is a place that accepts wandering ponies. It’s where I’m going, come if you want.” I nodded. “Good. Follow me and stay close.”

Under normal circumstances I wouldn’t have trusted such a pony in an unknown place, but the events had of the previous few days had left me desperate, and I so wanted to trust the pony, to go somewhere safe. So I followed him in the growing light away from the village and towards the place he called Barn, hopefully a place to stay.

Level Up!

New Perk: Horse Sense (Rank 2) -- Your capacity for learning continues to grow in this strange new environment. You gain 20% extra XP whenever XP is earned.

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-reader and editor, Jeff.

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.