• 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 5 - Barn

Chapter 5 - Barn

"I said come in, don't stand there!"

Day 1

Barn conformed to the Zone Ponies’ apparent love of short, literal names. From up close the entire settlement seemed to be built from huge metal and concrete warehouses, with gaps between the structures barricaded with slabs of various construction materials. The large metal doors of the main gate were slightly ajar in what seemed to be a permanent position - judging from the rings of sandbags around them, manned by a group of ponies that watched us approach. The veritable fortress looked beautiful to my tired eyes.

The red-maned stallion guiding me lowered his shotgun as the guard ponies came into view. He’d been holding the weapon for the entirety of our trek, lowering it only once when we encountered another of the air distortions that gave away invisible anomalies.

We had no nuts and bolts, so he had told me to double back and look for some decent rocks. I happily levitated the ones I found with relative ease. My magic was still not at full strength, but it was steadily returning.

This anomaly threw the rocks the stallion threw towards it so far into the air that I didn’t see them come down, or even know if they did. He threw several around the distortion, seemingly trying to find the limitations of the anomaly as Soft Step had done the day before. The thought of the mare still left a bad taste in my mouth and I had tried to ignore the comparison.

As he worked I had been able to get a good look at the stallion. He seemed to be slightly thicker set than I, and his red mane hung in relatively thick strands that fell in all directions over his head, including one that fell between his purple eyes. His cutie mark was three grey bubbles arranged into the rough shape of a cloud.

After a few throws he had seemed to have fully mapped out the size of the thing, but to my surprise he walked off and fired twice at nothing with his shotgun, picking up the empty shells that were ejected and throwing one of them towards the rock on the floor. To my surprise the shell had rocketed into the air - I had taken note that the things seemed to respond more to metal. A few more spent shells had given us the information we had needed to continue towards safety.

We walked between the guard ponies on duty, who lazily pointed their guns at us as we walked past. I could feel them staring at me as we passed their sandbag cover and slipped between the open doors of Barn. One of them, presumably the leader, nodded at my guide as we passed him. The nod was returned and I suddenly felt very anxious.

The fear of the moment meant I had willingly gone with this mysterious pony through a place I knew nothing about, but now I wasn’t so sure that it was a good idea. I mentally prepared myself for some sort of trap and glanced about at my new surroundings.

We passed through the small courtyard beyond the front gate and into the first of the large warehouses that made up Barn. I glanced around anxiously as we entered the huge building. The few metal containers that the warehouse held were empty and pushed up against the wall to allow clear access to the small door to the settlement beyond. Metal walkways hanging from the ceiling allowed a guard pony to watch me as I made my way across the room with my guide beside me.

The pony beside me spoke, his weapon now across his back. “Relax, you look like a trapped radhog. We’re all friends here.”

I wasn’t sure I entirely believed him, but I tried to at least look a little more relaxed as we exited the empty warehouse and stepped into the settlement proper.
As I could have guessed from the exterior view and the guards out front, the settlement was alive with life. Ponies of all kinds walked and stood in the streets that circled the warehouses and I could hear the sounds of laughing and talking not far away in a building down the street to my right.

It was towards that building that my guide now took me. As we walked towards the building I could see ponies glancing at me curiously out of the corner of my eye, and as we neared the door a pony wearing full-body grey barding and a gas mask that covered his entire face emerged from it and stopped still upon seeing me, turning his head to stare at me as we entered the building. Their looks did nothing to calm the worry I had that this was all a very bad idea.

The building turned out to be a bar, called the Rad and Saddle according to a sign out front, with several ponies nursing bottles sitting around the tables against the walls, or at the bar, where a chubby beige pony with a sparse black mane, wearing a filthy apron, was laughing with a patron. The two of us took a seat at one of the empty tables. A couple of the more alert ponies looked at me briefly but returned to their drinks quickly when I met their gaze.

“Don’t worry about them.” My guide intoned. “It’s probably been a while since they saw a new face.”

“Does everypony know everypony else here then?” I asked, confused.

“Pretty much.” He sighed and waved his hoof as he explained. “Barn is an open settlement, but Zone ponies keep to their own people. It’s not normal for an unknown to show up, especially from outside. That thing around your neck probably doesn’t help.” He pointed at my bomb collar.

I nodded, I could see why. Better that they were just staring than trying to put a bullet in my head like some other ponies I’d met recently. I suddenly felt much safer. Here was a bar, filled with seemingly peaceful ponies, in a safe zone in the crazy world filled with things I’d never seen before that I’d been brought to.

I felt safer and happier than I had in days.


I jumped as the barkeeper suddenly appeared beside me and interrupted my thoughts. He slammed his hoof down on our table and grinned at my guide.

“How are you? I haven’t seen you in days. I heard you were dead, or taken up with the slavers.” He squinted at the pony across from me. “But here you are, with a stranger. ” He briefly glanced at me and grinned.

“Not dead, Earnest. The slavers got me. This one as well, from outside the Zone.” My guide replied evenly and nodded at me. “Something happened and now we’re free.”

The barkeeper smiled knowingly. “Something, eh? Lot’s of somethings happening. There’re rumors going around of some new beast that someone or other saw. Like a dog, but bigger and meaner. I think it’s just Ponies drinking too much before going hunting but ol’ Toll reckons there’s something in it, that there’s a new danger out there in the Zone.” He turned back to me. “You might be lucky that you and Haze were together.”

I suddenly realised that he was referring to my guide, and that we hadn’t exchanged names or even talked at all that morning, as we were too concerned with survival.

“Hes’ right.” I said to the pony named Haze. “If you weren’t there I’d be dead, and you brought me here as well.” I smiled at him. “So thanks, I owe you.”

Haze raised an eyebrow and briefly smiled. “It was nothing. It’s in our nature to help other ponies. Not that you’d know it any more.” He said the last sentence with clear disgust and I suddenly felt bad about my career until a few days before. He was right, I knew, but it wasn’t possible to live with those morals for most ponies. The world wasn’t a place for kindness or generosity any more.

“But if you insist on owing me, I should probably know your name.” He continued.

“Oh... right.” I groaned inwardly as I remembered our failure to communicate before now. “I’m Buckler, and you’re Haze, right?”

“That’s right. Good to meet you Buckler.” He nodded and patted the barkeeper’s shoulder. “And this is Earnest. He’s the leading trader here and practically runs Barn.”

The chubby pony grinned and ran his hoof across his balding head. “I don’t think ol’ Toll likes people saying stuff like that.”

Haze nodded. “Speaking of which, we should report to him. He’ll want to keep on top of what’s happening.” He moved back from the table and I followed suit.

“You’re not going to order anything?” Earnest said as we did so.

Haze shrugged. “No caps.”

“Then these are on the house.” The pony removed what looked like two sticks of meat from the pouch on his apron. “Come, eat, both of you.”

At the sight of the food my stomach loudly and painfully reminded me of how hungry I was, and I eagerly telekinetically lifted the meat stick from his hoof and started to devour the cold, preserved meat.

“Many thanks.” Haze said gratefully, grabbing his own with one hoof and tearing into the meat as I gulped down mouthfuls of my own. Earnest dipped his head and turned, heading back to his bar.

*** *** ***

We finished our impromptu meal and left the bar, Haze leading and me following at his side once again. I tried to ignore the continued quick looks in my direction as we walked towards an office building that formed part of the east wall of Barn.

“Death Toll runs the ponies in and around Barn from here.” Haze explained. “We’ll let him know what happened at the slaver camp and then we’re done.”

“Sounds good.” I said, but I was apprehensive. Although I didn’t really know Haze, he was the only pony who I had been able to count on since entering the Zone and I wasn’t sure I was ready to be on my own in this insane place again.

We reached the front door, flanked by two ponies in black barding with red trimming and hoods pulled up over their heads, whilst each wearing a dangerous-looking light machine gun battle saddle. These ponies clearly weren’t to be trifled with.

Haze brought a hoof up to stop me and walked up to the ponies guarding the door. After a brief greeting one guard moved to allow my guide to speak into a speaker behind him. I didn’t hear the exchange, but after he was finished Haze returned to me.

“He wants to see us one at a time.” He told me. “You can explore until I’m done and I’ll come to get you.”

I nodded in understanding and he walked away towards the office building, passing through the doorway between the two guard ponies before it slammed shut behind him.

I wandered a short distance away from the building to casually examine Barn while trying to ignore the looks from the Zone ponies. The warehouses of Barn seemed to have been converted into various different functional buildings. The bar we had previously been in was even part of a converted warehouse, it turned out - the rest of the building was converted into a sort of common room full of bunk beds. Another, with a floor of offices, had been converted into homes for ponies in the settlement.

I was used to villages being made from old-world buildings, but this was still impressive.

After walking around the entire settlement - a feat that surprisingly didn’t take long - I started to make my way back to the office building to wait for Haze, when suddenly a pony-shaped blur erupted from an alcove in the building and slammed into me. I found myself sprawled across the floor. I tried to rise to recover from the unexpected assault but my vision suddenly took on a yellow tint and I found myself shoved against a warehouse wall.

A rust colored face with a brown mane filled my view and I found myself face to face with my captor of the past few days.

“What the fuck are you doing here, slaver?” Soft Step hissed at me. I was shocked at her presence here, but it wasn’t enough to render me speechless.

“I escaped your friends.” I spat. “And another prisoner led me here. He doesn’t seem to like ponies like slavers. Perhaps I should tell him what you did.”

This seemed to make her extremely angry, she brought her hoof up and pushed on my bomb collar, choking me with the thing. I tried to kick out and resist with my own magic, but hers was much stronger.

“How dare you. People like you deserve it. You get out of here now or I swear to Celestia...” she didn’t finish.

“If you. Remove. This collar.” I managed to choke out between labored breaths as the bomb collar choked me.

She grinned evilly. “I don’t have the key. Or the detonator. I never did, little Buckler. I found the collar not far from where I started tracking you. It could be out there right now about to be found and pressed by some curious pony, and you wouldn’t know.”

I could feel myself going pale with fear and anger. The entire way here she had used an empty threat to keep me in line and dumped me in this unknown place and now I was at risk every minute. I tried to kick out but her magic held me. In response she turned and bucked me hard in the stomach. In the last second my horn flashed and I erected a magical barrier to absorb a lot of the blow, but the blow still knocked the breath out of me.

I collapsed to the floor as Soft Step drew her familiar knife. I tensed myself for further attack that never came.
Instead the sound of a gunshot echoed out and the world went quiet. A deep voice spoke slowly.

“Step away, Soft Step.”

I looked up and saw a tall, strong looking white unicorn stallion with a styled mane of pitch black and grey stripes levitating a .44 magnum pistol. Soft Step was facing him with a look of fear on her face, her knife on the floor, while he stared at her with a steady gaze. She briefly glanced back at me angrily before trotting off, levitating her knife to its sheath as she went. As the stallion turned to let her go I could see that his cutie mark was a silver bell suspended on a pitch black curled ribbon.

The stallion stepped up to me as I rose to my feet, regaining my breath.

“Welcome to Barn, Mister Buckler. I am Death Toll. Haze tells me you know who I am.” His deep voice seemed to resonate through my body.

I nodded. This was the pony I was waiting to see.

“Good. Come with me, there are things we must discuss.”

*** *** ***

I sat in an old office in a rusting metal chair across from a surprisingly well maintained desk, behind which Death Toll sat. I spent some time answering questions about my situation to him, detailing how I arrived in this place, although I made sure to avoid answering questions about my history before Soft Step captured me. Throughout the questioning Death Toll sat with the same steady, emotionless mask, that never wavered for a second, except for a brief widening of the eyes when I recounted how the slaver camp had been destroyed by the wooden beast and the occasional polite nod and tilting of the head to indicate that he was listening.

Eventually I finished recounting my tale and Death Toll leaned back slightly, considering me. I was unsure how to continue, so I sat there, waiting for him to say something or respond in any way. After a few minutes of silence he spoke in his deep voice once again.

“What do you plan to do now? I would be pleased to have you here at Barn but the Zone is not a place many ponies wish to live. As you’ve seen, it is very different to the rest of the wasteland.”

I nodded. “I noticed. What is it about this place? Soft Step said that the bombs did this, but I don’t understand why I’ve never heard of places like this before.”

“She spoke the truth. During the war the Rim isolated much of this place, and we have sparse records that the Ministries housed military and scientific installations here because of it. Many theorise that when the megaspells went off they destabilised some other megaspell in production and creating the Zone.”

He paused and pointed at a map on the office wall. It was surprisingly well made, and showed what appeared to be the entire Zone, split into dozens of clearly defined regions that were each tinted a different color, ranging from a cyan color that ringed the edge of the Zone, to green and then yellow and orange, the latter two of which dominated most of the map, to several red splats and finally a deep black spot roughly in the center of the Zone. The regions varied in size from some so tiny that I could barely see the color range to a few that seemed to span a couple of miles. The huge black spot in the center was one such region. Even the other regions became steadily darker around it.

“At first the ponies of the Zone died in droves to the unknown horrors here, but eventually we adapted and learned of its tricks.” Death Toll continued. “This map shows the nature of places here. Blue is completely safe, while yellow and orange denote that caution should be kept at all times. Green is normally safe, which is why we live here.”

He pointed at a structure labeled “Barn” on the map, in the center of small green region and traced his hoof back to a spot on the blue ring along the edge of the map, through a yellow tinged area. “I believe this is the route you took.”

I was taken aback by how complex the Zone was. “So what’s in the black spot?” I asked tentatively.

“I don’t know, we theorise that is the site of a ministry base. Nopony goes to the center of the zone. Even crossing the red zones is near impossible for many. The deeper into it you go the more the Zone affects the world. It tears reality asunder in ways we can’t imagine.” His already deep voice had taken on an even more ominous tone and I was suddenly much more hesitant to ask about it.

“Why don’t you leave?” I asked instead.

“Ponies of the Zone are tied here. Those who leave, and there are many, always return eventually and tell of how they can feel this place calling to them throughout the wasteland.”

This new information was baffling to my mind. Every new fact I learned about this place made me hate it even more. I wanted to leave now. I said as much to Death Toll, who nodded solemnly.

“I understand. I would be happy to send you on your way immediately. I think you would make it beyond the Rim by early morning if you left now and made good pace.”

My eyes widened and I made no attempt to mask my fear as I responded. “What? Right now? You just said how dangerous this place is! Can’t I get some sort of defence or escort?”

“You could, if you paid. The ponies here try to help others, but you’ll be hard pressed to find charity on the level you ask for.”

“But I can’t pay, I don’t have any caps or anything to trade.”

The unicorn’s face remained an unreadable mask as he considered this.

“Indeed. Perhaps I could offer you a job, a small task in exchange for the things you need. I can supply you with what you need to complete the job, and you may keep them and more if you do so.”

I fumed as he laid out his offer. I was furious. How dare he?! He’d obviously been planning this. He was keeping up the charade of being reasonable and generous, but underneath he was just as manipulative as everyone else. I shouldn’t have been surprised, you couldn’t trust anyone unless they were your own.

“-and naturally you wouldn’t be going. Haze would go with you. His return is most timely in this matter, and I understand the two of you have had a good first impression. The two of you will easily be able to deal with the task and he will guide you.”

And make sure that I don’t run off without completing the job, I thought sullenly, but I had little choice but to nod, accepting the deal and trapping me in the Zone for longer.

*** *** ***

I peered through the scope of my new hunting rifle at our destination, a collection of empty ruined houses on the edge of a wartime village. The weapon had been supplied to me after I accepted Death Toll’s job. I was tasked with finding and rescuing a Barn pony who had been chased into this village by slavers. Although his reports said that she hadn’t been captured, she hadn’t left yet either and needed to be rescued, or confirmed dead.

I wore a similar suit to the one I had seen other ponies around Barn wearing, and the same as the one Soft Step had worn since I first met her. I had needed to modify it slightly to fit around the bomb collar strapped around my neck comfortably and as such it didn’t work entirely as intended, light brown barding was heavily padded and would apparently protect me from becoming worm food too quickly. I’d even been supplied with a pocket-full of small metal nuts and bolts, in case of anomalies.

I swung the rifle around and looked at my companion. He also wore new supplies, although his was considerably more impressive. He wore the same full-body barding that Death Toll’s guards had worn, although he neglected to wear the hood, and he now wielded a similar light machine gun battle saddle. The whole getup had the effect of making the pale yellow earth pony far more imposing than before, much more ready to shoot me down if I tried to escape.

“Shall we go?” I offered and he nodded.

“We should be careful. Mutated animals live all over this area. They are our biggest worry here.”

I frowned. Death Toll had pointed out that this area, just north of Barn, was a yellow zone but he hadn’t explained why. Perhaps mutated animals were the only worry here. I sure hoped so, I thought as I looked at the cloud cover above us. It seemed to be growing darker, as if rain were coming.

We set off towards the village and I swept my gaze across the land around us, on the lookout for anything out of the ordinary.

As we neared the closest houses I heard a tormented squeal and a large fleshy creature came running out from behind the house. It looked like a radhog, but far mutated beyond the ones I recognised from the wasteland. It stood at least as tall as me and was covered in disgusting growths and hair, the species’ already naturally overgrown teeth bent into horrible shapes in its jaw. Two squinting eyes ringed in fat widened slightly as it rounded the house and saw the two of us standing in its way, and it half squealed half roared as it charged towards us.

Running behind the disgusting, bloated creature were a pack of dogs, barking wildly at the radhog as they chased it towards us.

I brought up my rifle and slipped into S.A.T.S. and queued two shots directly at the lead creature’s head. Both connected as it barreled forward, sending the thing’s blood and gore flying everywhere. To my surprise the thing kept coming, and it took several rounds from Haze’s machine gun before it slid to a stop and collapsed to the ground.

Next came the dogs. I aimed down my scope and fired at the animals as they ran snarling all around us, angry at being denied their kill. One dropped to my shots while Haze took down two with his battle saddle, sending the others darting away briefly before charging back at us with fresh rage. I took down one as it charged at me, but a second made it to me and clawed at me. The raking slash hurt, but my barding absorbed most of the power of the attack and I turned and kicked the dog hard before shooting it in the head with my rifle.

Haze emptied his weapon into two more dogs, dropping them easily, and swiftly ducked his head down to grab the pistol sheathed on his foreleg in his teeth and brought it back up to face the final living dog. He fired three times at the dog and it whined before falling to the floor.

I breathed heavily and walked over to the corpse of the large radhog-like creature. Up close it was even more hideous. Parts of its hide seemed to have mutated into scales and disgusting tumors covered its body. Regardless, it was clearly related to the radhogs of the wasteland outside the Rim, and I wondered why this thing was so different to the ones I knew.

Haze appeared beside me and knelt down beside the creature, and to my disgust began to carve up its flank with a knife held in his mouth, chopping slabs of meat off and slipping them into his saddlebags.

“Here.” He said, offering me one such piece. The sickly red meat stank as I took it in my magic and tentatively slipped it into my own new saddlebags. “They don’t taste very nice but they’re a good source of food.”

“Errr.. sure.” I managed, sure that I wasn’t going to eat that thing any time soon. It didn’t help my confidence that my PipBuck inventory arranging spell identified it only as “Flesh meat”.

He finished carving up the creature and we moved further into the buildings that made up the simple village. The shells that were once houses seemed completely stripped clean and I wondered whether the ponies of Barn had used this for scavenging in the early days.

We passed another dead flesh, although Haze didn’t stop to carve up this one. When I asked if he was going to he shook his head. “Only harvest your own kills. You can’t trust the Zone.”

We moved slightly further into the village and came into what was once the main square. Several benches were dotted around the cobblestone square with a long dried out fountain in the center. An administrative building sat at the end of the square and several more wild dogs lay on the steps up to it, chewing on another fallen flesh, one they’d obviously taken down earlier.

These fell quickly before our weapons as we charge across the square towards the building. We reached the stairs and stood before the doors, surprisingly intact and shut.

“She will probably be here.” Haze said softly, glancing around for more dogs as a howl sounded through the afternoon air. “This is the safest place in the village.” I nodded and kicked at the doors. They gave way before my kick and we walked into the gloom of the dark building.

The room was completely empty, like most of the other buildings I saw in town, but I could hear a faint groaning coming from up the stairs in the right corner of the building. We made our way towards the stairs and walked up, weapons readied for an attack just incase.

The room we emerged into was just as empty as downstairs but was slightly brighter, a large window allowing the daylight to stream in and affording anypony in the room to look down at the village square below the darkening sky. In the corner was a standing barrel that smoked from a now gone fire and beside it lay a pony in the fetal position, groaning as she clutched a large bleeding wound in her hind leg.

I rushed over to the pony and levitated a healing potion that Death Toll had supplied me with from my saddlebag to her lips. She looked up at me gratefully and gulped down the potion, gasping as she finished the vial. Haze joined me and passed her another, along with a stick of meat. She took both and devoured them in seconds as her wound started to visibly seal a little. Haze dropped down and removed a roll of bandages from his saddlebag and started to wrap it around the remaining wound, binding it in an attempt to further heal the wound.

“How did this happen, Nimble?” he asked, wrapping the wound as he talked.

“Those fucking Slavers shot me.” The orange pony said, wheezing occasionally. “I holed up here and they left.” She laughed mirthlessly. “The cowards were probably scared of the dogs.” She looked kindly at my companion. “It’s good to see you.”

“You too. Hold still.”

She turned her looked at me, smiling weakly. “And who’s the newbie? Another valiant hero here to rescue me? With him here I’m feeling better already.”

I blushed and Haze laughed. “This is Buckler. He’s from outside the Zone, he’s doing Death Toll a quick favor so he can get home.”

“Outside, eh? Sounds exotic. I’m Nimble.” She winked at me as she rose to her feet. The effect was slightly ruined as she winced and stumbled, crying out.. “I think my leg’s broken.” She moaned.

“Here.” I moved close to her and knelt down. “Put your arm around me and I’ll support you.”

She raised an eyebrow playfully but did so, allowing me to take her weight and walk with her down the stairs back to the ground floor of the building. Haze joined me, battle saddle ready in case of further animal attacks. We made our way down the steps to the village square and I looked into the sky.

Over the course of our time in the village the sky had been steadily growing darker and now the clouds looked positively stormy. I furrowed my brow and hoped that it wouldn’t start raining before we made it back to Barn.

Nimble continued to moan in pain as we made our way slowly through the village. Once I thought I saw a dog run between a gap in the houses as a howl echoed through the village and my fur stood on edge, but by the time I pointed it out to my companion the animal was long gone. I tried to stay alert while also concentrating on keeping the pony leaning on me steady. I knew if we were attacked I would have to gently let her go before joining the battle, something which could cost me a valuable edge.

The sky rumbled as we neared the edge of the village and a bolt of lightning raced across the sky above us. Suddenly our world was plunged into darkness as the already dark clouds turned black as night in the space of a few seconds.

“What the...?” I heard Haze mutter, the three of us peering up at the sky above us.

“Does it normally do that?” I asked apprehensively as a fresh bout of lightning erupted from the sky towards the ground in the distance and the wind around us picked up speed rapidly.

“Never.” Haze said, and I could hear the fear in his voice. “Storms happen, but never this bad this quickly. We should get inside.”

He moved towards one of the houses on the outskirts on the village and Nimble and I followed after him. Suddenly a white flash rocked my vision and I stumbled. The lightning was closer now, and far brighter than ever before. The wind had also continued to intensify, and by the time we reached the entrance of the building I felt like it was going to start lifting me.

We piled inside the building, stripped entirely clean with its windows boarded up with wooden boards. I knelt and allowed Nimble to kneel to the floor. The look on the injured pony’s face mirrored the concern that I felt. This storm didn’t feel natural, it felt like some weird Zone thing. I left her kneeling on the floor and joined Haze at the doorway to the house.

I gasped when I looked into the clouds and saw what he was looking at. The clouds in the distance were alive with electricity. The blue lightning was racing across the clouds like a spiders web of energy, and moving towards us across the sky at a frightening speed. The world flashed with blinding light as forks of lightning exploded from the sky and touched down to the ground in the ever shortening distance. As we stood there watching the storm advance I could feel electric shocks pinching my body, which seemed to become ever more painful as the storm advanced.

“We should definitely get inside!” I yelled over the roaring wind. Haze nodded at me and we moved back into the house, the electric shocks instantly fading as we did so. The roar of the wind increased and I could distinctly hear the violent crackle of electricity as the world lit up with light again and again until it sounded like a megaspell was going off outside, the worst of the storm passing over us. I wasn’t sure of our shelter’s strength so I used my still-weakened magic to summon as strong a magical barrier as possible around the three of us, hoping that it wouldn’t be needed.

The unnatural weather passed as quickly as it arrived. The whole event probably lasted a few minutes before the winds subsided and the sound of the storm faded, the world regaining light as it did so, but to the three of us huddled in our bare cover it felt like hours.

When the last remnants of the storm were gone we rose. This time Haze supported Nimble and I drew my scoped rifle, holding it in my magical grip as we exited the building. I could still feel a hint of electricity in the air around us, and somehow as we walked away from our shelter the entire area felt different somehow. The landscape was completely unchanged, the same rolling plains and dead trees, but somehow the world felt strangely different.

It was worrying.

Suddenly I heard a vicious snarl from our left and I wearily turned to meet a new problem. One of the huge wooden wolves had emerged from behind a wall and was now standing a couple dozen yards away, growling viciously as the wooden spines on its back bristled.

A moan of self-pity escaped my mouth as the thing reared and started to charge towards us, fear freezing me to the spot. I could only see the razor sharp wooden teeth in its open maw and the claws raking the ground as it rapidly closed the gap. I could only think about how the Zone was just out to kill me through increasingly horrible and unrelenting methods.

I didn’t even see the brief ripple of air between the wolf and myself.

The hidden anomaly exploded with blue electricity as the wooden monster collided with it. It howled in pain and frustration as the lightning crackled all around its body and left burnt streaks in the bark that made up the creature. The lightning subsided and the creature continued towards us, limping now and with smoke billowing from several points on its body but very much still a danger.

But the explosion of magical lightning had snapped me from my stupor and now I brought up my rifle and emptied my entire magazine directly at the wolf’s face, each shot making a fresh hole that oozed a sap-like substance and slowing the creature more, while screaming in wordless frustration at it and at the Zone, for throwing unknown after unknown my way.

I reloaded and fired again and the creature finally buckled and fell as the last shot pierced its head and presumably collided with whatever passed for a brain inside the wooden monstrosity.

I panted heavily and stared down at the corpse before me. Sap was oozing from every bullet wound in the creature’s body and it was still smoking from the anomaly, but my frustration compelled me shoot it twice more, for both satisfaction and confirmation.

I was suddenly distinctly aware of my lack of real sleep over the past few days and my body felt as if it were made of lead as I stared at the dead creature, fatigue starting to take over. I’d been running on adrenaline and the rush of exploration, but now it was catching up with me. I just wanted to get back to safety.

“Let’s go.” I muttered to my two companions. Haze had been frozen as I had, even his experience in the Zone sometimes seemed to fail him. “I just want to get out of here.”

With that I started to move my tired limbs away from the fallen creature and the anomaly behind it and trudged back towards Barn, praying to the Goddesses that I was done with surprises today.

*** *** ***

Death Toll was waiting when we returned to Barn in the dusk light, flanked by two guards ponies and a concerned looking Soft Step. The large white pony made no move towards us, but instead to my surprise Soft Step broke away and ran at us.

I braced myself for another attack, sure that this time I would be unable to fight at all, but it never came.

Instead Soft Step rushed to Haze and took the injured Nimble from him, supporting her on her own back. They walked away to the left and as they left I thought saw Soft Step look back at me with softened features that I had never seen from her.

I glanced at Death Toll and the bastard was smiling a slight, smug smile. He’d planned something here and played me like before, I knew it, but I was too tired for my lethargic brain to deal with it and I just concentrated on keeping my eyes open.

“Haze, Buckler seems tired after his act of heroism. Escort him to the Rad and see that he gets some rest. I have already acquired him a bed for the night.”

“Yes Sir.” Haze replied and took put a hoof around me, leading me away. I blinked and found myself in the bar with Earnest guiding me into the back, towards a simple bed that looked like heaven. I collapsed into it with a sigh and slipped happily in slumber, the worries of the day entirely forgotten for the immediate pleasure.

Level Up!
New Perk: Hunter -- You really don’t like animals (Especially the giant, mutated kind!) In combat, you do 75% more critical damage against animals and mutated animals.

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.