• Published 1st Aug 2016
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Fallout: Equestria - Sunny Skies - IMFoalishFace

A Ministry of Awesome agent is awoken from stasis to deal with an attack on the Stable she has been housed in for the past two hundred years.

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Chapter 4: Wintermail

Chapter 4: Wintermail

My eyes flicked open.

It was pitch dark and very quiet in the bathtub. The fleshy parts of my body were stiff and achy from not moving much in several days, but that wasn’t what had woken me. It was quiet in the small space, not silent.

My ears stood erect as I tilted my head and pressed it against the bottom of the tub. I heard a faint rumbling coming from the ground but it was distorted by the floors below me. I never had asked Star where we had bedded down, but from the sounds of it we were in a sturdy low-rise building. There wasn’t any creaking from the structure swaying or howling from wind against the walls, so the storm had died down.

Another set of rumbles reached my ear. Their timbre told me that they were from a loud, far off sound. I recognized the sound of explosions in the distance. I was no stranger to trying to sleep despite the sounds of battle, but I was curious to know who was shooting at who out there.

A mound of blankets near my head rose and fell in sequence with a filly’s breathing. Star was sound asleep in her little bundle. I thought of rousing her for a second before deciding against it. She could probably use some rest after caring for me and probably wouldn’t be able to keep up.

I’ll let her sleep and just make sure I don’t get into any trouble.

I slowly and quietly got up, my blankets slipping off. I had to clench my jaws to keep them from chattering; the air was freezing against my bare but wonderfully intact hide. I stood up and got out of the tub with goose bumps covering me.

My barding was sitting in a heap next to the tub with all of my gear. I eagerly pulled on the garments and rubbed my wings along my back for warmth. With my carbine slung around my neck I looked back at Star again. I shook any doubts out of my head and moved toward the door.

I crept out the door to the bathroom and moved into the adjacent room. It looked like a stereotypical Equestrian living room after a typhoon had blown through. A half packed suitcase sat on a coffee table in the center of the room with clothes and possessions thrown everywhere. The Crystal Empire would have been a low priority for the zebras, so it didn’t surprise me that ponies might have been able to pack their bags and flee before the bombs fell. Where to was beyond me; there were only three stables in the north, and those who didn’t have a spot in them had nothing but tunnels or the frozen wastes.

I crept to the door of the apartment and exited into the hallway outside. I was quickly able to find a stairwell that led to the roof. Nothing in the building seemed to stir, so I wasn’t impaired in my progress until I arrived at the door to the roof, which was rusted shut. It didn’t prove a problem to me after a proper application of cyberpony super strength sent the door flying off its hinges, though.

I stepped out onto the roof of the building into the night, the moon shining brightly amongst a sea of stars. Never in my life had the night sky looked so perfect. I just stopped and stared, truly appreciating the sky for the first time in two hundred years.

Maybe those poets and writers I had to read in grade school were right when they obsessed about the night sky.

My thought was broken by the distant sound of gunfire. I shook away the thoughts and looked out across the city around me. Wintergreen was mostly intact south of Shining Armor Memorial, but everything north of the building was gone. In the distance, an evil red and green glow and small geysers of steam poured out of several massive craters. The crystal palace and buildings of Amore were gone, as were the surrounding neighborhoods.

I tore my attention from the cityscape to look in the direction of the only commotion in the whole region. Finding my target in the distance, I momentarily lamented my broken flight talisman then pulled my hood over my head, backed up to the opposite edge of the roof, turned around, and –after a breath– charged at the other side. I gave a great jump and, even though I couldn’t fly anymore, still soared across the street to a low-lying building on the other side. I rolled through my landing and ran to the edge of its roof, jumping onto the adjacent building’s fire escape and climbing the eight stories to the top. I used it to jump across another street and then ran along the roofs of a line of identical apartments as I headed to the firefight.

I parkoured my way across the roofs, minimizing the possibility of being detected or leaving a trail that could be followed from the ground. I crossed over a corner building and ran along the edge of a roof to, seeing my destination up the streat. Beams of red and blue streaked across an intersection ahead as the chatter of automatic weapons and rumble of explosives echoed up the urban valley. Directly ahead of me was a high rise building that overlooked the intersection.
I moved back to the middle of the roofs and picked up speed, running right for the glass sides of the high rise. With another great bound I launched myself across an alley and through the glass of the building.

I realized in midair that I wasn’t in an action comic and glass doesn’t shatter easily. I had the foresight to cover my face with my forehooves as I slammed into the pane. I burst through it, but not after beating the breath out of myself and having my face cut up despite my attempt at protection.

I landed on the worn out carpet in a heap, covered in blood and broken glass. I laid on my back basking in how much pain I could inflict on myself despite how little of me could still feel.
“Motherfucker!” I hissed to myself. “What a true master of stealth and motion you are, you old hag, you gonna try jumping through concrete next? Maybe that’ll knock some sense into you or at least break my fucking back so I can’t do bullshit like that anymore.”

I cut off my self berating as I turned over and stood up. My back ached; it was more than the crash though, a reemerging pain from a lifetime of hard landings, hoof fighting, and other physical abuse. “Ugh, my brain hates me; I can’t remember stuff without breaking down and now it’s casting ghost pains on parts of my body that shouldn’t be able to feel them anymore.”

And now I’m talking to myself.

I shook my head again to clear my thoughts as I worked my way through the office cubicles that filled up the floor around me. I followed a central path through the lines of workstations and arrived on the other side of the building. My view down into the street was a good one; I was three stories up with a nice wall of glass looking right down on the intersection with the fighting. I hung back from the windows for fear of being spotted.

The scene playing out below me was a serious fight between Steel Thieves and synths. Two suits of power armor lay in the middle of the street along with at least a dozen mangled robots. The surviving rangers were holed up inside of a store across the street from me while the synths were dug in around the intersection.

The fight seemed to have reached stalemate with the rangers cornered but synths not being able to overrun them. The synths were trying to get reinforcements out of the subway but they were getting mowed down by a gattling grenade launcher.

I stood in the shadows, watching the scene and contemplating. Should I snipe everyone involved? Leave before they spotted me? Would popcorn have lasted the past two hundred years? After finding some popcorn, would there still be a fight for me to watch?

My thoughts were cut short by the scream of several heavy anti-tank missiles streaking up the street and into the Steel Raider’s position. The building I was in shook from the explosions and the glass panes cracked, most shattering from the concussion. I slowly approached the now open windows to look up the street at the origin of the barrage.

“Oh, this is shaping up wonderfully.” Down the street there were two massive Ultra-Sentinel assault robots rolling toward the smoldering ruin the Thieves’ keep had become. Synths started coming out of the woodwork once they realized that their opponents were no longer returning fire. In seconds there were at least thirty of them in the street.

“Get in there and bring me any survivors.” An amplified mare’s voice called. “Alive!” The voice echoed up the urban valley from out of nowhere. I creeped forward and peered down the street.

There, in between the two Ultra-Sentinels was a pony in power armor. I didn’t recognise its model but it looked advanced and not too shabby with a coat of stark white paint. Rather frighteningly, her armor’s battle saddle was equipped with not one, not two, but four heavy machine guns. Even I wouldn’t survive a hit or two of those .50 caliber rounds and this mare was going to be sending several thousand rounds down range every minute.

The synths tossed a few spark grenades into the building, there was a pop –a sensation like pins and needles ran up my wings and spine– and then the robots moved into the building while the two Ultra-Sentinels stayed at the White Ranger’s side. She took up a position in the middle of the street, staring stoically at the ruin. The robotic ponies emerged several seconds later with two immobilized Rangers and one of the unicorn cultists.

“Ahh, look who we have here; just the ponies I’m looking for.” The white ranger sauntered up to her prisoners. She looked at the unicorn first. “Midnight, it’s good to see you still kicking.”

Ha, ha, its funny because one of his back legs was pointing the wrong way and he’ll probably never kick again. Fucking irony. That was Rainbow Dash levels of terrible joke and macabre as fuck to boot.

“What in Tartarus is all this?” The blue unicorn stallion demanded, my enhanced hearing picking up the waver in his voice. “Who are you?”

“Aww, you don’t recognize me? I’m disappointed,” the white pony held an armored hoof up to her chest in disbelief. She turned to one of the armored rangers. “How ‘bout you, Nova, dear? The accent, color choice; it’s going to really obvious in hindsight, love.”

I had to admit, she had a pretty thick Trottingham accent and seemed to know these jerks. Ohh, the white one was probably waiting to make a dramatic reveal to the other three! I really should have gotten popcorn, first a fight now now I had a wasteland soap opera.

The synths pulled the helmet off one of the rangers to reveal the blood streaked face of a bright orange earth pony. Her blue eyes settled on her captor with a death glare as she spoke: “That’s Star Paladin Nova Fury to you, traitor, and I don’t care if you’re Princess fucking Celestia’s right fucking butt cheek; we have nothing to talk about.”

“Actually, Nova, we do,” the white ranger sat on her hunches and took her helmet off. I didn’t gasp but wasn’t surprised the other two ponies did upon the dramatic reveal. The earth pony mare inside was an interesting sight matterless of the context, though. She was an albino; her coat, mane, and even eyes were just as white as her armor. The pony could probably vanish into the snowscape of the north just by standing still, with only the pupils of her eyes to give her away.

Midnight and Nova both gasped aloud, the latter speaking: “Sugar Cookie?”

“I’ve been going by Wintermail actually,” said the white pony as she put her helmet back on, “sounds much more intimidating and really has a nice ring to it I think.”

Midnight spoke up: “We thought you-“

“’-were dead?’ Do you even know how cliché that sounds, Midnight? And I’m offended you would think a bunch of griffon mercs could get the better of me. What, you just didn’t want to admit that a ‘friend’ could lose faith in the mighty and righteous Steel Rangers.”

“Why?” demanded Nova. “Why did you desert and what the hell are you doing up here?”

“Well, I really don’t feel like recounting my life’s choices to a bunch of glorified raiders,” Nova flinched at that, “but I’m here as a representative of my anonymous employers. They’re quite unhappy with the way you Rangers handled Stable 13.”

“What are you talking about, Cookie?” Nova growled. “We received a tip off about a functioning Stable up here and trekked to take it. What fucking third party could you be representing?”

“Do you not know how ‘anonymous’ works, Nova? And did you actually think that you would just stumble on somepony who knew were Stable 13 is? Let alone somepony willing to tell you where to find it to. It's Overmares are some of the most clever and paranoid ponies I’ve ever heard of.” Wintermail scoffed, “You lot only found out about it because the powers-that-be decided. Now, the matter at hoof: how many Rangers do I have to hunt down?”

Nova shifted and fear spread across her face. “What do you mean?”

“It’s just as it says on the tin, love. My employers are unhappy that we had to reveal the location of Stable 13 to you and who knows how many other ponies in the first place. Now that you’ve failed to eliminate the Stable ponies properly and let them release those cyber-goons, you’ve outlived your use. They can’t have you snooping around this city or telling others about what’s up here.” The white mare took a breath and did her best to lord over the orange one. “So, how many of your troopers are still running around up here? I know there are more of you then this little scouting patrol.”

“No, this is all that’s left of my forces.” Nova looked at the ground, dejected. “Those cyberponies in the Stable ripped my troopers apart.” I was almost tempted to feel bad for the mare but this was what many call all a comeuppance, a fitting one in my eyes.

Wintermail looked away from Nova and Midnight to the third thief that had been dragged out. She had been sitting silently, probably hoping to not get caught in the crossfire between her superiors and their old friend.

“Could we take off your helmet, dear?” Wintermail asked, her tone almost tender. She walked over and lifted the mare into a sitting position. Removing the helmet revealed a tear-streaked green face and purple mane. “What’s your name, love?” cooed Wintermail.

“K-knight Grape Vine, m-ma’am,” the mare sputtered out; shaking in terror.

“That’s a lovely name, dearest. It really goes with your colors,” Wintermail said, looking at the mare’s helmet before looking at her, “but I am wondering though, are you a drunk or a gossiper?”

“N-neither, I don’t usually drink and I-I don’t gossip.”

“Oh come now, we all gossip. What’s not to love about passing around some rumors and leaked secrets? Hmm? Love, conflict, favoritism, corruption? It’s all just so fun.” I picked up on a change in her tone, it had taken on a snide, sarcastic, almost angry quality to it. “Like, how Nova here got beaten by her mum and that’s why she’s so abusive to her soldiers. I’m guessing that hasn’t changed about her, she lead you poor souls up here to die after all. Just so she can get some approval from her dead mommy.”

“Fuck off, you slut!” Nova snarled from her armor. “You don’t give anything to this psycho, Knight.”

The green mare looked over at Nova. There was still fear on her face but there was more. A bit of hatred, a sniff of understanding, some uncertainty, and a good helping of confirmation about the accusation.

Winter looked over at Nova, rolling her eyes.“Nothing but threats and anger, Luna above you’re pathetic.” She turned back to Grape Vine. “That reminds me of the rumor that went around about me, though. Apparently, I was the biggest slut in our entire chapter, that I would fuck anything with four legs. Now, that may have been utter bullshit, but I do admit, I’ve gotten really lonely working solo. I could really use a friend, hell, just use someone too help me keep warm at night.”

The weird offer hung in the air for a moment before Grape opened her mouth. “Don’t say fucking anything!” snarled Nova. “You’re going to sell out your own to this backstabbing whore? So you can be her little bitch?”

Wintermail turned to Nova, gave her a little smile, and proceeded to bitch slap her. The steel hoof of her power armor produced a meaty slap undercut with a crack as it broke the orange mare’s jaw and sent her head snapping around in an arc of blood and tooth particles. “Quiet, dear,” she responded simply before turning back to Grape.

“I-I We were supposed to head south toward the train station if we became separated and we were unable to take the Stable.” The green mare was once again shaking with what parts of her body should movie outside of her armor.

“Love, I was looking for some rumors, not your official orders.” Wintermail chuckled and stood up right. “I’ve already heard the marching orders from every other one of you that I’ve talked to. Besides, if I’m honest, I already had a bedmate picked out for here.” The mare reached down and picked her helmet up from where it laid in the snow, sitting down and brushing it off with a hoof.

Despair spread across Grape’s face as she looked at the ground. “I’m sorry,” she whimpered.

The albino stopped putting her helmet on. “Don’t be,” she finished slipping her headgear on and attaching it to her suit, “none of this is your fault, love,” she finished through the suit’s speakers as her heavy machine guns clanked, charging. She unceremoniously shot the green mare once in the chest, the fifty cal tearing through Grape Vine’s chest plate and into her body. The Knight collapsed with only a muted gasp.

“You’re a fucking monster,” spat the scribe from beside her.

Wintermail stood and looked down on the green pony before turning her attention to the stallion. She didn’t say a thing, only turned her shoulders to bring her battlesaddle to bear. Midnight warranted a burst from the fearsome foursome, pretty much vaporizing him on the spot.

“I guess I’ll just take care of this the way I should have from the beginning, Nova. I hope you’re not too attached to your mind because I’ll be needing it.” Wintermail only spared a glance at the last Ranger as she turned away. “Get Star Paladin Nova Fury back to base.” The synths instantly sprung into action and picked up the orange armored pony.

She walked back toward her Ultra-Sentinels and left her synths to their work. I took this as my cue to duck and back away from the window. The synths were probably going to start searching through the surrounding area for any stragglers or observers which would mean trouble for me. And I had promised myself not to get in trouble.

I creeped back through the building and to my shattered window. Dropping down to the snow covered asphalt below and took off down the alley. I knew I would be leaving tacks that Wintermail and her synths might find, but once I had gotten a bit of a head start I could get to the rooftops or Celestia forbid, disappear into the city’s tunnels.

What I had just watched sifted through my mind. Wintermail spelled big trouble for us and it only made the issues of synths all the more dangerous. I guessed the silver lining was that there probably weren’t going to be any rangers for us to run into instead. Though the big lesson that I had learned from the incident was:

I really should have had popcorn.

An hour’s sneaking about found me safely in the neighborhood where I started and hopelessly lost. I had evaded the synths and made it across town without having to resort to tunnels, but I couldn’t remember what apartment I had left Starprancer in. The buildings didn’t even look that similar, but I couldn’t remember anything about where I needed to go and hadn’t saved the location in my PIP.

I found myself awkwardly wondering around the neighborhood on hoof, desperately searching for anything to indicate where I was and where I needed to go. While waiting for synths to show up and shoot me of course. I eventually climbed up a fire escape and onto the roofs to see if I could find my tracks. Fortunately, the weather hadn’t stirred up too much, and the disturbances in the snow from my departure were clear. I descended into the building just to once again find myself unable to remember where I was going.

“Damn it,” I hissed to myself. “What’s going on with me? I was just here a couple hours ago, how can I be lost?”

Wow, botched memory and thinking aloud; I was in fucking fantastic shape. At this point, blaming it all on hibernation sickness might be ignoring other problems…

No, it’s just hibernation sickness. My brain hasn’t been used in two hundred years, I wasn’t raised from stasis properly, and jumped right into the fray. This was just some prolonged amnesia, that’s all. I’m not losing it, again.

Matterless, amnesia sucked; I couldn’t even find my way back to the apartment so I could get yelled at by my ward. I hope Starprancer won’t be too mad with me. I might have hoped to find her before she woke up, but at this rate I would have to search the entire building or just wait for her to find me.

I searched three floors just looking into the living rooms and didn’t find anything, didn’t remember anything. I thoroughly investigated another couple rooms without luck and I was starting to get irritated. Frustrated, I ransacked one room wondering if Star had decided to hide inside of a drawer or something. The little filly was probably getting back at me for leaving her.

As she should; I was out of line doing that.

After another three apartments, I smashed a coffee table to splinters under my hoof. I needed a few minutes after that to calm down before I went back to searching. I was still on edge though, the silence echoed in my ears, the lack of anyone else made me feel lightheaded and ghost-like. I grit my teeth as I walked out of one room and into a larger hall with walls of mailboxes on each side, and few potted plants and couches were scattered about; the lobby.

What the fuck? How did I get down here? I could have sworn I was up a floor, I know I wasn’t on the first when I woke up.

I felt a knot lodge itself in my throat as I stood looking around the lobby, a shiver running down my spine. I gnashed my teeth harder and snarled. I mashed a musty couch, whipped my tail through a wall of mailboxes, before smashing through the building’s glass foyer, looking around for Star’s tracks in the snow outside. Finding none, I stomped back into the building and stopped in the middle.

I took several deep, shaky breaths to regain my composure. You’re fine, just find Star. You’re fine, just find Star. You’re fine, just find Star. You’re fine, just find Star.

I set about searching the building in the most calm and collected manner I could manage. I got through half of the second floor floor before my frustration reared its head again. Why was I having to go through all of this trouble in the first place? How the fuck am I supposed to fight off mutants and synths when this happens to me?How am I supposed to protect Starprancer like this?

I continued searching, my frustration building, until I found myself back inside the room I had ransacked. I stood in the doorway, looking at the items I had scattered not even twenty minutes before. I felt the urge to explode in rage again but that fizzled out before it could gain any traction.

Instead, I felt my chin waver and my vision blur. I was overtaken with a sensation similar to when, as a filly, my father had taken me to Canterlot and then we had gotten separated from each other. A feeling of frustrated, insecure hopelessness. I didn’t have any idea what to do, where to go next, or if I was going to be ok. It the pure and unbridled emotion of an alone child who didn’t know what to do.

I backed out of the room and ran to the stairwell, looking up and down, unsure of where to go. I decided to start climbing but only got a half a flight before I collapsed to the floor and cried like a foal. “What’s happening to me?” I mewled to the concrete. “I’m just trying to find my way back to my friend… She’s all I’ve got!” I started sobbing and called like I would for my father when I was a foal: “Starprancer! Please, I’m sorry! I’m so sorry I left. I promise I’ll never leave you again-n-n-n.”

My sobbing shifted to hyperventilating.

“Damn it!” I smacked my head against the wooden banister, cracking it. Snap out of it! I was sitting there crying for the filly I was supposed to be protecting to come save me from nothing. This wasn’t how I was supposed to act! I had slipped away from a madmare with an army of robots without a sweat, slain a squad of Steel Rangers while delirious, and escaped a horde of monstrous zombies. I had kept the zebra Caesar and all of his underlings up at night, struck fear into a whole nation. I was one of Equestria’s most honored heroes. In my time, I was only outdone by Spitfire, Rainbow, Shining Armor, and Big Macintosh. I was a legend in the flesh and steel. There were probably bedtime stories about me, now. I was… was…

I was tired and scared.

The War was over: I had lost. Now, I was just a relic, like Star’s revolvers or the posters that adorned the walls. Something modern ponies could learn from sure but just an artifact to be forgotten in the end. Maybe they would strike up an interesting discussion over me: compare stats and facts about me versus the Maregadishu Butcher, Lizteir, Shakti, Karonga, Silver, Psalm, Deadshot, White Feather, or a dozen other meaningless names that might have belonged to snipers and soldiers. I had had less respect than Shining Armor and Spitfire, I had always been Rainbow’s number two, I hadn’t saved Princess Celestia’s life, and I was still alive.

Why? What had happened? Why am I still suffering? Couldn’t I have perished on the battlefield with my comrades and foes? Glory, honor, and peace mine at last? At least died in the Balefire with my family?

“Tired and scared.” I said the words out loud as I stared at the ground and wept. I was hurting and everything that weighed on me was too much to ignore or internalize; doing that would break me. I would have to work my way through the pain, and to do that I needed to admit it first.

My admission settled me enough to take a shuddering breaths in an attempt to calm myself. I was just starting to get myself under control when I heard a voice.

“Shadow?” Starprancer was standing at the top of the next flight of stairs, looking down on me. She looked unsure of what to do and lifted a hoof when I looked up at her, like my gaze made her want to run away. The filly didn’t leave me though. She just looked down on me in silence for several seconds. “What happened?” she asked, voice burdened with fear and concern.

I swallowed and took a deep breath. “I heard a gunfight in the distance and went to investigate-“

“Princesses! Are you hurt?” Star rushed forward in concern and I flinched back into a corner.

She stopped as I shrunk away from her. “I-I’m fine, Star. They never even knew I was there.”

Star’s big eyes filled with confusion. “Then what happened to you?”

“I-I-I,” I shook and let out a sob. “I couldn’t find you,” I croaked out. “I forgot where I left you and got mad and scared.”

Star trotted slowly up to me and touched my foreleg. I couldn’t feel it and another sob racked my body. The filly looked up into my eyes, “I’m right here for you. I would have come out sooner, but I thought synths were ripping the building apart looking for us or something. I’m sorry I hid from you, Shadow.”

“No,” I croaked, “you don’t need to apologize, Star. I’m the one who left you and got lost. I’m the one acting like a foal. I’m s-so sorry.” I bowed my head down. She reached up and wrapped her hooves around my neck and let me cry into her shoulder.

Barely a minute saw me cry myself dry. Broken or not, I wasn’t one for tears. Star, realizing I had started recovering, asked me “What’s your tag?”

“Hmm?” I muttered.

“Your Pipbuck tag. You said you have a Pipbuck built into you and every Pipbuck has a tag. If we swap tags we’ll be able to keep track of each other,” Star said. “Here.” The filly drew her Pipbuck up to her nose and did something. I was instantly told that I had acquired a new tag.

“There, now we can keep track of each other.”

I held the filly tight. “Thank you, Starprancer.”

“It was nothing,” Star said. “So, who was fighting?”

“A couple of Steel Raiders-“ Star’s grip on my neck tightened at the name “-and a bunch of synths. There was another pony too. An albino earth pony wearing white Ranger armor, called herself ‘Wintermail.’ She was leading the synths.”

“I’ve heard of her,” Star said icily. I lifted her away from my neck to look her in the face.

“What do you mean ‘you’ve heard of her?’ How? I thought you hadn’t been to the surface yet?”

Star sat down and opened her saddlebags. She pulled out three thick notebooks and a small box that I recognised as one usually used to store memory orbs. “These are my mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother’s. All of them wrote about the stuff they did on the surface and great-granny Stargazer actually helped write this book.” Star levitated out another volume and showed it to me: ‘The Eternal Winter Wonder Wasteland Survival Guide’ by Ditzy Doo with Stargazer. It sounds like a good read.

“Anyway, with you being out the last few days, I was reading these.” Star smiled up at me. “Mom talks about a white armored pony that harassed our salvage missions to Stable 34 and trading with Tenpony Tower and Diamond City.”

I looked at the elegant mouthwriting of Nebula Skater. “Those places your mom was trading with, where are they?”

“Tenpony Tower was the Ministry of Magic Hub in Manehattan, down south. And Diamond City is east.”

I sat back and soaked in the new information. Diamond City was an ancient ruin located pretty much directly east in more frozen mountains. It probably wouldn’t have been worth a balefire bomb to the Zebras, the nearby village had a permanent population of less than fifty ponies.

Yakyakistan was the only other place up here that would have a permanent population. It had been neutral during the war and geographically isolated from both nations by the North Luna Sea, massive ice packs, mountains, and frozen tundras. Both Equestria and Zebrica had been tempted to outflank each other by going around the top of the world through Yak country, but neither had found the prospect worthwhile, leaving the Yaks to their own devices. Part of me was disgusted that the damn Yaks were probably the most advanced civilization on the planet because they hadn’t been caught in the big reset the rest of us had.

Still, I wasn’t above the idea of going to Manehattan, it had been a nice city.

“I really don’t think we should just go south either, Shadow.” Star’s statement cut through my thoughts.

“Why not?”

“First, there’s war going on in the south. The last time ponies came from the south, the Pegasus Enclave was fighting with the surface and the Wastelanders were also fighting amongst themselves. According to them it was mostly focused around Baltimare, Fillydelphia, and Shattered Hoof but they also warned about hellhounds being driven north of Manehattan.”

“Oh yay,” I said bitterly. “I get war, but what is a hellhound?”

Star swapped her mother’s diary for the Survival Guide, showing me a picture of a most unpleasant looking beast. It looked like a perversion of a diamond dog, which it probably was. The massive creature had a thick, rough hide, massive claws, a stout head, and a sour expression. A cobbled together energy weapon was strapped to its back to complete the image of something that wasn’t worth fucking with.

“They sound really dangerous,” Star said. “Their claws can cut through alicorn shields and Steel Ranger armor, most are skilled with energy weapons, and their usual method of hunting involves digging up under their prey and ripping them to shreds.”

“OK. I’m liking the whole ‘not messing with these’ approach.”

“Hellhounds also kinda bring me to my second point: the wildlife in the mountains and plains to the south is really dangerous.” Star flipped some pages in the Survival Guide. “There are feral ghouls and alicorns, Radibou, yeti, yao guai, Snow Twinklers, and White Death.”

I was already familiar with ghouls of the crystal variety. Radibou were just big two-headed deer that could be aggressive if provoked. Yeti looked exciting: big bipeds with shaggy white coats, three massive claws on each hand, and what looked like rams horns jutting from its head. A yao guai was just a bear with radiation added so they were massive and glowed; as if bears weren’t already terrifying enough. Snow Twinklers, contrary to their names, were massive, terrifying cat/bear/demon creatures that could hold a pony in their paws. White Death was irritating though, no drawing or even physical description, just: “When it calls to you, RUN!”

Thank you, that is so helpful, Stargazer. I rolled my eyes.

“What’s the story with these alicorns?” I asked

Star perked up and started digging in her bags again. “Mom doesn’t have much on them, just some stuff about getting into a few fights with them on missions to the deep south. Granny Sundancer and Great Gran Stargazer don’t mention them at all. There’s a pack of them that moved into the city two years ago, just asked Mom and her ponies to leave them alone. They keep to themselves and live in Hippocampus near one of the craters.”

Star pulled a black tome out of her bag and held it up to me. “Most of what I’ve found about alicorns is from this book.”

The book was more a binder with a manuscript stuffed in it. “The Tale of the Lightbringer,” I read aloud. “This is a novel, Star, a book of fiction.” I looked at the filly like she had lost her mind.

“It’s based off true events,” Star shot back. “Mom got it for me the last time she was at Tenpony, but I hadn’t gotten around to reading it.” The filly’s face clouded for a second before she went on. “In the part I just got to, the Stable Dweller’s just killed her first alicorn! By dropping a train car on it!”

“Well there isn’t much that will survive that.” Still, how did this ‘Stable Dweller’ get the alicorn under a train car? “Does your fairytale tell how dangerous they are?”

“They’re pretty nasty when you get them mad, they have really good magic and can communicate telepathically. They’ve changed though; the alicorns my mom wrote about acted almost like ghouls and the one’s around here don’t act like any of them. They’re… nice.” Her tone made it apparent that wasn’t exactly the word she was looking for.

“Well as long as we don’t get into any fights with them, they should be fine,” I said.

I leaned back in thought. I smiled when it crossed my mind that I wasn’t crying anymore, but that wasn’t my focus. Right now, I needed to figure out whether we would be worth going directly south or to Diamond City. “What do you want to do, Star?”

The filly looked up from her books. “You want to know what I want to do?”

“Well, you make up half of our group, your future is in the balance, and I was just crying for you to come find me. I’m sorry to just dump this on you but you get to pony up and be a part of the decision making.”

“Well,” the filly looked extremely smug about my statement, “I say we go east to Diamond City; it’s nowhere near as dangerous as going south. Plus, Tenpony doesn’t sound that friendly in my family’s journals, and getting caught up in those wars doesn’t sound good.”

“It’s a plan then: we’ll go east.” I smiled at Starprancer and she beamed at having been able to make a big decision, almost like she got to choose where she was going for dinner on her birthday. “We should get moving ASAP. Wintermail is looking for anypony that was in Stable 13, and it’s not for friendship lessons.”

“Why is she chasing ponies?”

“I don’t know.” I didn’t think it would be wise to tell my charge about how the Steel Rangers were manipulated into attacking her home by some third party. Star seemed to be taking her loss decently, but I knew from experience that you had to release that pain. I would prefer she break down crying in my hooves once we had gotten somewhere safe over her going on a fool’s vendetta against Wintermail, her army of robots, and their puppeteers.

I looked down to my companion : “I think we’ll try and get across the city. Hopefully we should be able to get out of here before Wintermail can lock this place down.” I felt a bit uneasy with how casual the two of us were treating our future. Spending most of my life working in a military where everything was done through orders and usually planed to a T made ‘just winging it’ about something this big feel surreal. Just ‘yep, it’s a new plan, we’ll get coffee and take our lives in a completely different direction’. It wasn’t an unwelcome sensation though. It was nice to be free: scary, but still nice. “Have everything you need?”

“Better, actually,” Star smiled up at me and opened her saddlebags, pulling out a clutch of clothing. “Some of these pre-war ponies left behind some really nice stuff. This one scarf I found is actual silk and I’ve got a gorgeous satin dress I can wear to my Wasteland prom.”

“That dress better not be too scandalous,” I teased. “I’m having enough trouble keeping track of your kleptomania and this developing sense of fashion, I don’t think I’ll be able to deal with fighting off a horde of trashy suitors too.”

Star just stuck her tongue out at me. “Sense of fashion? Please, I just know that this stuff is going to worth a mess of caps to a trader. I’m pretty sure those Tenpony ponies would sell their souls for some of this.”

I just laughed. I didn’t have anything to counter that, and Star just smiled at me. She really did have a wonderful smile that didn’t get shown enough. I felt the filly had been mature for her age even before the raid. She was too good at stoic and commanding looks to have just started doing them. Then again, it might be genetic. Starprancer was descended from great ponies and might have just showed it. However, that smile was so innocent and pure and happy it would make me burst out in tears of joy if it weren’t so infectious. It was almost Pinkie Pie-like in the way it made me feel: just forget issues and let’s be happy.

I left the apartment with Star in tow and a smile plastered across my face, confident that nothing would go too wrong. Not even the dimming light and stormy weather could dampen my spirit, at least until we got a few blocks and I started spotting synths in the distance.

Author's Note:

Edit 1-7-18: Finally got around to splitting this monster in two, something I really should have done from the beginning. Hope its working out well for you. The particulars.

This one was pretty fun to write; cool mix of character development, plot thickening, and action. Sorry for taking so long with this, I wanted to get this out in mid-October but had a little breakdown over midterms. I decided to do another rewrite shortly after (which was for the best this time). Then, my editor and I had a break down of communication and its just taken forever to this to get done.

Thanks for reading:trollestia:

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