• Published 29th Jun 2012
  • 3,154 Views, 375 Comments

Fallout: Equestria - Wasteland Bouquet - Cascadejackal



There's a lot of stories in the Equestrian Wasteland, and they all need to be told.

  • ...
18
 375
 3,154

Chapter 8: Bluff

---CHAPTER 8: Bluff---

Uh, yes! Obviously, that's why I zipped my mouth closed, then locked it with a key, then dug a hole, then buried the key, then built a house up top the hole where I buried the key, then moved into the house atop the hole.

---------------------------------------------------------------

"Fucking Rad-Away. Goes through me like a herd of rampaging Brahmin." Muttering, I finished relieving myself and went back into the medical office proper, pleased and surprised that not only was there a private bathroom for the (long dead) doctor, but that the water was still running. Stable-Tec really built things to last, even if the water looked about as clean as a raider's plot-hole.

"Find anything useful?" I had to raise my voice so Rose could hear me; The horde of feral ghouls screaming and smashing against the door and window, determined to get in and tear us apart, was fucking loud. Again, Stable-Tec did a good job. We'd locked the door as soon as we ducked in, and the window could probably take a grenade without a problem, so we were safe. For now...

Rose pulled her head out of a small box, spitting some orange packets of Rad-Away onto the pile of stuff she'd been gathering. "We're well stocked on Rad-X and Rad-Away, Ibis." She scratched her head with her bandaged hoof. "Half the containers in here are full of anti-radiation supplies, almost like..." Her voice trailed off and she looked thoughtful.

"Almost like...?" I waved my claw at her to continue, trying to ignore the howling, rotting army only meters away.

"Something doesn't seem right, that's all. Maybe if I could get into the terminal, I'd know more..." She shrugged, indicating the computer which, despite her best efforts, had refused to surrender it's secrets. "But right now, I'm just suspicious. We've got enough anti-radiation supplies to last years, but only a couple of the containers were open when we got here. Most of the ponies outside are wearing Stable barding, which means they were the original inhabitants. But... And this is the important part... They're all ghouls."

I groaned. "Rose, what's your point?"

Rose blinked at me. "A Stable full of Ghouls and anti-radiation supplies. It doesn't add up, that's all." she turned to another box and started emptying it, leaving me to stare through the thick window at the jerky ponies. Yep, they were wearing Stable barding alright. Most of them had pip-bucks on, as well... Didn't pip-bucks have some kind of radiation detector? Rose had said something about it ages ago, after our little adventure in the Robronco building.

Okay, so we had ghouls equipped with rad detectors, in a protective underground bunker stocked with anti-rad meds, that seemed to be the source of all the radiation in the area. Now alarm bells were starting to go off in the back of my head. "Rose... It takes a lot of radiation to turn someone into a ghoul..."

Rose pulled her head out of her latest box and looked at me, a pair of glasses she'd just found perched on her muzzle. "A whole lot of radiation. A balefire bomb can do it in minutes, or..."

"Or?"

"Or a damaged reactor could, but that would take years."

"A damaged... Reactor?"

She nodded at me. "Yes."

"Stables use reactors, don't they?"

"Yes. Big ones."

"And if it was damaged... And they couldn't get out..."

"Then they were doomed from the start."

We stared at each other. "Ibis, we're in a Stable, surrounded by feral ghouls, and there's a reactor leaking radiation somewhere below us. Pass the Rad-Away?"

I threw Rose two packets of the orange flavored crud; We had plenty to spare. She tore the tops off and swallowed the contents, then started fidgeting. "Um..." She looked embarassed, and I sighed.

"Little mare's room is in the back, Rose."

She ran for it, making me chuckle. At least I could hold it after taking Rad-Away.

Turning to the boxes and piles of debris Rose had left behind, I started sorting and going over the last few hours in my head.

---------------------------------------------------------------

We'd had a light meal before starting to explore the cave, and it had quickly become clear there was something worth hiding down there.

We followed the natural slope of the cave as it descended, playing our lights across the floor and walls. A small rivulet of water wound its way through the stones, and we had to be careful not to slip. For long minutes, we walked in near-silence, listening to the drip-drip-drip of water seeping in from above, until I almost tripped over Rose.

"Careful, Red! Warn me when you're gonna stop!" I glared at her and she blinked in reply, mumbling around her lamp's mouthgrip and pointing one hoof at a large, rusted sign that was bolted to the cave wall. I pointed my light (which was held in my claws) at it to get a better look.

STABLE 77 - PLEASE HAVE ID AND ENTRY PAPERS READY

"A Stable, huh?" Rose nodded and mumbled something else at me. I groaned. "I can't understand you with that thing in your mouth, Red."

She set her lamp on the ground and looked up at me. "I said, Stables have medical bays and armories. We should definitely check it out."

"How the hell would you know that?" I stared at her. I'd never been in a Stable before, and I was pretty sure she hadn't been anywhere near one either.

Rose blinked at me again. "Read it back in the Robronco building. The CEO had a file about them on his terminal, and I read it before playing the... the audio logs..." She shuddered, and so did I. You don't forget hearing something like that...

"So, an armory and a medical bay?" I let out a triumphant laugh; Yeah, it was forced. Anything to take our minds off of those logs... "Guess we struck gold, then!" Rose nodded.

"If the Stable isn't sealed, of course."

"Sealed?"

"Yeah. Stables are shelters, after all. They were designed to be self-sufficient for hundreds of years, then open when it was safe enough for the ponies inside to leave and start rebuilding."

"They're meant to open when it's safe, huh?" She nodded again. "Well, I wouldn't call the middle of a radioactive swamp safe, but you never know. They could still be living down here. Just... Cut off from the rest of the world." Neither of us really believed that, and we were a lot more cautious as we proceeded deeper; There hadn't been any signs of life so far, just the occasional bone fragment or scrap of cloth. I loosened my knife in its sheath, while Rose made sure her rifle was loaded and easy to reach in its holster on her back.


Not long after the sign, the tunnel leveled out, leading us on a straight path to the Stable and whatever lay within. Despite our caution, we didn't see anything more dangerous than some small radroaches.

We paused and killed our lights, hearing something moving ahead of us. Slowly, my knife ready, I crept forwards to peek around the corner... The cave opened up a little, with a metal wall at the far end. From where I was, I could see a large gear-shaped opening, with flickering lights in the room beyond. Between us and the opening, which I guessed was the entrance to the Stable, was a lone ghoul, growling and stalking back and forth. I slipped back to Rose and told her what I'd seen.

"Just one?" Her ear twitched.

"Yeah. Think you can get it on the first shot?"

"...I could... But if there's other ghouls around..." They'd hear the shot. I got the point and, after I snuck up on the ghoul, so did he... she? Hard to tell what it used to be. Rose came trotting up behind me to inspect my handiwork.

"That was quiet."

"Ambushes are a specialty of mine, Red." I grinned at her and wiped my knife off on the thing's barding. Rose blinked at me.

"Of course they are." She turned and led the way towards the Stable proper. The closer we got, the more the feathers on the back of my neck stood up. Pony bones littered the floor, a few unreadable signs scattered amongst the remains. The stink of decay and damp, rusted metal began to grow, until we stopped just outside the opening. We sidled up to the edge of the entrance and I poked my head in cautiously, making sure it was safe.

The room beyond was dominated by machinery, the floor covered in metal gratings and panels. A huge gear-shaped thing, likely the door itself, was resting in a grooved track to one side of the entrance, some big, heavy-duty looking thing jammed into the back of it. Rust covered everything, giving it the appearance of some industrial nightmare. Water dripped from cracks in the concrete ceiling, running down the walls and vanishing through the grated floor, leaving dark stains where it had worn down the walls over untold years. A single light flickered in the ceiling, providing shaky illumination, but still good enough to show me that the room was clear.

I slipped in and motioned for Rose to follow. We stowed our lights in our packs and checked the area properly, being as quiet as possible; It was looking pretty unlikely that we'd find friendly ponies waiting for us. A door at the back of the room must have led deeper into the Stable, but it was closed. A small security checkpoint was visible through a window, accessible through an open door tucked into the corner.

How did I know it was a security checkpoint? Easy. The grimy glass looked damn thick (I didn't realise it at the time, but all Stable windows are reinforced. Overkill, much?), I could see a gun locker inside, and it clearly said SECURITY on a softly glowing sign above the door.

Rose tapped her hoof against the floor to get my attention, then pointed at a control panel someone had gutted, wires and bits sticking out everywhere. "Door controls." She whispered. "Somepony wanted out, badly."

I nodded. "Any idea why?"

"No. But let's be careful... Something doesn't feel right here..."

"I know what you mean." Pausing to spit (the metallic taste was getting stronger, but I didn't think much of it at the time), I stalked over to the security office, while Rose went the other way, checking out some machinery that lined the walls.


The monitors and control panels were caked in dust and filth; Nothing had disturbed them for years, at least. I tried the locker, and cursed quietly when it refused to open. About twenty seconds later, the lock broke open and I sheathed my knife; Who needs to pick a lock when you can just force it? Pulling the (oddly flimsy, considering it was used by security) door open, I looked inside. A couple of 10mm bullets and a retractable baton. Talk about disappointing. Still, I shoved them in my bag (to sell later) before inspecting the security room a little better. A pair of filthy, rotting chairs at the desk/control station, a worn out poster of a pink pony stared at me from the wall (FOREVER!), and... Hey, some playing cards! The security ponies must have been playing when... something... happened. I turned over the cards, curious to see who would have won that hand... hoof? Whatever.

First off, the pair on the left... Two Nines. A good draw. And now for the other pair... Queen and Ace of Spades. Blackjack.

Nothing beats Blackjack.

With a smirk, I collected all the cards and popped them into one of my belt pouches. Rose would love to have a deck of her own.

With my little search completed, I went back into the entry room, spotting a white flank poking out of a... Why did Rose seem to like crawling inside generators so much? her tail flicked back and forth, and I could hear a muffled clanking as I snuck up behind her. It looked like this generator was meant to power the big, gear-shaped door, but time and water seepage had taken its toll on the machine. Even I could tell it was useless. I stepped to one side and tapped my claw on Rose's flank; her back hoof lashed out purely from reflex, like I'd thought it would. You don't spend months near someone you love without learning their quirks, after all. She squirmed free and blinked at me, grease on her cheek. "What?"

"Find anything in there?"

"Spare parts. You?"

I grinned, pulling out the pack of cards. "Well... I did find these... And I already have a deck of my own..." Her eyes widened and she stared at the cards.

"Gimme."

"Oh, did you want these?" She nodded rapidly, eyes focused on her prize. "I was going to sell them in the next town, but if you really want them..." Her head was moving so fast it was starting to blur, so I leaned close and dropped my voice to a low, intimate whisper. "Give me a kiss, and they're all yo-"

Rose hit me with the most amazing kiss I'd ever had in my life; Our tongues entwining, her lips pressed to my beak in unbreakable passion, her hooves holding my head still so I couldn't pull away. My wings snapped wide open (a little embarassing), my fur and feathers stood on end, and my brain exploded. It felt like my entire body was on fire, every part of me going haywire.

When that heavenly mouth left mine, I was gasping for air, my eyes rolling wildly in their sockets. Rose had taken kissing and turned it into a weapon of griffin destruction! Weakly, I raised the claw holding the cards to my red-maned goddess. She smiled at me, took the deck in her mouth and tucked it into her saddlebag. "Thank you!... Uh... Ibis?" Her cheeks went a little red.

"Y-yeah?" I tried to focus on her, but my world was spinning too much.

"You... made a bit of a mess." She pointed her hoof at my underside, and I managed to clear my head enough to take a look. Ah, fuck. I was hanging free and proud... and the kiss had blown more than just my mind.

"That's... never happened to me before." I grinned at her sheepishly, trying to cover myself with my talons and wings.

She snorted and turned away. "Of course it hasn't." I winced at the sarcasm, but noticed she was still watching me out of the corner of her eye. It wasn't my face she was paying attention to, either.


I used some rags from my pack to clean myself off. "Seriously, that's the first time I've ever..."

"Emptied your clip?" She snickered, still not looking straight at me.

"Very funny. I'm not some innocent little hatchling, Red, and this isn't my first relationship."

"Oh?" She turned to face me straight-on, glaring. "Am I just another conquest, then?"

"What?" I faceclawed. Don't tell me she was jealous! "Rose, it's nothing like that! Hell, all the other girls I've been with were griffins! The only time I ever 'emptied my clip', as you so eloquently put it, was when we were fucking! And trust me when I say it was just sex with them!"

"And with me?" Her glare was ice-cold. Yeah, she was jealous all right.

I sighed. "Rose, do you honestly think I'd be after you if all I wanted was a good time?" She blinked at me, glare softening a little, and I stepped closer to her. "We've never had sex, not even once, have we?" She shook her head. "I told you that I love you, and I meant it. You know that." A nod this time. "I'm just saying, I may be your first boyfried, but you're not my first girlfriend. Understand?" Another nod, and the glare was almost gone. I stood next to her and put my wing over her as I kissed her cheek. "I don't care about any of my past relationships, because I have you now, and I wouldn't trade what we have for anything in the world. So... We good?"

Rose smiled and kissed my cheek in return. "We're good, Ibis." She pressed her head against my shoulder, making me smile. Under my wing like that, she looked so small. "Ibis..."

"Yeah?"

"Are griffins like chickens? Is a female called a hen?"

I laughed and tried to swat the back of her head; She ducked my claw and headbutted me, so I got her in a headlock and she bit me, trying to pull out some feathers. We fought for a minute, then a low, raspy growl made us freeze.


Something was moving behind the closed door.


We immediately split, Rose taking position in the entrance to the cave, her rifle aimed at the sealed door. I slid along the wall, my knife ready, until I could reach the switch that would open the door. I raised my claw, signing to Rose that I'd open it on the count of three. She nodded in confirmation and steadied her hooves, the mouthgrip of her rifle secure between her teeth.


One...

Two...

Three!


With a mechanical click-hiss, the door slid open and out stepped... A massive feral ghoul that glowed bright green. Snarling, it lunged at me and I slammed my knife between its eyes, stabbing over and over again as we hit the ground, trying to kill it before it could tear my throat out. We were struggling too much for Rose to get a clean shot off, and I was a little chewed up before it finally stopped moving. Rose holstered her rifle and ran up to help me get out from under it. Fucking thing was as big as me!

Once free, I retched. It tasted like I had a mouthful of filthy water and blood, and I realized what the glowing ghoul was: A Glowing One! A type of ghoul radioactive enough that just being near one was dangerous. I'd heard about them, but never seen one. I explained all this to Rose as I dosed myself up with Rad-Away and a healing potion.

"Looks like the Stable might be more dangerous than we thought..." Rose mused, standing well back from the deceased glow-pony. I couldn't blame her for being cautious; it was still glowing a little.

"Yeah... Still think it's worth going in?" I stepped behind a bank of machines to piss; I'd never met anyone, pony, griffin, zebra or other, who didn't have to piss after taking Rad-Away.

At least the tangy orange-flavoured stuff got the horrible taste of radiation poisoning out of my mouth.

Rose blinked at me; my head and shoulders were still visible over the rusty machinery. "Of course. We just have to be super careful now, that's all."

I groaned. She was determined to check it out, no matter what.


We both took some Rad-X before passing through the now open door; If there was one Glow-Pony down there, there'd be more. We took our time, moving silently and checking each corner before turning. Open rooms were inspected quickly, while closed ones were ignored in case of... surprises.


I dunno if you've ever been in a Stable, but they are horrible. The halls were so small I couldn't stretch my wings properly, and if I reared up I could almost touch the ceiling with my claws. Small puddles had gathered on the floor in places, some still and stagnant, others fresh and fed by water that trickled and dripped from cracks in the walls. The stench of decay was so strong that I had to breathe through my mouth, lest I choke on the still, dead air.

And to think, ponies had lived here once! What right-minded creature would willingly hide in a place like this, knowing they'd never seen the sky again?! Or clouds, whatever...

No. They weren't in their right minds. The ponies, the zebras, everyone who was involved in that futile, idiotic war... None of them could possibly have been sane. If they were, they would have seen what was happening, found a way to stop it before it was too late, before everything was wiped out.

Instead, they built shelters, the Stables, like they were planning for mutual destruction.

Fuck it. They were dead, we were alive. The past meant nothing, and only the future was important now. My future, Rose's future... Our future.


I smiled at Rose as we took a break in a large atrium, thinking about Our Future. Maybe we'd settle down eventually, find a nice town someplace far away and build a house there. Interspecies marriage isn't unheard of, and the mental image of Rose in a wedding dress was stunning. Kids, though... Well, there was always adoption. Celestia knows there are plenty of orphans out there, after all. Didn't matter what species they were, I'd love them like they were our real kids. Something told me Rose would be a great mother, too.

Yeah, I'd started using Celestia for my oaths and the like. Luna, too. Seemed right, after they'd answered my prayers and kept Rose alive like that.

Rose blinked at me. "Ibis, you're staring." Huh?

"No I'm not!" I was. I shook my head and glanced around; The atrium was pretty big, a couple of stories tall, with walkways and windows along the walls. "I was just thinking, that's all."

She blinked at me again. "Thinking? What about?"

I grinned at her. "That's for me to know, and you to guess." With a flap of my wings, I leapt into the air. The atrium was big enough that I could fly a little, and it was a relief to stretch my cramped wings. I circled lazily, landing on the second floor and having a quick look through the biggest window, one which had a clear view of the entire atrium; beyond it was a decent sized room, dominated by a huge horseshoe... ponyshoe? shaped desk, with monitors covering the back wall. Keypads and control panels were everywhere, but I couldn't work out what they did. Hey, I was on the other side of thick, dirty glass, remember? You try figuring out pre-war tech when you can't even see it clearly.

All the doors on that level were closed, so I dropped back down to Rose. "Ready to move out?" She nodded, and we resumed our careful exploration, heading for the dorms next.


The dormitories were a maze. A few terminals were still active, despite their age and the conditions in the Stable (talk about craftsponyship), and Rose had pulled some messages (A birthday, some ponies arranging a date, that sort of thing) from them. Only one had anything of interest though; A maintenance report from a few years after the Stable was sealed, stating that most of the vital equipment was operating perfectly, including the water talisman. That caught my eye; a water talisman would be worth a fortune if it was still working. Rose agreed with me, and it got added to our list of priorites.

We kept moving, clearing the dorms one room at a time, listening at each door before we opened it, then closing it behind us when we moved on. I'd started to relax as we searched, since we hadn't encountered any more ghouls, normal or glowing.


If you ever find yourself in a Stable, or abandoned building, or someplace that you don't know for sure is safe, then don't relax. Ever.


I hit the switch to open the cafeteria door (I hadn't heard anything inside) and poked my head in. Most of the lights had failed, plunging the room into a darkness barely alleviated by the few flickering lights that remained. After a moment, my eyes adjusted, and what I saw almost made my heart stop. Dozens of ghouls lurked in the darkness, growling and bumping into each other, like an army of zombies. Thankfully, they hadn't seen me yet, so I slipped back into the hall, signed 'Danger' to Rose, and pressed the button to close the door.

Instead of the now familiar click-hiss, there was a screech as the hydraulics jammed, followed by screams and howls as the feral ghouls inside went nuts, rushing towards the source of the noise: The door we were standing in front of. Rose and I ran for it, stopping at the next intersection. While I tried to decide what way to go, Rose drew her rifle and opened fire, emptying her clip into the oncoming horde. The ones in front fell, tripping the ones behind, and I had just enough time to spot the sign saying MEDICAL before I heard Rose grunt in pain.

I twisted, ready to kill whatever had hurt my precious flower, but she was already taking care of it. A ghoul had blindsided her, coming from a side corridor and knocking her down. Her foreleg was bleeding from where the foul thing had managed to bite her, and her rifle was laying a few feet away, knocked from her grip. Before I could take the two steps to get to them, Rose tore her leg free of the jerky pony's mouth and punched it repeatedly, caving the zombie's head in before struggling free. She looked at her bleeding leg, then at me. "Ow." The howling, screaming horde was getting closer, only slowed for a few seconds as they tripped over their dead friends.

"FUCK!" Grabbing Rose (she squeaked), I started running, cursing the idiot ponies who had built the Stable with such small hallways and heading in the direction the medical sign had indicated. Rose was squirming in my arms as I ran.

"My gun!" She yelled, trying to get free.

"We'll get it later!" I yelled back, looking for another sign. There! I ducked into the marked door, slapping the switch and praying it would close in time. It did, and I slumped back against it.

"Thank Celestia..." I sighed in relief, then screamed in pain. Rose bit me, hard, and I dropped her with a thud. She sat up and glared at me, her ear twitching.

"I dropped my gun."

I glared right back at her. Griffin vs Pony, the ultimate stare-off! "So what?"

"I want it back."

"Get it later."

"But I want it now."

"Too bad." I waved my claw at the window, the jerky horde howling and smashing against it. "In case you didn't notice, we're kinda trapped in here, and the most dangerous thing we've got is my knife."

"We also have your breath, Ibis." I opened my mouth to say something impolite, but stopped when she nuzzled my neck. "I lost my gun, Ibis. It's all I had, and I dropped it when that ghoul bit me." Most people thought Rose had a flat, emotionless voice, but I could hear how sad she was. I rested my claw on the back of her head, rubbing her mane softly.

"Hey, you've still got me, Red." I lifted her head up and smiled at her. "And we'll get your gun back as soon as we can. You won't lose anything else, not while I'm here."

She smiled a little, but she still looked sad. "Promise?"

"I promise." We shared a huge hug, then I used some supplies from the medical boxes to clean and bandage her foreleg. It wasn't too bad, once I cleaned the blood off, but I still disinfected it thoroughly. Who knows what you can catch from ghouls?


And that brings us back to right now.

---------------------------------------------------------------

The toilet flushed and Rose came back in, still wearing her glasses. I looked up from the pile of stuff in front of me and laughed at the look of disgust on her face. "Yeah, the water is kinda gross. Hope you didn't get any on yourself."

She snorted and plonked herself down in front of me, the assorted boxes, junk and medical stuff between us. "I hate Stables."

I laughed again. "I'm not too fond of them myself, Red..." With a sigh, I turned to more serious matters. "Any idea how we'll get out of here?"

She shook her head and stared at me. The glasses she was wearing made her look really cute. Smart, too. "Nope. We'd need weapons to deal with them," Her bandaged hoof waved at the window and our insane, undead audience. "but we're in medical, not the armory or security station."

"How are we on supplies?"

"Food for a week, maybe two if we ration it. Same with water, unless..." Her grey eyes wandered to the bathroom.

"No way in hell, Red." That stuff looked almost as dangerous as the ghouls.

She shrugged. "Then we've got a week to escape... If our friends out there don't drive us crazy or break in first." She had a point; The howling and banging was already getting on my nerves, and I couldn't imagine trying to sleep through it. Instead of voicing my concerns, though, I said something far more useful.

"Those glasses make you look like a scientist or something, Red." I laughed.

Rose just blinked at me through the lenses. "Uh, thanks?"

"No, I mean it! They make you look smart!"

She bristled. "And I don't look smart without them?"

Crap. "I meant smarter, Rose. Calm down!" She settled down, then looked at me funny.

"I feel smarter, too."

"Maybe you can get into the terminal now?" I joked, shrugging.

Rose returned my shrug. "Maybe." She trotted over to the desk, hopped onto the chair, and starting tapping away. I followed and stood behind her, watching my little mare work.

Lines of code flashed across the screen, bathing us in its green glow and looking for all the world like some forbidden magical incantation. Words, sentences, complete gibberish and wierd symbols scrolled and changed, Rose working her magic on the system, until...

ACCESS GRANTED - WELCOME, DOCTOR

Rose grinned, proud of herself. "Well done, Red." I messed up her mane playfully. "You're a genius!" She looked up at me, smiling, and I rewarded her efforts by planting a kiss on her lips. Blushing, she turned back to the terminal.

"Give me a minute, and I'll see if there's anything useful on here."

I watched her go through files, the words flashing up just long enough for her to skim the contents, then move onto the next log. "Medical histories, mostly. Not very surprising." She spoke as she read. "Most common complaint was... Symptoms matching radiation sickness. A note to the Overstallion; seems the Pipbucks weren't picking up any radiation, but the ponies working near the reactor were suffering from advanced exposure less than six months after the Stable was sealed. A response from the Overstallion, saying that... Huh. He said that the Pipbucks were fine, and that the reactor had been inspected and certified by Stable-Tec only a month before they entered. Then he... Well, that's strange."

Rose looked at me, her ear twitching. "The Overstallion ordered the doctor to stop distributing anti-rad medicine, because rumors of a radiation leak would, and I quote: 'Cause unnecessary panic, threatening the well-being of all residents of Stable 77'."

I stared at her. "Guess that explains the ghouls outside, then."

She nodded. "And the surplus meds, too."


Rose went back to typing, and I watched our 'friends' through the reinforced glass. The Overstallion had signed their death warrants with that order; I wondered if he was one of the ferals, or if he'd just died of rad poisoning... And why hadn't the Pipbucks picked anything up? Maybe they were defective, but after seeing how well Stable-Tec usually built things, that just didn't seem right to me...

"Ibis... Ibis!" I turned to see Rose glaring at me.

"Sorry, I was... lost in thought." Her ear twitched.

"Whatever. I found some design documents." I leaned over her shoulder to see the map she'd brought on-screen. "It shows all the corridors and rooms in the Stable, and the important ones are labeled."

"Where are we?" I studied the green lines and shapes. Rose tapped the screen, pointing out where it said 'MEDICAL'.

"Right here. And the armory is here." She tapped another, quite close, spot. "One level down, by the security offices."

"If this is accurate... Then we'd have to leave this room, take a left, second left after that, and hope the elevator works." Rose turned a little green just thinking about riding the elevator, so I kept talking. "But it probably won't, so that's a right turn down a long corridor, and then we could use the stairs... Only problem is..."

"Only problem is: I don't think the ghouls will let us just waltz on through."

I groaned. "So, we need weapons to clear out the ghouls, and we need to get past the ghouls to get the weapons. Great! Just fucking great!"

Rose studied the map some more. "There... might be another way, Ibis."

I leaned over her again, trying to see what she was talking about. "I don't see it. What do you mean, Red?"

"Vents." She pointed out a set of thin lines that ran across the entire map. "They go to every room, including this one." I glanced around the room; There, near the ceiling, was a round vent cover.

"Rose, there's no way I can fit in there."

"I can." She stared at me, already set on carrying out her plan.

"You're not going in there. It's too dangerous."

"I'll be safer in there than I am in here, Ibis."

"Look-"

She cut me off. "We need weapons. There's only one safe way to get them, and I'm the only one that can fit. I'll have my light with me, and I'll take a rope; it should be quite a drop to the next level, after all."

I groaned. "You're not gonna change your mind, are you?"

"Nope."

"Fine. Let's just get this over with, then."


I used my knife to pry the rusted cover free from the vent; It looked even smaller than I'd thought, and I started to have fresh doubts. "You sure about this? What if you run into something in there or get lost?"

Rose snorted and headbutted me softly. "I'll be fine, Ibis. I memorised the route, and the only thing I'm likely to see is bugs. Little ones." She looked up at me, and I could see she was more nervous than she let on. "But you'd better be here when I get back, okay? Barricade the door and lock yourself in the bathroom if you have to. Take our supplies in with you, as well." Her head was pressed against my chest now, voice wavering. "And don't come out until I get back, understand? I already lost my gun, I don't wanna lose you, too..." I wrapped my arms around her, holding her tightly.

"I'll be fine, Rose, don't worry. I'll be here, waiting for you, so don't be long." She pulled away and gave herself a shake, back to being determined and unstoppable, smiling at me as she went through our packs, looking for the stuff she needed. The rope went around her shoulders and her light was thrown into the vent, clanging as it landed.

"I'll hurry, then... Uh..." She blushed, her ears going flat. "Pick me up? I can't reach the vent." I laughed.

"Okay, short stuff." I swept her up and started to lift her to the hole, when she started squirming.

"Wait! Turn me around!" When I turned her so we were facing each other, she blushed. "Kiss me? For luck."

"For luck." Smiling, I kissed her. Then another, deeper kiss. "That one was because I love you. Hurry up, so I can give you a 'welcome back' kiss, too." She nuzzled my cheek, her face bright red. She was still wearing the glasses, too, and that made her even cuter.

"I'll be as fast as I can, Ibis."

I lifted her up again; She hooked her front hooves on the edge of the hole and crawled inside. "Okay... Here I go..." I watched her white butt and red tail vanish as she crawled down the vent, regretting letting her go, desperately hoping she'd be okay, that nothing would happen while we were apart.

"Be careful!" I called after her. The reply was muffled; she must have had her light in her mouth. The unmistakable sound of something falling came out of the hole a few moments later, and my heart leapt into my mouth. "Are you okay?!" I was on the verge of going in after her when she answered, her voice tinged with dissappointment as it echoed back to me.

"I lost my glasses."

My heart started beating again and I let out a relieved laugh. "I'll get you another pair, don't worry. Just... be more careful. I don't want to lose you, Rose."

"Ibis..."

"Yeah?"

"I love you."

I smiled to myself. "I love you too, Rose." The sounds of crawling and scraping were the only response I got; She'd started moving again, and even they faded after a few minutes, leaving me to wait in... Not silence, that's for sure. The ghouls outside were as noisy as ever.

---------------------------------------------------------------

An hour passed. An hour where all I could do was watch the vent and wait impatiently. I tried telling myself that Rose would be fine; She wasn't claustrophobic, she was strong enough to handle a ghoul or two if the armory wasn't empty, and she'd memorized the map, so there was no way she'd get lost.

Nothing could go wrong... Right?

I sighed and turned away from the vent, starting to search the room for anything I could use as a weapon. Rose might have gotten stuck, or couldn't reach the vent to come back up, and I'd need something better than my knife to go get her.

Of course, if there'd been any weapons in Medical, Rose wouldn't have had to go to the armory. The most dangerous thing I found was an old bonesaw, and it was too rusted to be much use. Still, I found myself looking through the window, counting the ghouls and trying to work out a quick way of getting through them all.


Go out slashing with my knife and the bonesaw? They'd overwhelm me.

Just run for it? Too many jerky ponies in the way.

Fly past them? Walls too close together, ceiling too low.


I groaned. Going out there would be suicide. Still, I kept looking. A room just down the hall was open, and might be safe if I was quick enough to get in and close the door, but then I'd just be trapped in a different room. The intersection was too far away... There was a vent on the corridor wall, out of reach of the ghouls, but it was too small for me to fit into, just like the one Rose had gone into... Huh?

I blinked and looked at the vent again. Was that... a face? It was! A familiar face, spots of white showing through dirt and grime, was visible through the vent cover's bars!

ROSE WAS OKAY! On the wrong side of the window, sure, but she was okay! I cheered and punched the air as Rose mouthed something to me.


Get.

Down.


A couple of what looked like metal apples fell from the vent, hitting the floor as the white face vanished.

I stared for a second, then realized what she'd just dropped into the hall: Grenades.


Swearing, I hit the deck. A few seconds later: BOOM! The explosions rattled the window and door, but Stable-Tec had done it again; The sound was muffled, barely louder than a shotgun blast, and I slowly climbed to my feet.


It was impossible to see through the window; it was scorched and covered by splattered ghoul bits. Instead, I pulled my knife (just in case something had survived), and opened the door.

The hall was a mess. Scorched by the grenades, painted by jerky pony guts and THE SMELL! I could taste the air!

Coughing, I picked my way through the carnage, heading for the vent I'd last seen Rose in. Forget about salvage; feral ghouls don't carry much of value anyway, and the blast had destroyed what little they did have.

I banged on the vent cover and yelled into it, trying not to cough too much. "R-Rose! You okay in there?"

The white face reappeared. "Found the armory, Ibis. They had grenades." She smiled.

"No shit! You got more of those?" I had to stand back a little to get a good look into the vent; it was a few inches above my head when I was standing on just my hindpaws. Still couldn't see much more than a dirty, happy face, but I'd missed her so much it was great to even glimpse her through those bars.

"Lots. I'll meet you at the armory, Ibis. The way should be clear." She vanished as I yelled after her.

"Wait!" Nope. The scuffling and scrambling sounds faded away. Groaning, I tried to remember the directions to the armory, then grabbed our bags from Medical before setting off, checking corners and being cautious. Stopped in the intersection to grab Rose's rifle, too; losing it like that had really upset her.


After I found the first group of exploded ghouls, I stopped worrying. Rose had cleared the way before coming to get me, dropping grenades from vents and leaving a huge mess in her wake. I was impressed by how much carnage she'd managed to wreak; there was easily two or three dozen deceased ghouls between Medical and the armory, and only one had still been 'alive' when I reached it. I put the ugly thing out of its misery, and kept moving.


I arrived in the armory without further incident, and just in time to see Rose (covered head-to-hoof in dirt, dust and crud) squirm free of the vent, using a pile of conveniently stacked boxes as a staircase. Well, that explained how she got back up after raiding the lockers. She shook herself off and leapt at me, laughing. "IBIS!" I caught her and gave her the 'Welcome Back' kiss I'd promised. Then a few more kisses, just for fun, before setting her down.

"I was worried about you, Rose! I thought you'd gotten lost or stuck or something!"

She snorted at me. "I couldn't climb back up the rope, so I had to go the long way round. If I hadn't found that sloped vent, I'd still be looking for a way up."

I laughed and hugged her. "I'm glad you took the long way; those ghouls would have torn me apart if you hadn't blown them up!" Rose looked so proud of herself when I said that!

"Grenades are fun." She stepped back and gave a happy little twirl, showing me the bandoleer she was wearing. It was loaded with grenades, some with white bands on them, a couple with red bands. "Even better than kissing!"

"Are you sure grenades are better than kissing?" I grinned at her, and she blushed. "Maybe we should find out!" Deciding the armory was safe enough for us to take a break, I slapped the door control, sealing us in the room, and took my filthy little mare into my arms for a long, in-depth study of kissing.


That hour apart had been far too long, and we spent a good, long time making up for it.

---------------------------------------------------------------

"So?" I was laying on my back, Rose draped across my chest. We'd thrown our blankets down on the floor so we'd be comfortable while we made out. "Kisses or grenades?" We smiled at each other and exchanged a small, tender kiss.

"Mmmm... Kisses, but only with you." Rose nuzzled against my neck, burying her face in my feathers, and, since my claw was already on her flank, I scratched her cutie mark. She blushed a little. "Ibis... That tickles..."

"Oh?" I raised my eyebrow. "Does it really?" I rubbed her flank some more and started to move my claw lower, down along her leg, and she squeaked.

"Ibis!" She squirmed a little, giggling, then gasped when I slipped my claw to the inside of her leg, closer to her petals than I'd ever touched before. "IBIS!"

I traced small circles in her fur with one talon, teasing her. "Is this okay, Red?" I smiled gently, careful not to go too fast or too far. It was up to Rose how intimate we were; She got to set the boundries, tell me what was okay and what wasn't, and I wouldn't have had it any other way.

She nodded, nervous. "Y-yeah... But... not too close, okay?"

"Okay." I kissed her and kept drawing small circles on her underside, making her moan softly into our kisses, only parting to breathe and speak a few words at a time. "Want me... to get a little... closer?"

With a small gasp, she nodded, her eyes half-closed. "Y-yeah... But I'm... a little... scared..."

"It's okay, Rose. Just tell me... when you... want me... to stop..."

Kissing became more important than speaking then; the only sound was Rose moaning quietly as my claw inched closer, teasing the soft flesh beneath her white coat, drawing, slowly but surely, nearer to her innocence.

Rose pulled away from my beak, panting, half-closed eyes shining with undisguised lust, and just a little fear. "Ibis... I feel... twitchy..."

My talons stopped moving, staying where they were and lightly stroking her damp tenderness. Not even an inch away, my goal awaited; I could feel her heat against my palm as my talons stroked and rubbed the soaked fur around it. "Run-twitchy?" I smiled and slowed the movements of my claw, not wanting to scare her off now that we'd come so far.

"N-no... Different twitchy..." She moaned softly, her lower half moving on its own, revealing her need. "It's... it's good... But..."

Sighing, I started to move my claw up, towards her belly. "You're scared, right?" She nodded, and I gave her an understanding smile. "It's okay. You're just twitchy because you're enjoying it, that's all." The lust in her eyes was driving me nuts; I knew she wanted it as badly as I did, maybe even worse, but she had a lot of stuff to work out, and that would take time. "You know what would happen if I kept going, right?" My claw rubbed her underside, dipping down every few seconds to brush against sensitive spots, making her moan and gasp as I found two little nubs to tease, pinching and rolling them between my talons.

"Y-yeah... I know..." She gasped.

"Do you want me to stop?

Her answer was a deep, lust-filled kiss, her moans of pleasure making it plain what she wanted.

I gave a small tug on the sensitive little piece of flesh I was teasing, getting a loud moan in return, then dipped my claw lower, brushing my palm across her petals, dragging my talons lightly across them as my claw made its way back up to play with the hardened bumps, repeating the motions over and over again, feeling her burning dampness grow. Her hips started to thrust forwards against my claw, her voice getting louder and louder, panting and moaning as we kissed, my every touch bringing her closer to the brink.

"Rose..." My voice low, initimate, I whispered in her ear. "Ready?"

Rose cried out wordlessly, desperate for what was coming, and I pressed one talon against her entrance, giving her a second to understand what I was about to do... Quickly, I thrust it into her while grinding my palm against her pearl, careful not to hurt her with my claws.

She threw her head back and screamed with pleasure, her entire body convulsing against me as, for the first time in her life, she experienced true, unbridled ecstasy.

---------------------------------------------------------------

I stroked Rose's mane. She was still laying on my chest, but now her whole body was limp and sweaty, small tremors running through her slender frame from time to time, still caught in the aftershocks of that single amazing moment. Her grey eyes blinked up at me sleepily, the look of sheer adoration she was giving me blending nicely with the sultry afterglow of her first ever orgasm.

"Ibis..."

"Yeah?"

"That was... wonderful..."

"It gets better, you know."

"You're kidding..."

I smiled and gave her a tender kiss. "That was just a sample." I ran my tongue along the edge of her ear, whispering. "Trust me, Red. You haven't experienced anything yet; I've got a lot more to show you."

She let out a low, exhausted, impossibly sensual moan, and I felt her shudder. "Ibis..."

With a small laugh, I wrapped my arms around her. "Not tonight, right?"

Rose nodded sleepily. "Tired..."

"Alright. We'll save it for later, then..." She'd fallen asleep while I was talking, and I carefully slipped her off my chest so I could sit up, resting her head on our blankets and brushing her messed-up mane from her face with a smile. "Sleep tight, Rose."

So, in an abandoned, radioactive Stable, in the middle of an irradiated swamp, with a torrential storm going on above us, Rose learned just how wonderful it could be to share herself with another, and fell asleep dreaming of the untold pleasures I'd promised.


Smiling, I took some more Rad-X and had a quick look around the armory. Plenty of lockers, a few crates... Something with a large tank and several hoses attached... Carefully, so as not to disturb my sleeping flower, I stood and made my way over to it, dreading what I'd find. My heart sunk when I saw that it was, in fact, what I'd feared.

A flamethrower.

Worse yet, it was still fully fueled.

Remembering the story of how Rose got her name, my blood ran cold. If there was any chance that Rose took after her mother when it came to these things, then there was only one sensible course of action.

Using my claws, my knife and several blunt objects, I sabotaged the flamethrower as much as I could and hid the fuel tank in an empty crate, then locked the crate and broke the key in the lock so it couldn't be opened again. Just for good measure, I shoved the crate to the back of the armory, hiding it behind some other crates and throwing a filthy tarp over the whole lot.

I still didn't feel safe.


Sighing, but only a little afraid for my life and general well-being now, I lay down beside Rose. She looked so peaceful, so content, that I started yawning. Figuring that a locked armory was as good a place as any to get some shut-eye, I made sure Rose's rifle was within reach and loaded, then rested my head on her small chest, listening to her heart beating as I drifted off.

---------------------------------------------------------------

Never roll over in your sleep if you have a unicorn for a lover. Those horns are sharp, and I can think of better ways to wake up.


I glared at Rose; she was prancing in front of me, freaking out about the bloody rag I was holding against my cheek.

"Sorrysorrysorrysorry!" Her ears were flat against her head and every word came out in a rush. "I didn't mean it honest Ibis and I'm really sorry and please don't leave me I'm really really sorry I didn't know my horn was so sharp and I'll put something on it next time and-"

"Enough!" I dropped the rag and grabbed her muzzle in both claws, fixing her with my sternest gaze. She kept trying to apologize, even though I was holding her mouth closed. "Rose, Stop talking. Breathe." She took a deep breath through her nose, then exhaled. "I'll let you go now, but no talking." She nodded as much as she could, ears still flat, eyes wide with panic. Cautiously, I released her muzzle; her ears twitched and I could tell she wanted to keep apologizing, but because I'd told her not to, she didn't.

"Listen to me, Rose... Are you listening?" She nodded, prancing in place. "Calm down." Her hooves stopped moving, but her tail kept whipping around. Good enough, I guess. "First, it wasn't your fault. Understand?" Another nod. "A healing potion will clear this right up, so don't worry about it. Second..." I picked the rag up and wiped my cheek; the blood had pretty much stopped flowing. "I'm not going to leave you. Ever. Especially over something tiny like this. Got it?" Her head bobbed again. "Do you know why?" A confused blink this time, and I smiled at her. "Because you're my mare, and I'll never leave you alone, no matter what."

Rose's face lit up, making me laugh. "Okay, Rose, you can talk now." She launched herself at me, crying and laughing at the same time. I caught her, her hooves wrapping around me as she sobbed out another apology.

"I'm sorry! I-"

I shut her up with a kiss, then held her as she caught her breath, stroking her head to help her calm down. "Rose, it's okay." I freed one claw from her and fished a healing potion from my belt, pouring it down my beak and turning my head so she could watch the gash heal. "All better, see? Nothing to get worked up about."

"I-"

"If you say you're sorry one more time, I'm going to tape your muzzle closed."

She blinked at me. "But it's my fault you got hurt!"

I sighed, squeezing her until she squeaked a little. "Rose, it's nobody's fault. I knew that this might happen when we started sleeping together, but I didn't care. I still don't. You know why, don't you?"

"Because... I'm... your mare?" Her face was full of hope, and I gave her another kiss as a reward for getting it right. No matter how often I saw her blush, it always brought a thrill to my heart.

"Bingo. Now, give me a smile, so I know you're okay."

She gave me the biggest, happiest smile I'd ever seen in my life.

"Good girl." I squeezed her again, and this time she squeezed back. Damn, she was strong! "Can't... Breathe!" She loosened her death-grip on me, grinning sheepishly.

"Sorry?"

"Right, where's that duct tape?" I reached for my bag and Rose screamed, leaping away from me and scrambling up the pile of boxes in front of the vent, trying to escape. I laughed at her and she spun to face me, terror plain as day on her face.

"Don't tape my muzzle shut! I need it to eat! And kiss!"

"Fine! I was just kidding!" I walked over to the crate, opening my arms. "C'mon, get down here and give me a hug, then we can clear this place out. I bet you'll find some more grenades, too."

She eyed me suspiciously but, after seeing I didn't have a roll of tape on me, she leapt from the boxes into my arms, giggling madly.

After we spent a few minutes hugging, and a few minutes more kissing, we finally got round to searching the armory properly.


Rose let out a little squeal of delight and dragged her discovery out of the dusty locker it had been sitting in for so many years. "Ibis! Look!"

I gave up on the ammo box I was trying to unlock and took a glance at what she'd found. "It's just a dusty old shotgun. What's so special it?"

She rolled her eyes at me and grabbed some rags from her bag to clean the thing. I still didn't get the big deal; we'd come across plenty of shotguns before, They'd all been pieces of shit we'd taken off of former raiders, but what made Rose get so excited about this one?

I got my answer when she finished cleaning the years of accumulated dust from it and held it up with her front hooves so I could get a better look.

The stock was made from some kind of pre-war wood, a deep, luxurious red that no tree in the wasteland could possibly aspire to. The barrel was finely made, even I could see that, thick and solid with floral engravings covering the reciever, where a large drum magazine was still attached.

I took the gun from Rose, turning it over reverently; it was beautiful, alright. Then I saw the words carved into the stock:

The Flowers of Ponyville - D/L/R

I glanced at Rose; She was staring at the carving as well, looking curious. "Ibis... Who are they?" She tapped the three initials with her hoof.

"I... don't know, Rose. Sorry." I shrugged. "But I bet they were really special to each other, since they put their initials on here together."

Rose blinked at me. "I guess... Well, it's your gun now, so take care of it... Needs a name, though." She stared at me, waiting.

I thought for a moment, then the perfect name popped into my mind. "Garden," I whispered, then spoke normally so Rose could hear me. "I'll call it... Garden."

"That's a nice name... Whoever those ponies were, I bet they'd be happy you're looking after their gun." She smiled at me, and I blushed.

"Thanks, Rose." I raised the shotgun to my shoulder to check it out; It was heavy, the sort of thing that ponies would need a battle saddle to use. Peer down the sights, eject the drum and pop it back in, cock it to load a round and rest my claw on... the grip. I fumbled around for a second, then groaned. It was made for ponies, after all. "Uh, Rose? Little problem."

She blinked at me again. "Not made for griffins?"

I nodded. "Not made for griffins."

"I can fix that. Gimme." She took the gun in her mouth and set it on a (fairly clean) work bench, then turned into a white and red whirlwind, darting all over the armory collecting tools and parts while I stared.


It took just over half an hour for Rose to finish, and she proudly pushed the modified gun into my claws. My brain was still trying to catch up with what I'd just seen, though.

"Uh..."

"Like it?" She smiled, obviously pleased with herself. I just nodded dumbly, finally realising that she'd given me the shotgun and taking my first look at it.

The mouthgrip had been removed and replaced with a pistol grip that sat just in front of the stock, while the entire firing mechanism had been modified to work with the new set-up. I raised it again and ran through my checks for the second time; It rested comfortably against my shoulder, and I realised Rose had put some padding on the butt of the stock. The drum popped out and back in even easier than before, and the cocking action was smooth as silk.

"This is incredible, Rose! How the hell did you do it?!"

She was practically bouncing with joy now. "Easy! I just used my hooves!"

I laughed. She really was like an earth pony with a horn. "Will it fire, though?"

Rose stopped bouncing for a second to glare at me. "Of course it will!" She pointed at a crate. "Shoot the lock off that box, if you don't believe me!"

I took a good look at the crate, making sure it wasn't the one I'd hidden the flamer tank in; Nope. This one was labeled 'STABLE SECURITY - RIOT ARMOR.' Guess there was no harm in opening a box of armor. Shrugging, I pressed Garden to my shoulder, took aim, and... Almost dislocated my fucking shoulder!

The lock exploded, torn apart by the blast. "FUCK!" I screamed, flicking the safety on and dumping the shotgun onto the workbench so I could down a healing potion and inject some med-x into my aching arm.

Rose trotted over to the shotgun, poking it with her hooves. "Guess it needs more padding." She blinked at me. "You okay?"

"Luna damn it, that thing's not a shotgun: It's a fucking cannon!" Med-x is a wonderful thing; My shoulder had stopped hurting already, and the healing potion was repairing the damage.

Still, when Rose finished adding more padding and offered me the shotgun again, I eyed it warily before picking it up. "You sure about it this time?"

"I used some shock-absorbing material from the riot armor, so... Yeah. It should be fine." She idly waved one hoof at the now-open box; I could see that it was full of armored vests and helmets, all a uniform black with the number '77' stenciled on them in bright yellow.

"Alright... But if it breaks my arm, you have to cook dinner later, got it?" Rose nodded.

"Got it."

I steeled myself for the inevitable pain, took aim at an empty locker, and pulled the trigger. The kick was still pretty heavy, but not nearly as bad as it had been before. Considering the size of the hole that Garden punched in the locker, I could live with a little discomfort. "By Luna's velvety flank, Rose. What the hell kind of rounds did you load this thing with?"

She shrugged and blinked at me. "Slugs. Only thing I could find that would fit; There's two whole ammo boxes full of them."

I stared at her. "No normal rounds?"

"Nope. I did find that flamethrower you sabotaged, though. I used part of it to make the grip for Garden." She pointed at the flamer (which was in pieces) and then my shotgun.

"I didn't... I'd never..." Rose stared at me, expressionless, and I sighed. "Okay, I broke it. How'd you know?"

"Claw marks on the regulator and hoses. Why'd you do it, anyway?"

"Don't ask." No way was I going to admit to being scared shitless just by thinking about her using a flamethrower.

She snorted. "Whatever. Wanna help me clean this place out?" We grinned at each other, and raced to see who could find the best stuff.


It was a draw. Tons of ammo, a few weapons Rose hadn't cannibalized for parts and... "Rose, where did you find that?"

Rose was inspecting a very familiar fuel tank. "The crate you hid it in."

"But I-"

"Jammed the lock? I noticed." She indicated the tank's former hiding place; the area around the lock had been smashed beyond belief.

"How-"

"I hit it. A lot."

"Why-"

"I wanted to see what you were hiding."

I just stared at her, my beak hanging open in shock.

"We can sell it, Ibis. Flamethrower fuel is valuable." She shoved it into a dufflebag; one of several we'd scrounged up, all of them now filled with salvaged equipment. "We should take some of the armor, too... Ibis? Ibis!"

I snapped out of it when Rose bit my claw. "OW! Rose! What was that for?"

She sighed, shaking her head. "Ibis, you need to pay more attention. You finish looting, I'll see if there's any armor that will fit us."


Since I didn't have a better idea, we went with Rose's plan. I scrounged up some ammo drums for Garden, clips for Rose's rifle, a couple more guns that neither of us were interested in using, plenty of assorted bullets and shells, enough grenades to level a small town and, for some reason, a harmonica. The whole time I was looting, Rose was going through the crate of armor, occasionally trotting over to me with a vest in her mouth to compare it against me, then growling and throwing it into an ever-growing pile of discarded armor when it didn't fit.

In the end, she just tore some vests apart and stitched them all together to make a big one.


I shifted, testing my range of movement. My wings were sticking out of two holes Rose had cut for just that purpose, and I could move them normally. The straps, pouches and buckles didn't get in the way, either. "Kinda heavy, isn't it?"

Rose shrugged. "I put some metal plates in the lining; The vests were meant to stop knives or clubs, not bullets, after all." She spun around, showing off her new 'outfit'. "How do I look?"

Her armor was more-or-less normal; She'd found a vest that would fit her and just added some plating in vital areas. The bandoleer of grenades was secured with a couple of quick-release clips and her rifle holster was strapped across her back, in easy reach of either her hooves or mouth.

"Pretty good." I grinned at her; She always looked good. "So, what's next?"

She looked around the stripped armory slowly; We'd cleaned out everything of value (and a few things that were worthless), and we hadn't left much in Medical upstairs, either. The dorms and cafeteria could wait until we passed through on our way out, so that left... "We should find the water talisman, Ibis."


We filled our vest pouches with ammo, healing potions and some syringes of med-x. That way, we wouldn't have to search through our bags in an emergency; quick access to medical supplies can be a life saver, after all. Fully prepared, the full dufflebags split between us, we popped the door open and stepped into the corridor.

"Alright, where would the water talisman be?" I had Garden raised and ready in case of another ambush; If it could blow a hole the size of my fist through a locker door, it would probably rip ghouls apart.

"Down two levels, in maintenance... I think." Rose blinked at me. "We'd better take-"

"The stairs, I know." Rolling my eyes, I finished her sentence. She blinked at me again, then nodded.

"Right. They should be this way, so let's go."

Amazing what being properly armed can do for your confidence levels. We were still cautious, but now we had enough firepower to protect ourselves.

Pity we didn't come across any more ghouls on the way down; I wanted to see what Garden would do to a tight group of jerky ponies.


Instead, something far worse than ghouls blocked our way into the maintenance area. Water.

"Guess the water talisman is still working..." We stood at the top of a staircase, looking down into the flooded level below. there was maybe a few inches between the dark, tepid water and the ceiling. Rose nodded.

"Guess so... You wanna go first?"

"Nope. Ladies first, Rose."

"Ibis... I can't swim." She blinked at me.

I groaned. "Me neither."

Hey, it's not like swimming is a useful skill in the wasteland. If you can find water deep enough to swim in, it's probably radioactive or infested with things that want to eat you. Usually both.

Rose took a tentative step forward, sticking one hoof in the water; Her coat stood on end and she leapt backwards, shivering. "C-cold!" She turned to me, her grey eyes wide. "Ibis... I don't think we can get the talisman."

"You're probably right, Rose. Whaddya say we just get out of here and leave this place to rot?"

She took a slow look around, taking in the mildew covered walls, the rusted metal, the decaying furniture, and nodded. "Yeah. I don't like this place anymore."

With that, we headed for the surface, stopping in Medical to make sure we hadn't missed anything, and taking a quick look in the (now empty) cafeteria as we passed it. Moldy food, a fairly intact jukebox and some pony skeletons. Nothing I wanted to look too closely at.


Again, no ghouls got in our way. Guess Rose had blown them all apart when she was playing Vent Warrior.

---------------------------------------------------------------

I stretched my wings, legs and arms, enjoying the slightly fresher air of the swamp and letting out a sigh of appreciation. It was good to get out of that hellhole, even if all I could see was trees and water... And Rose, who was chasing a frog around in front of the cave, determined to squish it for trying to bite her when she wasn't looking.

The little mutant was croaking frantically and hopping as fast as it could, trying to escape the vengeful mare. Rose charged after it, but the frog managed to squeeze between some roots at the base of a tree just in time.

THUNK!

Rose yelped as her head slammed into the tree, her horn getting stuck in the wood. "Help!" She tried pulling herself free, all four hooves scrambling in the mud as she backpedaled.

I was laughing my beak off at the sight.

"Ibis! I'm stuck!" She whined, still struggling. The frog creapt out from its hiding place and croaked at her; She tried stepping on it, but it nimbly jumped onto her back and got ready to sink its teeth into the back of her neck.

In a flash I was by Rose's side and grabbed the vile thing, throwing it away as hard as I could and hearing it splash down somewhere out of sight.

"You okay?" I brought my head down to Rose's level so we could look at each other. She snorted and glared at me.

"I'm stuck. Help me."

"Okay, okay." I grabbed the collar of her vest and gave a tug; Damn, she really was stuck! "Let's pull together on three. One... Two... THREE" With both of us working together, her horn came free. We both fell backwards, landing on our butts in the mud. Rose shook her head and glared at me... Then started giggling.

Pretty soon we were both laughing like crazy.

"You... You got beaten by a frog!"

"I got beaten by a tree! That's even worse!"

We helped each other up and set off, bursting out in laughter every now and then. Despite the ghouls in the Stable, the past couple of days had been great, and when we finally reached the edge of the swamp, we grabbed each other and started cheering and dancing.

Rose may be an alright singer, but her dancing is... Terrible.
When I laughed at her, she headbutted me until I swept her up and blew a rasberry on her tummy. Then she started squealing and flailing around instead.

It was a fun time for both of us, and we continued our journey to nowhere in good spirits, closer than we'd ever been before.


"Rose?"

"Yeah, Ibis?"

"You ever think about marriage?"

"Sometimes." She gave me a shy smile and I put my wing over her affectionately as we walked along, just a pair of lovers ready to face the world together.


FOOTNOTE: 50% PROGRESS TO NEXT LEVEL

A/N: This chapter goes out to everyone who has been reading so far, but especially Winter Storm for all the help, and Midnight Stalker for inspiring me to write a happier chapter. ^_^

KKat gets a super special thanks for writing FoE, as usual! You rock! Woohoo!