• Published 29th Jun 2012
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Fallout: Equestria - Wasteland Bouquet - Cascadejackal



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

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Chapter 12: Doubt

---CHAPTER 12: Doubt---

“She's going to be fine. Luckily she has friends like you who got her over here in a jiffy.”

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I galloped through the twilight streets of Little Fillydelphia as fast as I could, dodging ponies as Ibis soared above me. My hooves beat against the harsh pavement, the scattered streetlights painting the town a nauseating shade of pus yellow, but I was focused on just one thing:

Finding Rose.

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"Mom, where's Rose?" The first thing me and Ibis had noticed when we got back from our shopping was that our white mare wasn't where she should have been. Her spot on the bed was empty, her things left like she would be right back. Magpie was pacing back and forth, her wings rustling, claws flexing every few steps... Agitated griffins are scary.

"I don't know!" The old griffin snapped at us, pausing to glare. "I had to use the bathroom, and when I came out, she was gone..." She stepped towards the bedside table and picked something up, turning to show it to us. "I found this, just sitting there."


Ibis stepped forward to take the thing, but I grabbed it with my magic and pulled it over. It was a note.

Gone to see Jungle. Urgent. Back soon. Rose.

I sighed in relief and floated the paper to Ibis before looking up at Magpie. "It says she'll be back soon." Ibis visibly relaxed when he saw the note as well. Magpie snorted.

"She's been gone for over an hour." That made my heart jump. Rose wouldn't have stayed out for that long!

"Ibis, who's Jungle?" I turned to the grey griffin and stomped, starting to freak out. "Who is she, and why would Rose just run off like that?! Nopony is important enough for Rose to take off without saying anything to one of us!"

Ibis scrunched up the paper. "Mom, stay here in case Rose comes back. She trusts you." He stepped towards his mother. "Just... Don't let her leave this room until we get back... Please? I think I know where she is, but if she's already on her way back, and we miss her..." Magpie nodded and put her claw on Ibis' shoulder.

"She'll be fine, son. I saw her fight, and I don't think anything in this city could hurt her. I'll wait right here, don't you worry."

"Thanks, mom." The griffins smiled at each other, then Ibis grabbed me and dragged me out of the hotel.


"Ibis!" I struggled and the grey griffin set me down on the pavement outside. "Who the hell is Jungle?!"

He narrowed his eyes and waved his claw at the street in front of us. "Talk and walk, Lily. I'm not leaving Rose alone any more than I have to, and I wouldn't think you want her out here, by herself, any more than I do." We set off at a brisk walk, but we slowly started picking up speed as Ibis explained who Jungle was. "Jungle's the short, foul-mouthed runt of a pony that runs the gym. He set up all of Rose's fights."

We were running now. "Why... would Rose... go see him?" I panted a little. "She... hates... stallions..."

"The note said it was urgent..." Ibis jumped over a startled, drunken pony, while I went around. "It must have something to do with that last fight..."

"You mean... against... the big pony?"

"Yeah. Jungle said Ironchops is a bad loser... If he's hurt Rose..."

My heart leapt into my throat and I put on as much speed as I could, Ibis taking to the air and leading the way to the gym. That big pony could have crushed me like a bug, but Rose had already beaten him once... She'd been dosed up on med-x when we left the room, though... Could she have fought him off like that?

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I stomped back and forth in front of the gym, glaring at the locked doors. Ibis knocked as hard as he could for what felt like the twentieth time before turning to me.

"Doesn't look like anyone's in there."

"I can see that!" I snapped, only to flinch when Ibis stepped towards me, his eyes narrowing. "Sorry! I... I'm just worried about Rose..." He sighed and flexed his wings.

"I am too..." He slammed his claw against the doors one last time, and we walked away from the gym slowly. "Jungle never locks up... Something doesn't seem right..."

"Maybe he's someplace else?" I tried to sound hopeful, but I was really worried. Little Fillydelphia wasn't the sort of town a mare should be on her own in, even if the mare was Rose.

"Maybe... I can't see him meeting Rose anywhere else, though... The only time we saw him was at the gym, and Rose wouldn't go anywhere she doesn't know without me..."

"What if they're in a bar? Rose still likes bars, you said so yourself! I bet they're- OOF!"


A fast moving light-brown blur slammed into me and we hit the pavement hard, a tangle of flailing limbs as we rolled around before seperating. I shook my head as I stood, trying to focus on the thing that had hit me like a runaway wagon.

"Ouchie..." A young earth pony mare with a pair of linked horseshoes for her cutie mark lay in front of me, her sandy coat filthy and her short brown mane a total mess. She had her hooves pressed over her muzzle and was groaning. "Watch where you're going, stupid head!" She sat up and shouted at me, glaring. "That hurt!"

I stepped back, shocked. She'd run into me! The young mare gingerly touched the graze on the side of her freckle-covered muzzle, wincing. "Ow... My poor face..." Suddenly, her ears shot up and she started feeling around on top of her head, her eyes wide. "My hat!" She jumped to her hooves and, in a flash, had her face pressed to mine, shouting. "Where's my hat?! Give it back, thief!"

"Wha- I- You-" I was speechless. First she blamed me for our collision, then she thought I had her hat?!

"Hey!" Ibis stepped between us, narrowing his golden eyes at the rude mare. "Enough!" She leapt backwards, pawing the ground like she was going to charge at him. She must have been crazy!

"Where's my hat?!" She yelled again before lowering her head. "If you don't give it back right this second, I'll.. I'll..." I stared in disbelief. It looked like she really was about to charge! I was looking at the craziest pony in the wasteland!

Ibis wasn't having a bit of it though. "The only hat here is the one behind you!" He pointed and the young mare whirled, pouncing with a happy squeal and plonking the most ragged, well-loved hat I'd ever seen, faded red with daisies printed all over it, onto her head before turning back to us, a broad grin plastered across her face.

"Thanks! Oh, sorry for running into you like that, and-" She trailed off, staring at Ibis with wide eyes. "Hey... You're the griffin that's always with Bloody Mane- I mean, Miss Whiskey, right?"

"Uh... Yeah?" When the mare took a step forwards, grinning eagerly, her eyes shining with delight, Ibis took a step backwards, almost bumping into me.

"That's so cool! I bet you're Miss Whiskey's trainer or something, right?! I mean, everpony knows griffins are, like, the strongest ever, and I really should have asked Miss Whiskey who you were before but it was just so awesome meeting her that-"

"HEY!" I slipped between them and waved my hoof in the chatterbox's face, cutting her off. "You saw Rose? Where?! When?!" The sandy mare paused for a second, staring at me in confusion.

"Sorry, who're you?"

I stomped and glared at her. "You tell me where my sister is or Luna help me, I'll-" She squealed and my ears went flat to protect my hearing. I thought I heard glass breaking somewhere nearby!

"You're Miss Whiskey's sister?! That's so neat! Are you a boxer too?! I bet you're almost as good as- Right, sorry!" I glared at her again and she grinned sheepishly. "Mr Jungle payed me to tell Miss Whiskey he wanted to meet with her about an hour and a half ago, 'cause that's what I do: I run errands for everypony. Best courier in Little Fillydelphia!" She smirked, looking really proud of herself.

I growled, sick of her nonsense. She was keeping me from Rose! "Where is she?!" Ibis put his claw on my shoulder and stood beside me.

"We really need to find her. It's important." He sounded a lot calmer than I did, but he managed to get an answer out of the young mare.

"Oh, they're meeting in the graveyard outside of town. I'll take you there free of charge, since it's for Miss Whiskey and she's the coolest ever! C'mon! This way! I'm Jacknife, by the way." Making sure her hat was on tightly, she turned and bolted, leading me and Ibis through the city and keeping up a stream of chatter the whole way. I tuned her out, too worried about my little sister to listen.

Why was Rose meeting Jungle in a graveyard? What could have taken her so long?


After a while Jacknife started to slow down, going from a full-on gallop to a fast trot, and I moved up beside her. She looked... worried. "How long until we reach the graveyard?"

"A few more minutes... We're nearly there, but... something's wrong..."

"Wrong?"

"Yeah..." She came to a sudden stop and looked up, calling out to Ibis. "Mister Griffin! Can you see anypony from up there?"

Ibis swooped back and forth a few times, high above the town, before coming in to land a few feet in front of us. "No... Nobody at all..." Now he looked worried. I didn't get it.

"So there's nopony around. So what?" I stared at them, confused. Jacknife started to trot in place, glancing around. I was starting to think she couldn't stay still for long. Ibis sighed.

"Lily... This is a big town..."

"Yeah..."

"Since you got here, have you seen the streets this empty?"

"Uh..." I looked around us. Sure enough, the street was deserted, the only sign of life a couple of bottles laying in the glow of the streetlights. "It's getting late, so maybe they're all at home?"

Jacknife was practically bouncing now. "Mister Griffin, is she serious?" She trotted over to me, frowning. "Are you serious, Miss Whiskey's sister? There's always somepony out here! The homeless ponies, the drunks and junkies, somepony!"

"So what?!" I snapped at her, getting impatient again. "What does it matter where everypony is?! And my name is Lily!"

"Lily, huh? Nice name. Can we go now? I'm gonna help you find Miss Whiskey and then go home and hide 'cause it feels like something really bad is gonna happen and I don't wanna be around when it does."

I stared at her blankly as we started off again, moving slower now, at a normal pace instead of Jacknife's flat-out run. "It doesn't feel like anything's going to happen to me.

Ibis was jogging along beside me and he groaned. "Lily, you're unbelievable. Can't you feel it? Something's coming, and it's not going to be good."

I shook my head. "Nope. Can't feel a thing. Are you sure you're not just imagining it?"

He groaned again. "How can anyone have lived so long without a survival instinct?" With a flap, he spread his wings and took to the air, leaving me alone on the ground with a very jumpy Jacknife. I sighed, hoping we'd reach the graveyard soon, so I could see Rose and hug her to death for making us worry.

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"Oh, Celestia..." I was frozen, staring at a pool of blood beside an open grave. "Please... Please don't let that be from Rose..."

When we'd arrived at the graveyard, Jacknife had said goodbye and taken off, heading for her home to hide. I was glad she hadn't stuck around. Ibis stuck his claw in the blood and turned to me, frowning. "It's a couple of hours old, at most... That's about when Rose left..."

"Ibis, no!" I shouted, stomping for emphasis. "It's not from Rose! If she lost that much blood, then..." I choked down a sob, unable to say it. Ibis stepped towards me, putting his clean claw on my shoulder with a small sigh.

"Lily... I won't believe Rose is... dead... unless I see her for myself. All we've got is a pool of blood, a grave that looks like something crawled out of it, and some hoofprints leading towards town." How could he say that so easily? I had trouble breathing from just thinking about Rose dying, and he said it so bluntly... Wait.

I perked up and stared at him. "Hoofprints?" He nodded.

"Small ones, about Rose's size. There're really small ones as well, probably from Jungle... Or a colt." He pointed at some bloody scuffs in the dirt. "They're headed for town, but... There's also some really big ones. Maybe Ironchops."

"See? I knew Rose was okay!" I laughed, overjoyed that the blood hadn't been from Rose after all. I didn't care where it came from, as long as my sister was alright! "You can follow the tracks, right? So let's go!"

"Lily-"

"NO!" I glared at him. "Rose isn't here, and we need to find her! So do your freaky predator thing and take me to her!" I wasn't going to let anything keep me from my little sister any longer.


With a sigh, Ibis started following the trail of scuffed dirt and bloody hoofprints, pointing it out to me as we went. As dirt turned to concrete, we had to rely on the blood instead of the hoofprints to keep on track. Some small part of my brain kept pointing out that there was a lot of blood, and not all of it could have been on Rose's hooves...

I did my best to ignore that less-than-helpful part of my brain and focus on finding Rose.


We made our way through a ruined barbed wire fence and I tried not to look at the little pool of blood that was drying next to it, or the steadily growing trail we were following through the empty town.

As we walked, I started to shiver, finally understanding what Ibis and Jacknife had been talking about. It really did feel like something bad was coming, and the deserted streets were giving me the creeps. There wasn't even any wind, the air dead and heavy as we passed through shadows and flickering streetlights, drawing ever closer to what felt like the eye of a storm...

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I stared at the large building before us, my jaw hanging open. "T-the... Gym...?" We'd wound up back at the gym, but now the doors weren't locked... They weren't even attached to the building, laying just inside the entrance, twisted and broken like a runaway wagon had gone through them.

We'd followed the blood trail all the way back to where we'd started and it vanished into the gloomy gym, but neither of us wanted to rush in to investigate... Ibis was shifting his weight from claw to claw, nervous. "Well, at least the doors are open... kinda..." He took a tentative step forwards, and glanced back at me. "Coming, Lily? Or are you chicken?"

I scowled at him. "You're the chicken, Ibis... But... I'll be right behind you... 'kay?" He forced a smirk onto his face and kept walking, stepping over the pulverised doors and into the half-lit gym. I hesitated for a moment, then followed him.

Despite the damage to the doors, the inside of the gym was perfectly normal. I'd half-expected to find Ironchops waiting inside or something, but the place looked completely empty. Ibis started weaving carefully through the room, following the crimson spatters on the floor, while I stayed near the entrance... Just in case I had to run for help or something, honest! Not because I was freaked out or anything!

"Lily!" Ibis called out, making me jump. He was over by the boxing ring, and I tried to keep my voice steady as I yelled back.

"What? Did you find Rose?"

He shook his head. "No... I found Jungle. He's dead."

Dead? I swallowed nervously and crossed the gym, coming to a quick halt when I saw the short pony... or what was left of him. He was slumped against the ring and covered in blood, his throat torn out so badly that there wasn't much left holding his head on, just something white sticking out from the torn flesh... I stumbled away and threw up. Ibis' wings were twitching, and he was looking around for any clue where we should go next. As I wiped my mouth, he pointed at some small, wet hoofprints leading away from the body, towards the back of the gym. "We need to find Rose. Now."

I nodded and followed him to a door that, if I remembered right, led to the locker room. I spared Jungle one last glance and said a small prayer for him. He'd been rude, but nopony deserved to die like that.


"Why'd you stop?" Ibis had pressed himself to the wall beside the door, and I frowned. What was he doing?

"Listen." He motioned for me to be quiet and move closer to the door so, with a sigh, I did. I had no idea what he was doing at all, and- "Hear that?"

I nodded, eyes wide. I could faintly hear a wet ripping noise and small whimpers, as well as someone talking in a low voice. A sudden crunch and a muffled scream made my stomach clench. It was a good thing my stomach was empty, or I would have thrown up again.

"On three, we go in... I'll jump Ironchops, you grab Rose and get the hell out of here, okay?" I nodded again, and steeled myself to run in, grab Rose, and run out. Ibis pulled his knife from his belt and put his claw on the doorhandle. "One... Two... Three!"

He slammed the door open and lunged into the locker room with me right behind him, and we stopped just inside the doorway, staring at the horrific scene before us.

Only one light was working, casting a flickering, sickly glow across the walls and floors, tiled surfaces shattered like something large had been thrown into them. The lockers and benches were crushed, smashed beyond repair, and blood covered almost everything, like a foal had gone mad with a bucket of red paint. A white shape stepped forwards from the gloom, and spoke with a voice that made my flesh crawl.

"My, my... New guests for the party?"


Rose smiled at us, and her eyes... Oh, goddesses, her eyes... It was like looking into the eyes of the devil... They were the deepest blue I'd ever seen, even bluer than when she'd been a filly, and they were glowing. "I do so apologise for not inviting you myself, but there was a little issue. You see, my friend here..." A low groan made me tear my eyes away from my little sister and I dry-retched, thankful my stomach was empty. Ironchops was was hanging from the back wall, broken metal pipes rammed through his forelegs, pinning them above his head. That wasn't the worst of it, though... It looked like all four of his legs where broken, bent at angles that were just wrong, bones sticking out in places. He'd be torn open from crotch to throat, and I could see...

I thanked the goddesses for the poor lighting, even as I collapsed from the shock of seeing something like that. I could see inside him! Rose trotted over to the huge pony, stroking his face with one bloody, gore-soaked hoof, smiling all the while. "Well, he took something that doesn't belong to him. Didn't you, my boy?" I thought I could see barbed wire wrapped around her leg, and... Oh, no... The flickering light stayed on just long enough for me to see that Rose shouldn't have been walking around. Blood was dripping from more open wounds than I could count, bits of bone were sticking out of her legs and sides, her horn was shattered with just a cracked and broken stump remaining, blood-caked dirt clung in wet clumps to her coat and there was a huge, raw, gaping hole in her flank, right where her cutie mark used to be...

I was looking at a pair of dead ponies, but somehow, they were still alive.


"Rose... What happened to you? What have you done?" I found my voice and spoke up, the sound weak, barely audible over the dripping of blood and Ironchops' moans of agony. She turned her head and gave me the sweetest, most innocent smile I'd ever seen... I can't tell you how utterly wrong it was to see something like that. She didn't say a word, though.

"Lily... That's not Rose..." Ibis sounded like he was about to die, and I found just enough energy to lift myself up and turn to him.

"W-what do you mean? That's Rose! She's just hurt, that's all!"

"Oh, no. I'm afraid Ibis is quite correct, my dear little Lily. You see, Rose is sleeping right now." The blue-eyed mare smiled and tapped her hoof on Ironchops' exposed ribcage. "This fine fellow killed her." She shifted to a sing-song voice. "Stabbed, stomped, beaten, buried."

"You're lying... Rose, stop lying! You're not dead!" I screamed at her, and she just chuckled.

"Not dead, my dear, just sleeping. I gave her a choice, and she chose you." She stepped towards me, and I tried to back up, but her eyes... I couldn't look away from them... I could see Ibis from the corner of my eye; he was pinned in place just like me. "She could have been with her parents, free from all this pain, all the horrors of the world, and yet she chose to come back to you, Lily, and you as well, Ibis. Don't you two just feel... Special?"

The monster chuckled again. "She was so worried about letting you two down. Little Rose always wants to be a good pony, do you know that? She follows her silly little rules, convinced everything will be okay if she's a good. Little. Pony." With each word, she came closer to us, smiling so sweetly, so innocently... "But, she was wrong. She was betrayed and murdered... So much betrayal in her life... Don't you agree, Lily?"

I tried to swallow, but it felt like I was choking. This thing in front of me wasn't Rose... I was terrified, but something made me nod, agreeing with that creature.

"Yes, you know you betrayed her... And you're going to make it up to her, aren't you?" I nodded again, and the mare threw her head back, laughing. "Good, good. You too, Ibis." She narrowed her eyes at the griffin. "You've done well, keeping my little Rose alive... But it's not quite good enough, now is it?"

"N-no..." Ibis croaked out the word, able to speak despite the soul-defiling eyes focused on us.

"No, it isn't." The mare turned away and walked slowly back to Ironchops. "You two are very important to Rose, do you know that? She'll do anything for you, even give up her life. And all she asks in return... Is that you love her." She put her hoof under Ironchops' chin and lifted his head. The big pony opened his eyes and looked at her.

"Please... Kill me..." I felt a fresh wave of nausea. He was still conscious.

"All in good time, my boy." The mare turned back to us. "Both of you, listen very closely: When I'm done here, I expect you to get my darling Rose to a doctor. She won't live very long on her own, you see." She gave us a small, sad smile. "Stay by her. Show her you love her. Most importantly... Tell her she's a good pony. Understand?"

I nodded, and so did Ibis.

"Good... Now, are there any questions?"

I managed to find my voice. "Who... who are you?"

"Mmm... That is a very good question, my dear..." She grinned, baring her teeth like a hungry predator, and a vice tightened around my heart. "My little Rose gave me a very nice name, and I suppose you can use it as well. Call me... Starfall..."

The mare... No, Starfall... stretched slowly, and I could see the ruined muscles beneath her ragged, torn flesh. I could hear shattered bones grinding and, out of the corner of my eye, I could see Ibis looking horrified. Starfall just gave a sensual purr before smiling at us. "Rose's cutie mark is in that bag beside you. Do try to get it back on, won't you?" I turned my head a little, barely able to see a sack, red-stained and damp, only a few feet away.

"H-her cutie mark... Is in there?"

"Mm-hm... I do believe this big fellow wanted a trophy... He cut it off with a rusty knife, and I've been explaining to him why that was a bad thing to do... Haven't I, my boy?"

Ironchops opened his mouth feebly, but no sound came out. Starfall smirked. "Mmm... I've had my fun with you, and I'm sure there's plenty of suffering waiting for you in the afterlife. Goodbye." She raised her leg, the one with the barbed wire wrapped around it, and backhoofed Ironchops' face so hard there wasn't anything left but the back of his skull before turning back to us. I tried to turn and run but, just like before, I was frozen, helpless. Even Ibis looked like he was ready to faint as she approached us.

"Now, my friends, I have a little... business... to attend to. When I get back, I expect to find Rose in the care of a doctor. Do I make myself clear?" She waited for both of us to nod, before chuckling again. "Very good. I leave my little girl to you, then. Ta-ta!" Smiling like a filly with a new toy, she slowly closed her eyes. Suddenly, the sense of dread that had pervaded the city was gone, fading away as the white mare dropped limply to the blood-caked floor, her chest rising and falling rapidly, gasping like every breath was pure agony.

My mouth opened and closed as I tried to speak, still in shock. A small, pained moan broke the silence and, as one, Ibis and I rushed to our dying mare.

"Rose!"

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I paced back and forth in the almost-clean waiting room of Little Fillydelphia's only medical clinic, glancing up at the clock on the wall every few steps.

They'd been in there for hours.

With a snort, I went back to pacing, counting steps, tiles, cracks in the walls, anything to keep my mind off of how badly hurt Rose had been, or what the doctor must have been doing to her in there... Ibis was sitting completely still, the only sign of life the occasional movement of his wings. His golden eyes stayed focused on the door to the operating room, like he was trying to burn a hole through them with his stare.

After a while, I sat down beside him and tried to think of something to say. If I didn't break the silence, I was going to go insane. "That clock's too loud." I pointed at the ticking time-piece. "And I think it's running fast. There's no way they could have been in there for this long."

"The clock's fine, Lily." The grey griffin turned to stare at me. He looked really tired. "Surgery takes a long time, and Rose... She was really messed up..."

"No. Nonononono! No, Ibis. Rose was hurt, sure, but she'll be fine! I mean, she pulled through after... after..."

"After you slept with Lucky?"

I flinched. "Y-yeah..."

He went back to staring at the door with a sigh. "She was in better shape then, and I still thank the Goddesses every day for whatever miracle they sent us to keep her alive... Now, though..."

Slowly, with tears in my eyes, I put my hoof on his shoulder. "Rose'll be fine, Ibis. We can't think anything else, or... or..." As I burst into tears, he sat up and wrapped his arms around me, pulling me against his chest, his feathers covered with dried blood from carrying Rose here. "She'll be okay, Ibis... she has to be okay... I can't lose her again..."

"Idiot..." He stroked my mane, and I could tell he was trying to keep from crying as well. "What would Rose think, seeing you cry like this?"

"Y-you're crying too!" He squeezed me tightly.

"I've just got something in my eye, that's all..."

"Liar."

"Idiot."


Eventually, I pulled away and wiped my eyes, looking up at him. "Ibis... she'll be okay... won't she?"

He nodded, giving me a small smile. "The doc's the one who treated Rose's opponents after all her fights. If anyone can pull our mare through, it'll be him..." He glanced at the door seperating us from the most important pony in our lives and said, very quietly, "I hope."

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"Lily... Lily!"

I woke up with a start, wiping the drool from my chin and looking around, confused. "Huh? Wazzat?"

Ibis was poking me awake (not very gently, either) and the doctor, an old unicorn wearing glasses, was standing beside him. "About time. The doc's finished operating."

I rolled to my hooves and stood up, shaking myself awake and realising, with a little shock, that it was morning outside. How could I have slept for so long?! "How's Rose? Is she..."

The doctor answered slowly. "She's alive." I sighed, relieved. "But..." But? But what? He looked at the door to the surgery-slash-recovery room, frowning. "It doesn't look good. I'm sorry."

"What do you mean?!" I started towards him, almost shouting. "What's wrong with her?! You're a doctor, you can fix anything!"

Ibis put his claw on my shoulder and turned to the doctor. Goddesses... I'd never seen a griffin look so tired... "Doc... Be straight with us... Will she live?"

"She'll live, but... It won't be much of a life... I had to perform extensive surgery, and there was just no way to repair all the damage..."

"How bad is it? Be honest with us, Doc." How could Ibis sound so calm?! I was ready to burst into tears! The doctor sighed.

"Alright, Ibis. I'll tell you the truth, but only because that mare of yours sent me so much business over the last couple of months." He paused for a moment, as if steeling himself for what he was about to say. "By the time I was finished removing bone fragments, I'd taken out almost an eighth of her skeleton. Her spine was crushed and almost severed in several places, and her skull looked like a jigsaw puzzle. I don't think she has brain damage, but we won't be able to tell until she wakes up... If she wakes up."

He paused, and I felt like I was going to die myself, unable to understand how anypony could have survived something like that. As I went to speak, I realized the doc wasn't finished yet, and I forced myself to listen. I had to know how bad it was, had to know if there was anything I could do to help.

"Most of her organs were ruptured, and the ones that weren't... If I didn't know better, I'd say she'd been through a butcher's shop, she was so badly cut up... You said Ironchops did this?"

Ibis nodded. "Yeah. I don't know exactly what he did to her, though... Just that it was bad."

The doc frowned. "He's always had a temper, that one. I've patched up enough of his victims to know... Never seen him get this violent, though. I warned Jungle about the big bastard's habit." We gave him a confused look, and he sighed. "Ironchops is addicted to Stampede and Buck. What, do you think he got that big naturally? Goddesses no! I'll be having a few words with those two later; this is getting out of hoof."

"Good luck with that. They're both dead."

"What?" The doc stared at Ibis, not believing his ears.

"Rose killed them."

"She killed them? Bloody Mane? That crippled, ruined, broken mare I spent the entire night trying to put back together? The one who didn't have enough bones or muscles intact to raise her hoof, let alone kill the biggest, meanest sonuvabitch I've seen in my entire life?" Ibis nodded, and the doc looked stunned.


Ibis spoke up again when it became apparent the doctor was still trying to process what he'd just heard. Me? I was standing there, with my mouth open like an idiot, as the extent of Rose's injuries sunk slowly into my brain. "Is there anything we can do? Healing potions, Hydra, anything at all?"

The doc shook his head.

"I had to use every healing potion I had on hoof just to get her stablised... I've heard of some ponies building up a resistance to healing magic, but I've never seen it myself... Until now, anyway." He straightened his glasses with a sigh. "As for Hydra... Giving it to a relatively healthy patient would be risky enough, but I have no way of knowing what would happen if we gave your friend a dose in her condition."

"So... You mean there's nothing we can do?" My voice wavered, and the doctor looked away from us.

"I'm sorry. Her best hope right now would be a full-body regenerative treatement, but while we have the machine... We don't have the talisman to make it work."

I perked up. "If we find the talisman thingy, can you make Rose better?"

"Maybe. It would still take weeks for the treatment to have any real effect, especially with her resistance to healing magic, and the talismans are very hard to find. That's why we've never gotten the machine working."

"They can't be that hard to find!" Finally, something I could do! There had to be one for sale somewhere, and I'd find it no matter what! "Maybe somepony has one they'd sell us?"

The doc shook his head. "As I said, they're rare. The machines were designed for the long-term recovery of critical patients and only larger hospitals, like the one in the ruins of Fillydelphia, had them. Unfortunately, most of the city is infested with bloatsprite nests and raider gangs. We tried sending salvage parties in a few years ago... It didn't end well."

The mere mention of bloatsprites gave me the horrors. Ugly, gross, nasty flying bugs... Ugh... Ibis stepped forwards, taking my place in the conversation while I tried to stop shaking. Bugs... I hate bugs...

"I'll go, doc."

"I know griffins are strong and your friend means a lot to you, but it would be suicide! The ruins are a deathtrap!"

"I said I'll go." He narrowed his eyes and the doc took a step backwards, fixed by the gaze of a determined griffin. "Just tell me where I'm going and what I'm looking for."

"Are you sure?"

"For Rose? Of course."

The doc sighed. "Fine. Come with me. I'll show you what you're looking for."


The old unicorn led us into the recovery ward and waved his hoof at a curtained-off area. "Your friend is in there, but I wouldn't suggest disturbing her. She's still in a very delicate state, and... it's not a nice sight. I'm not joking, miss." I'd started towards the curtain seperating me from Rose, but his no-nonsense tone made me stop in my tracks. "There's nothing you can do to help her right now, and you don't need to see her like this."

"Is... Is it really so bad?"

He nodded sadly. "Yes. It is. Please, let me just show you the machine... If you two are going to be risking your lives in the ruins, you should at least know what you're looking for."

"I'm going alone, doc."

"What?"

"Huh?!"

Me and the doctor stared at Ibis. "You heard me, Lily. I'm faster on my own, you'll just slow me down."

I stomped and glared at the grey griffin. "So I'll just slow you down, huh?! Maybe I should go alone myself, if that's how you feel!"

Ibis just shook his head. "Idiot. I'm a better fighter than you, I can fly, and besides... Bloatsprites. Hundreds of them."

"Bugs..." I mumbled, starting to shake. The thought of so many of the vile things made my legs feel like jelly, and I jumped when Ibis put his claw on my should.

"Just stay here, Lily. Keep Rose safe for me." He looked me in the eye and smiled. I managed a small smile of my own.

"Okay... But I'm not doing it for you... I'm doing it for Rose..."

"Just make sure nothing else happens to her, got it?" I nodded.


"Ahem..." The doctor cleared his throat. "If you two are quite finished..." We followed him over to a big, donut-shaped machine with a bed-type thing attached to it on rails, so it could slide in and out. "You'll be looking for something similar to this. There's a panel in the side, where the healing talisman is supposed to be." He flipped a little hatch open with his magic, and pointed to a hollow space about the size of my hoof. "With luck, you'll find what you're looking for right there."

Ibis nodded. "And if it's not there?" I glared at him. It had to be there!

The doc gave us a small shrug. "It may be in a storage room. If you can bring back any other medical supplies as well, I'll see about reducing the bill for the surgery." I stared at him in disbelief.

"You're kidding? You're kidding, right?"

He shrugged again. "I used my entire stock of healing potions, and my nurse had to go home after she suffered magical burnout trying to stop your friend from bleeding to death during the operation. It'll be days before she's ready to work again. The least you could do is bring back some equipment and supplies I'm lacking."

I started to speak, indignant, but Ibis cut me off. "I'll bring back everything I can, doc... Is there anything else I should know before I go?"

"Hmm..." The doctor led us back into the reception area and I cast one final, forlorn glance back at the curtain concealing my little sister. "Other than the heavy radiation? I'd suggest waiting until tomorrow before going on your little suicide mission."

This time, I couldn't help myself. "Why?! We know what we're looking for and we know where it is! Why should he wait?! Rose is in there, and she's in pain, and... and..." I choked back a sob, and Ibis put his claw on my back, trying to comfort me.

"She's right, doc. Every minute I waste is a minute Rose suffers."

The doc floated his glasses off of his face and started polishing them with a rag. "Your friend is in no pain, I can assure you. I've got her hooked up to an intravenous Med-X drip. The dosage is higher than I'm honestly comfortable with, but with the state she's in..." He put his glasses back on and stared at us through them, frowning. "She's stable, and as long as there are no sudden shocks and nobody disturbs her, then she'll stay that way. Rushing off now wouldn't help her. You should spend the rest of the day preparing, because the city proper is as close to Tartarus as any place I've ever seen. Get some rest and a good meal, and for the love of the Goddesses, clean yourselves up."

Me and Ibis looked at each other; we were both covered in dried blood. I'd gotten it all over me when I tried to stop Rose's bleeding in the gym, and Ibis had carried her, still bleeding, all the way here. We looked terrible, and we knew it.

"Alright..." After the doctor wrote down the directions to the hospital, we followed him to the front door. As we were about to leave, I realized I'd forgotten to ask something very important. "Doc?"

He sighed. "What now?"

"Did you manage to get her cutie mark back on?"

"It's messy, but we did manage to reattach it." Relief washed over me. Losing your cutie mark was unthinkable and, even if Rose didn't really care about it, that mark was still part of her.

"What about her horn?"

"With enough time and a working regenerative talisman, we should be able to regrow it."

"Thank the Goddesses..."

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

"Be safe, guys." I watched as Magpie and Ibis finished tightening the straps on their equipment, checking their weapons, and filling their respective bandoleers and belts with ammo and healing stuff. "And.. hurry back... please?"

Magpie cocked her gun, a big griffin rifle, and nodded. "We'll be as quick as we can, kid. You got the directions memorized, son?"

Ibis tapped the side of his head. "Of course. They were rough, though. Sounds like nobody's gone that far in for a while."

"Pass them over, I'll take another look myself." Ibis tossed a piece of paper with the route to the hospital written on it to his mother, and went back to checking his shotgun. While Magpie recited the directions to herself quietly, I went over to Ibis and sat beside him, watching him work.

"That's... Garden, right?" He nodded. "Looks kinda funny..."

"It's meant to be mounted on a battle saddle. Rose had to modify it for me..." He held the gun up, showing me the duct-tape wrapped grip with a small smile. "She was so proud of her work..."

I blinked back tears. "She's always been like that... Like a little filly showing off everything she does, just for a little praise... A little love... It's just like that... that thing said... Starfall..."

Ibis shuddered when I said the name, his claws tightening on his gun.

"Ibis... What do you think that was? She wasn't Rose..."

"Lily, I have no idea who or what was in that room, and I sincerely hope I never have to see it again..."

"D'you think Rose knows about her? I mean, the way Starfall was talking, it's like they're friends or something..."

He sighed and set his gun down. "Rose never said anything, but I guess it wouldn't hurt to ask... After she's feeling better, though."

I nodded and gave a small smile. "Yeah... When she's all better, let's throw her a party, too... I bet she'd love a box of Fancy Buck Snack Cakes all to herself."

Ibis chuckled. "Idiot, that's what you want. Rose would rather have a box of bullets than a box of cakes."

"Would not!"

"Would too!"

We glared at each other, then started grinning when we realised there was only one thing Rose went mad for. "Bubblegum."

We burst out laughing, and Magpie rolled her eyes at us as she double-checked the spare magazines for her rifle and loaded them into her bandoleer.


As we caught our breath, Ibis sighed.

"I still haven't forgiven you for hurting Rose like that, Lily, but..." The grey griffin put his arm around my shoulders and I leaned against him. "Rose need both of us right now, and that's more important."

"Yeah..." I remembered what Rose had told me, so long ago, and smiled. "Y'know, Rose used to think of you as her big brother... I can see why."

He pulled away and swatted my head playfully. "I'm her boyfriend now, you idiot. We've been together for a long time... Speaking of which... When's the wedding?"

"Huh?" I looked up at him, confused.

"Remember? You said that if Rose and I ever started dating, you'd marry a hellhound."

Ugh... I glared at him. "You're not a real couple until I say so! Got it?"

He chuckled. "Not like we need your permission, Caravan."

"Don't call me that, you jerk!" I reared up and slugged him on the shoulder as hard as I could. He just laughed.

"Ooh, scary!" He grabbed my forelegs in his claws and smirked at me. "Whattcha gonna do now, Caravan?" After a moment of struggling to get free, I smirked back, looked past him to where Rose's saddlebags lay on the floor, and started to concentrate.

My horn glowed and for the first time, Ibis looked unsure. "What are you-OW!" The book I'd levitated from Rose's bags hit him square in the back of his head, and I pulled away when he let go of my hooves, sticking my tongue out.

"Next time, I'll use a bigger book!" I blew a rasberry at him.

He rubbed the back of his head, glaring at me. "Cheater."

"Featherbrain."


"Hey!" We both sat up straight at the sound of Magpie's voice, turning to the black-and-white griffin. "If you two are done screwing around, we've got a mare to save." She scowled at us.

"Right!"

"Ready to move, mom."

"Lily, go straight to the clinic when we leave. Take Rose's things with you, and stay inside. Old Doc Needles may be a bit of a grump at times, but he's a good one and he won't let anything happen to you." Me and Ibis stared at her. "What? I told you before, kid. This isn't my first time through Little Fillydelphia. I met the doc back when he was just starting that clinic of his."

"Jeez, mom. I forget you used to be a merc sometimes, it was so long ago. What was it like back before they had guns?" Ibis chuckled and his mother faceclawed, shaking her head in mock dismay.

"We had to use boneheads like you as clubs, son. Lily, just tell the doc it's a favor for me, that should smooth things over. Understand?" I nodded, and she stood up. "Good. Everyone got everything?"

I lifted both Rose's saddlebags and mine with my magic, setting them comfortably on my back. "Yep."

Ibis cocked Garden, slipped an empty duffel bag onto his back, and made a show of checking the case of spare shells that hung from his belt. "All set."

Magpie hung a duffel bag of her own from her bandoleer, then led the way out of our hotel and onto the street.

"With any luck, we'll be back before nightfall. Remember what I said, Lily. Stay in the clinic. You go out alone at night, this town'll eat you alive." I shuddered, and the old griffin smirked. "You're gonna run straight there when we leave, aren't you?"

"Like I had a hellhound on my tail." The griffins laughed.

"Pretend it's a bloatsprite; you'll get there quicker."

"Ibis!" I glared at him. Feathery bastard knew I hated even thinking about those gross things!

"Alright... Enough playing around. Ibis, take some Rad-X. We should be high enough to avoid the hotspots, but I don't want to take chances."

They both took some of the little red-and-yellow pills, and got ready to fly off. "Guys... Good luck."

"Thanks, kid. Don't you worry, we'll be back as soon as we can."

"Take care of Rose while I'm gone, Lily."

Ibis smiled at me and I nodded. With that, they took to the air, flying towards the ruinous city that lurked on the horizon.


With a sigh, I tightened the straps on Rose's saddlebags and turned to go myself, only to be wiped out by a sandy-colored blur.

"ARGH!"

"Ouchie!"

I kicked the projectile-pony off of me and rolled to my hooves, only to have a familiar face pressed to my own.

"Hiyah Miss Whiskey's sister! Oh, right! Miss Lily! Sorry about crashing, but I wanted to see Miss Whiskey again and... Is something wrong? Did you find Miss Whiskey? Is she alright?"

I stepped away from Jacknife, the most hyperactive pony I'd ever met, and glared at her.

"Oh, please tell me nothing happened! Ironchops is really scary and I bet he was angry he lost but Miss Whiskey is way stronger than him and-"

I stuck my hoof in her mouth to shut her up and she blinked at me. "Look... Rose was hurt bad last night..." Tears started to form in her eyes and she tried to mumble past my hoof. "She's in the clinic, and I'm going there now." She mumbled again and I pulled my hoof out of her mouth, wiping her drool off on the sidewalk.

"Oh, no... I bet it's my fault... Jungle asked me to get her, and that's just what I did... Miss Whiskey got hurt because of me..."

She started to sob and I groaned. I was terrible at making ponies feel better when they were upset, and I was having a hard time coping myself. "It's not your fault... Ironchops is the one that hurt her, not you..."

"But... but..."

"You really like Rose, don't you?"

The sandy mare perked up, grinning. "Well, duh! She's like the coolest ever! She's so strong and super smart and she told me that good ponies always win in the end!" She gasped. "I know! I'll be a good pony and take you to the clinic right now! I'm the fastest ever and nopony knows shortcuts like me! C'mon, let's go!"

She took off and I was hard-pressed to keep up with her. She was so damn fast!

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

I floated a kinda-clean hanky from my bag to Jacknife. "Here." She gave me a small smile and grabbed it in her hooves.

"Thanks, Miss Lily." She dried her eyes and blew her nose, then held it out for me to take back. Ick.

"Um, that's okay. You keep it." She smiled again and balled it up, then tucked it under her hat. Again, ick.


We were sitting in the waiting room of the clinic, and Jacknife had just stopped crying. All the doctor had told her was that Rose was really badly hurt, and it had been enough to set her off. She'd been sobbing for almost an hour, crushed that her hero was laying in a bed, so helpless and weak.

"Miss Lily... Can I ask you something?"

"Just call me Lily, okay?" She nodded, and I smiled at her.

"Miss Whiskey said if you're a good pony, things always turn out alright in the end... But she's in there, all hurt and stuff... Does that mean she lied?" Her eyes were wide as she stared at me, and I sighed before giving her a hug. Poor thing looked so young; she should have been at home with her parents, not running around a dangerous city making deliveries.

"Everything will be fine, you'll see. We're all good ponies, especially Rose, and our friends are going to get something to make her better. Just wait, they'll come waltzing in here tonight, we'll put Rose in that big donut machine, and she'll be all better. You'll see."

She buried her face in my neck. "T-thanks, Miss Lily... You're almost as cool and nice as Miss Rose, you know that?"

I stroked her mane. "Yeah... I'm awesome aren't I? Hey, how about some music?" Smiling, I levitated my bag over and hit the radio button on my pipbuck, tuning it to DJ Pon-3 only to hear nothing but static and the occasional clear word. Jacknife pulled away from me and stared at my pipbuck in amazement.

"You've got a pipbuck!"

"Um, yeah..."

"I can't believe it! That's like the coolest thing ever! Oh, you're trying to get DJ Pon-3? We can't hear his broadcasts out here. Dunno why, but we've got our own radio station and it's almost as good. Can I use your pipbuck? Please?" I sighed, unable to resist those huge eyes.

"Fine... Don't you dare break it, though."

She squealed with delight. "Yay! I'll be careful, promise!" She started messing with my pipbuck, tuning it into the local radio station, and quickly enough the quiet sounds of a lone guitar filled the clinic.


FOOTNOTE: LEVEL UP

New Perk: Pack Pony -- Spending your life as part of a caravan has taught you to make the most of your pack space. You can carry an additional 50lbs of stuff, and you're 20% faster at getting things from your pack when you need them.



As usual, thanks to KKat and all the FoE sidefic writers! You're all a great source of inspiration!
This chapter was originally going to be much longer, but rather than make everyone wait, I split it into two parts. Enjoy!

Extra thanks to Winter Storm, Midnight Stalker, and everyone who has been reading so far! You guys make all the hard work worthwhile!