• Published 29th Jun 2012
  • 3,205 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.

  • ...

Chapter 22: Chasing Stars

--- CHAPTER 22: Chasing Stars ---

"That's it! That's the place on the map!"

I screamed and lashed out at the thing shaking me. "No! G-get away!"

"Lily!" I heard Rose yelling as my hooves were grabbed and held down, whoever was shaking me pinning me to the ground so I couldn't struggle. "Wake up!"

My eyes snapped open and, in the dying light of our campfire, I could make out Rose sitting on me and holding me down, Ibis beside her and holding onto my hooves. I barely acknowledged the worry in their eyes as I buried my face in Rose's chest and started sobbing.

"I... I saw him... and... and then I...I..." I broke down, the horrible nightmare still fresh in my mind. Ibis let go and Rose slipped off to the side so I could sit up, my sister quickly hugging me tight to her barrel.

"It's okay, Lily," Rose said softly, "you're safe now."

Shuddering, I shook my head, my face buried in her coat, trying to block out the memory, the awful sounds of my gun... of the stallion dying... of Rose approaching me... Oh, Celestia. "Rose..." I was shaking, badly, as I pulled away, staring into Rose's eyes. "Rose, did I... did I try to shoot you?"

She blinked at me, nonplussed. "It's alright, Lily. You were just scared."

"No it isn't!" I shrieked, my hooves snaking around Rose's neck and pulling her to my chest as tightly as possible. "It's not alright! I... you... I could've killed you, Rose! What if I'd shot you?!"

"You tried." Ibis piped up, resting a wing on my back. "You pulled the trigger, right in her face." I stared at him in horror, my hooves tightening until I was practically crushing Rose. "You pulled that trigger, and Rose just walked right on past. She didn't even care..." He looked down at Rose and frowned. "Just like she doesn't care now. She's not meant to be blue, you idiot."

"Wha-?" Confused, I looked down at Rose, still trapped to my chest by my hooves around her neck. Her face was turning blue and her tongue was poking out, but she just blinked at me, calm as could be. Then I realised that I was strangling her.

"Gah!" I let go of her neck and grabbed her shoulders instead, shaking her frantically, her head wobbling side-to-side loosely. "Rose! Speak to me!"

"Lily... I can see a light." She mumbled, staring blankly at the sky, her tongue flopping out of her mouth. "It's so pretty."

"No!" I yelled, "Don't go into the light! Don't you dare, Rose! C'mon, breathe!"

"So... pretty... Princess Luna, is that you?" Rose weakly raised her hooves, stretching towards whatever she thought she was seeing up above. "I can see you..."

"Nooo!"I cried out, still shaking my sister as the color left her face. "Rose! Ibis, she's going pale! HELP!" I was hyperventilating when I realised that Rose wasn't the only one seeing a light. Everything was glowing softly, a pale blue-white light bathing our campsite, our fire little more than embers now. "No... nonononono!" I shook Rose violently; her unblinking eyes staring up at the clouds above, her now-white face expressionless and blank. "Rose? Rose!? RO-OW!"

I dropped my sister when something smacked the back of my head, before turning around and glaring at Ibis for hitting me. "Ibis! What the hell was that for?! Rose is dying, you jerk!"

Ibis just gave me a flat look. "She's fine." He pointed; I followed his claw and saw Rose, laying where I'd dropped her and staring up at the sky.

"B-but," I stammered as she blinked, still looking straight up, "she went pale! Look at her!"

Ibis faceclawed. "She's always pale, you idiot. Her coat's white."

"I... she... what about the light, then?!" I demanded, waving my hoof at our campsite, still glowing softly. "Rose saw a light, and now I see the light!"

"It's Luna, Lily." I shrieked and leapt into the air, not expecting my dead sister to start talking suddenly. Ibis fought to pry me off of him, my hooves wrapped around him with terror-fueled strength.


Rose blinked, glancing up at us for a second before her eyes returned to the clouds. "Princess Luna is watching us." She raised her hoof to point. "See? She's really pretty."

"Wha-OOF!" While I was preoccupied with working out what my (undead) sister was talking about, Ibis shoved me off. I glared at him from the ground, then something caught my eye. "Wow..." I murmured breathlessly, staring up.

There was a hole in the sky.

Blacker than black, darker than even the night's clouds, it was a great tear in the roof of the world. Swirls of purple and blue, so dark I would've called them black if it wasn't for the nothingness around them, hung like the clouds of the Elysium Fields themselves. Tiny specks twinkled and shone, precious motes of light that had to have been the stars.

And at the centre of that rift, that skylight of the world, with her light tinting the tattered edges of the clouds a pale silver, was Luna's Moon.

It was beautiful.

"Wow..." was all I could manage, entranced by the Goddess' display. Dimly, I was aware of Ibis looking up as well, his beak dropping and eyes shrinking to pinpricks.

"You can say that again." He muttered, laying on his back beside me to moonwatch. Rose wriggled over, until she was pressed against my other side.

After a couple of minutes, I had a thought. "Rose," I began, not taking my eyes from the silver goddess above, "is there... something we should say? To Luna, I mean."

There was a moment's silence before Rose replied, her voice low and soft. "Princess Luna, Guardian of Dreams, thank you for watching over us."

I nodded. "Thank you, Luna." I heard Ibis copy me quietly, before we fell silent once again, just admiring the beauty beyond the sky.

Rose said something softly, her voice barely a whisper, and I had to strain to catch it. "Luna forgive me, for I have taken the lives of others."

I shivered, sure Rose hadn't meant for me to hear her say that. Still, though, it stuck in my head... and I'd always been taught that Luna and Celestia were merciful to those who asked.

Luna forgive me, I thought to myself, thinking of what I'd done as I gazed up at the Moon, for I have taken the life of another.

Almost an hour later, tiny black specks circled against the clouds, drawing them closed like curtains and robbing the world of Luna's Light.

"Fucking pegasi," came Ibis' growl, "Won't let us have anything." I had to agree with him and, as we rolled to our hooves (and paws) to go to our bedrolls, I looked up again, hoping for one final glimpse.

I fell asleep staring up at the familiar darkness of the clouds, feeling like something precious had been taken from us.

Not much happened for the rest of our journey... I didn't even get to see the moon again, leaving the night just a bit lonelier than it should have been.

On the final day, I slumped to the ground in a small clearing, panting. We'd had a steep climb up a scrub-covered hill that felt more like a crooked cliff, but my pipbuck had said our destination was in spitting distance, just over the midget of a mountain.

"Rose," I gasped, trying to catch my breath, "see how close we are. I'm just... gonna lie here... and die." I couldn't even be bothered to groom the burrs and sticks from my coat, not after that climb. Seriously, we'd been at it all bloody morning!

Rose blinked at me. "You're not dying, Lily. You're just out of breath." I ignored her, giving my sore legs a chance to rest. After a few seconds of staring at me, she got bored and limped onwards, making up the last few meters to the summit and vanishing into the brush. Ibis stalked up beside me and took a seat on a nearby rock, before extending his wings and grimacing.

"Fucking bushes..." He grumbled, using his claws to free his feathers from the nasty, jaggy sticks and twigs we were both covered in.

Predictably, Rose wasn't as bad off as we were. Her duster had kept her coat bramble free for the most part, and I wasn't sure if she knew about the ones that did get caught on her or if she just didn't care. It was hard to tell with her sometimes.

"Tell me about it," I groaned, using my magic to undo my jacket so I could see what the hell had gotten stuck under it. "We're nearly there, though. Ow." With a tug, I yanked a burr from my coat and threw it in the direction Rose had gone before giving Ibis a sidelong look. "Hey, why didn't you just fly over all that crap? You've got wings."

Ibis glanced at me, then went back to grooming his wings. "Don't know what you're talking about."

After disposing of another burr, I frowned at him. "Seriously? What, did you forget you could fly or something?" He ignored me. "It's not like you were next to Rose all the time. You two haven't even been sneaking of lately; you've just been staying near me. It's getting kinda wierd."

Ibis groaned and, with a flap of his now-clean wings, turned to scowl at me. "You wanna know what's up? Rose is worried about you, you idiot, and so am I.

"What." Surprised, I took a cue from Rose and just stared blankly at the griffin. "You're... worried about me?"

He fluffed himself up and glared at me. "Of course we are. You keep waking us up with your nightmares, and I don't have to be Rose to know it's bothering you."

I bristled. "I-it doesn't-"

"You say it's not getting to you, and I'm going to hit you." Ibis stated, giving me a flat look. I sighed and looked away, not looking at anything in particular.

After a few minutes where neither of us spoke, I swallowed nervously. "Does it... does it get better? I mean, y'know... you and Rose, you both do it like it's nothing... but... but I just can't." I shuddered. "I keep seeing his face, Ibis... I keep hearing it... keep hearing the shots... him falling... and..."

I fell silent, my voice trailing off mid-sentence.

When Ibis spoke up, his voice was soft. "It was you or him, Lily. Just keep telling yourself that." He moved up and sat beside me, using one wing to pull me against his side.

I shook my head and leaned against him, getting some comfort from the wing hug. "I just... how do you guys deal with it?"

Ibis shrugged, and I felt his massive body move beside me. "Like I said, it's me or them. They try to kill me, I try to kill them right back. Don't think about it too much."

"And... and Rose?"

Another shrug. "I don't think she thinks about it at all." Falling into silence, we both stared at the bushes Rose had vanished through for a little while.

"Rose... she scares me sometimes, Ibis." I murmured softly, leaning against his big, feathery side. "Sometimes it's like she doesn't care about anything at all..."

"She cares about you," he replied, shifting his wing slightly.

My ears drooping, I sighed. "I know... I haven't been a very good big sister, have I?"

"Not really," came the blunt answer.

I looked up and glared at the griffin. "Geez, sugarcoat it, why don't you?"

He shrugged and looked down at me. "You asked. Besides, it's true."

"Yeah... I know." I sighed, slumping to the side, thankful for Ibis' body keeping me from falling over. "I'm gonna have to make it up to her somehow..." Straightening up, I forced a smile. Ibis looked at me curiously. "First of all, I'm gonna-"

There was a sudden shriek and the sound of crumbling rocks. Me and Ibis looked at each other for a second, then I bolted into the bushes while Ibis leapt into the air, both of us heading in the direction Rose had gone.

After a minute of shoving and cursing, I managed to come out the other side of the bushes, covered in brambles and panting for air. "Rose?!" I called out, looking around frantically. There was nothing there, just a strip of bare rock bordered by bushes behind me and a sheer edge in front. "Rose?! Where are you?!"

A shadow passed overhead, startling me into glancing up; it was Ibis, circling. I could see his head tilting as he searched.

"Rose! C'mon, speak to me!" I was starting to panic when I noticed that part of the ground had fallen away from the edge. I bolted towards the tell-tale sign of a collapse. "Oh, no... no no no... you didn't fall, no way did you fall... WHOAFUCKME!" I skittered to a halt, my hooves slipping on the loose rocks and almost sending me over the edge... and what an edge!

The steep climb we'd already done? Up what was practically a cliff? It really did end in a cliff! I found myself looking down... and down... my eyes following the loose rubble I'd knocked over the edge as it tumbled off the cliff wall... and bounced off Rose's head.

She was trapped on a ledge about halfway down, just standing there. I could just make out her face; she was staring, wide-eyed, into the distance. "ROSE!" I called out, being careful not to put my hoof in the wrong spot. The last thing I wanted was to join her! "HEY! ROSE, ARE YOU OKAY?!" She didn't answer, didn't move at all. She hadn't even reacted to the shower of pebbles and dirt hitting her. It was starting to worry me. "IBIS!" I looked up instead, calling to the overgrown buzzard above and waving my hooves to get his attention. "I FOUND ROSE, BUT SHE'S STUCK!"

Ibis dived, blowing past me with a quickly shouted "I'll get her!" I looked back over the edge, watching him hover next to her; there wasn't enough room for both of them on the precarious perch. There was no way to hear what he was saying, but Rose didn't seem to be reacting. She looked frozen in place, not even flinching when Ibis waved his claw in her face.


"Oh, for fuck's sake." Shaking my head, I facehoofed before yelling back "WHAT THE FUCK'S WRONG WITH HER THEN?!"

"SHE LOOKS TERRIFIED!" There was a short pause, then Ibis faceclawed. I thought I heard him say "Luna's sake..." before he yelled "LILY, SHE'S SCARED OF HEIGHTS, REMEMBER?!"

I sat back and threw my hooves up in exasperation. "Fucking... JUST GRAB HER AND FLY BACK UP, THEN!"

Ibis flapped his giant wings until he was hovering over Rose, hiding her from view. I couldn't make out what he was doing, but suddenly he started flapping harder. After a few seconds he slipped to the side and grabbed at Rose from another angle, pulling her without success. He changed sides and tried again, but Rose just wasn't budging.

He let go and hovered in front of her again, before angling away from the cliff face and soaring up to land beside me. Frustration was clear on his face. "I can't lift her."

I scoffed. "How heavy can Rose be?! She's scrawny! She weighs less than I do!" At his smirk, I scowled and added "Not a fucking word."

He rolled his eyes. "You said it. And it's not that she's heavy, it's like she's... I dunno, holding on or something."

"What." I stared at him. "Holding... on? How?"

"Hell if I know." Ibis rolled his shoulders and fluffed up his wings with a grimace. "With her hooves? Can ponies do that?"

I shook my head. "Uh, no! Not unicorns, anyway! I mean, we can hold stuff, but not like that! What do you think she is, an earth pony?!"

He shrugged. "What is it you always call her? Earth pony with a horn?"

I snorted and looked over the edge, peering down at Rose, staying perfectly still on her ledge. She hadn't budged at all. "Yeah, well..." I trailed off, an idea coming to me. "Hey, you think I can hit her from here? Might get her to move." Unable to resist the urge, I started working up a loogie... only to stop when I noticed the flat look Ibis was giving me. "What?"

"You're disgusting."

"You got a better idea?" I asked around the mouthful of spit, then swished it into my cheek so I didn't have to taste it. "We need to get her up here somehow."

"And you think that'll do it?" He shook his head. "Idiot." We glared at each other for a few seconds, then he looked past me, into the distance. "How far's the town?"

"Huh? Oh." A little surprised at the sudden change in topic, I looked at my Pipbuck. "Uh, not that far. Why?"

Ibis raised his claw to point. "Is that it?" I turned and, sure enough, there was a town in the distance.

"How the hell did we miss that?" I stared at it in disbelief, then double-checked my map. There weren't any other settlements in the area, and the little marker thing was pointing towards there, so... I nodded. "Uh, yeah. Looks like that's where we're going."

Ibis looked at the town for a few seconds before turning to me. "Easier to get Rose down than up. Save time, too, since we're headed that way."

"She's gotta have some booze on her, try pouring that down her throat. Might get her to.. let go? Or stop whatever she's doing, anyway." I shrugged, then frowned. "But what about me? I ain't climbing down there."

He rolled his eyes and spread his wings. "I'll fly you down after. Unless you feel like jumping." He smirked. "Try not to land on us if you do. You're a bit heavy."

"Jerk." I stuck my tongue out him. He just snickered and dived off the edge. I watched him spiral downwards like an overgrown buzzard... then I remembered the loogie still in my cheek. Grinning, I leaned out and took aim. "Hrrrkkk.... ptew!"

After a few seconds I heard an outraged squawk and sat back, laughing. That'd teach Ibis to call me fat.

Satisfied with my revenge, I looked out at our destination again.

Now that I was actually paying attention I could see that we were on the edge of a sizeable canyon, with the town plonked down in the middle of a relatively narrow part. A lighter band stretched across the dirt on either side of it and off into the distance, the tell-tale sign of a road. There were a few scattered buildings outside of the town itself, with a few clumps of brown-leaved trees here and there as well. It looked like it'd been a farming community at some point.

I didn't care much about what the town used to be, though. All I needed to know was that Early, the little wagon thief, was there with my Serenity!

Thinking of it made me bristle. I was gonna give that colt a piece of my mind and a spanking so bad he wouldn't be able to sit down for a month! If it wasn't for him, we wouldn't have had to go through half of what we did!

Unfortunately, I didn't have long to enjoy the thought of finally getting back my beloved wagon and beating some decency into Early, since Ibis chose that moment to swoop in, grab me and go headfirst over the fucking cliff!!!

I was still screaming when he rolled midair at the base of the cliff, giving me a great view of the broken slate and scree that was wizzing by right in front of my face!

After giving me the most terrifying ride of my life, Ibis set down, gentle as could be, next to Rose. Not that I cared. I was too busy freaking the fuck out to let go, or complain when he pried me off and dumped me next to my sister.

"That's for spitting on me," the overgrown chickenhawk said, grinning his beak off.

"F-f-f-f-fuck y-y-you," I managed to get out past the trembling, shooting him a look that, if it could've killed him, would have made him explode.

Ibis chuckled and settled himself down on Rose's other side, starting to preen his wings. "The look on your face... priceless." He laughed.

Rose didn't have anything to contribute. She was staring, wide-eyed, into the distance, her hooves locked around a rapidly-emptying bottle of whiskey.

I just groaned and took a deep breath, trying to stop myself from shaking. "That... sucked..." I ignored the galah; we were stuck waiting for Rose to recover before moving on, and it looked like it was gonna take a while.

A couple of hours later we were walking down the road to the town. Rose had settled down and was limping along between me and Ibis, draining yet another bottle of booze.

It looked like it had been a nice area before the war. You could tell there had been fields at some point, even if they were overgrown, with some almost intact fences bordering them. The trees I'd seen from the cliff were a bit healthier than I'd expected (I mean, they weren't completely dead), all lined up in rows, with the same scrub that had overtaken the the fields growing wild around them.

A few houses and barns still stood in the fields and along the roads, but there was no sign of anypony anywhere. Nopony outside, nopony on the road or working the fields, just a couple of dull-eyed brahmin grazing mindlessly and mooing.

We were closing in on the town when it finally got to be too much for me.

"This is creepy," I muttered, before turning to Rose. "Hey, Rose, do your thing. Is there anypony around?"

Rose blinked at me and looked around idly, her ears panning in opposite directions. "Yes."

I frowned at her. "Anyone nearby?" She nodded. "Anyone we need to be worried about?" She shrugged. "GAH!" Irritated, I threw my head back and yelled, then stomped a couple of times. "Rose," I started again, my eye twitching as I ignored Ibis' chuckling, "is there anypony, or anyone, nearby? Someone who's friendly, maybe?" She opened her mouth and looked at the field we were passing, where a dopey-looking brahmin was rubbing its head on a post, but I cut her off. "Someone that can talk, Rose."

She blinked again and raised her hoof to point down the road. "There's a pony coming, Lily." Another blink. "I think he can talk."

"Really?" I gave her a flat look. She just nodded, and I swear I saw her smile. Snorting, I trotted slightly ahead and waved at the rapidly approaching pony. "Hey there! Are you-"

"I quit!" the unicorn stallion yelled as he galloped towards us. "You're the sheriff now, it's your problem!"

"HEY!" I yelled, ducking as he threw something at me. "What are you-"

"I'm done! Gone! Out of here!" He yelled back as he passed me. I barely heard him muttering to himself over the beating of his hooves. "Gonna become a piano player like Ma always wanted."

And just like that, he was gone, leaving me staring blankly at his dust trail. "What the hell just happened?" I turned to Rose and Ibis. "No, seriously, what just happened?"

"I'm a sheriff now, Lily," Rose stated, sitting there and looking proud of herself. She'd picked up what the running pony had thrown at me; a battered old cowpony's hat sat on her head behind her horn, and there was a dinged up badge on her duster.

"What are you doing?" I asked, still trying to work out what had just happened.

Rose blinked at me. "That pony gave us these. Now I'm a sheriff." She paused, then, "I have a new hat. I like it."

I facehoofed. "Rose, for the love of... you're not a sheriff."

She blinked again. "But I have a hat. And a badge."

"You..." I shook my head. "Ibis, you tell her."

Ibis shook his head, chuckling. "Your sister, Lily."

I scowled at him; he wasn't going to pass off convincing Rose she wasn't a sheriff onto me. "Your marefriend." For her part, Rose just looked between us, utterly unconcerned.

"Fine." He rolled his eyes and turned to Rose. "Look, Rose... that's not how it works. You have to be..." He glanced at me. "Chosen?" I shrugged. "Um, you have to be chosen to be sheriff."

Rose cocked her head to the side and blinked at him. "But that pony said we could have them. He chose me."

Ibis faceclawed. "Rose..." He sighed and held his claw out. "Just, let me see the badge, will you?" Rose blinked again, then took the bit of metal in her hoof and dropped it into his claw. He held it up and twisted his head from side-to-side, getting a good look at it. "Look, it's not even a sheriff's badge. See?"

Rose leaned in to look at it, and so did I. Ibis lowered it so we could see it better. It was a tin badge, but not the kind you'd see a sheriff wearing. Instead of being the usual six pointed star, it only had five points. Around the outside was a bunch of stamped markings that looked kinda like letters, but I couldn't read them. "I don't know what it is."

"It's a badge," Rose supplied helpfully. Me and Ibis stared at her. She just blinked, and we shook our heads, groaning.

"Not what I meant." Ibis tapped his claw on the markings. "That's not Gryphon, and it doesn't look like Equestrian to me. You girls got any idea what it says?"

I shook my head. "Nope. Too blocky to be Equestrian. Rose?"

Ibis passed the badge back over to Rose; she started turning it on her hoof, studying it. She bumped it with her nose, held it up, flipped it over to see the back, then flipped it back over so she could see the words again. Then, for some reason known only to her, she bit it.

Ibis and I glanced at each other, sharing a 'What the fuck?" look.

After a good minute or so of Rose's wierdness, she pinned the badge to her duster again and sat back with a confident look on her face.

"Well?" I asked. "What does it say?"

She just adjusted her new hat with a proud smile and said "I have no idea."

I facehoofed. "For the love of... no. You know what? I don't care anymore." I threw my hooves in the air, then stomped off, heading for the town. "We've almost got our wagon back. You wanna play sheriff? You can lock Early up when we find him. Sound good? Good. Now, onwards, perverts!"

Rose and Ibis had to trot to catch up to me. I listened to them talking as we went.

"You really don't know what it says?"

"Uh-uh."I could practically hear Rose shaking her head. "The letters are funny. I haven't seen them before."

"Huh." Ibis sounded surprised. I didn't have to turn around to know Rose was blinking at him.

"I don't know everything. Lily knows lots more than me." She sounded like she was explaining something to a foal. "My books tell me lots of things, but they don't have these funny letters in them." There was a pause, then "Starfall says she can't read them either."

Gah. Shuddering, I started trotting faster, missing whatever Ibis said next. I didn't like it when Rose started talking to the voice in her head. It was creepy.

The town was quiet when we entered it. Too quiet. The old, frontier-style buildings and streets were lifeless, shutters and doors closed tight. The only movement was swirls of dust from the wind.

Despite that, I couldn't shake the feeling we were being watched.

"Rose," I muttered softly, trying to look around without being obvious about it, "where is everyone?"

Rose wasn't as discreet as me, looking around freely before turning back to me and cocking her head. "Hiding. They're afraid."

"Of what?" I asked, stomping to bring up my Pipbuck's Eyes Forward Sparkle thing. There were marks everywhere. I swallowed nervously.

Rose blinked. "I don't know."

Groaning, I shook my head. "Ibis, any ideas?"

"None," he replied, head tilting this way and that, watching windows as we moved down the main road. "Think they're friendly?"

I looked around, giving up on being discreet. "Pipbuck says they are... for now, anyway." That's when I saw it and stopped dead in my tracks as we approached a two-story building, the sign out front declaring it to be a saloon. "Is that..."

I held my breath, creeping forwards at first, then breaking into a gallop. "It is!" I called out, sliding to a halt and hugging the big, gorgeous sight-for-sore-eyes piece of pre-war engineering. "Serenity! My baby!" I cooed, rubbing my face on my beloved wagon, ignoring Rose and Ibis as they came up behind me. "Oh, you poor thing!" I pulled back, keeping my hooves on my wagon as I looked her over, my relief at finally finding her quickly being overtaken by indignant rage. "Luna's teats! What did that bad pony do to you?!"

My poor, beloved Serenity was filthy! Her paint was scratched, she was dented and covered in dirt, and her name was almost completely gone!

Bristling, I took a couple steps back and leapt up into the driver's bay. Straight away, my eye started twitching. There were hoof marks on my seat.

Rose and Ibis were staring at me, but I didn't pay any attention to them. I'd just noticed the cargo bay full of picks, shovels and other crap the little thief must have been planning to take back to his Celstia-damned town.

I didn't even bother with the loading ramp; I just lit my horn and started dumping everything over the side, cursing the entire time. "That fucking... thieving... scumbag... dirty..." I paused, gritting my teeth as a reinforced case was thrown overboard with a satisfying crash, "rubble-brained... tunnel horse! When I get my hooves on him, I'll-"

The sound of a squeaky door opening, followed by hoofsteps that halted suddenly, made me look up as I hurled the last few things out of my wagon and onto the ground. "You." I hissed the word, my eyes narrowed as I glared.

Early froze like a deer in a searchlight, his eyes going wide when he realised who he was looking at. He turned and bolted back into the saloon, the door swinging shut behind him as I leapt from the Serenity and over the pile of trash I'd evicted from her. Ibis yelled something, but I couldn't make it out over the sound of my hooves as I charged.

I did a fair impression of Rose, knocked the door open hard enough to slam it against the wall as I barreled into the saloon. "GET BACK HERE!" I almost crashed into some other pony, but jinked to the side at the last second, catching sight of Early trying to hide under a table.

The struggling young stallion was quickly grabbed in my aura and hauled out, suspended above the ground, face-to-face with me. "I-I c-can-" He stammered, eyes wide and ears flat with fear, before I flipped him around and raised my hoof.

"You! Do! Not! Steal! My! Fucking! Wagon! You! Little! Thief!" I punctuated my words with slaps to his rump, getting yelps of pain as he struggled in my magical grasp. "Do! You! Fucking! Under! Stand! Me?!"

Before he could say anything, I whirled and threw him back towards the door... and right into Rose as she came through it. She blinked at me in surprise. "Right. Rose. Wanna play sheriff? Lock him the fuck up before he steals our wagon again." She started to say something, but I stomped my hoof and growled at her. "Now, Rose."

Wisely, Rose shut her mouth and prodded the quivering ball of thieving pony at her hooves. "Early, I am putting you under arrest for stealing a wagon." She paused, blinked a couple times, then turned to a nearby pony... who was one of several in the saloon... all staring at us, and mostly me, in shock and disbelief.

Oh, buck me up the backside, I thought to myself, suddenly realising that I was surrounded, and might not have made the best first impression.

Not that Rose cared. "Excuse me," she addressed the bewildered cowpony, "But a nice pony who was running away said I was the sheriff now," she puffed her chest out to show off her badge, "so could you please tell me where the jail is? Early was a bad pony and stole our wagon, so he needs to go to jail for a while." She paused, looked down at the shaking miner and cocked her head. "Just for a day, though. I think he learned his lesson, and he should really go home soon." She blinked and cocked her head to the other side, looking back to the pony she'd asked for directions. "Is there a jail? I hope there's a jail. Every sheriff needs one."

"Uh, it's... down the road." The cowpony pointed at the door. "You, uh, you can't miss it." As Rose prodded Early into standing, the cowpony held their hoof up. "Hey, wait. Um, did Tumbleweed really... name you sheriff?"

Rose nodded. "Mm-hm. He even gave me his hat."

"Did he..." The cowpony swallowed nervously. "Did he... get out alright?"

Rose blinked, then nodded. "He was running really fast." She paused and frowned. "He was scared. Why was he scared?"

"Rose!" I butted in, pointing at Early. "Thief, jail, now."

She blinked at me, then smiled at the cowpony. "Thank you for telling me where the jail is." She prodded Early, the thief plodding towards the door slowly, his head low and tail between his legs. They vanished into the street, and Ibis pushed his way inside a few seconds later looking bemused.

"Do I really want to know?" Ibis asked me, taking in the room full of silent ponies.

"Um... no. Ahem." I cleared my throat and turned to my audience... which was bigger than I'd thought. Easily thirty or so ponies were crammed into the saloon. "Hehe... um..." Bracing myself, I put on my best winning smile. "Let me introduce myself. Caravan Lily, of the Silver Trails caravan company." I beamed, noticing that they looked confused, but not angry. "The crazy mare with the hat and the badge is my sister. Don't mind her; some stallion ran past us outside of town and threw that stuff at her, now she thinks she's a sheriff." This got some low whispering from the crowd, and a few worried looks. "Anyway, I'm sorry you had to see that. Y'see, that colt, Early," I had to grit my teeth to keep from growling as I said his name, "stole our wagon, and our brahmin, when we were doing a job for him. So, as soon as we finish unloading his stuff, we'll be on our way and out of your manes."

I kept smiling, turning on all of the ol' Caravan Lily charm to keep things from getting ugly. It seemed to be working, too; they definitely weren't angry or anything. A bit worried and confused, from the look of it, but that was all. I decided to go that bit further, to get as much goodwill as I could.

"Oh, and I do mean unload. We don't need Early's stuff, so we're leaving it for him. Feel free to let him out when we're gone, too."

Then something occured to me. "Um, by the way..." I looked around the room. "Does anypony know where our brahmin is? She wasn't outside with the wagon."

There was silence, everypony exchanging nervous looks, before an earth pony stepped forwards. She was an older mare, with the look some old frontier ponies got, weathered and worn but strong, unyielding, like a rock. She was wearing a stetson that looked like it had gone through the war, so heavily patched repaired I wasn't sure what it had been made of originally. "Hate to break it to you, little lady, but you're not getting your brahmin back." Her voice was raspy and harsh. I realised she was one of the few who didn't look nervous, but defiant. "Ain't no brahmin in town, either. We got ourselves a bit of a problem, y'see."

She turned and motioned with her head for me to follow, leading me to a table. Ibis fell into step beside me, sitting at my side when we got there. The old mare eyed the two of us. "Drink?" I nodded, and she held her hoof up. A second later, three glasses of water slid onto the table.

"Thank you." I paused, lifting the glass in my magic and taking a sip. It was cold, refreshing, the perfect thing after such a long day. "Ah..." Sighing, I relaxed a bit, and my smile became more genuine. "I'm sorry, I didn't get your name." Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Ibis setting Garden against the table and picking up his glass. The ponies around us were watching him warily.

The mare snorted. "Didn't give it." She grabbed her drink and downed it, before thumping the empty glass back down and frowning at me. "Haystack. Mayor Haystack, of Canter Creek." My Pipbuck pinged, getting both of us to look at it.

"Really?" I scowled at the gizmo, noticing that it had just marked Canter Creek on my map. "I've been here for ages, and you just now realise I'm in town?"

Mayor Haystack, as I now knew her, snorted again. "Don't trust them fancy bracelets, myself. Don't do nothin' a smart pony can't. You one of them Stable ponies?"

"No, ma'am." I shook my head. "Wastelander, born and bred. Found this-" I waved my Pipbuck-clad hoof "-on a job. But you were saying something about brahmin trouble?"

"Yep." The mayor raised her hoof, signaling for a refill. "Rustlers. Big bunch of them." She paused, sipping at her drink. I did the same. "Showed up a few weeks back, started causing trouble." She scowled. "Tryin' t' run us outta town, an' that gutless sheriff of ours went and took off rather than fight." The old mare eyed me over her glass. "He really make that little mare sheriff?" I nodded and she snorted. "Midvalley's gonna have a damn field day. He scared off Tumbleweed, and now the only thing standing between him and our town's a filly? Hah!"

While Haystack called for another drink, I mulled over what she'd said. Midvalley... the name sounded really familiar. "Hey, Ibis," I whispered, "you recognise that name?"

He stared at me for a second, then grimaced. "You're kidding me. That's the guy who put out the bounty on that bitch Bourbon."

"Celestia use me for a hoof puppet," I cursed, slamming my head onto the table hard enough to make our glasses jump, "we're doomed."

"You know Midvalley?" The Mayor asked. I couldn't see her, on account of my face making friends with the table, so I just groaned in response.

"Long story short," Ibis began, moving around next to me, "he put out a bounty on some mare. A mare that happens to look like your new sheriff." I heard the telltale sound of Garden being checked and cocked. "Lily, we need to get Rose, get the wagon and go. Mayor Haystack, what's the fastest way out of town?"

My face still firmly planted on the table, I heard the Mayor snort. "Way you came in. Won't do you much good, though. No brahmin to pull your wagon, and Midvalley said he'd be back today. Why'd you think Tumbleweed ran off like that?"

Ibis took a deep breath. "Alright, we've probably still got time. Lily, any ideas?"

I groaned. "Tie Rose up and hide her in a barrel until Midvalley's gone? Hope he doesn't see her? Glue feathers on her and call her Celestia?"

Ibis whacked me on the back of my head with his wing. "This is serious, you idiot." I sat up and glared at him, rubbing my head.

"Don't you think I fucking know that?!" I yelled at him, smacking my hoof on the table. "Gah! You know what?!" I gave myself a shake and hopped to my hooves. "I don't care anymore. Let's just make Rose pull the wagon and get the fuck out of here! And what is that thumping?!"

I looked around for the source of the thuds that had been growing louder while we argued, only to stop when I saw the Mayor's scowl.

"Ain't gonna do you no good," she said, tipping back the last of her drink. "Sounds like the gang's all here."

"Uh..." I stared at her... then I hit the floor, along with everyone else in the saloon, as the front of the building was sprayed with gunfire.

Silence reigned, and I dared to glance around. By some miracle, nobody was hit, all the bullets aimed up near the ceiling. Then what sounded like a monster roared outside.

"IT'S NOON, SHERIFF!" A booming voice thundered, rattling the bottles behind the counter and the glasses on the tables. I had to flatten my ears to keep from going deaf. "AND THE GREAT MIDVALLEY IS CALLING YOU OUT!" There was a lot of yelling from outside, insults and taunts meant for the former sheriff.

"That's Midvalley," the Mayor said from her spot beside me under the table, a resigned look on her face. "And it sounds like he's got the whole darn Hornfreak gang of his with him."

I was shaking too much to speak, but Ibis said what I was thinking. "What the hell is he?!"

"Minotaur," came the Mayor's answer. "Biggest damn son-of-a-brahmin I ever did see. Best hope your mare's got the sense to stay put."

Me and Ibis shared a look. No way in hell would Rose do that, not now that she thought she was the sheriff.

The yelling from outside died down suddenly, and the deafening voice made itself heard again. "THERE YOU ARE, YOU COWARD! MIDVALLEY IS GOING TO." There was a pregnant pause, dread gnawing at my gut as I prayed that what I thought was happening outside wasn't happening. "WAIT. YOU AIN'T THE SHERIFF... YOU! YOU DARE TO SHOW YOUR FACE BEFORE MIDVALLEY?!" The minotaur let out a bellowing laugh. "MIDVALLEY IS GONNA TEAR YOU APART, BOURBON ROSE!"

Fuckfuckfuckfuck! I was sweating bullets. Luna, Celestia, I'm begging you, let that be Bourbon and not Rose out there. I'll give up booze. I'll give up junk food. I'll even stop masturbating and thinking of Rose, just please don't let it be her out there!

"I'm not Bourbon, I'm Whiskey." Rose called out, destroying all hope I'd had of us getting out of town in one piece. "And I'm the sheriff now, so please behave or I'll have to lock you up."

The minotaur and what sounded like his entire gang started laughing. "SO... YOU AIN'T THAT SOW BOURBON, LITTLE PONY... BUT YOU WANNA PLAY SHERIFF AND CHALLENGE THE GREAT MIDVALLEY?!"

"Yes." I had to shove my hoof in my mouth to keep from screaming at Rose to shut up. "Please put down your weapons and be nice, or I will have to put you in jail."

"GAAAAAAH!!!!" I shoved both hooves into my gob to muffle the scream of rage. Why was Rose so stupid?! WHY?!! Did she have a deathwish?!


"I haven't duelled before," was Rose's response. "What do we do?"

The laughter grew. "MIDVALLEY CANNOT BELIEVE THIS! YOU DO NOT KNOW HOW TO DUEL?!" There was a pause, and I could all-too-easily imagine Rose shaking her head that, no, she didn't know how to duel! "WHEN THIS COIN HITS THE GROUND, YOU DRAW, LITTLE PONY, AND THE GREAT MIDVALLEY WILL TEAR YOUR LEGS OFF, FOR THE GREAT MIDVALLEY NEEDS NO GUN TO KILL YOU!"

Ibis and I looked at each other and charged for the door. He had Garden ready, while I yanked my revolver free of my saddlebags, praying it was loaded. Nopony else moved, they just watched us in disbelief as we burst out of the saloon and into the light...

Just in time to see a coin hit the ground at the hooves of a monster.

Author's Note:

Okay, time for a little disclaimer: I had this arc planned well before I heard anything about the comic arc The Good, The Bad & The Ponies. The only thing I didn't have was the name for the town and the sheriff, which I borrowed from the comic as revenge.:derpytongue2:

Usual round of thanks/kudos. KKat, for the amazing Fallout Equestria. Winter Storm, for the invaluable advice that got me where I am today, and Midnight Stalker, my loyal prereader.:twilightsmile: