• 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 25: Into The Black

---CHAPTER 25: Into The Black ---

"I don't know which of your delivery routes is tougher. you're each headed to a mighty hard-to-reach town."

It was about a moon before we set off on our next adventure.

We spent the time helping my parents out on their route and just generally doing our jobs. It may have been boring, but it was good to spend some time not doing much of anything but trading, and even better was that we got to do it without being shot at daily!

That day was just like any other. We'd gotten all our trading done the day before and taken a couple days off for a break. My parents and Magpie included, of course. Just a chance for us all to unwind without worrying about work.

I was feeling on top of the world that afternoon, trotting along between my parents as we headed to the bar to meet up with Rose, Ibis and Magpie. Why wouldn't I have been? I'd managed to find a pair of earrings at the market! And a great new maneclip!

So anyway, there we were, just walking up to the bar. I was beaming, my parents were joking and laughing, and then Rose flew in. Well, out, any way. Like, out through the bar's window in a spray of glass and the sounds of a raging pub brawl.

Me and Dad stared at her as she hit the ground and rolled to a stop in front of us, her duster flipped up and over her head with her flank in the air. Mum just facehoofed and groaned. "Celestia help us all. It's like Jazz all over again."

"I can't believe you threw Rose through the window!" I cried out, waving my hooves at Magpie in frustration. "Why? How?!" We were all gathered in the Caravaneer's Exchange, since that's where we'd been keeping our wagons while we were in town, along with all our stuff. Like our medical supplies, which, yet again, Rose needed.

Magpie looked up from fixing her feathers and rolled her eyes at me. "She bumped into me from behind and I didn't know it was her. And very hard."

"You threw her!" I yelled again. "Through a window!"

With a hiss, the hen yanked a broken feather free and dropped it. "She's fine." She ran her claws through her wing, pausing to tug a loose feather out and examine it before waving at Rose. Rose was sprawled out on the floor of the common room with Ibis tending to her wounded flank and a bottle of whiskey shoved in her mouth, much to the amusement of the other caravaneers in the office. "See?"

I glared at Magpie, trying to make her take me seriously. "That's not the point! Mum, tell her not to throw Rose!"

My mum just shook her head in despair and sighed. "Magpie, dear, please don't throw Rose. She's a unicorn, not a pegasus."

In response, Magpie just cocked her eyebrow at my mum and then shrugged. "I'll try. She flies pretty well, though."

Me and Mum facehoofed at the same time. Dad was no help, since he was talking to the Exchange's dispatcher on the other side of the room. Rose was too drunk to care, and Ibis was finishing stitching the gash in her flank.

Since I wasn't getting anywhere with Magpie, I huffed and stomped over to plant my plot next to Ibis. "How is she?"

With a snip of his claws, Ibis cut the thread he was using before looking to me. I got a good look at his black eye, his souvenir from the brawl, and snickered. "She's fine. I got the glass out." He waved at Rose's wounded flank, freshly stitched, and I winced. I could tell it was gonna leave a nasty scar, right above her cutie mark. Ibis closed up the little sewing kit and, after looking at it thoughtfully for a second, tucked it into his bandoleer instead of back into the medical box we'd pulled from our supplies. Then he huffed and fluffed himself up. "I don't think she even knows what happened."

"That drunk, huh?" I asked, prodding Rose with my hoof. She barely managed to raise her head and blink at me before faceplanting into the floorboards. The only reason she didn't swallow her whiskey bottle was because I yanked it out of her mouth in time, leaving her nickering in drunken frustration until I stuck it back in.

"Eeyup." Ibis nodded, pulling a healing potion out of the medical kit. "There was a drinking competition. Rose won." He popped the cork on the potion and tilted his head back, pouring the purple liquid down his beak.

I rolled my eyes. It was typical Rose; get drunk, get into a fight, then get more drunk. With a sigh, and ignoring Ibis, who was rubbing his face with a claw as his bruise healed, I checked out his work on Rose. Then I groaned and facehoofed. "It's always the same damn leg with her, isn't it?"

Ibis grunted as he finished packing the medical box up, closing the lid with the all-too-familiar three pink butterflies. Seriously, what a wierd thing for a medical sign. Not like, a heart or something. Butterflies. Pre-war ponies were wierd. "I only took the brace off last week, too. You know she can't move it right in the mornings anymore, or when it gets cold?"

I turned away from my drunken cripple of a sister to stare at her feathered fuck-buddy. "She never said anything to me."

He shrugged. "Didn't say anything to me, either. But she spends a lot longer stretching that leg when she wakes up. She still limps sometimes, too. You seriously didn't notice?"

"Nope." Blinking, I looked back at Rose. "I don't watch her flank as much as you do, though."

Ibis snickered. "What can I say, it's a great flank."

I just rolled my eyes. "Pervert."

"Look who's talking," he shot back. "I'll throw this back in the wagon. Watch her for me."

"Yeah, yeah. Like she's going anywhere?" I rolled my eyes again as Ibis grabbed the medical box and stood, heading across the common room and out the door to the stables, where my precious Serenity was.

Bored, I looked around. Mum and Magpie were talking, and I was still grumpy over the hen throwing Rose and Mum not backing me up over it, so I didn't want to talk to either of them. Dad was looking over some maps with the dispatcher, and I couldn't be bothered starting a conversation with any of the other caravaneers, even the ones I already knew, so that just left me staring at Rose, who was barely conscious at that point.

I sighed and just prodded her side with my hoof a couple times, trying to get a reaction, then moved onto poking her cutie marks instead. Every time I poked them, one of her legs would twitch in a half-hearted kick. I was just starting to think about using that to make her dance when I noticed something that was usually hidden: her cutie mark.

Right then, Ibis came back and sat beside me again, so I pointed to Rose's usually-wounded leg. "Is is just me, or is Rose's cutie mark wonky? Like, that one's not on right. I'm not seeing things, am I?"

Ibis cocked his head to the side, twisting it so one eye could focus on Rose's flank, then moved to see the other side. "It's actually crooked... how did we not notice that until now?"

I shrugged. "She's usually got her duster on... or bandages on her flank... or, y'know, you on her back, so I guess we just missed it..." I trailed off, ignoring the look Ibis was giving me over the remark about their constant sex. "Hey... that's the one the doc stitched back on, isn't it?"

"Yeah..." That was all Ibis said as we both went silent, looking at Rose's bum leg... and her bum... until I grinned and raised my hoof, tired of being mopey already.

"Hey, watch what I can make Rose do." I poked her cutie mark, getting another half-hearted, drunken, unaimed kick for my trouble, then poked the other side to make the other leg move as well.

"Huh." Ibis watched, then his crest rose and he grinned at me. "Think we can make her crawl?" I just grinned right back at him as we took a side each and got ready to start poking.

By the time my Dad was done with the dispatcher, me and Ibis had gotten Rose to scoot a good few hooflengths across the floor and some of the other caravaneers had started putting bets on how far she'd go. At that point, Rose was oblivious to everything around her, since she'd actually passed out and was snoring with the empty bottle gripped in her teeth.

"What are you two doing?" I looked up our game to see my dad standing behind me, looking bemused.

I just shrugged. "Playing with Rose. Right, Ibis?"

"Um, right." Ibis had the decency to look embarrassed. I didn't.

"See?" I grinned, giving Rose's cutie mark another, harder whack and almost getting hit when her leg lashed out in response. "All good."

Dad sighed. "I should scold you for tormenting your sister, but Celestia knows I did worse to Jazz when he passed out."

"Oh?" I perked up, curious. "Like what?"

"Never you mind, young lady." Mum interrupted as she trotted over, glaring at Dad. "Your father is just joking. Isn't that right, dear?"

"Erm..." Dad coughed nervously and looked away, unable to bear my Mum's warning look. "Right. Joking." I thought I heard him mutter something about duct tape and a windmill, but couldn't quite make it out. Then he cleared his throat and grinned at us. "Right, anyway, good news sweetheart! You've got work!"

"Ooh!" I forgot all about pony poking and started bouncing. "What is it? Is it profitable?" A thought hit me and I quickly stopped bouncing, giving my dad a suspicious look. "Not live cargo, is it?"

Dad shook his head. "Nope. No passengers, don't worry." He lit his horn and pulled a box out, passing it to me. "You just have to deliver this."

"Huh." I turned the box over, inspecting it. It wasn't anything special, just a small, securely locked lockbox. The nameplate said it was from a bank in Manehattan, but didn't give any clues to what was inside. I held it up to my ear and shook it; it didn't rattle or anything, so whatever was in there wasn't caps, bits or gems. In other words, nothing valuable. I gave my dad a curious look. "What's in it?"

Dad shrugged. "No idea. But you're getting paid to deliver it."

"How much?"

"Five hundred caps."

"That's a lot for a delivery," I murmured, eyeing the box and holding it away from myself in case it exploded or was full of scorpions or something. Never trust anything that small, when it's worth that many caps and you don't know what it is. "Where to?"

"That's the thing," Dad said, pulling out his map and unrolling it on the floor between us. "The town you're headed for is over... here." He pointed at a spot near the coast.

I looked at it, wracking my brain for anything about the area. Then I realised why we were getting paid so much and gave my dad an unimpressed look. "Dad, that's a swamp."

"Well, if you don't want the caps..." Dad pulled out a pouch and jangled it in front of me. I just groaned and yanked it out of his grasp, my Pipbuck dinging and adding the five hundred to my healthy (and fairly wealthy, by this point) total.

"Fine, we'll do it." I glared as I tucked the pouch into my jacket. "But when Rose gets eaten by a swamp monster, it's your fault, Dad."

Dad rolled his eyes at me. "Lily, swamp monsters don't exist. Now let me see your Pipbuck, we need to plan your route."

Sighing, I extended my leg, holding it out so my dad could double-check it against his map. I really hoped we could get through this without Rose being eaten by anything. Besides Ibis, I mean.

Grimacing, I pulled my jacket collar up to protect as much of my face as I could. Swamps sucked.

We'd been trekking along an increasingly damp and overgrown road for a couple of days, and the coastal swamp was quickly becoming the most miserable place I'd ever been. Hell, it had taken the better part of a month just to reach the place, and I was starting to miss the desert, or even the cities! At least they didn't have swarming clouds of bugs, or horrible slimy things that made wierd noises at us until Rose blew them up with grenades.

Speaking of Rose, she was in her usual place in the traces, pulling the Serenity along. We'd never bothered getting a new brahmin, since Rose was so much cheaper on the upkeep. The only sign she was bothered by the clouds of biting, stinging bugs was the snapping of her tail as she whipped at them, and I was starting to get jealous of her duster. It just covered so much more than my jacket!

Behind me, Ibis had pulled a tarp over himself and most of the cargo bay, the bugs getting stuck in his feathers and driving him mad with the itching.

With a snap of my tail to ward off some of the flank biters, I checked my Pipbuck's map. "Next left, Rose!" I called forward, getting a bored nicker in response.

"Are we nearly there?" Ibis asked from under his tarp, his voice strained.

"A few more hours," I answered, grinning at the muffled sounds of scratching and rolling coming from the cargo bay as the griffin suffered. Then I yelped and whipped my tail when one of the bugs bit my cutie mark.

Scowling and rubbing my sore flank, I settled back down in my seat, tugging my jacket to try and cover more of my backside. I really hated swamps.

We spent some time in silence, none of us really in the mood to talk, our only sounds the occasional tail snap from me or Rose, the thrashing and scratching from Ibis, and Rose's hooves making sucky sounds in the mud. Well, that, and the constant swamp sounds. Things rustled and splashed in the undergrowth, blew bubbles in the bogs, or hooted and went wob in the trees... not to mention the nonstop buzzing of the bugs. The many, stinging, biting, swarming bugs.

I dunno how long I spent shuddering and wondering how much fire it would take to get rid of all the bugs, but I was jerked out of my thoughts when Rose called out to me. "Lily."

"Huh?" I looked up and saw that Rose was looking back at me over her shoulder, the Serenity stationary in the middle of the road.

"Lily, can you please listen?" She looked annoyed, surprisingly. Tired, too. I guess all the humidity and trudging through mud had taken it out of her. "I asked what way we have to go."

"Oh, uh, one sec." I looked around, seeing we'd come to a crossroads while I was lost in my thoughts of fire and buggy death. A broad river cut across our path, the water dark and murky, with ripples forming where things moved under the surface. I could see a wooden bridge ahead, easily wide enough to get our wagon across, but there was also a safer looking path on our side of the river, winding through the twisted trees, vines and thick grass. A quick glance to my Pipbuck, then I fiddled with the map controls, zooming out and double checking the route. "Um..." I looked up, Rose blinking at me impatiently. "Across the bridge, then it looks like we just follow the road to the town."

Blinking at me one more time, Rose turned her head back to the path and started moving again, only to pause at the bridge. It looked old, half rotted, with ivy and moss hanging off of the sides and, when Rose took her first step on it, it creaked ominously. The creaking only got worse when the Serenity's full weight was on the bridge. "Easy, Rose," I said. "Don't rush, now."

For a wonder, Rose actually listened, taking her time and watching where she put her hooves. It meant we were going slow, but that was better than going through the bridge instead of over it.

I looked over the edge and shuddered. There was no way to tell how deep the river was, the gently flowing water revealing nothing past the top few inches, but for a split second I caught a glimpse of something scaled and pony sized breaking the water, shining bright blue-green before vanishing into the dark depths.

I shuddered again. Deep water freaked me out.

At least I could see the sky again. Kinda. The trees didn't reach all the way out over the water, the river breaking up the thick canopy in a long, rough line until it curved out of sight at both ends. The clouds hung low, thick and heavy with the promise of rain, very little of the morning light making it through and casting everything in a dreary light. I checked my Pipbuck again, trying to work out how long it would take to reach the town and if we'd get there before the rain started. I got the feeling we'd just make it, and maybe even have time to get back out of the swamp. If we ever made it over the bridge, that is.

A couple of tense minutes later, we were back on almost solid ground and on our way again, the river and bridge hidden by the thick trees almost immediately. Good riddance to bad bridges.

"Welcome to Fovu." I read the dilapidated old sign aloud as we passed it, Rose trudging on through the muck relentlessly. An hour or so after crossing the river, we'd finally reached the first sign of civilisation. I hadn't expected it to be a literal sign, though. Not that it was much of a sign; it looked like half the name was missing and there were vines all over it, not to mention the leathery-winged bird-things that had built a nest in the O, hissing and growling at us as we passed.

Still, it was better than nothing and, as we took the bend in the road, I finally got a look at the town... and immediately groaned in dismay. It was as miserable looking as the swamp itself.

The town was built on the near bank of the river; it must have curved back on itself after the bridge. A long boardwalk ran along the shore, small docks jutting off of it and over the murky water.

There were a lot of buildings, most of them looking like they dated from before the war and, as I noticed as we approached, in surprisingly good condition despite their age and exposure to the swamp.

Wood platforms made up most of the streets, the boards raised a few hooves above the ground to keep them dry... well, drier than if they'd been in the mud, anyway, and they didn't creak or groan when Rose pulled us onto them. The main road was wide enough to get the Serenity down, at least, even if our arrival drew a lot of attention from the townsfolk.

The ponies... weren't ponies. Not all of them, anyway. There were a lot of donkies, and almost as many earth ponies, and I could see more than a few mules mixed in. Almost all of them wore clothing of some kind, earthy-toned scarves and shawls being the most popular, but a few had brightly colored bandanas and scarves wrapped around their heads. Not a unicorn in the bunch, which made me just a bit uncomfortable. I'd heard that some of the more isolated towns didn't exactly like us magic users.

One thing was for sure, though: they were all looking at us suspiciously as we rolled up, and they all kept their distance. But hey, at least it wasn't open hostility, right?

"Nice place, but I wouldn't want to live here." I almost had a heart attack when Ibis spoke up, having finally come out from under the tarp without me noticing. "We're making the delivery and leaving, right?" He looked frazzled, his feathers roughed up and messy from his scratching.

I gave the reins a tug, signalling to Rose that we should stop. "Yeah." When the wagon had come to a halt, I turned to the nearest donkey, who was giving Ibis a wary look. "Hello, sir," I gave him a winning smile, "I'm Caravan Lily, of the Silver Trails caravan company. We've got a delivery here, and we were hoping you could help us with some directions."

I told the donkey who we were looking for, and he just pointed down the road before walking away without a word. The other townsfolk started to drift off now that they knew what we were there for. I watched them go, feeling put-out from getting the cold shoulder. "Friendly, aren't they?" Ibis remarked, his eyebrow raised.

I shivered. "This place gives me the creeps."

Ibis ruffled his feathers and puffed himself up. "I know what you mean. Something's not right here."

I didn't reply, so the big griffin just looked around, his crest half-raised. I could feel someone watching us, and it was putting me on edge as well.

It wasn't long before we got to our goal, a small manor house near the centre of the town, a manky picket fence around it. I hopped down from my seat and moved up next to Rose, a feedbag in my magic. "Rose," I said softly, pretending to check the traces, "I need you to do your thing. Are we safe here?"

Rose blinked at me, obviously tired from hauling the wagon through mud and muck in the swamp heat all day. "I have a headache, Lily. There's too much stuff here."

"We're safe, though, right? Nobody's gonna jump us?"

Rose shook her head. "No, Lily. I think they just want us to leave."

"Alright, then. I'll make the delivery, you have a rest and something to eat. Keep a... a whatever it is you do, out for me, okay?" Rose nodded as I strapped the feedbag full of Sugar Apple Bombs to her face. "Ibis, you keep an eye out, too." I turned back to the wagon as crunching sounds came from the feedbag, only to frown when I saw that Ibis had taken my seat.

"You sure you don't want some help?" He asked, shaking out his wings on my spot.

I shook my head. "No, I shouldn't be long. We already got paid, we just need a signature and we can leave. Pass me the stuff, so we can get this over with." I glared at him. "And don't get your feathers all over my cushion, you jerk."

Rolling his eyes, Ibis tossed the box and my clipboard over to me. I grabbed them in my magic, glaring at him more. "Whatever. Just hurry it up."

Snorting, I snapped my tail at him and stomped off, through the open gate and up to the house.

"And if you'll just sign here, I can give you your package." I smiled at the mule on the other side of the desk as I passed the clipboard and pencil over.

"That's it?" He asked, looking surprised. "I don't owe you nothin'?"

I shook my head. "No, sir. We were paid in advance."

At that, the mule looked over the paperwork and, with just a small glance up at me, signed it and pushed everything back across the desk.

"Great!" I grinned and swapped the clipboard for the lockbox. The mule's eyes lit up when he read the nameplate on the box, and he grabbed it almost immediately. "That's everything taken care of. Um, sorry, but the box is locked, and we weren't given a key."

"Not a problem, girlie," he said, opening a drawer and fishing around in it with his hoof, "if this is what I think it is, then..." He paused, pulling out a small key and fitting it to the lock. There was a click and the top popped open. "Ah-hah!"

I leaned in, curious about what was in the mysterious box, but my view was blocked by the lid. The mule grinned, though. "I thought so. Great-grandpappy said they'd be there, and he was right." He pulled something else from his drawer and I saw a flash of silver before it was in the box and out of view. "Never thought I'd see them, though." There was a quick snipping sound. "Maybe the old stallion was right about everything after all... I sure hope he was..." There was a small click, accompanied by a green glow and a puff of acrid smoke, before the mule leaned back in his chair, happily puffing away on...

"A cigar?" I stared in disbelief. "We got paid five hundred caps... to deliver a cigar?"

The mule shook his head, the tip of the thick cigar glowing a harsh green instead of the usual orange. "No, girlie." He gave me a grateful look. "You done better than that. This here's a case of Dragonsfire cigars." He pulled the cigar away and blew, a cloud of sparkling smoke hanging in the air for a few seconds, glittering like the stars. We stared at it until it faded, then the mule took another puff and smiled at me. "A whole darn case of the finest cigars ever made."

"Huh." What more could I say? We'd just made a month-long journey to deliver a box of cigars and made a bundle doing it. "Well, I guess that's everything then, sir." I took the clipboard back, double-checked that everything was signed and in order, then stood and gave the mule my most winning smile. "Thank you for your business, and please remember the Silver Trails caravan company for all your future caravan needs."

He chuckled and came around the desk, happily breathing smoke like a dragon, the cigar securely between his lips. "You're a good one, girlie. For a unicorn. I'll see you to the door."

I won't bother describing the house much. It was old, smelly, and musty. Fit right in with the rest of the town. Besides, what was going on outside when we walked throught he front door was more interesting.

An old donkey jenny was talking to Rose and Ibis, my companions looking bewildered at the attention. A few of the townsfolk stopped to watch, but moved on quickly, keeping their distance like they had before. I saw the jenny push something into Ibis' claws, then she said something that made Rose hold out her hoof, my sister given her own whatever-it-was.

The cigar-smoking mule beside me scowled and trotted forwards. I followed him. "Granny! You leave these strangers alone now, y'hear?" He called out, getting the jenny's attention.

When the jenny, apparently named Granny, turned to us, I shuddered. There was something about her that was just wrong, something I couldn't put my hoof on. She looked friendly enough, like a doddering old grandmother, with a pleasant, almost vacant smile, and she was wearing what looked like an old noblemare's jacket, high-collared and fancy, even though it was faded, worn and patched. I wasn't much judge of other species, but she seemed old, older than her lined face and thin frame suggested.

Then I noticed her eyes. They were milky, almost clouded over; she had to have been almost blind. But somehow, she looked right at us. Right at me.

"Oh, hello, dearie!" She called out in a coarse voice with just a hint of a posh accent, cantering shakily away from Rose and Ibis to meet us at the gate. "My, what a pretty young thing, you are. I was just talking to your friends, such a pair they are. So full of life!" She sighed, looking wistful. "They remind me of my dear old-"

"Granny," the mule butted in, scowling, "don't you be bothering these strangers none, now."

Granny hmmph'ed and gave the mule a snobbish look. "Don't you be like that, young'n. I'm just giving these nice strangers gifts, that's all." She smiled at me. "Oh, I haven't forgotten you, dear. I gave your friends their gifts already, but I've got one for you, too." When she stepped towards me, her hoof going for her pocket, the mule stepped between us.

"She don't want your gifts, Granny." He blew out a cloud of smoke, not letting the donkey past. Her smile turned to a scowl. "Nobody here does. You keep your little trinkets and head on home, now. There's a storm coming, and you're a mite old to be out in this kinda weather."

Granny hmmph'ed again, moving so she could see me better. "Dearie, are you sure you don't want my present? Don't you listen to this silly boy, it's just a little one, made special just for you." She gave the mule between us a dark look; he just blew a cloud of smoke at her and kept scowling.

"I, uh..." I shook my head, not sure if I wanted to see what she was going to give me, but something was giving me the creeps and making the hair on the back of my neck stand on end. "Um, no thank you, ma'am. I..." I tried to come up with a decent lie. "I... can't accept presents from strangers. It's not polite. Sorry?" I gave her my best smile and hoped she bought it.

"Oh, well," Granny sighed, smiling at me. "Your choice, dearie. Be careful, now. These swamps are dangerous for little pretties like you and your friend, or that darling birdy." She turned and hobbled away down the road, humming tunelessly. The few townsfolk in her path kept their distance from her as she went.

We all watched her go, then the mule harumphed and turned to me. "I'm sorry about that, girlie."

"Uh, no, that's... that's fine." I waved my hoof, still more than a little confused by what had just happened. "Um, who was that?"

The mule shook his head and took a drag on his cigar, the tip flaring bright green. "Old Granny Rags, we call her. Crazy old donkey. Half-mad, hears voices and talks to birds. Lives in an old estate outside of town, has done for longer than anyone cares to remember." He blew out a smoke ring and shuddered. "Best not to have anything to do with her." He shook his head again, then looked to the steadily darkening sky. "Thanks for the cigars. There ain't no place in town for outsiders to stay, so you should get on going, too."

With that, he turned and went back inside, the door clicking shut behind him and leaving me staring blankly.

"Wierd." Giving myself a shake, I trotted over to the wagon. "So, you guys ready to go?"

"Yeah," Ibis said, looking at the thing in his claw. He looked freaked out. "Just, just give me a second." I moved up next to him, finally getting a look at the gift Granny Rags had given him.

It was a small charm, not even a hoof from one end to the other, a triangle-shaped piece of battered metal with two things that looked like they were made from pale, carved wood jutting out from the bottom.

"What is it?" I asked, looking over to see that Rose had a similar one. She blinked at me, and it was Ibis who answered.

"I think it's bone..." I shuddered as he held it up and turned it over, running his claws along the parts I'd thought were wood. "Yeah... that's bone, alright."

I drew back a little, not liking the things. "What from?"

Ibis turned to me and shrugged. "Some kind of animal, I guess. Radhog? Gator? Who knows."

"Ugh." I shuddered again. "Whatever. Just... just throw them away, or something, and we can get going."

"Nuh-uh." Rose shook her head at me. "That donkey said we needed them to keep us safe."

I groaned and jumped up into my seat. "Fine. Keep the creepy thing, then. Let's just get out of here already. I don't wanna get stuck in the rain."

Rose tucked her charm into her jacket while Ibis, after examining the thing for a few more seconds, slipped it into his bandoleer, following Rose's lead instead of chucking it away.

After Ibis got back into the cargo bay, I gave the reins a snap to get Rose moving.

Hopefully, we'd be able to get out before the storm hit and I could put the swamp, and everything in it, out of my mind forever.

I'd thought the swamp was miserable before. I was wrong.

The rain came down in sheets, churning the path to almost liquid mud and cutting visibility to nothing. Between me and Ibis, we'd managed to get the tarp set up as a cover over the wagon before the rain had really started, giving the two of us and our gear some protection, but even that wasn't enough to keep us from getting soaked.

Rose had it the worst, though, since she was uncovered and had to pull the Serenity through it all.

I'd had to turn my Pipbuck's spotlight on, the bright light barely piercing the gloom, but it was still enough to keep us on the path.

Then we reached the bridge.

"Fuck me running," I cursed, playing my light out towards the bank. Rose had stopped at the bridge's edge, for good reason. The water had risen, turning from a gently flowing river into a raging torrent that splashed over the banks and swirled in sudden whirlpools. A few branches, knocked down by the storms, were caught by the whirlpools and dragged into the depths; they didn't come back up again.

Unfortunately, it was the only way across.

"Okay, let's do this quick, Rose." Taking a deep breath, I gave the reins a light snap, urging my sister onwards. As soon as we were on the bridge, though, I felt a lot less confident.

The whole structure was shaking and creaking, the force of the river pounding at it. I snapped the reins again, signalling Rose to speed up.

Halfway across, we stopped again. The bridge swayed dangerously, the waves more fierce out away from the banks, smashing against the side of the bridge and sending sprays of icy cold water at us.

"ROSE!" I yelled to make myself heard. "WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!" I cracked the reins, but she didn't budge, just looked around with her ears twitching.

"LILY!" Rose yelled back, "THERE'S BAD THINGS COMING!"

"WHAT?!" I raised my hoof, aiming the light ahead of us... and I didn't like what I saw. Eyes. Dozens of big, glittering eyes, reflecting the light back as whatever they were attached to moved along the bridge towards us. "BACK!" I yelled. "ROSE, BACK UP!"

She shook her head. "THERE ARE MORE BEHIND US!"

"FUCK!" I screamed. Then screamed again when Ibis shoved me to the side and got into the driver's bay, Garden in his claws.

"ROSE! GET READY TO CHARGE!" Ibis aimed his shotgun forward, towards the things in front of us.

"What are you doing?!" I hissed. "We're gonna get killed!"

"If we stay here we are," came his reply. Point your damn light forward, you idiot." I did, lighting up the eyes again. They'd gotten closer, creeping steadily towards us. "They aren't rushing, Lily. They know we're trapped. Our only chance is to go through them."

I started swearing and cursing, but when he gave me a sharp look I just shut up, hunkered down in my seat, and kept my light aimed forwards.

"Steady... steady... ROSE! GET READY!" Ibis called out again, the things drawing nearer. Then, yelling "NOW!" he started firing, sending Rose charging forwards to try and run the Serenity to safety.

It was terrifying. I could barely see anything in the darkness, Garden was deafening me with every shot, and I could feel the Serenity's wheels slipping on the wet wood of the bridge as we closed with the things.

Then we were among them. I kept my head down, getting glimpses of lumpy, mishapen equine bodies and bulging eyes as the things were knocked aside or trampled by Rose, or blown apart by Ibis.

"ALMOST THERE!" Ibis yelled, and for a few seconds I thought we were going to make it... right until one of them pulled itself over the wagon's edge and lunged at me. I barely had time to scream before it knocked me out of the wagon and onto the bridge, the force of its attack sending us both rolling across the wood. It beat its hooves against me and tried to bite me, but my flailing brought my Pipbuck up to its face, the spotlight lighting it up and blinding it. It was a horrific thing, not quite a pony, misshapen and sickly looking, with giant bulging eyes. That's all I saw before it shrieked and kicked me away, thrashing around it pain from the blinding light.

I bounced towards the edge, the kick hitting me right in the barrel and winding me. I barely heard Rose and Ibis screaming my name before I went over the edge, the freezing water sucking me down and filling my lungs, numbing every part of my body instantly.

Before I blacked out, I thought I saw something glowing and swimming towards me through the murky darkness. It almost looked like a pony with fins...

Author's Note:

A new adventure begins! Secrets will be revealed, whiskey will be drunk, and Lily will use Rose for a pack animal! Maybe even in that order!:trollestia:

Thanks to KKat, for being awesome. Winter Storm, for the advice when I was starting out. Midnight Stalker, my prereader extraordinaire. And most of all, all you guys still reading.:twilightsmile: You make this worthwhile.