• Published 9th Feb 2017
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Fallout Equestria: Dead End - TheWanderingZebra

A wanted zebra fights for survival and revenge in the wasteland of the Pinewood Valley.

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Chapter 10: Get 'em up!

The stars… Before the war, zebras believed that the stars were evil spirits. Spirits that had rained down destruction on an ancient city in our homeland. Spirits that corrupted Princess Luna into its agent ‘Nightmare Moon’. When Luna gained leadership of Equestria during the war, our kind believed that Equestria itself became an unwitting puppet to the stars. The war, the zebras believed, was a crusade.

“We believed in this bullshit?” I said.

Zubri, the old zebra, and master of the timberwolves, raised an eyebrow and scouled.

“No past tense about it child, this is the truth as it ever was.” he said with irritating patience.

“I’m not dismissing that we believed this,” I said, my eyes narrowing down at Zubri. “I’m just disappointed that our mentality on creating this Wasteland hinged on us believing in the most ridiculous religion I’ve ever heard.”

Zubri took a long breath as his eyes trailed off me. His teapot began to whistle as steam seeped out of the spout. After making sure his lantern was still beside him he got up to attend his portable stove.

I had a weird feeling from that lantern since I first saw it. When I asked him about it, he explained that it was a zebra talisman. It acted as a magical anchor for the timberwolves. The lantern sustained them in place of whatever trees they were originally bound to.

As he busied himself with making tea, I looked out of the garage we were under, and saw my two companions.

The elderly zebra offered us all healing potions that he himself crafted. They were bitter, but seemed to work a lot better than normal healing potions, if Minty’s now healed leg indicated anything.

I had contemplated ordering Minty to still wear it, just in case, but considering how good I felt after drinking the same potion I decided against it.

She was outside, playing with one of Zubri’s timberwolves as if it were a puppy, the two of them chasing each other around the old cracked patch of asphalt, while the rest kept their distance, keeping a vigil over all of us, no doubt wanting to protect their master.

Vandal was less quick to forgive the old zebra, but either changed his mind or kept his true thoughts to himself after Zubri helped him find a fully charged spark battery within the station. The griffon was busy replacing the old one with it. He was pretty short with me last time I checked in on him. I suspected maybe he was still taking my order to abandon the RV during the fight personally.

Zubri came back, setting cups of tea in front of each of us. After some brief hesitation, I accepted the cup and took a small sip. The strange, foreign taste put me off for a moment.

“Bah,” Zubri said as he sat down. “It pains my soul to see young blood like you be ignorant of our beliefs. But the blame should not be on your shoulders, it should be on the ponies who kidnapped-”

“Adopted.” I corrected him. “The Crossbones adopted me.”

It was bad enough that this geezer was looking down on me for not being a proper zebra, but having my caretakers be blamed riled me more.

Zubri forced a cough, “Yes, well…”

I took notice of his eyes rolling, and my urge to barge out grew before he continued, “You remind me of my little niece. Went down a dark path because she didn’t take the danger of the stars to heart. I would hate for you to follow.”

“Well, rest assured, I have no interest in making deals with evil star spirits,” I said, those last three words dripping with condescension.

He sighed, and shook his head. "You don’t understand, young blood. In our culture, it is important for all to understand the threat the stars bring. Equestria did not heed those warnings, and suffered for it.”

I blew out air between my lips. "They suffered because you blew up the world. All for what, because you believed the Princess was some spooky star monster?”

Granted, I had no love for the old Equestria and their rulers, and had imagined that maybe they weren’t justified in demonizing my race.

Jet Rush, the only ghoul in the Crossbones, had even told me the whole war started over the fact that the zebras stopped trading coal, and that Equestria started the war.

So perhaps the zebras used the balefire bombs as an act of self-defense. Maybe they didn’t intend to blow up all of Equestria, maybe one city, but something wrong happened. Fantasizing about that made me less ashamed of my own stripes.

But no, now I learned that it wasn’t in self-defense. It was to purge an imaginary monster their hokey religion made up…

That gave the wasteland justification for hating me before I even became a bandit. All those days trying to find new friends after the Crossbones perished were filled with ponies either shooting me on sight, or taking advantage of me somehow.

And learning about this star bullshit meant those assholes had a justification.

And it disgusted me.

Zubri hadn’t said anything after my response. I suppose he contemplated on hoof waving away his ancestors' mistakes, but I guess he knew better than to do that given the somber look on his face.

I could ask more about zebra culture to him, but I was still upset at the information I had learned thus far. Not to mention that if I was told more, I’d just wound up feeling alienated from not just Zubri, but every other zebra… Something I had thought occasionally whenever I looked at the mirror.

It didn’t feel right to take my anger out on Zubri. As disproving as he was of my lack of proper zebra mannerisms, he did look like he was trying his best to teach me what he could. Maybe he hoped that I’d adopt some of his culture, make himself feel less alone.

That said, I was running out of patience. Maybe when I had more time and came in less angry I could visit the old geezer and hear his stories. But now it was time to leave.

“Well, this chat has been nice, but I’m on a tight schedule…” I said, “I’m in the middle of a war against the Gravestones. You wouldn’t want to get caught in that kind of trouble.”

The elderly zebra looked a little crestfallen, before his eyes brightened up a little, saying, “Ah yes! Those no good bandits who steal from settlements around here! I take it you’re going to do something about the guns they’re moving through here?”

I was dumbstruck for a second, but a smile crept onto my face. Before I ‘parted ways’ with the Gravestones I knew we were in the process of making Buckborn, which had a working gun and ammo factory, recognize the benefit they’d receive from being part of our turf. I guess the ‘negotiations’ went smoothly, and the tribute payments had started. Visualizing a map in my head, I realized it would make sense that the delivery from there to headquarters would have to cross near here.

“That’s right,” I lied, “we heard about them in Pona Rosa. We were on our way to scout them out before our motorwagon broke down.”

“Good,” Zubri snorted. “Saw them last night passing through here. They came from the road between a low mountain and the river.” He frowned. “I’ve thought about having my companions tear them apart, but there were too many,” He looked at his lantern. “And I would endanger myself.”

“No worry,” I said as my smirk grew wider. “We won’t fight them here.”

I quickly informed my gang of the change of plans. After briefly explaining what I had learned, and having one final discussion with Zubri, we were on our way to the place where the elderly zebra had spotted the Gravestones.

Vandal kept silent as he drove to our new destination, while Minty and I were talking together.

“Do we really have to do this?” Minty laid her head against the table. “I was really hoping to see Sunny and Dovey again after we went to your hideout.”

I had almost forgotten that Sundance told me that she and her marefriend would hang out in Leathersworth for awhile before heading to Tenpony Tower.

“Minty, we don’t have time to visit them. Raiding this tribute shipment is an opportunity we can’t miss,” I said with a scolding tone.

“Can’t we see them after this?” Minty begged.

The Timberwolf’s engine came to a stop. “Hey!” Vandal called out to us from the driver’s seat. “We’re here.”

A sad look crossed her face as I got up without answering, but it seemed she decided against pushing the topic any further. Just as she should.

Getting outside, I noticed the Pinewood river and the low hills that sandwiched the road. The geiger counter on my PipBuck began to tick when I got too close to the river, reminding me of the unpleasant memory of almost dying from it.

“We’re setting up an ambush here?” Vandal asked as he stepped outside, a weary tone in his voice.

“We are,” I looked up at the hills, noticing the number of dead oaks and rocks embedded deep into the earth that were littered throughout it. “You have a rifle? And some mines?” I asked, suspecting what that locked cabinet in the Timberwolf contained.

Vandal nodded. “An old hunting rifle and a few landmines… Let me guess, we’re gonna set up a trap, and you want me to do some sniping?”

“Yes,” I replied. “Gravestone shipments are guarded by seven ponies; six on guard duty, and one pulling the cart. We’re going to set up a trap for them.”

Vandal cocked an eyebrow. “That’s it?”

I shook my head. “No, I doubt the trap will take care of them all. We’re going to hide, and when those mines go off, we’ll spring up on them. Vandal, I want you up in the air providing us sniping support. If things get dicey for you, you can take cover in the hills. Minty will be a distraction at the front, and I’ll sneak around the caravan, and cut their escape route. The hills would take too long for them to climb, and the river is an irradiated death sentence, so they’ll be effectively trapped.”

“Oh, another pincer’s attack?” Minty chimed excitedly.

She then gasped, looked at the hill, then looked back to me. “Wait, what if we dropped rocks on them?”

“Excuse me?” I said, startled.

Minty jumped. “Yeah! We can have rocks fall down and hit them!”

My eyes looked away from Minty and toward the hills. While there were certainly rocks, they all looked too embedded into the hill to loosely roll down.

“How?” I questioned.

“Easy! I can stomp on them until they fall down!” Minty replied with enthusiasm.

“With your bare hooves?” Vandal asked, disbelief in his voice.

“Uh-huh!” Minty gave an enthusiastic nod to Vandal. “I’ll just stomp really really hard, and rocks will fall!”

An awkward silence fell between the three of us. I knew Minty was strong… but I doubt she could pull off something like that with her bare hooves. I decided not to comment on her moronic plan.

My attention went to Vandal, who had kept rather silent for most of the planning. A frown had grown on his beak, and that made me feel that he was hiding something.

“Is something wrong?” I asked in a blunt tone.

“Aside from Minty’s dumb rock plan?” Vandal said.

“It’s not dumb…” Minty whined.

The catbird scratched the back of his head. “I don’t know about this plan. You said that this would be the perfect spot to ambush them.”

A muscle in my fetlock tensed up. I knew where this was going. “Your problem?”

The catbird nervously tensed up a bit. “We’re up against bandits who’d think the same thing when they passed through here. ‘Perfect spot to get ambushed, better prepare ourselves when we cross here again.’ Is what I imagine is in their heads. So you know… Maybe we should stage it somewhere less predictable?”

I cocked an eyebrow. “Where else would we stage it?”

Vandal opened his beak for a moment, but said nothing.

“Thought so,” I snorted. “There’s nowhere else we could ambush them. Even if they anticipated it, they’ll come through here a nervous wreck. When we spring on them, they’ll panic. Especially more so when they realize that they’re dealing with me instead of some run of the mill gang with no experience.”

Vandal clicked his tongue. “Okay… but how many are we gonna go up against? I mean yeah, you said we’d be up against seven ponies. But what if they’ve changed things up after you left?”

That reminded me of what that Dashite I met in Pona Rosa told me.

“Lemme ask you this: if you were so close to Tomb, and now you’re out for his head and he knows it, don’tcha think he’d change things up? Maybe take all the odds and ends you know about him into account?”

Tomb might be paranoid enough to mix things up, but he couldn’t have changed too much so soon. It didn’t hurt to have some confirmation, and luckily I had a pair of wings to help me.

“I want you to scout.” I ordered Vandal.

“You want me to scout?” Vandal said with an uneasy look.

Are you shitting me?

I grit my teeth in irritation. “Yes. You wanted to know how many there were, so I want you to see what their numbers are, and if they have anything worrisome. What’s your problem with that?”

“Oh, you know… I could get spotted. What would happen if-”

“Those idiots keep forgetting to look at the sky! You’ll be fine!” I stomped on the ground.

“Guys?” Minty frowned.

“Not now Minty.” I replied to her, then glared at Vandal. “I gave an order to scout, and I’m not going to repeat myself.”

“I…” Vandal gave a frustrated sigh. “Alright, whatever you say boss. I’ll be back.”

Without saying anything else, he flew up into the air.

I rubbed my right temple as Minty trotted over to my side. “Did you really have to be harsh to him?” Minty asked.

I almost glared at her, but instead gave an exhausted sigh. “We’re a bandit gang Minty. And as the leader of this gang I have to be stern…”

I shook my head, trying to clear it, and said, “Anyway, we should go over some fighting strategies.”

Minty hummed for a moment. “But what about my rockslide plan?”

I rolled my eyes, and said, “It can be our Plan B.”

“Have any sixes?” Minty said.

I shook my head, not even bothering to tell her to ‘go fish’. Minty sighed, and drew a card from the deck.

Three hours had passed since Vandal went out on his own to scout. Night was coming, so Minty and I had been waiting for the catbird inside the Timberwolf.

We had just started playing this game half an hour ago to pass time, using dirty old playing cards Vandal had.

“Uh, Phishy? It’s your turn.” Minty interrupted my thoughts, a worried tone present in her voice.

I grunted. “Yeah. Jacks?”

Minty hoofed me a card that I took with my tail, adding it to my hoof. “Say, Phishy, Vandy hasn’t been happy lately ever since we fought Zuby’s timberwolves.”

“I’ve noticed,” I placed my cards face down on the table.

Minty frowned. "He was really upset when you wanted us to ditch the Timberwolf."

“And it was the right call,” I looked at her sternly. “If Zubri wasn’t in control of those timberwolves, we would’ve died continuing to fight them. He should understand that.”

“Yeah… but… Maybe he still isn’t happy with it. Maybe, when he gets back, you should talk to him about it? And make him feel better! I mean, you’re supposed to be his friend, and that’s something friends do!

That reminded me of the conversation I had with Zubri just before we left him…

“I wish you luck. I’m hoping you and your friends will come back to visit someday.” Zubri had said.

I recalled snorting at him. “They’re my subordinates, not my friends.”

“Hmmm, I find that hard to believe young blood. Your glyph mark paints a different story.”

“Glyph mark?” I remembered looking at the mark on my flank: lines swirling across each other to form a crossbone.

“Ah! More ignorance! You thought of it as a cutie mark, eh?”

“Isn’t it the same thing?”

“No no no! A pony’s cutie mark represents their special talent. A zebra’s glyph mark may be similar, but for us, that mark represents what we most cherish. There were worrying implications for you, but after you mentioned these ‘Crossbones’ having adopted you. You sounded very fond of them, so I assumed what you cherished were ponies like that.”

I suppose I did cherish having ‘friends and family’ that cared deeply for me. The Crossbones were not a particularly large gang like the Gravestones, and were much more informal toward each other.

I looked away from the old stallion, and said, “I did, but those cherished people are gone. One of the hardest lessons I ever had to learn, out in the real world, was that I’d never have something like that again.”

I shook my head. “I’ve tried, but either I wound up betrayed, or they died like the Crossbones. It also didn’t help that I have stripes. So I can’t risk growing attached to my companions. They’re just my subordinates. That’s how things should work…”

The old zebra winced as if there was a disgusting taste in his mouth.

He said, “You know, youngblood, when I spoke of dark paths, I don’t just mean being wary of invisible spirits.”

He looked up into the cloudless sky before continuing, “The worst thing the stars can do to us is convince us to be something other than ourselves. Don’t betray your own heart, child. If only to save your own life.”

He gave me a sad smile. “I hope we meet again.”

Returning to the present moment, with Minty across from me, and the old zebra far behind us…

“I should,” I said to Minty, “But not because Vandal is a friend. He’s a hired gun who needs to understand how things work.”

A new white blip appeared in my EFS. Predictably, Vandal came into the Timberwolf, a tired look on his face.

“Vandy! You’re back!” Minty said.

“Yeah, I am.” Vandal replied, then turned to me. “You were right. One cart, six guards, another pony carrying the cart. Seven total. Spotted them camping out twenty miles from here. Couldn’t get a good look at their arsenal, but nothing too dangerous we can’t handle. My guess is that they’ll be coming here in the morning, so I’m gonna hit the hay.”

He walked over to the bunk beds, but I got in his way. “We need to talk.”

Vandal gave me a lethargic stare. “Okay?”

I narrowed my eyes at him. “Are you still upset about my orders to abandon the Timberwolf?”

Vandal groaned and looked away. “... Yeah? But it’s whatever, it was a heat of the momen-”

“And when we were going over plans for this raid, you kept questioning my leadership.” I poked a fore hoof at his chest. “I’m losing my patience with you. If you have an issue with me, spit it out!”

“Phishy!” Minty said. “You don’t have to be rude to ask that.”

“Yeah…” Vandal said, narrowing his eyes at me. “You want my answer? It’s cuz you act like an insufferable bitch.”

“That’s my job.” I replied, the urge to put him in a headlock rising.

“And that’s my issue. Kinda hard to trust you know what we’re up against when you act like fucking Roulette.” Vandal said.

“Vandal, I was the second in command of the Gravestones. What I’m doing is standard procedure. Otherwise, why would any of you follow a leader without a backbone?” I retorted.

“Guys…” Minty whined.

“Oh?” Vandal said. “Guess what? That might’ve worked when the only people you worked with were violent fuckheads. But your bully tactics are making both of us miserable!”

I scoffed, “Both of you?”

He nodded. “Yeah,” He pointed to Minty. “Mints over there? She’s always scared of being one hundred percent honest with what she’s feeling, since you’ll either get angry at her or you’ll explain how because she’s brand fucking new to post-apocalyptia that she’s an idiot.”

“What are you talking about?” I turned to Minty. “You’ve always been honest with me…”

Minty swallowed. “Well… Not everything…”

Just before I could come up with a response, I remembered something Dove Trick had told me back in Pona Rosa.

“Oh my, Minty was not exaggerating. You are neurotic.”

It hadn’t crossed my mind until now that Minty had told a stranger something negative about me, instead of telling it to my face…

Silence filled inside the Timberwolf. Vandal sighed, and when he opened his eyes he looked tired rather than irritated. “I’d bring up how you’ve even been breaking my contract by being an ass to me… But whatever. I don’t give a shit about it anyway.”

I had forgotten the ‘don’t be an ass to Vandal’ condition in the contract.

When the catbird tried to pass through me, I muttered,“Vandal?”

“It’s been a long day, and I’m still new to all this bandit bullshit. Tomorrow's the raid, so it should be in your best interest that I get some rest.”

I simply nodded, “It is…”

Hearing that, Vandal laid down onto a bed.

I turned to Minty, who had a scared expression across her face. “P-Phishy… I…”

I shook my head. “You’re fine. We should probably be resting as well.”

Minty nodded. “Okay.”

Vandal’s words haunted my thoughts for the rest of the night before I eventually fell asleep.

Vandal was surprisingly the first one to be awake in the morning. He had gotten busy setting up his equipment.

Vandal and I had placed the landmines at the road and did our best to cover them up with dirt. When that was finished, we began to position ourselves.

Minty had hidden herself in a bush on the left side of the road, her green coat and armor made for good camouflage. Vandal was positioned up on the mountain at the right side of the road, hidden from sight. I was also at the right side of the road, but hid behind a tree on the lower part of the mountain.

The Timberwolf was parked behind us on the road, serving as a blockade.

Hours passed as we waited for the Gravestones to arrive. Minty would periodically ask if she could come out and stretch. The only time I permitted her to do so was when she needed to take a piss.

I would constantly check my EFS, waiting for new blips to signal that our soon to be victims were in the vicinity.

Vandal would occasionally fly up into the air and see if the Gravestones were arriving or not. Eventually, he flew down beside me, eyes wide.

I growled at him. “You’re supposed to be at the top of the mountain! What’s wrong?”

“There’s two caravans.” Vandal replied.

Two caravans? Gravestone procedure was for them to carry only one caravan, to avoid the risk of having too many supplies get stolen. Why would there be another?

Soon enough, blips began to appear in my EFS… but all red. That confused me, because that told me that they were already prepared to fight. Looking from my cover I could see two caravans being carried, the front one carrying a large crate that required two ponies to pull the cart, and a second having a smaller box covered in a cloth.

The guards, armed with pristine battle rifles and smgs that I wager came from Buckborn’s factory, were focused around the second caravan.

Something was wrong, but I couldn’t warn Minty right now or else I’d blow my cover. The two ponies pulling the front cart had battle saddles with shotguns attached. They were on high alert, but otherwise failed to notice when one of them stepped on a landmine.


The two ponies carrying the cart were shredded by the fragmentation, and fell to the floor. The other caravan began to flee back to where they came from, while the other guards shouted orders to prepare for an attack.

That was when Minty jumped out from her bush. “Awtawck!” Minty shouted with the hammer handle in her mouth as she charged over toward the guards, past the crate.

It was only now that I realized that there was a blip on my EFS pointing to that crate.

“Minty wait!” I shouted.

It was too late. The crate erupted from within, a steel-clad figure with a minigun mounted on their battle saddle came out screaming. “SURPRISE! I WAS THE GOODS ALL ALONG!”

The muscles in my back tightened when I recognized that voice. His name was Savage Strike. When he worked under me, he’d always been highly effective as a blunt instrument, but you could never assign him to anything that required even a hint of nuance. It was impossible to keep him out of a fight if he had any chance of starting one. Did my successor station him in Buckborn? And if that was the case, what was he doing out here?!

And who gave him the power armor!?!

Minty had already struck one of the guards down with her sledgehammer when Savage yelled, and rushed toward him. That green idiot was going to get herself killed!

“Vandal, fly up and support me!” I shouted, taking out my sawed-off, and rushed out of my hiding place. The other guards became alerted to my presence, shouted my name and turned their attention away from Minty and onto me.

“PHISA?! SO THAT WAS YOUR GRIFFON WE SPOTTED? I HAVE TO THANK YOU THEN! I’VE BEEN BORED WAITING FOR SHIT TO HAPPEN IN BUCKBO-” Savage was interrupted just as Minty slammed her hammer against his helmet.

Savage was unphased and merely laughed. “HA! NICE TRY TRIBAL, BUT MY ARMOR IS INVINCIBLE!” He punched Minty, shoving her by an inch.

Griffon spotted? No…

There was no time to come up with curses for the catbird as the guards began to take aim at me, I zigzaged across the road to make myself harder to hit. Activating SATS, I targeted the head of the nearest Gravestone grunt and fired a shot at her. Her head exploded, and her body fell to the road.

Shots fired at me from the other guards, a few of which impacted the armored parts of my leather jacket. I held in a pained grunt and activated SATS again, this time aiming for a guard’s leg. Blood erupted from it, and the guard fell down screaming in agony.

Savage’s minigun fired, with Minty taking a few hits from it, and while she showed no signs of pain, that worried expression on her face told me she was in danger.

A shot rang against Savage’s helmet. He turned up to the sky to see Vandal.

“Hey bucket head, over here!” Vandal yelled before firing another round at Savage.

“BIG MISTAKE GRIFFON!” Savage said, firing his minigun into the sky.

As he did, Minty ran off into the mountain.

I wasn’t sure I’d ever seen her run from a fight unprompted, but this wasn’t the time to worry about it. With no time to reload my sawed-off, I holstered it as I came close to unicorn Gravestone levitating an smg. I kicked her in the skull and seized the smg with my tail before it fell. Deciding not to wait to find out if she was stunned or dead, I tossed it in my mouth and put two rounds in her brain.

That left three grunts alive. One of them turned their weapon on me, but I pulled the trigger first, three bullets penetrating his neck. The other two got closer and fired at me, but I swerved away just in time and delivered a kick to the closest Gravestone.

Vandal must have retreated into the mountain, because Savage aimed his minigun at me. The Gravestone I had kicked had the misfortune of getting caught in the crosshair when I made a dash for the forest in the mountain, while the other one had run for cover the moment the roar of the minigun began. Seems Savage’s penchant for friendly fire hadn’t changed since I left.

Savage’s spray of bullets followed behind me, some even striking the trees, before a series of clicks played out on his minigun. “COME BACK, COWARD!”

I weaved through each tree, hoping Savage would lose sight of me. I spotted Vandal laying his back against a large dead oak. After getting behind it, I stared at Vandal intensely, before the catbird gave me a distraught face.

“Yeah, yeah, go ahead yell at me. Fuck, whatever, if we survive you can fire me. Fuck…” Vandal groaned.

I gritted my teeth, seething from the pain I’ve ignored, trying to come up with an angry response…

Nothing. Whatever energy I had to shout at him simply wasn’t there. Sure, Vandal got caught… but this was something he was worried about when I ordered him to scout.

And I dismissed his concern.

My stomach sank as I recalled what Vandal had told me last night.

“This is my responsibility.” I whimpered.

Vandal was definitely not expecting that. He looked a little disoriented, saying, “What?”

I swallowed. “I’m the one at fault here. You were right, I broke your contract, dismissed your input for my plan, and gave you an order you weren’t confident with. This is my failure as a leader! You aren’t-”

Vandal interrupted, “Doesn’t matter, I got caught, and now we’re…” An inaudible swear left his beak. “Look, I appreciate you owning up for being a bitch, but maybe we should get the fuck out of this mess first?”

I bit my lip, saying “We’re going to need to retreat.”

Vandal peeked his head around the corner and pulled it back, thankfully still intact, as shots rang out. He gave me a nervous smile.

“Maybe a little easier said than done.” I confessed.

Vandal glanced around, looking for options, then blinked.
“Wait… Where’s Mints?” he asked.

Just as he said it, there was a roar like thunder. It was the sound of countless tons of rock and earth, churning toward the river like a dry tidal wave. Vandal seemed to have caught on to what it meant before I did. He snatched me up and took off into the air.

I could hear Savage screaming and cursing my name until suddenly, all was silent.

We both looked down on the scene below. Where Savage and his remaining goons should have been, was nothing but loose rocks, dirt, and uprooted deadwood all the way down into the river.

He had been buried or washed away. In either case, no longer our problem.

“Mission Accomplished!” I heard Minty shout in the distance.

I looked at the scene stupefied. “... She actually did it.”

Vandal nodded. “Yeah… Guess I gotta be extra careful not to get hit by her hammer.”

Minty gave a confused look at me. “Why are you surprised?” She shouted. “This was Plan B!”

The battle had ended after the avalanche. The remaining Gravestone had either ran off or got buried in the rocks alongside Savage, who continued to garble out obscenities underneath it.

The Gravestones would come back here, if not to rescue Savage, then to salvage the power armor they entrusted on him. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the time, tools, or patience to dig enough of him up to finish him off. So we resolved to get going and hope he screamed away his remaining breathable air.

Minty had been in an upbeat mood in the aftermath of her rockslide plan. To my pleasure, she didn’t receive any grievous injuries that some bandages and a sip of a healing potion couldn’t fix.

I tasked her with searching around the battlefield, collecting whatever guns, ammo, or other supplies we could salvage that the rockslide didn’t hit. Hopefully there’d be ammo for both my sawed-off and my newly acquired smg.

Meanwhile, Vandal and I were beside the Timberwolf. We had just finished treating each other's wounds before we resumed our previous discussion. My back was near the Timberwolf’s door, while Vandal leaned against the hood, nervously smoking.

“So… Power armor. Never warned us about that.” Vandal said.

“It’s the only one we had,” I sighed. “A former Steel Ranger sold it at a hefty price. Tomb bought it, but he couldn’t decide who to entrust it to.”

I shifted my forelegs a bit before resuming. “Despite not getting much out of this, least we now know that he’s willing to deploy it now…”

Vandal exhaled smoke. “That means they’re gonna come back for him.” He said, more of a statement than a question.

I nodded. “You’re right, we need to prepare.”

The catbird gave a silent, unsteady look at me.

“If there’s something on your mind, you’re allowed to speak clearly.” I said softly.

Vandal took out his cigarette and tossed it to the ground, saying, “This is new, having a boss apologize to me. Even after I ruined-”

“Again, I was the one who ordered you to scout, you admitted you were uneasy, and I broke the contract by being an ass to you about it,” I interrupted.

Vandal grunted, and said “Yeah, but didn’t I mention before that I don’t really care about contracts? We still needed this info, and I got spotted, and almost got us all killed… I have to make up for this somehow.”

That didn’t sit well with me. While he didn’t care too much about that sticky note, I did. If I’m to become the most feared and respected bandit in the Pinewood, then I had to respect my gang.

Still, Vandal looked unsatisfied being put off the hook. And there’s been something on my mind that I’ve been meaning to ask…

I said, “You can repay me now by answering my question.”

That got the catbird to cock an eyebrow.

I asked, “Yesterday when I gave the order to abandon the Timberwolf, you mentioned something about not wanting some ‘bitch’ to find the RV?”

Vandal blinked. “Did I say something like that?”

I nodded. “You did. Is there someone-” I stopped myself, realizing my tone came out aggressively. “Is there someone out for you? Someone who’s a Talon?” I finished, my words coming out more soft and concerned for my griffon companion.

Vandal hesitated for a moment. “My mom.”

“Your mom?” I said, wide-eyed.

He looked away from me. “That company full of shitty griffs I mentioned yesterday? My mom’s the leader of them. Long story short, she signed a contract that got us on a suicide mission. We…” He shook his head. “I got pissed, stole the Timberwolf, and never went back to that bitch.”

“That’s why you’ve been avoiding Talons?” I asked.

Vandal shrugged. “Yeah. Bad enough that I broke the contract my mom signed, but betraying a blood relative is worse. A lot of Talon companies take blood ties seriously. Maybe Gawd and her Talons in the NCR might be more forgiving, but I ain’t taking that risk… Not to mention that Gawd’s indirectly responsible for mom’s obsession with being the ‘best’ Talon leader in the entire wasteland.”

The muscles in my left forehoof coiled at the thought of having another family to worry about. First Minty’s family… and now Vandal’s. I was starting to wonder if future members would follow this trend.

Vandal took notice of my uneasiness. “You’re not mad, are you?”

I shook my head. “Upset, but not at you.” I sighed. “Just another thing to add on my list of things to worry about.”

“Huh?” Vandal took out his cigarette. “This ain’t enough for you to fire me?”


He tossed his cigarette to the ground, and stomped on it until the smoke ceased. “Last boss I shared this with did. Almost was going to expose me…” He shrugged. “Well, he almost.”

I didn’t need to inquire what happened to that boss.

He must’ve taken notice of my uneasy silence. “Eh, changing subject, but do we have a name for our gang?”

I blinked. “What?”

“You know, a kickass gang name? The Gravestones have their fun name so… what about us?”

It had escaped my mind to come up with a name for my gang. At first I was thinking of just taking the Gravestones name if I ever got a chunk of them to join me… But that would mean using a name Tomb made.

I looked at my flank, and recalled Zubri’s words. My glyph mark represented what I cherished most, that being the Crossbone gang that raised me.

I wasn’t sure if I could be confident in equating Vandal and Minty on the same level, nor was I sure if Dice would approve of me using the gang’s name for my own.

But I’d imagine Down would encourage me.

“The Crossbones.” I finally said.

“Crossbones… Huh.” Vandal replied.

Minty strolled over before I could come up with a response, her bags filled with different firearms and other supplies. “Dun dun dun! Prospector Minty Fresh has looted everything she could find!”

"Nice!" Vandal grinned as he glanced at our rewards, his eyes focused mainly on a scoped battle rifle.

I forced a cough. "Minty… I need to apologize. I should’ve taken Plan B more seriously. We couldn’t have made it out without it.”

“Awww!” Minty hopped into the Timberwolf. “It’s okay. I’m just glad I was able to help!”

Vandal smirked at Minty.

This felt strange… but these past few minutes have reminded of how the Crossbones were like. They weren’t as business focused as the Gravestones, nor were they all that big… but it always felt nice being around them.

I wasn’t sure how to feel about that.

“So,” Vandal interrupted my thoughts. “Next destination gonna be your hideout?”

I shook my head. “Actually,” I looked at Minty. “Why don’t we head to Leathersworth?” Not only could Minty see Sundance and Dove one last time, but perhaps there would be some equipment I could purchase that could help me against Savage.

Besides, it felt wrong not to reward Minty.

“Really!?” Minty’s eyes sparkled.

“Yes,” I looked at my PipBuck’s map. “I’m guessing it’ll take us a day to get there with the Timberwolf…” I turned to Vandal.

Vandal nodded. “Aight, no more wasting time here. I’ll get her started.”

Author's Note:

I honestly can't believe I managed to get this chapter together so soon, special thanks to my editor Weird for putting me on a schedule. Special thanks also have to go to my pre-readers for this chapter: Dusty, Imperator, Nethlarion, and Threed.

Here's hoping for more chapters in the future!