• 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 13: Rock It For Me

I stood there nonplussed, surprisingly having maintained my composure upon Minty’s elder brother announcing himself to me.

This was inevitable. Sooner or later I was going to have a run in with Minty’s tribe. I had been contemplating on the best manner on how to approach them, but now there was no time for planning. Good improvisation was needed now.

Minty’s behavior now made sense to me: Her tribe's protectiveness of her was why she was even out in the Pinewood. The moment they found her would be the moment they’d force her back home. And I knew she wouldn’t want that, or else why hide in the Timberwolf’s restroom? She is my subordinate, and it’s my responsibility to assit her.

First… I needed to figure what the fuck Jawbreaker meant by ‘lift Minty’s curse.’

“Curse?” I said with a raised eyebrow, hoping the question would bait Jawbreaker into elaboration.

“THAT’S RIGHT, SHE’S CURSED!” Jawbreaker shouted, then gestured over to one of the other tribals, a honey-yellow mare with a wheelbarrow. “HONEY, BRING HER OVER!”

Honey began gingerly making her way to the front of the crowd, the wheelbarrow squeaking along the way. The other tribals parted before her, looking at the wheelbarrow’s contents with expressions of mournful reverence, as if regarding the dead body of a loved one (except for the mare with goggles around her neck, whose eyes rolled).

It had a pillow in it. Jawbreaker dramatically pointed at it.

“MY SISTER HAS TRANSFORMED INTO A PILLOW, NO DOUBT BY A ZEBRA CURSE! SO THAT MEANS TO TURN HER BACK, WE NEED A ZEBRA TO UNCURSE HER. AND YOU’RE A ZEBRA, SO YOU’RE GONNA LIFT HER CURSE! OR ELSE!”

… Oh. That was what he meant…

Minty was right. Her brother is an idiot.

As were the rest of her tribe, since all the Sweetmeats present (minus the goggle mare, who stood in silence as her eyes were glued to me) were also under the belief that Minty had been cursed.

I just stood there, taking deep, careful breaths. My body relaxed, and I looked Jawbreaker straight in the eyes to say. “Why do you think your sister is this pillow?”

He gasped and narrowed his eyes at me. “WHY WOULDN’T THIS PILLOW BE MINTY? I’LL TELL YOU: ONE MORNING, I TRIED TO WAKE HER UP WHEN SHE WAS BEING LAZY! BUT SHE WASN’T BEING LAZY, BECAUSE WHEN I DRAGGED HER SLEEPING BAG OUT OF HER TENT TO SHAKE IT, ONLY A PILLOW FELL OUT. AND MINTY WAS NEVER A PILLOW BEFORE!”

Minty had to get credit for having the foresight to stuff her sleeping bag with a pillow, making it look like she was still asleep in her tent, thus buying her escape a little more time. But to think the deception worked so well they assumed she’d never left at all…

Jawbreaker searched through his saddlebag, producing an issue of ‘Amazing Tales from Amazing Ponies’.

It was the same issue Vandal had.

He flipped through the pages until an illustration of a maniacal zebra wearing a skull as a mask, cackling in glee. He looked at me with a serious expression, and for the first time spoke softly. “This is an ancient text from the world before! It’s written here that zebras have the power to curse ponies! So, since Minty is a pillow now, that must mean she’s been cursed. And if zebras can curse ponies, that must mean they can also lift them! We’ve spent the last two moons searching for a zebra that would aid us.”

You. Have. To. Be. Kidding. Me.

He grinned and made a heavy stomp on the ground. His normal voice returned. “AND NOW WE’VE FOUND YOU! YOU CAN CORRECT THIS WRONG FOR YOUR KIND! THE SWEETMEAT TRIBE’S FUTURE DEPENDS ON YOU!”

Behind him, his three friends were glaring daggers at me. Their weapons consisted of a power hoof, a machete, and… a stop sign,of all things, which they seemed ready to use. The goggled mare shook nervously.

My EFS hadn’t shown them to be hostile just yet, their blips were still white, but there was no doubt that they’d turn red if I made the wrong move.

All of this, from Minty’s panic, to Jawbreaker’s utterly brilliant deduction skill, to the chance that violence could brew between my gang and Minty’s tribe… All of it had made my brain boil. This bullshit was making me lose my composure, with the temptation to snach that ridiculous magazine from Jawbreaker, tear it to pieces and tell him how stupid he was.

If these were just random bastards seeking to mug me, a combination of SATS and my SMG would get me out of this. But they weren’t. They were Minty’s family. A fight that could result in casualties. Casualties that I knew Minty would be heartbroken over. Minty would never travel with me again if that happened.

So giving into my id was not an option. This had to be handled peacefully. Which honestly wouldn’t be hard: I had Minty with me, after all. I could just play along with this whole zebra curse bullshit, take the pillow with me in the Timberwolf, and then have Minty step out, manufacture made up bullshit on why she’d need to avoid going home, and the potential for bloodshed would null.

But that plan had a bump: Minty obviously was too scared to face her tribe, else why hide herself? I would need to convince Minty to come out, and that would take time. Time that these tribals might not have the patience for.

I had to give them a reason to be patient. As well as a reason to not harm me.

I smiled at Jawbreaker. “Well… That’s noble of you, wanting to save your sister. You were lucky to find me, since I’m the only zebra living around here.” There was that old coot they could’ve ran into, and for obvious reasons I wasn’t going to bring him up.

I continued. “I’m curious. What would happen if I said no?”

Jawbreaker snorted. “THEN WE’D… UH… UH…” He paused, struggling to figure out what to say.

“Then we’ll crush the zebra’s bones and use‘em for a potion to fix Minty!” One of the tribals, Honey, yelled in the background.

Jawbreaker smiled and nodded. “YEAH, WHAT SHE SAID, WE’LL CRUSH YOUR BONES AND-”

“So you’re an alchemist?” I interrupted him.

That actually caused the large earth pony to flinch, taking a step back as a forehoof nervously rubbing his stitched up right cheek.

“AL-AL-ALCHEWHAT?” He stuttered, his confused stare being shared by the rest of his tribemates, minus the goggled mare. She just rolled her eyes.

I averted my eyes from his and relaxed my posture, radiating the conviction that there was nothing to fear. “So you don’t know alchemy. Then if you killed me, and crushed my bones, your attempts at brewing a potion would fail.”

I pointed to the pillow. I added, “Besides, even if you did know what to do, that doesn’t stop the fact that pillows. Don’t. Have. Mouths.”

That did it. All the valiance and bravado Jawbreaker had flushed away from his face. He turned back to his three friends, hoping for some word of encouragement, but they were just as lost as he was.

He and the rest of these Sweetmeats were now at my mercy. It was time for the next stage of my plan.

“Well,” I said. “You’re lucky that I have a kind heart. Your sister’s curse can indeed be lifted. But you will have to listen to my instructions, and you will also owe me a favor.”

Jawbreaker moaned in confusion, clearly still lost at words. “I… Give me some time to think.” He scrunched his face and began to hum.

One of the other tribals, a berry-colored stallion, narrowed his eyes on me. “What would an evil enchantress like you want!?”

“Yeah…” Honey gave me a side glance. “Maybe it was you who cursed Minty into being a pillow! So you can turn us into pillows as well!”

“Hahah!” a mocha-maned stallion exclaimed. “Jawbreaker, if you beat her up maybe the stripe’s curse will wear off!”

Jawbreaker had paid no attention to what his friends had said. He was still humming.

“Okay, stop it, all of you!” The goggled mare finally yelled. Her tribemates narrowed their eyes at her and were about to protest before the tired mare glared at them. “I’m handling this now.”

They stepped aside, allowing the goggled mare to trot to me. We were face to face now. “I am Sweet Tart. I will speak on behalf of the tribe.”

Sweet Tart, that was a name Minty had dropped plenty of times before.

“You don’t feel pain?” I remembered asking Minty some time after leaving Riverside.

“Nope. None of us. Um, except for Sweet Tart, but she’s weird in lots of ways.”

As well as the time when we dragged the Timberwolf together.

“No! Papa can be really rough, but he knew that Mama would’ve wanted him to live. He and his daughter, Sweet Tart, are members of our tribe now,”

So this was Sweet Tart? She was one of the few ponies in the Sweetmeats to come from outside the tribe. And if Minty’s brother and her friends were an accurate first impression of the tribe…

Now I knew what Minty had meant by ‘weird in lots of ways’: Sweet Tart was weird for being the only normal pony in this tribe.

Sweet Tart was a turquoise mare, an earth pony like all the others, with her signature goggles (the left lens cracked) dangling around her neck. Her white mane with streaks of red was rumpled, and she had bags underneath her eyes. A Ministry of Peace First Aid box was attached to her saddle. Her body would occasionally tip left and right like a metronome, as if ready to collapse at any moment. But she still stood tall.

She was sleep deprived, no doubt from having to tag along on Jawbreaker and his pals' game of needle in the haystack of looking for me. The huge breath she let out once in a while gave me the impression she was relieved.

I took a guess that she didn’t buy the dumb ‘Minty is a pillow’ bullshit, and she seemed to have known that Minty was with me. But that was a guess. If I was right… Perhaps she could help me convince Minty to come out.

“Sweet Tart,” I said, taking a step forward. “You’re willing to follow my instructions, as well as owe me a favor?”

She sighed. “Well, I’m not sure if I can promise you a favor, but I’ll follow your instructions. You’ve got a deal.”

“Sweet Tart!” Honey yelled. “You can’t make decisions for us! Especially Jawbreaker!”

Sweet Tart looked at Jawbreaker (still humming, and at a louder volume), then rolled her eyes. “He’s in the ‘thinking dimension’ right now, he won’t be out for awhile.” She turned to me. “Don’t ask. So how are you going to help Minty? How long will it take?”

“Half an hour. The ritual takes a while to prepare.” I point to the Timberwolf. “I’ll need to do it inside my motorwagon. With you, the pillow, and nopony else, present with me.”

“You can’t go with her!” The mocha-maned stallion with the stop sign rushed over to Sweet’s side. “What if she turns you into a pillow!”

Sweet Tart gave a deadpan expression. “You don’t say Truffle? Wanna bet on it?”

Truffle’s eyes widened. “N-no!”

Sweet gave a sly grin to Truffle. “Oh? Afraid of losing?”

Truffle bit his lip.

Sweet continued. “Five snack cakes for you if the zebra turns me into a pillow. Five for me if I don’t. If I don’t go with her, that means I have a hundred percent chance of winning. Don’t you want to win?”

Truffle began to wheeze, and then said, “Alright, I have no more complaints.”

I gave Sweet a bewildered stare.

She turned to the other Sweetmeats, taking the pillow from the wheelbarrow. “Honey Crisp. Berry Good. And Truffles. All of you are going to wait outside and not interfere until we come out. Is that clear?”

They all nodded.

I turned to Jawbreaker, who hadn’t stopped humming. “What about him?”

Sweet shrugged. “I think we have enough time before he’s done. Come on, let’s get going.”

We began to make our way to the Timberwolf. I leaned beside her and whispered in her ear. “How do you know Minty is with me?”

Sweet whispered back. “The gun runners we ran into said you and a mare who had armor just like ours attacked them. They also said that motorwagon was present. That’s how.”

My hunch was right, she knew what really happened. “And that didn’t convince your tribe that Minty wasn’t cursed?”

Sweet groaned. “Of course not. It’s just Jaw and his pals who think Minty is cursed, mind. The rest of the tribe aren’t even aware Minty left: they think she’s been cooped up in her tent having a ‘phase’, and doesn’t want anypony to see her.”

“Having a phase? How-”

“Friend. She’s been inside Minty’s tent the entire time. Good with vocal impressions. Our tribe often forgets she even exists. When she’s done, and they ask where she’s been, I’ll just say ‘What? You all forgot about Candy Apple again?! She’s been here out in the open all this time. You didn’t notice her?’ Then they’ll apologize and once Minty returns, nopony will ever suspect anything.”

I raised an eyebrow at her. “Do you gaslight your tribe this often?”

Sweet inhaled. “Yeah, I do. No more questions, I need to see Minty.”

“And we need to work out a plan.”

Sweet Tart narrowed her eyes at me.

I returned a much sharper glare toward her. “Minty wants to keep traveling with me, and I am going to be at her side no matter what. So if your goal is to make her return home, you’d best spit it out now.”

She blinked, and looked away. Biting her lip, she whispered. “I just want to know if she’s safe.”

“Good.”

We quickly made our way inside the Timberwolf. Vandal was face to face with the bathroom door and was saying something, but I never caught what it was when our entrance made him turn toward us. “Phisa! Everything under control? Mints hasn’t- Who’s that?” He pointed to Sweet Tart.

“A very tired pony,” Sweet Tart said as she uncomfortably squeezed herself through the Timberwolf, tossed the pillow onto the table, and made her way to the bathroom’s entrance.

The catbird turned to me, hoping I’d answer his inquiry. I obliged. “She can help us.”

Sweet knocked on the door. There was no response from inside. She growled and exhaled through her nose. “Minty, I know you’re in there. Please, come out now.”

The bathroom door opened, with Minty’s jittery head poking out. She swallowed, and turned away from Sweet. “Hey Sweety… I…”

Sweet Tart opened the door further, and embraced Minty in a hug. She sniffled. “Minty, you idiot. I was so worried.”

Minty flinched, but returned the weeping Sweet Tart’s hug.


“-and so after that, we met Merry! She told us that she was digging for treasure, so we helped her until we learned she was actually a pegasus from the sky! And then it turned out the treasure was a lie and and was actually-”

Minty had been giving her recap of her entire adventure thus far to Sweet Tart, who had calmed down as she listened intently to her tribemate.

In the meantime, I had been speaking with Vandal over our situation.

“You really think they’d be open for that?” Vandal asked, as sweat dripped off his feathered face. The thought of going against a whole tribe of ponies like Minty had made him a nervous wreck. He was shaking too much to place a cigarette in his beak.

“Maybe. Minty told us that her father can be rough, but he was lenient enough to allow Sweet and her father to join their tribe. If we could provide something his tribe needed, he might be open to an alliance of sorts.”

“Of sorts?”

“At least, to the point that he allows Minty to continue aiding us.”

I turned back to Minty.

“-And now we’re about to head to Leathersworth to meet Sunny and Dovy! And that’s everything that’s happened to me!” Minty smiled.

Sweet stoically nodded, then turned to me. “So, Minty stumbled into your stupid faction war?”

“Is that going to be a problem?” I asked.

“Hey!” Minty pouted. “I wanted to help Phishy fight those meanies!”

Sweet sighed. “It seems we’re all in this bandit mess now.”

I raised an eyebrow at her. “What do you mean?”

Sweet sighed. “The day Jawbreaker found that pillow, some bandits came to our camp demanding that we pay a protection fee, and informed us of the consequences if we refused. Jawbreaker headbutted one of them, and now we’re in trouble with them. Never got their name, but I’m going to assume they’re these Gravestones.”

That was them alright, though I didn’t recall having organized a party to ‘negotiate’ with tribals. But I shouldn’t be surprised at this point. Tomb kept his negotiations with Pona Rosa a secret, so why couldn’t he hide more?

Minty began to fume. “What?! Those meanies tried to hurt us as well?”

“Yup,” Sweet nodded. “That’s why we were planning on moving away from this region.”

“W-wait! We’re already moving?” There was panic in Minty’s voice.

“Were. But since the whole tribe is convinced that you’ve been in your tent having a ‘phase’, they’re not going until it’s over.”

“Huh? The rest of them think I’m still there? But how-”

“Candy Apple is covering for you.”

Minty’s eyes widened and she nodded. “Ahhh! I see. Wow… I actually forgot about her.”

Vandal cleared his throat, then asked Sweet Tart, “Okay, so that means Mints would still be able to be with us for a little longer?”

She shook her head. “Well… You’ve kept Minty safe. I appreciate it. And Papa Rocky might too if he was aware right now.”

“So her pops is reasonable?” Vandal asked.

She shrugged. “Just so long as you aren’t like most outsiders and come guns blazing, he’ll be willing to at least talk with you.”

“Guns blazing?” I asked.

“Most outsiders assume we’re raiders.”

“Because of your outfits?” I guessed.

“Hey!” Minty protested. “Our outfits are sexy! There’s nothing raider about them!”

Sweet Tart rolled her eyes. “Tell that to them. That, alongside another tribe that keeps following and annoying us- don’t ask- is why the Sweetmeats have been nomadic. We are trying to find a place where we won’t be troubled.”

I nodded. “Then all I’d have to do to get on your leader’s good side is to offer land and protection to him in return for an alliance.”

Sweet bit her lip. “Maybe. Won’t know until we try. If I was in the right position, I’d just leave and inform Papa Rocky that there’ll be visitors…”

“But you’re not in the right position?” I frowned, knowing where this was going.

A groan escaped her lips. “No, I’m not. He is.” Sweet pointed outside the window, to where we could see Jawbreaker, still in his ‘thinking dimension’ meditation, and now loud enough that we could even hear him through the RV!

“He’s our obstacle?” I asked.

Sweet nodded. “Him and his friends. And before you ask, it’s fifty-fifty when it comes to convincing those dorks. They didn’t listen to me when I told them Minty probably ran away instead of getting cursed. ‘Noooo, silly Sweet Tart, Minty is clearly cursed!’ It’s only when I make dares or play along with whatever bullshit they believe in at the moment that they’ll listen to me. So yeah… fifty-fifty. Not easy.”

I couldn’t help but sympathize with her. I knew from experience how draining it could be to manage idiots.

“Well,” Vandal grinned. “It’s a good thing Mints is good at talking to ponies!”

Minty jumped and gave a sheepish smile. “Um… Uh… Couldn’t Phishy handle the-”

“No,” I shook my head. “You’re more equipped than me to deal with this. They’re your tribe, so you know them better than I do. It shouldn’t be hard to tell them what you want.”

Minty winced. “W-w-well- Um, but-”

“Why are you hesitating?” I glared at Minty.

She gulped. “I-I-I mean… we don’t have bad blood, but Jawy has been really really REALLY protective of me since I was born. You know, since our mom died. He can be full of himself at times, but he’s a nice pony. I… I just don’t have the heart to tell him that I don’t need his protection anymore. I-I might hurt his feelings!”

“So you’re telling me that you can take on whatever hits you, convince a whole town to fight on our behalf, take a few lives, and buck a mountain, but being honest with your blood and kin is above your abilities?!”

Minty furrowed her brow. “Phishy, I-”

“That’s right, you should be mad!” I stomped at the ground. “Mad that you’re being held back by your fears. You’re a powerful mare, Minty. Every hiccup that we’ve gone against? You overcame them all, and you did all of that without any hesitation. So why hesitate now?”

Minty was at a loss for words. She looked at everyone inside, and muttered, “D-do I really have the power to speak honestly with Jawy?”

“Of course you can. You’re in Mint Condition.” I can’t believe I remembered that catchphrase she used when we met.

“I-I’m in Mint Condition?” Minty repeated.

Vandal smirked. “Yeah, Mint Condition!”

“What they said,” Sweet added.

A smile grew on Minty’s muzzle. “You’re right. There shouldn’t be a reason why I can’t speak my true feelings to Jawbreaker! Or the rest of my tribe! I’m a mare in Mint Condition! I can do it!”

Vandal nervously laughed. “Yeah, and if your words fail, you could always headbutt your brother and hope he immediately understands everything!”

I glared at Vandal.

“It’s a joke,” Vandal quickly added. “Don’t take it seriously.”

Minty nodded, and began to trot out as she muttered, “Mint Condition. Mint Condition,”

She exited out of the Timberwolf, and yelled. “I’m in Mint Condition!!!”

Jawbreaker’s friends all looked shocked at seeing Minty. They began to tear up.

“Minty…” Honey said.

“The curse…” Berry Good added.

“I lost the bet!” Truffle said with a devastated face as he saw the rest of us exit the Timberwolf. His two friends glared at him. “I mean… It’s been lifted!”

“That’s right!” Minty stood triumphantly, and got in front of Jawbreaker. “I’ve returned from the pillowverse! And I’ve got an announcement to make!”

Jawbreaker didn’t stop humming.


It had been half an hour since we all waited for Jawbreaker to get out of his spell. Vandal and I had been playing Go Fish on the dirt with Sweet Tart. Minty was catching up with how the Trio handled their quest to find a zebra, as well as answer questions about the ‘pillowverse’.

“So,” I asked Sweet Tart after drawing a card. “The Sweetmeats can’t feel pain?”

Sweet looked at her cards in contemplation. “Yeah. Dad said that those irradiated rocks they kept eating over the entire tribe’s existence made them develop an immunity to pain that their children then inherited and it kept getting passed down. That’s his theory at least. I don’t really know why, and I stopped caring about finding out the truth. Anyway, anypony- anyone got a jack?”

“Hold on.” I said, with a bewildered look on my face. “They eat rocks?”

Sweet nodded. “Yeah. I’m not into it though.”

Vandal grunted as he handed over his card to Sweet. “That honestly scares me. A whole fucking tribe of Minty’s.”

Sweet Tart and I snorted simultaneously and said in unison, “It’s annoying to deal with.”

Vandal nodded. “So where’d this tribe come from? Looking for a four, by the way.”

We shook our heads. Vandal groaned and drew a card.

“Some Stable that they bailed out from, maybe a century ago. Don’t really have anything from it except for Boulder and a picture of their ancestor.”

“Boulder? And a seven.” I asked.

Vandal sighed and gave me a seven.

“The pet rock of their Many Greats Ancestor, who was the first Overmare. They don’t remember her name, or the number their Stable was. We just have a portrait of her. That and Boulder are Sweetmeat Treasures. We are as protective of them as we are with Papa Rocky’s personal outhouse.”

I raised an eyebrow. “Personal outhouse?”

“Papa Rocky is huge. That outhouse is the only bathroom he can fit in.”

Vandal cast a puzzled look at Sweet. “But… We’re in Postapocalyptia, why can’t he just take a shit wherever he wants?”

Sweet hummed. “Because they think only savages do that. Any of you got two?”

“Wait, how big-”

I never got to finish what I was saying, since Jawbreaker chose that moment to cease humming. His eyes blinked rapidly, and he flashed a grin and yelled, “OKAY ZEBRA, YOU’VE GOT A-” He blinked, finally having noticed Minty was outside.

“Jawy!” Minty exclaimed, trotting away from the Sweetmeat trio and toward her brother. “You’re finally done having your imaginary talk with yourself!”

Jawbreaker wasted no time rushing over to Minty, and forced her into a tight hug. He began to rub his forehoof against the top of Minty’s mane, starting to cry. “OH MINTY I WAS SO WORRIED I’D NEVER SEE YOU AGAIN!

Honey Crist, Berry Good, and Truffle all cheered in the background.

“Jawy,” Minty struggled to breathe. “You’re hugging too tight.”

Her brother let her go. “OH SORRY! I’M JUST SO HAPPY TO SEE YOU AGAIN! NOW CAN GO BACK HOME!”

Minty took a deep breath. “Uh Jawy? And everypony? There’s something I want to say.”

The cheers from the Trio came to an end, while Jawbreaker cocked his head. “M-Minty?”

Minty beat her chest. “I went on an epic quest in the pillowverse. At the end of it, the Pillow Gods gave me a prophecy! A prophecy that told me that our tribe would finally find a permanent home to be safe in. And that I must find a zebra known as Phishy, who will aid me!”

She gestures to me. “This is Phishy by the way!”

Vandal moaned. “Why wasn’t I in the prophecy?”

I jabbed his shoulder.

Jawbreaker blinked as he processed all the bullshit Minty just fed him.

“Wait a second!” Berry Good yelled. “What if there is no pillowverse? What if Minty’s been cursed to be the zebra’s slave, and is being forced to lie to us!”

Honey slapped her face. “Ah crap, I never took that into account!”

“Would this mean the zebra rigged my bet?” Truffle licked his lips.

Minty began to panic. “What? No! No! I’m not under another curse I swear!”

“That’s what a mare under a zebra’s control would say!” Honey stomped. The trio began to take offensive positions. “Jawbreaker! If we kill the zebra, maybe Minty’s new curse will be lifted!”

I grit my teeth, Vandal began to shiver, while Sweet Tart didn’t seem worried at all.

Minty bit her lip, probably thinking over what to say to get us out of this.

Jawbreaker nervously looked at me, and then to the Trio, and then back to me, and then to Minty, and then to-

He stopped looking when Minty Fresh headbutted her brother in the forehead.

Vandal’s gasp sounded as if his soul had just left him. He croaked, “I was only joking about that!”

Jawbreaker appeared unphased. He looked Minty square in the eyes and nodded. “I understand now…”

He turned to the Trio. “IT’S ALL A METAPHOR! THE QUEST SHE WENT HAS BEEN HER DESIRE TO EXPLORE THE WASTELAND! THE PILLOW GODS TELLING HER TO TRAVEL WITH THE ZEBRA, THAT’S HER DESIRE TO HAVE A FRIEND! A-AND THE PROPHECY… MINTY WANTS TO HELP US FIND OUR FINAL HOME!”

Minty silently stood there in a confused daze.

Jawbreaker pointed to me. “ZEBRA!”

“Phisa” I corrected him.

“PHISA! MY SISTER WANTS TO TRAVEL WITH YOU. YOU’RE GONNA TAKE GREAT CARE OF HER, OR ELSE! ISN’T THAT RIGHT GUYS?” He turned to the Trio, who slowly began voicing agreements.

My posture relaxed, and I turned to Sweet, who quickly said, “I’ve known these ponies for a long time. I don’t get surprised anymore.”

Jawbreaker addressed me once more. “PHISA, WE STILL OWE YOU A FAVOR! TELL US WHAT YOU WANT FROM US!”

I trotted forward and cleared my throat. “I wish to speak to your leader. I wish to conduct diplomacy with him in regards to forming an alliance against a common foe.”

Not a single one of them seemed to understand that. I rolled my eyes. “Some ponies came to your tribe demanding tribute?”

The Trio sans Truffle nodded.

“I am enemies with those ponies, and I want to work together with your leader to eliminate them. And also arrange a permanent home for all of you. It will benefit my gang and your tribe.”

They awed, and collectively nodded.

“So that means you want to be friends with us?” Berry asked.

“We hold feasts for new friends, don’t we?” Honey turned to Jawbreaker.

“Was my bet still rigged?” Truffle muttered with a sad sigh.

Jawbreaker gasped. “THAT’S RIGHT! WE SHOULD HOLD A FEAST FOR YOU! EVERYPONY, BEFORE WE RETURN TO CAMP, WE MUST GATHER ALL THAT WE NEED TO MAKE OUR FEAST TO PHISA THE GREATEST IN THE WORLD! WE WILL NEED TO FIND LOTS OF FOOD! LOTS OF GAMES! ROCKS! AND LOTS OF FIREWORKS!”

I frowned. “That’s not going to be-”

“IT MAY TAKE US MANY DAYS, BUT BELIEVE ME PHISA: IT WILL BE WORTH IT!” Jawbreaker dramatically pointed at a random location. “ALRIGHT EVERYPONY, LET'S FIND THOSE SUPPLIES!”

With that, Jawbreaker and his friends stampeded away into the distance at surprisingly great speed, and disappeared in the distance.

Vandal, who had been hyperventilating, gave a sigh of relief. “Oh fuck, I thought we were goners.”

Sweet Tart chuckled. “Well… Guess I can finally head back home and get some good rest…

She gestured to my pipbuck. “Before I go, I should probably point out where our camp is. You can set markers on your pipbuck’s map, right?”

I nodded, and then turned to Minty, who still hadn’t said anything. “Minty?”

She turned to me with a wrinkled nose. “Wait… It was a metaphor the entire time? The… The pillowverse is real, isn’t it?”


We had said our goodbyes to Sweet Tart, and had been back on the road toward Leathersworth. It took us the next day to finally arrive at our destination. Leathersworth was a settlement that the Gravestones never had an interest in claiming, both due to it being at the border between the Pinewood and the rest of the Wasteland-

As well as being a dump.

There were no gates or toll to go through, sans the small rusted fences that could easily be stepped across, and with no guards to greet us, we came in with zero resistance.

The buildings were just a mix of either weathered structures haphazardly stitched together with junk, or wooden houses that began to show some rot. The population was sparse, with a few ragged ponies simply lying around in the shade or having idle chat with one another.

As we passed through the street, a dog with a leg bone in it’s mouth ran past us.

Was that a pony bone?

“Well,” Vandal said, a duffel bag with my sawed-off and various gun parts he took from our stash held tightly by his side, “if Sun and Dove wanted to meet us in a safe town, this is it.”

Minty cocked her head at Vandal. “But this town doesn’t look safe.”

“It doesn’t, but this town has nothing to offer, so no one important would ever come here.” I pointed to one of the locals. “Let me take care of this.”

I trotted over to her. She was a scruffy unicorn mare with a stained white cowgirl hat. Her eyes widened in awe when I came in front of her.

“Ah shit,” she said as her eyes beamed. “You’re the Striped Menace!”

“You know me?” I raised an eyebrow.

She enthusiastically nodded. “Yeah yeah. Every town in the Pinewood is talking about you. That chaos you gave to Pona Rosa and Buckborn! The radio pony has been talking about you, so word has spread.”

“You mean DJ Pon3 or?”

“No no, Mr. Dead Air, new DJ from the Pinewood. Went on air a few days ago and the first thing he went over was about what you did to Pona Rosa! You’re an Important Pony… er, Important Zebra now!”

Dead Air? Never heard of him, but if he’s only just been on the air that would explain why. I had to wonder where he got information about Pona Rosa… or the fact that the Cage gave me that ‘Striped Menace’ epithet.

But what did I have to complain about? Whoever he was, however he knew about my actions, and wherever he hosted his channel, it was free publicity.

That would mean the Rockfalls will know what I’m capable of.

“Good, so you know who I am. That means you’ll know exactly what will happen if you don’t answer my questions.” I sized her up.

There wasn’t a nervous shiver emitting from this mare. Instead, there was an excited smile and sparkle in her eyes. She licked her lips. “Well, I could… If you sign an autograph on my hat!”

I glared at her.

She laughed. “So this is how the Striped Menace does her menacing?! Wicked!”

“Answer. My. Questions.” I hissed, my right forehoof readying to strike her face.

She gave a toothy grin. “You’re going to take over our town as your base, and turn our Nowheresville into Somewhereville?”

Okay, intimidation tactics weren’t working. Time for a different route. I huffed and turned my head away from her. “I was… but honestly, now that I’m here, I’m not so sure.”

She gasped and panicked. “W-what?!”

“It’s not really hospitable. Your infrastructure looks like it could fall apart from a breeze. You lack any good security. And it has no resources or services my Crossbones need… Not to mention how everypony I’ve spoken to won't answer a single question from me.”

She was the only pony in Leathersworth I’ve spoken to thus far, but she didn’t need to know that.

“W-w-well, I mean… Yeah, we haven't had any guards since… You know, nothing really happens here so they just… go elsewhere.”

“To Somewheresvilles?”

She scratched behind her ear. “Yeah… B-but if everypony knew our town was your turf, then we’d get ponies interested in us! A-and that would mean more caravans, a-and maybe we can finally afford higher fences! We wouldn't be Nowheresville anymore! We’ll be Somewheresville!”

I smiled. “Then this means you’ll answer my questions?”

She nodded. “Y-yeah! Uh… what were they again?”

“Sundance and Dove Trick. Two acquaintances of mine. Told me that if I wanted to see them again, then we’d meet here. You wouldn’t happen to know where they are? Or if they’re even here yet.”

She rubbed her chin. “Hmm… Oh! Did they say they got in trouble with them Dashers?”

“The Dashers would be?”

“Right right, local gang who make a living off stolen chems! Dash, mostly! Come here often to drink. They’re the only ponies who trade with us.” A sigh escaped her lips. “If only that trouble got word to spread about us.”

I nodded. “I’m taking a guess: the two I’m looking for ripped off the Dashers. Those two hid in your bar, and the Dashers trashed the place?”

That sounded like something they'd do.

“Yeah! The Shipwreck, Fix’s place! He was very happy after that day!” She began to jump a bit in excitement.

“He was happy?” I frowned.

“Hmm mmm! Doesn’t get the chance to use the talent his cutie mark gave him!”

Oh… So he was one of those ponies. The ponies who were really obsessed with the special talent associated with their cutie mark. That kind of pony. Of course.

Though… I found it odd. Wouldn’t he want to repair the rest of the town? I had just opened my mouth to ask, but this mare spoke first.

“We only got enough supplies to repair one of our buildings, and everypony voted on it being the Shipwreck since… you know, it’s the Shipwreck. It always needs to be fixed up. Almost as if it’s under a curse. Maybe it is under a curse… anyway, all of that was the reason Fix-it volunteered as our bartender!”

We were starting to get off-track. I tsked and said, “So I assume this means that neither Sundance nor Dove Trick are here in town?”

The scruffy mare hummed. “Not really. Though I always hang out here and maybe didn’t see them. Maybe you should ask the others? And hey, about turning our town into your gang’s hideout?”

I rolled my eyes. “I’ll arrange something later.”

That meant never.

Just as I turned away from her she yelled, “And hey! If you go to the Shipwreck: don’t break the jukebox. We pooled enough caps to buy it off the Dashers. A lot of caps. We don’t want to pay for another.”

I said nothing, and returned to my friends. Vandal had been looking at a two centuries old newspaper (or what remained of it) at a bench while Minty had already been chatting with another mare.

Her tail was swishing back and forth. She was flirting.

Vandal took his eyes off the newspaper when I came in front of him. “Got leads?”

I shook my head. “Let’s ask around. Then let’s head to the Shipwreck.”


An hour later, and nearly everypony else we spoke to were just as weird as that scruffy mare. They were also obsessed with turning their seedy town into a ‘Somewheresville’, each for their own reasons. And like that mare, they all (sans that one pony I had to give a firm buck to the face) saw me as their ticket to becoming known to the Pinewood, if not the entire Equestrian Wasteland.

Maybe Vandal and Minty cared, but honestly I was just ambivalent to this town’s blight. Failed settlements were too common in the Wasteland to really move me.

What I did care about were the answers they gave us: Sundance and Dove Trick hadn’t arrived. It turned out that we managed to beat them, which made sense. We had a vehicle. They had only their hooves.

Minty insisted on being on the lookout for the two. I’d protest, but I didn’t have the energy to talk her out of it, after the past hour. And who knows? Sun and Dove could trot into town today and Minty would catch sight of them and return to inform us.

In the meantime, Vandal and I decided to take a break at the Shipwreck, the bar Dove Trick had informed me she owed caps for letting her hide from bandits (that I now knew were the Dashers) they scammed.

The Shipwreck, it turned out, was a very appropriate name.

The entire building was shaped like a galleon ship, both externally and internally. Fake barnacles were plastered around it, fishnets hung from the sides, holes were covered by hastily nailed planks of wood. The fact that those planks were all odd-colored showed me that this building was repaired with whatever Leathersworth could get their hooves on.

Thinking about it now, I had to wonder if this was an actual ship that ponies managed to place here in their town before the bombs and rebuilt it into a bar.

When we entered, we were greeted by Fix. He was a cobalt blue earth pony stallion with a simple buttoned shirt. Fix was friendly enough to make us both feel welcome. When I inquired about Dove’s debt to him, he blinked in confusion.

Apparently, it was hard for him to remember that event when the Shipwreck got damaged once every month. He even confessed to me that he didn’t really feel he was owed anything from Dove when I reminded him of her and her marefriend.

After ordering drinks (I a Sparkle-Cola, and Vandal a shot of whiskey), we sat over at a table. Vandal had gained permission to use the table as an improvised workbench from Fix, and was now beginning to make the final touches to my sawed-off’s repair, with it and various other parts he took from some of the guns we’ve stolen by his side.

On the other side of the building was Leathersworth’s prized jukebox. A mix of piano and harmonica were being played from it (Vandal called it folk music, specifically of griffon origin), something that both of us found soothing. I was drowning my thoughts to the song as I sipped through a straw provided by Fix, thinking about how my next meeting with Sundance would go.

I wasn’t even sure if I still held my grudge against her.

My contemplation came to an end when Vandal asked, “So… you really don’t drink booze?”

I raised an eyebrow, and pushed my bottle aside. “You ask because?”

“Curiosity. There a reason you don’t do it?”

My leg muscles tensed. “As a professional bandit with responsibilities, I can’t afford to get inebriated. It would inhibit my-”

“What’s the real reason?”

I frowned. “I don’t even know if I’ll like the taste. It smells weird to me.”

Vandal smirked. “Really?”

If Sundance’s first response to drinking from the old Crossbones’ stash while we were alone had taught me anything, it was that enjoying alcohol was an ‘acquired taste’. There was also that time Downburst had returned from business one night drunk as hell. It had spooked a much younger and more sensitive Phisa.

I wasn’t going to share that right here, so I simply nodded at Vandal’s question.

He began polishing the sawed-off’s barrel. “You should at least give it one shot. Every coming of age journey ends with your first drink. You like Sparkle-Cola, so why not rum. Those two go together well.”

I sighed. “Maybe, just not now. Not when this town looks like it’s on the verge of collapse.”

He nodded. “Right. So, remember when I said I could engrave a name on your gun?”

“Yeah?”

“So… your whole deal is getting back at your ex-boss and his goons. Revenge and that kind of shit. So why not Vendetta?”

Vendetta?

I was just about to answer until the doors opened. About five ponies poured in, each wearing cyan leather with rainbow badges. They wielded revolvers and lever-actions. One of the ponies, a lanky unicorn with sunglasses, trotted over to our table.

I stood up, and glared at the newcomer.

He tipped the bridge of his sunglasses down, exposing her emerald eyes. “Howdy. Heard you’re acquaintances with two ponies we’ve been looking for.”

I didn’t answer him.

“Sundance and Dove Trick. Locals told us you’ve been around asking for where they are. Either you’re their friends… or her next victims.”

These were the ponies Sundance and Dove stole from.

He cleared his throat. “Pardon my rudeness. Name’s Trip, just Trip, of the Dashers. And what’d your name be, my exotic cutie?”

I couldn’t tell if that was a genuine compliment or a thinly veiled insult. I still glared at him. “Phisa. Striped Menace. Leader of the Crossbones. I assume you know about me?”

While Trip hadn’t flinched, the rest of his cronies were whispering among each other. They knew who I was.

I eyed Vandal, who quietly began inserting shells into the barrels. The repairs were finished.

Good.

I snorted, and turned my eyes back to Trip to finally answer his question. “And why does it matter that we’re acquainted with who you’re looking for?”

“Well…” Trip looked back to his gang and back to me. “You see, those two were with us for quite some time.”

“It was just one day,” One of the Dashers interjected. She cowered upon meeting Trip’s narrowed eyes.

Trip took a deep breath. “Okay, I’ll make this quick. They robbed us while we weren’t looking, and we just wanted to talk with them. Now, don’t you go pretending to know nothing. Folks already told us that you asked-”

I sneered at him. “Then I’ll make this quick as well: Fuck off, or else you’ll regret it.”

He stiffened, forcing a chuckle. “Really? Don’t know if you blind but we’ve got you outgunned.”

Really, he’s playing the numbers game against me?

I shook my head. “Pona Rosa and Buckborn had numbers too. And I’m still alive. So you know that if you start shit with us, you’re going to end up earning a trip to hell.”

Trip readjusted his sunglasses and looked back to the other Dashers, who were half petrified, half ready for a gun fight. He turned back to me. “You really think that?”

“I was the former second in command of the strongest bandit gang in the Pinewood. You’re just a bunch of chem dealers. You’re noponies to me. Don’t bullshit yourself, you don’t stand a chance against me.”

Trip narrowed his eyes at me as I did at him. The Dashers were preparing to draw their weapons. I could already sense Vandal readying himself to toss my sawed-off.

This was going to be a bloodbath.

“STOP!” Fix yelled angrily, a shotgun on his battle saddle. “STOP RIGHT NOW!”

All eyes were on Fix as he trotted over to the jukebox. He turned the music off and gave us an agitated glare. “Could you at least wait until I drag this to the back? Then you can kill each other.” He hefted the jukebox onto his back and began making a slow and steady trot to the back. “Geeze.”

Our attention turned back to each other. None of us said anything as Fix carried the jukebox.

I stared at Trip, who seemed lost in thought, possibly pondering whether he’d back down…

Or take a dare.

Author's Note:

Long overdue. Glad to finally have this out. Special thanks to Graymane Shadow for copyediting, as well as Stormwing, GODOG, Nethlarion, A Scanner Sparkly, and Beegee for pre-reading.

Also special bump for the podcast my friends do: currently reading through Heroes at the moment. https://fanficfanfic.podbean.com/

As well as for my friend Weird’s ko-fi. https://ko-fi.com/weirdingtonesq

Hope this chapter was worth your wait. Feel free to leave comments. Please. I need them to convince myself that I haven’t been writing to the void the entire time :/.

Comments ( 3 )

I know I preread this chapter but I still fucking lose it at the headbutting

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For a long time I struggled to figure out how to resolve the conflict with Jawbreaker until I thought "Oh, he'll just get headbutted, and he'll immediately understand everything."

time to start from ch 1 <3

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