• Published 1st Oct 2022
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Fallout Equestria: Influx - Under the Red Cloud - Lex the Pikachu



Fruity finds a solid lead to the whereabouts of Crystal's mother which leads them to the Sierra Maredre and into a fight for survival.

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Chapter 2: Toxic Welcome

Fallout Equestria: Influx
Under the Red Cloud

Chapter 2: Toxic Welcome

[Core System Initialising…]

The fog in my mind began to lift. The first sense to come back to me was touch. I could feel a scratchy fabric against my fur, and that I was laying on a cold and hard surface.

[Primary Systems Initialising…]

Next was my hearing. It started with a low howling, one that would repeat itself every few seconds. Next was my husband’s voice.

“Crystal, wake up. Oh please, Celestia, wake up.”

Hearing his desperation seemed to kickstart my brain. Memories of what happened rushed back to me.

[System Initialisation… Complete]

I gasped in shock and bolted upright. I hurriedly looked around until I found my husband standing a few feet away. With my whole body functioning again, I quickly stood up, rushed over and threw my forelegs around his neck in a tight hug, pressing my face into his neck.

“Oh Fruity, you’re ok!”

Fruity gasped and choked. “Hak! Crystal… Can’t breathe!”

I squeaked in embarrassment and quickly let go of the poor stallion. “Sorry.”

The pegasus gulped down a deep breath, but then immediately began hacking and coughing. I worriedly, yet gently, held onto him until he recovered.

“Are you ok?”

He gently waved me off. “Yeah, yeah. Ugh, just something in the air here that stinks.”

Now that he mentioned it. I could certainly smell something. Most of it I couldn’t identify, but the main thing I could smell was sulphur. Whatever this cocktail of chemicals was, it burned the inside of our throats with every breath.

“This air can’t be good for us.”

“It's not, Fruity.”

He groaned and sat down hard. It was then I noticed what he was wearing: some sort of dirty white jumpsuit with a red X painted on the back.

“What on Equus are you wearing?”

“Same shit you are dear.”

I looked down, and sure enough, I was in a similar garb. I also took note of the cobblestone road beneath our hooves.

“Fruity, where are we?” I asked, standing up on shaky legs. It was dark, like it was the middle of the night dark, and everything was in a shade of red. I turned on the spot, and I could see that we were in a large open space with a large fountain in the middle and roads branching off in all directions. The architecture surrounding us seemed Mareterranean, something I didn’t recognise as local.

Fruity coughed and pointed toward the northward road. It seemed to stop at a gate but it was too dark for me to read the sign above it. My gaze crept upwards, and above the red-shingled roofs was a large cliff; and on top of that was a huge, almost pristine tower with powerful spotlights illuminating it on all sides. The lights also lit up the blood red clouds in the sky, the most likely source of the red tint everywhere. As I stared, recognition soon dawned on me.

“The Sierra Maredre?!” I cried. I turned to my husband. “How the fuck did we get here?”

Fruity shrugged his wings. “Not a clue. I woke up in the fountain there a minute ago.”

“Wait, if we’re here then…” I gasped. No pony would know we were here. Out of habit, I brought my hoof to my left ear. The earpiece was missing, but that couldn’t stop me from trying to use my communication system.

“What are you doing?”

“Trying to reach Nexus.” My attempts however were not getting through. Something seemed to be blocking my signal. “I can’t reach him!”

Realising I was on the verge of a panic attack, Fruity hugged me tightly. “Hey, hey. It’ll be ok. Ava and Violet will be in good hooves until we get out of this.”

After taking a few deep, yet painful, breaths I managed to calm myself down. “Y-you’re right. Nexus and Xian will make sure the twins will be safe.”

“That’s right. There’s no need to worry for now. We can focus on getting out of here and… ah shit.”

“What? What is it?”

Fruity stared at my neck. “You’re wearing a slave collar.” He then reached up to feel his own neck, and his hoof bumped against a collar of his own. “Fuck. This complicates things.”

“Wait a slave collar? The kind that goes boom?”

Fruity nodded grimly.

“Ok, just what the fuck?”

Fruity groaned in annoyance. “Somepony clearly wants us for something if they collared us.”

“Yeah, but who?”

At that moment, a light blue light on top of the fountain turned on. It grew brighter until a hologram of a wire frame pony appeared.

“Holographic technology. That’s new,” I commented. The wireframe pony then faded into a unicorn supermodel that I recognised as Fleur De Lis.

Fruity whistled as the holographic Fleur struck her trademark pose and then abruptly vanished with an electric crack. She was replaced with a still image of a pegasus with a wild frizzy mane, dressed in a lab coat.

“Oh shit!” Fruity yelled, diving behind the fountain’s rim.

“What’s gotten into you?”

“He’s fucking Enclave!” Fruity whispered back.

Sure enough, I could see the emblem of the Grand Pegasus Enclave on his coat’s collar. I opened my mouth to say something, but was interrupted by a deep, rumbly masculine voice that seemed to buzz out from the fountain.

“You two awake? Good. From now on, when I talk, you LISTEN!”

“Who are you and what are we doing here?” I immediately yelled at the hologram.

“Who I am is not important right this minute. What is important is that you and that Dustwing behind the fountain there listen, and listen well. You are here because of your own greed. You heard the lure of the Sierra Maredre Casino and thought you could take what’s inside for yourself, but little did you know, I was already here.”

Fruity popped his head up with a look of confused surprise on his face as he stared up at the flickering hologram.

“I have spent too long working to get inside the Sierra Maredre Casino and I will not let some nopony scavengers take it from me. But, as I have found, one pony can’t do it alone, so you will have to gather a team.”

“A team? There are other ponies here?”

“Yes, collars nine and fourteen. Oh and if you think you can kill each other and take the Sierra Maredre for yourself, then here’s a warning: all your collars are linked. If one of you dies, you all die. If that’s what it takes to get your cooperation, then so be it.”

“Wait, wait,” Fruity cried out as he stood up. “So you’re telling us that if one of us dies here, everypony wearing a collar dies as well?”

“That is what I just said, Dustwing. Please try to pay attention. It may cost you your life,” the hologram reprimanded.

“Fruity, please don’t antagonise him,” I whispered harshly.

“You should listen to the winged Stripe. If you cannot perform the tasks I set before you, I will kill you and find somepony else.”

Fruity cringed and gently lifted a hoof to his collar, rubbing it nervously.

“So, now that I have your full attention, let me tell you what you need to do. Firstly, you will need to gather your team. Find collars nine and fourteen, and bring them here to the fountain. From there, I will relay further instructions to you once they are all gathered.

How you find and persuade these ponies to follow you I do not care. Avoid their traps and the local creatures, and be careful of the Red Cloud. You don’t want to be in it for long. You’re no use to me dead, otherwise I will have to rely on the next team.”

“Whoa, wait a minute! Traps? Creatures? We don’t have our gear, how are we supposed to defend ourselves?” Fruity yelled.

“The Sierra Maredre has a way of screening guests for foreign substances not allowed into the premises and removes them. Your gear will likely be where you were before you came to the Maredre, and besides, it's not like I've left you defenceless. I have left you my old holorifle. The weapon has served me well over the years.”

Fruity and I looked around, and eventually, Fruity found the weapon laying on the floor close to where he had woken up. It was practically camouflaged against the cobblestones.

“You do this, I’ll let you all go. Oh, and welcome to the Sierra Maredre, in all its glory.” And with that, the hologram faded, and the starlet reappeared.

“What the fuck have we gotten ourselves into this time?” Fruity whined, picking up the weapon.

“Another madpony’s scheme.” I sighed, I felt reminded of Colonel Ironside’s crusade from so long ago.

“Brilliant… So, what’s the plan?”

One brief coughing fit later, I looked around. Thankfully, my EFS was still working, so I had two direction markers to work with. One was pointed somewhere down the eastern road, and the other was down the western road.

“Hmm. Well, since we don’t want to be here any longer than we have too, maybe we should split up. Each of us finds one of the collared ponies,” I suggested.

“Yeah, ok, but we’ll need to take it slow. We don’t know what’ll lie around the corner.”

I nodded, and we began to move in opposite directions. I would take the eastern route, and Fruity the west. I suddenly stopped in my tracks, however, when I felt the collar throb and beep. I didn’t understand why, but as I stood there trying to figure it out, I could feel them getting faster. In fear, I turned around to find my husband about fifty feet away, also looking down at his collar, likely feeling the exact same thing. He took several steps towards me, and just as the beeps reached a quick pace, they stopped.

He looked between me and his collar in thought. After a few moments, he took several slow steps away, and when he was almost where he was before, the collars started up again. He quickly moved back until they stopped, then moved forward again until they started. This time he stayed there, feeling the beeps and throbs speeding up. When it almost became a single tone, he hurriedly moved back and then over to me.

“Well, this sucks. Seems we can’t go more than fifty feet from each other, and no more than thirty seconds of beeping until it likely blows.”

“I guess we have to stick together then.”

“That’s fine by me,” Fruity agreed. “So, we track down the collar on this side?”

“Well, since we can’t split up, I think we should take this time then to explore the villa so we can get an understanding of its layout. That way if we get into trouble and need to find something or make a quick exit, we’ll know where to run without hitting a deadend.”

“Gotcha. Exploring, then.”

“Yeah, and once we have a layout of the area, we’ll look for these other two.”

With a new plan set, we made our way down the eastern road together. Almost immediately, we came to an opening in the wall to our left that turned out to be a short passageway. On the other side, we could see a small open space. Curious, I walked through and onto a paved path. It ran the length of the wall and up the side, with balconies covering it all in shade. The most striking part of it all was the thick red cloud that seemed to churn all around inside, flowing out across the floor around our hooves.

“Hey, do you see that?” Fruity asked, pointing upward.

I looked to see an alcove up on the next level, with a white hoof print glowing inside it.

“I can see it, but what does it mean?”

“I dunno, but maybe if we can get up onto the balcony, we might get a better view.”

To our left was another hole in the wall, but this hole looked like something had bashed down the wall along with the door. Dangling from above on a single chain was a wooden sign, the etching in the wood being all that was legible.

Shop

“Looks like somepony blew the door down.” Fruity stated. We couldn’t see much of anything inside, apart from it being clearly a hallway containing an empty shelf and a metal cabinet. An open door in the back exposed a faint blue glow that likely was the shop proper.

We slowly made our way in towards the light as quietly as we could. Going through the door, we found ourselves in what looked like a general store, but with empty shelves lining the walls all around and small display cases smashed up along the counter. As for the light, it came from the blue holographic stallion standing behind the counter.

“A hologram?” I gasped.

We approached the counter, taking a closer look. The hologram took the form of an earth pony stallion, with no mane or tail and dressed in a three-piece suit. It flickered as it looked directly at us.

“Welco-Welcome.” Its voice buzzed with static. “H-h-how may I help y-you?”

“Bloody hell, it still works.”

“Only just. Um, how do we buy from you?” I asked.

“Please s-say ‘I would like to buy’ to-to-to activate vendor functions.”

“I would like to buy?”

A holographic display materialised in front of us with a list of items for sale. We knew we couldn’t buy anything since all our caps were in our confiscated clothes. Not that it mattered, since the currency needed here was the pre-war bit.

“Um, cancel?”

The display disappeared. “P-please come again.”

“Well, I suppose if we find any pre-war money lying around, we know we can use this vendor.”

With nothing else noteworthy, we made our way up a staircase tucked in the corner. Upstairs, we found a one-room, fully furnished bedsit. There was a closed bathroom door to our left, and an open balcony door to our right, complete with a view of the red cloud.

Stepping onto the balcony, which was thankfully covered by a roof, the floorboards creaked ominously, but held. The hoof print was visible on the far side, despite the red cloud’s unyielding thickness. Probably also helped that a lot of the wooden railings had rotted away.

“Hmm. I think I can see a box or something over there under that print,” Fruity said, squinting his eyes. “Fucking hell, the cloud’s literally cascading down from the roofs.”

“Think we can get across?”

“I wouldn’t want to breathe in any of that stuff. The alcove appears sheltered, though. If I take a deep breath and zoom across, I can find out what’s there. There’s no use in us both going.”

“Alright, but come straight back if it’s not safe.”

Fruity nodded and spread his wings. Taking the suggested deep breath, he zipped across. I felt the worry rise in my chest when my husband started coughing on the other side.

“Are you ok!?” I shrieked.

“Yeah… That cloud feels horrible on your feathers.”

I sighed in relief, only to notice my Threat Detection System was active. In fact, the glowing mark in my HUD seemed to flare brighter the closer I got to the cloud. It was Stable 16 all over again so I can’t rely on my cybernetic system here.

“What have you found?”

“I think I’ve found someone’s stash,” cried Fruity. “There’s some food, a couple of Stimpacks, a Rad-Away and a short-barreled six-shooter with a box of ammo to go with it.”

“Now that’s a stroke of luck right there.”

“Yeah and… HOLY SHIT!”

“What!? What is it?”

“I’ll show you when I get back to you.”

I saw him stand back up and move to a corner behind the wall. He came back out a few seconds later, but with something long on his back. He quickly flew back to me, smashing into the wall hooves first with enough force to punch holes several inches deep.

“Shit, are you ok?”

“Yeah, just fine.” He shivered and buzzed his wings, shaking out red dust from his feathers. Even he looked surprised at the holes he made. “Oh, that stuff is just wrong.” He then reached over to his back and pulled out an old, long rifle. He held it out for me, and I accepted it graciously.

“A Buckinghamshire Automatic Rifle?” I felt that familiar niggle in the back of my head. Once more, my electronic brain was supplying me with information.

“You sound surprised,” Fruity noted, organising the rest of the loot.

“Yeah, I kinda am. From what my database is telling me, these BARs were one of the first automatic rifles made for the Equestrian Military. They were widely used in the early stages of the war, but as weapon technology rapidly advanced, the BAR was quickly outclassed by smaller, lighter rifles with higher rates of fire.”

“I wonder why there’s one out here, then… Oh, here, the ammo box for it. You can have the revolver too.”

I thanked him and pocketed the ammo into my jumpsuit’s pockets. Turning the short-barrelled pistol over in my wings, I could see the insignia of the Sierra Maredre etched into the mouth grip, along with the initials: S.M.P.D. Luckily, my suit came with a strap on the foreleg, which I’d use as a suitable substitute for a holster.

“Well, knowing the Maredre had a police department means we should find plenty of these revolvers lying around.”

“Yeah. Still, we should keep an eye out for a workbench if we’re to maintain our gear.”

I picked up the BAR and looked it over again, finding the same etching on the back of the weapon’s receiver. A resort police force being armed with standard revolvers was one thing, but old military-grade weapons? We were stuck here for the time being, so I assumed we’d find out as we went along.

“It’ll be great if we can find a bag. These suits don’t have magic pockets like our coats do,” Fruity grumbled, the food and medical aid he found bulging out his pockets uncomfortably. I found myself agreeing with him, what with my own overstuffed pockets feeling uncomfortable on my flanks. Regardless, we were armed and had some supplies, which was ultimately for the better.

We retraced our steps until we were back on the main road going east. The road itself was actually quite narrow; no carriage could possibly get through it. In fact, everything felt too narrow; even the balconies were only a couple of feet apart from each other. It took us only one right turn and two right turns to feel like we were stuck in some kind of maze. All of this had us on edge as we took our time, looking out for anything hostile, but only coming across scores of wall fountains, all filled with nothing but Sierra Maredre chips, which interestingly, had the same value as a pre-war bit each (according to my Pipbuck). Naturally, we took them all. Another thing we could see as we moved were various bits of graffiti left behind from those that died here previously.

After a couple of minutes of walking, we came across an intersection. The road to our right led to a large wooden gate with a sign post marking it as the Residential District. A quick look at my EFS revealed that one of our ‘teammates’ was beyond those doors. Nevertheless, we both still felt too unfamiliar with our environment, so we continued eastward, intent on returning later.

More twists and turns later, we came to a large open space, with another set of wooden gates ahead of us, a rectangular plaza to our right, and several dead trees along the way. The whole area seemed exceedingly dark, what with the red cloud blotting out the sun and the street lights not working. Definitely helped creeping up the place.

We edged our way towards the wooden gate, but as we got close, my Pipbuck suddenly screeched with static. The Enclave pegasus spoke through its speakers.

“Don’t go into Salida del Sol. Gather the others first.”

I let out a shocked scream and fell on my haunches hard.

“Faust, that scared the shit out of me!”

I stared at my Pipbuck in bewilderment. How did he contact me through my Pipbuck? Was he watching us?

Just then, the sound of a kicked tin can rang out in the dark plaza.

“Did you hear that?” Fruity blurted.

“Yeah.”

We looked and listened in high alert, and soon we could hear slow hoof steps. Fruity flapped his wings to hover and pulled out his Holorifle. I quickly started reloading the BAR off my back, pulling the .308 rounds out of my pocket and feeding them into the magazine with a click.

“Sounds like a zombie,” Fruity muttered to himself.

As if on cue, the hoof steps got closer, and the pattern sounded odd right off the bat. The creature emerged from behind an arch, moving in an almost drunken manner with its head swinging like a pendulum and a hindleg dragging behind. It was covered head to hoof in a brown-hooded hazmat suit, and the lenses of its mask appeared to glow green. There was no mane or tail to speak of, and with each raspy breath it took, a haze of red mist came out of the air filter.

“I was kidding about the zombie thing…”

“What the fuck is that?”

“No idea, but we’re about to see what this thing does.” Fruity levelled his rifle and pulled the trigger. A blue holographic cube was fired, trailing blue particles behind it as it flew. It struck the creature in the head, throwing its head back and engulfing it in a blue glow. Seeming momentarily stunned, Fruity pumped and fired a second head shot, causing it to explode in a shower of blood and blue particles.

“Huh. So that’s what it does.”

Fruity pumped the weapon again. He quickly scooped up the spent cells and pocketed them. We then approached the dead creature.

“Again, I was kidding about the zombie thing,” Fruity muttered at what we saw. The flesh around the neck appeared to be very decomposed, with a sickly greenish-yellow hue and whatever passed for blood coming out as a dark red and white puss. I picked up a broken roof tile and stuck it in the gap between flesh and suit, and pulled it up. We could see the remnants of fur beneath the suit, indicating that this had been a pony once.

“Ever seen anything like this before, Fruity?”

“Closest I’ve seen are Ghouls, but they’re more alive than this thing. This is something else entirely.”

This place was getting weirder by the second. And more dangerous.

“We need to push on.”

We continued deeper into the plaza. I was getting more and more uncomfortable as we progressed. My threat warning system was constantly active; an enemy could’ve been anywhere at anytime.

As we approached the far end, we saw a street light flash inside a ginnel. As it did, we could spot a pile of ammo boxes at the end.

“Do you see that?”

“Yeah, we could really use-WHOA!” I screeched. A spear came flying right at me. I barely managed to duck. The light flickered again, and another hazmat pony stood in the ginnel with a spear in hoof.

“Look out!” Fruity yelled. We dodged another spear, watching it slam into the dead tree trunk behind us. The spear itself turned out to be makeshift, nothing more than a pool cue and a large kitchen knife.

Fruity took aim and fired. The creature made a strange sound and suddenly dodged to the side. It looked as if it had briefly phased out of existence.

“Shit! I only got one shot left,”

“I got a full mag in this. I’ll take care of it.”

I quickly grabbed my BAR with my wings. The light flickered again and I sighted up its head. Pulling the trigger, I unleashed a short burst of four rounds.

“Damn, that thing’s loud!”

“And it kicks like an apple farmer,” I added painfully. The recoil was so strong I was already sore, maybe even bruised.

Two of the bullets landed in its head; one in the cheek, and one through a lens. The creature let out a gurgled moan as it slumped to the floor and fell still. I was about to suggest going through the ginnel when I noticed the red mist was still coming out of its respirator..

“It's not dead!”

And sure enough, mere seconds later, the creature shuddered and got back up. Its limbs folded and cracked awkwardly as it rose back up to its hooves.

“What the actual fuck?!”

I cried out in alarm and levelled my rifle again. I held the trigger down tightly, my only intention being to unleash a stream of death upon the damned thing. Eventually, the weapon clicked empty and I became aware of Fruity yelling at me. I panted and stared at the mutilated remains and severed limbs left on the floor..

“Crystal! Crystal, it's ok, it's dead! It’s not getting up after that!”

I took a couple of deep breaths to calm myself, even as the toxic air made me cough a bit. After reassuring my husband, we approached the body. What was still attached was riddled with large holes, whilst the rest of its big chunks were scattered all over. I chastised myself for using up the entire mag, leaving both of our primary weapons with only four rounds remaining. I could also see multiple clasps that must’ve been used to seal up the suit. Each and every one of them were rusted shut. Something had caused them to corrode which in turn sealed whoever was in the suit inside.

Besides that, we helped ourselves to its leftover spears. Fruity took one of them and untied the kitchen knife off the other to give to me. I put the knife into the strap on my other foreleg.

“It would look like we need to dismember these things to put them down permanently.”

“That’ll be hard to do with our lack of ammo, and I don’t think these little revolvers will be any good for that.”

“Hmm.. We should check those ammo boxes or else we’re gonna be in trouble.”

We walked through the ginnel into a small square, with yet another balcony above us on nearly all sides. Unfortunately, the red cloud was thicker on the far side for whatever reason, right where the ammo boxes were stashed. Fruity got the idea to use the knife spear to grab the boxes by their handles, which he implemented with success. There were three in total, all providing us much needed supply for our weapons. And by that, I meant just a couple mags worth for our primaries, and a surplus of .357’s for our revolvers.

After reloading, we took note of the open door to our left and went through. It led into a storage closet that had nothing useful, so we left. Since the mystery pegasus didn’t want us going into ‘Salida Del Sol’ yet, we decided to head back and go west. When we got close to the Residential District, Fruity asked if we should find the pony collared there, but I suggested we check out the west side first to find some more supplies. Thankfully, we made it to the town centre without getting lost and wasted no time in heading down the western road.

We didn’t get far before something caught our attention. Under one of the walkways, we could see a faint blue glow. Investigating revealed it coming from a strange golden pedestal, and a golden ring atop it.

“What’s this?”

“I dunno, honey. Also, I can’t see where the light’s coming from. Like, at all”

Fruity was right. The strange contraption didn’t seem to have any obvious light source beyond somewhere around the ring.

“Hey, look, it’s another one of those chips,” Fruity said, pointing to an etching of its likeness.

“Hmm…” I used a wing to fish a coin out. Just under the etching was a coin slot, and so, I inserted the coin. The pedestal made a chiming sound, and the blue light seemed to emit from the very centre of the ring. Next, a hologram of a vendor appeared, fairly similar to the one at the shop from before.

“Another vendor?”

“I’m not sure. Could be.” I browsed its inventory. It primarily had food, drink and other commodities such as cigarettes; generally, stuff that was less than ten chips a piece. However, this time, there was a tab for speciality items, and when I tapped it, a warning message popped right up. It stated that I didn’t have access to any special items and that I’d need to redeem a code to unlock them.

“Guess we’ll need some codes lying around then.” Fruity idly muttered to himself.

I nodded and tapped the screen to return. But now, for some reason, all the prices were now practically halved. Some items had disappeared from the list entirely.

“Do you have anything we could test this out with?”

“Uh, actually, yes.” Fruity bent down to a small wooden box beside the pedestal and plucked out a pack of cigarettes from it.

“That’s convenient,” I said, accepting the pack. “Now what do I do?”

“Hey, there’s a help button.” Fruity used his wing to tap the small help icon in the top corner. What followed was a short and brief cartoony demonstration of what to do. Apparently, we just had to hold the item near the ring. Thus, I held out the pack of cigarettes tentatively, inching them closer and closer to the glowing ring. I gasped and pulled my wing back as the item began to glow, and then disintegrate into particles of light. Once the whole thing had disappeared, five chips dropped down into a tray a little further down the pedestal’s base.

“Five chips for a pack of fags?”

“Did you see that, though? It just bloody disintegrated!”

“Its gotta be one of those magi-tech things.”

“You think so?”

I selected the buy tab to look at the food/water selections once more. The purified water was marked as six chips, and luckily, between the chip I’d put in earlier and the five I earned from the cigs, I had just what the machine needed. I tapped the water icon, and we both watched in amazement as a bottle of water apparently phased into existence and dropped onto the pedestal with a thunk and a slosh.

“Dude, is that real?”

I reached out and gently picked up the bottle. It felt solid in my wing’s grasp and I could feel the cool temperature. I slowly twisted off the cap and brought the rim to my lips, taking a small sip. My eyes widened.

“It’s real!”

Fruity took the bottle next and did the same. He, too, was astounded.

“These pedestals are like something straight out of Star Trot.”

“Huh?”

“Oh, it’s a pre-war sci-fi show. I’ll show it to you once we get out of this. I’m sure I got it on holotape somewhere.”

We spent more chips to stock up on food and water before moving on. A short distance later, we came to a fork in the road. One road went north towards another large gate, and the other went south and up a flight of stairs. We went north first, only for the pegasus to interrupt us yet again on my Pipbuck, almost making me jump out of my skin again.

Are you lost? Don’t go into Puesta Del Sol until you’ve found the other collars. Do not deviate!”

“Faust almighty, don’t do that!” I shrieked.

“He fucking chooses his moments well, don’t he?”

“You’re telling me. Thank Celestia, I didn’t scream that time, otherwise we’d probably have more of those hazmats crawling up our asses.”

We headed for the stairs down southward. At its base, we could see an open door leading into a small villa apartment. Inside, we were greeted with a typical living room, and up the stairs was a bedroom with a customary balcony. From up there, we could see a path to the main street, and another one after that, around the corner.

“Hey Crys, can you hear that?” asked Fruity, his ears twitching.

I listened, and after a moment, I could hear the sound of a bell ringing; like an old school’s dinner bell.

“I can hear it.”

It would ding for a couple of seconds and then stop, and then start ringing again. We soon realised that it was on a continuous loop.

“What do you think it is?”

“I’m not sure, but we should be wary. Bells make noise, and you know what noise attracts.”

“Shit, yeah. Ugh, damn this place…”

On our way out, we found a first aid box with a couple of stimpacks in it. At least we could say our supplies were looking much better now. We cautiously made our way to the main street. Another set of stairs went up west, and beyond that, another town square, with another big fountain filled with chips for the taking. At the far end of that was yet another set of stairs leading to a narrow street going south. A quick glance to my EFS revealed that we were closing in on the other collar.

“We’re getting closer to the collar down that way. We might as well find it now.”

Fruity nodded while we looted the fountain. I felt like my pockets were about to burst with all the chips jingling around inside them. I held them close with my wings to lessen the sound. Doing so reminded me of how my mother used to hold her pockets during Hearth’s Warming, trying to dampen the sound and hide from the charity collectors who’d swarm like vultures until they had every last bit.

It wasn’t like she was greedy or anything. She just had her limits to what she could give away…

My mother. That was why I was here. No matter what danger we were in, no matter what crazy pony was trying to use us or kill us, even if it meant being away from my own foals, I had to be here. I had to know if she was ever here. Or if this was her final resting place.

“Hey check this out,” Fruity called. He was standing beside the stairs, nearby a wall-mounted terminal.

“What’ve you found?”

“This terminal apparently controls a hologram, but that’s not what I wanted you to see. It’s this.” He gestured to the wall beside it where words had been carved into the brick wall. All the letters were backwards. It took me a moment to figure out what it said but once I understood, I read it out loud.

You can’t control me forever. I know you’ll come. I’ll be waiting.

“What do you think it means?”

“Who knows? Probably left behind by some mad scavenger.”

“Sounds reasonable enough.”

“So which way should we go, honey?”

“One sec.” I scaled the stairs to see where the narrow road led and leaned out from the archway at the bottom. The road ended in a huge plaza, surrounded by the villa. At the back corner, a small sign hung on the wall with the word ‘Police’ on it. The ringing bell was coming from there.

“It looks like there’s a police station down there, and my EFS is pointing directly at it.”

“Ok, then. Let’s get this over with.”

Fruity joined my side, and we walked into the narrow street together. And, Celestia above, was it narrow. If I had claustrophobia, I’d have been losing my mind right then and there.

Along the way, we found several rusted boxes. We checked each of them out to find nothing but miscellaneous junk. We still collected some of it, at least what we thought the vending machines would give us chips for.

“Ugh, we really need to find a bag.” Fruity groaned.

Just before entering the plaza, our eyes were drawn to the villa closest to us. Mostly, it was because of the hole in the wall, which exposed a makeshift ramp of wooden planks that apparently went from the balcony above to the first floor. Curious, we approached the door.

“Want to see what’s up there?” Fruity asked.

“Sure, why not?”

He pushed the door open, and the red cloud rolled out and over us like a tidal wave. My entire body felt like it was on fire, even the inside of my throat seemed to ignite with each breath.

[WARNING! IMMEDIATE HEALTH RISK DETECTED!]

I hooked a foreleg around my husband’s and used my wings to quickly propel ourselves backwards. The moment we were out of its range, I let Fruity go and collapsed onto my haunches, hacking and wheezing.

“St-stimpak!” I croaked weakly. Fruity and I rummaged through our pockets until we each pulled one out, and jabbed the needles into our forelegs. With a hiss and a snap, the burning subsided and I sighed in relief. Fruity spat blood as he recovered.

“Ugh, t-that stuff is horrible!” He coughed. “T-thank hoofness for Stimpaks.”

I groaned in discomfort. “H-how are you feeling?”

“Uh, like shit… That cloud can really fuck you up.”

“I think you should take another stimpak. You don’t look so good.”

Fruity nodded and searched himself for another. I sat up and pondered again at the unique dangers we kept running into around this place.

“Say, you went through the cloud before to get to that last stash. Was it as bad as this?”

Fruity grunted as he injected himself again. “Ahhh, that's much better. And no, it was nothing like that.” He got back onto his hooves and shook his body, his wings flapping hard as he dispelled red dust from his feathers. “I was partially sheltered before, and I didn’t breathe any of it in.”

“So breathing the stuff in is at least ten times worse than it is just flowing over you… I really hate this place.”

“Eeyup. Ok, I think I’m good now. Let’s keep moving. I want to get out of this hell hole as soon as possible.”

I gave Fruity a couple of minutes more to recover, then I decided it would be easier and safer to fly up to the balcony. The balcony itself was sparse save for a small table with a broken radio set and a first aid box. Inside the box were two stimpaks. The irony forced a groan out of me. I grabbed them and jumped back down, landing with a stone-cracking thud.

“Fucking shit!” Fruity cried, jumping in fright. “Don’t do that!”

“Sorry, honey. Here found these up there.”

“Oh, for fuck’s sake.” He took the stimpaks with the same grumpiness I felt.

I patted his back with my wing, and then my ears twitched. I could hear those raspy respirators, coming from the plaza around the corner from us..

“Great. More of them,” Fruity muttered..

I flattened myself against the wall as much as possible before inching forward as quietly as I could. Peeking around the corner, I could see two of them shuffling forward. One of them carried a weapon that looked like a bear trap, and the other one had one of those knife spears. Satisfied, I stepped back.

“Two of them. Think you can snipe them with that rifle of yours?”

“This thing isn’t exactly quiet but I should be able to get one before alerting the other.”

“Ok, I’ll act as a distraction if it goes wrong.”

We moved out into the plaza, keeping low. When the hazmats were in sight, Fruity lay prone and readied his rifle, wrapping a feather on the trigger. Fruity muttered something, and then he pulled the trigger. There was a bright muzzle flash, and the cube sailed. The closest turned their head, and was immediately hit in the face, its head snapping back and disintegrating, its body collapsing without another twitch. Unfortunately, the other one was now alert, and it phased to the side. It launched a spear at us, and Fruity ducked down as far as he could.

“Running distraction!” I whipped out my pistol and rushed to the side, firing blindly towards the creature. I knew the rounds wouldn’t pack much of a punch, but that didn’t matter at the moment. My distraction worked, and it threw another spear. I skidded to a stop as it impacted the ground in front of me.

“Shit!” I was about to change direction when I saw another spear flying. I ducked but let out a scream of pain as the blade sliced through my jumpsuit and cut across my flank. It was at that moment that another cube smashed into the creature’s head, knocking it off its hooves.

“Quick, we gotta dismember it!” Fruity shouted, galloping forward and scooping up one of the spears. I grabbed the spear in front of me. Together, we stabbed the blades into the creature’s neck, pushing and pulling our respective spears like a pair of scissors, chopping off the creature’s head before it could recover.

“I already hate these things.”

“Me too,” I grumbled.

“Shit, are you alright!? You’re bleeding?”

I looked back at my flank. There was a long gash across it, but the blood flow was already slowing down to a trickle. Being a cyborg, the majority of my blood was kept between my brain, heart and lungs, so flesh wounds weren’t much of a concern. Not to mention, I had my regen talisman, which was already doing its job. However, there was something else wrong…

“I don’t know Fruity. I can’t put my hoof on it, but something doesn’t feel right.”

“This Cloud might be affecting you just as much as me.”

“Hmm. Maybe.”

The ringing bell caught our attention. We approached the police station, and as we got closer, my vision became staticky around the edges. I reached out a hoof for the door handle, but just before touching it, I hesitated.

“I don’t think we should go through the front.”

“Yeah, I don’t like this either.”

“Let’s see if we can find a backdoor.”

We moved away, and my vision cleared up. We came up to a planter, and beside it was a pile of twisted metal. Studying it, I could tell it was burnt, but it didn’t look as old as everything around us. It looked like it came from some kind of aircraft. In fact, there was a gouge in the road trailing behind the metal, as if the metal crashed down from somewhere on the cliff above us. Looking up, I could see that some of the roofs along the same trajectory were damaged, and that there was a big hole in the top of a tower. I gasped.

“I think I know how that Enclave pegasus got here.”

“Oh yeah?”

“I think he crashed here. Look.” One by one, I pointed at all the evidence.

“Huh. You may be right. I suppose we can ask him when we talk to him next.”

I nodded. We deserved some answers after all this. We then proceeded to look for another entrance. Eventually, we found another alleyway beside the Police Station, and it appeared to lead somewhere behind the station.

Just inside the alley, we saw another backwards message carved into the wall.

Snake may be willing to serve, but I am not. You want her, you come to me so we can… talk.

“I wonder who that’s for.”

I shrugged. Everything around here was crazy, so a bunch of ramblings on the walls made little difference.

Cautiously, we continued forward. As we came to a sharp left turn, we saw another apartment with its door wide open. Thankfully, this one didn’t have any red cloud inside, so we decided to explore it in hopes of finding more supplies.

The layout was basically the same as all the other apartments before it. We found several well-preserved photo frames, each depicting a mare in a Sierra Maredre police uniform. We also found a couple more police pistols; one of which I used to repair my own, and the other I insisted Fruity to take it. We didn’t find any more medical supplies, unfortunately.

The last thing of note we found was a large metal cabinet built into the bedroom closet. Pulling it open showed us something that put a smile on my face: a suit of Sierra Maredre security armour.

“Neat!”

“Bought time we found some better protection.”

I pulled the yellow and black jumpsuit out of the cabinet. The insignia of the Maredre decorated its flanks, and the chest and back were thick with armour plates. It even had a removable section on the back so that pegasi could wear it, which suited us just fine..

“Here, you should wear it. You’re more vulnerable than me,” I proposed, holding the suit out to him.

To my surprise, he declined and pushed it back to me gently. “Be that as it may, your life is more valuable to me, so I’d rather you wear it. Besides, the Police Station is just next door, so we’ll likely find more suits inside.”

“You sure?”

He nodded with a smile.

“Well, if you insist, but as soon as we find another suit, you’re wearing it.”

He chuckled and left the closet to give me privacy while I changed. The suit hugged my body, covering every inch of my legs and body minus my wings and head. The boots felt heavy too. When I gently tapped my hoof against the cabinet, I could tell they were steel hoof caps. Another thing I discovered was that it had those magic pockets where we could stuff all our items inside without it bulging out. Once fully dressed, I rejoined my husband.

“Let’s go find our new friend.”

We left the apartment and headed onward. Soon, we found the station’s back door. Hopefully, whatever was inside would be better than out here.

Author's Note:

Happy New Year everypony.

I'm sorry for the delay. I had originally wanted to release this chapter on Christmas Day but for the past 2 weeks i've been ill and in great pain. I am thankfully on the mend and it no longer hurts like hell to just get up.

Thank you all for keeping with my new story and I hope you've enjoyed the new chapter. I hope you'll continue to enjoy my work.

Have a wonderful new year everypony and here is a piece i commissioned by the talented Rand-dums on DA of Crystal in her Maredre armour.