• Published 8th Oct 2012
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Fallout Equestria: Viva Las Pegasus - S3rb4n



A story of rise and fall set up in the post-apocalyptic city of New Pegasus

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Chapter 2: Wild World

Chapter 2: Wild World

“Hello again and good morning everypony, this is Mister New Pegasus speaking for all the keen ears out there. I got to see the sun today, from the top of the Platinum Horseshoe tower. It was glorious, those majestic beams of light coming out from the mountains in the East. You know, even if the word in the streets is that the Light Bringer reopened the clouds, I find it rather funny that we don’t get to see the sun that often in New Pegasus. Today, however, I’ve finally made it, and I feel like a new pony right now.

Let’s go with the news, shall we? The premiere opening of the Platinum Horseshoe was a total success, with all the ponies that are meant to be something in this glorious city walking the red carpet. This humble reporter was invited to the celebration as well, and I must confess, the casino looks as distinguished as we all pictured it to be. For a moment, I had the feeling that the bombs never fell. Actually, friends, the decorators have had the idea to hang a massive picture of Pre-War times on the lobby wall. Guess what it is! It’s a picture of Princess Celestia on the grand opening of the original Platinum Horseshoe casino. It almost made me shed a tear of joy.

On to other, less glamorous issues. As many predicted, the first ups and downs with the NER delegation have started to happen. Ambassador Merry Fields gave a public speech in front of the embassy building in which she stated that the NER’s purpose was to bring a law-abiding, modern government to all of the former Equestria, from Canterlot to Stalliongrad, from Manehattan to Maredrid.

And where does this leave New Pegasus, you might ask yourself. Indeed, the speech led many a pony to think that an entire army of the NER is advancing towards our beloved home and the Ambassador is just an agent meant to open the gates to the invader. Again, don’t rush to grab your guns, little ponies. Let’s wait to see what the Ambassador meant with those words. If you want this humble reporter’s honest opinion, I’m not against an NER-controlled Wasteland. I’ve heard many tales of slavery, rape and murder along the lands of Equestria; and I think that some law enforcement could turn the wastes into something a bit more...civil. Still, that’s good as long as they don’t intend to climb the walls and own the Strip.

And now, while we wait for things to unfold, how about some music? I’ve got something really classic here on my turntable. I leave you with one of the greatest recordings of the legendary Octavia. Remember, you’re listening to New Pegasus Radio, and I’m Mister New Pegasus, straight into your souls...”

My stomach roared, as I hadn’t eaten anything in the whole day and I was starting to feel too weak. I had to find something to eat, even if that meant looking in a dumpster.

“Hey, you, newcomer!” A beige stallion with a blue and white mane caught my attention. He was wearing a dirty armor made of what looked like reinforced leather plates with small metal rivets. He meant danger, no doubt.

“What is it?”

“Y’know, Freedom Field is an unsafe place. Thugs all about the place, you could get robbed, or worse. That is, unless you hire me for protection.”

The first statement was true, as well as the second statement. The third statement, on the other hoof, was a blatant lie. He was as dangerous as the rest of the thugs, if not more.

“I’m sorry, but I have absolutely nothing to pay you with.”

“Ok, whatever. Don’t come whining back if you end up beaten in a side alley!”

I trotted past the thug, wanting to give an impression of security and confidence, although the truth was that I knew he was right, and that had me shaking. This wasn’t the Stable anymore, nor was it the seemingly orderly city of New Pegasus. This was the Wasteland in a nutshell; a place where death roamed around every corner. A soulless, bleak pit of corruption where a pony had no friends. A nightmare so twisted it made you want to blow your head off.

And the thing is, that perspective was tempting, since the hunger numbed my mind and made my legs feel shaky. I could just lie down and wait for death to come to me, or maybe I could piss one of the locals badly enough to get myself shot. It wouldn’t be too hard, given the tough look of the ponies around.

New Pegasus was civilized, or it was wrapped in an appearance of civilization. The mares and stallions inside were clean and tidy, they dressed in fancy suits and dresses, their manes were carefully combed and cut. Out here, instead, the Wasteland was starting to reveal its true, horrid face. Ponies dressed in rags were lying on the alleys, sleeping or begging for some money, while thugs wearing menacing armors and big guns walked around cockily, probably showing off their firepower.

The buildings weren’t shiny and glamorous anymore. In Freedom Field, the paint had fallen off the blocks, revealing the bricks underneath. Most of the windows were gaping mouths open to the cold night, unless they had been barred with wooden planks. Most of the street level shops had been already pillaged so many times that even the tiles on the floor had been ripped apart to be sold for a ridiculous price.

While New Pegasus gave an appearance of opulence and Old Equestria class, Freedom Field was a taste of the New Equestria, the rambling desolation that came as a consequence of the megaspells and the War. However, I immediately noticed that, even if dark, gloomy and ravaged; this place wasn’t violent and chaotic. There was order behind every single fact. The thug in the door warning you of the dangers of Freedom Field. The drunkards sleeping on a side alley, far from the main path for traders and travellers; the poor beggars heating their hooves on a flaming barrel close to a corner; the thugs patrolling up and down the streets. Freedom Field was a macabre dance, but it was a clockwork mechanism.

An old mare with a toothless muzzle dressed in rags came stumbling to me. At first I felt disgusted, but then I realized, to my despair, that she and I weren’t all that different after all.

“Please, son... Could you spare a cap to eat?” The poor lady begged.

“I’m so sorry. I don’t have anything on me.” I looked at her eyes. At first I had thought she might have been a drunkard or something, but her eyes were clean. She was desperate, fighting for her life. I felt a shiver of guilt down my spine, because she deserved to be helped, but I was hungry as well. In the Stable, I would probably have given her my ration and waited for another one for me. Out here, it was either her or me, so with sorrow grasping my soul like the talon of a griffin I gave her my coldest glare.

“But son... I need to eat something...” Her voice sounded frail, which made me feel even worse, but my reason told me to keep distant.

“I can’t spare anything, ma’am.”

I walked past her. I thought she might have attacked me or something, as desperate as she looked, but she just lowered her head and turned around. I felt like crying, but something inside told me not to. I had done the right thing.

I kept wandering around the street, looking for something to calm my hunger and end my weakness, but all my efforts were useless, since the dumpsters had already been searched through and the vendors wouldn’t spare even the tiniest bit of food. Besides, I wasn’t the only one looking for something to put in his mouth. I saw mothers beg for food, one of them even offering her body as a payment in exchange of something to eat. The very thought of it was disturbing, but I just stood there watching how a slimy buck handed a stick with a bunch of charred balls to the mare, who gave it to her foals. Then the vendor took the mare to a side street and fucked her violently, while the rest of the ponies around looked and cheered. I saw the tears of the mother roll down her cheeks as she was lying headfirst on the cold asphalt, the fat vendor ramming her from behind, and I just stood there, watching, even if in the very bottom of my heart I knew I should have done something. My head, however, was telling me that this was the world I had been sent to.

“Shouldn’t we do something about this?” I asked, perplexed.

“What? She can’t pay, so she offers sex for food. It’s a trade after all, isn’t it?”

Another mare, more sensitive than all of us, took the foals away from the brutal show. I felt bad about all this, however, the reply I had been given was rather logical. I was hungry as well, and I understood that if I wanted food I’d have to offer something in return... And that mare... That mare had her body... She was a young, fine looking mare... What... what was going on? Oh, the hunger... My brain felt numb, as if my head was sunken in a dense fluid... My legs were starting to shake... Damn, I felt so weak... What... Was I fainting?

Then, everything went black and I felt the cold road on my side.

*** *** ***

The first thing I felt was hunger. My stomach started to growl and tremble, letting me know I hadn’t eaten since I had left the Stable. How long had it been already? One day; two, maybe? The next thing that I felt was pain. It wasn’t the lacerating, burning pain of a gaping wound (damn papercuts) or a gash, it was more the remnant of a past pain, a muffled, pulsating feeling that travelled my entire body in waves. I could feel all my muscles stiffen as the wave of pain went through them, and relax when it was over. I focused my still numb mind in what my body was going through, trying to regain control of myself. Slowly, since my brain was still in a state of half-consciousness and everything felt as if I was sunken in a strange, viscous environment, I managed to stiffen the muscles of my left foreleg as the pulsating feeling went through it, and the pain became real. It wasn’t muffled anymore, this time it felt like my foreleg had been skewered on a spear. I was awake.

A soft noise floated in the air, the sound of a conversation that was taking place at a distance, yet muted so that I couldn’t listen who was talking and what they were saying. I came to realize that it wasn’t a single conversation, but many of them happening at the same time and coming from different places. I remembered to have fainted in the middle of the street, but the floor beneath was soft and comfortable like a cushion; although it smelled bad, a mixture of pony sweat and other bodily fluids. Therefore, I had been moved, since I wasn’t lying on asphalt anymore. Funnily enough, what would have made me want to throw up didn’t stir me at all now. It seemed that I was getting used to this new, harsh environment.

I opened my eyes, not without some effort. I definitely knew I had been moved during the time I was unconscious, and I found out that I wasn’t out in the open, but inside what looked like a small tent. The shelter was made of some kind of opaque, heavy-looking cloth material, which didn’t allow sunlight to enter the tent, making it dark inside. However, a stream of light from the entrance of the structure cut the darkness and lit dimly the interior. I could see I was lying on an old mattress, covered by a sheet of coarse cotton. There was nothing in the tent besides me and a table in the darker side of it, and that was not all; as I could distinguish the silhouette of a pony standing in the darkness. Who was he and what was he doing in here with me? And also, where on Equestria was I now?

“Uhm...where...where am I?” I mumbled.

“Oh, crikey. Are you fully awake, mate?” asked the pony in the darkness, who definitely had to be a stallion, according to the depth of the voice. Yet, there were details that gave him a strange feeling. First, the voice sounded... jagged, grating; just as if stone was being scraped by another stone. Secondly, he had an odd accent, different from everything I had heard before, even in the Outside.

“Err, I think so.” I shook my head trying to fight the dizziness I was feeling at the moment.

“Jolly good! When they found you on the street, we all thought you were done for, old chap.” He sounded happy, no doubt. Was that happiness honest, though?

“What... what am I doing here?”

“You fainted in the middle of the street, mate. Almost drove the attention out of the free sex show in the side street.” I couldn’t see his face, but I was pretty sure my companion wasn’t too proud about it. “I hate this about this place. You know, Freedom Field could be a lovely place if it wasn’t for this riffraff.”

So, I was still in Freedom Field. I now had to decide if that meant good or bad news, even if I had other matters in mind at the moment. The fact that the strange-speaking pony didn’t move from his dark vantage point was starting to make me feel uncomfortable. I was still lying down on the mattress and thus, defenseless except for the telekinesis I could pull out, which wasn’t too good either; which meant that I would have to speak my way out of this situation again if I wanted to obtain what I was looking for.

“I don’t want to be rude,” I said, trying to give my voice a soft and convincing tone, “but the fact that you keep yourself concealed is making me feel rather... odd. Would you please come out into the light?”

Silence, tense and uncomfortable silence. Obviously, he didn’t want to show himself, which made me trust him less second by second, although something did happen, because he moved. Up to that instant, he had been standing totally still, just as if he was a living statue, or shackled, or somehow tied to the floor, but now he had changed his position, even if it was just having lifted a hoof and placed it somewhere else.

“Not a problem, mate. Let me warn you, though. I’m not a pleasant sight for a newcomer, that’s why I keep myself in the dark.” He did sound worried.

Slowly, one hoof after another, the mysterious pony started moving from behind the table and into the light. I swear to Celestia herself that I had to force myself not to scream in fear and disgust when I saw the mockery of a pony that appeared in the stream of light. The moss green fur that coated him had almost fallen off, leaving a sickly green colored hide in sight, or even worse, the muscles beneath. The mane had been reduced to some loose strands falling feebly aside. Apparently, it had been wheat-golden... a long time ago. His eyes had turned opaque and vitreous, and his muzzle was full of gashes. It was horrid, indeed, yet I forced myself to keep looking.

“Now you see what I mean, don’t you?” he asked bitterly.

“I’m sorry, I-I-I have been rude. Wha-what is your name?” Well look at me now, stuttering like a foal. If I intended to look unstirred, I was giving right the opposite feeling.

“The name is Jolly Trotter, although everybody knows me as Mixer. There’s a jolly funny story behind the name, young lad. I bet you’d never imagine why the mates here called me Mixer. You give up? Oh, good, I’ll tell you. It’s because I used to be a bartender here in Las Pegasus before the War. Best cocktails in town, won the contest three times in a row. Even Princess Celestia had one or two one night. Oh, you should have heard her sing...”

“I’m Farsight, pleased to... before the WAR? But that was like two hundred and twenty years ago? How is that even possible?”

Mixer started laughing out loud. Was he mocking me? No, no, it didn’t sound like that... his laughter sounded honest, pure - for a rotting carcass, that is - and just out of good sport. However, I had been really serious in the question. Maybe my face was funny?

“Oh, you sure can be funny sometimes!” he chuckled. “You don’t know anything about ghouls, don’t you?”

“Ghouls?”

“Exactly, mate. Ghoul ponies. You know, the thing about and megaspells is that they don’t blow up and go away. They leave a nasty aftertaste called radiation.”

“I know about radiation, Mixer. I read about it on the Stable records.”

“I’m not saying you don’t, lad. Just for you to know, those Stable records are not better that my decaying skin. Anyway, as I was telling you, most of the vermin you’ll see if you travel the wastes is product of the radiation. It turns the beautiful into ugly, the cuddly into deadly; and in enough amounts, it turns a perfectly healthy stallion into this. Everyday I wake up to find a strand of my mare on the floor, or a chunk of hide, or a tooth, or even part of my hoof. I’m rotting as if I was dead, thing is, I live. Don’t look at me like that, it’s not painful, it’s just nasty, and in exchange, I’ve stopped aging, so to speak.”

“And that decay won’t make you lose your mind?”

“That’s a good question, old chap!” Mixer stomped a hoof on the floor to emphasize the answer. “It might happen someday. At some point sooner or later, all ghoul ponies go feral and turn into what we call feral ghouls. Yes, the name is obvious. However, if you come across any of those, shoot to kill! They won’t stand there and have a peaceful conversation like we two are having right now.”

Good advice indeed, I’d have to keep that in mind; although to be honest, I didn’t quite enjoy the perspective of having to kill somepony, zombie or not.

“Just out of curiosity,” I said, “you don’t sound like you’re a local. Where are you from?”

“You noticed the accent, didn’t you?” Mixer granted me an almost toothless grin, which I wish I could have unseen. “I come from old and proud Trottingham.”

“And I assume you were there when the bombs fell.”

“Close. I was returning from Trottingham when the balefire bomb hit the centre of Trottingham. Had I been in town, I would have been wiped out, but still, the wave of radiation swallowed me full. By the time I arrived at Las Pegasus, I was falling apart, so they didn’t let me in. I had to make my living here.”

I could feel a mix of emotions in Mixer’s voice as he was talking. A hint of sadness for his lost town, a bit of anger at the bigotry of the citizens of New Pegasus, but mostly pride for having rebuilt his life... or half-life.

“Speaking of here,” I continued, “where are we exactly?”

“Oh, sure. This is the Old Pioneer Fort of North Las Pegasus, or more correctly, Freedom Field. This was the first pony settlement in the Las Pegasus area. I believe this was bison territory long ago. Before the war, this was a historic landmark, mostly visited by tourists, but now it’s the main base of the Followers Of The Shy.”

“Followers Of The Shy? Are you some sort of cult?”

“So to speak, and ones are more than others. I myself don’t like all the messianic rhetorics of the Followers, but I agree with their purpose. We’re here to heal the wounded and aid the ones in pain, no matter their race or condition.”

“And what is your function here? You told me you were a bartender, I can’t see where it matches a healer.” I might have been too harsh again.

“Well, I was a bartender, but not any bartender. I was three times champion of the All Equestrian Cocktail Championship! And also, during the war, I worked for my bits in Zebra territory, learning all about their potion-brewing skills. After all, even the enemy needs its booze. And that’s why I’m here, mostly.”

“I... see.” Well that was unexpected.

“Now, mate, you should really get yourself something to eat.” Mixer nudged. “We ran checks on you and we saw that you had fainted because of the hunger and the physical effort.”

Still hungry and tired I got up on my hooves again, just to notice I was naked for the first time.

“Where’s my jumpsuit?” I asked, startled.

“Them wankers took it, the ones who dragged you here.” Mixer shook his head, disgusted. “I assume they grabbed it as a payment for the service. At least they didn’t rip the PipBuck off your leg. I can give you a lab coat, so that you don’t run around naked.”

“Thank goodness.” I sighed, and my stomach growled again. “Where can I find something to eat?”

“Just trot outside to the mess hall.”

“Thanks. Well, I guess I’ll have to leave.” I knew that I couldn’t stay there much more, since this was some kind of infirmary. Also, Mixer was starting to make me feel a bit uncomfortable again. As if he was forcing himself to be kind with me.

“Good luck on your trails, mate! Cheerio!” He waved, while I put the lab coat on and left the tent.

*** *** ***

The light blinded me as I came out of the tent. There was no sun, since the sky was covered in thick, black clouds, but the day was surprisingly bright. Come to think of it, this was the first time I saw the sky at daytime. Everything I knew about it came from recordings or pictures from the Stable terminals, but the reality was far more breathtaking than any document I could have come across in my entire life.

And if the sky was great, the building beneath was majestic as well. This was a fortress indeed. I stood in the patio of an ancient defensive construction. The walls, taller than many buildings in the city, were sturdily made out of sandstone blocks. I was amazed at the thought of a bunch of pioneer ponies quarrying the stones and pulling them to this place, only to build a magnificent structure like the Fort. The design was simple, a square, thick wall with a main gate and towers on the corners, plus two extra towers at the gates.

Inside, the patio was occupied by a series of tents like the one I had been lodged in, each tent clearly marked with signs that read things like “Burn Ward”, “Traumatology”, “Magic Wounds”, “Lab” or “Supplies”. On the center of the patio, there was a big sturdy table, which was probably the mess hall for both the ill and the caretakers, so I headed towards it. Like the one in the Embassy building inside New Pegasus, there was a flag post close to the entrance gate. The flag was a simple yellow cloth with a motif in pink: a circle crossed by three intersecting lines, like an I and an X superposed. Whatever could that mean?

“Hey, you!” A voice caught my attention. I looked around to see a young, lively and rather pretty copper-coated unicorn mare wave a hoof at me. She was wearing a white lab coat with the same I-X emblem I had seen on the flag.

“Me?” I trotted towards the table while she got close to me.

“Yes, you. What was your name again?” she asked.

“Farsight.”

“Farsight, heh, funny name. I’m Golden Swallow, or Goldie if you prefer; nice to meet you. How are you feeling?” She smiled softly and moved her head to the side.

“Hungry right now, and rather weak.” I shrugged. “I’m new around here, and I spent the whole day wandering around without having eaten anything, so I guess I pretty much deserved it.”

“Don’t worry.” She smiled again, and whistled to a pony wearing a dirty apron. “Hey, Porridge! Can we offer something to the fine gentlecolt here?”

I smiled. I did like Golden Swallow, or Goldie; because she was vital and cheerful, always with a smile on her face, and she was making me feel comfortable. The pony called Porridge was an unicorn buck dressed with a dirty jumpsuit (not a Stable one) and a dirtier apron. I wouldn’t have eaten anything that he had served me unless I hadn’t noticed that the stains in the clothing were actually food stains. He filled a plate with a greasy looking soup and trotted back to the bonfire with the cauldron. I took a sip of the soup, and it felt as if life had been injected to my veins. I felt stronger as the warmth of the liquid travelled down my throat and across my body. The taste wasn’t superb, in fact, the soup tasted mushy and wet, and some of the contents of the plate didn’t look very good, but all things considered, at least it was tastier than the lousy underground vegetables we farmed in the Stable. And besides, I was too hungry to even complain about the taste.

“Are you enjoying your meal?” Goldie giggled.

“Pretty much, thank you!” I muttered between two sips of soup. “Hey Porridge!” I called out. “What’s the soup made of?”

The cook unicorn rose his head from the pot and gave me a curious look. I had the feeling that I had been the first in all of the Fort to ask for the composition of the soup, and who knows, maybe I was going to regret having asked.

“Nuh, it’s just th’ usual Radroach stew. Ah’ve been servin’ this very gruel for years.” He shook his head, letting me know that either he thought I was stupid or that he was bored as hell of cooking the same thing.

Radroach stew? That meant I was eating meat? But weren’t ponies supposed to be vegetarian? Wasn’t eating meat an abomination? What had the Wasteland turned us into? So many questions in my head for a single answer: shut up and eat! I wasn’t in a situation in which I could get picky about what I dragged to my mouth.

“You must be new here, asking about the stew and all. Where do you come from?” she asked with an expression of curiosity, her voice having turned momentarily stern.

That question sounded improper, fishy. This was no pointless chit-chat with a patient, since it was pretty clear to me that there was some sort of a patient-caretaker relationship between us. Besides, she had to have seen my PipBuck on my foreleg. There was no way missing it. Therefore, why was she asking?

“Yes, I am new around.” I answered cautiously. “Why do you ask?”

“Oh, simple curiosity.” Goldie tried to hide a smile but she ended up giggling again. “No, dummy. I know you come from the Stable, I’ve seen your PipBuck. I just wanted to know if you trusted me.”

“And?”

“You don’t, which is good out here.” Goldie nodded. “However, you didn’t lie to me either, which, honestly, makes you a better pony than the lot out here.”

“That’s a relief.” I smiled. Goldie seemed rather honest and kind, quite a surprise. “So, what is this place exactly?”

“We’re the Followers of the Shy! We have devoted ourselves to following the path the great Fluttershy started before the War!” She waved a foreleg in the air, like trying to scare a bunch of parasprites. Of course, there were no parasprites.

“Fluttershy was the Mare of the Ministry of Peace, wasn’t she?” I was trying to remember what the records said about her.

“That is right, young Farsight.” She did a broad, theatrical nod and smiled. Of course, addressing me as ‘young’ was a bit of an irony. “She entrusted us with a glorious purpose.”

“And that purpose is?”

“Healing everypony, you dummy!” she giggled again. “She was our mentor, the one that gave our lives a meaning and broke us free from the tribal ignorance! Once we heard the preachings of the great Fluttershy, we left our caves and set paths to preach the word of the Shy, by fighting the good fight!”

Messianic rhetorics, as Mixer had told me, filled Goldie’s speech every now and then. She sounded like a preacher talking about a miraculous Goddess, with all those references to “glorious purposes” and “preaching the word”. Maybe all the wrapping was a bit preposterous, but the candy inside tasted good. Their goal, that is, to heal everypony regardless of their condition, was really noble.

“And how did you come to do this?” I asked with honest curiosity.

“Well, many years ago, when the world was in the Darkness that the megaspells brought, our ancestors lived in caves and struggled to survive, fighting over almost everything, and causing no more than death and sorrow. One day, a young filly stumbled into an old, abandoned building, where she found our Word, a collection of recordings of the great Fluttershy. After having heard her wise preachings, we understood that we had been wrong all the time, and that our heavenly mission was to bring forth Fluttershy’s wisdom and kindness to the world. Therefore, we left our caves and started wandering the roads. Many of us died, many of us left, but the most of us stood strong, so we decided to carry a banner that made us visible to the world, so that is how we came up with this flag! It’s a butterfly, don’t you see? Just like Fluttershy’s Cutie Mark!” Goldie pointed at the pole close to the door.

“Well, that’s one hell of a story.” I took the last sip of my plate.

“It is, indeed.” She smiled. “My grandparents led the expedition that arrived here. Since there was nopony living here, we decided to establish ourselves in the Fort. Even if we’re pacifists, there have been many ponies that haven’t liked us meddling around. Luckily for us, Freedom Field took us in without much violence. We have been attacked by the gangs along the years, but they finally ended up understanding that we were more an aid than a nuisance.”

“That is good to hear.” I nodded. “How do you finance all this setup, though?”

“Why, why. What were you, an accountant or something?” Goldie gave me a big, smug grin. “You’re the first pony ever to ask this.”

“I happen to have worked as an accountant for some years, yes. Funny how the world goes, isn’t it?” I smiled back, irony in my face. “No, honestly, I’m interested. You’ve got quite a professional facility here, so I guess you don’t gather this out of the dust.”

“That’s true, we don’t. To be honest, we have our ways of funding ourselves, apart from charity, which works surprisingly well. However, I can’t tell them to you. Professional secret.”

She tried to smile softly as she had done before, but I could spot a hint of discomfort in her expression. Something in her body language had changed when I asked her about the money. However, she had been honest in her reply, and she had her right to keep secrets from me.

“Mind if I ask you some more questions?”

“Ask away!” She nodded. Her body language had returned to normal again. “There might be some things I won’t be able to answer, mostly because I don’t know.”

“Can you tell me a bit about Freedom Field?”

“Oh, yes, Freedom Field. What a misleading name for a town, since it’s not free nor a field. Still, it’s not as bad as the wastes, not at all! After all, there are no wild beasts in here, the gangs keep them at bay!”

“Well, that’s a relief.” I whistled.

“It is, it is.” She nodded twice. “Unlike New Pegasus, where the doors are heavily guarded and only a small hoofful of poines can walk in and out, Freedom Field is unguarded, which means that anypony from the Wasteland can enter. If there was nothing more to it, this place would be no different from the rest of the world, with death roaming every corner. What has helped us keep some order is the existence of organized gangs in town. It’s true that every now and then they fight against each other and the rest of Freedom Field suffers, but we’ve been living in a ceasefire for the last years.”

She had a point. After all, the gangs cared for their investments and their dominions. Therefore, in case of an attack from the outside, they would be the first ones to stand up and defend their interests, turning Freedom Field into a rather safe place in the Wasteland.

“And what about the town itself?” I asked. “Any remarkable landmarks or something?”

“Remarkable landmarks?” Goldie chuckled. “What do you think this is, Manehattan or something?” She giggled again and smiled. “Now being serious, there’s not much to see around here, that’s the way it is. Apart from us, there are only some habitable buildings. The rest are all torn apart or abandoned, like they have been for almost two hundred years.”

“And nopony has explored them?”

“Nope.” She shrugged. “Can’t really tell you why, I just suppose that the caps the gangs pay are more attractive than scavenging around for possibly no loot.”

“Caps?” I felt surprised. “Like, bottlecaps?”

“Just like that. Oh, of course, you come from a Stable. The currency nowadays is bottlecaps, that’s why you should always carry a hoofful on you.”

“Well, thanks for letting me know. I wouldn’t have kept a bottlecap otherwise.”

“No problem. Where were we?” Goldie looked up, thinking. “Oh yes, landmarks. First, we’re here, in the Old Pegasus Fort, but I suppose that’s not what’s interesting for you. Then we have Trader Plaza. The name is a bit overdone for what it is really. Trader Plaza is nothing more than the ruins of an old building, a square of brick around a concrete floor. The caravaneers and local traders chose the place because of the shape of it, since it’s the only actual square in Freedom Field, so it kind of resembles an ancient marketplace. It’s got its share of charm, if you ask me. If you need basic supplies or food it’s the place to go.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.”

“Yeah. Then there’s the Four Little Diamonds Casino, or the Diamonds for short. It’s a small gambling den in one of the side streets out there. They also serve food at a reasonable price. I eat there every now and then. It’s run by a good friend of mine, Saddle Buckmare. You could say he’s one of the top ponies of Freedom Field, since he runs a casino.”

“In that case, I assume he is a gang leader as well.” I gave Goldie a questioning look.

“Quick thinker, huh?” She smiled back. “Yes, he leads his own gang. A casino is a risky business out here, so you need to have somepony backing you up, don’t you? Thankfully, Saddle is a good fellow and keeps his gang small, just to protect the Casino and the money.”

That sounded like a premade praise of that Buckmare fellow. How could a sworn pacifist like Goldie have a good image of a mobster who protected a casino with a bunch of armed goons? According to the simplest logic, Goldie should despise any kind of violence; but she didn’t, so something was off here, either her pacifism or my logic. That was something I would have to investigate.

“Then, right face to face with the Diamonds, there is the Tesla Bar. Calling it a bar, though, is some sort of a lie. Everypony in Freedom Field knows it’s a weapon store, and almost everypony knows that what they sell is just above the level of rubbish. However, since they sell shiny-glowy energy weapons, every now and then they have a sale or two. Of course, every single pony that buys something there doesn’t return.”

“Would it be too far fetched to think it is run by another gang?” I was starting to get the hang of things here. It seemed that the gangs had made a tacit separation of the businesses, leaving room for each other to profit from their sales without stepping into each other’s areas of influence. It was a clever strategy, but it couldn’t last forever. Someday, somepony would want to climb the ladder.

“Don’t get cocky, Farsight, of course it’s run by another gang.” She smiled and winked. “They call themselves the Coilites, and trust me, you won’t hear much of them, as they tend to keep their space. As long as they can trade, they don’t bark too much, and honestly, I believe they are more bark than bite. If the guns they have are as reliable as the ones they sell, I don’t think they’ll be able to fight anypony.”

“Don’t you think they’ll keep the best for themselves?” Obvious question or not, I had to ask it.

“That’s the reasonable thing to think, but who knows?” Goldie shrugged.

“Yeah, who knows.” I smiled. “Is that all?”

“No. Not at all.” Goldie scowled and winced. “There is a Music School down the main Avenue, close to the New Pegasus Gate.”

“A Music School?” That was a surprise, as I would never have expected something like that in a place like Freedom Field. “They teach music here?”

“Yes, they do, but it’s just a hideout for another gang.” Goldie spoke with unhidden disgust.

“Is it? Well, you don’t seem to like them all that much.”

“Of course I don’t. Those Stringer bastards are flooding the city with their goons, up to the point that almost one of every three ponies in town is affiliated to their gang. They speak of peace, but every single day we see more of them lurking around with their guns in plain sight. I don’t think they want to keep peace. They want to impose their peace, which will prompt us into war sooner or later. I just can’t stand them! And their leader, that Dee Cleff, strutting around like the Queen of Queens, just as if she owned the place!” Goldie was starting to shiver in anger, so I thought it would be best to change subject.

“Okay, enough questioning.” I smiled and put a hoof on her to calm her down. She looked at me with a cold glare but ended up relaxing and smiling. “Just one thing. I’ll be staying in Freedom Field for a while, so... is there a chance that you can give me a job?”

“Are you a healer of some kind? Herborist? Brewer? Magic healer? Soother?”

“Err, no. I’m afraid not. I’m good with numbers, though, and reasonably capable with computers.” I knew where this was going. I was going to be thrown to the streets, broke and almost naked. I felt anguish clutch my soul once again.

“Then, I’m afraid I can’t give you a job. We already have a technician and an accountant.” I guess she immediately saw my worried face, because she kept speaking. “However, I have a proposal to make to you. You can’t be a proper Follower, since you haven’t learnt and sworn our creed, but you can help us out from the outside by working as a scavenger and a trader. There are many unexplored buildings in town, and I’m pretty sure they’ll be hiding interesting things. Any chemicals and pre-War medicine you find, bring them to me and I’ll pay you handsomely. The rest you find is yours to deal with, and I’ll speak with the ponies at Trader Plaza to give you a spot there. If you make money, you take care of yourself. If you end up broke, the Followers will feed you. About a place to spend the night, you’re on your own. What do you say? Does this sound interesting to you?”

It was, indeed, an interesting deal. At least, I had food assured for the days where the going got tough, and for the rest, well, I’d have to learn as I went. In any case, survival was starting to be safer in those conditions.

“You’ve got yourself a deal, Goldie.” I smiled and I had to refrain from hugging her. “Thank you very much, I owe you my life right now.”

“You’re welcome, honey.” Goldie smiled back, as sweetly as she could. “You owe me nothing, I’m just doing what Fluttershy would have done. Now, go out there and earn yourself some caps! Open UP!” she screamed to the ponies in the gates.

The wooden gates opened with a deep tremor and left me the way open to return into Freedom Field. Goldie stood beside me and placed a hoof over my back.

“Goodbye, Farsight, and remember, if you need medical attention, we’ll be right here! The fort won’t grow hooves, you know!” she said.

“Bye, Goldie.” I freed myself gently from her hoof and started walking outside.

For the third time, a door slammed shut behind me, but this time, the world before me looked promising.

*** *** ***

Scavenging proved itself to be a tough job, but the reward sounded so worthwhile! The first house turned out to be a real challenge, since many of the doors were locked and, to be honest, my lock picking abilities were close to null. The only two bobby pins I carried on me broke while I was trying to open the door to the first flat in the three-storey building I had chosen as my first prey. Stopped dead on my tracks, I started to think on a way to breach the doors, since many of them were closed. Sure, I could try to buck them open, but many of the doors seemed sturdy enough to hold on.

I started to stroll up and down the hallway thinking on a way to break the doors open when I found myself standing before a maintenance closet. The door was frail and cracked, moisture having filtered almost to the very core of it, so there was a reasonable chance that my untrained hindlegs could force it to open. I breathed deep and thrusted my body into a spin, trying to use inertia more than muscular power to generate strength. My hooves hit the door and bounced, making me lose balance, as I was in a circular motion. I landed headfirst on the tiled floor, feeling more embarrassment than actual pain. Thank Luna nopony was around to see me.

However, the attempt was successful. The door had broken in half, leaving a way open into the locker. As the light of the PipBuck swept away the darkness in the closet, I found myself in a small room full with tools of all kinds, from brooms to heavy hammers. I found a rather well conserved tool belt that went straight to my hip, and a small hatchet that could serve me for self-defense. Not that I planned to hack anypony open, but since almost everypony was armed in this city, I assumed it would be wise to carry something around to defend myself.

Still, there was nothing good to open a door in there. No, wait a minute...

“Gotcha, baby!” I squeed. I had just found an electric drill that seemed to be fairly well conserved. With a bit of luck that would be enough to bust the locks open, provided the plugs in the hallway had power on them. The lighting of the hall was on, so it was reasonable to think so. With a silent prayer to the two Goddesses, I plugged the drill to the socket, and turned the drill on.

WHIRRRRRRRR!!

“Yay!” I jumped in glee, almost punching a hole in my hoof with the spinning drill. I felt the rush when the tip of the tool buried itself on the wooden door, making its way through layers of conglomerate and brass, thinking about the things that could await me in the flat I was breaking into. Again, a thought came to my mind. Wasn’t I actually acting like a common burglar? What was the difference between me and one of those ponies I had been told to despise?

The drill stopped dead and I took it off its place in the door, leaving it gently on the floor. I sat on my flanks as I thought about what I was doing. It was true that I was taking somepony else’s things, so technically I was stealing, but on the other hoof, this building didn’t seem to be inhabited. It looked like the ponies that once lived here had left in a hurry looking for a safe place, never to return again. So, looking at it from that viewpoint, I was just claiming forgotten goods. I felt puzzled, and a bit guilty. All this world was so confusing! In the Stable, the concepts of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ were clearly outlined, and those acts that fell off limits were thoughtfully discussed by the Dwellers. Out here, good and evil were diffuse mists, often overlapping into a moral fog, and this was one of those situations.

As I had always done in doubt, I resorted to my coldest logic, devoid of any feelings, to analyze the situation. Thinking practically, the benefits of entering the houses and scavenging were clear: I could obtain loot that would exchange for caps in the Trader Plaza, allowing me to buy things that I could need, such as food and proper clothing. I had already noticed how mares (and some bucks) looked at my uncovered flanks while I walked down the streets. On the other hand, the trouble that I could be involved in for stealing things was little and limited, maybe a quarrel or two with the owner of the loot, if and only if that owner existed. Therefore, the situation reduced itself to a dilemma of choosing between me and an unknown pony that might as well be dead, so there was few to think about. I had to make a living, whereas a dead pony needs no caps; so I powered the drill back on and finished breaking the lock open.

The flat inside was small and crammed. A small living room with an adjoint kitchen, two bedrooms and a small bathroom composed the place. Most of the furniture was still in place, a small couch and a low table standing before a television in the living room, beds and wardrobes in the rooms, a first aid kit in the bathroom and the usual kitchen furniture, with the refrigerator humming gently on one side. I trotted towards the TV and turned it on, just out of pure curiosity. I hadn’t seen an actual television in my whole life, but I had read about the wonders of that technology in the Stable, so I wanted to know what it was like.

The loudspeaker buzzed as the TV got powered on, and the screen showed a black and white mist of static. I started operating the knobs, looking for something to see, until a fixed image came to the screen. It was a vague composition of circles and squares, with the words “PLEASE STAND BY” printed in the middle of the screen. An age-old voice came booming from the speaker:

“To all the watchers, please keep calm. The country has sustained a massive aggression by our neighboring Zebra Nation, but we want to reassure that the situation is under control. However, in order to make things easier, we would like to encourage all the population to head to their shelters and stay there until the alert is over. We repeat, head to your shelters until the alert is over. And remember, please keep calm. This has been a message broadcast by the Ministry of Morale.

This is the Ministry of Morale sending an emergency message. To all the watchers, please keep calm...”

The message went on and on, endlessly repeating the distress signal. Obviously, the alert hadn’t been called off, it had been wiped clean. I felt sad watching the message over and over again, reminding me of a grim past of our world; a past of which we all were paying the consequences. I turned the TV off again, since I didn’t want to think about it anymore. Clearly, the device was useless nowadays, but maybe I could sell it for scrap metal and electronic components. However, I would have to drag it up and down town. The TV would have to come last.

I kept searching the flat for loot. I happened to find an old pre-War suit in a rather good condition, even if it was full of dust and it smelled like hell, and I tried it on me. If it suited me, I would dump the lab coat, a thing I was more than willing to do, since the cold winter air was starting to freeze my hindlegs. The pants were a bit too wide and the jacket was old and ugly, but otherwise it was a good fit, so the labcoat went to a big bag I had found in the same closet as the suit. I also scavenged a couple of fine dresses.

Then I moved on to the bathroom. The first aid kit had nothing much apart from a couple of rolls of magical bandages and a blister of Mintals. They all went to the bag, and I would sell them to Goldie as soon as I left the building. I could hear the caps rustling in my pockets already, and a greedy smile popped in my face. The kitchen didn’t have much loot, just some mushy pre-War food stored in the cupboards. It would make a meager sale, but if I couldn’t sell them at least I would have something to eat.

Last but not least, I entered the other bedroom, obviously the one of a filly. A big poster of the Wonderbolts was stuck to the wall, the colors almost faded. However, the image made me smile. Being a colt myself I watched the Wonderbolts’ adventures over and over again, dreaming about travelling the world myself and living in danger; then I realized that I was no pegasus and that, therefore, I couldn’t fly, so there would be no adventure for me. That’s when I switched to Mare Do-Well. All those memories coming back to my mind made me smile again, this time with a hint of sadness in my heart. Those were better times, no doubt.

I searched over the closets of the bedroom looking for interesting stuff to loot. Much of it was junk, dusty and useless, but I could salvage some clothing, some children books and a funny little gadget called “RoboDoggy Winona”. It was a small robot in the shape of a puppy, painted in brown and white, with two bulbs as eyes and fully jointed. It ran on a magic-powered battery that was, of course, empty. The little toy looked adorable, but it also seemed to be a very complex piece of engineering. I used a bit of my magic to reload the battery up to the point that the contraption could be powered on again. I operated the small button and the toy came alive, acting like what I assumed a real dog acted.

The robot looked at me with its eyes, now lit by the energy flowing out of the battery, then he came close to my legs and started sniffing them. Well, at least the toy dog was moving its head and the speaker inside it made a pre-recorded sniffing sound. Then he leapt back and barked twice, its metallic tail swinging gleefully. The little thing was sweet, and I was pretty sure it would sell well out there. Hell, that was the kind of present I would have loved to get as a colt! The dog, or RoboDoggy Winona, had sat beside me and looked up at me, silently. I turned it off, with a chilly feeling travelling down my spine. For a minute I had forgotten it wasn’t an actual dog.

I left the flat with my bags full of all kinds of stuff, even the heavy TV that stood on the living room. I had to use all my telekinetic abilities to be able to walk, as overencumbered as I was. I also hid the electric drill in the maintenance closet, just to be sure I could return to investigate more flats. It was funny, though, that nopony had tried to scavenge here before. There was quite a lot of things to loot around the place, and many of them were on quite a useful state. I thought of the moral concerns I had been through when I started breaking into the flat I had pillaged. Maybe the people in this town could have some sort of respect for the prior inhabitants. That, however, sounded far fetched. The reason Goldie had given me sounded much more plausible to me, even if I hadn’t lived for too long in Freedom Field. Most probably, the pay for a gang goon or for a caravan guard would be better than what I could hope to gather from selling scavenged goods; besides, the pay would be fixed and guaranteed in those cases, unlike in mine, in which I depended on my luck and bartering skills to earn my caps. Still, as long as it meant there was more for me to find, I wouldn’t even bother.

*** *** ***

Trader Plaza was pretty much like Goldie had described it to me, or like the mental picture I had made about it when Goldie was talking to me about it. In essence, it was nothing more than the remains of what was meant to become a significant building in old North Las Pegasus. Now, it was nothing more than a flank-tall orange brick wall forming a square perimeter in the street. Inside, over the concrete floor of what had been the building’s ground level, a whole web of wooden constructs had been established. Small stands made of plywood and scrap metal formed actual streets inside the makeshift square. Each stand had been profusely decorated with cloth or plastic sheets, scribbled with the names of the stands, such as “Feather Duster’s Home Appliances”, “Sunny Orchard’s Vegetable Emporium” or “The Breaks: Small Dishes for Great Appetites”. That last one had to be some sort of restaurant thingy.

I wandered around looking for the empty stand that Goldie had promised me. I had to deliver some supplies to her at the fort, but before I wanted to unpack everything that I had collected today and try my luck selling my loot. I noticed an old access to the foundation levels of the unfinished building, but it had been covered with a quite sturdy brick wall. I found it surprising, as it came to my mind that the basement access in the building I had scavenged had been barred as well, in this case with an old bed frame and some planks. The people here feared something that lied beneath their hooves, no doubt, but the ponyholes in Freedom Field hadn’t been locked.

“Hey, you!” A feminine voice called me from the side. “You’re Goldie’s new buck, aren’t you?”

I looked to see a young and sturdy grass-colored mare with a red mane smile at me from behind the counter of her stand, which was covered in a tartan cloth. The stand was full of turnips and fat, spiky green plants. I looked up to see that I was standing right before Sunny Orchard’s Vegetable Emporium. She was wearing a rough barding meant for dirty works, such as farming.

“Yes, I’m Farsight, nice to meet you.” I greeted. “Sorry, but I can’t lift a hoof or I’ll fall to the side. You’re Sunny Orchard?”

“No, no, I’m her daughter, Sunberry Grass.” She smiled gently. “Don’t worry, many ponies ask me the same question. Mom runs the business from the farm we have in the outskirts of town. I just come and go, and sell the crop in here. We used to rely on the caravaneers, but in the end we thought we would make it better by ourselves.”

“I see.” I nodded, then pointed at the sign. “But isn’t Vegetable Emporium a bit pretentious?”

“Oh, yes, it sure is!” Sunberry laughed out loud. “I told my mother like a thousand times that the name was ridiculous, but she insisted, and since she runs the joint, well, what she says becomes law.”

“I know that feel.” I nodded, smiling. Inside, however, it reminded me of the Stable and the way things were done in there, what made me clench my teeth.

“Well, it’s not like it’s a drama or anything like that!” she waved a hoof and closed her eyes. “Let’s just carry on. Your stand is the one beside mine, so I hope you won’t be selling vegetables!”

“I won’t,” I said, as I unpacked my bag onto the stand and got behind the counter, “at least not like that. I’ll be selling what I can scavenge from the abandoned buildings, so I might sell some food among other stuff.”

“Interesting...” She raised a hoof to her muzzle, letting me know she was eagerly waiting for me to unpack the bag. “Oh, but that is lovely!”

She had seen the dress I had found in the flat, and was clearly daydreaming about it, as her eyes almost shone with delight as she looked at the dress that now hung conveniently from a cord that had been installed on top of the stand.

“Do you like it?” I asked her, although I already could guess the answer.

“It’s lovely! Where did you find it?”

“In an abandoned flat in one of those buildings out there. I didn’t even leave town.”

“It’s amazing!” she squeed. “I’d pay some good caps for it, if I had them...”

“How much does a turnip of those cost?” I asked.

“Why do you ask?” She seemed surprised by the sudden change in the subject.

“Just tell me, please.”

“Five caps, but I don’t know why you ask.” Sunberry’s face showed her total puzzling.

“Five caps for something that will last a day, three at most. For a dress that can last for years, I should ask for thousands of caps, shouldn’t I?”

“You won’t sell a single thing if you charge so much, you know?”

I smiled gently as I saw Sunberry’s face change from a gleeful smile into an ironic smirk.

“I know, I know.” I chuckled. “I was just doing a reasoning to see how you reacted. Since all these things are actual antiques, their value is hard to calculate. Therefore, I suppose I’ll have to gamble a bit with prices and look for similar stuff along the market.”

“Yes, that will be the wisest thing to do.” Sunberry nodded.

“Would you watch my stand while I’m gone?” I asked. “If I miss something, like for example a dress, when I come back, I will know who’s to blame...” I smiled while saying this, letting her know it was ironic.

“OK, OK!” She laughed at my veiled menace. “I’ll keep an eye on your things.”

I smiled back and left to look for reference prices. As I walked down the alleys between stands, I looked closely at every single item on display, asking for the prices of those that weren’t on sight. Since I was new in the market, the vendors took me as a curious customer and tried to give me the lowest price. By doing this, I learned that the food could be charged between three and twenty caps, depending on size and conservation. Clothing spanned between the fifty caps of a simple gown to the 500 of a classy tuxedo. Electronic appliances went on from 100 to 2000 caps, and functional electronic components were on high demand.

What I did notice, though, was that some things weren’t sold in Trader Plaza. There were no weapon salesponies, no ammo dealers, no gun repairponies; even if everypony around carried a holstered gun or a rifle close to them. Therefore, there had to be an arms market somewhere in town. I already knew from Goldie that the Coilite Gang controlled the energy weapons dealership in Freedom Field, but that left a big void regarding standard, gunpowder weapons.

Another thing that wasn’t on display in Trader Plaza were chemicals or medical supplies. This time, however, I had a hunch about who was the one in control of that market. I would bet my meager earnings of today to the fact that Goldie and her Followers of the Shy were the ones monopolizing the chems market in Freedom Field.

With a list of possible prices in my mind, I returned to my stand to see that there were already some potential customers snooping around, while Sunberry tried her best to keep them entertained. Some of the ponies on the line seemed wealthy, or at least well dressed; whereas others dressed in rags and inspired pity on the beholder. My neighbour in the market, however, treated them all equally, chatting calmly and telling jokes and anecdotes every now and then.

“...And that’s how I got my Cutie Mark!” she was saying as I arrived at my stand. “Hey, Farsight! Took you long enough! You’ve got customers here!”

I nodded and thanked Sunberry for her help, then I crawled behind the stand and started taking care of business. The first customer was an elderly mare, well dressed and stern, that was looking for something that matched with her blue dress. I went through the contents of my stand and found myself looking at the lab coat. It was made out of a coarse, white cloth, but it seemed to be a fairly good garment for a rainy day.

“I’ve got this coat here.” I lifted the lab coat and put it on the counter. “It’s well conserved, water resistant and very comfortable. Trust me, I know what I’m talking about.”

“But it’s a lab coat, son.” The mare wasn’t convinced.

“I know, ma’am. However,” I said with my most charming face, “some small tweaks here and there and it will become a lovely white overcoat that will definitely match your dress and your fur. Since I know it needs some work, I’ll leave it cheap. 55 caps.”

The mare looked at the coat, then to her purse, then back at the coat. She mumbled something and finally nodded. The caps rustled as the mare shoved them towards me. I packed the coat into a tight packet and smiled at her as I gave her the garment. With a nod, the elderly mare turned around and left.

“You’re a fancy talker, y’know?” Sunberry whispered. “I’d never believe you would sell that lab coat. Not like that.”

I smiled at her and headed to the next customer, who was a total opposite to the mare that had bought me the lab coat. He was a rather young buck dressed in dirty rags two sizes too big, as he was very thin. His mane was rustled and disordered, badly cut and dirty with mud and what looked like urine. His eyes were bloated and red, as if he hadn’t slept in days, and was twitching nervously as his eyes quickly shifted from one point to another, while he mumbled an unintelligible mantra. Something was very wrong with him.

“Morning, sir.” I greeted him keeping my distance. “What can I help you with?”

“Uh. Erm. Hm. I. I-I-I...” he kept stuttering nervously while emitting guttural noises. “Food. Need food.”

“Food? Why, we have a broad choice. What is it that you would like to purchase?”

“I-I... I ne-ne-need food. Food! Hungry!” His speech was nothing more than a mindless blabber.

“Yes, sir, I know. Just tell me what you want and we’ll discuss prices.” I was starting to get nervous. The pony before me acted irrationally and there was an aura of aggressiveness around him, as if he could pounce on me any minute. My mind concentrated on the hatchet on my belt, but I didn’t want to get violent on my first day, since I might get kicked out of the Trader Plaza.

“FOOD!” he yelled. “GIVE ME FOOD, DAMMIT!”

That was enough aggressiveness for me, so I placed a box of mac and cheese on the counter, and the pony grabbed it furiously. Then he searched through her pockets and hurled a bunch of caps onto the stand. Right after that, he left on a hasty gallop. I picked the caps up. Seven, not a bad sell for being such an awkward one. Beneath the caps I noticed a small piece of cardboard, the shape of a playing card. It was yellow and carried a familiar pink I-X emblem. What had this pony to do with the Followers of the Shy?

“You OK?” Sunberry asked. “I thought you were going to get into some trouble.”

“Yes, I’m fine.” I noticed that my heart was thumping furiously in my chest. Indeed, it had been a tight one. “What was wrong with him?”

“That pony is a junkie. He was totally high on Dash.”

“Dash?” It was the first time I heard that name. “What is Dash?”

“It’s some sort of drug, a recipe from the War. Makes you faster, stronger, braver.” Sunberry shook her head in disgust. “The downside is that it turns you into a total addict, and Freedom Field is swarming with those. It’s a disgrace.”

“Who sells those drugs?” I asked. I understood Sunberry’s disgust. A drug that could turn a young, healthy buck into the hopeless debris I had dealt with was a total disgrace.

“I don’t know.” Sunberry winced in anger. “I don’t live here most of the time, I come to town every now and then, so I’m not much into the nightlife; but my guess is that one of the gangs must be the one behind it.”

“I suppose so.” I shrugged as well, and kept taking care of the customers.

“Listen, Farsight. You’re new around and you don’t know the hard truth of the trader these days. We’re being constantly harassed by junkies. It wasn’t like this some months ago, but now it has become a very unpleasant routine. I don’t know who’s selling the drugs, but what I know is that all the traders are constantly asking for a solution.”

“Speaking of which... does this ring a bell?” I popped out the card with the Follower emblem.

“Isn’t that the symbol of the Followers of the Shy?”

“Yes. The junkie dropped it.”

“Well, that is suspicious. I have never seen such cards.”

“Could it be some sort of foul play?”

“Maybe. Are you going to investigate it?”

“Maybe. I feel curious about what the implication of the Followers is.”

“Farsight... why would you put yourself in danger because of this?”

“I don’t know. I just feel curious about it. Besides, I’ve been a victim of some plots before, and I don’t like the feeling of being played.”

“Just be careful, okay? We don’t need dead heroes.”

I nodded in silence. Apart from that incident, the day had been good altogether, since I had sold almost every single thing I had found, except for the dress Sunberry had liked and the RoboDoggy Winona. My pouch was now rustling with caps, and I felt really satisfied. After all the pains I had been through, I was starting to feel like I could make a living out here. I had left the stand for a while to deliver the medical supplies to Goldie at the Fort, which made me earn myself a juicy reward. I could have asked her about the card the junkie had forgotten at my stand, but something told me that was certainly unwise. Instead, I just walked away with many questions in my mind.

The day was nearing to an end when something stirred up the market. The vendors in the stands started mumbling nervously. Something was happening in Trader Plaza, something that had shaken almost everypony in the area. I was feeling rather puzzled, since I didn’t understand what was going on, so I asked Sunberry about it.

“I don’t know,” she answered. “It seems that Dee Cleff is visiting the Plaza.”

“Dee Cleff? The Dee Cleff of the Music School?” I asked, surprised.

“How many other Dee Cleffs do you know?” was Sunberry’s reply.

Well, just one, who according to Goldie was a tyrant that was trying to take over Freedom Field by crushing everypony under her hooves. However, the atmosphere in the market wasn’t one of fear. Instead, it felt as if the vendors were waiting for a superstar to walk by, as if the legendary Sweetie Belle had entered the building. The ponies in the stands were nervous, but they appeared eager to talk with the mentioned Dee Cleff.

“Oh, here she comes!” somepony said.

A group of ponies was coming down the alley, looking at the stands at the sides. The retinue was composed of two ponies in black leather armor clearing the way, two mares in the middle and other two armored ponies guarding the back. Indeed, it looked as if the very Celestia was coming to visit. The armor of the ponies had a symbol painted on them, a turquoise bass clef. In a shocking contrast to the guards, the two mares in the middle dressed classily. One of them, who had to be Dee Cleff, was wearing a sharp white linen suit, a white shirt, a thin black tie and a comfortable looking beige coat. On her head, she wore a white stetson with a black band. The mare beside her, who appeared to be a counselor, wore a simple checkered dress.

The group got closer to our stands, and Sunberry almost squeed when Dee Cleff stopped to take a look at them. While she was browsing through Sunberry’s vegetables, I took a clear look at Dee. Although youth had not left her yet, the first signs of age were starting to show in her eyes. Her coat was coal-gray, with a darker gray mane that fell graciously straight behind her head. Her face was beautiful but at the same time, she inspired authority, like the one of a teacher. She smiled gently to Sunberry as she bought a couple of turnips, then she turned to look at my stand. Then, as I was looking her eye to eye, I was struck by realization. Maybe her coat was a bit more coal-gray than graphite-gray, maybe the mane was a bit shorter, but Dee Cleff was a dead ringer for Octavia!

“Good evening, young one.” She gave me a gentle smile. “I haven’t seen you around. Are you new here?”

“Yes ma’am, and a good evening to you too. It’s my first day in the Plaza.” I bowed gently and smiled. The first rule of selling was to always keep the customer satisfied.

“Well, look at you, how polite! What’s your name?”

“Farsight, ma’am. And I’m going to guess that you’re Dee Cleff.”

“You guess right, Farsight. You know who I am, don’t you?”

Watch out, Farsight, because this one is a tricky question. I had noticed a hint of change in her attitude towards me, it had become... colder.

“Oh, as far as I’m concerned, you’re a customer at my stand, and that’s all that matters. Everything else doesn’t care right now.”

“That’s one of the wisest answers I’ve heard!” Dee laughed, loosening the tension. “What do you have for sale?”

“Not much right now, to be honest. I sell scavenged goods, and I work by the day, so if you want to have better chances of finding something, I would recommend you to come by noon. However, I still have a couple of things you might find interesting.”

Dee Cleff looked at the stand, whistling a gentle tune, until she noticed the small RoboDoggy on a shelf. She smiled again and pointed at the toy.

“How much for it?” she asked.

“Honestly, ma’am, I don’t know. I was surprised to find something so advanced in such a great state. I haven’t been able to compare it to anything in this market.”

“I’ll give you 1500 caps, that’s final. What do you say?”

“I’ll be delighted.” I answered with a broad smile on my face, and telekinetically moved the toy dog to Dee’s helper’s bag. She scribbled a note and gave it to me. “I owe Farsight 1500 caps, signed Dee Cleff.” I looked at the note, feeling rather scammed.

“I don’t walk around with so much cash, Farsight.” Dee smiled again. “Come to the Music School tomorrow and Metronome here will pay you.”

Dee waved and turned around, ready to leave, when Sunberry spoke up.

“Miss Cleff, excuse me!” she called. “I’m sorry to bother you, but we’ve been experiencing some problems with junkies lately. The traders are worried, since we don’t know how to react. Many of us can’t defend ourselves...”

Dee shook her head and stomped the floor, bothered. Maybe Sunberry had been a bit too rash when addressing her?

“I know, and I feel so disgusted about it,” Dee groaned. “I’m trying to end up the drug business in Freedom Field, but as long as the Buckmares keep pumping chems into town, I can’t do much without starting a war, and that’s the last thing I’d want. I’ve worked very hard to achieve an actual peace, and I’m not going to throw it all away. However, honey, I promise I’ll try to talk to Saddle about this.”

She smiled and walked away from us, the rest of the vendors cheering her. I remembered Goldie’s words, and I noticed something didn’t match. Dee didn’t seem like a pretentious tyrant; instead, she looked like a godmother that took care of the inhabitants of Freedom Field, always caring for their welfare and safety. The people seemed to appreciate her, as everypony she crossed greeted her with a broad smile. Everything that Goldie had told me was starting to seem less real minute by minute. Once Dee’s retinue had left the market, Sunberry let go a long sigh.

“If she can’t do anything...”

“Well, I will,” I said. “At least, I’ll investigate a bit. I already told you, this card the junkie forgot is making me suspicious.”

“Just take care, OK?”

“I will. By the way, do you know of a place to sleep around here?” I asked.

“Nuh-uh. I usually sleep out here in the stand. Come, I’ll share my dinner with you.”

“Thanks, Sunberry. You know, you can keep the dress. It’s the least I can do.”

“Awww, thanks. You sure can be nice.”

The dinner was just a boiled turnip, but it felt like actual glory after a hard day’s work. However, all the effort had paid off, as I already had a juicy pouch and the promise of another 1500 caps waiting for me at the Music School. The day had left other things for me to worry about. I hated to see junkies wandering around town, making all of us feel insecure. Moreover, I hated to see a junkie with some relationship to the Followers of the Shy. I would have to dig a bit deeper there, since something told me that the jolly healers I was helping with my scavenging weren’t as good and kind as I had initially thought. But first I’d have a good night’s sleep.

*** *** ***

The day was cold and dark, with a thick cloud cover hiding the sun. The morning activity in Freedom Field was frantic, with heavily guarded caravans crossing the township in and out of New Pegasus, small time traders and vendors mounting their stands in the side streets, and gang goons doing their morning patrols. I had woken up early to take a look at the Buckmares’ setup before I started the scavenging for the day.

“Come to the Four Little Diamonds! We have the best booze in town, the hottest tables and the sexiest mares around! The Four Little Diamonds is the place to go if you want to have a good time!”

A flamboyant mauve mare was announcing the Four Little Diamonds Casino in the main street of Freedom Field, dressed in a skimpy white dress. Whoever had thought that a mare like that would make a good announcer for the casino had been a true visionary. Every single pony, both stallion and mare stopped and looked at her, and in the meantime, heard whatever she had to say.

The Four Little Diamonds was my first target in my mental list, since it was the main base of the Buckmare Gang, who, according to the traders and Dee, was the one syphoning the drugs into the city. Therefore, I got closer to see what the mare was announcing. At first I thought she was some kind of stage performer, an actress or singer, like the ones at the Stable, but a second, more in-depth look proved me wrong. The mare wasn’t that flamboyant from up close. She wore heavy makeup to hide the age and the marks of what I thought had to be drug abuse. Also, the skimpy dress blatantly tried to drive the attention to her flanks, which led me to realize she was a prostitute.

So, the Buckmares were on the whore business, apart from the drug dealing.

I trod past the crowd that the mare had gathered and entered a side street full of ruined, crumbling blocks. Next to the city wall on the far end of the street, two buildings stood out from the rest since they were on a far better state. One had a big billboard with four gemstones on a straight line, the Four Little Diamonds; and right across the street, a black and electric blue sign announced that you were about to enter the Tesla Bar. Goldie hadn’t lied on this one, as they were literally knocking on each other’s doors. It was time to start my little investigation, so I pushed the door to the Four Little Diamonds and entered.

*** *** ***

Smoke filled the air, making it difficult both to see and to breathe. Not like there was too much to be seen inside the Diamonds, but breathing was mandatory. Coughing lightly, I walked into the main room of the casino. It wasn’t much of a blast of light and color, as I had imagined by watching the display of billboards in the New Pegasus Strip, in fact, The Four Little Diamonds was far more down-to-earth than that. The walls were coated in a nasty ochre, which was most probably a consequence of the year long exposure to whatever the smoke was. The hall was some sort of show-restaurant lounge, with a big stage set along the main wall of the room. A cluster of tables with their respective chairs and linen were distributed along the space of the room, leaving the opposite side for a counter and, what I assumed from the smell coming from beyond a closed door, a kitchen. Behind the counter, a staircase climbed to a higher level of the building, most probably reserved for rooms for those customers looking for prepaid company. My suspicion was quickly confirmed when an overexcited stallion let go a loud moan of pleasure, which was followed, not without a fine sense of humor I might add, by frantic pounding of the floor and cheers from the audience in the restaurant. Opposite to the entrance was a small door with a sign that read “Tables” above it. The casino area, was my guess.

I trod down to one of the tables and started looking around the place, trying not to attract too much attention. A waiter dressed on a grey livery with the face of a mare painted on it asked me for my order.

“Breakfast, please,” I said without looking.

“Right now, sir!” was the waiter’s answer, and left for the kitchen.

The waiter returned holding a tray with a bunch of charred pieces. At first I thought it was some sort of root or something, but then I realized that the blackened bits on the tray were actually meat. After having eaten a radroach stew in the Fort, it wasn’t that much of an outrage to eat meat; actually, I was starting to enjoy it. The waiter left the tray carefully on the table and left.

I used my telekinesis to drag a piece of meat into my mouth and started chewing it. Its taste was in the middle point between dirt and ash. Whatever it had been in life, the cook had almost exorcised it on the pan. While I was eating my breakfast, I kept looking at the entertainer, a lousy wannabe stand-up comedian ghoul pony in a striped suit that kept making jokes about zebras walking into a bar; corny jokes that nopony laughed to.

“Hey, what do we have here? How are you, sweetie?” a voice asked near me. A young female griffin, her white head towering two or three heads above the rest of the audience in the casino, had sat close to me. Even if her armored talons and wings made her look menacing, she was openly trying to flirt with me. She kept looking me with a seductive face, which, to be honest, was starting to turn me on.

“Oh, I’m doing fine, honey.” I smiled and talked fancy. “What’s your name?”

“I’m Stuka Talonblade, and you are?”

“Farsight; nice to meet you. What brings you around here?”

“I work in the Casino, but don’t get me wrong. I’m not one of Saddle’s mares.” She scowled.

“Really? Then what are you?” I asked with a look of friendly irony in my face.

“Adjoint to the General Manager. Bet you never expected that.”

“Nope, not even in my wildest dreams.” I nodded. “Indeed, you don’t look like the typical whore; unless, of course, there is a part of the clientele that likes armor and talons. But hey, I’m new around here, so who knows?”

“Why is it? Do you like talons?” her voice purred and her eyes narrowed.

It was time to take a risky gamble. I could either be slashed by a rageful griffin, or I could have a good time and use her as an informer... all right, I’ll be honest. I did it for the good time.

“No, talons are a bit too sharp for me,” I purred as well, “but I love feathers.”

“Oh, what a charmer.”

“Thank you, I work hard on my social skills. Being a loner in this town forced me to learn all the tricks in the book. Can I buy you a drink?”

“That’s page one in the book, you know.”

“It’s page one because it always works.” I smiled sarcastically.

“I’ll give you that.” She nodded.

“What will it be, then?”

“Beer.”

“I thought you were more of the whiskey type.”

“Whiskey? Do I look like an angsty security guard?”

“I don’t know about the angst, but with that armor and that pistol holstered on your, by the way, gorgeous waist; I’d say you totally fit the picture of a security guard.”

“Ah, touché. You’re right, I do take care about the security; but I think I can take a break for a while.” She giggled joyfully.

I ordered two beers and we sat down for a long while, chatting about nonsense. I felt both surprised and proud, since I had never thought it could be that easy to chat a mare up... well, a griffin, properly speaking. After around half an hour of beers and soft laughs, she lifted me in her talons and flew up to the mezzanine leading to the upper level, then she dragged me down the hallway to her room, and before I could even mutter a single word, I was lying naked on her bed.

*** *** ***

Life gives you lessons; sometimes bad, sometimes good, and rarely, very rarely, life gives you one of those lessons you wouldn’t forget until the day you died; this being one of those lessons. Thank Celestia, I’m a quick learner.

“First time with a griffin, honey?” Stuka laid beside me on her bed, her wing gently embracing me.

“Yes.” I was being sincere, as it had been my first time EVER, and I was exhausted. All of my body was in pain, but it had been totally worth it. Now I had to keep my mind cold, to obtain something else than a good time with a smoking hot griffin. “Why do you ask?”

“You seemed a little nervous at first,” she giggled, “but you got the hang of it very quickly.”

“Everypony says I adapt quickly to the situation.” I smiled and shivered as her feathers caressed my back. I had a feather fetish, I had to admit it. I suppose that Spitfire was my first crush as a colt, the mare I dreamed of while I grew up; therefore, my dream mare would always be a pegasus, but in the meantime, a young fit griffin would do.

“Why don’t you tell me a bit about you, Farsight, dear?”

I meditated about the answer. I didn’t want to be totally sincere, since I didn’t trust Stuka. She was on the payroll of the Buckmares and I didn’t want her to know more than the necessary about me, so I made up a convenient story that couldn’t be refuted.

“Oh, not much to tell.” I looked at the dirty ceiling as I spoke. “I’m a small time merchant in Trader Plaza, I earn my caps by scavenging abandoned buildings.”

“And how did you get that PipBuck?” she wooed softly. The question, though, was a loaded gun. A slight mistake here and all my story would be jeopardized.

“Family keepsake.” I shrugged. “I got it from my dad, when he passed away; he got it from his. I suppose some of my ancestors lived in a Stable for a time. How about you, Stuka?” I tried to divert the topic of the conversation.

“I used to be a Talon, some time ago.” She looked away from me, and her mood dropped. She seemed to be wondering whether to tell me about her past, which seemed to be unpleasant; or to hide it.

“Really? I don’t know what the Talons are, to be honest. Would you mind enlightening me?”

“They’re mercenaries; the best you can get in the Wasteland. An elite corps, composed by griffins only.”

Her tone was proud and firm, but I noticed a slight darkening in her voice, as if there was something that hurt her in what she was telling me.

“You said you used to be a Talon... what happened then?” I asked.

Stuka didn’t respond, and kept looking at the wall; her mind lost in the thoughts of her past. Her expression showed a cold calmness, like the peace before the storm. I rolled and embraced her, trying to make her feel comfortable, because I wanted her to talk. She wrapped her wing around my body and we laid in silence.

“Come on, Stuka. You can tell me. It will make you feel better.” I whispered soothingly.

“...OK.” She sighed and cleared her throat. Her tone was peaceful, as if she was discussing any kind of nonsense, but there was a hint of darkness in it; a deep, haunting feeling from the past. “I used to be a Talon, under the orders of Reggie Grimfeathers, back in the day. I was young... well, younger; and ambitious, and I broke a rule. I didn’t withhold the Contract. I tried to get some extra caps for myself by doing a side job, but I got caught. Getting caught usually means execution, or worse, but Grimfeathers banished me instead. I was to fly far away and never look back. That lead me here. Saddle hired me despite knowing about my past, so I owe him much.”

I could understand her. She had thrown her life down the drain for confronting the establishment, almost a copy of my own life story. Suddenly, I felt bad for staging this masquerade, for I had the feeling that she and I were comrades, two souls that had committed the same crime and had faced the same punishment. However, I quickly realized that I was in too deep to be sincere now. If I wanted to come out of this one, I’d have to keep my armor of lies, no matter how bad it could make me feel.

Silence fell upon us as Stuka finished telling her story, and I found myself unable to give a retort. I found out I cared more about the griffin than what I would have expected at first, and her story had hit me like a hammer; making me feel sorrowful as well. I guess that’s what they call empathy.

“Gee, Stuka. If only I could do something for you...” I started after a long silence.

“Don’t worry, dear. You’ve already given me more than I asked for.” She grinned, the darkness gone from her face; or at least properly hidden by a sincere smile. “You’re the first one that has willingly listened to me, trying to offer me comfort. You’re the kindest pony I’ve ever met.” That one went directly to my feelings, nopony had seen me as kind before. “If you ever need me to do something for you, tell me.”

“I will,” I said, “but not now.”

*** *** ***

I left the Diamonds with no information about the Buckmare Gang and its drug businesses. I could have asked Stuka about it, but my feelings of guilt had refrained me from doing it, and now I was regretting that. She could have told me all the secrets of Saddle’s criminal operation, but I had preferred to snuggle her a bit more... Celestia burn me with the sun. Now I had no leads to find out what was going on between the Buckmares and the Followers, because I was pretty sure that something was going on.

Why did I think so? Well, there were a series of reasons. First of all, the card I had obtained from the junkie in the market, carrying the emblem of the Followers of the Shy; which told me that the junkie had been in the Fort some time ago. Either that, or he had received the card from a Follower somewhere else. However, as far as I knew, the Followers didn’t venture themselves in the streets of Freedom Field, they waited for the patients to come to them. When I fainted, I hadn’t been rescued by the Followers. Instead, some unknown inhabitants had dragged me all the way to the Fort, stealing my jumpsuit in the process.

Secondly, and related to it, the fact that I hadn’t been given a card. If I had obtained one of those, I would have thought that it was customary for the Followers to give a little keepsake to the ones that were healed by them. However, it wasn’t like that, and Sunberry had told me that she went to the Fort to have a fever healed. She didn’t get a card either, so that meant there were ‘special’ patients that received the trinket as part of their treatment.

Last but not least, the fact that it appeared that the drug and chemical business was heavily polarized around both the Followers and the Buckmares, and how they seemed to get along with each other. The words of Goldie sounded in my head, so pretentious and void. Her praise of Saddle Buckmare found a new meaning in my head. They clearly had something going between them, but right now, I had nothing to start sniffing around.

Lady Luck, however, can be very capricious at times. Sometimes she’ll kick you in the flank, but other times she’ll give you a gentle, loving kiss; and this was one of those times. While I was wandering around, the door to the Diamonds opened and a silvery gray pony with a very respectable look came out of the Casino, dressed in an old hazel brown suit. He looked like a Pre-War businesspony, wealthy and charming with his clean cut mane and his sturdy way of walking around, surrounded by a swarm of goons clad in Buckmare armors. I didn’t have to be the brightest pony around to notice I was looking at Saddle Buckmare, and by the looks of things, he was in a hurry, headed for a meeting. A meeting that had to take place in neutral ground, as he was leaving his casino.

I started following him, sometimes going through a side street or even through an open building, just to avoid attracting his guards’ attention. I thanked Celestia that Stuka wasn’t accompanying him, or I would have been unable to tail him undetected. Following a tortuous route across barren side streets and wrecked buildings, Buckmare was trying to discourage anypony from following him. However, Freedom Field wasn’t that big and I could keep him pinpointed at every moment.

Finally, Saddle and his crew stopped in an alley close to the city wall. Before they could notice, I hid in an open dumpster, praying to the Goddesses that nopony would care looking in them, or I’d be done for. I could hear Saddle whispering something to his goons, and then the noise of trotting hooves grew louder, which meant that somepony else was coming. The meeting was about to take place.

“Here I am,” a male voice grunted. I supposed it was Saddle’s, “what do you want to discuss?”

“Why the long face, Saddle?” a feminine voice replied. It was Goldie! Not that it was much of a surprise, but it came to certify my suspicion that there was some hidden business between the Followers and the Buckmares. Now, I just had to figure out what it was all about.

“You know I don’t like walking around these streets. You don’t know who could be listening!”

“Oh, shut up, Saddle! If anypony is peeking, your bucks will find him and teach him a lesson, or am I confused?”

“I guess you’re right. Why did you call me here?”

“We need you to sell more.”

“To sell more? Do you think I’m a supermarket or something? My bucks can’t produce any faster, and you know that!”

“They’ll have to, or our customers will start going rebellious. We can manage an increase of population in our rehabilitation wing; what we can’t manage is a full-scale riot. Besides, I’ve heard news of junkies attacking the traders this very morning. We. Don’t. Want. That. Understood?”

Rehabilitation wing? A blaze of light struck my mind, but what I saw was so hideous that it made me want to cry out. Could it be like that? Could Goldie be associated to Buckmare in a addiction-rehabilitation scam? Was that what Fluttershy taught them? And to think I had admired Goldie and her crew... I felt dirty, played around, so angry and enraged that I had a hard time avoiding making any noise.

“Yes.” Saddle sighed. “Talking about that very thing, I had a very nasty message from Dee today. Apparently, the traders talked to her yesterday about the increasing amount of junkies, so she told me to stop the flow of drugs into town. Like I’m going to listen to her.”

“Be careful, Saddle. I know you hate her, I do as well. If I could, I’d stick a rebar in that cunt’s brain, but right now we can’t handle a war. You know that she outnumbers us in three to one. Even a dimwit like you can figure out what would happen.”

“Watch out, Goldie. I have a short temper, and you know what I’m capable of.”

“Yada yada yada. You and I know that I’m the one wearing the pants in our relationship. Both here and in bed.”

“Goldie, you’re going too far.”

“You think I care? Listen up everypony! Saddle Buckmare and I get it on every night! And he’s my little bitch!” Goldie went silent and waited a bit. “You see? Nopony has heard us.”

I was starting to feel numb inside the dumpster. I hadn’t moved in some good thirty minutes and I was hiding in a rather uncomfortable position, so I felt as if ants were marching up and down my legs. Besides, I was starting to feel rather cold, and the series of revelations I had heard in such a short time had me, literally, on the verge of shaking.

“OK, but cut it out.” Saddle gave a curt response. “Does the population know about your sidejob rehabilitating junkies?”

“No, you fool, I keep it secret. Only a few trusted Followers help me out with this. Also, the junkies carry a distinctive trinket to help us identify them.”

“A trinket?”

“A playing card with our emblem. It’s not something that a mugger would rob, and it won’t attract the attention of anypony in a city where gambling is so common.” Wrong again, since it had already attracted my attention. “You understand? Good. How are your contacts with the Coilites going?”

“Not good.” Saddle grunted. “Those bastards don’t want to talk about an alliance. Their leaders are so isolationist that they just can’t understand that taking Dee out of the picture would increase the slice of pie they’d get.”

“Keep working, Saddle. If we want to take down Dee’s gang, we need to be ready to act swiftly, and we need the Coilites. A long war would attract the unicorns.”

The unicorns? What the hell were they talking about? What would an all out war attract to Freedom Field? Were the Followers and the Buckmares going to attack Dee Cleff’s gang? And most importantly... what was this itch in my nose? No... I couldn’t sneeze...Ah...Ah...

ATCHOO!!

“Who’s there?” Saddle yelled. Crap. My cover had been blown.

Before I could try to do a run for it, the dumpster that hid me shifted and turned, hurling me outside, and I fell headfirst onto the cold and hard asphalt. When I rose my head, I saw myself surrounded by armored goons, many guns pointed at me. Goldie and Saddle looked at me from behind.

“Look who we have found, it’s my newest scavenger.” Goldie snickered.

“Is he one of yours?” Saddle yelled, enraged.

“No. He’s just... convenient.” Goldie waved a hoof. “Knock him cold, but don’t kill him. I want him alive. He’s going to have to answer to some questions.”

Before I could open my mouth to say anything, a hoof slammed into my head and everything faded to black.

#

Note: Reputation change.
Freedom Field: Irrelevant. You’re just another pony passing by Freedom Field, so the rest won’t notice you... unless you draw their attention.
Buckmares and Followers: Shunned. These gangs have reasons to think you’re a menace towards them, so they won’t treat you kindly. At all.

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