• Published 8th Oct 2012
  • 4,078 Views, 689 Comments

Fallout Equestria: Viva Las Pegasus - S3rb4n



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

  • ...
32
 689
 4,078

Chapter 3: Welcome To The Jungle

Chapter 3: Welcome To The Jungle

“Hello there, everypony, this is Mister New Pegasus wishing a great morning to you all. Remember that you are listening to New Pegasus Radio, the favourite station in the whole of Neighvada! One note of advice, my dear listeners. It’s cold out there, so remember to grab a coat or a scarf. I don’t want any of you to fall ill. Oh, yes, this last bit of musical magnificence was part of a legendary record by Sweetie Belle. What a voice, isn’t it true?

Let’s move on to the news, shall we? Yesterday, in response to the announcement of the reopening of the Platinum Horseshoe, the Ferratura family called the press for an important announcement, and this humble reporter was there, of course. After having waited for hours in an overcrowded room, finally the big chairman of the family, Verrazano Ferratura, climbed up to the stage. The announcement was short: he had gathered all the press in town to introduce his son Sandmound to the world.

Young Sandmound was introduced as the new blood to the Ferratura family and to the Clops Casino and Resort. Verrazano, as his father, said he was intelligent, charming and a great organizer. You’ll think this is all promotional chatter, and so did I. Therefore, wishing to bring you nothing more than the best and freshest information, I tried to have a personal chat with Sandmound himself. I had to sweat a bit, but I managed to have a ten minute interview with him.

I presume that almost every one of you knows about Verrazano, and how he acts. The tales of his ruthlessness and aggressiveness span across all Neighvada; so you might have thought that his son is pretty much the same. I’m sorry to prove you wrong, folks! In my small chat with young Sandmound he appeared to me as a charming young buck, well educated and intelligent, and with a kind heart. Running a Casino is a rough business, and he knows it, but he’s ready to face it with a smile, or so he said. From this station, I would like to wish him the best of luck.

Moving to other issues, the City Board has issued a formal complaint to the delegation of the New Equestrian Republic in response to Ambassador Merry Fields’ statement of yesterday. The Board Council wants to make clear that New Pegasus is and shall be an independent and sovereign city, and demands that the Republic puts all the cards on the table, letting the citizens of New Pegasus know of its true intentions.

My take on all this issue is that the Ambassador of the NER has made a mistake when choosing the words for her statement. So far, the diplomatic relationship between the Republic and the City has been just spotless, with successful trade agreements and mutual shows of appreciation. Therefore, it’s quite surprising to see such a change in the way the Republic views Neighvada. Let’s hope it was all a big faux pas.

Now, let’s return to the sweet, sweet music. I’ve got more Sweetie Belle here, ready for your enjoyment! Just forget your worries and let your mind drift with her majestic voice. And remember, you’re listening to New Pegasus Radio, and I’m Mister New Pegasus, speaking directly to your souls...”

My head hurt.

I could literally feel my brain pulsating inside my skull, sending ripples of pain across my body, just as if an army of ponies were marching to an unknown beat in my head, their hooves rhythmically stomping my battered mind. I tried to think, but the headache was too powerful. What had happened to me was the thing I was trying to remember, fighting against the numbness in my brain.

The last thing I clearly remembered was leaving the Four Little Diamonds after having enjoyed a morning of passion with Stuka; which had radically changed my opinion towards griffins. I once saw them as muscled hulks meant to fight, natural born predators, people not to mess with. After meeting Stuka, however, I had realized that they could also be tender creatures with a heart as big as their talons. Too bad we were committed to different goals, as I was trying to make a living for myself and she had a contract towards Saddle Buckmare.

Wait a minute, Buckmare... the name punched a hole through the wall of clouds that filled my numb mind. I had seen Buckmare come out of the Casino, surrounded by a flock of guards. After that I had followed him through a myriad of side streets, trying not to lose him at all cost. Finally, I had hidden in a dumpster because of something I didn’t remember right now...

Oh, yes, of course; I hid because they stopped and I had to remain unseen, the dumpster being the only possible place. That would explain the stench my nose had started to perceive. Yes, my body was like that when waking up, it was totally desynchronized. Usually my mind would be the first part to regain consciousness, and then the rest of the body would gradually ‘connect’ back to it, giving way for these awkward returns to the living world.

Who were they waiting for? I know I didn’t see anypony more since I hid in the dumpster, but I heard voices; voices that weren’t unknown to me. It was a mare’s voice, a mare that I had associated to good and kindness, a voice that had been my guide to this new world I now lived in: Goldie.

The floodgates opened and the memories quickly returned to my mind. I had been following Saddle Buckmare because I wanted to investigate the flow of drugs in Freedom Field, mainly because I had been ‘attacked’ by a junkie in Trader Plaza. That same junkie had dropped a playing card with the emblem of the Followers of the Shy, which had ignited my suspicions. That, and Dee Cleff’s awkward response, trying to avoid any implication, had sparked my will for answers. Therefore, I had gone to the Diamonds to look for some leads to the Buckmare-Follower drug issue, assuming there was something, but the only thing I had obtained was a good time and a possible friend inside the Buckmares.

In consequence, I had had no other choice than to do things all by myself, and luck had smiled at me by giving me a chance to follow Saddle himself to a meeting with Goldie. There I had learned about the devious setup they had running: Saddle’s crew got drugs into town, either by smuggling them from outside or by brewing them; then, they’d sell it to the junkies, who, once they had been high and were fighting with abstinence syndromes, would head to the Followers to get ‘rehabilitated’, just to return to Buckmare for another dose. In a nutshell, they would have an endless loop of addicts dumping their hard-earned caps into the pockets of the two gangs. Side effects were simple: the population of junkies would increase day by day, since the death toll was minimal thanks to Goldie’s tender love and care. Also, the population of Freedom Field, more and more hooked to the drugs, would end up falling into total poverty.

However, this wasn’t the end to their scheming. The final purpose of all this setup was to gather enough money to start a war for the control of Freedom Field. From what I had heard, though, I understood that they still depended on forging an alliance with the isolationist Coilites, which wasn’t close to happening. Then Goldie had said something about attracting a bear, which still had me puzzled; and then I had blown my cover and had been knocked out cold by Buckmare’s goons.

And here I was right now.

I opened my eyes to find myself in an old, dusty bedroom; shackled to an iron bed frame that had been tipped over. Therefore, I stood upright, my forelegs tied to the upper part of the frame, my hindlegs to the lower part. The light streamed into the room through two dirty windows that hadn’t had their glasses shattered, allowing me to see the small bits of dust fluttering in the air. The floor was covered with dirty checkerboard tiles, the white ones turned gray and the black ones turned gray as well, only a tad darker than the white ones.

Once again, I found myself naked. What was it with Wasteland ponies and undressing their captives? It was something I couldn’t understand. If I was to be questioned or, Celestia please don’t want it, tortured, at least they could have left me with something on, so that I didn’t feel so cold and exposed. Besides, being held in this position was starting to make me feel numb once again.

The door opened and Goldie entered the room, looking at me with a smug face. A guard was following her, but she waved a hoof to let him know that she wanted to be left alone with me. I felt anger boil up in me as I looked at my captor. I felt betrayed and outraged by her two-facedness, but most of all, I wanted answers.

“You’re awake again.” She smiled and walked up and down the room. Her smile wasn’t sweet anymore, it was cold and menacing.

“Nice to see you, Goldie,” I spewed. “I see you’re doing fine.”

“My, my. Polite to the very end, what a gentlecolt.” Her voice had a hint of mockery in it.

“Yes, that is me... a polite fool, for having believed you.”

“Believed me? Believing me in what?”

“Thinking you were kind; thinking you really cared about the rest of the ponies; thinking your goal was noble. Believing the speech you gave me when we met.”

“I don’t understand you.” Goldie seemed puzzled.

“And now you play fool on me?” I roared, shaking. The metal bed frame clunked as it tilted. “Fuck you, Goldie. How can you be so cold when you’re driving this city into chaos? Where are your vows to your creed?”

“My vows? Oh, you mean THAT!” Goldie started laughing out loud, tears coming from her eyes. I clenched my teeth, red with anger. If I hadn’t been tied up, I would have jumped at her and torn her apart with my own hooves. She chuckled and breathed deep, forcing herself to regain control.

“My, Farsight, you sure are naive.” Goldie shook her head. “Things aren’t black and white, you know? Well, you come from a Stable, so I guess the world down there is different. Let me open up your eyes, dear: our beloved Fluttershy, the very pony we adore and follow, was the one that turned Equestria into the Wasteland. She thought that making things even would be the best way to force an end to the War, and up to a point, she was right.”

“You can’t be serious.” That was impossible... Fluttershy had been the Mare of the Ministry of Peace! She had fought (figuratively speaking, of course) to bring peace and understanding in the dire times of the War between ponies and zebras. How could she be responsible of the destruction that followed?

“I have never lied to you, Farsight. I might have told you half the truth, but every single thing you’ve heard from my lips was true; and this is true as well. Fluttershy gave the megaspell technology to the zebras. She made possible that the striped ones built their balefire bombs. She brought darkness to the world, and what drove her to do it? Kindness, pure and simple kindness.”

“That’s bullshit, Goldie. I’m not buying that.” I shook my head in disgust. However, something in my mind had started clicking, something in the depths of my brain was processing that information and telling me it was logical. If the megaspells hadn’t been given to the zebras, the ponies would have won the War and caused a zebra genocide. What Fluttershy did turned a genocide into an apocalypse... the best of intentions had the worst of consequences.

“Have it your way, Farsight; you’ll end up realizing it’s true. You’re smart, I can feel that... I can almost hear your brain clicking as it tells your poor Stable pony heart that you’ve been told the truth.” Goldie smirked and got close. “And I’m just like Fluttershy... I’m driven by kindness.”

“You’re not driven by kindness, you slut!” I yelled, hurting my vocal chords in the process. “You’re just a greedy bitch with no ethics, that wants to bleed this town dry by turning everypony into drug addicts!”

“Is that so?” Goldie chimed. “Then you’re not that smart, dear... you’re just the common fool with a big mouth. My only driving force is kindness, kindness towards the poor junkies. My reasons are simple, Farsight: whatever I do, Saddle is not going to stop selling drugs, since that’s his only way of making money. His mares are old and ugly, his food is just disgusting, his entertainment is sub par and his casino can’t cope with all the costs. Therefore, he’s taken over the drug business in town, and I’m faced with tons of addicts falling dead on their tracks as they take one shot too much. My vows towards the Creed of the Shy were simple: I shall do no harm, and I shall seek the healing of every living being; thus, I decided to provide my help to the junkies. However, to deter them from starting over again, I started charging them some caps. This way, the Followers would fund themselves. My attempts to stop the addiction, though, proved useless as the junkies returned to Buckmare and got high again. If you can’t beat your enemy, at least, profit from it. That’s why I decided to contact Saddle and establish a pact. We’d be doing the same, but we would coordinate our efforts to make things go... smoother; and at the same time, we needed to hide our efforts from our enemies.”

I was enraged, but my logic mind admitted the plan was flawless, and that it could be fit into Goldie’s vision of the world. It was kindness, indeed, but it wasn’t pure; it was corrupted, warped and mutated kindness. Anyway, I had to give Goldie the point of coherence, as every detail had been carefully orchestrated; every detail except for the one that had driven me to find out about their scheming.

“The card.”

“Exactly.” She nodded. “The card, the same card we found in your pocket. That was our way of identifying the junkies that were already in the rotation. Too bad that he dropped his card... too bad for you, of course. I can’t let you live anymore.”

So this was it... after having spoken to me and having obtained information from me, she’d kill me. I had been such a fool! By letting my anger speak through my mind, she had found out all that I knew; and unwillingly, I had let her know that I was aware of her addict rehabilitation scam. Now I wasn’t convenient anymore, I was a problem to deal with. Thus, I had two options: I could wait for my death or I could try to buy myself some time. Of course, I chose the second.

“You’ve spoken about enemies.” I tried to keep Goldie occupied. As long as she kept talking to me, she wouldn’t kill me, would she?

“Yes. You can’t make money in Freedom Field without making some enemies.” Goldie gave me a questioning glare and then she shrugged. “Is this your final will? Do you want me to tell you my plans before I have you killed?”

“Sounds like a fair deal to me.” I tried to shrug as well. “But it’s your call.”

“What the hell... you won’t live to see tomorrow, so I might as well tell you my plans.”

It had worked! I had to hide a smile of triumph, as I had most probably bought myself a couple of hours before she decided to have me executed. The chances of survival were slim, but at least I could keep trying to think something.

“As I was saying,” Goldie continued, “Saddle and I are very worried about the enemies that loom around us, namely that bitch Dee Cleff and her goons. She thinks she’s the bloody guardian angel of Freedom Field, trying to stop the drug business in town. Yesterday she sent a message to Saddle in a rather menacing tone, demanding him to stop dealing drugs. Who does she think she is to talk like that? Saddle wants to take her out of the picture, and so do I. With Dee’s gang out of the picture, we could carry on with our business and run Freedom Field without opposition.”

“And you think the people will allow it?”

“Why wouldn’t they? We have guns, for Luna’s sake! We’ve dominated this town for years now, while she did nothing but visit the traders every now and then. We’ve kept the town safe and healthy when the raiders attacked it, while Dee only cared about the power supply! We’ve given all we had for Freedom Field! The blood of Buckmare’s ponies floods the history of this town, while Dee has done nothing! We deserve to rule this place!”

“You don’t seem to understand it, do you?” I smirked. “You want to base your domination on fear, while Dee bases her power on the admiration that the people has on her. Come to a fight, the common folk of Freedom Field will support her, not you.”

“You know nothing, Farsight.” Goldie said with a cutting tone. “Nothing.”

She walked close to me and passed her hoof down my belly. It could have almost have been interpreted as a caress, but I knew there was no good intention beneath it.

“Too bad we had to end up like this.” Goldie whispered. “You and I could have done so much together.”

She turned around and left the room, leaving me alone with two rough-faced goons that entered the room when Goldie left. My time was over.

*** *** ***

It turned out that they didn’t want to kill me; not immediately, that is. Instead, Goldie had booked me a whole treatment of body punishment before they had the kindness of blowing my brains out. It had been twenty minutes since Goldie had left, and I could swear that already I had two broken ribs and several chipped teeth. The guards she left me with had bucked me so hard I thought I was going to break in half.

However, I stood strong, looking at them in the eyes, because now I had purpose, as I had understood when speaking with Goldie. I had a life in Freedom Field; something to fight for. I had a rather respectable job as a trader, I was starting to feel sincerely appreciated by other ponies, like for example Sunberry Grass; and I even had found someone I felt connected to, even if it was madness. Therefore, I couldn’t falter.

The thugs had gagged me so that my screams of pain didn’t alert anypony around, so I had to be held prisoner somewhere close to the main streets. If I had been secluded somewhere like where the meeting took place, they wouldn’t have worried about attracting anypony’s attention. Then they had started using me as their punching bag.

You might think I was acting smug and resisting the pain, but I’m sorry to prove you wrong. I was squealing with every slam, tears flowing from my eyes as I gasped for air. All my muscles were tense, trying to offer as much resistance to the attacks as possible, but I wasn’t strong enough. Every hoof slammed through my defenses, causing my body to convulse in agony. Stings of pain pierced every inch of my flesh, sending desperate pleas to my mind. Give up, they said. Faint. Lose it. Go to sleep.

But I wouldn’t. After every hit I would try to look at my captors in the eyes, let them know that I wouldn’t give in; and at the same time, I tried to focus on the hatchet that was hidden among my gear. A second of distraction and I would be able to lift it from the floor, and that would even things a little bit. However, the goons were professional. When one started to lose rhythm, the other one stepped forward to keep beating me up.

A hoof hit my face from side to side, and I tasted blood. I wished I hadn’t been gagged, I would have loved to spit that blood into my captor’s face. Instead, I could only swallow it, not without some effort. Its metallic taste made my gut churn. Then, without any warning, another hoof slammed right into my groin, and I was close to blacking out. The goon saw it, which made him launch another hoof right into the same place.

“Hey!” he called his colleague. “I think I’ve found this one’s weak spot.”

“You bucked him in the balls; what a discovery, indeed. Listen, I’m starting to get tired of this. Mister Gutsy here won’t go down, and the boss told us to kill him. The only reason we’re doing this is for fun.”

“What, are you bored?”

“No, I’m hungry, so let’s pop a cap in this bastard and go have something to eat.”

The hungry goon picked a pistol in his mouth and aimed it to my head. Its black cannon promised a swift death, and at the site of that black gaping hole, I felt my will break. This time, all my hopes were dashed. Until that very moment, a little part of me was waiting for a miracle, for a moment of distraction that allowed me to grab a makeshift weapon or for somepony to come and save me. The current situation left no room for salvation, this time I was done for, and not even all my purpose would save me. I sighed and silently prayed to the Goddesses, while I closed my eyes and waited for the final detonation.

BANG!

That was it? I expected pain, suffering, something else. Instead, I had felt nothing, only the numbness and the pulsating pain from my previous wounds. Then, I noticed I was still breathing. What was going on? Had he missed? I opened my eyes and saw my captor looking at me with a puzzled face. Then, on a second look I noticed the gaping hole right between the eyes, blood slowly flowing out of it. What the hell was going on?

BANG!

This time I saw the other goon fall to his side as a bullet tore a hole through his head, painting the wall behind red. The one that had been about to kill me stood still before me, so I couldn’t see what was happening right in front of my nose. I tried to move my head to push him aside, but I was too weak.

“There’s somepony here!” a voice said behind my dead captor. “He’s wounded... but alive.”

“Untie him and get him to the School.” another voice replied. “I hate these Buckmares, they have no honor.”

“Yeah, I know, and I want them gone, but Miss Cleff wants to keep peace. It’s hard, though, with Buckmare selling drugs like candy around town.”

“Fucking maniacs.”

I silently thanked the Goddesses for sending me an angel. A hoof moved the corpse of the Buckmare goon and I found myself facing a stallion with a scarred face clad on an armor with a treble clef symbol. The Stringers, I presumed. I smiled and gave in to my body’s demands. Everything went black again.

*** *** ***

I woke up on a nice, clean, comfortable bed, and this time I wasn’t tied up or gagged. However, almost all my body had been carefully bandaged, and my right hindleg had been held in place with plaster. Apparently, the goons that gave me a beating broke some bones, but now I wasn’t feeling any pain at all. I saw I had been fed intravenously, since I had a catheter connected to my foreleg and a small bag of a translucent fluid was sending drop after drop to my veins. Probably, I had been stuffed with painkillers as well.

I tried to move my head and I made it. Good, at least my neck was in one piece; I just hoped my spine was too. I tried to move my hindlegs but they didn’t budge, locked as they were under an armor of plaster and bandage. My forelegs were responding, at least. I tried to lift my head with all my strength, but I couldn’t, so I guess I’d have to forget about looking around. Well, at least the ceiling looked good, as the paint wasn’t crumbling down like in the rest of buildings I had seen. There were no moisture stains either. In a nutshell, it was a neat ceiling.

Sweet Celestia, what was I talking about? Were the painkillers dumbing me down or something?

Suddenly, the door opened. I didn’t see it open, but the noise of an opening door sounded very clearly, so I assumed that the door had opened. You can imagine how cumbersome it can be to be looking upward without being able to move. I heard hoofsteps getting closer, and out of the blue, the head of a young mare appeared above me. I only noticed her big, almost endless sky blue eyes looking at me closely, as she blinded me with a flashlight. Then, she let go a slight sigh.

“You’re finally awake,” she said with a sweet high-pitched voice. “Those damn thugs hit you really hard. How are you feeling?”

“Had better days,” I replied. “I’m just a bit uncomfortable here, looking at the ceiling.”

“Oh, that, of course!” I could swear she facehoofed. “I knew I had to do something.”

“Don’t worry, just help me move, please.”

“Of course!”

I felt her envelope me with magic and carefully lift me from my position, softly moving me to a more upright one. Then I could get a good look at the room and at my caretaker, a petite peach colored unicorn mare with a short, green mane. She was wearing a simple white gown and had two small saddlebags strapped, almost overflowing with bandages and potions. She looked at me and smiled peacefully.

“How about now? Are you feeling better?” she asked.

“I’m in true delight now, baby.” I smiled at her. “Thank you.”

She blushed and left with a smile on her face. Well, that was unexpected. I was just trying to be kind to her by giving her praise, but she seemed to have taken it... differently. That was a facet of my personality I had never been aware of. Maybe I could use that for my advantage, why not?

Being in an upright position, I could easily take a look around the room I was in. This place was being taken care of, or at least it was kept clean. Old yet still brightly colored wallpaper covered the walls, and ornate bronze-colored lamps hung from the ceiling, bathing the room with a soft light. A fluffy, dark green rug covered the entire floor, damping the sound of hooves treading around. The bed I was in was made out of actual wood, and the sheets were crisp clean, even if a bit wrinkled. A small nightstand was located to the side of my bed, a little piece of careful woodwork, lovingly crafted. Old black-and-white pictures of a beautiful city decorated the walls. From what I could see from the bed, my guess was that it had to be Pre-War Las Pegasus.

I then centered myself on the nightstand. I hadn’t noticed that there was a note lying on the table, held down in place by an old alarm clock. The clock had been moved, as there was a slight change in the colour of the wood where the clock had been before. Therefore, the note had been recently placed there. I concentrated on the note and on the clock, in an attempt to use my magic to grab the note. My horn glowed gently and the clock lifted some centimeters, enough to move the note with care. Then, I dropped the clock and picked the note. The handwriting was spiky and nervous, as if it had been written under large distress. I also noticed that there were tear marks on the paper, as if the writer had been crying at the moment of composing the note.

Dear Farsight,

If you’re reading this, our little something is over, although I don’t want to. When I heard my boss had captured you spying on him, I felt like struck by lightning. I don’t know who you really are or what you’re after, and I don’t care, either. I just want you to know that you made me you made me feel happy. I felt like I owed you something for that, so now we’re even. I told the Stringers where you were being held hostage... Hope they made it in time.

Stuka

So it had been her... The note was like a spear thrusted at full speed through my heart. She cared for me, or so it seemed from the note, and from what she did. Nopony had openly shown me any sign of kindness, if there ever was somepony that actually cared for me. I felt guilty for what I had done to Stuka. Maybe, in other circumstances, we could have been together, who knows? But now, there was nothing to be done.

“Forget about her.” A feminine voice sounded next to me. I lifted my head from the note to see a white mare with her black mane combed into a large topknot. She wore large, thick framed black glasses and a checkered dress. Suddenly, I remembered her: she was the pony that accompanied Dee Cleff when she visited the Trader Plaza! What was her name? Pacemaker... No, wait; it had something to do with music, but just I couldn’t remember.

“What?” was my only response.

“I said you should forget about her; the griffin. I don’t know what was going on between you two, and I swear to Celestia that I don’t want to know; but whatever it was, she’s still working for the Buckmares, and they don’t like you.”

She was right; after all, now I was a known face for Buckmare and his gang, and Saddle couldn’t be too pleased of having me roaming around once more. Goldie wouldn’t be very happy either. Therefore, the possibility of coming close to Stuka was very, very remote.

“Yes, it’s probably the best thing to do.” I sighed and tossed the note.

“Good. You’re reasonable, at least.” She picked the note and put it into a bin in the corner. “I’m Metronome, assistant to Dee Cleff. Welcome to Octavia’s Music School.”

“Thanks, I’m Farsight.”

“I know, you’ve made yourself quite a name in a matter of hours, you know? Coming out of nowhere, making money by scavenging, and then spying? What’s on your mind?”

“I just want to make a living.” I replied, bothered.

“Then you’re not too bright, are you? You could have made a living just by scavenging and selling. Why the hell did you mess with the Buckmares?”

“Why? Because of the damn junkies, that’s why!” I groaned. “It is simply outrageous.”

“I know, so keep this in mind, Farsight. Many of us want to end this disgrace. However, there are ways of doing it, and spying upon a secret meeting isn’t the wisest one. If Saddle’s griffin bodyguard hadn’t liked you, you’d already be rotting in the Wasteland. Don’t forget this.”

I nodded. Metronome’s advice was wise, and I wasn’t going to contradict the ones that had saved my sorry flank from a certain death.

“What will happen to me now?” I asked.

“Now? Now you rest and heal; then you’ll work for us. After all, if you walk out alone the Buckmares will be waiting for you to step into a dark place to beat you up and kill you. We could have left you out on your own, but you seem to have some guts on you, and we like that. Therefore, you’ll be part of our gang, no buts.”

“Hey, I’m not complaining.” Being part of the Stringers wasn’t my best case scenario, but Metronome was right again. I was a wanted pony now, and being embedded in a gang structure would avoid trouble.

“Good, good. From the looks of your wounds, I’d say you’ll be fine in two or three days. Once you can walk, come down and we’ll talk business.”

I nodded, and she turned around and left me alone with my thoughts. So I was now affiliated to the Stringers... Well, at least they looked like the ‘good guys’ in comparison to the other gangs in Freedom Field. They seemed to care about the common folk and their methods seemed more ethical. I might be headed to another deception but it was the life I had before me at the moment.

*** *** ***

Indeed, recovery took me three days, days that I used to read and learn about the world I was in. When the nurse pony came back to my room I asked if I could have something to read, and she came back with a couple of books in her saddlebags. Both of them looked rather new, which wasn’t the common thing around Freedom Field. All the books I had seen since I had left the Stable were old and dusty, if they were readable at all. These, however, had to be rather recent, not only from their looks but from their content.

The first one was called Wasteland Survival Guide, written by somepony called Ditzy Doo. A quick glance through the pages let me know that it was a compendium of useful information for the pony that ventured into the Wastes. The book had been divided into many chapters that discussed various matters such as the fauna of the Wasteland, the known predators, the flora, how to deal with radiation, how to repair weapons, tips and tricks for the occasional scavenger or medical procedures for common wounds. In a nutshell, it wasn’t much of a fun read; instead, it was a helpful encyclopedia for survival. Just in case I might need it, I scanned it into my PipBuck.

The second one, however, was much more readable than the Survival Guide. Its name was The Light Bringer, and it was the story of a Stable Pony that left on a desperate quest to find a friend and ended up becoming the pony that saved the Wasteland, defeating powerful enemies and making great friends. The authors, Homage and Life Bloom, showed great prowess in telling the tale of that young mare, and I got hooked to it immediately. I spent the next two days reading almost non-stop, amazed by all the adventure that the little Stable mare went through, and how her determination drove her forward despite all the harshness of this world.

However, I felt puzzled. Was it true or was it fiction? The book mentioned places of old Pre-War Equestria such as Manehattan or Fillydelphia, and according to the story, the facts portrayed in it took place twenty years ago, so it could perfectly have been reality, in which case the book would be a biography. All things considered, though, the story ended up telling how the brave sacrifice of the protagonist had turned the Wasteland into a far less harsh place. The world I knew, however, kept being pretty much like the one in the beginning of the story; therefore, I couldn’t clearly decide if I had been reading a historic document or just a delightful epos.

After three days of recovery in bed, the lovely nurse mare that had been taking care of me came to free me of my bandage and plaster prison. All the pain had disappeared and the only thing remaining was a subtle feeling of weakness, probably as a consequence of not having used my body in almost a week. When I got back on my hooves I felt my legs shake lightly under my own weight, which made me worry a little. However, the nurse mare told me that it was the usual behaviour of the body after a long time of inactivity. I dressed myself and packed my things. I had been able to recover all my gear, but my pouch was gone. Once again, I was broke. I noticed that the nurse had left a small note on my nightstand as she was leaving, and I picked it up.

Farsight,

Once you’re back on your hooves, meet me at the Music Hall, down by the lobby. I have an assignment for you.

Metronome

My life was changing pretty much, pretty fast. In a very short period of time I had been banished from a Stable, then from a City, then I had started working as a scavenger, and now I was nothing more than a gang goon. Sometimes I wanted the world to stop, but I learned the hard way that the only way of surviving here was by being able of keeping up with the pace, so I hastily got my tie on and exited the room.

I quickly remembered I hadn’t been in this building before, conscious that is. It didn’t take me long until I got lost in the hallways of the big Music School, and ended up exiting through a back door into a side alley.

The Stringers were, indeed, the most powerful gang in Freedom Field, and the reasons were pretty clear. Once I trotted back into the main Avenue, ponies wearing what I had realized was the emblem of the Stringers (a treble clef) started appearing everywhere. From colts and fillies with bandanas to full-grown mares clad in armor with the symbol printed on it, almost everypony in the area was affiliated up to some point.

A massive treble clef made of neon lights was hung on the front of the red brick building which I had left seconds ago. It was on a much better state than the surrounding ones. Below the clef, a shiny neon sign read “Octavia’s School of Music”. Octavia was a world-famous musician pony from before the war, if I recalled correctly, and I wondered if she did start this school herself or it had been just a catchy marketing technique. Truth was, this reminded me quite much of the devious Followers and their stupid Creed, who had taken a Pre-War pony as a godlike figure and roamed the world preaching her word. I really hoped these Stringer fellows weren’t like the Followers of the Shy, for my own sake, as I pushed the door to enter the building.

The soft chime of a bell sounded as I entered the room. In the middle of the lobby was a ring-shaped desk with some terminals and a radio that hummed gently. The sound of a violin played by an unsteady hoof filled the air, stopping and starting over every now and then. I could hear voices coming from a nearby room, yet so muffled I couldn’t tell what they were saying. Behind the desk, a cute mare with a faint pink coat and purple mane was filing papers and entering data on a terminal. She wore the treble clef symbol as a pendant hung from her neck. Everything would have been idyllic and almost out-of-this-world if it weren’t for the two armed guards that hid cleverly in a small room, out of the first sight. This was, still, the headquarters of a warring gang.

“May I help you out with something, sir?” the mare on the desk asked with a smile.

“Yes.” I smiled back. “I’m here to see Metronome... She must be waiting for me.”

“Ok. I’ll have to ask you to leave all your weapons at the counter, please.”

The guards had moved from their hiding positions, making themselves fairly visible and intimidating. They wore a weapon system that was strapped to their backs and carried machine guns to the sides.

“Not a problem,” I answered, and lifted the hatchet from my tool belt with my telekinesis, leaving it gently on the desk.

“Thank you.” She grinned again. “Right now she’s giving a lesson, but she’ll be over shortly. Please wait over there,” she said, and pointed a hoof to a door on the far end of the room.

A lesson? So this still was a music school? This world never stopped to amaze me. Logic was something that was definitely not required to live out here. As I walked towards the door, the music sounded louder, a lovely duo between the violin I had heard before and a cello handled with much more finesse than the violin. The tune grew in intensity and speed, making me feel actual shivers down my spine. Having been raised listening to classical music, this somehow brought faint memories of my foalhood; but whether I liked those memories or not, that was not all that clear to me. While I was lost in my past, the music rolled down to a close.

“Okay, little filly. You’re doing good progress.” That was the voice of Metronome.

“Thank you, miss!” was the reply of the filly. She seemed happy.

“You’re welcome, honey. Remember to practice those works of Hayndel and Beethoofen I gave you last week.”

“Will do, miss!”

The door opened and a small, honey-colored filly came out running with an expression of utter delight on her face, a violin case held firmly in her mouth. The mare behind the counter gave me a sign of approval, so I entered the room.

*** *** ***

The room was decorated like an old music hall. A big stage covered the far end of the room, and rows of seats were distributed looking over towards it. Behind the stage curtains, which were open at the moment, a full body portrait of a mare playing the cello covered the wall. The mare’s coat was graphite-gray, with a darker gray mane that fell graciously straight behind her head, as she was standing on her hind hooves. Her face was of utter concentration as she held the fiddlestick with her hoof, and still, she looked breathtaking. She wore nothing but a cute pink bow tie on her neck, and her cutie mark was the treble clef I had been seeing all around the place ever since. Octavia, as I concluded, was idolized by everypony here.

On stage, Metronome was packing her cello into its case. Once again, she was wearing a comfortable-looking black and white dress, this time striped instead of checkerboard. She did resemble a zebra up to some point.

“So, you’re back on track, aren’t you?” She didn’t even look at me.

“Yes, at least I can walk on my own.” I replied. “Thanks for the medical help.”

“You don’t have to thank me for anything. I would have left you to rot in a side street, but Miss Cleff insisted in bringing you along. You should be thanking her.”

Well wasn’t she rude. I would have liked to give her a smug reply, but I knew it wouldn’t be very wise, so I refrained from speaking.

“Well, that does it.” Metronome packed the cello in the case and lifted her head to look at me. “OK, now let’s talk about your new assignment.”

“Please, go right ahead.”

“Here’s the thing. You know that Miss Cleff is a very cautious mare; she has to keep an eye out for almost everything in town, with so many threats to herself and to her interests looming around.”

“It’s pretty reasonable, yes. So what?”

“Well, Miss Cleff does many off-town trading businesses, with caravaneers, Wasteland scavengers, thoughtful Raiders, and so on. Since she doesn’t like that our gang members leave town, we use external agents as couriers.”

“Why can’t she use her own goons?”

“Because those goons are the ones that keep the town safe, that’s why. Besides, some of those trades are far from... legit, and Miss Cleff has a standard to keep. It’s a hard way to the top, almost everypony knows that. However, what only a few know is that it’s even harder to keep yourself up there once you’ve made it.”

“I understand, or at least, I think I do. Miss Cleff is like a pony on the high wire, if she leans too much to any side she can fall.”

“It’s a valid analogy; in fact, it’s a very good analogy.” Metronome shook her head, as if she had just remembered something. “Wait, wait, we’re just going off-topic here. As I was telling you, Miss Cleff uses couriers to do her trades; but one of these couriers has gone greedy and the case they had to deliver hasn’t arrived yet.”

“So you need me to go there and pick it up.”

“Quick thinker, eh? You almost got it. You’re going to pick it up, and you’re going to teach them a lesson. I want those motherfuckers dead, you hear me? Nopony messes with Miss Cleff, understood?”

These were the good guys? Once again, I felt disgusted, as I couldn’t understand what was the need of being so violent. I already knew that the Wasteland was a harsh world, but something was so incoherent here. Dee Cleff acted like a protector to the ponies of Freedom Field, but could be ruthless with those that crossed her. I couldn’t stand so much hypocrism.

“Hey! Is there something wrong with the assignment or what?” Metronome asked with an upset face.

“Just... Why do I have to kill them?”

“OK, Stable Pony, come down from the clouds. This isn’t the land of everlasting happiness and friendship, haven’t you noticed already? The only way of making your point clear is with a gun in your hooves. If you don’t kill these bastards, other couriers will understand they can play smart with us and that they won’t be punished for their actions. Let them live, and everypony will lose all respect towards our organization; and believe me, tenderhoof; the only thing, I repeat, the ONLY thing that keeps you on top is respect. Not fear, not love, not admiration, not friendship. Only respect. And now, we need to teach Freedom Field some respect.”

Respect... It was reasonable. Come to think of it, I hadn’t been shown any respect in my life. I had been kicked around, thrown off my home, pushed to the brink of destruction, beaten, tortured and used. Doing whatever it took to survive wasn’t the best way to earn respect, so maybe I would have to rethink my goal in life. Maybe I would have to fight to be respected.

“I understand your point.” I said coldly. “Forget all my doubts. How many of them are we facing?”

“Four or five.”

“Four or five? How am I supposed to face them alone?”

“I never said you’ll be facing them alone. This one is a two-pony job; your partner is waiting outside, I spoke to him earlier.”

“What’s his name?”

“You don’t need to know. You will just address him as ‘Mister Black’, and he’ll address you as ‘Mister Blue’. That is a standard security issue between externals. If anypony catches you, they’ll know you work for us, but they won’t know who else does.”

“Externals?”

“Yes, externals. Don’t expect a bunch of our ponies coming to save you if you mess things up. You’re on your own, you understand?”

“I don’t like this one bit, but I understand.”

“And I don’t give a single fuck about what you like or not; just do your job and shut the fuck up. Do you have a gun?”

“No, but you owed me 1500 caps.” I took out the small note.

“I know. Consider our debt paid.” She tossed a rifle towards me. “It’s a repeater rifle, magnum ammo. A good gun, precise and reliable; take care of her and she’ll do whatever you want her to do. Now go and bring me back that briefcase. The lock key is 333, just check it’s full.”

“I’ll be back.” I said firmly.

“Yeah, yeah. Come back with the briefcase, or don’t bother coming back.” Metronome turned around and left the room. There wasn’t much more to do there than leaving, so I headed back to the lobby.

*** *** ***

“You Mr. Blue?” somepony asked, a male voice with a funny, musical accent.

I looked around to see who had called me. It wasn’t the pink mare in the reception desk, since the voice was male, and the guards were nowhere to be seen. However, there was one more buck in the room, so that had to be the one that had called me. His coat was stone-gray with... white pinstripes? What did that mean? Metronome was giving me a ZEBRA as a partner? I remembered what the teachers told us about zebras down in the Stable School. They were supposed to be fearsome warriors, ruthless and deadly; they could suck the life out of you, or control your mind with a brew. They killed Celestia and Luna, and were the ones to blame for our situation. Anyhow, once I came over my surprise, I found out there was nothing too outrageous about the zebra. He wasn’t as striped as the zebras I had seen in the recordings; instead, his stripes were thin, almost inexistent at some points. His mane was a curly ball of black fur that stood on top of his head, funnily enough. He had also let his fur grow longer around his mouth, as if it was some kind of... moustache and beard? Was that possible, actually? I knew about spells that made fur grow like that, but he didn’t seem like a spellcaster, anyway.

Apart from all that, he wore a slick black suit with a white shirt and black tie, which made him look even stranger in the middle of the Music School’s lobby. Without even muttering a single word, he trotted up to me.

“And you’re Mr. Black, I presume.” I gave him a stern look, action that he mirrored.

“Indeed, I am. You ready to go?”

“Let’s get moving.”

I opened the main door and let Mr. Black through. I didn’t like his looks, I didn’t like my assignment and I didn’t like teaming up with a zebra. However, there was few to be done about it. We attracted all the looks as we trotted through the crowded main streets of Freedom Field, and my companion didn’t seem to bother. I was taking quick glances in all direction, looking for unknown threats, and had my E.F.S. on at all times. No hostiles for the moment.

“So, Mr. Blue” my companion started talking. “Metronome told me you’re a Stable Pony. What is it like down there?”

Mister Black wanted to chat? What kind of lousy super-secret job was this? For Celestia’s sake, he even knew I was a Stable Pony! Well, come to think of it, it wasn’t that hard to notice, since I didn’t hide my PipBuck at all. Whatever, maybe this chit-chat could make our job a bit more bearable; I just had to be careful not to tell him anything really personal.

“It’s not that different” I told him. “The big picture is pretty much the same, but there are these small details that make it different...”

“Details?”

“Yes, small differences. For example, the fact that you don’t have any natural light in there. It makes crops grow very dimly.”

“And why is that a problem?”

“Think about it. You have to feed many ponies out of those crops.”

“Pretty much true. How do they do it?”

“Strong rationing.”

“Strong rationing, yeah.” Mr. Black replied, nodding with a smile. “Can’t you smuggle food down there?”

“There is no economy in a Stable.”

“Oh.” He seemed displeased. Then he stopped brusquely as he noticed something. “We’re here.”

I floated my rifle close and cocked it. Mister Black picked a gun from a holster in his suit and hung it from a string that went from his hoof and around his neck, so that a quick tug to the string would propel the gun right into his mouth, ready for a quick shot.

“How many of them are up there?” he asked.

“Four or five.”

“Including our buck?” He winced.

“I don’t know. Four or five.”

“Damn. We should have shotguns for this kind of jobs.” Mister Black shook his head and entered the building.

This place was no different to the buildings I had scavenged before. Dirty walls with falling paint, moisture marks all along, closed apartments that hadn’t been used in almost two hundred years. However, in the second floor there was a trace of activity. The dust in the hallway had been swept apart, and there was noise coming from one of the doors. Obviously, our rogue couriers had turned the abandoned building into their little hideout. Mister Black stopped before the door and checked his gun. I did the same, just in case. After all, this was my first ‘job’, so to speak, so I should learn as I went.

“Ready?” he asked. “Let’s get into character.”

My companion knocked the door a couple of times and somepony moved inside the apartment. We heard the lock click and the door opened. Mister Black took the initiative and entered the room, with me following closely.

“Hey colts!” he greeted. “How you bucks doin’?”

I moved to a corner and took a look at the flat; it was a living room with an adjoint kitchen in the far end. The living room had a table in the middle, where one of the couriers was standing, having breakfast. Another buck was lying on an old, battered couch, looking rather dozed. A third buck, the one that had opened the door, had slowly crept to a corner and was watching the scene with obvious signs of being rather nervous. When the pony on the couch noticed us, he made an attempt to get up but Mister Black stopped him with a wave of his hoof.

“Hey, keep chillin’.” He smiled and nodded as the buck returned to his original position.

“You know who we are?” he asked. “We’re associates of your employer, Dee Cleff. You DO remember our common associate and employer, don’t you?”

The pony at the table gulped, stressed. He was the one leading the team of couriers, no doubt.

“Now let me take a wild guess here,” Mister Black continued. He raised a hoof and scratched his moustache, letting everypony know he was thinking. Then, he pointed at the pony by the table. “You’re Butterbread, right?”

“Yeah.” Butterbread nodded.

“I thought so.” Mister Black smiled and walked to the table. I walked past them and towards the kitchen. “You remember who I’m talking about, don’t you, Butterbread?”

“Yeah, I remember.” Butterbread nodded again and looked around nervously.

“Good.” Mister Black smiled again. His smile was the one of a dangerous beast ready to attack. “Looks like Blue and I caught you bucks having meal; sorry ‘bout that. What’cha havin’?”

“Jerky.” Butterbread muttered.

“Jerky!” Black’s smile broadened. “Ooh, I do love jerky. It’s one of my few weaknesses. What kind of jerky?”

“S-s-smoked jerky.” Butterbread stuttered.

“No, no, no. Where did you get it? The Diamonds, Smokey’s, Buck-in-a-box, where?”

“Uhm, Braeburn Jerky.” Butterbread showed the package.

“Braeburn Jerky! It’s that Appleloosa jerky joint.” Black chimed. “I heard they’ve got some tasty jerky, I haven’t had some myself. How is it?”

“G-good.” Our victim wasn’t enjoying Black’s play.

“Mind if I try some of yours?” Black asked, and pointed to the jerky on the table before Butterbread. “This is yours here, right?”

Butterbread nodded, and Black grabbed some of the jerky with his muzzle. He gave it a big bite and tasted it with obvious delight.

“Mmm-hmm! This IS some tasty jerky!” he said, impressed. “Blue!” he called me. “You ever had some Braeburn Jerky?”

“No.” I shook my head.

“Want a bite? It’s real tasty!”

“No, I’m not hungry” I replied.

“Well, if you like jerky, give it a try sometime” Black said. “Me, I can’t usually get some because I’m always out of town, working my ass out, but I do love the taste of some good jerky.”

Black dropped the jerky and pointed at a paper glass on the table.

“What’s there?” he asked.

“Apple cider” Butterbread replied.

“Apple cider, good! You mind if I have a bit of that tasty drink to wash this down?”

“Go right ahead.”

Black took a long sip from the glass, almost emptying it, while he looked menacingly at Butterbread.

“Aaaah” he sighed. “Just magnificent.”

Black left the glass on the table and walked towards the couch.

“You, flock of seagulls!” he said to the lying pony. “You know why we’re here? Why don’t you tell my buck Blue where you hid your shit at?”

“It’s over there!” the pony in the corner, who had been nervously watching the whole scene, burst into a wail.

“I don’t remember asking you a Celestia-damned thing!!!” Black turned his head and yelled in anger. “You were sayin’?”

“It’s in the cupboard.” The couch pony pointed towards the kitchen. I used my magic to open up the upper cupboard.

“N-no, th-the one by your hooves.”

I opened up the lower cupboard and found an old looking leather case, closed and hidden behind some useless junk. I lifted it and laid it on the kitchen counter, then I turned the number lock until it opened. It was full with caps. No doubt the couriers got greedy, and no doubt Dee wanted them dead.

“We happy?” Black asked. “Blue! We happy?”

“Yeah, we happy.” I smiled and closed the case.

“Look,” Butterbread started talking nervously. “I didn’t get your name. I got yours, Blue, right, but I-I never got yours...”

“My name’s Bess,” Black replied curtly, “and your ass ain’t talking you out of this mess.”

“N-no. I just want you to know how sorry we are that, that things got so fucked up with us and Miss Cleff. W-We got into this thing with the best intentions. Really, I never...”

As Butterbread was trying to talk his way out, Black had grasped his gun and aimed at the buck on the couch. Then, without saying a word, he shot him dead from point blank range. Butterbread flinched and gasped, while Black gave him a smug look.

“Oh, I’m sorry... did I break your concentration?” he asked. “I didn’t mean to do that. Please, continue. You were saying something about ‘best intentions’?”

Butterbread was shaking and gasping, his eyes wide open and his muzzle turned into a rictus of pure fear.

“What’s the matter?” Black asked. “Oh, you were finished? Oh, well, in that case, I’ll carry on. Did you want to play smart on Dee Cleff?”

“What?” Butterbread almost cried.

Black flipped the table with a smack of his hoof.

“I’ve had enough of this shit! Don’t you what me!” he yelled.

“What? What?” Butterbread was shaking.

“I said don’t you what me, you motherfucker! Did you want to play smart on Dee Cleff?”

“Wh-wh-what?” Butterbread gasped for air, almost about to collapse from fear as Black lunged upon him.

“Say what again and I’ll fucking blow your brains off! Do you hear me?”

“Y-yes!” Butterbread cried.

“Then you know what I’m sayin’!”

“Yes!” Butterbread nodded hysterically.

“Did you want to play smart on Dee Cleff?”

“What?”

“All right, you’re about to cope with my patience, you scumbag! If you say what one more Celestia-damned time, imma nail your sorry flank! What was your fucking plan?” Black got his gun close to his muzzle empower his statement.

“W-w-we were g-g-going to s-s-split up the merchandise...” Butterbread cried, stuttering from fear.

“Go on!”

“Th-th-then we were going to s-s-sell it...”

“Do you think she’s a fool?”

“What?”

Black grabbed the gun and shot him in the foreleg, close to the kneecap. Butterbread flinched and toiled in pain.

“Do. You. Think. She. Is. A. Fool?”

“N-no!” Butterbread cried in pain and suffering. The wound in his foreleg was bleeding profusely.

“Then why you treatin’ to her like a damn fool, Butterbread?”

“N-no!”

“Yes you did, yes you did! You did, Butterbread! You tryin’ to play her like a fool, and Dee Cleff is smarter than all you potheads together. Now, now, Butterbread, don’t get us wrong. We are all civilized ponies, struggling to build civilization out of the ashes of the past. I’ll reveal a little secret to you. Dee Cleff despises violence, says it’s proper of raiders and crazy wastelanders. However, there is something that Dee Cleff despises even more, and that is disrespect. And you folks have been very, very disrespectful to Dee Cleff, and that is why she sent us here. Now, it’s nothing personal. It’s all a matter of business, a matter of doing things right. I don’t doubt that you will have learnt a valuable lesson about respect, but Dee Cleff’s orders were very clear. Gentlecolts, have a nice trip.”

“N-no! Wait!”

Black finished his little speech and lifted his gun, meaning that this was the time. I had witnessed the whole scene with a mixture of disbelief and discomfort, but as the minutes went by, a new feeling had grown inside me; a soft, warm, welcoming feeling. Something I had never felt before, that enveloped me and made me enjoy Black’s play. I understood what was going on. I was feeling power, the power of ruling over these poor souls’ lives and fates. The power of being able to dominate another pony’s will. I saw myself reflected on the faces of Butterbread’s couriers, and I remembered the pain I had been through.

Because power had been what had made my life disgraceful, or more properly; being on the wrong side of power. I had suffered all kinds of vexations that had led to my banishment, only for thinking for myself and defying the establishment. Rage bubbled in me as I remembered the humiliations I was put through, the suffering, the punishments... My soul claimed for revenge against Stable 188, and I was starting to see how to fulfil that demand.

If you want the Stable, you will have to rule the city. That was, more or less, what Brass Badge had told me the day of my banishment to Freedom Field. Power was my path to revenge, ergo survival wasn’t my goal anymore. For the relevance it had, it was a quick decision. I would have to suffer, I would have to work hard, but I had a glorious purpose now. I would climb the ladder to the top, and I would stay there; I would rule New Pegasus and have my revenge, or I would die trying.

But now, let’s return to the flat and the couriers, shall we? Black fired two shots at Butterbread, one into his chest and the second one straight to his head. I cocked the rifle and aimed at the pony in the corner, who had crouched and was shaking in fear. I looked through the iron sights and centered his head on them. Sorry, pal; life’s like this.

BLAM! BLAM! BLAM!

It took me three shots to land a single bullet in the head of the poor sod, even if he was cornered and immobile. I would have to hold my breath when shooting to obtain better accuracy, and I knew my gripping spell was a bit sloppy. While I was taking down my target, Black checked the rest of the flat for more couriers. A shot fired in a nearby room let me know there was another buck hiding in the apartment.

Black came back while holstering his gun, a broad smile in his face. The zebra had proven to be a fearsome being and a master assassin, so he was a force to be reckoned with. Thank Celestia that we were both on the same side, for now at least. I stored my rifle in my belt and handed the case over to him.

“We did a nice job here, Blue.” He whistled a tune. “Now let’s return back to Miss Cleff before somepony comes snooping around.”

Indeed, it would be best if we left this place. If Dee didn’t want to attract attention, somepony catching us in the act wasn’t the best case scenario, and we’d be in trouble; so we left the building quickly and trotted towards the Music School. When we got there, Black left the case on the counter, winked at the mare behind it, gave me a friendly pat in the back and left the place swiftly, a light, cheerful tune in his lips. What a mysterious fellow.

*** *** ***

Working for Metronome wasn’t an orgy of blood and bullets, though. After my baptism of fire, I was given many petty assignments, most of them related to overseeing trade operations done by couriers or small-time dealers. Unlike the Buckmares or the Followers, the trading strategy for Dee’s gang based itself upon the domination of the basic resources in Freedom Field, namely food and livestock. Our usual expeditions were composed by a “diplomatic” envoy of the Stringers, plus one or two goons providing protection. We would encounter the caravaneers close to the city gates, offering them protection at a price they couldn’t refuse. If they refused, well, that’s what I was there for. The diplomat would warn the caravaneers thoroughly about the dangers of venturing into Freedom Field with a full payload of goods and without a proper escort, and I would play my role giving them my meanest look and showing them what my rifle could do. I quickly learned about the convincing effect the gaping mouth of a freshly fired gun had on the mind of a caravaneer. I understood that by doing this, Dee would maintain all the ins and outs of goods under control, ensuring that the traders made it safely to the highly watched Trader Plaza, and thus avoiding that rival gangs could ambush the caravans.

Playing the grunt lost its fun rather quickly, to be honest. I never was a menacing presence, and even with a rifle aimed and ready to fire, I thought that wasn’t my role at all. Playing the good cop, however, was something that fitted me much better. After a dozen of meetings close to the walls, I was able to mimic the gentle yet menacing voice and manners of the Stringer envoy. I just needed a chance to show that I could handle the issue myself, maybe with another goon to back me up; and that chance came with two caravans arrived at town almost at the same time. With a pinch of malice and my best acting, I was able to make the most grizzled of the guards squirm in fear; and that magnificent feel of power surged through my body once again. It was a job I could get used to.

The traders were very talkative about the dangers they faced on the road, and how the Wasteland treated unprepared adventurers, so in my spare time I headed to the outskirts and practiced as much as I could afford on the Stringers’ meager pay. Even if I was healthier than the common wastelander buck, it dawned on me that I’d been relying on my magic. Magic was fickle, and I might someday find myself having ran out of it in the most crucial of moments. Practice became a workout as I began to mimic an aiming posture that I’d seen an earth pony use to handle a similar rifle. Empty bottles, cans and debris were my target practice, and I emptied magazine after magazine against my foes; becoming a lot more accurate over time.

At first, it would take me several shots to hit the target, as I had to control the recoil of the rifle as well as my own clumsy gripping spell. The rifle was precise, indeed, but I wasn’t strong enough to handle it properly. It would either fall to the side or jump like crazy, and I earned myself some strong bucks in my face from its wooden hilt. Speaking of which, I should describe my rifle properly, since it became one of my most trustworthy companions.

The weapon was a lever-action repeater rifle, with a ten-round magazine of magnum bullets, crafted with care and profusely decorated. Streams of gold drew branches and leaves along the silvery gray cannon, and the hilt was a piece of tasteful woodwork; a chunk of mahogany turned into a fully decorated wedge. The thing is, the gun and I learned to get together rather nicely, and after some weeks of heavy training; I could hit a tin can from a very long distance. Metronome was right: with the proper management, that rifle was a formidable weapon, and it needed a proper name. I found that the hilt had a lily engraved in the wood, so I decided to call the rifle “Lead Lily”, which I found rather catchy to be a nickname for a gun.

My mind worked as well, since I hadn’t forgotten my initial goal of ending the malevolent scheme of Saddle and Goldie. The motives that drove me had changed, though. What at first had been an honest attempt to provide a better life for the ponies of Freedom Field was now nothing more than a personal revenge. I wanted to return each and every blow to the two ponies that had ordered my torture and death. It was a simple matter of respect, as I had learned from Metronome. I would have them respect me, no matter the cost; and I would show them they had no power over me.

I had been brewing a plan night after night. Since the Buckmares and the Followers were continuously trying to press an alliance with the Coilites, maybe the easiest way of dealing them a good blow was to hook up the Coilites to the Stringers, since after all, their supremacy depended on establishing a three-on-one scenario. I was willing to bet that the Coilites didn’t want to join that Triple Entente because they feared a possible negative outcome. Their behaviour was clearly isolationist, almost everypony in Freedom Field knew it. Live and let live, as long as we can do our gun trading.

However, an alliance with the Buckmares and the Followers would turn their world upside down. If they lost the war, apart from the obvious losses of the battle, the Stringers would surely cut their business short, forcing them to dissolve or be assimilated. If they won, they had no guarantees of how the relationship between the three would go. Buckmare was a power-hungry bastard, that was also common knowledge, and there was no way of telling if Goldie would be able of keeping him on a short leash. There was no guarantee of a durable peace after the war if Buckmare won, and that was bad for business.

If the Stringers were able to form an alliance with the Coilites, or at least guarantee their non-involvement in a potential war, the chances of a positive outcome for the Buckmare-Follower alliance were very slim. With that situation settled, there would be great possibilities of forcing a negotiation to end up the drug scam. The plan was convoluted and relied on many assumptions, but I had a hunch; I had the feeling that it could succeed.

First, however, I needed to do a bit of field investigation, and that would have to take me to the Tesla Bar.

*** *** ***

The Tesla Bar was a very serious place, with a considerable security. To begin with, a large iron-armored stallion stood guard at the door with a massive gun system that fell at both sides of his body. The two cannon nozzles glowed with a sickening green light, ready to fire at any menace. He had been looking at me ever since I came close, and blocked me when I tried to enter the Tesla Bar.

“What is your business here?” he asked curtly; letting me know I’d better not mess with him if I didn’t want to be obliterated by whatever those guns fired.

“Business? I’m just here to deliver a message to the pony in charge. No bad intentions, honest.”

“Yeah, yeah, whatever. I’m going to have to frisk you for hidden guns. Boss’s orders.”

“Hidden guns? I’m not hiding anything, pal. My rifle is clearly on sight. Here, have it.” I left Lead Lily on the floor. “Frisk me if you want, you won’t find anything else. Unless what you want is something different.”

“Don’t play fancy on me, mate. Legs wide open!”

I shrugged and nodded, then he took a step towards me and frisked me. He could have forgotten about it and I wouldn’t have tricked him, since I wasn’t hiding anything. Anyway, it wasn’t that much of a hassle, and I had made my way into the Tesla Bar.

*** *** ***

Ugly, the place was ugly. Metal gray walls, grating fences separating parts of the Bar, and a single, massive counter full of all the possible kinds of guns and ordnance were the only thing inside the building. To call this place a Bar was a huge lie, or at least it was now. I could manage to imagine a bar in the room in which I was standing, but now it was nothing more than a gun and ammo dealership. The shelves, now toppling with guns and ammo packs could have been used to store glasses or bottles. The now empty room could have had some tables lying around; but at the time, everything was laid to allow a standoff within the walls of the building, giving the pony behind the counter a vantage point.

Such vantage point was controlled by two ponies, an unicorn mare and an earth pony stallion. The mare wore a sharp, metal-blue colored dress that made her look fairly attractive. Her gray mane fell equally to both sides of her head, and her garment included a detail close to the flanks, something that looked like a gray orb surrounded by bluish thunder. The stallion beside her was clearly her bodyguard, a big black hulk clad in iron riveted armor with a nuke cloud on his flank. His mane, also pitch black, was braided into small dreadlocks.

“Welcome to the Tesla Bar,” the mare said without much emotion, “what can I do for you?”

“Maybe we can talk about some business strategy.” I gave her a cold look, trying to pay little attention to the hulk beside her.

“Business strategy? Explain yourself.” The Coilite mare gave me a cold glare, as if she was judging whether she should listen to me or kick me out.

“Is he of trust?” I asked, pointing to the stallion.

“LaRoche is like a brother to me. Whatever you have to tell me you can tell him.”

“Okay.” I nodded, and smiled politely at LaRoche, since I didn’t want to piss him off too much. “I’ll put my cards on the table here. I’m an external working for the Stringers, and I’m running a little investigation by myself. I know of the interest the Buckmares and the Followers have on bringing you to their side, and I wanted to hear what you have to say.”

“Give me a good reason to reveal that information to you.”

“What do you lose? I’m a nuisance for Buckmare and the Followers. They all want me dead, so I always have to look to both sides of the street to see if there is somepony ready to blow my brains out. The only faction I can give the information to are the Stringers, and I told you in the first place that I work for them.”

“Do they want to know about it? ‘Cause if they do, they could have sent one of their goons instead of a freelancer.”

“Think on the image. If a Stringer goon gets caught around your place, that would stir things up pretty much. Me? I’m nothing but a small-time help, paid by the hour. Any of these days, the Stringers will dump me as well; so seeing me walk in and out of your joint won’t be a diplomatic issue.”

The Coilite mare looked at me eye to eye, as if she was trying to read the ideas in my brain. She mumbled something as she meditated about my words; then, she nodded and coughed.

“Okay, I’ll speak with you. However, I’m going to send an envoy to the Stringers, and if I learn you’re trying to fool me, I’ll have you wiped out; understood?”

“Yeah. No fuss.”

“Good. Listen closely, ‘cause I ain’t repeating it. Yes, I had a meeting with Saddle Buckmare about a week ago; and yes, he spoke to me about a big, bad plan to take Dee Cleff and her gang out of the picture. However, we turned it down. Why? Simple, we don’t want to involve in a conflict like that. Our earnings rose amazingly when peace was achieved, simply because our clients wouldn’t die right after crossing the door. Therefore, a war would be terrible for us.”

“I understand, although I think that a war isn’t something you can avoid from happening; and if it happens, you’d have to choose sides. After all, you’re a force to be reckoned with, even if you try to stay aside.”

“Where are you going to?”

“Well, that’s the reason of my investigation. I want to know what do you want from the Stringers in order to either sign an alliance or a non-involvement agreement, should the conflict start.”

“What makes you think we’d do that?”

“You just dumped the Buckmare offer, and Saddle doesn’t seem to be the kind of buck that takes such decisions easily. I’m pretty sure that he’ll back up his next offer with thirty heavily armed goons. Dee, instead, is a reasonable mare. She likes to behave politely and do things in a diplomatic manner. Knowing that, I was here to take note of your demands in order to position yourself beside her.”

The Coilite and LaRoche looked at each other and whispered something I didn’t manage to hear. There was some high-level strategy going on between these two, and I innerly smiled as I knew my words had carved into their minds. They hadn’t dumped me yet, so I knew that they took my proposal into account.

“Well...” the mare said. “Your offer is interesting. I suppose that, if we took the Buckmares out of the picture, we could ask for their properties and their monopolies.”

“You know that Dee is strongly against drug dealing, don’t you?”

“Yes, yes, and I don’t like it either, because dealing with junkies is not a pleasant job. Take the drugs out of the picture, leave them to the petty dealers. I meant guns and booze; we want those. The Stringers can keep the fort and the wounded.”

“Okay. Noted.”

“And then we’d like a non-aggression treaty. Once the rest are gone, how can we assure that the Stringers won’t attack us? After all, they’re far more powerful than us.”

“That is a very reasonable demand.” I smiled. “Anything else?”

“No, not really. Those are our demands, in case Dee is interested.”

“Good, good; I’ll let them know. Pleasure doing business with you.”

I started to back away, trying not to lose eye contact with LaRoche. As soon as I reached the door, I swiftly turned around and opened it, leaving the building as quickly as possible. With such demands under my power, this one would have to be a top class negotiation if I wanted to drive my plan forward.

*** *** ***

Metronome was tuning up her cello when I entered the concert hall. She raised her head from the instrument and gave me an amused glare through her glasses. Then, a smirk cracked her face of concentration and she returned to her cello.

“So, you’ve been messing around with information, haven’t you?” She didn’t even look at me.

“How do you know?” That one caught me off guard.

“I’ve been speaking for some time with a Coilite envoy, so I know about your ups and downs.”

“Riiiiiiight.” I felt like I was playing to another pony’s rules, and that didn’t make me feel good. “Well, what do you say?”

“Nothing, you tell me.” She finally looked at me, cold as ice.

“Well, I’ve been scouting the Coilites; and I’ve come to the impression that the time is ripe for a well-placed coup.”

“Carry on.” She kept acting cold, but I could notice a hint of interest in her words.

“The Coilites have an open mind towards an alliance with us, if we give in to their demands.”

“What demands?”

“Monopoly over guns and booze after the war is over and a non-aggression pact between us, that is all.”

“You know what?” she asked, looking rather amused. “I like your attitude, but that plan is a no-go.”

“Why?” I felt stupid, played, and angry at Metronome. I had gone into some serious risks to obtain that information and I didn’t want to be shooed like that. “What is wrong with all the information I’ve given you?”

“Farsight, listen to me. I really appreciate your work, you’ve shown great determination to enter the Coilites’ lair, identify yourself and start asking tough questions. The information you’ve brought us is very interesting, as it’s the first time we’ve got the demands of the Coilites for an alliance.”

“But...” I already was anticipating her speech.

“But you are really fucking nuts.” Her amused face turned into a stone-cold glare. “You really must be out of your Luna-damned mind to think that we’re going to flush a hard-worked peace down the drain because of some convoluted plan of an external?”

I felt like beaten down to a pulp. All the momentum I had been picking, all the morale I had obtained from the meeting with the Coilites and the good results of it vanished in the blink of an eye.

“Don’t get me wrong.” Her face was still cold, but her tone had become warmer, more welcoming. “I can appreciate your talent. You SEE, hence your name. You can think deeper and faster than anypony around, and your reasoning has been correct so far. You can see through ponies, read them like books. I believe you will really make it big in this business, if you take the right decisions.”

Now she was just being kind in order to discourage me from arguing with her. She just wanted me to leave with a silent nod and the feeling that I was appreciated in the gang. However, I knew it wasn’t, because I knew all she had told me was just a kind lie, a piece of candy to keep me happy while she got away with it. Well, too bad for you, Metronome, because I’m not the average goon you can distract with some nice words.

“Metronome,” I said sternly, “I want to discuss my plan directly with Miss Cleff.”

I was very calm when I said this last thing, but my words rumbled like thunder in the Music Hall. Metronome flinched at my mention of her boss, and her cold glare turned into a gaze of pure hate. Obviously, she felt she was being undermined, like she was being moved aside by me, as I tried to make my way up towards Dee. Her muzzle curled in disgust as I stood there, relaxed, looking at her eye to eye. I felt good watching her doubt, it was that warm feeling once again. With only a sentence, I had gained power over her. I was no more a common goon or an external, instead, I had become something different; something that could outsmart her.

“Don’t be ridiculous.” She tried to disguise a stutter with a crackling laugh. “What makes you think Dee will have a different opinion?”

“I’m not saying that.” I was feeling really, really calm. Even if I knew I was playing with fire, I wasn’t even worried. “In fact, I also do think that the most probable outcome will be the same. However, I don’t think there is a reason that explains why I shouldn’t discuss this personally with her. Now, Metronome, I respect you; I respect your work as Miss Cleff’s second in command, and I’d like you to be there when I talk with your boss about my plan. I want you to give your opinion as well... I don’t want to undermine you, honest. There is a driving force for this plan, and it’s no different than freeing this town from the junkies.”

“Oh, really? Is it?” Metronome was trying to act cold, but I could see the interest in her eyes. She was having a hard time deciding whether to listen to me or to dump me.

“It is. I’m aware of the existence of a joint course of action between the Followers of the Shy and the Buckmare drug dealers. The latter ones flood the city with drugs while the former ones offer rehabilitation for a price. It has been working like that for a while, which is providing your foes with a rather considerable amount of caps.”

“Stop right there... You’re telling me those two gangs are actually conspiring together? Have you got any proof?”

“Not really. I was being tortured because I was caught spying on them, so you’ll have to believe my words.”

“I can’t. Still, it’s not the first time we hear the rumor. Maybe, and only maybe, I can hook you up with Dee Cleff one of these days. However, you’ll have to do something to prove your total allegiance to the gang.”

“Tell me.” Another errand, that was what my life was all about. This time there was a good reason to get moving, though.

“It’s not that easy, I’m warning you from now on. If those two are really gearing up for war, we need to do something about it, and both Miss Cleff and I think that the key to strengthen our domination over Freedom Field is to control the basic resources, mainly water. Right now, we obtain all our water from a cistern out northeast from town, but nopony has actual control over it. If we could get ourselves a Water Talisman, we would have the power to cut the water supply to those who opposed us.”

“That is cunning.” I smiled, and she smiled back at the compliment. “How am I supposed to obtain a Water Talisman, though? I would need to find a Stable from which I could scavenge it. Won’t you happen to know about one?”

“No, I’m sorry. Try with the Traders... After all, those are the ones that really hear the news from the Wasteland.”

“Good.” I nodded. “So, once I bring you a Water Talisman, you’ll set up a meeting with Dee, right?”

“Just like that. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a lesson to give.”

I turned around and left the room while a young colt dragged a bass case into the Music Hall. Once again, Freedom Field’s attitude towards music surprised me.

*** *** ***

I trotted my way towards Trader Plaza with my head up in the clouds. The deal I had just signed with Metronome was an actual fool’s errand. Where on this world was I supposed to find a working Water Talisman? I knew there had to be two of them in Stable 188, but there was no way I could get back into New Pegasus, then into the Stable, get a Talisman and leave. That was just out of the question. Therefore, I would have to rely on finding an abandoned Stable.

To do so, however, there were two ways of tackling the problem. The first one, which was by the way the most aggressive and dangerous one, was just grabbing some supplies and leaving for the Wasteland. Once out on the open, I would start roaming around, looking for a Stable gate. It was plain and simple madness. The second one, far more conservative, was to wait until some crazy rumor about a new found Stable came through. This solution was wiser but had few chances of giving me a Talisman.

While I was meditating around all these issues, I had walked straight into Trader Plaza, and I found myself in the middle of the usual chaos of small plywood stands and sheet metal shacks. Any place was as good as the rest to start asking around, but I decided to head out to meet somepony I already knew and that I already missed.

“Oh, sweet Celestia! Farsight!” Sunberry Grass hugged me tightly. “Where have you been?”

“Well... I’ve faced some changes in my life.” I smiled at her and freed myself from her hug. “Which means I won’t be working as a trader anymore.”

“You got into the gangs, didn’t you?”

“Not willingly. I was forced to join one.”

“That’s too bad. I liked to have you beside me, you were a good companion.”

I smiled at her compliment and shrugged. I could keep chatting all day long, but there were matters I had to talk about with Sunberry.

“Sunberry, you speak with caravaneers, don’t you?”

“Almost everyday, yes. Why do you ask?”

“Have you ever heard about any abandoned Stables around? I need to retrieve something from one.”

“No, I’m sorry. Ask around, but rumours run quickly out here... If somepony knew about a new Stable, then everypony would be speaking about it already. What is it you need to find?”

“A Water Talisman.”

“Oh, a Water Talisman. It’s one of those magical gemstones that produces clean water, isn’t it?”

“Yes, it is. My employers want to ensure water supply for Freedom Field.”

“I wish you could find two, Farsight. Have you heard about the Communal Farms the NER is developing out in the Wasteland?”

“Communal Farms?”

“Yes! It seems the NER is planning to set up farms all around Neighvada once they get here. Apparently they’ve already done that in other parts of the Wasteland and things are going really good. And I heard in the radio yesterday that the Ambassador spoke about starting similar farms around New Pegasus.”

“Which would help produce a great amount of food, apart from giving jobs to many.”

“Yes!! Don’t you think it’s a great idea?” Sunberry squeed. “The only problem is that they need abundant clean water, and as Neighvada is a Luna-damned desert... That’s why I said that it would be great if you found two Talismans. Because you aren’t even thinking on giving the one you find to the NER, are you?”

Sunberry looked at me with a sad face, clearly asking me to find a Talisman for the New Equestrian Republic’s farming project. I felt confused, because although my mind told me to forget about Sunberry and the NER, and to find the Talisman for Metronome, so I could speak to Dee and try to drive my plan forward; my heart wanted me to do what my Trader friend told me. By giving the Talisman to the Republic, I would be providing a better future to a lot of ponies in Neighvada, whereas, by giving it to Metronome, I’d be using the Talisman as a weapon, giving the Stringers the possibility of restricting water supply to the population of Freedom Field.

A voice inside me posed a clear question. What would the Light Bringer do? The Light Bringer... The book I had read while recovering came back to haunt me. The tale of a common hero, the story of a normal Stable Pony, just like me, who had given it all for her friends, and ultimately, for everypony. She would have given the Talisman to the Republic, no doubt.

However, I knew I was no Light Bringer. I was no hero; in fact, I didn’t believe in heroes. All my experience had taught me that we were all ponies, with our lights and shadows, with our ups and downs. Heroes only worked in fiction, whereas in reality it was more of a every pony for himself situation, and I had to take care of myself.

“Sorry, Sunberry.” I lowered my head because I couldn’t look her in the eyes. “I can’t give it to the NER.”

“I see...”

I turned around and left hastily. Even if my decision was final and I knew I was doing what was best for me, I couldn’t help a feeling of guilt. I realized that, if I wanted to climb the ladder, the first foe I would have to defeat would be no other than myself.

#

Note: Reputation Change
Stringers: Accepted. Even if you’re not part of their gang, the members of this organization welcome you and your ideas, as long as you don’t get too cocky.

Join our Patreon to remove these adverts!
Join our Patreon to remove these adverts!