• Published 25th Jan 2012
  • 10,623 Views, 517 Comments

Fallout Equestria: Guise of Chaos - Fallingsnow

A story in post war Equestria following former raider Two Kick Ripple on a quest for vengeance.

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Chapter 11: Whitecoat

Chapter 11: Whitecoat

Walking the edge of the forest was much more preferable to actually entering it again. I wasn’t sure what the ash that filled it was from, but out in the open it was all but gone. The occasional patch of grey mush was easily avoided, which made our travel speed much quicker than it had been weaving our way through the bleached trees. The combination of hoof-sucking goo and woodland creatures that we couldn’t see until they attacked had set us down the path that had Ash and myself at each other throats.

The griffin was all but beaming now that we were finally in the open, under the endlessly clouded sky. We’d run through most of our medical supplies stopping his bleeding; Flurry had been thorough in her attacks and he had suffered dozens of cuts. None were life threatening on their own, but the number had left him weak, despite the smile on his face. I could see it in his eyes, that he was fighting to stay conscious. I remembered my first walk to Blank. It had been very similar.

Ivory had helped Fluster once we’d made our first stop, out of view of Orchard. The robe was still fashioned as a cape, but Ivory had helped Fluster reposition it so that as much of her was covered as possible. This had involved taking most of her various bags and pouches, which had been spread out amongst the more sturdy of us. Shade had taken her share, and Ivory had most of them strapped about her.

Fern had been discovered hiding within one of them, and was walking along beside Fluster now. She’d kept him on her during the entirety of the time we’d spent in Orchard, and I’d pretty much forgotten about the timberwolf’s presence until he had popped out of a bag I had taken from Fluster to lighten her load. I’d nearly shot him in my surprise, but he lucked out by being faster than I was on the draw. It would not have been good for the damaged mare for me to blow her pet all over the wasteland.

My leg was still giving me grief, and I was limping fairly badly. Shade, even with the extra weight from the bags she carried, was helping support me along, despite the size difference between us. She was the only one of us that had not suffered in some way during our stint in the compound, and I was glad to have her help. It was a bit of a walk, and I was not in top shape. As soon as we got to Blank, I planned on everypony spending as much time as necessary at Doc Care’s. I tried remembering if he’d refused me service... I knew that Crimson Knife had threatened it, and vaguely recalled Intensive Care doing the same thing.

Ivory was wearing her hair differently, covering the eye that was now sporting a scar underneath it, a smaller version of the sizable wound that had set me on the path I now walked. She seemed fine, aside from a few cuts and bruises. Despite being shot, zapped, and kept in a cage, she was still looking quite pretty.

Fluster was sticking close by Ivory, and anytime we stopped I saw that she was shaking. The cuts in her neck had healed up already without the use of bandages, but she had some wrapped around the thin cuts as a precaution anyways. No, the damage done to the dark pegasus had been emotional. She’d not expected a confrontation with her insane sister, and it had rendered her speechless. I’d not heard her voice since we’d left the Ranger base. She needed a break more than any of us.

We walked through the day, taking breaks occasionally. Ash was the reason for most of the stops, weak as he was. During one of the breaks, Shade was leaning her head against my neck as I was busy taking weight off of my leg. She hadn’t liked being locked away from me by Broken Arrow, and was being much more affectionate than usual. I wasn’t complaining, and her occasional nuzzling of my neck was a welcome distraction from the blasted wasteland.

I’d thought that the stretch between Hornsmith and the forest was desolate. This was much worse. As far as I could see, there was cracked earth with the occasional rock. To the horizon, there was nothing. Two centuries before, there had been a road where we now took cover beneath a large fallen sign, too faded to make out what it had said. I could barely make out a splash of pink and yellow. Probably Fluttershy. She’d been on every other sign I’d seen.

As I looked around, the muscles in my leg started cramping up, something they’d been doing whenever I hadn’t been moving. It hurt to move, it hurt to stay still. I preferred still for Shade’s company. I felt her move, nuzzling into my neck. Glancing down, I saw that she was looking up at me rather than keeping her eyes closed contentedly.

“Ripple... you know that you don’t have to wait for one of us to ask to stop. We’ll stop if you need a longer rest.” Her eyes, blue and violet, were filled with concern. Her mouth, however, was smiling playfully. She wanted more time just being with me, without my limping form weighing down on her.

I smiled at her. “I know. It’s just that if we keep moving, we can get to Blank. We can rest, heal, take a break.” I lowered my voice, though I knew that whatever I said would be heard by Ash. Weak as he was, his senses were still the sharpest of all of us. “Fluster needs to get somewhere safe, lay down for a while. Ivory too. Ash needs a doctor.”

Glancing over at the griffin, I saw that even though he appeared to be taking a quick nap, one of his eyes was half open and staring straight at me. He nodded at me, then glanced over at where Ivory and Fluster were laying. Fluster was curled up next to Ivory, who was busy running a comb through the pegasus’ hair. Fern was curled up on top of Fluster, fast asleep.

“You’re such a nice pony... caring about everypony else before yourself. I knew there was something special in you when... well, when you saved me. You could have left me in that ditch and gotten yourself to Blank, but you carried me. After I’d shot at you.” She looked sad as she said it. I gave her a small kiss on the forehead, bringing a smile back to her face.

“Did you know... you’re the first pony to be nice to me since the Stable opened? Sweeps was the nicest, but that only meant she didn’t yell at me. Or hit me. Or do worse.” Her voice began dropping as she talked, her eyes falling to stare at the ground. I didn’t like it when she thought about those times. Times when I was still Two Kick.

Using the leg that still had a metal brace on it, I lifted her chin to make her look at me again. “We got out of there. Both of us in our own ways.” Looking at her made me think about that. We were out of Neighwhere, true. We were still far from safe. The Paragons. Hate. Broken Arrow and his cronies. The half of a demon I was carrying in my pocket.

“Shade... if I had a way of fixing everything, should I?” She arched a brow, her curiosity piqued. Should I tell her about Pandemonium? Ash would hear if I did, but I had a feeling he’d either be indifferent or supportive about the deal. The prospects that the draconequus had presented were almost too good to be true.

“Why are you asking?” Sitting up fully, she tried to bring herself to my height despite how much larger I was than she. I compensated by lowering my head so that we were at about the same level. I wanted to see her eyes while I said this, if for nothing else than to control the voice in my head. Thinking about Pandemonium’s deal was making the voice scratch around at the corners of my mind.

“Well... I think that I can use the cubes to stop Hate. Not just get in his way, but stop him.” Ash was wide awake now, the glint of his eyes catching my attention from across the shelter. I decided to ignore him for now, focus on the loving mare at my side. She’d help me with this. If there was anypony in the wastes that could drive me to do good, it was her.

“Ripple, I’m sure that you’ll do the right thing. You’re a good pony.” I was surprised as she said that. She was serious. Glancing over, I saw that Ash was shaking his head. I’d talk to him later about this. For now, the griffin was making a show of standing up.

Standing shakily, he stretched out his wings which had been just as cut up as the rest of him. I’d seen him do this the last time his wing had been bandaged, after the Relay. Any time he couldn’t fly, he’d spread out his wings every couple minutes. Didn’t matter if he was underground or just bandaged up.

Clapping his talons together, he got the attention of Fluster and Ivory. Shade and I were already looking at him. “Well, Kick. Ladies.” A short nod in their direction. “I think it’s time we started off. Sooner we get to Blank, the sooner we can get some rest and relaxation.”

The sooner we can heal.


That night was restless for all of us. An overturned wagon, untouched for two centuries, sheltered us from the rain. Taking the long way back was starting to tax us, but not nearly as much as a tangle with the retreating raider army would have.

Ivory kept first watch, waking me sometime in the very early morning. From the opening to the wagon, I could make out distant lights. They were high up, higher than anything that was in this area. From checking my PipBuck, I found that it was the Relay, but it was still a bit of a walk from our location.

While I had my PipBuck up, I scrolled through what I had pulled in. Mostly technical stuff or information I had no use for. Eventually, I made my way back to the start of the list. Sweeps’ audio files. The first had made me feel sorry; made me regret killing the young mare. If I heard more, I might learn more about Neighwhere. More about the ponies I was fighting.

Pressing play, her voice came back into my ears, volume lowered to not disturb the others in the wagon.

“It’s been a while. Doesn’t matter much now what the Overmare thinks. Crackerjack is in charge now, first thing he did was get us working on opening the door. “

In the distance, I heard the voice of the other mare again. She was older as well. It sounded like this recording was around five years old. Right before the Stable door opened. “Sweeps, stop yacking at that thing and help me out here. Raspberry’s gonna be right back, and I don’t think he’d like it if you were messing around.”

“Gentle, don’t worry. There, see, I lifted it. I can record too. With that, door’s clear. Raspberry can open it and we can get out there into the world. See what we can see. Meet new ponies.”

Gentle chuckled. “I thought you were only interested in Ripple.” I sighed at that. If they started talking about her future plans for me, I was going to turn this off. I didn’t need more reasons to regret killing her. “Aren’t you worried you’ll find somepony new to obsess over?”

A new voice came into range, speaking in a very familiar pattern. “Ah, I see that you girls have cleared the way. Oh yes. Now stand back, I’ll have this door open in ten seconds flat.” Holepunch. Holepunch’s name was Raspberry. I snorted back a laugh. There was no love lost between myself and that psycho. I’d felt no regret when I’d blown up his chest.

There was no talking for the next few seconds, and then a loud shriek of metal on metal. I could only assume that it was the sound of a Stable door opening. “Opened. Oh yes. Crackerjack, I opened the door. You might want to see this.”

A voice, distorted through a speaker, set off every warning bell in my head. “I’m coming down Raspberry. Stay there, keep an eye on the outside. I don’t want anypony from outside getting in.”

That was Hate’s voice. Crackerjack, before he became the focus of my little quest. Every part of me filled with rage.

Oh, it’s going to be fun ripping him apart. Even you’ll enjoy that, my friend.

The voice caught me off guard. I was close enough to Shade that I should not have heard the voice...

“Wow... it’s so... dull.” Sweeps’ voice. I could hear the awe, even if she was expressing disappointment. It was the first time she’d seen anything outside of the Stable. Awe was expected.

“Stable 87 has its entrance located in the basement of an old Ministry of Peace building. Oh yes. The historical record held that much.” Bored and clinical. Raspberry just kept rubbing me the wrong way.

Gentle spoke next. Her voice held as much amazement as Sweeps’ had. “Do you think there will be anypony out there? What will they be like?”

“I cannot guess at what ponies topside after two hundred years will be like. Oh yes. There might not be anypony left. We’ll wait for ponies with guns before we head out. No undue risk.”

I heard several sets of hooves approaching, then something I hadn’t expected. “You got the door open? Good job. Hey there, Sweeps. Gentle.” I’d never heard my own voice before, at least not like this. Deep, with a bit of a drawl.

“What are the guns for? You’re not gonna shoot anypony, are you, Ripple?” I didn’t know who Gentle was, but she seemed overly concerned for me. If only shooting ponies had been all I’d done...

“We don’t know what will be out there. Could be anything.” I could just make out the sound of shells being loaded into a shotgun. So I was fond of shotguns before I’d left the Stable. Makes sense. “Oh right, Sweeps, Crackerjack wants you moving freight down in storage to make room. Salvage and the like.”

“Oh... alright, Ripple.” She sounded disappointed. She wanted to spend more time near me... I could hear that through the speaker. Had old me really never picked up on that? Wow... he was dense.

“Guess I’ll continue this later.” A click and the recording ended. That was apparently the end of that. I had only one of Sweeps’ audio files left, but I would have to listen to it later. The sky was beginning to lighten, meaning we would be setting out before too long.

Behind me, I heard the rustle of movement. I knew who it was as soon as she leaned against my side. “Morning, Shade.”

Yawning sleepily, she smiled up at me. “Are you looking forward to getting back to Blank?”

Nodding, I looked back towards the lights which were growing harder to see with each minute. The relay was only a short walk from Blank. “Yeah... Fluster needs a break after Orchard. Blank will be just the place for her.”

Looking away, Shade chuckled a bit. “Yeah. I’m a little scared of going back... I didn’t tell Traffic I was coming after you.”

The image of the stern shopkeeper I’d left in charge of Shade popped into my mind. No... no she would not be pleased. I’d probably even get an earful for not sending the mare back to the safety of Blank.

“Well.... as long as Doc Care will take a look at everyone, dealing with Traffic won’t be that rough.” I’d still been trying to remember if he’d cut me off or not. It would be great if he hadn’t, then he could take a look at my leg. There it goes hurting again.

“Miss Traffic isn’t so bad. You just gotta get in good with her.” Ash, from the side. Glancing over at the griffin, I had to admit that he was looking a little better after resting. He still looked weak, but part of his predatory air was returning.

Just out of curiosity, I glanced over towards Ivory and Fluster. When Ivory had relieved guard duty to me, she’d returned to the pegasus’ side. Fluster was now curled up tightly into Ivory’s side, a dark shape wedged into the bright side of the pale mare. I smiled at how much Ivory had helped Fluster. The two had a connection. It was nice to see, now that I knew both of their backgrounds.

Nodding my head towards them, I spoke softly to Ash. “Mind waking the girls? Shade and I will get ready to go. We can make it to Blank before noon by my guess.”

The griffin nodded, then glanced over towards the lights of the relay. “Yeah, that sounds to be a good estimate.” Standing, he stretched out his wings once and walked softly towards the girls.

Stepping out from under the cover of the sign, I looked up at the clouds. It had stopped raining, but the clouds were still as dark and foreboding as ever. What little light was filtering in I could now see was coming from the distant horizon, where the cloud cover must have been lighter.

Before long, the rest were gathered out in the open, ready to continue our journey.

Today was going to be a good day.


As we neared the relay, I was in high spirits. We all were. Even Fluster was smiling from within her hood, the prospect of being able to trade again and pick up much needed supplies having apparently cheered her up substantially.

I noticed, much to my relief, that most of the defaced MoP posters had been torn down. Somepony had been busy cleaning the place of the filth left by the raiders, which meant that there was a chance they were still around. It would be good to let Blank know we were coming, or at least to head back to Blank with a local to guarantee they’d let me back in.

I had saved the town, but I’d also destroyed a part of it. Two of them knew I was a former Paragon. It was up in the air if I could even get through the gate.

The sound of the pump on a shotgun froze me in midstep, my magic gripping Broken and pulling it out. Ash spun as well, still a bit wobbly but the large revolver held in his talons not shaking a bit. Ivory was slowest to react, only turning her head and then slowly bringing her heavy weapon around to bear.

Three ponies stood ten feet from us. They’d gotten the drop on us, and I had to wonder why they hadn’t already started firing. We would have been killed, they could have looted us and be on their way.

I arched a brow as I looked at them. They were clearly not raiders. Fairly well groomed, each had a weapon that was in respectable condition. Most glaringly was that each wore a white coat of some kind. One had a long coat that ran down over her tail, the others both wore plain white jackets of differing lengths.

“State your business. Don’t try anything funny now.”

Ash, ever the diplomat, lowered his revolver slowly, indicating the rest of us should at least make so we weren’t brandishing our weapons. “Be cool now. We’re just weary travelers, heading to town for supplies.”

The three of them looked at us, their eyes passing over my beaten frame and my limp; Ash and his collection of bandages; the distressed and bedraggled Fluster. When they saw Shade, who was staring at them over my back, a frightened look in her eyes, they lowered their weapons. Guess we looked the part.

The mare with the long coat nodded, her magic floating a large pistol to a holster strapped to her chest. I caught flashes of metal from within the coat as well, but she turned towards relay before I could tell what it was. “I’d advise you to avoid 108. The relay tower. Whitecoat territory.”

Ash nodded, the confusion clear on his face. “Uh... okay then. You have a nice day Miss....”

Looking at him, she nodded curtly. “Willow. Of the Whitecoats. Just be making your way towards Blank and you won’t have any trouble from us.”

With that, Willow and the other two Whitecoats turned and walked away from us, towards the relay. On her coat I could make out a black tree worked into the fabric. The other two had no such design, and I assumed there that she was in some sort of position of power amongst whoever the Whitecoats were.

Glancing at Ash, I got back only a confused shrug. So our wasteland expert didn’t know who the Whitecoats were. Great.

With that, we turned and gave the relay a wide berth, so that we didn’t bring down the wrath of these similarly adorned ponies. I didn’t know if they were a gang, an army, a cult, or even just a band like us. They weren’t raiders or slavers, I could tell that much by them not attacking us. They’d expected us to attack them. Strange.

Before long, we came within sight of Blank. At least, I was sure it was Blank. There had been some renovations since I’d last been here.

The main gate was now much thicker, most of the walls were higher and looked much sturdier. There were more weapons lining the walls, with ponies manning them. Not too many more, but I guessed after Sweeps had walked in through the front door and massacred the two ponies on guard, the town had felt that better defenses were in order.

From one wall, I heard a pony shouting down at us. I couldn’t hear him at first, but then I started getting snips of it. “...my dear sirs. Welcome to Blank. As you can see, my brother and I have been busy. We must thank you for steering our motley crew to this wonderful locale, the locals have been most accepting of traveling artisans and those they have deemed to save from the wastes....”

Oh great. It was coming back to me. Bulkhead. The pony that talked. I’d not thought of the slaves that Ash and I had rescued at all. I’d honestly forgotten about them, but I’d had so much happen in the last... had it really only been a week? It seemed like too much had happened to fit into a week.

As we approached through the torrent of words thrown at us from the longwinded pony, the gates opened and we were greeted by the ever surly Ironsight. Standing there, weapon at the ready, he only nodded at me as we approached. Turning to Ash, he held out a hoof. “Kill any raiders?”

I’d forgotten that as well. A deal had been struck to profit off of the deaths of raiders. I hoped Ash had remembered, considering how many we’d killed.

Pulling a stained bag from his pack, presenting it to the guard pony. The bag full of ears, which I had not seen in quite some time. I hadn’t even noticed that Ash was still collecting. Bag firmly in grasp, Ironsight nodded yet again. “I’ll talk to Traffic. You done good, you’ll be rewarded.”

Turning, he left us there at the entrance to Blank.


When it had come down to it, Doc Care opened his door to us. To all of us. He told me that he was making an exception for me, just this once, since I apparently hadn’t done as much damage to myself as he’d expected. The look on Shade’s face as he had contemplated throwing me out on the street had helped as well.

His look as he took in the burns, the new bullet holes, the bruises, the breaks.... it was not approving. But, in his words, “At least you didn’t tear off all of your skin.” He was quick to give me a splint and send me on my way with some Med-X.

He went to work on Ash, leaving Ivory and Fluster in the waiting room for their turns. Ivory still had the burn under her eye and I suspected that she had a few bullets in her, but I didn’t know what Care would be able to do for Fluster. Her wounds were not the kind you could treat with surgery and medication.

As I stood out in the streets of Blank, my eyes wandered to Traffic’s shop. The sign was fully back in place, the broken part of the T repaired with scrap metal. The demolished building nearby had been fully cleared away, an assortment of tents now in place.

I was getting the feeling that the group I had sent here were not the only refugees from the surrounding area to find shelter in Blank. With the raider activity increasing, I was sure that anypony left in Hoofington had been fleeing for their lives.

I began trotting across the street to say hello to Traffic, Shade following with a sense of trepidation about her. As I was about halfway across the road, I nearly tripped over a filly that came out of nowhere. Before I could apologize, she bit me and ran off to who I could assume was her mother, a light purple mare with a disappointing scoul aimed at her filly.

Nips. I could barely tell the bite apart from a gnashers, such was the strength the filly placed behind her assault. It was good to see her running around without chains on though, even if she was taking the freedom give to her and biting ponies with it.

Rubbing sorely at the bite, trying to ignore the look of surprise on Shade’s face, I continued on my way, limping more than usual now that I had two metal braces on my legs. Care had mentioned that my front leg was almost all the way healed from what he could tell, it would probably just do it some good to keep the brace on for a little while longer.

Pushing open the door of Traffic’s shop, I made my way in. She was behind the counter, sorting through a pile of junk, when she looked up. I’d bet that she hadn’t expected to see the two of us, and her eyes betrayed that fact.

“Bandages... didn’t expect to see you.” Her eyes drifted past me to the blue mare following in my wake and narrowed angrily. “Shade! Where have you been? I had half the town scouring the wastes looking for you, I thought that you were dead.”

Then the eyes came back to me. I’d dealt with worse at this point, nothing that she did or said could rattle me. I was a little slow to react to the wrench though, the metal tool hitting me right below my left eye. I found out then that the scar could still hurt if enough pressure was applied to the area.

“Fuck!” I fell over backwards, clutching my face. When I opened my eye, after a minute or so of rolling around the shop flooring shouting obsenities, the two mares were standing over me. Traffic’s face was filled with rage, Shade’s with deep concern.

“Why didn’t you send her back? Do you know what can happen to a lone mare out there?! Do you?” She was screaming in my face, inches away from me at this point.

“Hey... I didn’t... ow..... well, I brought her back in as good of shape as when she left.” My mind was still swimming from the blow, and I stammered out the best excuse I could think of.

Halting her tirade, she looked at Shade. To my credit, she hadn’t been injured while we’d been out. She was in the best shape of any of us. Ash and I were broken, Ivory was scuffed, Fluster was messed up in ways I couldn’t describe... but Shade was pristine.

Traffic nodded slowly as she saw that I spoke the truth. Shade was kneeling down over me, speaking soft and comforting words to me. The angry mare's features softened as she looked at us, then she cracked a grin. “So... there something going on between you two?”

Well... that could have gone worse.


Before too long, we were at the counter of her shop. She’d provided me some more Med-X, free of charge, to help along the head injury she had inflicted in her fit of rage. She wanted to know what had happened out in the wasteland, asking specifically about any forces that Neighwhere had in the field.

I related everything to her that I felt relevant. I left Pandemonium out entirely. I still had no idea how, or if, I could tell anypony about the demon in my pocket. Traffic would interject whenever she needed, commenting on my actions or some result.

Apparently the brothers, Bulkhead and Colonnade, had gotten to work as soon as they got here. They were working for food and shelter for both them and their charges, which I guess I would have already known if I’d actually listened to Bulkhead shouting at me from the wall. They were quite skilled architects, building up the walls and making sure that what had happened with Sweeps would not happen again.

Other refugees had also been coming in, apparently thanks to warnings from DJ Pon3 on the radio. I’d not listened other than that first time, and now wondered what I’d missed in the last week. I’d been either busy or underground, so not many chances to hear what words he had to say.

I was apparently now something of a local legend. I brought the word back to Hornsmith, a tiny beacon of hope. I’d have to tell Ash, he was probably looking for a good reason to get drunk.

I was just getting to Underhoof when Ironsight slammed open the doors. “Uh.... you. You need to get to the Doc’s place, right quick.” He nodded towards me, and I wasn’t sure if he didn’t know my name or didn’t care to say it. It didn’t matter, as I was already rushing past him.

Out in the street, I saw several ponies approaching the clinic with curiosity in their eyes. Whatever had happened, it couldn’t be good. I heard a sharp scream come from the clinic and started running faster.

Ramming through the front door, I found what was the commotion. Fluster was fully out of her robes and holding a scalpel in her mouth, staring with fear at Doc Care who had a bleeding cut across one cheek. Ivory was trying to approach the mare, but any time she did Fluster would slash at her.

“What the.... Doc, what happened?” He glanced at me as I spoke, applying a dressing to his wound as he did so. It was only a superficial cut, but I guess he wanted to be on top of any injuries he had taken.

“Yer pegasus friend... she was bein’ a bit twitchy. As soon as I touched her, she started screamin’ and attacked me. I was only checkin’ her for wounds.”

Looking back at Fluster, I noticed that her mouth was moving around the wickedly sharp surgical tool. I leaned forward, straining to hear it but not getting within range of her. If she was swinging at Ivory, she would not hesitate to cut me.

“Never again. Never again. Never again. Never again.”

I glanced over at Ash, who was more heavily bandaged than earlier but looked much better. He was hanging back behind Ivory, wary of being cut up by another member of that dysfunctional family. I knew he could hear her as well and I looked questioningly at him.

Shrugging, he scratched at one of his bandages. “I’m no shrink, Kick... but if I had to guess, she’s not too keen on pegasi right now.”

It hit me then. She’d undergone horrible treatment at the hooves of her sister, one of the only other pegasi I had ever seen down here. When we’d met her, she’d been living underground, not exactly a place for another pegasus to be. She’d distanced herself from her already rare race. Seeing another pegasus, especially one that had a knife, must have been just too much for her.

“Doc... I think you should leave the room.” He looked at me, shocked that I should suggest he leave his own clinic. I had to reason him out. “She has issues with a certain pegasi... I didn’t think it applied to all pegasi.”

Doc glanced at her briefly before nodding. “Some injuries I can’t help. Afraid of her own, that’s a real shame.” He turned and left the room, but hovered just out the door long enough to address Ivory. “Miss, if ya’d be kind enough to join me in the office, I can patch up that eye of yours.”

Ivory looked at me, then back to Fluster. She clearly didn’t want to leave her friend in this state, but I nodded my head towards the door. Slowly, she stood and walked after the floating doctor, leaving the four of us in the room. Fluster was already visibly calming down a bit now that Care had left, but she still had the scalpel in her mouth, her eye wild with fear.

“So... how do we calm her down?” I posed the question that was looming now in the room, but Shade and Ash just shrugged. We stood there, uselessly, for about a minute, just watching Fluster’s breathing begin to slow.

It wasn’t any of us that brought her down. From one of the bags that was piled in one corner, where Fluster had piled her belongings before her breakdown, sprang the little monster. Fern walked up to her. I half expected her to cut the little mongrel, and when she lowered her face towards the wolf pup I braced myself.

Fern licked her nose however, and she dropped the scalpel with a clatter. Scooping the little beast up into an embrace, she started crying. The three of us let out held breaths, and Ash snuck his tail in real quickly to remove the blade from the sobbing mare’s reach.

“Ash... make sure she doesn’t do anything dangerous...” I turned, noticing that Shade had already left the room. Pausing just inside the door, I cocked my head back at him. “Oh, and when Ivory’s done, have her look after Fluster, then head over to Traffic’s. I’m sure she’d like to see you.” The griffin nodded as I turned and left.

Back on the street, I held a hoof to my head in exasperation. I’d thought that leaving Fluster with Ivory would have been fine. Apparently I was wrong.

The swish of a coat and a flash of white interrupted my facehoofing, though. Looking up, I saw the gate closing and the mare from before walking into the town. Willow of the Whitecoats.

I was suddenly struck with a strong sense of déjà vu. This was exactly like when I’d seen Sweeps that first time. An out of place mare walking towards me. An air of menace.

I tensed up, ready for a fight, but the mare kept walking. Striding past me, she didn’t even give me a glance before heading for the tavern. I watched after her for a moment before heading into Traffic’s shop.

“Oh, you’re back. What was all the fuss?” Once again, she was rummaging through the pile of salvage that never seemed to get any smaller. She had yet to meet Fluster or Ivory, but I had a feeling that she would like the two mares.

“Just a misunderstanding between the Doc and our friend.” Shade was much more comfortable around Traffic than I’d seen her around most ponies. It was sort of surprising to hear her speaking to somepony other than myself without the small hint of fear that I could normally pick out in her voice.

Traffic nodded softly at Shade, a little grin on her face. “So, you were talking about what you were doing out in that big world?” She must get really bored, if she had been waiting so intently for me to continue my story.

“Yeah, I’ll get to that, but first I have a question.” She lifted a brow, her head propped up on her legs on the counter. I gestured out the door and continued. “The Whitecoats. Who are they? Are they with Neighwhere?”

If she’d been drinking something, she would have sprayed it in my face. Once the laughter died down, she wiped an eye and took a deep breath. “Don’t let any of them hear you say that. They don’t take kindly to being associated with raiders.”

Lifting herself up, she gestured around her store. “You see how a lot of my ammunition is gone? They bought most of it. Caps and trade. Been good customers, a real boon to this town.”

“So that’s why Willow can just walk in the front gate without the welcoming committee?” Glancing around, I noticed that the shelves were indeed a bit emptier than they had been a week before. Substantially so.

“You know Willow already? You just got back, that was fast.”

“We ran into her on the way into town. They’ve settled down in the relay, wouldn’t let us near it.”

Nodding, she glanced out the door. “Yeah, they might be a bit suspicious, but you should talk to Willow about that. They have their reasons. I think the two of you might get to be good friends.”

A glare from Shade made Traffic laugh. “Not like that. Don’t worry, Shade. Willow won’t try to steal your very special somepony. Trust me, she doesn’t have the time for it.”

Shade just grunted, a little noise that sounded pretty funny coming from her, but nodded anyways. I couldn’t help but smile any time the blue mare was jealous.

The entrance of our griffin companion to the shop interrupted whatever it was we had going on, as he walked in, nodding politely at the smirking merchant. “Good day, Miss Traffic.”

The smirk changed to a smile as she beamed up at the griffin for a split second before it devolved into a scowl. “Ashred, what happened to you? Did you let Ripple do first aid?”

Shaking his head with a chuckle, he surprisingly jumped to my defense. “Nah, this was all Intensive Care and Miss Shade here. I got cut up a bit, Kick donated his bandages to the cause of keeping this griffin alive and flapping.”

“Well... I guess I can respect that.” Traffic’s scowl softened, but it didn’t return to a smirk. “Your savior...,” the sarcasm dripped from that word, “..was just filling me in on what you’ve been up to this last week.”

The griffin went to stand between myself and the merchant, cutting the direct line of sight she had been taking full advantage of to give me the stink eye. Leaning on the counter, he picked lazily through Traffic’s eternal pile of miscellaneous scrap. He had his back to me, but I could tell that he was grinning.

“Kick, you and Miss Shade run along. I’ll fill in the rest of the story. Go have lunch. Find the girls, make a day of it.”

Ash. Always saving the day.

I nodded at his back, took a second to question why I had just done that, then headed for the door with a short, “Always a pleasure, Traffic.” Shade stuck to her chosen place at my side, and then we were back out into the street. Glancing around, I spotted a few of the townsponies here and there, an occasional coat of white visible.

I always felt weird at times like this. Nowhere to go. Nopony trying to kill me. Nothing immediately pressing.

Free time.

“So... want to get something to eat?” Shade glanced up at me, a smile on her face and a nod bobbing her head.


Eating at the bar, which really was the only place for out of towners to get food, was a lot friendlier than the last time I’d been in here. This time, me getting into a battle that destroyed a chunk of the town wasn’t weighing on everypony’s minds. My turning on the relay and sending the brothers from Trottingham to the town, however, were common topics. I had to turn away several attempts to buy me drinks, and dissuade any mares that wanted to talk to me from doing so. Shade got that look in her eyes any time one of them would approach.

Finally, two mares that she didn’t automatically scowl at arrived. Ivory led the way, Fluster slinking in behind her. I could tell that she was excessively nervous, even from across the bar, and had to wonder if it was a good idea for her to be around this many ponies she didn’t know.

Ivory had a fresh bandage on her cheek, just under her eye, and she had styled her hair in a way that it was not visible. She wasn’t in her armor, her machine gun and equipment left elsewhere, but she did have a bandage wrapped across her midsection. She’d taken shrapnel from the grenade back in Orchard, but I guessed none of it got in very deep, or she would still be at Doc Care’s as he cut her open to get at it.

Pulling up to the table where Shade and I were eating, the pale mare smiled broadly at us. “Ash told us you were on a date. Thought we’d come in and check how it was going.”

So he tells us to go off and enjoy ourselves, then he sends the girls to check up on us. I facehoofed mentally. Ivory sat down next to me, Fluster cramming herself into the booth across from me next to Shade. Curling up to hide as much of her as she could, her eye was only peaking over the table at Ivory and myself.

“We came to see if we could take Shade off of your hooves for a bit. Fluster needs some new robes, Ash told us we could talk to somepony named Traffic about that.” I glanced across at Shade, who caught my eye and nodded.

“Sure. Traffic is a nice pony, I’m sure she can help you out. I think you’ll like her, Fluster.” Shade spoke softly to Fluster, apparently just as aware as I was of how the pegasus had been handling everything since the run in with her psychotic sister. Fluster nodded slowly, bringing a small growl from one of her bags. Fern, I guessed.

“Ripple... you don’t mind if I cut our date short, do you? A girls’ day would probably be good for all of us.” As if I could say no when her eyes were both one me. I got lost in them for a few seconds, then shook off the nearly hypnotic effects and nodded.

“Sure. You girls need a break, and I’ve been hogging you all to myself.”

Shade leaned across the table, kissing me on the cheek and whispering in my ear. “We’ll continue later.” A sly grin and she walked off, the other two mares following close behind. Ivory gave me a knowing wink, and then I was alone in the bar.

Alone for all of five seconds.

The sound of a fluttering jacket was all the warning I got before Willow of the Whitecoats slid into the recently vacated seat across from me. A cold feeling under my chin was all the warning I had to know that there was a rather lethal piece of metal pressed against my throat from across the table.

Willow had a sword at my throat, levitated by a green aura. I hadn’t even seen her draw it. The look on her face was deadly serious. “So. I let you pass out in the wastes. Then I find out you’re a Paragon. You have five seconds to tell me why I shouldn’t open your neck and bleed you out on this table.”

Oh yeah. Traffic was dead on. We were becoming fast friends, me and the mare with the sword.

Thinking fast, I said the first thing that came to my mind. “I left the Paragons. Killing me would help them.”

Staring at me, a calculating look in her eye, she didn’t lower the sword. She also didn’t slash my throat, so I had to assume that she was thinking over what I had said. Either she accepted, or I’d be dead. I doubted I could move quick enough to get Broken out or to kick her, considering that I hadn’t even seen her draw the sword.

After the longest ten seconds of my life, she removed the sword from my throat. The sword spun in the air and slid into a scabbard at her side underneath the cloak. That explained the glimpse of metal I had gotten. The sword had a twin on her opposite side, both of which were easily concealed by the long white coat she wore.

“Very well. Explain. Leave out nothing. I won’t sheath my blade without drawing blood next time.”

Today was becoming less about free time and more about recounting the tale of the events that had made up the last eighteen days. There were no distractions, no ponies running in and drawing me away from the white clad mare across the table from me. She sat in rapt attention as I started in the field and went all the way up to current day.

I left out some details, as I had before. Pandemonium. Budding Leaf’s memory. My cutting a deal with Flurry. Things nopony really needed to know.

Her face was a passive canvas, only the occasional hint of any emotion or interest. I caught glimpses of a smirk when I talked about the deaths of Sweeps and Holepunch. Slight nods at Underhoof and Stadium.

The most I got from her was when it came to Orchard and Broken Arrow. Sitting back in her seat, put a hoof to her chin, as though pondering something. Her eyes left me and she stared at the table as I talked about the Steel Rangers and the disabled robot army.

“Very interesting.” Finally, she smiled and reached a hoof across the table towards me. I placed my hoof against it and we shook. “I’m Willow, it’s nice to meet you Ripple.”

I sighed in relief. As far as I could tell, she was treating the situation much as I was. Two Kick was dead. Ripple was not the same pony. That just seemed to make interacting with ponies so much easier.

Now that she was smiling and the threat of my neck being opened like a bag of soup was gone, I felt that I could ask her questions. The most pressing one first though.

“So, Willow, who are the Whitecoats? I couldn’t get a straight answer out of anypony, other than that you and I should be friends.”

I nodded, not wanting to divert from my question. I was concerned by the growing number of Whitecoats I had seen in the town, hoping that it would not come down to another fight in this quiet haven.

“We hunt raiders. That’s what we do. When the radio turned back on, Pon-3 started warning of increasing raider numbers in Hornsmith. We followed our calling. Came up from the south, killed every raider we could find.”

I grinned. I liked the sound of that. I was also glad that I left out mention of the raiders in the forest that I had let leave with their lives. It didn’t seem that she would take too kindly to my mercy.

“So you all just decided to hunt raiders one day?”

She shook her head gravely. “Every Whitecoat has a different story. Families murdered, atrocities committed. Rape, torture, loss. We were all victims at one point or another. We banded together. Decided to fight back.”

As she spoke, I couldn’t help but wonder what had been done to her. It was fairly obvious what had happened to me, the scar on my face was a permanent reminder of what happened when anypony got too close to raiders.

“You should stop by the relay. Get to know everypony. We can talk. Strategy.”

The way that she spoke was a little hard to follow, but I nodded along. Seeing the relay would be an interesting diversion. I was a little curious how many Whitecoats there actually were, and if Willow ran the entire thing by herself. I couldn’t even run lead our little group by myself, I wondered how a single mare could command dozens.

Leaning forward a bit, I posed another question. “Can I bring a friend?”

She smirked. “Don’t trust us? Yeah, that’s fine. I’ll tell my ponies to not shoot.”

I nodded. “Thanks. I’ve been shot enough for this lifetime.” Tapping my scar with a hoof, I drew attention to that fact.

Both of our attentions were diverted when another Whitecoat entered the bar. I recognized him as one of the ponies that had been with Willow when we’d first met, and he headed straight for our table as soon as he spotted the mare at my table.

Upon reaching us, he glanced briefly before leaning forward and whispering urgently in Willow’s ear. She looked at him questioningly, to which he nodded, to which she nodded back. The buck turned and trotted back the way he came, out the door and into the street. Willow looked after him briefly before turning to me.

“I am needed at the relay... would you like to see it?”

I couldn’t really say no. It seemed that I had found what I had originally gone looking for in Orchard. Allies. Ponies to help me stop Hate. They had numbers, weapons, and drive. I had to see just how much.

Nodding, I answered her in the affirmative. “It’s been a while since I was at the relay. I’m curious to see what you’ve done with the place.”

The Whitecoat nodding, standing up from the table. “Then follow me.” She led the way out of the tavern, with me following behind. I thought briefly of how Shade would react to this, but I’d only be gone for a little bit. I’d go out, take a look at the relay and the Whitecoats, and be back before she’d even know I was gone.

In the street, the pony that had just walked into the tavern to get Willow’s attention was waiting. A unicorn wearing white jacket with a hood built into it, I could see a chaotic pattern of scar tissue around his neck and head.

The pony nodded at Willow and glared at me as I followed. “Easy Rhapsody. Ripple has my backing. He’s coming back to the relay with us.”

Rhapsody grumbled, but accepted Willow’s word as law, falling in behind us as I walked along next to the mare towards the gate. Ironsight was standing guard over the heavily reinforced entryway and opened it as we approached. Once past, the door closed with a loud clang, leaving the three of us out in the wasteland.

For once, though, it did not feel as though an attack was seconds away. I didn’t know why, but I was getting overly hopeful that the Whitecoats were everything they claimed to be. They almost seemed too good to be true.

I’d find out when I got to the relay. I would decide then.


Now that I got a closer look at the relay, I had to give it to the Whitecoats. When first I had been here, I’d walked right through the front door. Now, I couldn’t even get within sight of the front door without feeling several rifle scopes centering in on my face. The feeling went away, but only when the snipers saw Willow. The glint of glass on the tops of buildings disappeared, the only real evidence I had to back up my theory of snipers.

The surrounding buildings had been partially demolished, a crude stone wall built around the relay. A large wagon had been claimed from somewhere and was serving as the front gate, rolling off to one side to allow the three of us entry to the Whitecoat compound.

It was like the mirror of the raider encampment surrounding Stadium. The Whitecoats were clean, efficient, and well drilled. I could see several inside the building, as well as a number on patrol within the wall. They weren’t messing around.

Rhapsody peeled off from us once we were past the gate, leaving me to follow Willow through the front door. In the back of my head, I could hear the screaming that had heralded my last trip through the door. Part of me was expecting insane raiders to leap out from every side door and hallway, but each time a pony appeared they were well armed and garbed in the general look associated with this organization.

When we reached the center of the building, I was actually kind of amazed. Where once I had fought off several raiders, there was now an armory. Weapons of all size and shape, from pistols to rocket launchers, lay on shelves that had been scavenged from the rest of the building. Around the freight elevator in the middle of the room, which I noticed was lit up and appeared to be fully functional, ponies were working at tables cleaning and rebuilding weapons, pressing ammo, and drilling in hoof to hoof combat.

“Willow, welcome back.” A pony with a limp and burn scars that made my own look like a stubbed hoof was approaching from between a pair of shelves loaded down with weapons. Willow smiled broadly at the aged stallion, a look of respect in her eyes. To me... he looked strangely familiar, which in my experience was never a good sign.

“And who do we have here....” The elder stallion trailed off as he saw me, turning into a snarl as he lunged backwards, snatching a rifle off of the shelf next to him and aiming it at me, propping it up on a front leg in a stance I’d never seen before.

“Willow, were you aware that you brought a Paragon with you?” His eye, sighting at me down the top of the rifle. The weapon was designed to be held like this I noticed, it was not of any kind I’d seen before. Down the length of the barrel, his eye was narrowed with a very hateful look. The shattered remains of a horn sat on his forehead.

The hoof wrapped around the trigger was attached to a burnt leg... on which there was a blackened PipBuck.

Hah. Hey, Uncle Square Deal survived, I coulda sworn he would have died after what we did to him.

Again, the voice knew more about me than I did.

I took a step back, confused. Uncle? I had an Uncle outside of Neighwhere? “Uh.... Uncle?”

The standing pony snarled at me. “Don’t you ‘uncle’ me! I should shoot you right here!”

Willow was suddenly between us, holding a hoof towards Square Deal. “Hold on now. Let me explain! He’s not a Paragon.”

“Bullshit! He was there, my nephew ‘Two-Kick Rip’. He did nothing when Hate had me shot and burnt.” His hoof tightened around the trigger, and I couldn’t help but be aware that the barrel was aimed just over Willow’s head, straight between my eyes. If he fired, it wouldn’t matter if she was between the weapon and myself.

“Listen..... Uncle. She’s right, I’m not a Paragon. Not anymore. I... can’t say that I really remember you, but everything from before Hate shot me is still a blur.”

That eye narrowed, critical of my every move, watching for me to try anything. Slowly, very slowly, he lowered the weapon. “So... Hate finally tried to do you in as well? What was it? He view you as a potential threat? Get tired of having you running errands for him? Find somepony better?”

I shrugged. “I don’t know. I just woke up in a field with a hole in my face.”

He nodded, a snarl on his lips. “That was mighty nice of Hate. Just shooting you. He set me on fire, then shot me in the back as I ran.”

Another pony that had been hurt by Hate. This time, the victim was family.

“Listen. Raw Deal. I didn’t know that Ripple was your nephew. I do know that he’s not a Paragon anymore. He’s helping ponies. Killing Raiders. He’s killed two Paragons personally in the last week.” Willow approached the buck with the rifle, putting a hoof on the barrel and slowly pushing it the rest of the way down, until the weapon was aimed at the ground.

Sighing, he placed the weapon back on the shelf, with a number of other strangely shaped rifles. Were there other ponies here that could use a weapon like that? It just seemed so... strange.

Dropping back down to all four hooves, the older stallion sighed. “I’m too old for this shit. Willow, show him around, then send him on his way.” Turning, he left us behind. As he left the room, I caught a glimpse of another pony intercepting him with a hug, the then two disappeared.

Willow turned to me. “Sorry. I didn’t think Raw Deal would react like that.”

“He’s.... my uncle? Does the name Square Deal mean anything?”

Willow stiffened up as I said it and shot me a quick look. “If you don’t want Raw Deal to shoot you, I wouldn’t say that name.”

I nodded. Message received. It would probably just be for the best that I avoided my uncle. “So... Raw Deal. What does he do here? What was up with how he held that gun?”

Glancing over at the rack of weapons, Willow smiled. “I’m not sure where he learned how to fight, but he’s good. He trains our new members. Turn them from victims into warriors. Proper Whitecoats. We would be nothing without him.”

Stepping towards the weapons, I nodded my head towards one. “Can I try?”

Smirking, she nodded.

I picked up one of the rifles with my magic, standing on my hind legs as he had. I did my best to imitate how he had held the rifle, but the first issue I ran into was standing on my hind legs. I couldn’t imagine how Ash did this so frequently, I had very little balance like this. Aiming the weapon was next to impossible as I wobbled about on my rear legs.

A choked back sound told me that Willow had started laughing at my attempts, so I snatched the weapon up from my hooves with magic and placed it back on the shelf. Falling back down onto my hooves, I shook my head. “Yeah, I’ll stick with magic for that.”

“Stay here. I’ll be right back.” Willow had stopped laughing at me, turning towards a row of lockers. She was only gone briefly, before she returned with a white cloth floating alongside her. Reaching for me, she muttered, “Hold still.”

The cloth went around my neck, and I tensed up. Was she trying to kill me? No... she would have used a sword. She stepped back and I felt the cloth’s slight weight settle around my neck.

In what I assumed she felt was a very formal voice, she spoke. “With this, you are recognized by the Whitecoats. You won’t be bothered as long as you display this token.”

I nodded. I’d made my decision. As far as I could tell, the Whitecoats were on the level. Heavily armed, well motivated, they hadn’t thrown me in a fucking jail cell. All good points.

“Thanks, Willow. I won’t abuse the privilege.”

The mare in the long coat nodded, a grin creeping onto her face. “Always glad to bring strong ponies into the fold. Now I have business I must attend to. You can look around, or you can head back to Blank.” She tilted her head towards where Raw Deal had walked, but I shook my head. I’d head back to Blank, I really didn’t think that my uncle was too keen to see me.

Checking my PipBuck, I saw that I’d already been gone for a few hours. It would probably be best to head back, especially since I hadn’t told anypony where I was going. If they asked Ironsight, they’d know, but I wasn’t sure they’d think of that.

“I need to get back. I’ll be in touch, I need to talk to you about something. Not now, but later.”

The mare nodded, and I turned and left. Passing several more Whitecoats in the halls, including Rhapsody, I made my way back outside and through the mobile gate.

As soon as I was out of the gate, the thought struck me that I hadn’t been alone in quite some time. There had been the period of time between when I woke up, and when I first met Shade, but other than that I had had at least one travelling companion at all times.

The walk back to Blank was a lonely one.


I could hear the sounds of Blank, primarily that of continued construction as the brothers from Trottingham were leading further reinforcement of the walls. In only a few minutes, I’d be back in town, then I could continue my date with Shade.

I hoped that she hadn’t found out I’d left the town with Willow. Thinking back, it might have been a bad idea, considering how jealous Shade got at even the mention of me being near another mare. Leaving town with one might push her over an edge. I’d really have to make it up to her if that were the case.

“Hey there handsome.”

I froze in place, whipping Broken out and aiming it to my right between two buildings. I knew that voice. I did not want to be hearing that voice again.

Cinder Trails.

Author's Note:

Thanks to Kkat for creating FoE, allowing us to travel through this land.

Also, thanks to my editor ErrantIndy, for his work. Truly, he is the Most Interesting Mule.

As always, fave/vote/comment/track if you enjoyed reading this.