• 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 13: Mask

Chapter 13: Mask

“That’s Massacre.” I spoke just loud enough for the crouching griffin to hear me. His eyes widened and he sighted down his scopeless rifle at the large stallion.

“Should I take him out? Ah shit, he moved.” Massacre had seen the rifle aim his way, even at this distance, and had moved from the clear line of sight he’d been standing in. Not that I was entirely confident that the griffin could have killed him in one shot... all of the Paragons seemed to be immune to bullets in one way or another. It would never have been that easy.

“Keep an eye on him. If you see another chance, take it.” I floated the scope to him, and he snatched it out of the air and reconnected it to the rifle he had perched on the lip of the wall. A rustling to my right heralded Willow, who had seen me on the wall and was making her way past her soldiers. Each Whitecoat gave her room as she moved, even as they kept their weapons trained on the army past the gate.

As she approached, she jerked her head to the side, towards Sweeps’ grave and where the large angry stallion had been. “That an old friend of yours?”

I nodded, trying to find the filthy stallion amongst the crowd of killers. “Massacre. I’ve met him once, since I woke up. He’s a monster.”

She chuckled slightly. “Well, aren’t all of you?”

I glared at her, and she quickly corrected herself. “Them. Monsters, the lot.”

I shot another quick glare at Willow before glancing back out at the raiders. I took stock of the situation we were in. Outnumbered by a horde of murderers, cut off from our only source of reinforcements, outgunned, and protecting mares and foals.

Not good. Not good at all.

I drew Broken, emptying the magazine of buckshot and replacing it with the longer range slugs. I may not be able to hit anything dependably, but at least having a longer range ammunition would be beneficial. All around me, Whitecoats and the residents of Blank were aiming assorted rifle and other weapons, all of them in varying conditions of repair. The Whitecoats stood out with their higher quality weapons, with less rust and visible patch jobs.

I noticed that several of the Blank ponies had what appeared to be lead pipes rigged to fire bullets. Not something I’d stake my life on personally, but they were making due with what they had.

Traffic was running back and forth along the line, delivering ammunition to any pony that needed it. I wasn’t sure if she was selling it, or if she had already sold it. That she was giving it away wasn’t even a possibility. As she passed by me, she stopped just short enough for a brief conversation.

“Need anything? I’m selling at a discount.”

I nodded. “Yeah, I heard. Do you have any of Torque’s explosive slugs left? They’d come in handy here, especially since I’m not the best shot.”

Shaking her head grimly, she glanced back at her shop. “I’ve had him pressing normal rounds. Those were more a hobby of his, he hasn’t had the time. No such luck there Ripple, I’m sorry. You’ll just have to hit what you aim at.”

Then the merchant pony was off, taking an order from Willow for more bullets to go with the shiny pistol the Whitecoat was checking and double checking. Her swords leaned against to the wall next to her, ready for action, but I hoped that no raiders would get close enough for her to need them. I was unsure of most of the ponies defending, really only sure that myself, Willow, and Ash could hold our own in a melee. Many of the ponies along the wall had tools, which could be used as weapons in a tight space, but nothing I would willingly take into a fight.

“Don’t worry so much Kick. We’ll hold them.” Ash was grinning at me, even as he scanned the raiders for another sight of their large leader. “Especially if I can take the head off of this snake before it starts.”

He snapped the rifle to the side, cursing under his breath. “I keep catching the glint of a scope out there... I think your sniper is on the other side of the raiders. That could complicate things.”

“Skyline, probably. You see either, take the shot. Only good Paragon is a dead Paragon. I mean, just look at me.” I grinned, but my attempt at a joke just brought a groan from the concentrating griffin.

“You should stick to sheltering damaged mares and hurting things. Leave the jokes to me Kick, they’re not your friend.”

Just then, Ivory pushed her way between us, an almost sadistic glee shining in her eyes. “I hear Massacre is out there. Are these the Stadium raiders?”

I nodded to the pale mare, who had a rather disturbing grin slathered across her face. “Seems like it. They sure look like the army I saw there.”

“Wires might be out there.” As she said his name, she kicked her battle saddle, rattling the feed back and forth. I knew how much killing him meant to her, and just hoped that no Whitecoat got a lucky shot in if the twitchy little buck showed up in the crowd. I’d personally been hoping that I’d been right in my warning to him, and he’d been killed as soon as he’d gotten back from his betrayal.

If Ivory got her chance for revenge though, I wasn’t going to stop her. It would bring some closure to her brother’s death, or at least make her feel a little better. She was still very touchy on the subject.

I nodded to her. “I’ll let you know if I see him. Until then, just wait for the shooting to start before you open up, just to give everypony a little more time to prepare.”

Shifting uncomfortably, she whined a little at me. “But they’re right there. It’d be so easy.”

“As soon as you fire, Miss Ivory, every raider there will rush this wall. Give it a little time, then you can fire to your heart’s content.” Ash, always with the level headed mind. He knew how to talk to mares. Always a help.

I nodded to him, but then my attention was diverted. Somepony had brought one of those old radios out into the street and had aimed it up at the wall, allowing us to hear what was going on.

“...so this is a call out to all of you ponies fighting the good fight down near Hornsmith. That army of raiders is on the move, straight for the good folk of Blank.”

DJ Pon3. Bringing the news to the Equestrian wasteland.

“Now, I know that most of you are doing what you can to simply survive in that bleak grey town, but if you have a gun, try and help those folk out. I know that those Whitecoats are, and they seem alright enough. Help a pony in need out. This is DJ Pon3, wishing all you ponies in Hornsmith good luck and good fight. Now, to help ease the mood, here’s Sapphire Shores, doing her best to raise your spirits and brighten your day...”

Music started playing through, and I couldn’t help but smile. At least now the Whitecoats at the relay would know that there was trouble brewing, since I was sure we wouldn’t have been able to send a runner, and any individual groups would just run into a force that they couldn’t possibly handle.

Scanning the wall, I couldn’t find Raw Deal or Xiera, which meant that they had to be back in relay after yesterday. That was good, he’d be able to lead an effective push into the army’s side. At least, I hoped he would.

“Willow, can you get in touch with the other Whitecoats?” The mare in the long coat was busy running a stone down one of her blades, sharpening it to a lethally keen edge. I’d already felt the blade at my neck, and wondered how much sharper it could actually get.

Glancing at me, she shrugged. “Not really. Whenever I’m not at the relay, Raw Deal runs things. I’m sure they’re listening to that broadcast. The cavalry should be on it’s way.” So she could really only confirm what I had guessed at, which was better than nothing.

Looking back down into the street, I spotted Shade and Fluster, who had Fern at her side. The two mares were off to one side, watching the bustle of the street as the townsponies geared up to defend their town. When Shade saw me looking, she gave me a friendly smile, which I returned.

The raiders would not get in.

From the camp, a gruff voice that I hadn’t heard since I’d stood in disguise inside Stadium boomed out. It was either magically enhanced, or technologically, but it was much louder than even he was capable of.

“Attention, fucks guarding your little shitheap. Open the gate, let us the fuck in!” Glancing to the side, I saw that Ash was hunting through his scope for the large stallion. I was as well, even if I wouldn’t be able to hit him at this range. Massacre must have known, because I couldn’t see the filthy murderer anywhere. With Ash’s lack of firing, I guessed that even his keen eye couldn’t find our target.

“You get one chance. Open the door, and we won’t kill all of you pathetic fucks.” I thought of Stadium, and how’d I’d only met four survivors of Massacre’s definition of mercy.

A shot rang out through the morning air, breaking the silence that followed Massacre’s demand. All eyes turning to see a pale red mare that I’d seen once or twice around town, but didn’t know the name of, who was the source of the shot. Smoke rose from the barrel of a crudely built rifle she’d jury rigged onto a homemade battle saddle, and she lifted herself up onto the wall.

“Fuck you and your whole damned Stable, you fuck!” The words rang out through the air as clearly as the shot had, and we all braced for a response.

The response came at high speed, rendering her head above the lower jaw into a spray of blood and bone, with the follow up clap of a high powered rifle. The mare’s body stood there, the ponies near her frozen in shock at being drenched with their neighbors blood. As she slumped and slid off of the wall back into Blank, leaving a streak of blood, everypony on the wall started shouting and ducking.

Skyline was out there, if I had to guess. Though with that shot, I wondered how I had survived. Skyline could have placed the shot into my neck or head, or even hit my heart. I’d been a perfect target, standing over Cinder with my side presented to the sniper, but the round had gone through a lung and out the other side. She’d just put a round into a much smaller target’s head at a much longer distance.

Massacre cut into my thoughts as his deep voice boomed and echoed through the town.

“You heard the dead cunt, boys and girls! Gear up, we’ll be cracking this shit heap.” With those words, the raiders seemed to visibly back down from the readied state that they were in. As far as I could tell, they were going to wait until they were good and ready to attack Blank, which could be at any moment.

“Ripple, follow me.” I heard Willow’s voice from behind me and found the mare standing practically on my back. “Get your griffin friend. Meet me down at Traffic’s.”

I nodded at her, then turned to the ducking griffin at my side. I knew he’d heard her, since he had the sharpest ears of any creature I’d ever met. He just slipped his rifle over his back and hopped down off of the wall, waiting for me. I followed, but taking the longer route of going over to the ramp and walking down. Willow was still on the wall, talking to a few other ponies, so Ash and I made our way to the store on our own.

The store was the emptiest I’d ever seen it. Traffic had either made a killing today, or had made a very generous donation to the continuation of her livelihood. There were still a few items left, here and there. Her constant pile of scrap on the counter, Sweeps’ repaired minigun, assorted toys. I would have thought the minigun would have been taken, but I guess I was wrong.

Hoofsteps on the planks making up the sidewalk drew my attention to the door, where Willow, Ironsight, and Traffic entered. Traffic’s face was tear streaked, but she still looked as ready for business as ever. She must have known the dead pony.

The five of us gathered around a table in the middle of the room, one devoid of any merchandise. I believed it had once held a good majority of the ammunition that was now held by the defenders on the wall. There were a few spare pieces on the table, but mostly of small caliber rounds for pistols. As we pulled up crates to sit, Ash swept the remaining bullets onto the floor with the quick pass of a wing.

“So. We need a plan. We can’t just wait for Deal. The Whitecoats will come, but they must gather first. That’s if they heard.” Willow sighed, looking much less hopeful than she had on the wall. It had all been a front, to keep the morale of the defenders up. She was worried.

I had no idea what to do in a situation like this. My normal plan would be to go kick them to death... but that just wasn’t an option here. I gave a shrug, not entirely sure what they thought I’d be able to bring to this meeting.

“We just gotta keep above them. The higher ground is an advantage, what we’ve got going right now is good. We just need some patrols along the inside wall and we’ll be about as secure as we can be.” Ash spoke up, gesturing as he did so. “Now, we do it all the time. Griffins, I mean. We have the wings. Only two pegasi in this town, and I don’t think either are good ideas to put in a battle.”

Willow and Ironsight nodded along, while Traffic and I just sat there. I was a little surprised, with Ash talking tactics and all. I kept forgetting he was a mercenary, a professional soldier. It made sense.

“Can I borrow your pile, Ms. Traffic?” The griffin gestured towards the pile of scrap, and Traffic seemed to snap out of a daze.

“What? Oh, yes Ashred. Of course.”

“Thank you kindly, Ms. Traffic.” The griffin stood, retrieved the pile, and dumped it on the table. “Just a minute.”

I’d seen him display artistic ability once before, the night that we’d made the contract. He’d carved a pony and a griffin into a table in the tavern, which I had seen every time I’d been in there since. He was rather gifted, for a soldier. Before our eyes, he quickly assembled a rough map of Blank. Being the only one of us able to fly, we had to take his word that it was accurate.

“So the raiders are here.” He pointed at the wall next to a piece of metal that was serving in place of the gate. “We’ve got ponies along the walls here. We need some more here,” he pointed at the opposite wall,” and spread out at regular intervals between the two points. Any pony will do.”

He pointed at Willow, now that it seemed he had fully taken over this meeting. He was our master strategist in this case. “Ms. Willow, we’re gonna need some of your Whitecoats patrolling inside the wall, on the streets. Keep the peace, show the townsfolk everything’s under control.”

Pointing at Ironsight, he continued. ”We’ll need to get the children, and anyone else who can’t fight, to a secure location in the town. One where we can defend easily if the wall falls. Somewhere along the main road would be good, so we can fall back to the rooftops.”

The stallion nodded almost imperceptibly, and pointed at a building in the town with a hoof. “Radish’s. Most room, surrounded by low buildings.”

Ash nodded. “Perfect.” Pointing at Traffic, he kept going. “Ms. Traffic, I have to thank you for giving out all your ammo. You’re a service to your town.”

Traffic blushed and looked away at the compliment, a move that looked very out of place for her.

Then, a talon pointed across the table at me. “Kick... you need to take a break. You have a hole in your side. Just lay low, maybe do some patrols. Don’t die.”

My jaw dropped at the griffin, who smirked. I sputtered a few times, before I managed to get the words out. “That’s it? That’s all I’m here for? Why even bother letting me sit in on this if I’m just gonna be pushed to the side?”

Ash shrugged playfully. “You’ve got Shade to look after. You’ve got your hands full with that mare, I’ve seen how it goes.” Traffic and Willow laughed along with him briefly before he cut them off.

His grin turned serious. “You’re looking pale. We don’t need you passing out on the wall.”

I nodded, pulling another hit of med-x from my bag. The drug worked quickly, and the pain I’d been feeling ebbed away slightly. “I’ll be fine, I just hurt a little.”

He nodded. If anyone here knew how much pain I was capable of dealing with before it became an issue, it had to be the griffin. He’d been there for most of it, he knew my capacity.

Clapping his talons together, he ended the meeting. “So we’re all good then. Get on it, good luck, let’s hope we don’t all die.” His morbid humor pulled a grin or two, but Ironsight and Traffic left the meeting with very dire looks on their faces. This was their home we were fighting for, and if we failed then they wouldn’t have anywhere left. Eventually, I was the last one left in the shop, and I took my chance to scrounge through anything left over. I found nothing. The ponies of Blank would be hard pressed for supplies if we pulled this off.

Back on the street, I saw Willow had gathered a number of her Whitecoats off of the wall where they were more heavily clustered, and was pointing at different parts of the town. They were heading off in twos and threes, armed and ready to watch for any ingression.

Ironsight was pointing groups of ponies towards the other walls as he walked down the street towards Radish’s place. Each one nodded and complied, trusting in Ironsight’s authority. He was the closest thing they had to law in the town, and they trusted that he knew what was best for the town.

Ash was headed back to the wall, and I followed. Limping back up the ramp, I found my way to my spot, peaking back over. The raiders had barely moved, but there was definitely activity. They were up to something, but I couldn’t tell what it was. I just had to wait and see.

We all just had to wait.


After an hour of nothing, most of the defenders had become less tense, and several had put down their weapons, though nopony was sticking their head over the wall. Talking to the ponies around me, I’d found that the mare who’d had her head blown off was the local schoolteacher, which made me wonder briefly what language the young of Blank had been picking up, but the whole wall seemed devastated that she’d died. Her name had been Pencil Sharpener, and they had already cleaned her blood off of the wall and put her body out of sight until a time they could bury her.

She’d not be alone when she was put under the ground, that was for sure. When this was through, there would be many more innocents dead.

I’d holstered Broken after about ten minutes of waiting, not wanting to tax my magic. I still wasn’t at one hundred percent physically, with my side hurting, and I knew that a unicorn’s magic could get worn out, especially if they were hurt. I’d felt it before, and I could feel it creeping up on me.

“Are you okay?” I snapped out of it and looked at who was speaking to me. Shade, who I hadn’t even heard come up onto the wall. I was spacing out more than I should at a time like this.

“You’re pale.” I didn’t really think to ask how she could tell, considering that my coat was white. I’d take her word on it, especially since Ash had said the same thing. “The wall is fine without you.”

She started leading me off, and I couldn’t help but follow along. I felt exhausted, and everything hurt. I had to be near the wall though... I had to fight. I felt light headed, but I’d been worse.

Once on the ground, I found another pony waiting for us. Doc Care. “I knew he’d listen to ya’, Shade. Idiot doesn’t know when ta slow down.” So he’d had her come up and get me. I couldn’t imagine it had taken much convincing on her part.

Glaring at me, the hovering pony just folded his front legs across his chest. “I’ve seen how yer movin’. Yer more of a risk up on the wall than ya think, doubly so since I’ve heard yer no good at hitting long ranges. What were ya gonna do with a shotgun anyways? Just gonna get shot again, then I’d have to stitch you shut. Again.”

“The zebra told me to keep an eye on ya’. You do much of anything, ya’ might die.” Care tapped on my side, and I could feel the impact even through my barding. Instead of a light tap, it felt like he’d kicked me in the side. I flinched out of instinct, and sat down in the middle of the street.

“Fine.” The walk back down had winded me, and I wondered if my lung really was all right. It still sort of felt like I was working with one. “Doc, do you have anything to help? More potent?”

“Nothing I’d give you. Knowing your history with stampede... I’m pretty sure that hydra would rip ya’ to shreds. Not subtle, and subtlety is what ya need right now.” From his bag, he pulled a potion and gave it to me, which I sipped at as he watched. Made sure I got every drop, then took the bottle back and stuffed it in the bag.

“I know ya’ll be fightin’ when it comes to it, but if you can get in even fifteen minutes of rest, I’d say do it. Ya need to heal.” He was getting a very serious look on his face as he talked, and Shade shared it as she looked at me. I realized suddenly that Urgent Care actually gave a shit if I died. That surprised me. “Keep an eye on yerself for once. Yer basically workin’ with a lung and a half here, and yer no good to anyone if you fall unconscious while yer runnin’ around gettin’ shot.”

As he spoke, I felt better. My breathing got easier and the pain in my side dulled, but I could still feel it. Potions weren’t going to deal with the damage I’d received... I might actually have to let this one heal with time.

Still sitting, I focussed my concentration. I pulled open my bag as he spoke, searching for a needle of Med-X to take off the edge. I’d been going through a fair amount of the drug, but it made me feel better. Less like I was a broken pony, more like my fully functioning self.

“Yeah, okay Doc. I’ll lay low, at least until the attack.” I floated the needle towards my side, and into his vision. He reached out a hoof and held the needle back, looking suspiciously at me.

“What? Helps the pain.” Maneuvering the drug around his hoof, I injected the soothing concoction into my side, and felt the cooling numbness spread through. I let out a soft sigh. It was wearing off faster every time it seemed, but I had a decent stockpile built up.

“Just... don’t do it too frequent. Dependency on that stuff can really mess ya up. I can’t help ya if that happens.” He looked at me knowingly. I remembered right then that Care knew that I was an ex-Paragon. He’d known when Traffic had tried convincing him to leave me in front of the gate, the first time that I’d come to Blank. I’d been filled with nails, shot, cut, and my face was still raw with the fresh wound that was now my trademark scar.

He’d told me on more than one occasion that my next injury he wouldn’t treat, and yet he kept doing it. Even when it hadn’t been in his best interest, he’d healed me. Sure, he’d made excuses, but he could easily have just let me die.

“Thanks Doc.”

He nodded, and turned away from me, towards the wall. Trotting off to help other ponies, I felt glad that he was on our side. Well, at least on Blank’s side. I wasn’t exactly good for this town. If it weren’t for me, the Paragons would not have targeted it twice now. There would not have been potentially multiple Paragons outside the city. Massacre I knew for sure was out there, and I assumed that if Skyline was the sniper then she hadn’t taken Cinder very far. Aside from some possible emotional trauma, Cinder had gotten out of the fight in much better shape than I had.

“Let’s get out of the street, okay?” Shade snapped me out of my thoughts, and I realized I’d just been sitting there in the mud staring at a wall. Smooth.

I nodded and we moved to one side, out of the way of the hustle and bustle of siege defense. Glancing back up at the wall, I could pick out my friends. Well, two of them at least. The dark griffin and the pale tunnel pony. I wasn’t sure I could call Willow a friend, not just yet. An acquaintance... a well wisher.... somepony that didn’t wish me any specific harm. Those seemed more appropriate.

Ash kept sneaking peeks over the wall before ducking back down and moving to a different part of the wall. All of the ponies on the wall had their heads down, but Ash kept moving back and forth down the wall and popping up. Either he was still looking for a good shot on any of the Paragons... or he was screwing around with Skyline. I didn’t want him to get shot, but the thought that he might have been giving the sniper a hard time on purpose made me smile.

Ivory looked very pent up. She was pacing in the very short stretch of wall she’d staked out for herself, and kept checking that her gun was loaded. The other ponies of Blank and the Whitecoats near her had given her room and were looking at her with very strange looks. I assumed that she was humming, as she tended to do anytime she was left with her own thoughts. It was strange to not see Fluster near the armored pony, but I’d seen very little of the reclusive pegasus all day. I’d last seen her near Shade, but she’d gone off and hidden somewhere.

I was really starting to question if Fluster would be all right. She’d been off for a few days now, ever since her sister. After the incident with Doc Care, I barely saw her at all, and when I did she was with one of the girls, shying away from anypony she didn’t know. I’d seen Fern around town a few times, but he was always near her. I only saw her smile at the timberwolf pup, and wondered if her view of all ponies was damaged, or if it was just pegasi.

So it was just me and Shade amidst all this chaos and uncertainty. Might as well make myself useful in some way. “Shade, I gotta do something to help, even if I’m not on the wall... care to take a walk with me?”

The mare nodded at me, and we started walking off to the side. As we walked, I noticed that the plan was in effect. There were a number of Whitecoats patrolling sidestreets and walking inside the walls, keeping an eye out for any attempts to breach the wall. Each was heavily armed, at least compared to the ponies that lived here. How had Blank been here for so long? Other than the gun at the front gate, they were armed with cobbled together weapons or farming tools. Any way I looked at it, they should have been wiped off of the map long ago. Perhaps they were just lucky.

Or at least, they were lucky until I’d shown up.

Each Whitecoat nodded in greeting to me as soon as they saw the white scarf, still speckled with both mine and Cinder’s blood. So it was getting me the recognition that Willow had promised, which I had to say was a good feeling. Acceptance. Even if it was from an army of well intentioned killers, it was good.

“Why are they all like that?” Shade had apparently been noticing the looks, and inquired upon them. I hadn’t really thought about the scarf until just now, and Shade hadn’t asked about it so I hadn’t really thought to bring it up.

I grinned down at her as we walked. “Oh, this.” I lifted the dirty and slightly singed white cloth around my neck briefly with my magic. “Tells them that I’m their friend. So they don’t shoot at me.” As I spoke, I absentmindedly started switching the slug rounds out for buckshot. Close quarters weren’t good for the solid rounds.

She laughed lightly, a sound that made me forget that we were on the verge of a war. “That’s good, the last thing you need is more ponies shooting at you.”

That made me chuckle, getting a strange look from a pair of Whitecoats who were hustling past us carrying a pair of nasty looking shotguns. They weren’t patrolling, but rather were on an errand if I had to make a guess, and I guess that the sight of two ponies walking along laughing was either out of place or offensive.

“So... this is how the great Ripple spends his preparation time? Chatting up pretty mares?” A voice filled with derision came from one side, down a filthy alley.

I turned to see the pony that was criticizing me, finding that it was the scarred Whitecoat from the other day. Rhapsody. He had a hood up over his head this time, hiding the pattern of scar tissue that had almost reminded me of Fluster. Now with the hood, he reminded me even more of the mare, but in look only.

“The token might mean a lot to the others, but not to me. Willow’s word only goes so far out here, especially when your own kin has nothing but bad to say.” Stepping towards me, he came face to face, a vicious grin on his face. I glared and pushed Shade behind me slightly.

“Thing is, I trust Deal more than Willow. She’s naive. I’ve heard Deal’s briefings on the Paragons. We all did before we came up here.” Jabbing me in the chest with a hoof, he kept going. “Two Kick. White unicorn. Blue and grey hair. Green eyes. Hoof shotguns. A vicious murderer, not to be trusted. Rapist. Traitor.”

My eyes narrowed as he summed up who I had been. I wasn’t going to get in a fight with a Whitecoat... especially not at a time like this. I had to keep cool, try and talk him down. Like that had ever worked.

“Most of us haven’t made the connection. To many, you’re just Ripple. Bringer of music, Paragon killer, all that shit. They haven’t put together that you’re a Paragon yourself.” He stepped back, pulling a cut down assault rifle from his back. Holding the weapon at the ready, he made his intentions very clear. He was protecting the town. From me.

“Ripple is not a Paragon! Not anymore!” I glanced back at Shade as she spoke up in my defense, shaking my head. I had to deal with this myself.

“Look. Rhapsody. I say it again and again. I am not Two Kick. He died. Shot in the head. I am Ripple. I may have the same body as him, but he’s dead and gone.”

Rhapsody moved quick, bringing the assault rifle to my chest. “Yeah, heard that. Not buying it. I kill you here, the body’s gone too. Another raider dead and gone.”

The gun was knocked aside as Shade threw herself between us, shoving the dusty grey unicorn back a few paces. She all but screamed in his face. “No! He is NOT a Paragon!” She pushed him, showing a forcefulness I’d never seen in her. “He’s fighting to protect ponies, and you’re not going to stop him! You’re going to walk away and leave us be!”

The Whitecoat looked stunned for just a second, before he snarled at her with eyes narrowed. “Fine. I’ll be watching him though.”

Looking at me over the mare, he growled. “You’re lucky your marefriend was here.” Then, placing his rifle back in its resting place, he turned and stalked off, shooting a dirty glare back at us. I watched as he left, and once he was out of view I turned to Shade.

“What would have happened if he’d shot you? Huh?” Her eyes were wide and serious, intent only on me. As she smiled, the seriousness of the moment shattered, and the look on her face broke me.

I looked into them as long as I could before dropping my gaze at the dirt I stood on. “Thanks for standing up for me. I’m pretty bad at.... at talking.”

She laughed again, a light chuckle. “I noticed.” She kissed me once on the end of my nose, and we continued walking on our patrol of the wall.

I felt like a giant.

Which of course meant that it was time for everything to go to shit.


Massacre’s voice boomed out from over the wall, echoing through the town. “Hit it, you twitchy fuck!” I heard shouting from the wall and a few scattered shots, which told me that it the raiders were finally making their move.

I started running, or at least limping as quickly as I could, and Shade kept pace with me easily. She had her pistol out, gripped in her mouth and ready to go, but as we ran I told her what I needed her to do.

“Shade, you need to get to Radish’s. You’ll be safe there.”

Her eyes connected with mine and she shook her head, a muffled objection coming around the pistol.

“I need you to be safe.”

Her eyes widened a bit as I said it, and she slowly nodded, a smile working it’s way around the weapon clenched in her teeth.

Then the world roared and leapt into the air.

A wall of pressure hit us, and since we were both running and not firmly planted when it happened, it picked us up and tossed us aside. Shade bounced off of me, driving me to the ground with a searing flash of pain from my damaged side.

A cloud of dust swept through the streets, filling my eyes and lungs with grit, leaving me coughing and groaning in pain as I fought to get to my hooves. Shade was doing the same, but her fall had been softened by me, so she had an easier time of it.

My side felt like it was on fire, and I had to check that it wasn’t. Definitely a cracked rib or two though, which I couldn’t imagine would make either Xiera or Doc Care very happy. I could still feel the med-x running through my veins, or I’d take more. Sure enough, the pain left in no time at all.

Drawing Broken, I checked that Shade was alright. “You okay?” She nodded, still wheezing out dust, and I let out a dust filled cough of relief. “Get to the Inn. I’ll check on you in a little bit.” She started to protest, but I shut her up with a kiss. I stroked her cheek, clearing a line through the dirt coating it.

“Don’t worry. I’ll see you in a little bit.”

Then I turned from her and started limping as quickly as I could towards the source of the blast, pulling another potion and med-x from my pack. After taking both, it got to where I could run. So I did.

Clearing a corner at full gallop, I came into view of the wall. Or what had once been the wall, at least.

One side of it was just gone, pieces of wall and dead pony scattered across the town. The raiders had come up with one hell of a bomb to do that, and I knew deep down who was responsible for that. The “twitchy fuck” could only have been Crossed Wires. I knew it, and I was sure that Ivory knew it.

Looking around, it didn’t look like many defenders had made it off the wall in one piece, but I couldn’t see any pieces that looked like they came from Ivory. I definitely couldn’t see anything belonging to a griffin, so I had to assume that Ash was alive as well. I had to.

I heard a yell coming right at me and barely had time to block the raider that came out of a drift of smoke, swinging an axe wildly with her magic. The blade cracked into Broken, deflecting the attack but throwing Broken off aim. I pulled Broken up towards her as she reeled around to come at me, but a flash of white and red cut in front of me.

Willow spun in place, both of her swords out. The first caught the axe under its head, chopping neatly through the wood and sending the chunk of metal flying off. The second came up under the raiders jaw. The blade punched out through the back of the raiders neck and pulled out sideways, spraying everything with blood.

The raider slumped to the ground as Willow whipped her blade to the side, throwing a crescent spray of blood across the dust covered street. She looked hurt, like she’d been on the wall when it had gone down, but she hadn’t been too close or I imagined there wouldn’t be much of her standing there. This hadn’t been her first raider either. The only other option was that the blood soaking her long coat was either hers or another defenders.

“You just gonna watch? Get killing.”

She ran off, towards the next raider that came into view, her blades floating at her sides like outstretched wings. A white bird drenched in blood.

Smoke obscured her quickly, leaving me surrounded by debris and pieces of dead pony. I couldn’t see the battle that was beginning to rage, but I could hear it. Screams, gunshots, bloodthirsty shouts.

I chased after Willow, going where the battle was. I couldn’t see anything, the dust cloud from the wall still hadn’t settled and it definitely smelled like something was burning, since I was occasionally hitting patches of thick smoke.

I popped out of the cloud next to two raiders hacking at a dead Whitecoat with long serrated blades, coated in blood and laughing giddily. They both froze as I came into the middle of them, and I had to admit that I did as well, just for a second. I’d expected more of a warning.

I moved first.

Spinning, I kicked out a back leg, the feeling of the hoofgun going off sent a shockwave of pain through my side, even through the haze of painkiller I’d tried to keep myself in. What it did to the other pony was much worse, hitting the mare in the side and ripping through bone and organs. She essentially popped on one side, spraying the wall she was standing next to with blood and shredded meat.

A blade flew at me from the other side, driven by a screaming raider, which I blocked with the ever dependable shotgun that never took damage. If I survived this day, I’d definitely start looking into how it did that. For now, I slammed the butt of the weapon into his jaw with a satisfying crunch, before spinning it and unloading a shot into his face. He dropped like the dead sack of meat he was and I moved on, feeling slightly better about the outcome of this day.

I’d been unsure of how I’d actually perform this doped up on painkillers, but it was all going quite well. If only the Doc had known how much I’d been taking in my downtime, he would not have been happy. I would not have been able to move, by my guess, so the trade off was worth it. What pain I could feel was sharp and quick, but was washed away by the chems quickly.

I heard the chattering of a machine gun off to my right, the bullets punching holes through the smoke as they passed by me. I could hear somepony running towards me, and I aimed Broken, ready for another raider for me to put down.

I misjudged where the hoofsteps were coming from and a pony flew out of the smoke, plowing into me and bowling us both over in a heap. More pain, again drowned out by the med-x that always just seemed to kick in after that initial burst. I threw the offending pony off of me and snatched up Broken, aiming it at him, but I paused when I saw who it was.

Crossed Wires.

The one pony out there I’d told myself I’d try not to kill, if only to save him for another pony’s vengeance.

The twitchy tan pony stared at me through cracked goggles, his coat filthy and ragged. He looked like he’d been beaten, and I saw a long bleeding gash along his side where it looked like he’d been clipped by a bullet. Life had not been easy for the little traitor since he’d blow us up.


He was loaded down with grenades and other explosives, almost more bomb than pony. I hesitated for a second, wondering if shooting him would vaporize both of us, but he took advantage of that second and bolted. Darting into more smoke opposite of where he had come, I heard a thump on the ground and looked at the vicinity of my hooves.

Flashbacks of a tin can throwing sparks. Nails, blood, and fire. This was much more sophisticated, but without a doubt just as lethal. I scrambled, dropping Broken and snatching up the pony I’d shot in the face as I threw the grenade away from me. Doing both at once heavily taxed my magic, but it worked. It worked about as well as I could have hoped, at least.

The grenade blew as it arched through the air, hurling shrapnel and flames in every direction. The corpse took most of the blast, but I felt the tingle of fire and shrapnel hitting and digging into my barding and exposed hide.

The pony practically disintegrated in my grip, covering me with even more gore. Then I hit the wall next to where the raider mare had died. “Fuck!” The shout was forced out of me, along with a small amount of blood that spattered onto the shredded corpse from my mouth.

It was like the wasteland was just dead set on breaking my ribs by throwing me into everything it could today, and pain yet again shot through the drug haze. I hit the ground, stunned and deafened. I lay there under the mangled shield body, his blood oozing out over me, but I wasn’t ready to move. Not just yet.

After about ten seconds, another pony approached through the smoke and noise, and my hearing was just starting to return as I heard her voice. “Rip! You look terrible. Did Wires come through here?”

Ivory was glancing around anxiously, a hard look in her eyes. Her armor had taken dozens of scoring blows, and blood streamed down one of her legs as well as from over her lightly scarred eye. Flowing around her goggles and streaming down her cheek. The barrel of her gun was still smoking from use, and I guessed that she was the source of the shots I’d heard before the traitor had come across me.

“Rip! Did Wires come through here?!” She was standing over me now, yelling at me as I struggled to my hooves from beneath the corpse. I picked up Broken from where it had landed and took a few seconds to catch my breath and make sure the weapon was fully loaded.

She opened her mouth again, but I cut her off with a nod. “Yeah... little bastard blew me up. He went that way.” I gestured with the shotgun, not feeling much like small talk. Ivory must have shared the sentiment because with only a nod of thanks, she rushed past.

Shortly, she disappeared in pursuit of the fleeing demolitionist, leaving me once again to try and make my way towards the wall. At this rate, though, I’d either make it long after the fighting was over, or I’d be killed by the next thing I ran into.

I very nearly was, when a roar split the din of gunfire and panic. The roar was chillingly familiar. Something at the back of my mind knew that sound, and acted on it. I dove to the side, barely dodging a wall of screaming pony and metal, as Massacre barreled down on me from out of the smoke. He slammed into an abandoned cart in the street, hurling it in a spray of splinters and strewn salvage across the street.

I brought up Broken as quickly as I could, but as I fired he moved just a little faster. The buckshot ricocheted off of a steel plate strapped around one of his fetlocks, and the other leg quickly delivered a blow to my jaw, throwing me from my hooves. As I landed, he was there again, this time with something I hadn’t noticed before.

He had hooks on the inside of his front hooves, one of which he drove into my barding. Luckily, it just grazed along my skin, not making purchase inside of me, but it still found the leverage he needed to throw me.

Hitting a wall made of ancient wood, I smashed through into a gloomy household, which luckily was not occupied. I landed on a mattress, which made me chuckle just slightly before rolling to my hooves. Ignoring the swiftly fading pain, I aimed at the wall I had come through. Massacre didn’t strike me as the type to use doors.

I was right in that assumption, as the filthy giant of a pony slammed through the wall, heading straight at me through an old bookshelf filled with dog eared novels in an explosion of dust, wood, and literature. I fired, ripping through a green book decorated with a swirling plant, and grinned as the shot tore into the chest of Massacre. The grin turned down as he didn’t stop coming, and he slammed me against the wall behind me, holding me there with what I found to be his vastly superior strength. The peppered holes in his chest closed before my eyes, leaving trickles of fresh blood in his stained and matted coat.

“Hey there, you fuck.” His face was pressed right up against mine, his mask digging into my muzzle. “I should have recognized you. Don’t know how I didn’t.” He snorted and hit me in the ribs with one leg while the other pressed against my neck. I was trying to kick him, but his greater size provided him with a reach that I just couldn’t deal with.

“Fuck you. Deadeye. Stupid fucking name.” His eyes narrowed as he looked into mine, something I’d had happen once before. “I don’t know how I didn’t see it. Of course you’re Two Kick... just, the spark is gone. That’s what threw me.” He grunted, leaning in and inhaling deeply through his mask. “You don’t even smell right. Pain and fucking weakness is all that’s there.”

I heard a groan from the wall behind me as he rested more of his weight on my throat. I was starting to black out, which would basically be my end. There was no way he would let me live.

“The twitchy fuck comes up bragging that he killed Two Kick Ripple. Yeah fucking right. I couldn’t do that, even at my best.” Darkness was moving in, surrounding the dilated pupils staring at me with such murderous intent.

“Then I hear you’re still up and kicking. Killed Holepunch, not that I really mind that part.” Another blow to my ribs at least had him lessen the pressure on my neck enough for me to suck a breath of air. The darkness receded, just slightly, but enough that I knew I had a bit more time.

“What do I find when I come this way, but your old marefriend. Cinder was messed up after whatever you did, but she told me you were here. Fucking convenient, it was.” His eyes narrowed and he dug his mask into my face even further, pressing me against the wall even harder which gave another distressed creak.

“Did you do it? Did you kill Sweeps?” I think that I saw tears in his eyes, as he growled out his question.


He slammed me against the wall once more time, which finally gave. The wall fell away, and I moved as quickly as I could as we collapsed into the next room. I pushed off from him, hitting the ground first and springing away. I landed across the room, coughing and sucking for air, but also looking for Broken. I’d dropped it in the previous room, and saw it laying right past the large stallion who was pushing himself to his hooves.

I was running straight at him before I even realized it. I threw myself into the air, flipping as I did so that I was going at him rear legs first. He lifted one armored leg, taking both shots on his. The blast was at least enough to throw him off balance back into the room, crushing an ancient couch beneath his bulk.

One shot left in one of my hoofguns. Empty in the other.

Snatching Broken up, I turned and ran, looking for a way out. Maybe Massacre had been right. The spark. That spark was Two Kick, that was what I was missing in these fights. That complete lack of empathy, the sadistic glee while fighting. He was the monster, not me. I was just another pony, facing monsters.

I’d killed two of them though. Without Two Kick, I’d killed two of the monsters.

I wasn’t just a normal pony. I couldn’t be if I could still fight them.

I was already a few rooms over when I heard Massacre coming after me. He was just tearing through the walls; he knew which direction I’d gone and was coming for me. I quickly loaded a few shells into my hoofguns as I took cover behind an overturned table. This was a kitchen, and it had seen recent use. There was still food on the counter, and scattered across the floor from when the table had been turned over.

The wall burst, and he was in the room. I snapped off a shot from Broken, hitting him in the neck. Arterial spray painted a wall before the wound closed up rapidly again. Damnit. I’d hoped that that would have worked. No such luck.

Reaching me, he kicked through the table, ripping it in half. I jumped backwards, firing into him from behind, dealing a wound that I don’t think any pony would appreciate. Roaring in pain, he spun around and came at me fast. Very fast. A swipe from his hoof threw me across the room, slamming into a cupboard. There were dishes in it, surprisingly well kept for their age, but they exploded at the impact, tearing at my hide and showering down around me as I slumped to the ground.

Fuck, this wasn’t going to end well.

His hook found one of my rear legs, punching clean through with a surge of pain that the drugs failed to completely block out. He pulled me up to look into my eyes as I dangled there, and then he swung me as hard as he could. My head and shoulder hit the wooden floor hard, cracking it and throwing splinters into the air.

Then he swung me again. Then again.

Reality flowed into a pain filled blur as he slammed me into the wall... slammed me into an old and rusted refrigerator... ran my head through a boarded up window and back out again.

When he stopped destroying the kitchen with my body, I did the only thing I could. I hung there, limply, in front of him from my back leg. Like a fish on a hook. I could feel dozens of deep cuts, a couple broken bones, and that I had essentially been turned into a giant bruise.

I was about to die. Again. Probably for the last time.

“Did. You. Kill. Sweeps?” He looked down at me, into my eyes. I coughed in response, tasting nothing but copper and feeling blood leaking from my mouth as I tried for the words.

“Yes.” I gazed up at him, a rivulet of blood reaching my eye. I tried blinking it away, but it got in and just made half of my vision go red. “I did. I’m sorry.”

I expected him to just slam me into the ground like a sack of rocks until I was dead, but surprisingly he slid the hook from my leg and I dropped in a heap. Curling up instinctively, I tried to find a part of me that wasn’t in screaming pain. Finding none, I blacked out for a couple of seconds.

When I came to, he was sitting down next to me, looking down at me. Massacre barely looked like he’d been in a fight. How the hell had I beaten him when I’d been Two Kick? I had an incredibly vague memory of beating him in an arena, just a shadow of it, but I knew that it had happened.

I wondered if Two Kick was awake, or if he had died after that shot. I hadn’t heard him since, and for once I was actually hoping to hear his voice. Maybe he’d help me out here, give me some hint that I could use to take down the regenerating giant.

“She always liked you, you know that?” Massacre’s voice was low... soft almost. I blinked, and groaned a guttural noise in response. “You were the reason she would never be with me. I always hated you for that.”

Really? He had me, beaten and broken, a sack of bleeding meat and bones, and he was chatting with me. Damn it, I hated talking to Paragons. I hated it so fucking much. Nothing good came of it.

There was a long pause, him not saying anything and me slowly bleeding to death. It lasted for a few minutes before he continued.

“Now... I have to ask what the fucking point is. They were right, you aren’t Two Kick. Cinder said he’s in there, but you’re not him. You’re just another fucking pony. Useless. Weak.” He prodded my side with a hoof, which I felt give a lot more than it should have. Yep, those ribs were broken.

Good job wasteland, mission accomplished.

“So easy to kill.” He stood, and stepped over me. Pressing a hoof against my head, he began applying pressure. “Like a fucking insect. I can just crush you.”

It hurt, but I didn’t care. Everything hurt. I was sort of looking forward to a break from the pain.

“Sorry... Shade....” I managed to gurgle it out, through the blood. At least I could still talk, if only barely. My lungs were surprisingly no more hurt now then when I’d come into this fight, though it did hurt to breath. That was probably just the broken ribs.

I heard a slam from somewhere else in the building, and the pounding of hooves. Somepony was coming towards us, and they were moving quickly.

Then, Massacre’s crushing hoof was off of my head. He slammed bodily into a wall, and I saw a figure leap over me in pursuit. The figure was fast, slamming hooves into Massacre’s face and body. I couldn’t see much of him, not from my position on the ground, but I could make out two features.

One, the pony was standing on their hind legs.

Two, they had a white jacket on.

A flurry of blows left Massacre stunned, and a follow up haymaker knocked the mask from his face. It skittered across the floor, sliding against me, but I could do little but look at it. Trying to move hurt more than just laying there.

A kick from a rear hoof knocked Massacre through the wall, letting in blinding sunlight from outside. Outside, I heard a further crash followed by Massacre groaning. The pony that had saved me by beating down the giant glanced back at me, and dropped to all fours before rushing to my side.

“Ripple. Ripple can you hear me?” It was Raw Deal. Uncle Square Deal was here to help me. I tried speaking, but he put a hoof to my mouth. “Shh.... uncle’s here.” He looked at me, frowning, clearly not happy with the condition I was in. As fuzzy as the world was, I could tell that he was scared.

I’d never heard him talk kindly to me. It threw me off for a second, since I was all but certain that he wanted me dead. Had he come to terms with who I was, that I wasn’t the pony that betrayed him. He looked up, past me, towards the door. “Xiera, help him. Use the mask, button on the inside. I’ll be fine, I just need to buy some time.”

Deal sprang back up and galloped through the gaping hole in the wall, out into the daylight. I felt a soothing touch on my cheek and looked up into Xiera’s eyes as she reached past me with her hooves and picked up the mask at my side. She put it down near my face, looping a strap around my neck from it. “I’m sorry, but I’m sure this is going to hurt.” Reaching in, she pressed a little button built into the rim.

As she put the mask on my face and tightened the strap, the mask sucked itself tight and I felt the needles built into it pierce the skin just under my jaw, going deep. A strange feeling began flowing from it, and that feeling quickly filled my whole body. Everything stopped hurting, and I let out a long sigh of relief. It had been so long since I hadn’t hurt, it was like I’d almost forgotten the feeling. It was rather pleasant.

Unfortunately, it was short lived.

All at once, every nerve in my body turned on. Every muscle began spasming and seizing, my skin crawled with a thousand razors, and my bones turned molten. I roared in pain. A pain so intense that the roar just seemed too weak to get the point across. I screamed so hard that my vocal chords shredded.

I’d thought that nothing could have beaten the feeling of being ripped apart from within. The plants in that memory had long been the epitome of what I could feel, and I’d thought that they’d deadened me a bit to any further pain.

This beat the plants.

This made it feel like nothing, a pinprick. Oh why did I have to think that nothing could hurt more, I really should have seen the wasteland playing a cruel trick on me and delivering something like this.

I felt a few bullets that Doc Care and Crimson Knife had missed, pushing out through muscle and skin. My freshly regenerated eardrums heard the sound of bullets hitting the ground as they rolled off of my quivering hide. Shrapnel from explosives and even a few errant nails worked their way out, ripping and shredding with no care for how much pain they caused.

I started hearing the crunching as my bones forced themselves back together. They tore their way through soft tissue until they were back in place, leaving the shredded muscle and flesh to knit back together in their wake. My ribs floated back into place and repaired, every single shard and splinter returning to its position by some horrible magic. My jaw, which I wasn’t even aware was broken, slowly pieced back together the shattered right side where I’d impacted a counter while Massacre was using me as a pony flail.

Every piece was fitting together perfectly. I was a puzzle. I was a puzzle made entirely of pain.

I screamed until I couldn’t anymore, and then I kept screaming. My vocal chords shredded and mended, over and over.

I felt Two Kick wake up, and I felt him screaming as well. We both screamed as we were pieced back together.

“...I’m pretty sure that hydra would rip ya’ to shreds.”

Through the pain, Doc’s voice came to me. He’d mentioned Hydra, but I doubted that it could do something like this. The ripped to shreds part I understood fully, but there was no way a drug could heal like this. This was something on an entirely different level.

Slowly, my muscles stopped seizing and cramping up, one by one. Bone stopped tearing paths through me. My skin stopped knitting together dozens of cuts, lacerations, and bruises.

I found that I’d moved across the floor until I was wedged pretty tightly into a corner. Xiera was standing back, far back. I had no idea how long it had been since she’d put on the mask, and suddenly all I wanted was it off. I ripped the mask off of my face and threw up, emptying my stomach contents onto the ground. What little breakfast I’d eaten on the wall, and about a liter of blood.

I lay there, too hurt to cry. Too hurt to move. Too hurt to do anything but lay there.

Slowly, beneath all of the pain, I started realizing that I wasn’t hurting. My body was better, but my mind was still working through the overload of pain signals it had gotten. It was like a blockage of pain; so much had happened at once that it was just trickling in, one signal at a time.

“......Ffffuuuuuuuuuck.” I let out a long groan that summed up most of my thoughts.

I tried moving, but nothing worked. Being broken apart, and then rebuilt, was exhausting. I felt for sure that I could move, but nothing worked. I told my legs to go, and they lay there limply. Apparently my muscles had wanted the mask off as much as I had, because they hadn’t torn it off on account of anything I’d told them to do.

“Are you okay?”

Xiera was slowly approaching me, a terrified look on her face. She clearly hadn’t known what was about to happen when she put the mask on. I suspected that Deal was fully aware of it, and that was why he had told Xiera to do it to me. He knew the Paragons better than I did.

The mask lay where I had thrown it, the previously filled tubes now empty. I’d taken all of whatever was in them, whatever had kept Massacre going as I’d emptied buckshot into him. The fluid hadn’t emptied in the slightest when he was using it, so I guessed that the button had been some sort of purge.

Had Massacre ever gone through that before? Is that why he hadn’t given a shit when I’d shot him, other than my lucky shot to his nether region? Had he been rebuilt into a functioning pony without any subtlety or care?

Xiera picked up the discarded mask and put it in her bag as she approached me. As a healer, it must have been quite interesting to her. As she came to me, she leaned down and looking into my eyes.

“You need to get up. Your uncle has been gone for far too long, and I fear the beast may return.” Xiera was trying to help me to my hooves, and I did all that I could to assist. I fell against her, but slowly I was able to stand. Very slowly.

Walking was an entirely different matter, and I slammed face first into the ground at the first step.

“C’mon legs... fucking move...” I tried talking to the appendages, but they didn’t listen. Not all at once, at least. It still took me a few minutes to manage to make it to the hole supported by Xiera. From the corner of my eye, I saw something that I needed. Mustering every bit of will I had in me, I grabbed Broken with my magic and put it in its holster, wedging the crushed material back into its regular shapel.

Then we were outside. It was an alley, where Massacre had gone. Across the way, another hole where I assumed the stallion had crashed through. I didn’t see him, or Raw Deal, and I couldn’t hear their fight either. I could still make out the din of combat, gunshots and screams from throughout the town. However long my fight and the healing process had been, the battle still raged on. I wondered who was winning.


Raw Deal and Xiera being here meant that the Whitecoats had arrived. The reinforcements had gotten here.

“Are... are we winning?” My mouth moved slowly and felt strangely, and I realized that I’d regrown several teeth that I’d lost in the last few weeks. Reaching up, I felt at my face, but the scar was still there. Massacre’s mask could work miracles, but it couldn’t fix cosmetic damage. I felt just a little cheated.

“The battle has turned in our favor, yes, though the day is not yet won. We must find your uncle.” Xiera was supporting me along, a haste in her step being hindered by my lagging form.

“How long?” My voice was rough, and the words hurt.

She looked at me strangely, and I gestured at my face in a circle. She got it, and voiced the question that I was asking for me. My throat still felt like I’d spent a week swallowing tacks. “The mask?”

I nodded at the zebra mare, hoping that I’d only gone through that for about a minute. Much longer left way too much time for something to go wrong, for me to not be there. I had to get to Shade.

“About 15 minutes.”

My jaw dropped open. Fifteen minutes of the most intense pain of my life. No wonder everything was running slow. I was sort of surprised my brain hadn’t shut off entirely to save itself from my body. That had been way too long for me to be laying in one place and not doing anything.

I had to get to Shade.

I had to.

I broke off from the zebra, who began protesting after me. I limped my way, blurrily and feeling like I was on the verge of collapse, towards where I knew I would find the blue mare. There were bodies scattered across the city, in different states of death. Some were dead, some were dying, all were horrifically wounded. Bullets, blades, bludgeons. All of these had seen their use today.

I rounded a corner, tripping over a decapitated raider, when I saw what I had hoped so desperately not to see.

The entire block was on fire. The tavern. The clinic. The inn. It was all ablaze.

“No!” I screamed out, and the sight gave me a rush of adrenaline, giving me the control I needed and my legs the energy they required. I ran. I kicked in the front door of the inn, barreling into the inferno within. I didn’t care if I got a little burnt. I’d had worse.

I still care. Fuck you.

There were bodies littered about the place, but I noticed quickly that they were mostly raiders or whitecoats. I couldn’t find any of the children, or any of those that had taken refuge here. Shade was gone. Everypony that had been here for their safety was gone.

“No! No! Fuck!” I shouted at the building, the building thats one job had been to protect the innocent. It had failed. It had failed so completely. I had to scream at it.


I felt a pair of talons tighten around my shoulders, and I fought as I was dragged out of the building. A beam overhead, wrapped in flames and thoroughly weakened, collapsed, just barely missing me as I struggled to get loose. When finally I was dragged into the open, I was thrown to the ground and rolled around to put out the flames. I still fought, biting and kicking, until a strong backhand to the face snapped me out of it.

Ash hovered over me, burnt and bloodied, but still alive. “Snap the fuck out of it!” He was shouting in my face, his razor sharp beak inches from my face. He jerked his head away from me, snatching his revolver from its holster and popping off a couple of shots to the side. I glanced over, catching a pair of raiders dying on the ground from the gushing bullet holes they’d been surprised to suddenly receive.

“Get your shit together!” He hit me again, this time with the pistol, and it opened a gash on my head, sending blood streaming down my face. I wasn’t sure how much more I could lose, since most of what I’d started this day with was still in the house I’d fought Massacre in.

I stopped fighting, slumping in his grip. He looked me over, a shocked look on his face. “Kick... what happened to you?”

“It hurt.” I was staring at the sky as I spoke. It was grey and gloomy, but at least it hadn’t just failed. Fucking building.

He laughed, a grin spreading across his face. “I’ll bet, you look like shit.” He turned from me, looking over towards where Xiera had taken cover when he’d started firing at the raiders that had come across us. “You okay Miss?”

She nodded, and trotted over to us urgently. “We need to find Deal. He’s fighting Massacre on his own.”

“Fuck. Okay, I’ll look for him. Kick, are you okay to work on your own? You’re not gonna try to burn yourself to death again?” He looked down at me as he helped me to my hooves. His talons pressed into my skin as he did so, but they didn’t puncture the skin like they normally did. I could barely feel them at all.

“I... I think so.” As I stood there, my body was giving up the fight to escape control of my brain. I was getting full control back. Testing my magic, I found that it was working as well as normal, which was surprising. It had always shorted out after I’d gone through punishments less than what I’d received, and yet here it was working fine.

Floating Broken in front of me, I nodded again. “Yeah... I’m good.”

The griffin shook his head at me before spreading his wings. “You should find a mirror sometime, Kick.” With a flap of his powerful wings, he launched into the air in search of my uncle or the hulking stallion. He’d be able to stay out of the reach of...

“Ash! Don’t get close to him!” I shouted, my voice cracking. He paused in his assent, nodded, and took off.

I turned to look at Xiera, who was gazing after the griffin. She must not have seen his kind too frequently, and I knew there weren’t many pegasi around. Flight must have been interesting to her. Then she glanced at me, and hurried over. This was no place for a healer.

“Did you...” I had to stop in a fit of coughing. My vocal chords had taken quite a beating. “Did you see Shade or anypony when you got here?”

Xiera shook her head sadly. “No, I’ve only seen bodies.”

I wasn’t sure how long my fight with Massacre had been, but I knew that once he’d swung me around for a while he’d taken his damned time, just letting me bleed onto the floor. Had it really been long enough that the raiders had made it in and gotten to the best defended building in town? Had the plan really failed that badly?

The two of us stood there in silence. I was having a really hard time keeping track of how long anything was taking, ever since that first blast. Had it been hours... or twenty minutes? I couldn’t tell. Xiera was standing near me, unarmed as usual and looking a little scared. Broken would make sure that nothing happened to either of us.

That horrible, booming voice echoed over the town. “Okay... pull back. Fuck this noise, we’re out of here.”

Massacre. That answered if he was still alive, and I saw a look of shock wash over Xiera’s face. His message did not bode well for Raw Deal, and was potentially bad for Ash. If the Paragon had survived, there was a very good chance that neither of them had. I now knew just how dangerous he was, and I’d thought that not having the mask would lessen what he could do.

I hoped that my guess was wrong.

Looking around, I saw flashes of raiders in back streets, heading towards the front gate. They were staying off of the main street, which made tactical sense. It was essentially a killzone... it had been meant to be a killzone, but I could see that that part of the plan had failed. Every part of the plan had failed as soon as the wall had gone down. As much as I wanted, I couldn’t bring myself to give chase. I’d lied to Ash. I wasn’t in any shape to fight, I could still only just barely move, unless it was in some suicidally stupid attempt.

I held on for as long as I could. Being beaten that badly, bleeding out, and then the situation with the mask, had left me drained. I was exhausted. My mind hurt. I couldn’t see straight.

Once I saw the flapping of wings propelling a familiar griffin over a building, I gave in. Somepony else could take over right now. I had to take a break. My eyes closed and I hit the ground. I heard Xiera shout out, but I didn’t care. I needed to stop for a bit.

For once, I welcomed the darkness.


“So numbers. What are we looking at?”

“Ten unhurt. Fifteen wounded. The rest are either dead or dying. We’ve got a number unaccounted for, but with the blast it’s all guesswork. We have several prisoners, they’re tied up and being watched by the walking wounded.”

The voices brought me back slowly. I didn’t open my eyes, but I lay there and did a quick check on my body. Muscles tensed when I wanted them to, my hearing was working, nothing hurt for the first time in a very long time. I just didn’t want to get up.

I opened my eyes, seeing the blank grey slate of the sky. It wasn’t raining, but by the smell in the air it was about to or just had. Mixed in with that smell were the smells of death and destruction. The odor of dead ponies mixed with smoke, leaving a bitter, acrid hint to any scent in the air. It was unpleasant.

“Kick’s awake, just so you know.”

I looked over at Ash, who was leaning against a wall right next to where I was laid out on the street. He was looking right at me, so of course he had noticed as soon as I’d opened my eyes. He’d probably known since I’d regained consciousness. There were other ponies around, but not a lot. I slowly pulled myself up into a sitting position, finding that my barding had been removed.

Xiera was in my face, almost instantly. She looked into my eyes briefly, and then her hooves went to my neck. I flinched, but her gentle prodding... didn’t hurt. “Does this hurt?”

I coughed, my throat still a little raw. “No... why?”

She sat back, checking the rest of me. Each poke and prod felt like just that. No extra pain, no broken bones, no bruises. I felt good.

The others were still talking, and I saw with a rush of relief that it was Raw Deal and Willow. They’d been the ones talking when I’d first come to, I now realized. That did not paint a good picture for the Whitecoats, if they’d really been that reduced in number. I saw Ironsights in the background, talking to a few surviving Blank ponies, and about ten Whitecoats standing around the pony I recognized as Rhapsody across the street.

I didn’t see Traffic, Radish, Doc Care, or anypony else that I was looking for.

Then, it was who I didn’t see that really caught my attention. I pushed Xiera away and scrambled to my hooves, looking down the street. A chunk of the town was still smouldering, and it looked like most of the ponies left were accounted for on this street, though there could have been more patrolling.

“Where’s Ivory? Fluster?.” Slowly, I looked at Ash. “Where’s Shade?”

Shaking his head sadly, he shrugged. “I don’t know. We couldn’t find any of them. Believe me, we looked.” He stepped over to me, putting a talon on one shoulder. “Sorry Ripple.”

I came to a conclusion. One that was horrible, but was better than them being dead. “Neighwhere takes slaves. They must have taken the girls. They took other ponies, right?”

He nodded and leaned in close, talking low enough that the others couldn’t hear unless they were listening in. “We talked about that while you were out. It’s a possibility, but what can we do about it?” Then he grinned. “Well, I know what you want to do about it. Sneak in, save everypony? I’m for it... but don’t run off just yet. We need a plan.”

Leaning away from me, he looked out over what was left of Blank. Much of the main street had been destroyed, now that I saw it. Traffic’s store had taken a missile or something, half of it was gone. The sign was still there, completely untouched since its repair. The wall was gone, leaving only half of the gate hanging limply from its mooring on the remaining wall. The building nearest the wall was the one that had been destroyed in my fight with Sweeps, so the bomb, or whatever had caused the blast, hadn’t done too much damage.

“What happened?” I asked, staring at the wall. Ash followed my gaze.

“They were all quiet for a good while, until Massacre ordered the attack. I guess they snuck in along the ditch, must have had a hell of a sapper or I would have seen it. Bomb went off, took out the wall and most of the ponies on it. The rest... well, the plan went to shit, as you can guess.” He made a gesture with his hands, imitating an explosion. “Ponies came rushing from the other walls, met the raider army head on. I didn’t see you until things were pretty fucked, but by then I hear you’d already had quite the day.”

Quite the day. Easy way of summing up that I’d been used as a flail, to destroy the interior of a home.

I nodded, not willing to take my mind back to that. The less I thought about the mask, or the beating leading up to it, the better.

Raw Deal finished speaking with Willow, and turned to walk over to us. Willow walked off, her shoulders drooped and looking at the ground. As Deal reached me, he gave Xiera a small kiss on the cheek, and whispered. “He’s fine, you can stop fussing.”

She blushed, and nodded at him. Ceasing her prodding, she stepped away and hurried off. I wasn’t sure where to, but I noticed that she had more bags with her than she had previously. Several of them had the Ministry of Peace logo, and I guessed that they were loaded down with medicine. She probably had other patients.

“Sorry about the mask, but I didn’t see any other choice.” Deal was looking at my neck, as was Ash, and I really was starting to hope that I’d be able to find a mirror. Something about it was drawing a lot of attention, and that could never be a good thing.

“What... what was it? The mask?” I figured that if anypony knew that wasn’t going to try to kill me, it was Deal. Massacre might know, and whoever made it would know, but I doubted I could ask either of them.

“One of Epiphany’s little projects.” He must have read the confused look on my face, because he immediately cut to an explanation. “A Paragon. Hate’s inventor.”

“I thought Holepunch was the inventor.”

Shaking his head, he reached into his own pack and pulled out the mask, which I instinctively recoiled from. He flipped it over and pointed to a small mark on the inside, a sideways eight. “The infinity mark. He always puts that on his stuff.”

Looking at me, then to the mask, he shrugged. “What it is, I’m not really sure. It sure fixed you up though. How do you feel?”

I paused, doing another quick check of my body. “I feel... I feel like I haven’t spent a day on the wasteland. Aside from my throat, that still hurts a little.” Honestly, aside from the crushing despair of having lost my best reason to keep living, I felt great.

Yeah. Feels great, doesn’t it.

Not now. Go away Two Kick.

Don’t worry, I’m not gonna try anything. I’m still just a little worn out... I’ll let you run things for a while.

That was... a very odd answer for him, normally he was fighting me or taunting me. To actually give in and just let me be? My face must have mirrored my confusion, because just then I noticed that Deal was looking strangely at me, and stopped with the inner dialogue. It always seemed to weird ponies out whenever they noticed it.

“I feel fine.”

He nodded, turning away from me. I wasn’t done with him though. “What happened with Massacre?”

Deal shrugged, not looking at me. “He got away.” I wanted to protest, to question him more... but him being nice to me was a new thing. If I pressed him, it might go back the old way. I really didn’t need more enemies right now, and getting Deal had been a moral victory for me.

With that, he left, walking over to where Rhapsody and the other surviving Whitecoats were. Several of them looked defeated, while Rhapsody just looked furious. I didn’t blame them, they’d lost their family, at least how I looked at it. The Whitecoats had been raider survivors, each of them lost until they’d found their way to those like them. To lose almost everypony they knew a second time...

Must have been hard.

When I got Shade back, I was never going to let her go again. She was fine. She had to be fine.

If she wasn’t fine, if she was injured in any way, I was going to start killing and not stop until they were all dead. Every Paragon. Every raider. Every slaver on this entire fucking world.

I would kill them all.

Finally. A fun idea.

Wait. First... I had a plan.

No. Come on, your first one was great.

I stood, making sure that my legs were really listening to what they were telling me. When I was confident that I wouldn’t faceplant when I tried moving, I started off in the direction that Willow had gone. Knowing her, or at least thinking I knew her, she would be with her wounded.

As I walked, I took in just how badly Blank was damaged. Most of the buildings along the main road had burnt out, making me wonder again how long I’d been down. It could only have been a couple hours at most, and as I stepped through a puddle, I figured it out. It had rained, but just enough for the fires to go out.

So the wasteland wasn’t all about fucking us over, occasionally it gave a little help.

I heard a commotion in one of the buildings, what sounded like shouting, and reached for Broken. Not finding it, I glanced down and realized that I wasn’t wearing my barding. It was still back where I’d woken up. Of course I’d left it in my haste, because that was just the sort of thing that I would do in a situation like this. Fuck.

I still had my hoofguns though, and I’d reloaded them right before the beating. I rushed up the stairs, slipping a little bit in a pool of blood on one of them, and burst into the scene. A couple guns pointed my way, but lowered as they saw who it was.

All of these Whitecoats were injured, with either visible wounds or dressings. Against one wall, chained to a metal pipe that must have once belonged to a heating system of some kind, were about a dozen raiders. One of them was screaming at Willow, who had her blade out and pressed against his neck.

“Fucking do it, you sloppy cunt! Cut me! Cut me!” He was bleeding heavily from where an eye had once been, and he was spitting through a mouth missing a lot of teeth. I couldn’t tell if it had been done in a fight, or if it had all been done recently.

“You know, you’re a pretty thing, I’ll be sure to hunt you down when we get out of here and...” He was cut off as she slammed the pommel of her blade into the side of his head, knocking him out cold.

Willow spit on the raider, and kicked him casually as she sheathed the blade inside her coat. She was a mess, covered in blood and squinting from one eye. Turning to me, I saw that she was limping heavily as she made her way across the room.

“Get out of here Ripple. This is Whitecoat business.” At those words, two of the Whitecoats moved in front of me, rifles aimed at me. I stepped back, just slightly, but didn’t leave.

“No. One of them might know where they took Shade. Where they took everypony! I’m sure you’d like to know that!” I pressed forward, both of the injured Whitecoats threatening to shoot me. I wasn’t going to back down. They weren’t going to shoot me.

“I will find that out! There are ways to get a pony to talk. Even hardened scum. They all talk.” She was now standing almost nose to nose with me, flanked by her two guards. Her good eye was glaring into my scarred eye, as the two of us just dared each other to break first.

From behind her, I heard a small voice. “Badeye?”

Willow turned, sucking in a breath to scream at the raider, but as she moved I saw who it was. The raider looked much more tired than the last time I’d seen her, but she was still the same green mare that had introduced me to the other Red Dogs.

Jackleg. One of the few survivors of Stadium.

“Jackleg! Willow, get her out of those chains.” Willow looked at me like I was insane, but had stopped screaming at the beaten mare.

“Why? She’s a raider. She’s gonna die, just like the rest of them.”

I pushed my way past the soldiers, trotting towards Jackleg who suddenly had a gleam of hope in her eye. “I don’t think she is.”

I got close to her and leaned down. She looked terrified, and was bleeding from a bullet hole in her flank. She’d been beaten before she was chained, and I could tell that she hadn’t been one of the professional raiders. She’d been a part of the first wave, the lightly armed and completely unarmored mob. I hadn’t seen that tactic used here, but I’d seen it done at Orchard and knew the signs. Those that weren’t here voluntarily were forced into that job from what I understood.

“She’s no more raider than Ivory. She just lived in Stadium when the raiders took it, she was a prisoner before you put her in chains. Get her up.” I shouted at Willow, glaring at the Whitecoat leader for treating everypony she thought was a raider the same. If things had gone differently, would I be chained to a wall somewhere right now?

Willow stared at me, a grimace on her face. After a few seconds, she looked to one of her soldiers and jerked her head towards us. A unicorn missing an ear and with much of his face in bandages, he was probably the most heavily injured Whitecoat in the room. Despite that, he followed her orders and drew a keyring from a pocket, limping towards us. Unlocking the padlock securing Jackleg, he glared at me and backed away.

Jackleg, despite not knowing me very well, pressed against me as she stood. As far as she was concerned, I was her only friend in this room. The only one that wasn’t intent on putting a bullet in her head after torturing her for information.

I turned, supporting the beaten mare, and left the room without a word to Willow. Once out in the street, I shouted as loud as my voice would let me. It hurt, just a little. “Xiera! Little help here!”

Within seconds, I saw the zebra mare stick her head out of a nearby building. That must have been where the other wounded were. She trotted over to me, a grim look on her face. “Ripple... what is this? A raider? Why would you ask me here?”

I shook my head at my aunt, sighing. “She’s not a raider. Trust me. She’s been shot.” She looked at me, clearly trying to figure out why I was insisting on this, but shrugged and nodded.

“Bring her, we shall treat her off of the street.”


Where they had gathered the wounded was a long, low building that I’d never been in before. Judging from the boxes pushed hastily to the sides or turned into cots for the wounded, it was some sort of storage area. Xiera weaved her way through ponies that I’d seen, but never gotten to know. I practically dragged Jackleg along, her wound tripping her up.

Once we made it to an empty spot, I gingerly helped the wounded mare up onto a blanket thrown across a pair of crates. Then, I let Xiera go to work, backing away from her. Jackleg, to her credit, was taking this all rather well. She had seemed resigned to her fate when we’d met in Stadium, and she was resigned to her fate even now.

“So... Badeye.”

“It’s... uh, it’s Ripple, actually.”

“Oh... since when were you white? I thought you were dark... green or something...” Her head rolled to the side as she took it in. She had also taken a hit of med-x, which combined with the blood loss seemed to be making her a little loopy.

“Hey. Jackleg, hey, stay with me.” I tapped on the table next to her head, causing her to open her eyes a little bit wider.

“Where are they taking captives?”

“Ripple, could you not bother the patient?” Xiera glared at me as she started working in the area of the bullet hole. Jackleg let out a little whimper as the zebra began digging into the hole with a pair of metal tweezers.

“Please, Jack.” I said it softly, but with urgency. I had to know.

Her eyes locked onto mine, and she frowned. Opening her mouth, she said the one place I feared she would say. I knew I’d be going there eventually, but I’d hoped that I’d be doing it under different circumstances. Namely, with an army at my back.


Author's Note:

Thanks to Kkat for writing Fallout Equestria, and inspiring myself and many others to write with her amazing story.

Thanks to Wirepony for doing a really good job of editing this one, it was broken before he came around.

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Oh right, Ripple has an ask blog, mostly just for fun. It's over at Ask Ripple