• 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 14: Failures

Chapter 14: Failures

“Kick. We can’t just rush off on this one.” The griffin was busy cleaning his revolver, which had grown filthy with all the shit in the air. Burnt pony, smoke, dust, fumes. It was not pleasant, and had coated nearly everything in the town with a thin layer of grime.

We sat in the entrance to the infirmary, watching as any survivors were found and wheeled in. The ponies of Blank had suffered terribly. The Whitecoats had been slashed down from an army to a well trained gang. The town itself was likely going to be abandoned, the survivors scattered to the wastes now that their wall was gone.

The architect brothers hadn’t been seen since the raid, which meant that they were either captured, or they were dead and buried under the slowly burning wreckage. If they’d been near the wall, there wasn’t likely much left of them. Harsh experiences looking for survivors had taught us that. One distraught mare, her entire family on the wall when it had went up, had taken to gathering the pieces. Nopony could talk to her, and she’d cut the first pony who’d tried stopping her with the wickedly sharp shovel she was carrying.

Ironically, I found that she was named Specter. It described her perfectly now, as she crossed the street in front of us yet again, a dripping bag of gore gripped in her teeth. She’d been throwing the pieces in a hole she’d dug where her house was. By my count, she must have had ten ponies worth of pieces by now.

I was purposely keeping near the infirmary, as it was now being called, just in case. In case any of the girls were brought in. Or found. I didn’t want to give up on the chance that they had survived and were free, but were injured.

Even though I knew deep down that they’d been taken, I had to keep up the hope that they weren’t. Even death, as much as I hated to think of it, was preferable to going to Neighwhere in chains. Shipped off to some distant slave monger, put to work in some fucking city. Checking absentmindedly, I couldn’t even find Fillydelphia on my map. It wasn’t anywhere nearby.

A talon rested on my PipBuck, pulling my eyes away from it. The griffin had stopped cleaning his weapon, and behind him I could see that Xiera had come over to him, wrapping one of his wings in medical bandage. I hadn’t even known his wing was hurt.

“Don’t dwell on it Ripple. Thinking about a loved one in Neighwhere... it’s not healthy.” His eyes had a sadness I’d never seen before, and I just stared at him. He’d called me Ripple. He had never, not once since I’d met him, called me Ripple. Always Kick, maybe Two Kick if he wasn’t thinking. Never Ripple.

“Ash?” The question was there, hidden beneath his name, and as he looked at me, I could see that he knew it. He knew what I was asking him.

“I said I came down to Hornsmith because there wasn’t competition. That was true. What I left out...” A long pause as he went back to his revolver, staring down into the open chamber for any dirt or debris. “What I left out, was that my little brother came with me.”

I arched a brow at that. He’d never mentioned family before. Every impression I’d gotten from him was that he was alone out here, a griffin apart. He’d even mentioned being in Neighwhere as recently as the last year, where he’d seen Two Kick compete in the arena.

“For a few years, me and him made bank. Only two griffin mercenaries in the region, demand was high. Talons, the both of us, or we were before we came here. Took jobs out of Neighwhere, mostly guarding caravans or attacking threatening gangs.” Slowly, he was rotating the chamber on the weapon, still staring down at it. The weapon had been positively sparkling for a while now, but he continued with his cleaning.

“Caps, entertainment, security. Life was sweet. Had a place outside town. Even commissioned a weapon from a Paragon. From Sweeps.” Behind him lay his rifle, which he had already cleaned. He’d gotten right on that, pretty much as soon as he allowed himself downtime from rescue operations and making sure there were no raiders left in town. Sweeps had reacted to the rifle’s shot, now that I remembered it. She’d known Ash by the sound the weapon had made.

“I never told you her name, did I? My girl there, I don’t talk much about her, but she has a name. Like your Broken, but she’s a bit more shy.” He chuckled, and I tilted my head. Sure, I’d thought of Broken as more than a weapon several times, even considering it a friend, but to give an instrument of death personality traits? Ash was acting a bit strange.

A long pause as he looked down the barrel of the gleaming revolver. Eventually, the griffin continued. “There’s an old medical practice. Pony mages had it, Zebra alchemists had it, even some of my own people had it. Griffin feathers help with vision. This rifle, she helped me see things I never would have before. Like a whole new world opened up. I named her Sight to the Blind.”

I nodded, fascinated with this. Ash had never talked much about his past, other than stories of successful jobs or fun times he’d had. Here he was, though, pouring out his past.

“Cutter. My younger brother, he was always talking about our history. Griffins have been warriors for as long as I can think of, and he was immensely proud of that I guess. The world burning really gave us a time to shine, you know. War, constant war, gave my people a purpose in Equestria. Before that... well, before that we did what we could. Grudgingly living in a pony's world, we made due.” He snapped the chamber on the weapon shut with a loud report, the noise drawing warning glances from ponies helping the injured.

“Right, off topic. Sorry. Talking about the past does that to me, Kick.” There was the familiar name. Even if it was a part of my past I’d rather leave behind, coming from Ash it felt right.

“We did a job for Hate. We were scavenging an old outpost up near Maremack. Ponies can’t get up there too easily, and the ‘Clavers stay far enough away from this area that going above the clouds wasn’t an issue for us. He had us looking for something, anything that seemed out of the ordinary.” Gesturing at the saddle bags I had reacquired, now that I was fully armed while my barding was being repaired by Torque, he shrugged. “Now I know I was probably looking for one of those Cubes, but I had no idea back then. Anyways, we didn’t find it, just returned to Neighwhere with what we thought was a pretty decent haul. Electronics and weapons and the like.”

He dropped his shoulders a bit, staring down at the dust at his paws. “Hate didn’t think so. Kept going on about us failing him, threatening to shoot both of us. No job was worth that, so we left. Tried to leave. We were airborne when he shot Cutter through the wing.”

The griffin’s face was completely impassive, like he’d run the scenario over in his mind thousands of times, looking for any way he could have changed the outcome.

“We weren’t too high; Cutter dropped right back into Neighwhere. When everypony else started shooting at me... I flew, fast and hard. Didn’t go back for my brother, would have been gunned down long before I coulda got to him.”

He holstered the revolver in its strap on his chest. “Last time I saw him. Don’t know if he survived, don’t know a fucking thing. Could be in shackles, or he could be dead and in the ground for a year!”

Turning to me, I saw the rage burning in his eyes. I’d seen him mad. I’d seen him disappointed, defeated, and distraught. I’d never seen him furious before.

“That! That is what I want to talk to Hate about. Wring it from his neck if I have to.” He was gripping the corner of the box he sat on, and it began splintering as his talons dug in deep. The wood gave a sharp crack, and it seemed to snap him out of it. His face lightened, he sat back, shaking splinters and wood fiber from his claws. Xiera was finished, and he nodded politely in thanks to the zebra who had been bandaging and tending to the wounded predator even as he’d told his tale.

I didn’t know what to say. We’d both lost so much to Neighwhere, and I’d never known Ash’s reasons. It made sense how he seemed to know more about the Paragons than almost anyone I’d met in the Wasteland.

Pointing at me with one wicked claw extended, he growled. “That’s why I gave you my contract. You can get me in. Let me deal with him, find what I need, then you can kill him. All square.” Drawing a smalll box in the air with two claws as he finished the sentence, he turned away from me and picked up Sight to the Blind, slinging it over his back. Standing on his hind legs, he glanced at the rows of injured ponies. “I’ll be outside if you need me.”

The griffin left, his injured wing tucked tightly against his body as he moved. He always was in a bad mood whenever the option of flight was gone, but I doubted that was why he was angry now. He’d just dredged up what I suspected was every bad memory in his stock, and no one would be fine after doing something like that. I’d just let him walk it off, or do whatever it was he did. The tavern had burned, so the town was critically low on alcohol, and I hoped that he had realized that before heading there.

Sitting there in the entrance, I waited.

None of the girls came through as injured. Nopony found any sign of them amongst the dead.

I was going to Neighwhere.


Evening came, the darkness bringing an even more somber tone to the shattered town. Most of the town’s power was out, but Torque had scavenged a generator and gotten it to work for the infirmary. Traffic’s shop had indeed been hit with a missile, as I’d suspected, and Torque had been inside when the projectile had torn into the building, demolishing much of the interior.

Only ten minutes into the search and rescue efforts mounted by those capable of moving around, he had been found under a collapsed pile of scrap in his workshop. He was distraught at the loss of Traffic, who was missing, but had pulled himself together. Together enough to help repair what he could, making life just a little easier for the survivors.

The lights flickered inside the infirmary, where I still sat vigil. Really, I was still having a hard time moving. After my confrontation with Willow and rescue of Jackleg, I’d collapsed. My legs were still weak, and most of my body felt like it hadn’t been used before. I helped where I could, but Xiera had kept me off my hooves for the most part. Doc Care had agreed with her diagnosis from the cot he currently lay in, where he was missing most of a leg.

Honestly, since it was a rear leg, I doubted that it would inconvenience him too greatly. I’d rarely seen the pegasus touch the ground, preferring to stay airborne most of the day. Almost like he’d been practicing for losing a leg.

So I was playing at guard, making sure that nothing happened to the injured inside. Whitecoat scouts had confirmed that the raiders had left, and weren’t just waiting in the hills to descend upon the crippled town in the night. Ironsight had stopped by for a while, checking on the injured and chatting with those capable, before he had trotted back into the street to continue doing his job. He was sheriff... or a guardpony, or something. I’d never really asked, but his dedication to the task he spent his life performing wasn’t going to be hampered by his town being destroyed.

As frequently as I could, whenever Xiera was too occupied to pay attention, I’d get up and trot around the building, or walk up and down the aisles. It felt like if I didn’t do something, my legs would never work again. They needed exercise, and each time I gave them what they wanted I felt a little better. By nightfall, I was trotting with the best of them. I didn’t know what exactly had been in the mask, but it had increased my stamina, and I was pretty sure I was healing faster as well.

So there were some good news to go with the crippling, mind numbing pain. I could still barely feel anything, even when I gave a test jab with a piece of metal I’d found. I applied different pressures, and found that it took quite a lot to actually cut me now. Xiera had yelled at me when she’d seen me trying to cut my leg.

After that little experiment, and after I’d cleaned and checked all of my weapons, I ran out of activities to entertain myself whenever I was forced to sit. Each little walk ended with Xiera, or one of the increasing number of helpers she was getting, yelling at me to stop walking around. As I sat there, staring at the dirt and dust shifting in the evening breeze, I did anything I could to not think.

The girls were either captured, dead, or missing. Traffic was in the same boat as the girls. Blank was functionally dead. The Whitecoats, which I had been hanging a lot of my future plans on, were all but gone.

Why... why did I have to feel amazing? I wanted so much for my body to feel how my mind did. Like I’d failed. Like I’d failed three mares I’d sworn to protect.

Failed at everything.

“No. Fuck off. Not now.”

A passing mare who was filling in as a nurse gave me a quick, scared look and hurried off. I raised a hoof towards her, wanting to tell her I wasn’t talking to her, but she was gone too fast.

You’re just bad with mares. You didn’t even rut any of them. The pale one with the nice flanks, your little marefriend, they all but threw themselves at you at least once each. I woulda plowed until the clouds went away, but you just shrugged it off and kept suffering. Even the little scarred one... you just know she can take some pain.

I clenched my eyes tightly and put a hoof to my head, trying to force him out of my mind. His voice was weaker than usual, but the volume was like he was talking into my ear. I needed him gone. The only reliable way I’d found to drown him out was with Shade... and she wasn’t around.

Too bad. Nice curves. Nice mouth. Hope she’s still alive, she looks like fun.

“I will shoot you first. It killed you once already.”

Trapped me. I didn’t die. I’ll get out, it’s just a matter of time. When I do... oh boy, the wasteland is gonna be sore for fucking years.

Growling lowly, I gripped the shotgun in my holster. Two Kick’s weapon might be enough to kill the voice in my head.

A hoof rested itself on the weapon, holding it in the leather. “Ripple, you’re making my patients nervous.” Looking up, I saw the eyes of a zebra staring into mine with concern. Concern for me, and concern for those in the room.

“I’m... I’m sorry. Think I took a harder blow to the head than I thought. I... I think I need some fresh air?”

She’d been telling me to stay down all day, and I watched her run it through her head. Her eyes kept shifting from me to the room of patients, some of whom had shifted away from me. Slowly, my aunt turned back to me and nodded softly. “That sounds good, but move slowly. I don’t know if you have internal injuries, I don’t want you tearing something.”

I wobbled to my hooves, nodding to her through the building headache, and stumbled to the door.

Ya know... Uncle Square landed himself a nice piece of stripe there. When I get back, I’m gonna give her a try. After I finish Square. Again. He’s doing good for a dead pony. Runs in the family I guess.

Once I was out of the sight of Xiera, I found a dark alley. It wasn’t hard, the entire husk of the town was dark. Once under the cover of wood, metal, and darkness, I slammed my head into the wall as hard as I could. I barely felt it, even as blood streamed from above my eye. The wall was dented and splattered with specks of blood, but I didn’t care. This wasn’t meant for me.

What, you going to beat me to death? You know if you lose me... there won’t be any of you left. If I die, you die. Who’s gonna run the show then? The monster in your pocket? That would be great. I’d miss the show... but if he scares even me, he’s gotta be worth something.

“Shut the fuck up!”

Ripple, why so angry? We’re headed home. We can kill everypony that needs it, grab a drink, grab some tail.

“Do you ever think about anything else?” I ran my head into the wall again, trying to get him to shut up. I was getting sick of his voice in my head every time I looked at a mare. It was always there, but I’d been able to ignore it. Now though...

Shade... I need help.

I need a lot more than that.

I applebucked the wall behind me, sending twin shotgun blasts ripping into the structure. I felt splinters and a few hits of shrapnel pepper me, but it wasn’t me it hit.

“If you touch her, I swear that I will end both of us. All three of us. Anypony that has EVER FUCKING BEEN IN THIS HEAD!”

I got hit from the side by a white blur. I’d seen that blur, and I fought back until my face was pressed into the dirt and debris of the alley. A fetlock was hooked around my neck and the rest of the body pressed me into the dirt. I couldn’t move, I couldn’t fight, I couldn’t stand it.

“Ripple, you need to calm down.” Uncle Raw Deal.

Square Deal. My beloved uncle.

“He just won’t shut up!” I shouted into the dirt, taking in a mouthful of the stuff as I breathed in. “He just won’t leave me alone...” Maybe I belonged down here, in the dirt and filth. Not like I was doing any good elsewhere, at least down here I couldn’t hurt anypony. Couldn’t fuck up anypony’s life.

“Please... make him go away.”

I heard my uncle’s voice, up out of the world of dust and filth. “Okay.”

A slight shift in where he had his hoof, and darkness hit me. The only place that I was alone. Darkness.

Darkness and silence.


The first thing I felt when I came too was the straps. I was tied to a bed, but I wasn’t sure why. The night before...

It was morning. Light streamed through cracks in the boarded windows, and I was alone. I couldn’t remember the night before, but for some reason I felt like I belonged strapped to a bed. Had I done something?

“Morning Ripple.” A voice that for some reason I connected to a strangling sensation.

“Hey there Deal.” I wasn’t sure what I should call him. Couple of names, a title or two, Deal was the only name they all had in common.

I wasn’t thinking right. Everything was... jumbled. More than usual. Fucked in the head.

Yep. You’re going crazy Ripple.

“Oh shut up!”

“Who do you keep yelling at?” I saw him now, sitting at my side. Sitting rather oddly, on a table. A rifle very much like the one he had pointed at me during our first... my first meeting with him. He’d met Two Kick. He knew Two Kick quite well, which is why he had pointed that gun. I could only guess it was why he had it now. With me, alone in this room.

“I don’t think you’ll like my answer.” My eye was crusted shut, and I was fighting to open it. Did I cut my head? I could see specks of blood on my snout, I had to have cut my head sometime.

Deal leaned forward. “I suppose not.”

“I said I’m not Two Kick. I’m not. He’s in here though... he’s always talking to me.” I’d never told anypony that. Nopony but Shade. My Shade knew... but she was gone.

A rifle barrel pressed into my temple, cold steel flaking off dried blood. “So that’s it then. That’s why you were attacking a building and screaming at air.” It should have been a question, but I realized that he was stating it. He was telling me what I’d been doing, like he wanted me to understand just how crazy it was.

“Was I? That’s.... that’s no good.” I’d attacked a building? Had I hurt anypony?

The older stallion sighed, lowering the weapon from my head. “No. No it’s not. You were scaring ponies, I had to take you down.”

I nodded at him, trying for a smile on my face. “Thanks Deal. Did I... was anypony hurt?”

Deal removed the weapon from my head and laid it on the table next to him, then stretched forward and rested a hoof on my shoulder. “I don’t trust you, Ripple. I probably never will, not after what you’ve done.”

I looked at his face, looking for a hint at what he was getting at. I had the feeling that if he wanted he could just reach over and snap my neck, remove this monster from the wasteland with a single motion.

“Even if you aren’t Two Kick, you’re still the same pony. Same voice, same movement, same face... aside from the scar. Every time I look at you, I see the murderer I failed so completely.”

Biting his lip, he growled past me. At the table, at the wall, at the wasteland, it didn’t really matter as long as the growl wasn’t at me. “I promised your father. Promised him I’d look after you, that day before he went out on that trading run.”

I stayed quiet. This was my chance. Deal knew my past. He knew more than anypony I could ask.

“Only pony that came back from that was Accolade.... Hate’s mother. Raped, beaten, burnt... she died almost as soon as she made it back to Anchor. That was the turning point. Hate took the name, took the most talented of us... all of you, and turned you all into monsters. His monsters.”

The burnt stallion leaned back, looking at the ceiling with a grimace on his face. I was taking in every word. I could hear Two Kick pacing the walls, chuckling as my uncle told me how the killer in me had been made. “You all latched onto his every word... wiping the Wasteland clean of those that had killed your loved ones. The raiders, the slavers... you made them all look like amateurs.”

Rubbing at the burnt half of his face with the hoof not hovering near my neck, he continued. “I tried to get Crackerjack to stop... tried to talk sense to him...” Shaking his head, he presented himself with a wave of a hoof. “Well, you can see how that went. You took part in it, too.”

Leaning forward, looming over me and placing the other hoof on me, he looked me straight in the eyes. “You know only one of the Paragons had an issue with how he dealt with me? As you dragged me from my home... you and Messy...” He shook his head with disdain. “Sorry. Massacre. I still try to think of you all as the nice kids I knew in the Stable. Messy Acres is long gone, I knew that when I saw what he did to you.”

I nodded, hoping he’d continue. This was much more than I’d hoped for. Two Kick was still laughing, like he’d known all this the entire time. He probably had, and had let me stumble along in confusion all this time. Playing with me. The fucker.

“That one voice was your sister’s. Gentle Wave. She was pleading with Hate not to do it.... only her.”

The door across from us opened and Xiera walked in, flanked by Ash. The zebra’s eyes widened as she saw Deal looming over me with his hooves at my neck, while I just lay there strapped to the bed. Ash reached for his revolver only briefly, still under contract to aid me. Deal stepped back, dropping his hooves and turning away from me.

“I don’t want to kill my family... but if you hurt anypony that doesn’t deserve it, even by accident, I will put you down. Put you down like the animal that you were.” He brushed past the approaching pair, Xiera trying to comfort him but being snubbed as he walked past. Quickly, he was out of the room, leaving me strapped to the bed.

“Are you okay Ripple?” The zebra was looking at my neck, near where the hooves had been, but I had only one question. I wanted to ask Deal, but he was gone and I didn’t think chasing after him with inquiries was a good idea. The stallion was worked up, and I knew less about what he was capable of now than when I’d first met him. He’d fought off Massacre, and somehow taken me off while I was in the midst of a breakdown.

I turned my head from where I was still staring at the door, and looked the zebra in her kind eyes.

“I have a sister?”


“Deal doesn’t talk about you or your family too much. Painful memories, ones he won’t share with me. I’ve heard him mention Gentle Wave in passing, but more than the name I do not know.” Her inspection of my neck had ceased, though she still gave it a few strange looks as she moved onto checking the rest of my body.

“That’s okay. The name’s more than I expected.”

Gentle Wave was a familiar name... she’d been the mare talking to Sweeps in the recordings that I’d listened to. She’d been gossiping with my sister, talking about her plans for me and our future. It made me hurt just a little more, that Sweeps had been that close to my sister. That I’d killed my sister’s best friend.

“So... how did you and my uncle meet?” I wanted to change the topic, get my mind on something other than the sister I might or might not still have. “I haven’t seen many zebra around.”

“Not many of us in Equestria as it is. I had been separated from my tribe long ago, wandering the wastes, when I came across a shot and burnt pony in the desert. Your uncle made it quite a ways in his condition. He was near death, and I did all that I could to help him.” As she spoke, she prodded my ribs. They were solid now,but she had seen them smashed and broken before the mask, and she was just checking for remaining damage.

She smiled wistfully as she talked about the past, a sense of nostalgia creeping into her kind voice. “When he was well enough to move, he decided to serve as my bodyguard in thanks. He was homeless, an outcast like me.”

Giggling just slightly, she pressed in on my gut, looking for internal damage. “One thing led to another... and before long we were inseparable. Love is hard to find out here, but we got lucky. Fate was kind to us.”

Nodding to herself as she found nothing out of place, she moved to my legs. The muscles still felt weak, like I’d let them atrophy, and it was a strange sensation. Normally my legs were my strongest part, and having them strapped down and helpless was not reassuring.

“We travelled south, helping where we could. Your uncle was... decent in a fight, and I healed when I was allowed by circumstance. I began training him in the warrior ways of my people. I may have taken a vow of nonviolence... but nonviolent is not the same as untrained.” She added, with a smirk. “It made us safer, in these uneasy times.”

Strapped down and useless, I moved the one thing that I freely could. My mouth. “So you met the Whitecoats and fell in with them?”

She shook her head. “Not in that way. We met Willow first. A broken pony, I won’t tell her tale. Her ambitions spoke to us, and we began to follow her. Others joined, and soon, the Whitecoats had formed around us. So many survivors, marked by the Wasteland and gathered together under a banner of justice... it was good for the soul.”

Her eyes looked sad as she went silent. She had pretty much finished her checkup, looking into my eyes and covering them to check on pupil dilations. The Whitecoats had been her family, and now most of them were dead. The matriarchal zebra, I realized now, was dealing with this a lot better than most. Almost everyone she had known in the last year, healed and cared for, was dead.

As she stared into my eyes, I had a warming thought. It must be nice to have loving family. This zebra made me want to be better, just like Shade had. Like that poster urging us all to do better, like the beautiful mare with the pink mane. Inspirational mares could make all the difference in the world.

At Xiera’s order, Ash undid the straps, but slowly. Almost like they were waiting for me to lunge for one of them, and I noticed Ash’s talons twitching towards his revolver every time I moved my head or twitched a leg.

As the last strap went, I lay there for a few moments. Ash and Xiera reached for me, but I brushed them off and got to my hooves myself. The griffin steadied me as I stumbled, my legs feeling better but still a little wobbly. “You okay, Kick?”

I nodded to him, but he handed me a mirror. “You should see this before you answer.”

I took it from him in my magic as I wobbled to my hooves. Looking into the mirror, I recoiled and nearly dropped the mirror. On the whole, I looked maybe a little younger than I had before I’d put on the mask, but that wasn’t the surprising part.

At each of the six puncture points the mask had made around my jaw and neck, every vein in the area had turned black, showing through my white coat quite easily. It did not portray the image of health very well... I looked diseased.

“What?” I prodded a hoof at it, rubbing slightly to see if it was just dirt. It didn’t come off, moving with my skin like it was just underneath. “I thought I was better, that doesn’t look better.”

Xiera shrugged her shoulders at me as she approached. “I looked at the... track marks, I guess one could call them. I don’t know why they’re showing up... it looks like a blood infection but I couldn’t find any trace. My poultices did nothing as well.”

Pushing aside the mirror, she reached out a hoof and prodded at my neck again. It didn’t hurt, but I realized that it didn’t feel. The whole area was just... not there. I couldn’t feel a thing.

“So I guess saying that it’s completely numb doesn’t help.” I tried smiling at her, but the look of concern I’d been seeing more and more on her face was back.

“In my opinion... both as a doctor and as your aunt... I suggest you stay in Blank for a few days, just long enough to see if there are any side effects.”

Shaking my head, I put the mirror down carefully. Items of its like were rare in the wasteland. I glanced at the griffin, who agreed with a look. I acknowledged him with a raised eyebrow, and turned to Xiera. “I’m sorry, but I can’t. I need to get after the girls... get after everypony that was taken. Leaving them as Neighwhere’s slaves just isn’t going to happen.”

The zebra mare smiled, but it was a sad smile. “You’re just like your uncle.” With those words, she turned and left. Once she was out of the room, it was just me and the griffin.

“You gonna be okay Kick? I heard you before Deal took you out... you were freaking out. Yelling at ponies that weren’t there, attacking a building. You gonna be able to hold it together, at least until we get to Hate?”

Will you Ripple? Huh? You gonna keep it together? Heh.

I sighed at the inner mocking, nodding my head. “Yeah... yeah, I’ll hold it together.”

He indicated a pile that I hadn’t noticed in the corner. I spotted Broken’s holster and knew that the pile was mine. “Well then, you might want to get your stuff. We’re heading out.”

I was already lifting my barding before he finished. Nodding in approval, he turned and followed, leaving me alone with my thoughts. My thoughts were still teasing me.

“Shut up, Two Kick.”


The only change to the town since the previous day was that there were less ponies on the street. Blank looked practically abandoned, and if it weren’t for the sound of pain drifting from the infirmary building, I would have thought that to be the case.

Ash appeared at my side just as I started looking for him, giving me a bit of a start. He had his weapons with him, but seemed to have been quite busy. He had several extra bags with him, no doubt loaded down with all the supplies and ammunition that he could scavenge. What was odd though was that he was wearing armor.

I’d never seen armor for a griffin before, or at least from what I could remember, I hadn’t. The armor he was wearing protected his chest and had a wide collar around the neck, but that he’d gotten it to look like armor was surprising. It was clearly combined from the leftover armor of dead raiders, a patchwork mishmash of leather, metal, and various hides. One shoulder pad was quite clearly pony hide, a cutie mark of a razor cutting through a flower displayed prominently and stretched over metal.

My jaw must have been open, because he glanced at me and then at his shoulder. “Sorry, I couldn’t be picky. Had to build armor, used what I had.”

Gesturing offhandedly with a talon at me, he indicated my saddle bags. “I got you all loaded up. Meds, ammo, whatever I could find. We gotta go.”

I nodded. “Yeah.” The bags had felt heavier, but I had thought maybe it had just been my legs still feeling a bit off. I would have taken this chance to dig through and see exactly what I had, but Ash really seemed ready to go. Delaying would only waste time.

Delaying would only hurt the girls.

“Let’s go.”

I wouldn’t let the girls get hurt.

It began raining, as though the Wasteland was bidding us good luck.

Or cursing us.


We were only a few minutes outside Blank when the sound of hooves running and splashing after us caught up. Neither of us stopped, our course set. As the hooves came to us, I glanced to the side.

Willow came up between us, slowing from a full gallop to a trop to keep pace with us. Her jacket was mostly white again, though there were blood and dirt stains mixing in with rips and bullet holes. She was loaded down with saddlebags, carrying more gear than I’d ever seen a Whitecoat carry.

“I’m coming with. Those fuckers killed my family. I need to be there.”

I glared at her, only briefly. What she’d done to Jackleg was still fairly fresh in my mind, and the Whitecoat’s treatment of prisoners was still rubbing me wrong. The look in her eyes was a mixture of sadness and rage. I wasn’t going to deny her... and it would be useful having another hoof to lend a hand in a fight, especially without the crowd control Ivory had provided.

Over her head, past her eyes, Ash looked at me and gave a little nod. He was in one of his moods... the kind of mood that had set us at each others throats in Orchard. Despite that, we were in agreement that Willow should come with us. Shifting my gaze to the vengeful mare between us, I nodded through the pouring rain. She gave a vicious smile, and looked ahead at where we were headed. In the distance, through the rain and mist, Hornsmith. The mountain at the end would be a visible landmark, with Neighwhere at its base. It would be a long walk, but when we got there the very Wasteland would tremble at our wrath.

“Welcome to our little suicide mission.” Ash was just so helpful when it came to greetings.


As we travelled, we kept seeing signs of the passing raiders. Graffiti, destruction, the usual calling cards of that specific blight on the wasteland. A few bodies along the way, beaten and stripped of everything.

A disturbing majority were residents of Blank that had suffered wounds in the fight, and had fallen in their forced march to Neighwhere. From the bruises covering their backs and limbs, it looked like their captors had taken to beating them whenever they fell, killing them or leaving them to die when they couldn’t keep going. I could tell whenever it was a Whitecoat, from a little sound that Willow made when she recognized one.

A few were clearly raiders abandoned by their comrades. Stripped of weapons and armor, they were just leaking corpses now.

I was keeping an eye out for the girls. For Traffic. For anypony I knew.

I prayed to Celestia that I wouldn’t find them like that. Nopony deserved that. Celestia had come through for me before... I just hoped that she deemed to listen this time.

With the rain, it was pretty much impossible to determine how long it had been since the raiders had passed through. We couldn’t find any camps, just the dead left where they’d fallen.

Willow’s face got darker and darker with every Whitecoat we came across. She’d begun taking her anger out on any dead raiders we passed, kicking them as hard as she could. Neither Ash or I did anything to stop her, everypony had their own ways of dealing with anger.

Ash had been walking upright for some time now, Sight to the Blind swinging from its strap thrown over his shoulder. He was tapping out a simple rhythm on the handle of his revolver. I had the feeling that he was going to vent his anger through his weapons.

Me, I was going to rip Hate’s head off with my bare hooves.

That’s my boy.

I wasn’t even yelling at the voice anymore. He’d go away as soon as I got Shade back. Until then, he served as motivation. He symbolized everything that I had to destroy in this world, and his droning, mocking voice just drove me forward.

We walked like that until we reached the limit of Hornsmith. Angry little sounds, the tapping of claws on metal, the constant pounding of rain.

We’d been seeing less and less bodies as the day had gone on, which could only mean that all of their weak and injured had been weeded out. We were all surprised when one of the corpses coughed and groaned as Willow drove her hoof into his side.

I moved just as quickly as she did, slamming the barrel of Broken into the ground at an angle, just barely deflecting the whistling blade aimed at the raiders neck. “Dead ponies don’t talk, Willow.” I glanced up at her as I spoke, to which she snorted derisively and sheathed the blade in one quick motion.

Shoot him in the fucking head. He stole your girl. No mercy... come on!

I gritted my teeth, forcing myself to ignore it. Two Kick was right... a disturbing trend he was getting into. Glancing over at the griffin who was scanning the rooftops for a trap, I holstered Broken. “Ash. Can you ask him some questions?”

Looking from me to the near dead raider, he shrugged. He slung the rifle over his shoulder before reaching down and grabbing the earth pony by his mane. Wrenching him up face to face, the pony opened his eyes with a low groan. He should have been screaming from that, but I guessed he was too near death to really feel the full pain.

The pony’s eyes were unfocused, but Ash stared right into them. The scared little pony deep inside the raider came out then, under the piercing gaze of a predator. He coughed, blood dribbling down his chin, and Ash responded by grabbing the raider under the chin.

“Hey there. You tell me anything you know, and I won’t rip your throat out.”

The raiders eyes widened, and he stammered a little. “I...I...uh....well,” another cough interrupted him, spattering the griffin’s beak with blood. When he licked it off, the pony took his threat just a bit more seriously. I grimaced at that just a little... his bloodthirst had just turned literal.

“Okay! Okay... fucking stop!” His voice was low, but he sounded scared. Ash grinned, placed the wounded raider back on the ground, and stepped back. Crossing his arms expectantly, he nodded.

“We... we’re headin’ back to Neighwhere... left me when I fell. Fuckers took my gear...” Coughing again, he clutched at his gut, where I now saw what was killing him. A bullet had gone in one side and out the other. Bits were dangling out, remnants of organs he likely needed to live. It was amazing that he hadn’t bled out, and even more amazing that he was scared of death threats. He was dead before we got here, he’d been dead since that bullet had hit him.

“Gear was holding my insides in... they took it. Fuckers took the slaves that could still walk... took ‘em with. Left any of us that couldn’t walk...” He was just rambling. He didn’t know anything that could help us. Ash’s eyes met mine and I looked at the pony briefly. Ash aimed the revolver and his talon tightened.

“Fucking pale bitch... she killed me.”

My eyes widened at that. “Ash, wait!” He eased off of the trigger just slightly.

Stepping forward, I kneeled next to him. “Pale? She have a big gun? She still alive?”

Coughing, his eyes started losing focus again. “Yeah... that’s the one. Hit us in the back... came after that twitchy fuck... shot us up good, ran after him when he bolted. Massacre had us hold back, he wasn’t worth it.”

I nodded and stood, stepping away from him. A gunshot buried a chunk of lead in the raider’s brain, ending his miserable life. Ash was holstering the pistol as he stepped over the body and started walking.

That was one of the girls off of the list... I just hoped we found her before she chased Crossed Wires into Neighwhere. She was tough, but she stood no chance.

We picked up the pace, moving much more quickly into Hornsmith.


Standing at the door, I breathed a sigh of relief. That unassuming door held the entry to what I was at this point was convinced was the last free town in Hornsmith. Underhoof had been skipped, very likely due to the fact that very few surface ponies knew about it. Those that did would never tell a raider or slaver where it was.

Ash was standing next to me, gazing at the door as well. “Should we?”

I shrugged. We needed supplies, we needed help, and most importantly we needed a way into Neighwhere. The ponies of Underhoof knew the Hornsmith tunnels better than any other. Some of them had lived in Hornsmith before the bombs, had worked the tunnels. They’d been down there for two hundred years... if there was a way into Neighwhere that wasn’t the front door, they would know.

Willow was still in the street, pacing in the pouring rain. She didn’t know about Underhoof... I could only assume that she thought we were just staring at a door. Bringing her down there would be letting another pony in on the secret...

“We need to.” All I could say. Pulling the door open with my magic, I let Ash go through first. Looking back at Willow, I gestured with a hoof towards the door. “You coming?”

Looking down the road, she pointed a hoof. “Neighwhere’s that way. No time for sightseeing.” She said it with a certain menace that I’d not heard in her voice before. It was a warning, not a speculation.

“Look, Willow. We’ve got friends down here, they can help.” I know that calling Rail Spikes, Crimson Knife, Gristle, and the others friends was a bit from the truth. Viola, she was alright, but the rest had only worked with us because it was in their best interests. I’d be leaving Ash to deal with the little merchant, while I found Viola. I wasn’t going to let Willow out of my sight.

With an angry sigh, she consented and trotted past me into the open door. I followed her through, pulling the worn door shut behind me. She made her way down the stairs following Ashred, who was walking quickly down the path, his unbandaged wing tucked in tight.

When I finally caught up, he was banging on the secure door. “Rail Spikes! Viola! Open the door!”

There was a long pause as we stood there. Willow let out another little noise, angered that this was taking so long. She was getting impatient.

With a click and a whir, the reinforced hatch slid open. Standing there were two ghoul ponies, rifles at the ready. One of them tilted her head to the side, her eyes smiling. Viola.

“Ripple! How’s my favorite surface pony?”


I’d explained the situation to Viola and Rail Spikes, who had joined us within minutes of our arrival. Ash was off gathering supplies from Gristle, leaving myself and the Whitecoat to talk to the ghoul guards of Underhoof. Just as I’d planned. Small victory.

The smile was gone from Viola’s face. Rail Spikes... well, his face never really changed much. We were in the Guard station inside Underhoof, sitting around a table. Willow had been really twitchy around the ghouls, but I’d shot her a glance when she’d first seen them and reached for her swords. I probably should have warned her, but there was a famous saying about the visual quality of hindsight.

“So I need anything that can get us into Neighwhere. Anchor. Stable 87. Anything in that area.”

Rail Spikes sat back, crossing his front legs defiantly. “I don’t see how this is our problem. Raiders never found us, don’t even know we’re here. If we don’t open that door, I doubt they can get in. We can choke the tunnel with their dead before they get close enough to try.”

Viola was looking at Rail Spikes and nodding along with him. Her eyes looked sad in her mask, and as she looked over at me I was getting ready to stand and leave to find somepony that would help us. There had to be a ghoul that knew the way in. I began turning away from them, standing.

“I can help.”


My head snapped back to Viola, who was looking right at me still. “What?”

She looked over at Rail Spikes, who was glaring at her. “I can help. I may have been young during the war, but my uncle was chief of maintenance for the Hornsmith Underground Authority. I spent a lot of time in the subway systems near the mountain. I can get you in.”

Rail Spikes stood rapidly, slamming a hoof down on the table. “No! I won’t have the security of this town compromised to assist a fucking suicide mission!” His rifle floated at his side, aiming into my face. I wasn’t sure if he was yelling at me or at Viola, but that rifle was aimed at me.

By reflex, I drew Broken, aiming the shotgun at the yelling ghoul. He was trying to stop the pony that could help us. Viola was possibly the perfect chance for us to get into Neighwhere undetected. If I had to shoot him, I would.


Willow and Viola moved in tandem. A soft pink glow emanated from Viola’s horn, pulling the barrels of both weapon towards the slowly swinging bulb illuminating our situation. A slight jab let me know that Willow had her swords out, pointed at both mine and Rail Spikes’ throats.

They spoke at the same time, the Whitecoat’s slightly singsong voice overlapping with the muffled, raspy voice of the ghoul. “Calm down.”

Viola snatched the weapons from our grips, floating the firearms to her side and away from us. “There, that should help the talk. Now I’m going, for the protection of Underhoof. How long do you think it will be before they find us down here? You know as well as I do that we’re practically up against a wall down here, and if we make one mistake they will turn us into another ghost town.”

There was a pair of small snaps as Willow slid the blades back into their sheaths. I hadn’t even felt her take the weapon from my throat. Viola took this time to rearm us. Levitating the guns back up, she threw them at us casually. I caught mine in time, but the older ghoul only caught his when it had very nearly impacted with his face. Turning to him, she spoke evenly to the ghoul. “Going is better than doing nothing. I’m going.”

Turning back to me, her eyes crinkled as the corners to show she was smiling. “I’ll get my things.” Backing away from the table, the mare left the three of us. Rail Spikes was glaring at me, and as I returned the look I couldn’t help but wonder how this would affect future attempts to enter Underhoof. Holstering Broken, I looked at Willow and jerked my head towards the door. She sighed, and left with me following close behind. I could feel Rail Spikes’ eyes burning a hole into the back of my head as I left.

Fuck him, he can rot.

I hate when you’re right.


Back on the street, I sort of expected Ash to be waiting for us. The griffin was nowhere in sight, and I only had a few seconds before a popping sound went off to my left. Willow, ever the jumpy mare, spun while drawing a blade. I knew what was coming from the sound, and the red pony that had appeared next to me lowered her horn just a second and then the world snapped.

I was in Crimson Knife’s clinic, where Ash was sitting hunched forward on a table with his injured wing outstretched. Crimson was standing right in front of me, a disapproving look on her face as she took in the black veins tracing down my neck. Just as she started speaking, I looked around quickly expecting Willow to attack Crimson, but the tan mare wasn’t in the room with us.

I turned and trotted to the door, sticking my head out and ignoring a sputtering Crimson Knife, who wasn’t used to ponies just walking away from her when she was beginning her examination. Willow was frantically searching the street, both blades out, and jumped when I shouted her name. “Willow! In here, put the swords away.”

Returning to Crimson, I gave her a shrug and a small apology. She jumped right into her diagnosis without even a hello. “Discoloration in circulatory system leading from mandibular area down neck. Possible reaction to unknown element or toxin found on the surface. Skin beneath coat looks recently healed across entire body...” She trailed off, looking up at me with a mix of concern and foal like curiosity.

“Ripple... what happened to you?”

I told Crimson. I gave the abridged version, cut down because I was getting impatient looks from Willow. She was really being nothing but trouble, but I knew that when it came to fighting, it would be better to have her around.

Crimson was handling me in rather uncomfortable ways as I talked, but at least she wasn’t scrubbing me with a coarse brush. For a second, I was glad that Shade wasn’t there. Then I caught myself, hating that I had done that.

After Crimson had done a thorough examination, she popped away, then popped back carrying a scalpel. Reaching towards me with it, she stopped when I shyed away a bit. I may have a high tolerance, but getting cut was something I still tried to avoid. “Ripple, do you mind if I try something? It might hurt.”

I was curious what she would try. It wasn’t like she was going to maim me or anything, so I nodded my consent and stepped forward. She pressed the blade against the hide of my shoulder, away from anything that could do serious harm, and cut me carefully.

It stung a little bit, but the noise she made got my attention more. A medical backing to my own little experiment earlier would be good to have. I felt a little let down when all I got from the mare was a curious little noise. A short, questioning exhalation.


She looked up at me, smiling. “Oh, sorry. It’s just very interesting. Your skin has toughened up a bit, not sure why. The wound has already healed.”

I looked down at it, and sure enough where once there had been a short incision was now just a pink line with a trickle of blood. Ash laughed a little, rather impressed. “If anypony needs that out here Kick... it’s you.”

I smiled a little. Whatever had been in the mask must have some remnant running through my system still... I wasn’t getting the crippling pain, but I was getting the good part. What had kept Massacre going. If it lasted, it might just give me an edge in whatever was to come. “Yeah... I can always use a little boost.”

Even if it’s rotting the veins in our neck?



Once Crimson Knife had let me leave, we met Viola in the center of town. The masked ghoul had donned saddlebags and a travelling cloak. Ash had gotten what supplies we needed before he’d been hijacked by the teleporting doctor mare, and Willow had sullenly been waiting since we’d come into Underhoof.

Viola opened the door, closing it behind us. Rail Spikes was nowhere to be seen, still mad at us. As the four of us walked down the tunnel, I noticed that Viola was shaking, just a little bit. “How long have you been underground?” She was ahead of me, but she jumped when I spoke, startled. She must have been more nervous than I’d thought.

“Uh.... when did the balefire hit? Right before then.” She had taken a few seconds to think of it, gazing at the ceiling as she walked.

She hadn’t been above ground in 200 years. I had to wonder how she hadn’t turned into a gnasher in that time... the ghouls of Underhoof must have had some trick to staying themselves. If I ever came down with that particular affliction, I’d have to ask how they stayed sane.

When we reached the bottom of the stairs, Ash was already at the top, opening the door and walking outside. I started up the stairs, followed by Willow. Viola delayed at the bottom for several seconds, staring up at us as we ascended to the brightly lit portal. It must have been quite the sight for the subterranean ghoul.

Waiting on the surface as she climbed the stairs, I noticed that it was now raining harder than it had previously. Visibility had dropped, but that might be beneficial for us. Didn’t want to be spotted by any raider parties as we crossed through the city. If we were spotted, and any of them got away or notified Neighwhere, the element of surprise was ruined. We’d be fucked.

“Oh wow... it’s bigger than I remember.” Viola's raspy voice drifted through the rain. Turning, I saw that she was staring straight up at the sky, the rain soaking her cloak and running off of her gas mask. I wondered if she’d be able to see anything, but as I did she flipped a hood up from the cloak, covering her lens protected eyes from being blinded by rain.

She turned, looking both ways down the road a bit. Sighing sadly, she looked at the ground. “Everything’s different... it’s gotten grayer.” Looking up at me, she shook her head and trotted towards me. Jerking her head to the side, towards the now unseen mountain with our destination at its base, she spoke loud enough to make sure that everyone heard her. “So it’s this way....”

Under her breath, I heard her mutter, “Or at least I think it is...”

Through the rain we walked.


Viola’s memory served her well. In front of us was a large building composed almost entirely of heavily rusted iron and weather faded glass. It stuck out, to say the least, a jagged chunk of dark red amidst the city of gray.

“This is the station. The rest of Hornsmith had a trolley system, but this was the way back to the rest of Equestria. It’s how we sent back freight and supplies for the war....” Viola seemed rather pleased with herself. She had led us right to the station without a hitch. Nopony had seen us, we hadn’t run into any wildlife... everything had gone perfect. Which meant that it was about to all go wrong. It just had to.

The front doors were propped slightly open, a pile of bones keeping them from closing. There were the remains of clothing and baggage scattered around...

“Those that didn’t make it to the Stable or try to brave it out underground tried taking the train anywhere else.” We’d passed a sizable crater making our way here, and had to take the long way around. It was now getting on in the day, but the time we’d spent going around was certainly worth it. The ticking of my PipBuck’s radiation detector had told us that much.

“So... we go in, walk down the tunnel, and it will get us to Neighwhere?” I was just a little skeptical. This was all working out far too well.

She nodded and trotted towards the front door, sweeping aside some of the skeletons almost without care. Pushing with her magic, she strained a little before stepping back. “It’s stuck... help a lady out?”

Ash and I stepped up to the large door, while Willow snickered a little behind us. Putting his shoulder into it as I pressed against it with my side, we began pushing. The door didn’t give, at first, but then with a crunch and a shower of rust, it began moving. It screeched so loudly that it hurt my ears, and I stopped. Ash looked at me, then at the door, and nodded.

I slipped through the opening, which was wide enough for me and my equipment. Everyone behind me would be able to easily get in. I stepped in, over several barricades that must once have been rather formidable. Hundreds of years of weather and erosion had reduced the once reinforcing protection to scraps of metal and wood, crudely attached to the inside of the door.

Inside was mounds of discarded luggage and assorted waste. Stepping over the skeleton of a pony that was missing half of its skull, I looked at the massive train before me. Once, it must have been grand, a testament to the craftsmanship of ponykind. Now, it was a burnt out shell of what it had once been.

“Wow...” Willow was the first in behind me, and she let the little exclamation slip past the surly front she’d been putting up all day. Viola was behind her, and Ash brought up the rear, relishing what little time he had left outside. Once we were all inside, I reached down and activated the light on my PipBuck. It had been so long since I’d used it, I’d forgotten how little illumination it actually provided us. There was still light outside, but once past the doors it grew much darker.

The tunnel we were looking at was pitch black.

“So... in we go?” Viola questioned, eager to get back underground. She looked back at me, and at the griffin rubbing an arm with his talons. I nodded, and the four of us started walking down the train platform, weaving around debris and skeletons. There were quite a lot less dead ponies in here, and I had to wonder if just a few had locked the rest out.

Hopping down onto the tracks, I gazed into the darkness, hoping that my eyes would adjust. Without the PipBuck, I wouldn’t have been able to see anything. With it, I could see just a few paces ahead of me.

I could see the hoofprints in the dirt right at the entrance to the tunnel. There had been movement... a lot of it. Recently.

Further down the tunnel, something screamed.

Author's Note:

Numerous thanks to Kkat for writing Fallout Equestria.

Thanks to Wirepony for editing and Mittens for prereading. They make it easier to read.

Mirandasaurus-rex drew a great picture of Ripple at my request. Much thanks to her, she does great work.

Then we get to the part where I request fave/track/star/comments. Always like hearing how I'm doing, so drop me a line.