• 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.

  • ...

Chapter 18: Cutting Wires

Chapter 18: Cutting Wires

I hit the wall hard, the pieces of it coming down around me. The arena was getting pounded by the rockets. Whoever was firing must have known that most of the ponies in town would be there, and the casualties would be maximised.

Ducking through a half-collapsed doorway, I found stairs that led up. As good as any place to start looking. I had to get to Hate before he got away.

Running into a door, I forced it open with all of my weight. The door was blocked, chunks of rubble pinning it closed. I wasn’t going to let a simple door stop me, and after slamming again and again into the door, I pushed it open wide enough to slip through.

Leaping through a cloud of smoke, ready to kick Hate’s face into oblivion, I was stopped in my tracks as soon as I landed. A rocket hit the platform, the force of the blast hurling me bodily back into the door, slamming it shut. Dragging myself back to my hooves, I shook my head trying to get rid of the spinning. At least the ringing in my ears drowned out the ongoing din of the rocket barrage.

A gust of wind cleared the smoke from the platform, revealing that I was alone. Judging from the lack of blood and chunks, there hadn’t been anypony here when the rocket had hit. Hate had gotten away. Fuck.

Chase him. Kill him. Rip him apart. It’s what you came here to do. It’s about time you finally showed some fucking motivation, so get going. Fucker shot me in my face, let’s return the favor.

Turning to leave, I sighed when I saw how twisted the door was after my bulk had been thrown bodily into it. That wouldn’t open easily. Luckily, the blast had also torn down one of the walls, opening a path into a side hallway.

Navigating over the collapsed masonry, I found myself in one of the long halls that ran through the arena building. I was beginning to regain my hearing, and I heard a muffled shout from one end. Through the dust filling the corridor, I spotted a pony that made me grin. A wide, malicious grin.

It was the armorer. The pony that had Broken. My biggest fan. He was shouting away down another hallway, apparently oblivious to my presence. I trotted rapidly towards him, hoping to catch him off guard. Each step brought me closer, and I could hear more and more of what he was yelling.

“Get the fucking explosives down below! One hit and this whole place goes up!”

That wasn’t good news. With the initial targeted barrage having shifted to random assault, it was only a matter of time before the magazine took a hit. I had to move faster.

I hit him from the side, bouncing him off the wall. I pressed one fetlock against his neck, driving the side of his face into the surface. Frantic eyes looked at me in stunned recognition, and he began stammering.

“Two... Two Kick. Oh shit! Oh shit! Don’t kill me!”

Using the fear that came with his recognition, I growled low into his ear. “Where is my gun?” I asked, pressing a little harder for emphasis.

He tried smiling, pulling a thin mask of humor over his terror. The stuttering breath he choked down betrayed him.

“Broken? It’s... it’s in my room. Cleaned it up nice for you, its all ready to go. Just... just down that hall a bit, on the right next to the primary magazine. Can’t miss it.” He gestured weakly with a hoof down the hallway he’d been shouting.

“You... you going to kill me? I did you right Two Kick, don’t forget.” His flickering smile showed that he knew just how terrifying I was, how terrifying the pony in my head was. He had no clue that Two Kick wasn’t running the show anymore. In fact, he had evidence to the contrary, after my decapitation of Massacre.

I eased off, releasing him from the wall and taking a few steps back. “You did. Get out of here.” He really had. I didn’t know if the whole “fairness” thing was really supposed to be taken far enough to give me my weapons back, but I’d taken any advantage I could get. I’d need it to kill Hate.

Besides, I didn’t have the time to beat him to death. I needed Broken. I needed every weapon at my disposal. The armorer’s room seemed like a great place to start.

Taking off at a near gallop, I left him in the dust and smoke filled corridor, rubbing at his neck with a fetlock. I heard a faint insult, and then he ran off down the hall away from me. If he’d lied to me, I would find him and make him wish he hadn’t.

Start with wiping that stupid smile off his face... with a knife. Never did like that asshole.

Rounding a corner, I came face to face with two raiders hurrying through the tunnel in the opposite direction. All of us slid to a halt, and just stared at each other for a long moment of stillness.

One of them, a shabby green unicorn mare, whipped a pistol out on a flare of magic. Her speed was impressive, and even ducking as soon as the gun appeared was barely enough to keep my hide intact. I felt the bullet pass through my mane and embed itself into the wall behind me.

I came out of the crouch into a spin, slapping the barrel of the mare’s weapon away with a front hoof. As I came to bear, I kicked out into the unicorn’s muzzle. the solid impact of my shotgun hoof was pleasant and familiar to both me and Two Kick.

Two Kick was laughing in my head.

The dead mare’s companion was a much slower earth pony armed with some sort of assault rifle on a battle saddle. His reaction time was nothing like mine or the unicorn mare’s, and he was still lunging forward to bite the trigger bit as I finished the spin. I skidded to a halt, braced and low, his fire going well over my head. The ratcheting sound continued as I surged out of my crouch, driving my horn into the underside of his jaw. I bull-rushed forward with my back legs, levering the heavy pony off of his front hooves with my horning pinning his jaw shut. The shots stitched up the wall and into the ceiling as he was forced completely upright, and I shoved him back with my forelegs, yanking the horn from the soft flesh under his jaw and thrusting it into his exposed neck.

Very nice. Saw a minotaur do that once. Cut his balls off and fed them to him after that.

Two quick stabs that sprayed me with earth pony blood, and I pushed him over. He sprawled backwards in a fountain of gore, his rifle crunching to a halt on an empty chamber.

Nopony was going to get between me and what I came here to do.

Ahead, I spotted a pony loaded down with bags hurrying out of a large metal door covered with locks. That could only be the magazine, which meant that the smaller wooden door next to it was the armorer’s.

As I got closer, I could hear another voice through the heavy metal door, cursing and stuttering frantically . It didn’t sound like the pony inside was coming out anytime soon, so I ignored it, slipping through the rough wooden door into the armorer’s quarters.

Inside was the lair of a pony that really, really liked guns. Experience had taught me that the raiders of Neighwhere were ill equipped, stupid fighters wielding crudely sharpened scraps of metal. The contents of this room would have made my life much, much more difficult until now.

There must have been hundreds of weapons, haphazardly stored. Some were in piles, neatly stacked to the ceiling in places, or carefully arranged on shelves. It had once been a storeroom of some kind, but now it was an altar to the ranged weapon.

Hate had to have known about this, which meant that all those raiders had been sent out with scavenged weapons intentionally. I did recall that there was always a back rank of better armed ponies, though.

They’re called fodder. Gonna die anyways, why give ‘em a fucking gun? Leave the guns to the ponies that know what they’re doing.

Oh, right. Of course.

Now I just had to find a gun in a haystack made entirely out of guns. At least it didn’t appear that lever-action shotguns were a common item, even in here.

Spotting a similar stock to my gun jutting out from the lower layer of a gun pile, I gripped with my magic and pulled. The whole stack shifted as I yanked, and it toppled over with a resounding crash. If the town wasn’t currently being shelled, I’d have worried about the noise.

What floated before me wasn’t Broken, but it certainly was broken. It had been another shotgun, once. Originally built for earth pony or pegasus use, the weapon wouldn’t be killing anypony with its barrel and tube magazine missing. I tossed it aside, and continued my search.

I went through several piles before I came to where the armorer, whose name I’d never actually gotten, slept and lived. There was a dishevelled mattress with several half-built pistols laying on it. If he was as big of a fan of mine as he’d claimed, Broken would probably be nearby.

Using my front hooves, I flipped the mattress to check underneath. More weapon parts. That pony had a problem. With no luck at the bed, I started searching more randomly. Pushing over a pile here, overturning a table there.

With a combination of magic and brawn, I pulled an entire rack of assault rifles completely off the wall, hurling it across the room in a fit of rage. The rack smashed into a pile of splinters against a panel, and a light came on with a quiet click. The light revealed a shop table tucked into the back of the room, an oil stained sheet hiding its contents. Promising.

Making my way through the heaps of scrap and weapons, I came to the table. Gripping a corner of the cloth, I yanked it off the table and out of the way.


Amidst an assortment higher quality weapons, some stripped down for service or cleaning, lay my shotgun. Broken looked just good as the day I’d woken up in that field. Picking it up with my magic, I checked it for any tampering or damage, briefly alarmed at the tools and metal scraps scattered around my old friend.

Immaculate. Good old Broken. Also laying on the counter was the holster that had accompanied my shotgun and I through thick and thin. I slipped it on and holstered the weapon in its home.

I felt better. More complete. I didn’t have much ammo, but if magazine meant what I thought it did, then there would be plenty just next door. I’d make sure that I had enough shells to get the job done. Then I could kill Hate.

As I threaded my way back through the room, I noticed something, or more a lack of something. It was quiet. The barrage of explosions had ceased. Whatever that meant, it probably wasn’t good for me.

Us. For us.

I picked up the pace.

Before I reached the door, I could hear shouting in the hallway. It sounded strangely familiar, and I surged forward. I didn’t even slow to open the door, rearing up and slamming it completely off of its hinges. I landed in the hallway on top of the door. Broken flew out of its sheath at my will, spinning in a magical glow to aim forward.

I was staring down the many barrels of a minigun. I recognized that minigun, but I’d last seen it on a shelf in Traffic’s shop. I thought that it had been destroyed. The pony wielding it on a battle saddle had a surprised look on her face.

“Ripple? Where...?” Ivory took a step back, turning the minigun away from my face and releasing the bit from her mouth. Behind her, Fluster smiled and nodded, which was as good as a cheer from the reserved mare.

“Ivory? What...?” I found myself just as articulate as the pale pony in the heavy armor. With proof that I hadn’t dreamt Fluster’s visit, I knew that Ivory was in town, but with the attack I had sort of expected her to kill Wires and get out of Neighwhere.

“Not now. The fucker’s cornered, and I’m ending this.” Taking the bit back in her mouth, she turned and hurried into the magazine. Fluster and I watched her go, and then the robed mare followed her friend through the large metal doorway. I smiled, following suit. My vengeance could wait another minute if it meant I had friends at my side.

Also, gotta love that view. Something to look at before we die.

Shut up.

The inside of the magazine was much like the room next door, just much more organized. Racks of what appeared to be fully functioning weapons were spread through the room, intermixed with lockers and stacks of crates.

Curled up in one corner, whimpering like a foal, was Crossed Wires. The scrawny buck looked a little more beaten than he had in Blank, but the blood trail and pool from the wound in his side was new. Ivory stalked towards him, her steps dropping in the quiet like the ringing of a bell. A death bell.

She’s sexier when she’s mad.

“Oh... h-h-h-hey Ivory. Long time no s-s-s-see.”

“Don’t you open your filthy mouth!” Ivory screamed, looming over the cowering buck. Wires was naked and unarmed. No armor, no weapons, and no hope.

Fucker needs to die. He hurt us.

This was Ivory’s deal. Wires had betrayed me as well, but not to the same extent. I’d lost my teammate of a single day. She had lost her brother, the most important pony in her world. Two Kick and I agreed on this. I stood by calmly, not wanting to deny Ivory the vengeance she sought.

“Was it worth it? Killing my brother?!” Ivory barked around the minigun bit, yelling through clenched teeth. The minigun spun up, its firing delay a gruesome mechanical counterpoint to the immediate punch of her words. The weapon fired a tight burst, carving off Wire’s leg in a spray of blood and metal as the bullets ripped through the doomed pony into the decaying structure underneath.

Wires screamed in pain as the severed limb flopped to the ground, twitching as his freshly made stump spurted blood.

I love this mare.

“You sold us out! Tried to kill us! For what?! So you could be beaten, used, and mistreated?” Stepping forward, she stamped down on his bleeding stump, ripping another scream from him that cut short as he fainted.

Ivory snatched a healing potion out of her saddlebag, smashing the top against a table with a jerk of her head. She jammed the broken container into the hole in his side, emptying the contents directly into his chest cavity. As the healing magic pumped into him, he jolted back to consciousness. Ivory, to her credit, didn’t give the sobbing wreck of a pony another kick. Levelling her eyes with his, she hissed out her question again. “Was it worth it?”

Sobbing gave his stutter very little help, and it took him a good amount of time to get out his answer. “No.”

I had warned him that becoming a Paragon wasn’t as easy as he had made it out to be. Every time I’d seen him since, he had been in worse condition. He’d been beaten, abused, and lost everything he had owned. He had suffered for his actions, and that suffering was about to come to an end.

Ivory bit down on the firing mechanism. The weapon spun just long enough for Wires to realize that he was finished. The coward pony closed his eyes and threw his remaining foreleg up to protect his face just as the minigun fired. The first rounds destroyed his leg and head, an explosion of meat, brains, and bone. As Ivory pulled the stream of bullets down his body, Wires disintegrated. Blood and viscera sprayed in every direction. When Ivory stopped firing, Wires was messily sawed in half. The wall was deeply cratered, spent brass and chunks of pony floating in a pool of crimson liquid. Ivory was just as liberally coated in blood and gore.

Turning, her face ran red with Wires’ blood, her breath coming in heavy pants. “Okay... hey Rip. What’s going on?”


I caught the pale mare up to speed with what had happened since I’d last seen her, ripping through the magazine as we talked. I filled Broken, my hoofguns, and the few pockets I had with shells. I missed the space of my saddle bags. I even missed the satchel I had thrown through the fire before I’d been captured, though that had been unavoidable.

“So everyone’s fine?” Fluster had been following me, stuffing supplies into her own bags. She was being much less discriminating than I was, choosing anything that she deemed to be of sufficient value. The life of a scavenger was not for me. I couldn’t have lived with that loose of a focus.

“Yeah. Last I saw them, Shade was doing fine. Ash and Viola led her and the rest through the tunnels.” I didn’t mention that Traffic was still unaccounted for, a fact I had realized while I’d had time to think in my cell. There had been too many deaths and uncertainties in that attack.

Fluster’s eyes lit up and she flashed the grin I’d not seen in some time. “Viola was with you? I always liked her.”

“Same here.” Ivory was off to one side, cleaning her face with a rag. With the amount of blood coating her, I doubted that she would be back to her normal color anytime soon.

Hate. Don’t forget about Hate. You’re wasting your fucking time. My time. Get a fucking move on!

Two Kick was right. I didn’t have time to sit around and reminisce. I turned towards the door, slapping Broken back into its sheath as I did so. “I suggest you get out of Neighwhere. I’m pretty sure things are about to go completely to shit.”

“And what? Leave you here to die?” Ivory asked, having abandoned the blood soaked rag and her cleaning efforts. She would need one of Crimson Knife’s scrubbing showers to do what she wanted. I was about to suggest that she get to Underhoof when she continued.

“That’s not happening. I got Wires, but I still want to see Hate dead. You’re not getting rid of me that easily.” Pushing past me, she blocked my path and jabbed me in the chest with a hoof for emphasis. I nodded, letting the first real smile I’d had since I got here settle on my face. Ivory and Fluster would be so much help here. With their assistance, I could get into parts of Neighwhere that would have been suicide attacks solo.

“Fine. I won’t stop you if you want to come with, but we need to hurry.” The girls both nodded, and off we went. Making our way out of the magazine, we took off towards the Stable. With the rest of Neighwhere being blown to rubble by the Steel Rangers, that’s where Hate would have gone. The Stable was built to survive weapons designed to burn the world. It would just ignore the puny attacks thrown at it so far.

The silence following the rockets had given way to the more typical rumble of combat. Gunfire and screams echoed all around us, some even coming from underground. I had my theories on what was going on, and none of them painted a pleasant picture of the future of Neighwhere.

I took the first staircase out of the Arena tunnels. It dumped us into the streets of Neighwhere, in a grimy back alley. The immediate surrounding were familiar, and it was only a couple of turns before we stood before the building I had once called home. In my head, I pictured the rotting corpse in my closet.

We weren’t going into my room. I didn’t want the girls to see that part of my past.

Ah, why not? There’s a bed. A good bed, broken in. Can hold three easy.

“You know where we’re going, Kick?” Ivory had followed me around every turn, and it must have looked like I was lost. She’d been in town longer than I had, and had had free run as far as I knew. She could very well know this place better than me, right now.

“Yeah. I used to live here, I know the way.” The look in her eyes was skeptical, but she followed along anyways. Fluster was shadowing us, silent and unremarkable as always. It was comforting, seeing the drab cloaked figure out of the corner of my eye.

Cutting through the building, I walked past my door. It was still shut and locked, and didn’t look like anypony had managed to get it open since I’d been there. I had left two corpses rotting in the middle of the room; it was not someplace I wanted to go back to.

We were halfway through the building when the tremor hit. The hallway lurched to the left, throwing the three of us to the cluttered ground as dust sifted from the ceiling.

“What was that?” Ivory asked, just before the building shifted again. This time the whole floor tilted, accompanied by the sound of collapsing building. Something had given way, somewhere, and the building was coming down. I hadn’t heard any more rockets, so I figured that another building was collapsing into this one like dominos. Some colossal act of masonry vengeance.

Words would have been wasting time. We were running full out, heading for the opposite side of the building. The hallway had begun tilting dangerously to the side, the floors above collapsing the walls holding them up. If we stayed, we’d be pony paste.

The doorway to safety was warping as we neared it, the weight of the building turning the metal frame into putty. I made it through, followed by Ivory. The doorway slumped rapidly then, and Fluster barely managed to squeeze through before it gave, the building collapsing into a shapeless mound of rubble.

“Fuck!” Ivory’s statement was apt. We could now see what had taken down the building.

I’d seen robots before, but never any of that size. Four heavily armored legs held its bulk up with hydraulics and wires. It carried itself more like a lizard than a pony, and it could have looked through the second story window on a building. Its head bristled with weaponry and wicked looking spikes, but it hadn’t used any of them to push the building over. It had demolished a path into Neighwhere, and this building had just happened to get in its way.

In rough paint on its head was a symbol similar to one I’d seen in Orchard. A sword and gears overlayed on a tree. I’d only guessed that it had been the Steel Rangers pushing this attack, and now I had definitive proof. I hadn’t seen anything like this when I’d been in that warehouse, but it made sense that there hadn’t been only one depot of wartime killer robots lurking in a compound primarily used to make weapons. If I’d known this had been there, I would have destroyed more indiscriminately while I’d had the chance.

You slip up, and my whole fucking place gets bulldozed. Way to go.


Its head shifted until it was staring down at us over the collapsed building. As the dust cleared, I could see a red light set into its “face”. A second red light snapped on, a beam that focused on my chest. For a second, I feared that I was being disintegrated, but then I realized it was a targeting laser.

“Move. MOVE!” I pushed Ivory to get going, and we started running. A hissing whine led up to a flash of green light. Looking over my shoulder, the area where we had stood was now a smoking crater of cooling glass. Fluster was keeping up, a look of panic on her face. It was understandable. I was sure that I wore the same look.

Ivory was leading the way, and she almost fell into a stairway leading down. At the last second, she kicked off and sailed back into the underground maze of Neighwhere. Fluster and I followed with haste, and I missed the jump. Tripping up after the first few steps, I tumbled the rest of the way. It hurt, but it didn’t compare to being dragged. Fluster appeared next to me, unfazed, as though she had just teleported down the stairs.

The ground shook as the massive robot took a few steps, and its head loomed into view at the top of the staircase. We ran before that red beam snapped into existence. Our flight was already some distance into the security of the tunnels when the flash of green hit.

Once we were in the clear, we collapsed against a wall to catch our breaths. “That was some pretty heavy hardware... who the fuck was that?” Ivory was panting, the minigun and ammo strapped to her already bulky armor a significant burden.

“Rangers.” One word was all I had the time for. Broken Arrow would only complicate things further, which I didn’t need. I had hoped for a straightforward pursuit of Hate, but I really should have learned to expect shit to hit the fan. It always did.

“Fuckers.” Ivory snarled the word. She’d spent her entire time with them locked in a cell next to that pegasus scavenger. Cushy compared to what I’d gone through, but still not a fond memory for her.

“So where now?” Fluster asked quietly back at us, waiting further down the hall. Down here, the sounds of killing from up above were greatly muffled, and Fluster’s whispered voice carried easily.

Walking towards her, I started looking further down the hall. I didn’t recognize it, but if I was right then the Stable was... This way. “We keep going to the Stable.”

“Could you let me out first?” I snapped Broken out, aiming it at the voice. I stood next to a heavy metal cell door, much thicker than the one I’d spent a few days behind. There were a pair of golden eyes showing through the small space in the door used to put food in. Those eyes were looking at me hungrily; a look I’d seen before.

I lowered the weapon only slightly. I only knew the owner of those eyes by reputation, from his brother, and one fight I’d witnessed in the Arena..


“You’re Two Kick. Fallen warrior, returned on a quest of vengeance.” He growled as he spoke, like every word was a threat. His words were a lot more poetic than I’d expected though.

“Uh... yeah.” I didn’t know how to respond to that. I glanced over at Ivory, who had her eyes narrowed at the door cautiously.

“I know you have no reason to trust me. You don’t know me from any other monster. But if you would let me out, I would make it worth your while.” I was already thinking about letting him out, I was his brothers friend after all. Freeing Cutter would deprive Hate of a trophy, and would lift a weight from Ashred’s shoulders.

“I’ve heard about you. You eat ponies like us.” Ivory’s voice was low, and just a little scared. My eyes widened, and I glanced at her for confirmation. Dipping her head in a tiny nod, she kept her weapon trained on the thick metal door.

I’ve eaten ponies like you.

I twitched my head at that. Didn’t want to know that little bit of information.

“He’s Ash’s brother.” I whispered from the corner of my mouth. Ivory tried saying something in response, but it stuck in her throat. She mouthed some words, not really finding what she was looking for.

After a few seconds of apparently working it over in her head, she lowered the barrels of her weapon just slightly, and gave me a concessionary nod. “Okay, I’m sold.”

Turning to the robed mare standing further down the hall, she indicated the door with a small twitch of her head. “Fluster, would you mind?”

Fluster started, she’d been staring at the predatory eyes visible through the slot. “Uh... yeah. Yeah, I can do that.” Rummaging in her robe with her mouth, she produced a small piece of metal and a screwdriver. Approaching the door, she started into the lock. I’d never really thought of what a feat it was to manipulate a lock without magic, but as she went at it I couldn’t help but be impressed.

With a click, the substantial lock popped open, and Fluster stepped back. Gripping with my magic, I pulled on the heavy metal. The door was heavier than I expected, and I strained to open it. The hinges squealed in protest, but the door ground open regardless.

The heavily muscled griffin was just inside the cell, which I now saw was a tiny space, more like a closet than a cell. No room to do anything but wait for the door to open. He was strapped to the wall with heavy shackles, only his head free to move. The bomb collar around his neck had company, as two similar devices were strapped around his arms. They were taking no chances with him, and I felt a surprising flash of jealousy. I hadn’t warranted that much security.

Fucking right. They should have been terrified of us... I’m with you there.

Looking up at those hungry eyes, I started having second thoughts. He wasn’t looking at me like I was his savior. He was looking at me like I was an entree. Nowhere in my plan did “get eaten by a griffin” come into play.

“Cutter... I’ve actually been looking for you.” I knew that he had heard me say Ash’s name. He had to have, his kind had excellent hearing. He tilted his head to the side in a very familiar manner. Ash did the same thing when listening. “Your brother came here looking for you... but I sent him away to protect somepony I love. Ash was convinced you were still alive.”

“The brother that left me to die? Who saved his own feathered hide and left me in this den of evil?” That didn’t fill me with confidence that letting him out was a good thing.

“I’ll deal with him when I find him. If you let me loose, however, I swear on the feathers of my ancestors that I won’t attack you.” I wasn’t sure if that was actually a saying. I’d never heard Ash say it. Judging an entire species by one member probably wasn’t too reliable though; the only zebra I’d met was great, despite having heard nothing but negatives.

“Fluster, could you deactivate his collars?” The robed pegasus nodded and went to work, starting with his neck collar. Even as she worked on the neck collar, I could tell that she was staying as far away from that lethal beak as she could. I didn’t blame her.

Always wanted one of those. Could take a face or head clean fuckin’ off with that. One bite, Snap! all over. Messy. Love it..

As she worked, I rubbed absently at the disarmed explosive around my own neck. It was chafing after so many days tightly wrapped around my neck, but I luckily I couldn’t feel enough of it to bother me. Not being able to feel entire sections of my body came in handy at times.

“There. You shouldn’t blow up now.” Fluster backed away from the shackled griffin, who was grinning down at her with a hungry look.

“Thank you, my little pony.” Cutter said, twitching his head towards one of his shackled limbs. “Now would you mind freeing me from my physical restraints, since you’ve already released me from the implied ones?”

Fluster glared at the “little pony” comment for a few seconds before glancing to me. “Can’t I just leave him?”

I shook my head. “No, sorry. If he’s free, he can draw attention away from us.”

The griffin grinned, shaking his head. “That’s true. I know of many ponies that deserve retribution. None of you have slighted me, and I’m still a griffin of honor.”

Fluster went about the job of detaching the griffin from the wall. I couldn’t help but notice that she left his arms and their lethal looking talons for last. She didn’t want a predator looming over her while she was occupied.

He could break her neck with a single kick. Right to the throat, separate the spine. Dead, instantly. You should tell her. Come on, it’d be fun to watch her squirm.

When the last shackle came free, Cutter stretched, his wickedly equipped arms digging into the ceiling and his chest inflating. Dropped back to all fours, he nodded thanks to Fluster. On his way out, the griffin paused to pat her on the head, gently, as one would a pet. She flinched, pressing away from him as though she were trying to melt into the floor.

“I won’t forget this, you have my word. Should we meet again, I would be more than obliged, I would be pleased to assist in any way that I can. Until then, farewell and thank you.” The overly muscled griffin bowed, a tiny movement of shoulders and head, then turned. As he stalked away from us, the livid scars where his wings had once been were all the more visible.

Watching him go, the three of us stood there for a few seconds. Ivory’s voice broke the relative silence of the underground hall. “I thought the big scary bird was gonna come with us.”

I shrugged. I had as well, but with how he had responded to the subject of his brother I wasn’t entirely sure that bringing him with us would have been a good idea. If the two got into it, there would be casualties. I didn’t want to risk that.

“I guess not. Let’s keep going.” I turned and started trotting towards the Stable. I was now hoping that I didn’t run into any more distractions from my goal. Every second wasted, Hate had a better chance of escaping.

You’re fucking around. Get a move on.

That’s just what I said, asshole.

The tunnel we’d found Cutter in was much less used than the others I’d seen. The cells were empty, though some had been converted into living spaces. From the decorations, I had to assume that it was raiders that were coming in from the wasteland. Gang graffiti, decorations made of pony parts. The usual signs of raider scum, though none of the rooms were occupied.

Most of them had probably been in the Arena when the rockets had hit. That first salvo had killed a lot of ponies, and I had to say that the wasteland was better for it. There were still plenty of survivors though. I could still hear the sounds of battle above, and now and then the more distinct sound of heavier weapons being brought to bear.

I could only hope that the raiders would stay alive long enough to distract the Rangers. At least long enough for us to get to the Stable.

Enough thinking, I had to get walking.



Taking a derelict and rickety metal staircase up, we found ourselves in a very poorly lit room. A snort from across the room had me drawing Broken before I even saw the source. It was a unicorn laying in one corner, staring at the wall. Every couple of seconds, he snorted or huffed, but didn’t make any movement. There were others just like him, scattered about.

Stepping fully into the room, my hoof connected with something that skittered across the floor before ricocheting off of a prone form. I’d kicked a used needle. The ground was littered with empty needles and inhalers.

We’d stumbled into a junky den. Everypony here was probably too stoned to even realize that the town was under attack. As if confirming my thoughts, a spray of automatic fire punched through one wall. The shots struck several of the ponies at random, leaving them to twitch and moan until they bled to death.

We were already on the move, staying low as even more bullets tore into the room. There was a heated battle just outside, and from the booming of a cannon and ratcheting of an automatic weapon, it sounded like at least one Steel Ranger was involved.

A hollow choonk from outside heralded a grenade, and the explosive whipped into the room. I saw it as if in slow motion, the lazily spinning green apple passing into the room in a burst of dust and splinters. The explosive was going to hit a load bearing beam, and instinct had me throwing myself at Fluster. Ivory would probably be okay, she had on heavier armor than I did. I slammed into Fluster’s cloaked form, hearing twin yelps of surprise, pinning her underneath my body as the grenade went off. The explosion came with a deafening bang and a wall of dust as a chunk of the building collapsed on itself and us.

When the dust settled, I picked myself up from the robed mare, apologizing and pulling a long splinter from my flank. We seemed okay, but now the firefight outside was no longer separated from us by a wall. A raider hopped through the collapsed section backwards, an assault rifle held out in his magical grip. He was firing as he went, frantically spraying behind him with bullets.

Then he popped.

He must have taken a grenade to the chest, because he ceased to be a pony in the functioning sense. Liquefied, he splashed the room and us along with it. Ivory let out an offended noise, and and began patting down her armor. I assumed she was hunting for a rag, but the last scrap of cloth I knew of was lying in Wire’s corpse. I looked for Fluster, but the crunch of stone beneath a metal hoof and a blast of mechanically augmented laughter stole my attention.

I knew that it was the Steel Rangers attacking. Their building hating robot has proven it. But, until now, I hadn’t actually seen one. I’d forgotten how intimidating that armor was, and the heavy weapons mounted on the side only added to the look.

Scanning around the room with that blank green gaze, he chuckled to himself. The modulated sound bounced through the room, a horrible noise. There was a stoned pony near him, partially covered in rubble. The pony was dead already, coughing his last around a spear of rebar. That wasn’t good enough for the Steel Ranger, though. With a whine of servos, he walked over the junkie’s neck. Meat and bone alike flattened under his tread, killing the pony instantly.

“Heh, like a bug.” I didn’t recognize the voice, but I only knew a few of them in any real way. I was aiming Broken at him, and Ivory’s minigun was already spinning up when he decided we were his next targets. “Oh look, more bugs.”

Ivory’s minigun sounded like a sheet being torn in half, just like when Sweeps had been using it on me. Unlike my hide though, the Ranger’s armor shrugged off the storm of lead. His nigh-invulnerability set him off chuckling again, and he braced himself. As he aimed, I could see down the barrel of the grenade launcher, could imagine the lethal munition inside readying itself to kill me.

He fired, and I only barely avoided the shot. It slammed into the wall at the far end of the room, destroying it in another blast of dust and shrapnel. I took my chance to run as he cycled another shot into the big gun, finding that Ivory had bolted as soon as he’d aimed.

Once we had a thick wall between us and him, I began digging through my pockets. Anything other than buckshot. I needed a slug, or flechette, or anything other than buckshot. Nothing.

“Ivory, anything?!” I shouted at her over the din of the fight outside.

She shook her head frantically. “I’ve only got hollow points!”

So we had nothing that could actually hurt the metal pony calmly hunting us, like it was a game. I swore, looking inwardly for any advice.

You could try kicking him.

Like I’d really get the chance. Thanks for nothing.

The wall between the two of us burst in a spray of wood and plaster, the Steel Ranger charging through. I really hated any pony that came through a wall to get me, they were never easy to deal with.

He was actually giggling now, spinning up his own miniguns to rip us apart at close range, when the brown robed figure sprang onto his back from behind. A long scalpel in her teeth, likely the same one she’d cut Doc Care with, Fluster landed well forward on the Steel Ranger’s back. Stretching around with her wicked little blade, Fluster stabbed the Ranger in the throat. The steel found a gap in the protective layers, and Fluster pulled back with all her might. The razor edge dug a line of red through undersuit and flesh. Bright red blood sprayed from the wound, and she hopped off of his back with the blade clenched firmly in her teeth.

The minigun began firing, but he was too surprised by the sudden injury to aim properly. The stream of fire pitched into the floor between me and Ivory as he crumpled. I’d seen a wound like that before, and while he didn’t have long to live, it was long enough to kill both of us.

Hopping forward, I spun and delivered a two-hooved kick into the side of his head. I felt the sting of buckshot in my flanks as it ricocheted off that damned armor, but the blast was still sufficient to knock him over. The minigun growled in mechanical fury as it dug into the floor, unable to fire.

All that metal made getting back up difficult, and we took cover just in case he got a lucky shot off while trying. In a very short time, his attempts began getting weaker and weaker, the blood loss finally getting the best of him.

When he’d stopped moving, Fluster reappeared at his side, cooing at a small leafy muzzle jutting from one of her pouches. I kept forgetting about the timberwolf pup, and was glad to see that I hadn’t hurt it when I’d crashed into the two of them.

Ivory and I approached the dead Ranger, our jaws hanging open. “Fluster... wow.” Ivory was the best at putting the situation into words, and I knew that I couldn’t really think of anything that fit the situation more.

Looking up at us, Fluster let the little timberwolf disappear back into its home. The grin on her face was tiny, but it went all the way to her eyes. “I noticed the gap while he was shooting at you. Simple, really. Now help me with the helmet.” She dipped her head and began fumbling at what I saw were a series of metal clasps around the base of the armored head covering.

I gripped the clasps with my magic, popping them open. She stopped her attempts when I got the first one off, and in short order she was helping me pull the entire helmet off of his head.

“Why are we doing this?” I thought she maybe wanted a trophy, or even the salvage that she could get off of a suit of power armor. Honestly, though, I didn’t know how she was going to transport it. I was strong, but we were in no position to drag around a piece of armor the size and weight of a pony.

“They have to be communicating, right? I just want the headset.” As she dug into the helmet with her own head, I got a sight of the dead Ranger. He was a light tannish earth pony, with a short red brush of mane. The lighter highlights in his mane made it look like a flame. I was struck again how surprising it was that these terrifying Steel Rangers looked just like everypony else without their armor. They weren’t as super-equine as they liked to put forward, they bled and died just like everypony else.

Fluster pulled her head back out of the helmet, a thin black wire connected to a small box dangling from her teeth. There was a curved piece of metal attached to it, and she tucked it up under her hood.

“Perfect.” The robed mare smiled, then tilted her head to the side as though listening to something. “They’re still looking for the Stable, though they’re having trouble with some griffins.”

Fraya and her crew. I’d expected them to clear out with the attack, if they’d survived the rockets at all. Apparently they had, and the heavily armed Talons were fighting back against the Rangers. I guessed that it was a good thing that not every creature in the Arena had been killed, it made dealing with the attacking force that much easier.

“Okay, then we need to get to the Stable first. Hate will be there. Fluster, can you keep us updated on the Rangers?” I had stopped viewing Fluster as helpless. I never should have in the first place. She’d helped me kill Holepunch after all. With the headset, she gave us a valuable resource into avoiding the Rangers and their apparent purge of the town.

“Yeah, no problem.” She was still trying to find anything she could reasonably salvage off of the bulk of the armored pony, but seemed to be failing. That armor really was self sufficient, and it almost seemed like cheating in the wasteland to have anything that kept you alive that well.

“So let's get going before his friends come looking for him.” Ivory had been trying to strip the ammo out of his minigun, but was also failing. Her ammo was belted five millimeter, his was something different entirely, a block ammunition of some kind..

I nodded, and the three of us made our way back into the main room and through the gaping hole in the building. Outside, we encountered the group of raiders that the Ranger had been fighting. It was hard to tell how many there had been; that Ranger had been really fond of hitting ponies with high explosives. There were chunks of pony and splashes of blood everywhere. Hurrying through the cratered street, we did our best to get away from the location and to the Stable before the Rangers could get there.

As we hurried, I kept hoping to not run into any more distractions. Raiders, Rangers, figments of my past suddenly appearing for vengeance, anything was an option. With my luck, I kept expecting the worst.

The luck of the girls must have overridden mine, because soon I saw the building that contained the entrance to the Stable. There were no guards. Not a single pony in sight. If it weren’t for the noise of war, one would almost think that nothing was happening.

I led the way, hurrying down the stairs that I had previously been dragged both down and up by that sadistic asshole. I grinned at the thought of his decapitated head, laying there with a look of surprise.

Of course, though, the Stable door was closed.

The panel to the side had been smashed, effectively locking it from any regular means of opening. “Fuck!” I yelled at the door in frustration. “Fluster! Do whatever you can, we’ll buy you time.” The robed mare looked at the control panel warily, eying the wires spilling past the destroyed metal. She nodded, and set to work.

If she didn’t get it open, we’d have to leave Neighwhere. Maybe head along the mountain until we found where the tunnel I’d sent Ash and the others down came out. Find the others... and I didn’t really know what past then. If Hate had locked himself in the Stable, then there really wasn’t any hope of getting at him. They were meant to stop the strongest weapons ever conceived. Nothing I could do would even scratch that giant metal cog-shaped deterrent.

Hurrying back up the stairs, Ivory and I took cover in the building looking out into the street. “What do we do if she can’t open it?” The pale mare’s voice sounded confused, as though she hadn’t really thought ahead either.

I shrugged, keeping my eyes aimed down Broken’s length. “I guess... we leave. Meet up with the others, go on with our lives...”

“You’ll just give up on Hate? I doubt that.” She said, voicing the inner dialogue I’d just had. It was annoying.

“Well what the fuck can we really do? If he’s in there, he’s in there. We’re out here.”

A raider stumbled into the street, bleeding from multiple wounds and heading straight for us. Part of me knew him, knew that he was a Stable dweller just like I had been. It didn’t really matter now. I fired. He hadn’t even seen me, and the buckshot took him full in the face. The raider was dead before he’d even hit the ground.

“So we can either die here trying to get through the door, or we can leave?” Ivory sounded defeated. I knew just how she felt. This was not going well.

“Pretty much.”

You’re giving up far too fucking easily. Maybe that giant robot. The Steel fucks have to have something to get through the door. Find it, take it from them, and use it.

I screamed in frustration as Two Kick jinxed us. Down the street, a building collapsed as a huge metal shape tore its way through. The metal behemoth that had destroyed my old apartment made its way into the street, its head tracking back and forth as it looked for targets.

“Oh crap!” Ivory started firing down the street as soon as it locked onto us, trading its sweeping search for a determined lope.

“Fluster. Fluster! We need to go!” I yelled over my shoulder, down the stairs.

“Gimme just a few more seconds!” Her soft voice drifted back up, barely discernable over the sound of Ivory’s sustained barrage.

I didn’t fire, honestly not seeing a point. The street in front of us was too wide, I doubted that we’d be able to make it to cover before the lethal weapons planted in the thing's face turned us into radioactive goo. As it got closer and closer, I watched our window of escape shrink. Maybe I could hijack it somehow... get on top of it and see what I could do.

Now if only I could fly, or had any idea what I was doing with robots. I turned my focus inward. I was desperate enough that even Two Kick was a valid source of help.

What the fuck is that?


A high pitched whine filled the air. I threw myself away from the wall as a shot of lethal green light tore the wall apart. Chunks of rubble melted by the blast rained down, green glowing splatters of base elements. I mostly avoided those, yelling profanities at the beast.

It locked that red laser onto me, and I gave up. Raising Broken to attack, I charged headlong. I was about to die. I was nowhere near cover, now that much of the building was gone. Time to do as much damage as I could before I fell.

A blast of pressure knocked me flying. I landed on a shoulder, a foul stench of melted stone blowing over me. As I forced myself back to my hooves, I saw my unexpected savior. The metal monster had missed because there was now a large, wingless griffin attached to its face. Cutter had used his weight to pull the machine off of its aim, and it had shifted its attention to the opponent attacking its face with a metal axe.

Hacking at its optics, Cutter managed to rend through the glass and get at the fragile machinery within. Reaching through the hole he had opened, he gripped something and tore a bundle of parts and wires out with a roar. The machine reeled, as though in pain, and whipped its head violently back and forth.

Cutter let go, arcing through the air and gracefully landing on the roof of a nearby building. The machine had lost track of everything now that it couldn’t see, and it had begun rampaging randomly. It probably still meant to kill us, it just couldn’t see us and was hoping to crush us beneath its bulk.

It was acting like a creature, not like a robot. That gave me pause, but just for a few seconds. The other Rangers had begun showing up. A rocket streaked through the air, exploding against the far wall behind me. Ivory was firing, probably hoping to hit the small chink in the armor of the impervious metal ponies approaching us.

Cutter sailed through the air, landing next to me. “Do you have a plan, or was my valiant rescue in vain?”

I was about to explain to him how screwed we were when a shout of victory from down the stairs was cut off by a loud squealing sound. Fluster had the door open.

“We get inside!” I yelled in the griffin’s face, shutting my mouth when I realized how close he was. He started back, but Ivory heard, and her fire slackened and ceased. The three of us pelted towards the ruins of the building that held the Stable door.

Rushing down the stairs, the three of us found the door wide open, a triumphant Fluster just inside. “Great job! Can you close it?” Ivory yelled joyfully as she bounded down the stairs, taking several steps at a time.

Fluster shrugged, and turned towards the inner console.

From the top of the stairs, a whirring sound came just before a stream of bullets ripped down and through the opening. Fluster jumped to the side, avoiding the spray of death. The console, however, was ripped to shreds as armor piercing rounds scythed into it. Once that had been accomplished, the Ranger at the top of the stairs turned his aim on those of us rushing down.

Ivory made it through, but both Cutter and I took a few hits. The shots passed clean through one of my front shoulders, an echo of pain flaring through my system. It suddenly became a lot harder to move.

Cutter was only grazed, a few flesh wounds and a talon blown off. He bellowed in rage, but we both managed to get through the open door.

Inside, Fluster was already waiting past an open door, gesturing for us. She moved fast, I had to give her that. The three of us ran as fast as we could, clearing the opening before Fluster pressed a button and it slammed shut. Pressing several more, a light above the door went from green to red.

A slam on the other side of the door a few seconds later told us that there was at least one Ranger now in the Stable with us. We had to move quick, before they got through the door. I knew that they liked to keep technology intact, but that wasn’t going to help the ponies that could stand between it and them. Namely, us.

“Where do we go now?” Fluster and Ivory asked in unison, looking to the Stable dweller amongst us for guidance. That was me. Off the top of my head, I knew how to get to the Atrium. That was better than nothing, I supposed.

Cutter followed the three of us, growling and clutching his shredded digit. We hurried, and I did my best to recall the path that I had been dragged through.

The Stable was empty. I had thought for sure that more ponies would have come here as soon as Neighwhere was attacked, but I didn’t see any of them. I knew that very few still lived inside, but for there to be nopony around meant that Hate had basically rushed here and sealed the door. This was Paragon territory, and apparently nopony had thought to even try to get in once it had been closed. There had been nopony outside.

Ahead, I spotted the Atrium sign over a door, and smiled. Even if it didn’t help, I at least had known how to get here. I hit the door button with a hoof, and it slid open. I had hoped for Hate to be standing there, ready for our final confrontation, but I was sorely disappointed.

I rushed into the empty room, looking for anypony. Cinder’s bathtub sat to one side, empty apart from the non-flammable chemicals. Assorted furniture sat unoccupied, and the collection of alcohol lay undisturbed.

Hate wasn’t there. Had we just boxed ourselves in with the Rangers, or was he somewhere else?

A flash of movement must have caught Cutter’s eyes, because he jutted the stump of his index talon at a window higher up on the wall. I followed the brief spray of blood, and saw Epiphany looking down at us. His eyes opened wide as my gaze met his, and he quickly vacated the window.

Ivory started running. “Overstallion’s Office!” I didn’t know how she knew what that room was. However, a sign over one of the other doors, the one Hate had entered the atrium through earlier, bore that title. It made sense. Crackerjack was the Overstallion, and Hate had kept the position after his name change.

I followed. The four of us got to the door at the same time, but found it locked. Fluster pried open a panel to the side of the door with practiced ease, and quickly stripped two wires. Pressing them together, there was a spark and the door slid open. I realized that if it was really that easy, the Rangers were very likely already through the door we’d stopped them at.

Rushing up the stairs, we came to another door. Not locked, this one slid open obediently at our approach. In the Overstallion’s office, I knew that it had been too much to hope for to find my target. Even Epiphany had gone elsewhere. The ornate office was as empty as the rest of the Stable..

I trotted to Hate’s massive curved desk, looming in the center of the office. Examining the assorted screens on the desk and wall, I could get a good picture of the inside of the stable. The security cameras showed six Rangers with their oversized implements of death, systematically checking every room between the front door and the Atrium. We didn’t have much time.

Where had Epiphany gone?

“A door! Find it, there has to be one! He couldn’t have just disappeared.” I said it with haste, already beginning to search myself. Around the room, Cutter, Ivory, and Fluster joined, tossing the room quickly and thoroughly. Ivory began searching a bookcase, Fluster took to the console on the desk, and the griffin threw a metal bedframe against the wall.

I started feeling along the wall, looking for a crack or any sign that there was a door. I had no leads, no instinct, not even Two Kick knew where Epiphany had gone. He’d been chattering in my head about not spending much time up here, but I was ignoring him. His sniveling about Hate getting away wasn’t helping in the slightest.

Fuck you.

As I searched, I didn’t noticed the haze of white moving in on the edges of my vision until the voice snuck into my head. It was faint, but I went cold as soon as I heard it.

“Hello, my messy pony.”

Pandemonium. He was near... or at least an unshielded cube was near. Epiphany had the cube, and was apparently still near enough for the Draconequus to communicate with me. I just had no idea where either were.

“The desk. Check the desk.”

I nodded at the voice, painfully aware that I was the only one that could hear it. I hated that voice. Voices in my head, and I couldn’t even talk back without looking like a madpony. The others continued their search, but I approached where Fluster was still reading whatever she could find on the console.

“Excuse me for a second.” I pushed past her, and began looking at the desk itself instead of the console where Fluster had focused most of her attention.

There. Beneath the desk, there were a pair small buttons. Looking closer, I saw that they were plainly labelled OPEN and CLOSE. I tapped open with a hoof.

The wall where I had first looked popped out just enough for there to be a clearly defined seam. It swung on well greased hinges, not making the slightest sound. Past the door was a long hallway, leading further into the mountain.

Now I knew where Epiphany had gone. I’d have to thank Pandemonium, who was now apparently out of range. I couldn’t hear him anymore, and the white edges had left my world.

The secret door had been so quiet, that Cutter and Ivory were still tearing the room apart in their search. Fluster was already peering into the opening. I barked at the two, pulling them from their preoccupations. “Hey!”

They turned as one, grins crossing their faces as they saw the now open portal. Cutter dropped a dresser he had been tearing apart in a clatter of wood scraps and broken drawers, while Ivory stopped pulling magazines off of a shelf.

As they filed past into the secret passage, I checked the security cameras to see how we were faring. The Rangers were nearly in the Atrium. Maybe a minute before we would have unwelcome company. I slipped into the hall, finding that Fluster was again waiting with her hoof on a button. She seemed to like doing that. The door hissed shut behind me, and I couldn’t help but grin.

Let the Rangers figure that one out.


The hall was long, well lit, and completely unadorned. Just polished steel running into the distance. I could see a door at the far end. We trotted at a rapid pace, or at least as fast as I could move. My shoulder, even if it didn’t exactly ‘hurt’, it didn’t seem like it was working properly. There was a popping feeling with every step, something that I could feel reverberate through my body.

As I walked, I worked a healing bandage around the area, hoping to at least cut off the blood flow. Now that we’d bought a little time from the pursuing Rangers, I had that chance.

“So, I asked before, and I’ll ask again. Do we have a plan?” Cutter didn’t seem as willing to rush into things as his brother had, but the question was very familiar. Ash had asked me the same thing on multiple occasions, always mocking how I had a preference to throw myself into action before thinking it through.

“We catch up, and we kill them. Figure out what to do after.” I shrugged as I laid out my current plan, Ivory nodding along with me. She was better at planning than I was, and if she was agreeing with me I knew that my current plan was solid. Either that, or she’d given up on us living since her primary motivation had been fulfilled.

Though if Hate had run back here, as I hoped he had, then he had to have a plan of escape. Some way of getting out, or he wouldn’t have locked himself into a deathtrap.

The door at the end was a thick door, and I fully expected it to be secured against us. Pushing a hoof against it, I found that it swung freely open, unveiling the room beyond. It was very similar to the entry to the Stable, with only one major difference.

Where at the entry of the Stable there was a massive, secure door designed to keep everything out, here there was a solid looking elevator car. It looked like it was designed to hold dozens of ponies, bringing them down from whatever lay above. Huge blast doors, nearly the equal to the main Stable door, hung open to permit the car to leave. Heavy security glass covered the openings of the elevator.

I fired Broken, however, at the grinning face I saw. Hate was there, staring right at me. The buckshot hit the reinforced glass between us and him, stopping dead on the tough transparency. Ivory opened up as soon as her minigun revved up to full speed, peppering the car with lead to just as little effect.

Nothing. The car was as sturdily built as a Stable itself. Past Hate I saw Epiphany, staring at the cube cradled lovingly in his hooves. “Hurry.” When I heard the voice, I ran forward, slamming the butt of Broken into the glass. Not even a scuff mark.

“Fuck! Come out here and fight like a pony, you coward!” I screamed at Hate, who just returned a deadpan stare. Pressing a hoof onto a console in front of him, his voice boomed through the chamber from speakers on the car, tinny but clear. He sounded annoyed.

“You never could let well enough alone, could you? I should have killed you when you got your cutie mark, now that I think of it. Getting involved... what sort of stupid special skill is that? You just interfere everywhere you’re not needed. I won’t make the mistake of letting you live again. Goodbye Ripple.” He narrowed his eyes as he spoke, clearly long past any playfulness. Even without the Ranger attack, my killing Massacre had made Hate look bad. He wanted me gone.

The door slammed shut behind us, audibly locking as it did so. Hate had just sealed us in.

With a hiss of releasing pressure and a final thunk, massive clamps released the elevator car from their firm grip. It jerked upwards at first before beginning a steady ascent into the shaft. I slammed on it again, Cutter joining in. He was trying to find a place where he could pry his way in, but was just slowly dragged off the ground. The elevator started picking up speed, and I bit onto a corner.

I had to let go when the elevator went fully into the ceiling, dropping a fair distance to the ground. Bouncing when I landed, I fired Broken up at the bottom of the elevator, expending shells as quickly as I could until the blast doors sealed the shaft from us. We’d done nothing to it.

I was still screaming at the ceiling when Cutter started dragging me away. “We have to go, we need to fight another day.”

I heard Ivory’s exclamation of “Oh shit!” That got my attention, and my gaze drifted down from the ceiling. In an alcove that had been covered by the elevator, I saw the bomb. I knew it was a bomb from the timer counting down on top of it. Other than the timer, it was just several large drum barrels and stacks of explosives. I didn’t know much about bombs, but even my ignorance could recognize a whole lot of boom.

Even if the door hadn’t locked, there was nothing at the end of the hallway but a squad of Rangers dead set on killing everyone between them and their prize. We were doomed, even if we could get past the heavily locked door that trapped us in here with the bomb.

“Find a way out!” Ivory yelled, glancing around the room quickly. Fluster was doing the same, and before I could even start, both girls shouted “There!” at the same time.

A hatch on one wall, labelled MAINTENANCE. Both of them were in their element right now, underground and out of time. The Red Dogs had seemed to thrive on that, and Fluster was a scavenger. Fluster was already undoing the screws holding the metal plate in place, while the rest of us waited nervously as our death counted down behind us.

“....And done.” She stepped back, making way for the maintenance hatch to drop into the room. It didn’t budge, and she tried prying it open with the flatheaded tool.

“Move.” Cutter pushed her aside and dug his talons into the edges. Pulling with all of his might, his muscles strained beneath his fur and his feathers puffed out at the effort. Grunting and straining, he started pulling on it in quick tugs. The fierce effort broke his injuries back open, drawing a spurt of blood from his missing talon. He ignored the pain and pulled harder.

With a screech of tearing metal, he ripped the hatch free. Cutter dropped it, unceremoniously letting the metal plate plummet to the ground with a gong-like noise. The maintenance tunnel was cramped, but even in the half-light spread down its length I could tell that it went far. Far enough that we could probably make it past the Rangers and back into the Stable proper, if the time on the bomb permitted.

It was just under two minutes, and I knew that it was probably the exact amount of time that the elevator car needed to get safely away. Knowing what little I did about Hate and Epiphany, it would allow just enough delay for them to escape, and not a second more.

Fluster and Ivory were already heading down the maintenance tunnel as Cutter pulled himself in. His bulky form was just small enough to fit, but he kept hitting his head and shoulders on the edges of the tunnel. I clambered in after him, hoping that we had enough time. I was also hoping that this wasn’t a dead end, and we weren’t funneling ourselves to our deaths.

Hurrying, I hit my horn on ductwork or caught a hoof in loose wires several times, but we made good time. I didn’t know how long we had left, but it wasn’t much. My shoulder popped occasionally, but even the small magic of the healing bandage had helped enough that it didn’t slow me down.

Fluster had stopped up ahead, working on something with her screwdriver. With a pop, she disappeared from view, Ivory giving a shout of alarm. She’d dropped into the room below, and called back up to us. “I’m fine! Hurry!”

I dropped into the room after the others, quickly finding that it was both cramped and pitch black. A jingling from overhead brought about a dim glow, as Cutter’s groping hand found a hanging light. We were in a utility closet of some kind, one that hadn’t been used in some time judging from a thick layer of dust. There was very little room to move, the form of a robotic janitor taking up much of the available space.

Fluster got the door open, and we tumbled out. I recognized where we were immediately, seeing the entry to the Stable through an open door. The Rangers hadn’t closed any doors in their search, and much of the shelter was now open to the outside through the giant front door. Whatever had been in that bomb would sweep through this place without much resistance.

I couldn’t help but feel that this was somehow all according to Hate’s plans.

Probably is. Fucker always thinks way ahead.

I pushed my way out of the closet, nudging Ivory forward with a quick prod of my horn. She startled and surged forward, shooting me an indignant look over her shoulder. “Go, go! We don’t have a lot of time.”

Luckily, we didn’t see any Rangers as we made the frantic dash towards the open door. Cutter made it out first, his predatory physique allowing him to run faster than the rest of us. The sounds of battle still filled the air of Neighwhere, but it was safer than being locked in a Stable with a bomb. I’d take ponies trying to kill me over the indiscriminate promise of death from a bomb any day.

I kept running, piling on as much distance between myself and the open Stable door. The girls were keeping up with me, and Cutter disappeared into a building up ahead. I didn’t know if it was safe enough,and suddenly, it didn’t matter. We were out of time.

A deep rumble filled the air, a shock wave travelling visibly through the ground, throwing dust in its wake. Several of the older buildings nearby began collapsing at the shock, already weakened by the robot’s blind rampage. The air was suddenly filled with dust and debris. I was thrown from my hooves as I ran, sending me sideways to slam into a low brick wall.

A plume of flame and heat rocketed up the stairway. The much abused building that concealed the Stable entrance gave up, exploding into a spray of rock and splinters at this fresh insult. The air filled with shrapnel, and a massive fireball left the stairwell to rise high into the air.

Then it began raining burning debris across Neighwhere. A flaming chunk of what appeared to have been a cabinet bounced off of my side, singing my coat but doing no real damage. As the sky filled with fire, I pulled myself to my hooves and looked around.

Fluster and Ivory were taking shelter in a doorway, the rest of the building collapsed by the robot. Cutter was pulling himself from the building he had rushed to, which was still in mid collapse. It was slowly slumping over, like it was wounded.

Where had Hate gone?

Looking up, past the plume of smoke blotting out much of the mountain, I could only really see until the clouds ever clinging to the peak. I knew Maremack was up there, that military base I’d seen mentioned only in text. The elevator must have led up, providing a fast escape to the military stationed there during the war. Hate had gone up to Maremack, that mysterious fortress above the clouds.

How the fuck was I going to get up there?

Walk? Grow wings? Teleport? Maybe if you tap your hooves together three times.

Fuck off, Two Kick. We’ll have to walk.

A bullet smacked off the wall next to my head from an unseen battle in the dust, and I knew that first we’d have to get out of Neighwhere.

Escape from a war zone. Maybe reconnect with the others that had escaped. Walk to Maremack. Kill Hate.

I was really looking forward to the last step in that plan.

Author's Note:

Much love and thanks to Kkat for creating Fallout Equestria.

Tons of thanks to Wirepony, his help has been indispensable. Editors make the world go 'round.

Ask Ripple some questions, and he'll get back to you, time and duress permitting.