• Published 25th Jan 2012
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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 7: Ivory

Chapter 7: Ivory

I looked frantically to see if there was any sign of Ash or the girls. No bullet casings, no signs of struggle. It was like they’d never been here. I could only think of one place they’d go: back to Underhoof.

Why hadn’t we come up with a meeting place? Note to self: make that a part of all future plans.

Ivory stood in the middle of the room, that cold look still in her eyes. I was sort of surprised that she wasn’t charging across the open killing field to try and get to the traitorous buck that had killed her brother.

I was fairly certain that Wires was already dead, slain by Massacre for coming back empty handed, but I knew better than to assume somepony was dead until I’d seen them with my own eyes.

Like I had been until Wires had likely brought confirmation that I was alive.

Thinking about it though, Cinder had very likely reported back to the Paragons that I was still indeed up and kicking. That removed most of the anonymity I had enjoyed and could only mean future hardship for myself and every creature around me, pony and griffin alike. The Paragons would be really gunning for me, especially after killing one of their own and infiltrating a fortress run by Massacre.

Priority right now was finding my companions. “They’re not here. We gotta go.” Ivory looked at me before glancing at the window, Stadium visible through the holes in the sheet. I got her attention with a stomp. “Forget about it, you wouldn’t stand a chance. Let’s get to Underhoof. It’s safe for now.”

She opened her mouth to protest but I held up a hoof to silence her. “Listen, I know you’re mad. I don’t think Bone Black would want you getting yourself killed without a reason.”

A hoof smacked me across the face. “I know that... it’s just... I’d really prefer it if you not say his name.” Message received. I nodded and titled my head towards the door.

“We should really leave though. We’ve got one gun and a bit of a walk, staying around here in the daytime doesn’t seem like a great idea.” Still, she looked uncertain. “Okay, when we get to Underhoof I’ll help you out. I want that little shit dead, not as much as I’m sure you do, but I’d like to see him die.” Wires had betrayed both of us, but his betrayal of her was so much deeper than mine.

Letting out a long breath, the pale mare nodded. “Okay... you’re right. I’m not ready for this.” Glancing at Stadium sidelong, I saw her mouth the word “Soon.” Shortly after, we were back on the street and heading towards Underhoof, it’s location conveniently floating in my E.F.S. Once I had figured out how to set it. Finding the one specific door would have been nearly impossible without my map, everything in Hornsmith looked exactly the same.

I noticed quickly that Ivory was squinting constantly and avoided looking up. Not having goggles was really bothering her; who knew how long she had gone without seeing any real light? Luckily, the constant cloud cover cut down on the natural ambient light of the sun, which I had never really seen from what I knew, but assumed that it was rather brilliant. Perhaps I’d see it one day.

The streets were blissfully empty as we hurried down them towards the distant door and the promise of relative safety. I had all of six bullets in the revolver and enough for two reloads in the belt holding it. I was not that great of a shot, even with the magical assistance provided by the S.A.T.S. spell located in my PipBuck. If we encountered hostility, I’d probably be better off using my hooves to beat my enemies to death. I wondered briefly how well Ivory would handle a gun but thought better of it. I didn’t know the pale mare well enough to give her that kind of trust.

“So... you’re Two Kick Rip?”

Fuck. Knew that was coming sooner or later. I’d been working it over in my head, what I would say to this pony who’s life and home were changed forever when I’d first come into it, however long ago that had been.

“Yes... I was. It’s complicated.” I hoped that that would be enough. The decision had been made that putting my past behind me was not even an option anymore. I’d hurt countless ponies in the years I’d torn a bloody path through the Hornsmith region and I was going to have to apologize to or fight every pony that had been effected. It was the curse I now walked with.

Just kill anyone who questions you. It worked before, it’ll work now.

Glancing to the side, I saw that look in Ivory’s eyes again. This wasn’t going to be dropped anytime soon. It would probably just be better if I came out with it.

“I don’t remember. Bits and pieces mostly, but I’m not him anymore. He died when Hate shot him in the face. I’m just the pony wearing his corpse around.” That came out a lot more morbid than I’d have liked it to. The thought of being a walking corpse made me think of the gnashers beneath my feet, ponies that had long ago lost themselves to insanity, mindless ghouls existing only to kill. I would not become one of them.

“Whatever he did, I’m sorry. I’ll do whatever it takes to make things right. I owe so much to more ponies than I can even guess at.”

There was a long pause as we walked down the street, sticking to the sidewalk and relative cover given by the coarse gray buildings.

“You killed our mother.”

I opened my mouth a couple of times, but words would not come. There was nothing I could say that would make this right. I stayed silent, the mare staring hard at the ground in front of her. It was starting to rain again, each drop stinging slightly on the exposed and filthy flesh of the burn across my shoulders and back. I thought of how Crimson Knife might react to my current condition and knew that I had another forced cold shower to look forward to.

I heard Ivory sob lightly. “Now Bone Black is gone too. I’m alone.”

Walking was the only thing that I felt comfortable doing. She kept pace and stuck near enough to me we didn’t risk being separated, but she didn’t speak to me. I could hear her mumbling to herself underneath her breath and could really only hope that she wasn’t planning exactly how to kill me the first chance she got.

Kill her first. It’s the only way to be sure.

Celestia, why won’t the voice go away? It had been increasing in volume and frequency, filling the corners of my mind each time it spoke, urging me to kill and rape. I was starting to get twitchy as well, my body feeling oddly sluggish. Pain had been getting sharper as well. The burn and my bruised and broken body were combining to have me in a constant feeling of aching discomfort.

She’d go down so easy. Do whatever you liked. She’d be yours before you killed her.

If only I had some Med-X on me.

Stampede.

Stampede was always an option.

“No!” The shout was reflex more than a conscious action, and I felt the smaller mare step away from me in concern. I’d just agreed with the voice, but I couldn’t explain it to her. If anypony knew that I was constantly fighting a voice telling me to drug up and start murdering, I’d have no one by my side.. I realized then what was the matter with me. The last time I’d taken Stampede was when I’d fought Sweeps. With the thoughts that had filled my head at the time, it suddenly occurred to me that I was going into withdrawal from the drug. Two Kick had taken it so frequently that he’d never had to deal with the withdrawal.

After the rush of strength and that feeling of invulnerability, I’d always felt pretty good for a day or two afterwards, but then I’d take another hit and keep going. The drug had been out of my system for a while now and my body was reacting negatively. It was letting the voice in, knowing that he was quite in favor of me taking the drug, giving him the control I knew that he so desperately craved. If that happened, I wouldn’t be in control of what happened and Ivory would probably die at my hooves. I was not going to be responsible for this entire family dying.

Add Ivory to the growing list of ponies for which I would die before seeing hurt.

Fuck you. You’re so boring! Let me in, come on. It’s cramped in here; I need to get out and stretch my legs.

Anything to get rid of that voice aside from what he wanted. Anything. I needed to find Shade. She always calmed the voice. Kept Ripple from becoming Two Kick. I needed that.

Celestia, please let them be at Underhoof. I know I’ve already asked more than I deserve, but give me this one. I’ll stop asking after this, I swear.

“Rip? Are... are you okay?”

The pale mare’s voice was unusually loud in the soft rain. I guess I’d been quiet for a long time as we walked. “Huh... oh. Yeah. I’m fine.” Was I? No. No I wasn’t.

“You’ve been twitching and mumbling for a while now.” Great. So on top of having killed most of her family, now I looked mentally unbalanced. She’d composed herself quite well from the last time I’d looked back at her, the sobbing mare grieving for her dead brother. All of the ponies that had survived Stadium’s fall seemed to be like that. Jackleg had been dismissive about the whole thing and Ivory and Bone Black had seemed, for lack of a better word, content.

“I’ve just... got a lot on my mind.”

The mare snorted lightly in response to me. “I doubt that.” She let out a light laugh, and we kept walking. We were finally nearing our destination; I noticed with a glimmer of hope. There, just down the street, I could see the door. It looked like every other door, but my E.F.S. was pointing right at it.

“This is it.” I stopped at the unmarked door set into a dull grey building underneath that rusted metal awning. There were many doors, but this one was the right one.

The mare looked curiously at the door. “There’s a town back there?”

I nodded. “It’s a bit of a ways in, but yeah.”

Pulling the door open, I held it for Ivory before heading in myself. I heard her sigh pleasantly as we got back into the darkness. It wasn’t bright outside, but she had an affinity for dark, underground spaces. It seemed all the “normal” ponies I encountered anymore did. Aside from those in Blank, all the surface ponies I’d encountered had been slavers, raiders, and assorted other evils.

Looking around as we walked and taking the lead again once we reached the bottom of the stairs and into the tunnels proper, I nodded with satisfaction. Most of these tunnels looked the same, but this was definitely ringing some bells. Underhoof was just down this tunnel.

Shade was hopefully just down this tunnel.

Plenty of victims are just down this tunnel.

I set off at a rapid canter, eager to reach the end. I couldn’t really remember how long the tunnel was, only that it was a straight shot. Before long, I saw the metal door and slowed as I approached it and stopped short.

What was the knock? I’d heard Fluster use it once and Rail Spikes hadn’t exactly told me how to get back into the town. I thought about it and lifted my hoof. One tap and then three. I waited for a minute and then repeated. Did I have it wrong?

A small hatch on the door flipped down and I looked at it in time to see a gun barrel poke out. “Down!” I dove and knocked Ivory out of the way; she’d been standing right in the weapon’s sights. It fired as I hit her, grazing my leg and drawing blood. We hit the ground out of the killing field provided to the weapon and I lifted my head to shout, hoping they could hear me through all that metal..

“Don’t shoot. It’s Ripple! Rail Spikes knows me!”

The hatch slammed shut, and I helped Ivory to her feet. She looked offended that I’d tackled her and stepped away from me, brushing herself off. I turned my head to check my injury and saw that it was only a flesh wound. It stung like a bitch, but I’d had worse.

With a loud clank and a whir, the door began opening. I saw Rail Spikes and two other ghoul ponies of the Guard ready to fire, the usual greeting I got. Behind them, I saw a sight that filled my heart with what I could only assume was joy, a strange feeling. A small robed form was walking out of Gristle’s, her gray eye looking into the metal at her feet as she walked. I pushed past the ghouls, Rail Spikes giving me a glare that I’m sure he would have wanted to cause pain as I passed. Ivory gave them a wide berth as she followed, looking nervously at the rotting ponies, more used to gnashers than the civilized sort, and the two of us trotted towards Fluster.

Nearing the hooded pony, I saw her eye search upwards at the movement headed towards her, meeting mine and I caught a glint of light as her teeth caught a reflection. She was smiling. Trotting towards me, she gave a small wave. When we reached one another, I opened my mouth to ask why they’d left, but she shook her head and pointed towards the big red knife on the wall.

“Ash will tell you. I’ve got business to handle. Great to see you’re still alive though.”

She brushed past me with a small nod and a curious glance at the mare I’d brought into the town with me, but clearly had more important things on her schedule than to stand around and mingle. I approached Crimson Knife’s clinic and entered, half expecting to see Crimson teleport directly in front of me. Bracing myself, I walked across the threshold and stood in the small front room.

I’d expected to see Ash there, but the room was empty. I could hear a running shower in the back and made my way into the rear of the clinic. I rounded a corner into the shower room, the first time I’d gotten there under my own power, and found exactly what I was expecting.

Ash was leaning against the wall and watching with mild indifference as the red unicorn was scrubbing Shade’s mane underneath the running water. It seemed to be almost a rite of welcome to Underhoof, the unexpected cleansing.

Crimson Knife was the first to see me and her eyes widened at the state I was in. Both myself and Ivory had been through a massive explosion after rooting around in unused and filthy tunnels and could not have been clean in the red mare’s eyes. I must have been especially bad, since I still had whatever we’d caked on to give me the look of a raider. She flashed out of existence for a split second, appearing next to us and stripping off what little we were wearing. Ivory let out a small shriek and I grinned, having not warned her about this on purpose.

Then water was running over me. Crimson Knife almost seemed to be overtaxing herself, cleaning the accumulated filth and grime from three ponies at once. Ivory was wide eyed and staring at the mare that was getting a little too personal with her, while I sat there, used to this by now.

I realized suddenly that I was next to Shade and I looked over, expecting to see those dual colored eyes staring at me. No such luck, she had her eyes closed and was humming softly. She’d not even noticed my arrival.

“Did you miss me?" I tried using a soft voice, hoping not to startle the mare.

She took a little bit to snap out of the trance she’d worked herself into and her eyes fluttered open slowly before turning to look into mine. There was the look that made this all worth it. She hugged me around my neck and I couldn’t help but sigh a little. Then I felt her pulled away from me and heard the medical mare behind us scolding me.

“I’ve just spent twenty minutes cleaning her and now you’ve gotten her dirty again. Please refrain from contact until I have finished.” Crimson Knife was looking rather concerned as she scrubbed at my back and sides, trying to work through the mixture of unknown goo, blood, and dirt that I was sporting a coat of. The smudge had worked its way onto Shade. Ivory was getting the same amount of attention, but she had been fairly clean to start with.

I must shower more than anypony in Equestria.

----

Once we were clean and dry, I found that the front room could get fairly cramped when you put four ponies and a griffin in it. Crimson Knife was going about the business of checking on my leg. Magical healing was great, but it still hurt as she poked and prodded at the swollen limb. I took this time to catch up with Ash.

“Kick, sorry about leaving you like that. We had something of an emergency in the morning and couldn’t wait around.” The griffin had his arms crossed, an apologetic shrug accompanying his explanation. Shade was avoiding looking at me when this subject had been brought up and I could only assume that she was somehow responsible. She’d even given me a bigger hug than usual until she’s started hurting the raw burnt skin on my neck.

He nodded towards the detached mare. “Your marefriend there passed out. Couldn’t wake her up. Apparently she hadn’t eaten since right after you woke up back in Blank. Had to bring her back here to find that out. Tiring by wing, the trip.”

“You left me in Stadium and came all the way back here because she was hungry?” That was the worst reason I’d ever heard. Fluster had food on her and I was sure Ash did as well.

Another shrug. “Hey, I didn’t know what was wrong with her. Figured you’d be none too happy if you came back and I’d let your girl die on my watch. Though now that I see what took you so long...” His eyes locked onto Ivory who was sitting near the door, looking out into the community with a look of both wonder and nostalgia. “I guess you’ve got a new marefriend.”

I would have hit him. The jealous glare that I got from Shade made me want to hit him all the more. “What? Ow... could you be a little careful there, Knife? Ash, no. I managed to make it out of there with her help. Brought her back here to help her start a new life.”

The griffin laughed. “You really are taking this whole nice pony thing to heart, aren’t you? Anyways, did you get what you were looking for?” He pulled the black case from his bag and waved it at me, expecting me to pull out a cube of horrors.

“It wasn’t there. It was moved, up to Maremack from what I read.” Shaking my head sadly, I watched the red pony begin placing a brace on my leg. Apparently it was healed enough that I didn’t need the cast. Ivory was looking at us now, caught into the conversation.

“Ivory, this is Ash and Shade. They’re my... friends I guess would be the word for it. They helped me infiltrate Stadium.” Ivory greeted both of them but received a cold stare from Shade. There was that jealousy. I’d need to have a talk with her.

My line of sight was suddenly filled with Crimson Knife’s eyes. “Ripple. Listen to me. Do not go anywhere for a day or two. You need time to heal. If you leave, I’m not helping you next time.” This was a different Knife than the one I’d encountered so far. The medically mumbling mare that had been so busy all the time would never have spoken like that. It got my attention and I nodded dumbly.

I was reminded of Intensive Care, the pony that had told me he’d never treat me again. If I lost Crimson Knife, I was likely shit out of luck, and I got hurt a lot. Couldn’t risk that.

She pointed a hoof at Shade. “I helped her with what I could but what she really needs is food. Go, take her and get some food. I’ll be talking to Rail Spikes about keeping you here.” With that, she backed up and shooed us out. We were all set from her point of view. As we filed out, I heard the small pop of her teleportation and she was gone again.

Strangest mare I’d ever meet.

Once on the street, we stopped in a small group. Ash was standing on two legs again, looking this way and that down the large tunnels that made up the main area of Underhoof. “Fluster’s got your stuff Kick, does she know you’re back?”

“She does.” As if on cue, the robed pony was in the circle. None of us had seen her approaching and her sudden appearance caught us off guard. Ivory shrieked and jumped back a few feet, Shade took cover behind me as I recoiled. Even Ash let out a very avian sound and raised an arm.

“Celestia! Fluster... make some noise when you do that....” We recollected ourselves and took a minute for our collective hearts to come out of our throats. Fluster was patiently rummaging through her robe, which by now I could only assume was riddled with pockets or hiding a couple saddle bags.

That reminded me. “Shade? You have my.... hoof thingies. In your bag.” Her eyes lit up and she turned, opening the bag on the right and taking out the familiar weapons. Taking them from her with a nod and a smile, I slipped them on and made sure they were secure. It felt better to have them with me. Fluster had at this point brought out most of my equipment, my armor and Broken. Ash excused himself briefly and ran off towards the inn. They’d been here longer than I had thought, but it made sense if Ash had really flown here as he’d mentioned.

The griffin came back with my saddlebags. I was armored up and fully armed, feeling right for the first time since the previous day. Putting on the saddle bags, the transformation from dirty, broken pony to armored warrior badass was complete. “Let’s get something to eat.”

-----

Now that I had time to wander Underhoof, without being hustled off to go fight gnashers or rushing off on a wild goose chase, I took in the town. We’d all eaten an hour before and gone our separate ways. Ash had... gone somewhere, probably somewhere with alcohol. I’d sent Fluster off with Ivory to get her some barding and a weapon, giving them most of my caps to do so. I’d last seen them entering the Emporium with echoing shouts from the diminutive buck welcoming them to his store.

That left Shade and myself some time to walk around the town. Not that I think I could have gotten away from her, she was sticking to my side as though she’d been attached there with wonderglue. It was pleasant and the voice had been driven off, but something was still bothering me. Since we were alone, I felt that now was as good a time as any to voice a growing concern.

“Shade, why are you really sticking around me? Is it because I saved you? Do you feel that you owe me?” Looking into those eyes, I wanted to stop questioning immediately and just enjoy the warmth I felt when I saw them. Trying to shake off the feeling, I reminded myself that this was important. If she was hanging on to me for the wrong reasons, it was safer for her away from me.

I think she’d figured out the power her eyes had over me, as she kept looking at me. Eventually, she gave up and sighed, slumping a little. “Ripple... I said before that you’re the only pony that’s ever been nice to me. That is still true. You... you’re my hope that ponies can get better. That Equestria can get back to what it once was.” I had expected her to declare her undying love for me, or at least mumbling out something unsure. That was very to the point.

“So... you’re here to make sure I don’t... what? Fall?” Was that what I was to her. A symbol of hope? I could have laughed out loud at that one. The bloodthirsty pony in my head would have been laughing right next to me.

Shade just nodded at me. “That’s right.”

I just nodded. Interesting. I couldn’t exactly tell her to leave then, could I? She’d just come back. I was everything for her at this point, her purpose for living. That doesn’t put a lot of pressure on a pony. None at all.

Nope.

We walked for a while, until we’d seen all that Underhoof had for us. I began weaving our path back towards Gristle’s shop, hoping to check in on Ivory and see if she was getting along with Fluster all right. She had enough of my caps on her to buy a barding, weapon, and enough ammunition and supplies to do whatever she wanted. I just hoped to head her off before she rushed out into Hornsmith, dead set on laying a one pony siege to Stadium and the army within.

When we entered the Emporium, I saw that Fluster had really worked her economic magic on Gristle, providing the mare I’d brought into Underhoof with what she needed. Ivory was wearing armor heavier than my own, covering most of her pale coat with layers of metal and leather. At her side was a heavy weapon, what looked to be a machine gun of some kind. A belt of ammo ran over her back and into a bag at her side. The first thing that popped to my mind was that this pony was loaded for ursa major.

Fluster was still securing ammo for the weapon from the buck, who almost looked defeated as he traded a stack of caps and salvage for a box of ammo. Fluster, for what it counted, seemed as though she couldn’t have been more pleased.

Stepping up next to the now heavily armed Ivory, I looked her over approvingly. “I expected you to get barding and a shotgun maybe. You planning on taking down that army all on your own?”

She scoffed and tossed her mane. “I’m simply doing the most with what was given.” That seemed to be the way of Stadium ponies. Take what was put before them and turn it to an advantage. Ivory, Bone Black, and Jackleg had all taken a raider invasion, a situation few ponies survived, and turned it into a way of life. It was a rather admirable trait, if just a little selfish.

Ivory was looking at herself in a cracked and dirty mirror hung on one wall, checking from all angles. She frowned and shook her head before turning towards Fluster. “Fluster, could you see if he’s got any paint?”

The paint was traded for and Ivory left the Emporium, smiling happily. Fluster turned and followed her, leaving the little buck with only a smile and a wave. That left myself and Shade standing in the Emporium awkwardly.

Nodding at Gristle, I left as well, Shade by my side. I heard him mumbling as we left, sure that he’d just been ripped off. That made me smile, knowing that I had access to Fluster, at least when it came to transactions.

I trotted quickly after the two mares, my longer legs making the distance in no time. “Ivory, do you know how to use that thing?” I couldn’t imagine it would be entirely easy to just start using a battle saddle with a weapon of that size.

The mare turned her head towards me, shrugging as she did so, the saddle and equipment hindering the movement slightly. “How hard can it be? Point and bite this, right?” The trigger mechanism within easy reach of her mouth held the promise of death.

I’d never used a battle saddle before, but she did seem to have the concept firmly grasped. She would need practice before I would feel comfortable unleashing her back into the wasteland fully armed. “I’ll find you in a little bit, Ivory. I gotta check something out.”

Ivory and Fluster continued on their way while I turned towards the Guard station. The door was open and I could see light movement inside. Somepony was home and I hoped it was Viola instead of Rail Spikes, she seemed to be more likely to accommodate what I needed of her. The gruff head of security did not seem to be my biggest fan.

Sticking my head into the doorway, I saw that with luck it was the gas mask adorned mare, cleaning her rifle on a table against one wall. I knocked a hoof against the doorway, and she turned her covered face towards me, audible breathing filling the room.

“Ripple! What can I help you with?” Much nicer than Rail Spikes.

“I was curious if there was somewhere in town we could get in some target practice. Crimson Knife has us grounded, and we can’t leave without her cutting off service.”

The ghoul’s eyes lit up with a laugh, a muffled chuckle escaping from the mask. “Yeah, she does that. Hmmm....” She paused in thought for a little bit, rubbing the gas mask in a pondering gesture. “Well, there’s nowhere in town that you’re allowed to fire weapons, but I think I could get you into one of the lower tunnels without anypony noticing. Gnashers down there, but what’s better for target practice?”

Had to admit that she had a point. Gnashers were the best target practice, and Ivory had already spent a long time in the tunnels dealing with their kind. I grinned at the ghoul mare, thanking her. She finished assembling the weapon and slid it into it’s place on her battle saddle. Turning, she walked past us and out the door, gesturing that we should follow.

“So, target practice? It’s not for you, is it?” Her eyes went to the shotgun at my side and then to the pistol that Shade was carrying. “Is it for her? I can’t imagine you need practice, what with taking down all those other gnashers already.”

Shaking my head, I gestured out at the town, “It’s for the mare I brought into town. Don’t think she’s ever used a saddle mounted gun before. Just... gotta find her.”

Looking at Viola’s battle saddle, I noticed that instead of the bit in front of her, there was a wire running up into her mask. She laughed a little and tilted her mask up a bit. “Can’t bite into it with this thing on, it’s voice activated. Custom built a couple years ago. It is tricky to get the aim in unless you actually practice though, not like pulling out a gun and firing.”

We strolled around Underhoof for a little bit, keeping our eyes out for Ivory and Fluster. They’d made themselves scarce in the time it had taken us to walk to the Guard station and back out, but before too long I spotted them down a side street, huddled around something on a table.

When we reached the two mares, I saw what they were doing. Ivory was painting her barding and new weapon. She had chosen matte black, with Bone Black written down one side in red. Artistic interpretation was not my thing, but if I had to guess, she was choosing to carry her brothers memory with a physical representation.

She looked up as she finished, finding the three of us standing near her and Fluster. She eye Viola warily, still clearly not used to ghouls that weren’t trying to kill her. She put down the crudely built paintbrush she was holding in her mouth. “What? I’m just personalizing.”

I laughed at her, she thought that the Guard was here because she was in trouble. “It’s fine, Ivory. We’ve just found a way for you to get some practice in. This is Viola; she’s one of the locals.”

The ghoul’s eyes smiled. They were very expressive for a ghoul, and she nodded politely towards Ivory. “Nice to meet you, Ivory. I know just the place that you can get in your target practice.” Ivory was putting her barding back on as it dried, still shying away from the ghoul.

“It’s okay. I’m not going to bite. The targets I have in mind might, but they’re not nice upstanding ponies like myself.” As the words left Viola’s mouth, a grin crept onto Ivory’s face.

“Okay, Viola. Lead the way.” Shrugging the machine gun’s ammo belt into position, she gestured for the ghoul to take the lead. They began walking off and a thought struck me. I turned to Fluster and Shade.

“Fluster, show Shade around the town. I’m gonna go help Ivory with practice.” Shade’s eyes opened wide, and I ran a hoof down her neck. “It’s fine. I’ll be fine. Just go have some fun, get to know Fluster. She’s a good pony.” Well, good enough. Shade’s eyes softened a bit, and she nodded.

I turned and went to catch up with the ghoul and the heavily armed mare as Shade and the robed mare headed the other direction. As I got closer, I heard that Viola was running Ivory over the finer points of battle saddle use and maintenance. “...with that, you’re gonna want to keep your mane shorter in the back, don’t want it to tangle up in the feed.”

Ivory was making an effort to tuck her longer hair into the armor to keep it free. I’d already seen her fussing with her hair more than anypony I’d met back in Stadium and wondered if her possibly having to cut it would be an issue. My own mane was much shorter now than it had been when I’d started on this journey. Having it burnt and then trimmed had taken a sizable bulk of it.

“This is it. Follow through quickly.” We’d come to a metal door, which Viola was unlocking as she spoke. The door creaked as it opened and she stepped through, Ivory and myself following. Viola shut the door behind us and flipped a switch on the wall.

Lights flickered on from large spotlights, similar to those that I’d first seen on my first trip into Underhoof, revealing that we were in a long, low room. Several tunnels fed off of in multiple directions, but what I noticed more immediately were several skeletons laying scattered around. Viola checked that her weapon was loaded with a kick to an autoloader built into the saddle and nodded towards one of the far tunnels.

“We used to use this as a secondary entrance until gnashers started showing up too frequently for it to be a good idea anymore. Not sure where they came from, but it’s always from that tunnel. Just make some noise and we’ll get some attention.”

So this was her plan? Bring the gnashers to us, drawing them into a killing field. I was already checking that there were buckshot rounds loaded just in case any got past the longer range weapons of Viola and Ivory.

“Whenever you’re ready, Ivory, take a shot. Grip the bit and bite down. They’ll come running.” Viola motioned at the bit and Ivory took it in her mouth, tensing her entire body as she bit down. The weapon kicked and fired, a burst of five shots ricocheting down the tunnel. She let go in surprise, and I could immediately hear the beating of hooves on stone.

I floated Broken low, ready for anything. I could see Viola tensing into a stable firing position. The first gnasher tore into the tunnel, running full out. Ivory fired again, missing the creature entirely. Trying again, she aimed lower from where the bullets had gone and fired a burst, hitting the gnasher in the chest.

The burst of bullets punched a series of nasty holes in the pitiful beast, stitching a line up his chest and neck before taking a chunk out of his face. He hit the ground and slid for a few feet, leaving a trail of dark ichor. Ivory let a small whoop of victory and waited for the next.

With each progressive gnasher, her aim got better. After two, she was missing only with the last bullet or two. By the fifth, she was putting clusters of lead into closely bunched patterns of lethality. Each gnasher that came into the room died in roughly the same spot, sliding into their fallen brethren, creating a grisly pile about halfway into the room. These things were not very bright.

Viola was laughing lightly as she watched each fall in sequence. “You’re a natural. You sure you’ve never used a saddle before?” I could hear genuine admiration in her muffled voice as she lay the praise upon Ivory, who had a huge smile. She’d spent so long letting other ponies handle gnashers that being able to do it herself must be quite liberating.

Ivory kept her aim on the tunnel but turned slightly towards Viola. “Never used one. I’m liking it though.” She shot a grin at me, which I returned.

We waited for a little bit, but nothing more could be heard from the tunnel. Viola nodded towards the pile of corpses and tilted her head towards me. “Ripple, check the bodies will you? Never know what a gnasher will have on them.”

Eying the heavy weapon mounted on the side of the pale mare who’s mother I had killed, I was a little apprehensive of getting into her line of sight. She did look to be in a good mood though... maybe she wouldn’t take this chance and kill me. Arming her may have been a bad idea...

I stepped slowly down a row of stairs leading to the floor and made my way towards the pile of dead gnashers, Broken aiming towards the tunnel. Viola and Ivory likewise were aimed at the tunnel, but the silence continued. Reaching the pile, I holstered Broken and used my telekinesis to rummage through the remains.

A few caps, some spare rounds of assorted ammunition, a healing potion. Not bad for not actually having done anything myself. Once I was finished looting, I turned and trotted back up towards the two mares, still expecting a wave of gnashers to pour forth from the tunnel and rip me apart.

Nothing. My luck held, and I reached the elevated position I had watched the slaughter from. Viola was opening the door and ushering us through. Ivory was slow to turn, still keeping her eyes hopefully on the tunnel. She’d been enjoying herself. I stepped through the door, and Ivory eventually joined me before Viola stepped through, turning off the lights as she went. The door locked securely, and she nodded towards the two of us.

“Well, it’s been fun, but I can’t be gone from my post for too long. You both have a pleasant day.” She trotted off, leaving Ivory and me near the now locked door. The pale mare turned towards me, smiling broadly.

“Thanks for this, Rip. I’ve never felt that sort of power before; I like it.” She was giddy, as though she’d just received her cutie mark.

“It was the least I could do. Don’t make me regret this by getting yourself killed or anything though.” I was stern with her. If she died, I knew that I would feel responsible. I’d been the reason for so much of her pain that if she died because of me it would just assure that I would never truly be a good pony. I’d be a monster in the skin of a good pony.

“I know that I said some things earlier... but you’ve really helped me out. I’d be dead already, and Wires would have gotten off without any retribution. You’ve given me the means to get my revenge, and for that I’ll be eternally grateful.” She kicked at the ground lightly as she spoke before quickly leaning up and kissing me on the cheek.

Shade hadn’t even gone that far, and I felt my entire face turn red. She smiled and turned, leaving me there by the door as she headed back into Underhoof proper.

I would never understand mares.

-----

“Hey... Kick my friend!” Ash stumbled drunkenly out of the bar as I returned to the main thoroughfare. He was gripping a bottle in one clawed hand, the glass scratched up quite thoroughly from his talons. “Come on in here, gots ta’ get a drink with your griffin buddy.”

I shrugged and headed over towards him, following him into the bar. He slumped heavily into a spot at a table that already had several black feathers scattered about it. He slid a bottle to me and I took it, tasting it carefully. It burned and it tasted like ass, but it was alcohol and that was good enough. I took a long swig, feeling the burning warmth spread to my gut.

I was really starting to enjoy this downtime.

Over the next hour, the griffin and I matched each other in drinks, building up an impressive bill that Ash kept paying with caps, and drawing several other patrons into our merriment. I made friends and we all laughed. A good time was had by all.

“This is to make up for the party that never happened in Blank.” The griffin was giving me something that I had not even thought about. His promise to bring me back to the bar in Blank had been sidetracked as Sweeps had attacked. I grinned fondly as I found that not even thinking of Sweeps’ could bring me down when I was drunk.

At some point, Shade showed up and Ash somehow convinced her to drink some as well. Fluster was there too, but she stayed away from us and got a salad made primarily of mushrooms.

I found out that drunken Shade was very affectionate, giving me a few kisses on my cheek, much as Ivory had very recently. I didn’t mention this. I’d witnessed that Shade was the jealous type, and being draped about my neck she was in a very optimum position to met out punishment for any infidelity.

Was Ash right? Was Shade actually my marefriend? I’d have to ask her sometime, preferably somewhere where we were alone and not surrounded by drunken ponies whose names kept escaping me. My memory was going to shit as I went further and further under the influence.

-----

Sometime in the next few hours, I made it to the room that had been mentioned. I was supporting Shade, who was stumbling quite badly. Ash had gotten two rooms: One for himself. One for the two of us. He was really pushing for this.

I set Shade down on the mattress in the room and started making my way towards the bare floor. “Ripple... come back.” The slurred demand from the mare made me pause, and I turned drunkenly towards her. She was reaching a hoof out to me, and I shrugged, returning and laying down next to her.

She cuddled up next to me and sighed contentedly as she place her head against my chest. I had no idea what I was supposed to do, so I lay there frozen in place. “You’re such a nice pony... helping everypony out when most wouldn’t. That’s what I love most about you. Ripple is such a nice pony....” As she spoke, her voice was slowly dropping in tone and she quickly dropped off to sleep, snoring lightly against me.

I got comfortable and closed my eyes, a happy grin crossing my face. I followed her into sleep shortly, for once my mind not swimming with images of those I’d killed or betrayed. The only thing in my mind were her eyes.

-----

The morning came too quickly and my head immediately began punishing me for the previous night. Lights hurt. Sound hurt. My face scar ached with a steady rhythm. I groaned and held my hooves to my eyes.

I could feel that Shade was still at my side, snoring away gently. I did not envy her what she would feel when she woke up; she had drank quite a bit and had a much lower body mass than I did. I lay there for a few minutes, waiting for my brain to stop trying to escape and enjoying the warmth of the blue mare.

Slowly, I got to my hooves, doing my best to not interrupt her rest. As I shrugged on my barding and saddlebags, I had one pressing issue on mind: I really needed something to drink.

Making my way into the hall, I found that the door to Ash’s room was wide open and the griffin was nowhere to be found. I wondered if he’d even made it up here last night, but then I saw that there were signs of habitation. A feather on the bed, claw marks running down one wall where I could only assume he had fallen and tried to catch himself.

Making my way out onto the street, I paused as I came into the artificial lighting of Underhoof. I suddenly wished that my Red Dogs goggles hadn’t been shattered in that explosion, they would really have come in handy here. I stumbled my way down the street towards the bar, knowing that they had liquids other than alcohol.

Getting inside the building, I was greeted fondly by the mare that ran things during the day. From the look in her eyes, she had heard of the previous night and was amused by the sight of me. I asked her to give me anything that would help a hangover and after a short time of mixing, she slid some horrible dark sludge towards me in a glass. I eyed it warily but slammed the drink anyways.

It was horrid. Absolutely horrid, but I immediately felt it kick in. My head started clearing and the pain started subsiding. “Celestia! What’s in this?”

The bemused mare shrugged. “Med-x, a couple plants, assorted secret ingredients. That’ll be five caps.” I slid the payment across the counter while trying to work the taste off of my tongue and turned to leave. Once on the street, I paused and stretched, working kinks out of my neck and back. I checked my PipBuck and found that it was the morning. It was really hard to tell time naturally underground and I was getting more and more thankful for the chunk of metal attached to my leg.

“Hey, Rip.” Ivory was sitting at one of the tables in front of the joint, eating a small salad. I’d apparently walked right past her in my quest for salvation from the hangover. I nodded towards her and sat down as she offered a spot.

The mare laughed at me as I sat there, running my teeth along my tongue, trying to get the flavor off. It just wouldn’t come off. She slid a bottle of something towards me. “Here, try this. It’s good.”

Taking the bottle, I looked at the faded label. Sparkle-Cola. I’d seen the bottles before, but never one with actual liquid in it. I drank it and a pleasant flavor washed over my tongue, replacing the specter of horror that had been there seconds before. I looked at the bottle again. Carrot flavored. I’d never had carrots before that I knew of, but I had to admit that I was now a fan.

“Thanks, Ivory. That helped.” I put down the bottle and slid it back to her. She was munching on assorted vegetables and tilted her head slightly in acknowledgement. Swallowing, she tapped a hoof on the table. “So, I was talking to your griffin friend last night.”

I snorted in laughter. Ash had been too drunk to see straight last night. “Yeah? How’d that go.”

“Well, he told me about your ill-aimed mission. You two are seriously just hoping to inconvenience Hate in every way you can? Don’t you have a real plan?” I couldn’t really read the look in her eyes. It wasn’t kind, it wasn’t joking, but it wasn’t hard or critical either.

“I heard some things while I was working for Massacre in Stadium. Rumors mostly, but most of it seemed to have real substance. Do you have anyplace on that map of yours called Orchard?” I shrugged and pulled up my leg, checking the PipBuck.

“Yeah, I do. That’s not even in Hornsmith though, what’s important about it?” It was a point far to the north, a day or two’s walk from where we were right now.

“Well, quite a few of the raiders that came to Stadium were being sent out there. Almost a third of them. Supposed to be something really important up there, from what I heard. Supposed to be two Paragons working that location, but not as a dig like Stadium. More like a siege.”

Now that was interesting. There was somepony strong enough to fight back against a raider army and do well enough to warrant that much attention out there. Sounded like somepony I wanted to get to know.

Ivory nodded as she saw the look in my eye. “Exactly. I did a lot of thinking on this, and I don’t stand much chance of revenge on my own. You though, you can help me and have just as many reasons, if not more, for hating the Paragons. If we meet up with whoever is fighting, we can really bring some hurt to Neighwhere and Stadium.”

That... was a good plan. Much better than what I’d have come up with, I wasn’t even planning on going that far out of my way, but Ivory was making a good point. Whoever was up there fighting would probably stand a better chance against an army of raiders led by a group of unusually powerful ponies than the ragtag group of well intentioned individuals that had formed up around me.

This would probably be one of my better chances at killing Hate.

“That sounds really good Ivory. I’m sure the others won’t mind, you seem to be getting along well with Fluster.” She was nodding as I spoke and took another bite of her salad.

When she finished chewing, she swallowed and posed another question at me. “What about Shade? She seems to be rather protective of you.”

Oh crap, that made me remember that she was probably about to wake up with a massive hangover to find me missing. “She’ll be fine, she reacted the same way with Fluster. Anyways, I gotta dash, forgot something I have to take care of.” I stood and turned towards the open door of the bar.

“Hey, Rip? Thanks for everything you’ve done.”

I smiled at her. “No worries. Oh, right, we’re heading out tomorrow so make the most of Underhoof. We won’t be back for a while.” She nodded as I spoke and went back to eating her salad.

I rushed into the bar and ordered another of those horrible drinks and two Sparkle-Colas. Shade would be needing this miraculous cure, and I was sure the both of us could enjoy drinking the carroty beverage. I payed up and trotted out the door with my purchases tucked into my saddlebag. When Shade awoke, I would be ready to help here deal with the repercussions of the night.

-----

That day passed by faster than I would have liked. When Shade woke up, she had a headache that I’m sure her descendants would be able to feel. The drink did the job though and before long we set out into the town to enjoy the day.

One of the only real items on the agenda was to get Shade some proper gear. Swinging through Gristle’s, I did all that I could to convince her to armor up like Ivory had. She was having none of it, however, and I only managed to talk her into getting some barding. Anything to get between her and hostility was better than just going naked.

When it came to arming her more properly, she was steadfast in her refusal. She didn’t even want the pistol she had at her side, there was no way she would be talked into carrying another weapon. Eventually, she won out and I backed down. Gristle was snickering and I shot him an unfriendly glare as Shade and I left the shop.

We found Ash eventually, locked in a jail cell at his own request. Viola explained that he’d put himself there after thinking about eating a pony as a snack. I agreed with his decision. He decided it was best if he spent most of the day in there, just to be sure and requested we brought him one of the hangover cures that the two of us had already “enjoyed”.

Throughout the day, we spotted Ivory. She was enjoying all the Underhoof had to offer, as I’d suggested. She spent much of it talking to Viola and Gristle on the finer points of saddle maintenance. At one point she disappeared entirely and I could hear the faint echo of gunshots in the distance. Gnasher target practice, I could only assume, though I was a little distressed that she had apparently gone off on her own until I’d seen her returning with Viola.

Fluster we saw once. When asked about what she was up to that day, she had explained that she was properly preparing for the longer trip and setting many of her affairs in order. Ivory had filled her in on where we were going. Primarily, setting her affairs in order meant clearing out stashes of salvage she had in the surrounding area and trading them for supplies and caps to be used out in the waste. She’d set aside a number of these caches for a a time such as this.

Before I knew it, the day was over and I gathered everyone together to prepare them for the coming trip. Ash looked worn, but ready for anything, his feathers messed up rather than slicked back like usual. Ivory looked great considering she’d been blown up the day before. Fluster looked how she always looked and Shade was still attached to my side. She’d really been enjoying all the time we’d spent together.

Sitting around one of the tables in front of the bar, they all looked at me as I began laying out our destination. “Our next stop is a bit outside of Hornsmith. Up north, place called Orchard. We gotta be ready for anything, we’ll be heading in the same direction as a lot of raiders from what Ivory’s told me. She’ll be coming with us, also. The more guns the better.”

Ash was nodding at that last statement, and Ivory had a wide grin. She’d really taken to her gun, even having painted the barrel a bright red sometime in the last day.

From here... I didn’t really know what to say. Seemed like a bit short for a meeting. “So... yeah. Everyone get some rest, and we’ll set out in the morning.”

With that, the meeting dispersed. It seemed odd to actually have forethought go into where we were headed next, but it did help to remove the near constant feeling of insecurity that I hadn’t even really known I’d had.

I headed towards the room, feeling good about how things were going. Three ponies and a griffin helping me was sure better than doing this all on my own. Who knew, perhaps in a few days if everything went well we would have much greater numbers, enough to stand a more substantial chance at stopping whatever Hate was planning.

As I lay down, this time on the bed first, Shade snuggling in next to me, I smiled. Two days in a row I hadn’t been knocked unconscious. It was starting to look like I’d never go to sleep naturally for a while, but looking at the mare that was already drifting off to sleep, I knew that this was right. This was how it was supposed to be.

I slept peacefully that night. The next few I might not be so lucky.

Author's Note:

Thanks to Kkat for creating FoE, an amazing piece fiction as well as a setting.

Also thanks to ErrantIndy for reading/editing through this chapter and giving me some pointers. All previous chapters have been worked over now for easier readability and continuity, should be improved.

As always, if you like it fave/comment/track/rate.