• Published 1st Mar 2013
  • 1,098 Views, 46 Comments

Fallout: Equestria Rise from the Ashes - Nightrein



A name. The most integral thing to anypony; even when the Wasteland leaves nothing left of you, you always have your name. After a brutal attack, one stallion awakes to find even that is lost to him. Can he survive on the one lead he has to his past?

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Chapter 2 - The First Taste of Blood

Chapter 2 - The First Taste of Blood
...the idea of possibly killing again stopped my heart.

“Ow.”

Every step sent a throb of pain through my wounded hind leg. My PipBuck displayed that, while not injured, it was in horribly poor condition. The pain was slowly starting to dull, thankfully, but I doubted it would wane enough for me to manage more than a slow trot.

“Wuss,” Skydive muttered. I sighed in response. We were almost to Prim now, the large roller coaster helped me keep track of the distance we covered. It also made me question why a town would just build a roller coaster. We’d run across a couple of geckos along the way, but Skydive took them out with the pistol she stole from Doc Crutches. Come to think of it…

“Why didn’t you give the doc his gun back? Ow…” I forgot to grit when I stepped on my left hind leg.

“And tell him I stole it twice in the same day? No chance!” She had the reserved respect in her voice again. I wonder why she cared about the doctor in such a way. It wasn’t the type of respect one gave to family, it wasn’t that profound. But then, what did I know about the subject? Well, probably a lot, but nothing I remembered. It just felt different. Or off… stupid broken brain… I’d just ask her later, she would probably tell me. Maybe when we weren’t walking, after we got to Prim and had a minute to rest.

“Yea, somethin’ about burning in Hell, right? You’re real religious?” I asked. She stopped walking and turned to give me a rather pissed-off glare. “Not that there’s anything wrong with that,” I added quickly, “just asking.”

“Kind of,” Skydive turned back around and began to trot again, “but drop it. I don’t feel like talking about it.” Before I could even respond, the hissy, high-pitched whine of a gecko sounded from our right. Skydive immediately drew ‘her’ gun and aimed toward the noise. The little monster ran at her mouth gaping. I heard a couple of soft clicks sound from Skydive’s pistol, but she wasn’t shooting.

“Any time now…” I said pointedly, readying myself to pounce the creature if it got too close.

“Fuck, I’m empty,” she said, spitting the pistol into her wing. The gecko was only a few yards away from her as she was pulling out Dune Thrash’s revolver. There was no way she’d get a shot off in time. I dashed to her side and crouched into a position to leap; the moment the little bastard got close was the moment I crushed it.

It took no notice of me as it continued its single-minded advance. It was about three yards away when Skydive finally drew the revolver from her bags. Two yards as she loaded a single bullet into the top of the chamber. One yard as the gun fumbled on her wing and she nearly dropped it.

“Forget it,” I growled as I crouched back on my hind legs and leapt at the creature. My wounded hind leg screamed in protest as its muscles were forced into action. Using both of my forelegs, I crashed down on the gecko, resulting in a loud, wet crack as its head snapped off the rest of its body. My right foreleg ached from its own injury, but not nearly to the extent of my yet unhealed hind leg. My body just… hurt. Was the Med-X even helping? Did I really want to find out? Maybe it already wore off and I needed more. Maybe-

My thoughts were interrupted by a clattering sound behind me. I turned to see Skydive had dropped the revolver on the pavement. She was staring at the dead gecko next to me. “Sheesh,” she mumbled, shock evident in her voice. “You mentioned you’d crushed a Stalker underhoof, but… literally…” That about summed it up. I had freaky strength and a burning touch. Glancing over to the gecko corpse, there were red scorch marks where I’d struck it. I sighed; why could I do these things?

Skydive picked up the revolver and holstered it along with the Doctor’s pistol. I noticed the holster seemed a bit too big for her, needing readjustment every time she moved it. “Took the Doc’s holster along with it, huh?” I asked.

“Obviously.”

“Then you’re gonna say that little rhyme twice?” Oh, the look I was getting from her was bad… definitely shouldn’t have said that.

“I said drop it.”

* * *

The rest of the way to Prim was silent save my occasional grunt of pain. Whatever Skydive’s deal was with her religious… whatever it was, she had no intention of discussing it. Not with me, anyway. I tried to apologize, but she wasn’t listening to me anymore. Fair enough.

Approaching the road into Prim itself, I noticed a pony leaning on a large brick wall. He was wearing barding (yet another trivial fact I remembered) that looked like a uniform. The stallion took notice of our presence and started a quick paced, seemingly practiced trot. A word surfaced in my mind that suited him perfect: Soldier. But, what army even existed anymore? Why did I know armies existed in the past; why did I even know what an army was? Ugh, so many questions…

“Hold up!” the stallion shouted at us. His voice was heavy; not incredibly deep, but stern and disciplined. Yes, ‘soldier’ fit him perfectly.

“Oh, hell…” Skydive muttered. As the soldier drew closer, I noticed his barding in more detail. It looked moderately heavy and had several holsters, one of which held a pistol. There was a path on the front depicting a two-headed Ursa. Yet again my stupid brain decides to know something… stupid! Why did I know so much useless, trivial junk, but nothing about myself? I swore I could hear a soft, raspy chuckle.

“Prim’s off limits,” he spoke as he approached, “whole place is overrun by a group of escaped convicts.”

“Convicts?” I asked.

“Uh, thanks for the warning, sir,” Skydive replied, “we’ll watch out!” She gave an uneasy laugh as the tan-coated soldier nodded.

“Just keep to the right side – uh, your right, that is – if you don’t want to get shot.”

“Wait,” I called out as he trotted back toward the wall, “what about the people living here?”

“Far as we can tell, they’re holed up in the casino in town, the one across from the Buffalo Chief hotel,” he responded. After a moment, he cringed slightly and asked, “You’re… not thinking of going in there, are you?”

“No!” Skydive answered quickly. “No, we’re not. Thanks for the warning, and we’ll be on our way.” She turned to face me and nodded toward the street the stallion had deemed safe. I threw a questioning glance her way, but followed her lead anyhow. We walked past a small makeshift shack that had a couple of ammunition boxes inside. After mentally scolding my defective mind for what had to be nearing the hundredth time, I decided to ignore it from now on. It was starting to add to my annoyance and, overall, the information was better to have than not. Who knew, maybe something mildly useful would come up.

We trotted a little way down the road before I stopped and asked, “So… what’re we gonna do?”

“Find another town. Obviously,” she replied.

“What about the people trapped in here?”

“NCR’s problem,” she replied bluntly.

“But they’re not doing anything!” I protested.

“Never do,” she muttered. “And you think we should? For once, just once, I think it might be better to follow the NCR’s example.” Skydive clearly had some bad blood with the NCR, but was she really willing to leave these ponies in danger because of it?
“Why? We can help them,” I pushed.

“Yea, and get ourselves killed trying. I said it’s the NCR’s problem, and if they can’t handle a couple of escaped convicts, then it’s their loss, not mine. Or yours,” she said pointedly as she began trotting down the road again.

“Yea, their loss. Loss of ponies’ lives perhaps, loss of a whole town.”

“So?”

“So what if there’s children in there, Skydive? Colts and fillies too young to defend themselves; you’re willing to let them die just because you don’t like the NCR?” I raised my voice, pinning every bit of disgust and shame as I could into the accusation. She stopped her trot in front of the overpass that led into town. When she turned, she had anger burning in her eyes and matching spite in her voice.

“You want to know something? They have a problem with me! They just sit on their tails while shit like this goes down! And ya know what? They blame me! Just because I’m En… because I was Enclave…” she trailed off a moment before picking back up, “and nopony’s exactly fond of them, in case you didn’t notice! So before you go telling me I’m leaving a bunch of defenseless ponies to die, remember who’s supposed to be helping!” Her yelling had caught the NCR soldier’s attention; he was now watching us rather intrigued. I briefly wondered if it was sheer boredom; that he’d been standing against that wall all day with nothing to do. She’d be right then. He could be trying to help the town instead.

“Well,” I began, slightly stunned by her sudden outburst, “it’d be kinda hard for me to know this sort of thing, wouldn’t it? I’ve been told that you were the one dragging my half-dead body into Doc’s house, remember? I sure as hell don’t! You’re telling me I don’t know what the hell the Enclave or NCR are because I wasn’t paying attention? Really, Skydive?”

“Exactly!” she started to yell, “you don’t know! You don’t know anything! You’re trying to say this is all my fault, like everypony else does, because you clearly know so much about me. Hell, you don’t know anything about you!” Okay, she was getting on my nerves. Where did all this anger suddenly appear from? Why was she so angry at… everypony?

“Oh, and I suppose you know so much about me then, huh? I’m such an idiot because I want to do the right thing, but because I have some stupid case of amnesia, you can blatantly disregard every fucking thing I say! Well good, nice to know the super-religious thief has the right to make my decisions for me!” I bantered back at her.

“Will you QUIT!?” Skydive screamed, her voice filled with overwhelming fury. “For Celestia’s sake, you get your ass kicked by random ponies, then a few Goddesses-damned Stalkers, and you step on one gecko, so you’re suddenly Mr. Badass? You think you can just canter on into that town, which may I remind you the NCR can’t even do, and save the damn day? Where the hell is that confidence coming from, huh?”

“But-” I began, not entirely sure how to respond to her when she was this angry.

“‘But’ nothing! Do you know anypony in this town? Anypony at all? Well?” I shook my head. “Then there’s absolutely nothing you care about in there! You don’t go chasing after random strangers! Helping ponies you don’t even know, let alone care about, is liable to get you killed! So drop it! Drop your stupid religious questions, drop your Mr. Tough Hero crap, and drop this stupid FUCKING TOWN!”

My mouth was open like I was about to speak, but I couldn’t say much after that. When she yelled before, it was sort of cute. In light of this, perhaps she had been trying to be; the way she was yelling now was nearly terrifying. I’d thought I’d seen her angry before, but this… this pegasus had too many shades and levels of emotion for me to comprehend, and her ability to jump between them at the drop of a hat was too chaotic to keep pace with. I slowly closed my mouth as I tried to gather and sharpen my thoughts, the stun waning slowly. Stunned... she was doing that a lot. I might be a medical mystery to her, but at the other end of the spectrum was her, a confusing emotional enigma that I doubted I could solve. I looked back up at Skydive and could see a clear drop in rage just from her expression. She was still pissed, but not… whatever that was anymore.

“Then… you know me?” I asked, “You know who I am, and you’re saying you care?”

“What?” she bewilderedly responded.

“You’ve saved me. Twice at this point. If I’m a complete stranger, and you truly believe what you just said, why would you help me like you have? Why are you even here?” I kept my voice quiet, not wanting to hear anymore shouting.

“W-well…” she stumbled to respond, thankfully matching my own level of volume. “I… I saw that fire you burned Dune Thrash to a crisp with. It’s not like I went out to get you because I knew you were in trouble. I didn’t do it to save you; I did it to protect New Trottingham. People I knew and cared about, see?”

“Yea,” I said feeling slightly dejected. The feeling didn’t make much sense to me, as I barely knew Skydive, but it still felt… bad. It felt bad knowing what I was about to tell her, but it felt like every moment I spent out here arguing with her was another moment that ponies were in danger right beside me, another moment when I was doing nothing just like she’d claimed the NCR did. “You protected your friends, that’s all. And that’s over and done with. So, why are you even still here?”

Her eyes flitted back and forth a few moments with a baffled expression on her face before finally deciding on “What?” as her response.

I sighed and started walking toward the overpass. “Go home, Skydive.” The three words more fell out of my mouth than were actually spoken. Why did saying this feel so bad? I hardly even knew this mare, and on top of it she was crazy! Why did telling her to leave me, who only pissed her off, to go back to her friends feel bad? Wasn’t this better for both of us?

“What… w-what?” She had clearly not expected this response out of me. “You can’t just walk in there alone; whoever’s got the townspeople scared will tear you apart!”

“NCR’s problem,” I responded sullenly. At that thought, I glanced over at the soldier buck and saw him shaking his head softly as he trotted back to his post. Seems he thought this was suicidal as well.

“You can barely walk without the Med-X I’ve got anyway! And you don’t have a weapon! And there’s got to be several of those convicts in there that you’ll be alone against!” she kept arguing, but I just continued my trot toward the overpass, walking right past her as I turned to go over it.

“Then it sucks to be alone. You don’t have to be; go back to New Trottingham and apologize to Crutches. Help Ice Pack clean the carpet Crutches said was stained. Go be with the people you know, and I’ll be busy trying to help those I don’t like an idiot.”

“But…” she began, apparently running out of reasons for me to stay out of Prim.

“Look, you made it clear this is a bad idea and you want no part in it. So, don’t be. And…” I stopped, that stupid, nonsensical ache in my chest amplifying again, “and don’t be here when I come back.” I waited a few moments to hear a response, but it never came. So I started walking again.

That was all I needed to do; put one hoof in front of the other. I’d get into Prim, get out of the heat, and tell the townsponies I was there to help. They’d… they’d thank me, maybe. Perhaps get me a bottle of water? I only had one left. Maybe they’d have the Med-X I needed since I’d no longer have Skydives. There’d probably be several convicts, like she said, but if I could just get close I could stomp on them just like the gecko and the Night Stalker. Yea… this’d all work out. Just put one hoof in front of the-

*BEEP*

“Huh?” I looked down at my hooves where the sound had come from. A small tan disk with a flashing red light was right beside me. My defective brain remained clueless as to what the object was. That was about all I had time to render before I was forced off my hooves and sent flying across the overpass. The resounding explosion sent small, stinging rocks and metal shrapnel flying as I crashed to the ground.“Ow…” I muttered, dazed by the explosion. What the hell was that explosion? I started to try and get up, my ribs sore from getting sent flying.

Wait… why did the blast only cause my ribs to be sore? Why not my already poor-condition leg? Why-

There was a cough beside me.

“W-wuss…” Skydive muttered as she brushed herself off from where she laid beside me. I was yet again stunned by her. After all that arguing and yelling, after me basically throwing her away, she still came to save me? Again? For the love of Celestia and Luna, just… just…

“Why?” I finally spoke aloud.

“Is that really how you,” Skydive was interrupted by a couple of coughs, no doubt caused by taking the brunt of the explosion, “how you thank someone?”

“Why did you… I told you to just go home!” I ignored her question.

“Hey… if I can’t tell you what to do, you can’t tell me either,” she smirked, taking a moment to regain her balance. Seeing her wince reminded me that she might have burned herself shoving me. I couldn’t spot any scorch marks on her, though.

“Why do you keep saving me?” I questioned.

“Why do you keep needing saved?” she replied as she dug a healing potion out of her bags. How come she was just… just ignoring what she said earlier? What I said earlier? Did she just not care? Was this her way of admitting she was wrong?

“Dammit Skydive… you are so confusing!”

“I am?” she asked in the most innocent voice I’d heard her use.

“Yes! You’re perfectly content with Trottingham’s dec-”

New Trottingham.” She interrupted.

“Okay… New Trottingham’s decision to throw me out of town, but then you follow me out into the wastes? Not only that, but you continue to help me despite preaching that you shouldn’t bother. Oh, and even before that, you rush out to where I got shot and killed someone, just to see what happened, and then you go and rush me into Doc’s house to save my life. Do you like me or hate me? You contradict yourself so often I can’t even tell!” For as much as I was complaining, I felt relieved that she chose to come with me. At least, she chose to make sure I didn’t die before I even crossed the bridge.

“I do?” she repeated the voice again.

“Will you quit that voice?” I requested, stifling a giggle. It was funny! This wasn’t the time for funny!

“Instead of sitting here talking to me, don’t you have a town to save?” she asked, thankfully using her normal voice.

“Yes,” I answered, “can I assume you’ve decided you want to join me?”

“Depends. Gonna step on any more mines?”

“Any what now? Wait… is that what that explosion was?”

“Um… yea,” she said, sounding like I’d just said the stupidest thing she’d ever heard. “You’re pretty hopeless, aren’t you?” I just sighed.

I turned and began to trot down the road towards the Buffalo Chief and started walking. Skydive’s change of heart was rather abrupt and unexpected, but hopefully it meant she’d stick with me.

“So, you’ve decided to stick with me, then? For real.”

“Yea. Who else’ll stop you from setting ponies on fire for the fun of it?”

“And you will?” I asked, with a forced tone of disbelief. I wasn’t worried about whether she could or not, but how.

“Yep,” she replied casually.

“And, uh... how ya gonna do that?”

“Well... you’ve survived a bit of lead before.” Okay... what? Wait, what!? She was... just gonna shoot me?

“You’re just gonna... shoot me?” I repeated my thought aloud.

“Mmm... yea.”

“...Just fire away and hope you don’t hit my face? And I’ll be fine?”

“Well... maybe not that last bit.” She was actually serious? She started chuckling a bit; a stifled laugh that gave away that she was joking. She... was joking, right? She wouldn’t actually shoot me. Right?

“Well... let’s go have some fun then.”

“If this is your idea of fun.” We both looked down the road leading into town. Staring back at us was a large building; specifically, the one with the roller coaster on it. Again, just... why? In front of it stood a massive, slowly rotating sign depicting... something I didn’t recognize. It also had writing on it: Buffalo Chief.

Other than that, there was a building on either side of our path. As we began a slow trot forward, I noticed a side path down to our left that led to some run-down shack. Skydive kept heading forward, so I ignored the extra path for now. I looked up at the rotating sign once again. Had they fixed it to rotate again, or had it actually survived the apocalypse? The buildings in town, save the shack I’d just noticed, didn’t seem all that devastated, so maybe the town wasn’t hit as hard. Maybe not at all, and the wear on the walls was just from time and weather. The wasteland sure left a lot of questions to be asked.

A red bar appeared on my EFS. Then a second.

“Skydive!” I half-whispered, half-shouted at her. I didn’t want whoever it was to hear me; I had no idea what the effective rage on my EFS was, and I wasn’t going to take the risk of giving us away. She stopped, thankfully, and turned to me curiously. I pointed toward them and whispered, “Red bars.” She nodded and crept up to the corner of the building on our left where I’d indicated the threat. Peeking around, she suddenly jerked her head back and backed up from the corner. We both stepped back a ways so we could talk without fear of them hearing.

“There’s just two that I could see, how many did your Pipbuck say?” she asked.

“Two. Where were they?”

“One was out in the middle of the road, pacing I think, but there’s one right on the other side of that corner.” That explained the jump, then. “So... I take the one at the corner, you take the one in the road? That one didn’t have a gun so far as I could see.”

“Wait... you just want to walk up and kill them? Don’t you want to try talking to them first?” Skydive didn’t seem the triggerhappy sort, but she was immediately suggesting violence?

“Well, you said they were red bars right?” I nodded. “Then I’m fairly sure they’ll be letting their weapons do the talking. Red means they’re already hostile if I’m not mistaken, so we should get the jump on them if we can.” I understood her reasoning, especially after her rant on getting killed helping strangers. I silently nodded in agreement.

We quietly moved back up to the corner, Skydive having peeked around to make sure the pony further back wasn’t coming this way. She drew the pistol from its holster and curved her wing to hold it. “On three, we rush them. If we take them by surprise, they hopefully won’t be able to react,” she whispered. I nodded and got into a galloping stance. Skydive deftly tossed her pistol into her mouth and prepared to take flight. At least, it looked that way.

Tap.

She readjusted the gun and got her tongue around the trigger.

Tap.

I mentally prepared myself one last time. Hopefully, this would be over quickly. And painlessly.

Tap.

We took off like bullets, she above and I below. The pony at the corner dropped the cigarette out of her mouth, stunned by our sudden appearance. I was to leave her for Skydive. The other red bar, a light orange unicorn stallion, had quick reactions, unlike his friend. He drew some kind of metal object from his barding, something I couldn’t recognize. Whatever the tool was, I wouldn’t let him hit me with it.

At least, that’s what I thought to myself as I closed the gap between us. I leapt at him once I was close enough. A sharp pain flared across my back as I was forced to the ground. I had enough sense to roll to my left as the metal thing came crashing down where I’d fallen. In my reckless charge, I’d forgotten that “unicorn” meant magic. As in, telekinesis. He had range even with a melee weapon.

Gunshots rang out behind me. Some I could recognize as the doctor’s pistol, but at a slower rate sounded much deeper bangs that must’ve belonged to the mare she was up against. At any rate, I had no time to worry about her now. I ducked under my own opponents next swing. I dared not leap at him again until I could determine how quickly he could swing his weapon.

As it turns out, rather fast. The stallion immediately took the opportunity to slam the implement across my face. Damn I was going to be sore and bruised after this. As for now, adrenaline was dulling most of the pain.

I quickly backed away, getting outside of what I hoped was his effective range, but not before taking a hard hit to my back several times. I could simply wait for Skydive to finish her enemy if necessary; her gun should prove more than sufficient for him.

But then, did I really want to continue to rely on her? She was up against someone far more lethal than I was, at least by weapon standards. Wasn’t I not a half hour ago, hell, less than ten minutes ago, telling myself I’d be just fine without her? She’d saved my ass once already since then, and twice before that. And this was all over the course of, what, just over a day? I had to handle this myself. I would handle this myself.

I started to think about how, thus far, the only thing I’d done right was killing one stupid gecko. I’d gotten shot in the head by ponies I was now hunting down, ambushed by Night Stalkers, and I’d gotten one of two ponies in all of Equestria who were willing to help me pissed at me. All because I was just so... so stupid!

Wait... stupid... I looked up at the unicorn I was facing. I’d been stupid here too. I jumped head-first into this fight. That strategy (or lack thereof) might work against animals, but this wasn’t an animal. I couldn’t just be stupid about this and expect to win. And if I couldn’t be stupid, then I’d have to be smart. So I did what I expected a smart pony would do in this situation.

Analyze.

I already knew my opponent had a range advantage on me. There were other factors though; his weapon hit at an alarming rate, possibly due to its weight. This meant I couldn’t afford to cringe or flinch on being struck, or he’d only get to hit me more. That thing hurt, too, I doubted I could take too many blows.

I shifted my gaze and focus from the weapon to the pony behind it. Well, to the right-ish. It was floating after all. He was standing there with an angry frown on his face, clearly not wanting to change his position. Being a unicorn, I had one big advantage on him: he was a poor melee combatant. I, being an earth pony, had a much more solid build than him, meaning he needed to rely entirely on his weapon and telekinetic range. That dependence could be used against him.

Unicorn magic had to have its limits. I knew he had an effective range I could get outside, like I was now. Or at least, he didn’t seem to want to attack this far out. But if I could get outside of it, then... could I also get inside it? If I got too close, would he have issues using his levitating metal... thing? If I got close, that also made the fight into the simple matter of strangling him. I started going over different plans of how to get to him without his weapon cracking me upside my head again.

Then it hit me: he always went for my head. Judging from the awkward angle his metal tool had struck my back during my retreat, he might’ve just missed and clipped me. The strike I dodged also sounded rather close to where my head had been. If this was the case, then I’d need to rethink my plans again.

I frowned as I reached a conclusion. My retreat, while quick and mildly haphazard, was the smartest thing I’d done that fight. It’d gotten me hit the most, though likely due to his frenzied swinging. In any event, the headlong charge earned me a strike across the face whilst a more sensible retreat garnered several bruises for my torso. His slow pacing back and forth across the small area he’d been doing so in led me to believe he didn’t want to risk being caught unaware by another rush. I had gotten close. Thus I came to a rather anticlimactically simple plan.

Feign being stupid by... well, being stupid. Smartly. That was a thing, right?

I made a sudden gallop down the broken road toward the buck, apparently stunning him, if only for a split second as his face reverted from shock to the serious demeanor that read an all-too-ready intent to kill. I noted he didn’t seem to follow his weapon with his eyes as the metal arced through the air toward me. His eyes were locked on my head, just as I’d suspected. I raised my Pipbuck-bearing leg and let the blow deflect off the sturdy machine, jarring my leg slightly but leaving me otherwise unharmed.

I didn’t slow whatsoever from his attack. On the contrary, I galloped all the faster. I could close this distance. I could get inside his range! The weapon flew back at me, but I ducked my head under its arc. I was so close! Another arcing swing struck my side from outside my field of view, but I ignored the pain. Either he was getting desperate or I had gotten too close for him to aim properly. Time felt slowed as only a yard remained between us. I had him now!

Two feet. Panic became evident in his eyes. He couldn’t aim proper anymore.

One foot. His horn lost its glow as he raised a foreleg to defend himself.

It was too late for that now. I ploughed into him with all my might, momentum carrying him almost another yard away. He cried out in pain, either from the force of impact or the probable burn he now had. I couldn’t tell, and honestly didn’t care. I did it! I was going to win, without Skydive’s help! I could fight on my own, survive without help! I wasn’t useless!

I dashed over to the unicorn, still on his back. On seeing me, he raised both forelegs in defense. It wouldn’t help, not against my unnatural strength. His legs would snap like toothpicks. I reared up on my hind legs to bring my weight down on him. This was it then, I’d succeeded. I could do it!

“Do what?” a familiarly scratchy voice asked. Oh, not this guy again... “Do what?” it repeated.

“Succeed,” I responded aloud unwittingly.

“Succeed at what?”

“What does it look like?” I replied bitterly; I had no time for a crazy, stupid ghost voice to play twenty questions with me.

“It looks... like murder to me.”

“Survival,” I corrected.

“Is it, though? You’ve disarmed and overpowered him. You could just force him to leave, perhaps let the NCR deal with him. Killing this pony is your personal choice, not ‘survival’.”

I looked down at the stallion. Memories of a Night Stalked pounded to paste and a headless gecko corpse flashed in my eyes. All I had to do was drop... crush him. I could strangle or burn him to death if I wanted. A loud part of me yelled to end him; I’d won, he started it, his life was forfeit! But... another side of me, quiet and horribly overpowered by the other, asked: Why?

A cacophony sounded in my mind and was bringing back the headache I woke with in Crutches’ house. Or maybe the medicine was wearing off. Hoo, I didn’t want to think about that. Head-splitting pain? Pass. But that wasn’t the issue at hoof here. I’d been given a choice: Kill this pony, or show some mercy and spare him?

“Skydive spared you. Crutches too,” the smaller voice murmured.

“He didn’t try to kill them first!” the other voice responded.

“But he’d killed Dune Thrash,” the first voice argued, pitifully weak against the rage-filled opposing voice that craved blood.

“Kill him!”

“Don’t...”

“You can, you won, prove it!”

“Please...”

“Are you that pathetic!?”

“Are you that cruel?”

“SHUT UP!” I yelled in frustration. All of the noise in my head... arguing... screaming! It needed to stop, now! My gaze still lay on the stallion beneath me. His eyes showed pure fear. I... I didn’t have to kill him. The NCR could do something... right? I faltered a bit on my hind legs, I wasn’t meant to stay on them for too long. Not the injured one, especially. I’d just back down, tell him to leave, and-

My eyes were drawn to his horn. It was glowing.

So was the knife in his pocket.

The angry scream in my head matched the one I made aloud as I dropped my full weight on his head. I felt it split even before I heard it. The feeling was just as sickening as the sound. His skull was no more difficult to break than glass under this unnatural strength I possessed.

If Skydive was still shooting, I couldn’t hear. Hell, if she was right in front of my face I wouldn’t have noticed. My eyes were glued to the corpse I just created; the rest of the world seemed to just... fall away. He was no more difficult to kill than the gecko. Than the Night Stalker. Why hadn’t I cared then? Why was I so... so upset by this now?

Sound and light were ever so slowly beginning to register in my mind again as I finally began to see just what I’d done. Oh Goddesses, that was a lot of blood... and.. oh sweet Celestia, was that... I felt dizzy as I stumbled backward and fell onto my haunches. Why was my stomach so far up my throat?

I reflexively turned and lost the contents of said stomach on the asphalt next to me. I hadn’t even eaten anything since regaining my memory. My headache was beginning to reassert itself for certain now, I assume the loss of undigested medicine was to blame. I could also feel the pain in my legs returning as my adrenaline began to wear off. I was just plain miserable, but after what I’d just done... I wasn’t nearly miserable enough.

“Even though it was his fault?” the disembodied rasp asked. “He was ready to kill whoever rounded that corner. And when you showed hesitation to kill him, he did quite the opposite!”

“We attacked first,” I mumbled, still too nauseous to talk too loud. “He could’ve just been a civilian for all I know... just panicking from the convicts’ presence.”

“Your Eyes Forward Sparkle said otherwise.” I recalled stopping Skydive in response to noticing the two red bars. Red meant hostile... hostile meant we were... were justified, right?

“Or does it? Like you said, he could’ve just been panicking. What if you just killed one of the ponies you so desperately tried to get Skydive to help you save?”

“What... was I right, or... why the hell are you doing this? That’s contradicting what you...” I couldn’t speak well enough to make fluent sentences at this point. Crazy bastard could hear my thoughts anyway. He knew what I meant.

“Why? Hah... you really need to ask? Well, I suppose your brain is a bit dysfunctional. More than usual, as it stands. I’m doing this... because I like it. You, miserable, and me the cause? A lovely change of pace. This is just the beginning... murderer.”

I opened my mouth to respond, but I somehow... felt him fade away. I can’t describe the sensation, but I was certain he left. At any rate, I felt a hoof on my shoulder. I turned my head to see Skydive standing over me with a pitying expression. Why... I’d beaten him though. Why was she pitying me? I looked a bit... pitiful, sure, but I still was doing fine. More than I could say for... oh Goddesses, I didn’t even know his name. I was still standing, though. Well, metaphorically, anyway.

Was she actually worried about me? Or did the medical pony in her react to seeing me get sick? I was fine, why was she looking so... sad? We were both fine, by the looks. A million ideas ran through my mind about what could lead her to look this way. I was so... confused! Between her and that Luna-damned voice, my head was spinning. Mental images and ideas, flashes of bits of information trivial, important, and everywhere in between blinked in my head as a hoarse chuckle sounded through it all. I wanted to scream, but didn’t for fear of straining my jaw and worsening my headache.

“-otta stand up, come on.” Skydive’s voice suddenly registered in my head. Had she been talking this whole time?

“Huh?” I finally managed to speak.

“You need to stand, there’s bound to be more of them. We need to get inside the casino, okay?” she repeated and tugged lightly on my shoulder. Wait... my shoulder…

“Wah!” I yelped and jumped away from her as quickly as I could. She gave me a slightly baffled look in response. “You... you were touching me,” I told her. She raised her eyebrow a bit. “Are you okay?” I asked.

“Um... yes?” she responded.

“How?”

“Why wouldn’t I... oh...” realization dawned on her. She jerked the hoof she’d held my shoulder with up to her chest. “Oh!”

“Yea, you touchy, I burny, freaky pony with freaky powers? Ringin’ any bells?” I said. She seriously forgot that already?

“Yea, yea, I know, I know,” she said, staring at her hoof. “Weird...” I noticed she didn’t seem burnt from shoving me away from the explosion either. Also, the ghost voice in my head was gone fully. For better or worse, I welcomed the internal silence. “Anyway, strange lapse in normal burning skin aside, we need to move before anymore of them show up.” I nodded and slowly got to my hooves, another wave of dizziness passing over me. She started trotting toward the building we’d come around the corner from. As I followed behind her, I had to use all my willpower to ignore the dead pony I was trotting past. The thought of it alone forced me to pause from nausea. The raspy voice echoed in my head again, though only from my memory.

“Murderer.”

* * *

Skydive and I had explained ourselves to the ponies in the casino. They’d heard the gunfire and believed they were next. A rather old-sounding (and looking) stallion, who’d gone by Ash, had defused the situation and apologized. Sky had told him we just needed a place to rest since we’d had a rough night prior.

I was lying down on a sofa while she was resting on a mattress on the floor. When adrenaline from the fight had worn off, I was left exhausted and in pain. Skydive fared little better. She’d given me one of the Med-X syringes, but warned me that dependence on them was not about to happen. It dulled the pain enough that I could rest, though, so I failed to see the problem. In her fight, she’d been grazed by one of the convicts’ - who went by Crystal Gangers, so I’d learned - bullets. Instead of ‘wasting a healing potion’, she wrapped the wound in some gauze she’d brought with her, claiming it would heal quickly enough on its own.

She was as exhausted as I, already nearly passed out. This was the first real rest she’d gotten in almost three days at least, and likely much longer for me. As I lay quickly falling asleep, I remembered that I had a bunch of questions I wanted to ask. Now seemed the perfect time; we weren’t travelling, we weren’t in immediate danger, and we were inside. I was too tired to ask everything I wanted to though... and I doubted she would have the energy to answer them all either. I had to ask something though, I might not get another chance for a while. I decided to ask what was most prominent on my mind.

“Hey Skydive?”

“Hm?” She sounded half-asleep already. This had to be quick, she sounded like she might fall asleep answering!

“Why did you look so... sad? When I’d... well, killed that Ganger.” Images of myself busting his head open were fresh in my mind. My hooves were still coated with blood and... urk... I was going to be sick again if this kept up.

“When you killed him,” she paused to yawn, “you kinda just... sat there. Stared a while. It was nasty looking for sure, but it’s something most ponies have gotten used to. You even got sick after a minute. Why didn’t you have that reaction when you snapped the head off that gecko? That was pretty gross too.” She yawned again, and I did the same a moment later.

“I... don’t know, really,” I answered honestly, “I was asking myself the same thing. I guess it was just worse. Somehow.”

“What made it worse?”

“I don’t know... well... I swore I,” I paused, recalling it nearly made me vomit alone. I took a deep breath before continuing, “I swore I had his... his....” I couldn’t keep calm, it was just so horrifying... “I mashed his fucking brain in, Skydive!” My sudden yell made her sit up. When she looked at me, she had that same pitying look in her eyes. “It... it was just wrong! Sick! Who... why would anypony...” I was too distracted to notice Skydive had moved over to put a hoof around my shoulder again. “Dont!” I yelped, making her jump away. “Don’t hurt yourself...”

“I’m sorry...” she mumbled.

“It’s not your fault. I’m the freak who burns everyone.”

“I’m sorry for what I said.”

“What?” Now I was a bit confused.

“When I shouted at you.” Oh... that. I was going to tell her not to worry about it, but she picked up again. “If you tell anyone back in New Trottingham I said this... I’m gonna deny it. But... I was wrong. When you said you wanted to help the ponies in town here, I thought you were either trying to play Lightbringer or you wanted the convenient excuse to go killing. I wasn’t exactly sold on the fact you didn’t remember anything.

“My original plan was to follow you into town and see what you’d do. If you just started killing anypony you came across... I’d shoot you dead. But then you set off that mine and didn’t react. I saw them before, and thought for sure you had too. I guess you just didn’t know what they were. When I heard the buzz, I shoved you out of the way as fast as I could. At that point, I had to walk with you, you knew I was still there. Turns out, it was a good thing; those Crystal Gangers would’ve attacked on sight. If I saw you fighting them, I... I might’ve killed you.” Skydive sighed heavily before continuing.

“But... you wouldn’t have fought them. You said you wanted to talk them down first. They’d have killed you before you knew what was happening. When you said it, though, I thought it was just a trick; you were trying to get me to believe you were kind or something. Thinking back, I was so stupid... so paranoid. I was almost sure I was right when I saw you take that guy down, though. That rush was brutal, and... well, you looked like a raider. Especially how you killed that buck. When I got closer, though, you... you were just sitting there wide-eyed and... frightened. Then you got sick, like some stable pony seeing his first corpse.” I remembered questioning why, too. I still was.

“Now I just feel... I don’t know, guilty I guess. You really did just want to do the right thing. And I wanted to stop you... all because I was so arrogant and paranoid and... I just feel awful. So, I’m sorry. My trust issues got you hurt worse than any bullet wound.” She yawned again, clearly all the more exhausted from her emotional crash just now. I didn’t really know how to respond to it; it was kind of... sudden. But once again, she seemed to show a completely different side of herself out of nowhere. I laid my head back down on the arm of the sofa.

“Yea... I’m sorry too. I got us in here, got you shot, and both of us a headache and an emotional breakdown.” Skydive laid back down on her mattress.

“Well, most of it’s my fault anyway. Remember,” another loud yawn, “if you tell anyone, I’ll deny it. Vehemently.” I chuckled before echoing her yawn.

“Fine, fine.” I closed my eyes. “But you know, you want to really apologize?”

“Don’t milk this too much. I don’t admit being at fault often. ...what?”

“Not now, but eventually... tell me why you thought I was a bad guy. Why you really didn’t trust me.” If I could get that answered, that’d be a million confusing encounters solved.

“...I’ll think about it.” It wasn’t a no! And on that note, I slowly drifted off into sleep, expecting nightmares to await, but at least I’d finally get some real rest.

~~~ ~~~ ~~~

Well. I was on fire again.

“You know, this hurt a lot more the first time,” I called out to the raspy voice that was bound to be here somewhere. “I’m getting a bit used to it. You should try something else.”

“Is that so? Well, that’s too bad. We are aflame in sleep as we are awake, are we not?” it responded.

“I’m burning to the touch, not actually on fire. Yet... am I gonna burst into flame anytime soon? I’d like some fair warning for that.”

“Who knows. Or maybe you’ll just melt on the spot.”

“Yea... hey, as much as our conversations are... creepy... and all, I’d really like to get some sleep tonight. Not just be charred in my subconscious,” I told the voice. I’d rather not talk right now, I had nightmares to get to anyway.

“No. This is as ‘asleep’ as you get. So long as I can help it, anyway.”

“Oh, yea... you’re kind of an asshole, aren’t you?” I recalled him confusing me during and after my fight. “What’s the deal with that, anyway? If I remember, didn’t you say ‘I’m you, yadda yadda’ or something like that before? Aren’t you kind of just hurting yourself by making my life miserable?”

“Oh, you and I are the same. That much is certain. That just means I won’t kill you; you dying would have... undesirable effects on me as well,” the disembodied voice explained.

“Oh, I get it... I die, you die, right? I get hurt, so do you then.”

“No, sorry, you’ll be taking all the physical damage, but our lives are tethered.”

“So you’re willing to be an ass when I don’t need your attitude, and I’m assuming you’re the one behind my body heat, too, but you’re polite enough to say ‘sorry’ when explaining things? Pick a side, buddy, or you’ll end up like Skydive.”

“Oh, I’m not sorry for you. I’m sorry, for me, that I have to be stuck with you.” Its hoarse tone changed enough for me to detect malice in its voice. “Malice indeed. Plenty of malice. And you think I’m making your life miserable now? You haven’t seen the half of it yet.”

“Really?” I asked with sarcastic interest, “Well, I say you’re a shitload of talk. You’re just some angry voice in my head, aren’t you? Upset that I’m the one in control? You can make me burn people, sure, and you can jabber away like the annoying bastard you are, but really? What can you do? Far as I’m concerned, you just don’t like me, but you’ve decided to be an ass about it instead of being mature and just getting over it.”

“Get over it?” it asked; I’d clearly struck a nerve. Or whatever disembodied voices had. “You have no idea what I went through under you! You... oh, no, you won’t get a piece of your past from me! You don’t deserve it. But what you do deserve... you want to know what I can do? You forget, in here, you’re in my house. Your subconscious is my domain. You don’t have the mental strength, the discipline, that you used to. No, I get control here.”

“The hell are you getting at?” I asked.

“You said it yourself, all I can do is talk... and make you burn. And if I keep talking, all I’ll do is turn into Skydive, isn’t that right?”

“Yes... but I doubt you’ll ever be as confusing. Get to the point, you stupid voice.”

“Really, now? Well... maybe I’ll just, mmm, eliminate the competition, then.” A strange, eye-shaped area in the field of flames opened to reveal what my sleeping body was looking at. Did I really sleep with my eyes open, or was this guy just doing that? Skydive was sleeping on the mattress, her chest slightly rising and falling with her breathing. Wait... why was the field of view shifting? Was I... moving? How?

“You... you can control me?”

“Perhaps...” The field of view got closer to Skydive, and I saw my foreleg enter the scene. Wait, was he…

“No...”

“Oh yes,” the rasp laughed. No... no, this was bad!

“Don’t!” I yelled.

“Oh? Don’t? Or what?”

“You’ll hurt her!”

“I’m supposed to care? Yes, with the flaming touch you have, she’ll be burned beyond any healing potion’s capacity to fix. And it will be all. Your. Fault.” Each syllable hit me like a hammerblow. Skydive didn’t know about him, and only telling her after he hurt her... she wouldn’t believe me. He was serious about this?

“You’ve made your point! Stop this!” I pleaded. This was going too far!

“Made my point? No, I’ll have made my point when you suffer as much as I did! I’ll have made my point when I leave everything you know in ashes! I can kill her right now, and what can you do to stop me?”

“What do you want?” I shouted.

“I want out!”

~~~ ~~~ ~~~

I slammed my hoof to the ground the moment I regained control of my body. Skydive jumped a bit at the sound. I scrambled to get away from her; what if he was still here? Could he take me over whenever he wanted? Oh dear Luna, please don’t let that be the case!

“Are you okay?” Skydive asked sleepily. No, I really wasn’t! But... I couldn’t tell her about this, she’d think I was a freak! Well, more than the freak I already was! This wasn’t don’t-touch-me-or-I’ll-burn-you freaky, this was I’ll-kill-you-in-my-sleep freaky! This was downright frightening! Oh, Goddesses, what was I going to do? He almost scarred her, or worse! I couldn’t... there was no way... but I... I…

“Hey,” Skydive interrupted my panicking train of thought, “are you alright? What happened?” I needed to tell her... she needed to know, to know it wasn’t me. But... it was me! Ugh, this didn’t make sense, how could I tell her? I had to, though... if I did and she left, it’d be better if I didn’t and I hurt her... I couldn’t explain this, though, I just... no, no, I had to tell her!

“...Yeah, I’m f-fine. Just... bad dream.” I sighed. I couldn’t tell her... she’d leave, and after almost telling her to before, I realized I really wanted her to stay. Somepony to watch my back was necessary; I had enough problems watching my front! But... Celestia save me if I hurt her... that bastard, he would’ve done it!

“You need to get some sleep,” she yawned, “lay back down.”

“S-sorry I woke you, Skydive. I... I need some fresh air.” I stepped towards the door; I couldn’t stay near her anymore. Not now.

“Hey,” she called out, clearly drifting back off, “Call me Sky. Everypony back home does.”

“Okay... Sky. I’ll... I’ll be back.” I trotted out the door silently, shutting it behind me. Oh Goddesses... why was she starting to trust me now of all times?

To my surprise, most of the ponies in the casino were still awake. The sun had set, and darkness was shrouding the town. I didn’t dwell on it long, I needed to get outside... away from anypony that damned voice could hurt! If I hurt any of them, they’d kill me, and probably Skydive too! I quickly trotted past Ash and opened the door outside, letting it close on its own behind me. I immediately slumped against the wall and slid to my haunches. The air was much cooler at night, which normally would be a welcome thing since I was sweating so much, but I already felt... cold! I was freezing and sweating at the same time, was that even normal?

I looked across the road at where the dead body lie, and immediately regretted raising my head. That was only, what, an hour ago? I... I still had... him on me... his blood, and worse, dried on my hooves. I was... I could do things like that. Sweet Celestia, I was able to shatter skulls with ease! And I burned everypony! Dune Thrash, this guy, almost Skydive! I was nothing but misery to everypony I crossed paths with! I was only two days into my life, why... why was I already so... so... I couldn’t even think straight!

“What am I?” I muttered aloud. I was shaking uncontrollably now, and my eyes were damp. I was so messed up... why did that voice hate me? Why would he threaten to hurt Skydive for no reason? He said he wanted me to suffer, but for what? Why couldn’t he tell me what I did? Why all of this, why everything! So many questions that I should know the answer to, but I didn’t because I had my memory taken! “What did I do to deserve this?”

“Can’t say as Ah know,” a familiar drawl sounded next to me. I jumped a bit, not quite remembering who it was at first. “What’cha beatin’ yerself up for?” Ash trotted over and sat down next to me. The stallion was older than Crutches, but sounded rather similar. It gave him a familiar feel despite being a stranger. And despite for how little time I spent with Crutches. Even then, I’d spent half my life under his care. The thought of just how fast events had gone past was sickening.

“You don’t want to know...” I said, still shaking.

“Wouldn’t‘ve asked if Ah didn’t. C’mon, what’s ailin’ ya?”

“Everything... why do you care?”

“‘Cause it ain’t right to see a tough lookin’ feller like yerself all worked up ‘n’ not knowin’ why. Leastways, not in mah book.” I remained silent; if I told him, he’d run me and Skydive out of town. Who wants a freak as dangerous as me around anyway? New Trottingham had the right idea…

“Problems with yer mare?” he asked. Wait... what? With my mare... wait, he thought…

“No! Nononononono, me and Skydive are not like that!” He raised an eyebrow and gave a smirk. “Seriously, we’re not. And for Celestia’s sake, don’t let her hear you saying things like that; she might just shoot you.”

“Ah’ll take yer word for it,” he laughed a bit. “Now, really, what’s got’cha down?” I didn’t answer. “Ah’ll have y’know Ah’m the most stubborn ‘n’ tenacious pony yer likely t’meet out here. Been in this town thick ’n’ thin fer many a year, ‘n’ these here Crystal Gangsters what have ya ain’t even the worst Ah’ve seen. Ah can wait.” I sighed.

“I’m just... I’m dangerous,” I muttered, my shivers slowly disappearing. “I just seem to hurt everything I come across... I almost hurt Skydive, and I couldn’t stop it...”

“What’cha mean by that?” he asked. Oh, shit, I shouldn’t have said that!

“Y-you don’t want to know. I don’t care if you asked, you just don’t. Please...”

“Alright, alright. So... this Skydive’s yer mare, huh?”

“Yea... wait, no! I told you-” he had a humorous grin on his face. “Good one... Skydive’s my... I don’t know really. She saved my life, like, four times now, but I don’t think she’s really my friend quite yet. It’s hard to explain...”

“Mmm. So what brought ya ta Prim?” he asked, lighting a cigarette.

“We needed somewhere to stay, if only for a while. I didn’t have much in the way of supplies; I desperately need water. How you ponies stand this sun is beyond me. All I had on me were three bottles and a Sunrise Sarsaparilla. Only one left, and that won’t last me long. Skydive will need some too. When that NCR soldier told me the town was overrun with these convicts, I wanted to help. Skydive told me I was stupid, but... I think she wanted to help too. She said she wanted to make sure I didn’t just end up killing everypony, but she’s a good pony at heart. I know she is.”

“Mmm, the NCR ain’t doin’ much t’help us, guess they don’t want ta take the risk. Mighty kind of ya ta come to our little town’s aid. Been a sight worrisome, what with them Crystal Gangsters havin’ taken our lawman hostage.”

“They did what?” I asked.

“They’d killed our sheriff when they showed up, but the damned deputy got himself taken. Dunno what he was thinkin’.”

“Is he still alive?” I asked, getting to my hooves.

“Reckon so. These ain’t the Fiends we’re dealin’ with, they wouldn’t just kill him fer no reason.” He gazed up at me and said, “Y’ain’t thinkin’ o’ goin’ ta get him, are ya?”

“I am now. Where is he?”

“Now, ah ‘preciate the thought, but there’s a whole heap o’ them raiders in that hotel. Unless ya think ya can sneak in well enough, ah don’t think ya can do it son,” he said sullenly.

“I want you to look behind me and tell me what you see,” I told him.

“Couple o’ dead Gang- oh. Well now... must’ve been some pretty high-caliber guns ya got ta make that kind o’ a mess.” I held up my hoof, still coated in blood and... worse.

“I don’t have a gun.” His eyes widened a bit, followed by a sigh.

“Dangerous indeed. If’n ya really think ya can do this, Ah won’t hold ya back. But come back alive, y’hear? Basset’s not worth yer life.”

“I’ll try. I need to go there; I don’t have to worry about hurting anypony if they’re all bad guys, right?” I asked. Ash just looked at me for a few seconds, as though gauging the question

“Reckon not. Goddesses be with ya, kid,” he said, and walked back into the casino. Right... now I didn’t have to worry. That voice wouldn’t let me get killed, and there was only one pony I had to worry about getting hurt. I turned and glanced up at the still-rotating sign and sighed.

“Here we go...”

* * *

“Shit!” I yelped as bullets pinged, just shy of penetrating the crude table barricade I hid behind. Of all the rotten luck, I walked in as one of the Gangers was walking past a doorway straight ahead of the entrance. One of his friends immediately joined him, both armed with low-caliber(thankfully!) semi-automatic pistols that were going to chew through the barrier I was using any moment.

One of the two stopped firing, and I heard him eject the clip from his pistol. I took the moment to dive out from behind the ramshackle barricade and land behind the nearby wall. The other pony had tried to follow my movement but couldn’t aim properly while turning his head. Well, now I had better cover... but how was I going to get out of this? The table barricade was close enough to the wall that they’d have to get rather close to me to get a shot off, so I could grab one and knock him out. No more crushing... never again... hell, I didn’t feel like killing anypony in any way anymore.

The problem remained, however, that whichever one I took down left me wide open for the other to gun down. They’d have to be really stupid, or I really lucky, for me to get out of this unscathed. Hell, getting out alive was going to be difficult! Both my opponents were earth ponies, meaning I didn’t have to worry about a levitating gun coming from around the corner. I sighed, why were they taking so long? I was a bit anxious, what with being in a life-threatening situation, couldn’t they try to kill me a bit faster?

I heard the two muttering things to each other through the guns in their mouths. The broken words were hard to string together since they were quiet on top of poorly enunciated. From what I could make of it, it sounded like one wanted to get backup, while the other made fun of him and said they could take me on their own. If one left, I was taking the opportunity to head straight out the door I’d just come in; screw fighting more than two at once!

I heard one of them start walking, their hooves quite audible on the wooden floor. He sounded like he was getting closer. I crouched low, hoping my awkward position would make him unable to aim in time before I disabled him. I was knocking them out, not killing them. He was getting closer, I could hear him right on the other side of the wall corner.

I saw one of his hooves at the corner edge, but he stopped moving. Was he taking aim? I couldn’t make a move until I had a clear shot at his neck. Was he anticipating that; did those two actually come up with a plan in that conversation? Please don’t be that smart…

He moved forward again, pistol aimed right where my head would’ve been as he rounded the corner. The moment his head was in view, he fired several times before noticing I wasn’t there. I leapt up the instant he stopped firing and locked my forelegs around his neck, pulling him out of view of his friend still in the opening. He desperately scraped at my legs with his hooves, trying to get me to let go. He’d dropped his pistol to try and breathe, but I had his windpipe completely blocked off. I heard the other pony yell something, but it was still through the pistol, so I couldn’t make it out. After a few more seconds, the pony in my grip stopped struggling and went limp.

Wait... oh no, I’d burned his throat! How did I forget that! I prayed to the Goddesses that he was still alive as I turned him around to see... nothing. There wasn’t a single spot of burned coat or exposed flesh on him. What in the... did that thing in my head turn off the heat or something? Could he even do that? I started mentally searching for his presence, but couldn’t find it. What in the hay was going on with him? Or it? I shook my head a bit to clear my thoughts; this wasn’t the time for a million questions.

“Hey!” I yelled out to the other pony, who hopefully wasn’t charging around the corner quite yet, “I didn’t kill him, but you start shooting and I will! Drop your gun and I’ll leave both of you alive!”

“Ah right! ‘Ull kih ee ah oent ah alk oer!” he rather sloppily responded.

“Drop the gun so I can understand what the hell you’re saying, at least!” I heard a small clatter after a second or two.

“Fine, but I’ve still got weapons on me! Try anything and you’re dead! Hell, you ain’t leavin’ alive anyway! What the hell you thinkin’ you was doin’ comin’ in here anyway?” Finally, he was actually understandable in speech.

“You’ve got a hostage I heard. Town deputy, right?”

“Hah! You came in here for that assclown? Pussy’s all tied up in the kitchen; whines every time we walk past. Yea, we got the coward, but you think we’re gonna just let ‘im go ‘cause ya walked in here and asked? Ain’t much sense runnin’ through your brain, is there?” he taunted.

“I don’t remember asking you to let him go. Far as I can tell,” I laughed with fake confidence, “I’m just gonna walk on in and take him. If you two are all I’m in for, I don’t have much to worry about.”

“Big talk, I saw you when you walked in. You ain’t got a gun on ya, ya ain’t even got barding! One or two shots, and you’re fucked. What you think you’re gonna do when there ain’t a wall to hide behind?” I sighed.

“You see your friends out there in the street?” I asked, loathe to bring up the topic.

“You’re the fucker that blew Crash away? Or the one that put a shotty to ol’ Clamp’s head?” he questioned, clearly angry over their deaths. At least he had some sense of equinity still in him.

“I’ll take it I’m the second one there. Clamp’s the one with his head in pieces, right?”

“You ain’t got that shotgun on ya now, though, so what’s the point in bringin’ ‘em up?”

“I never had a shotgun. I bashed his head in with my bare hooves. You don’t believe me, you can have a look at his blood on my legs after you drop your weapons and walk over here.” The Ganger just laughed.

“Even if you did just smash him - which, by the way, that’s a terrible bluff - what’s to stop you from just doing the same to me after I walk over? I ain’t dumb.”

“Then you know that if you try anything, I’ll snap his neck and pound you into paste without even trying. I don’t want to kill anypony in here, but if you don’t give me that choice, I’m plenty capable.” More than I wanted to be. The raider was silent for a few moments before sighing.

“Fuckin’ shitty pistol... how’re we supposed to fight when all we got is these pea shooters? Fine, you fucker, but I’m warnin’ you... if you so much as look at me wrong, I’m gonna kill your sorry ass, you hear me?” he spat.

“I could say the same. Now walk over slowly. I can kill this buck in an instant, don’t make me.” I warned.

“Yea, yea.” I heard another small clatter followed by his hooves on the wooden floor. He stopped at the corner and put a foreleg out for me to see. “I’m comin’ ‘round.” As he walked around, I got a good look at him for the first time. His coat was dark brown and he had a mane of which had it’s color long since covered up by dirt and blood. He was wearing the same blue barding as the pony I had hostage. His dark red eyes stared angrily into mine. “There. Now what?”

“Now, you walk out that door and get the hell out of this town.” I told him.

“To what, the NCR taking me right back into custody? Fuck that,” he spat.

“There’s no NCR if you don’t cross the overpass. Take this guy with you and leave, before I change my mind.”

“Whatever. You’re gonna regret fucking with us, you better believe it,” he said as he took his unconscious friend onto his back.

“That’s my problem now. Go.” The Ganger huffed and started walking toward the door. I stepped out from behind the corner and trotted toward the opening they’d come from. Hopefully there weren’t too many in here, or at least not all grouped up. I doubted I could repeat this, despite it’s effectiveness.

Speaking of which, I let out a relieved sigh and smiled. I’d gotten past them without killing them! A small accomplishment, sure, but it still felt good. I looked down where he’d dropped his weapons and…

There was a knife laying on the ground. Weren’t there two clattering sounds? Where was the... gun... oh dear…

“Regre ih yeh?” I heard his voice once again muffled and distorted by the pistol in his mouth. Before I could even turn around, I heard the gun go off and jumped, landing awkwardly on my side next to the chairs in the hallway in front of me.

“Do you?” a familiar voice quipped. It couldn’t be... I turned my head to see Skydive standing behind him, pistol in her wing.

“Skydive?” I asked in shock.

“Who else would save your ass?” she replied. I got up and trotted over to her. “The hell are you doing in here?” she asked in an upset tone.

“Ash said that these guys have their deputy held hostage, but that he’s prob-”

“Yea, yea, I know that,” she interrupted, “I mean why were you standing in front of that guy about to get your head blown off? You can’t seriously be so stupid that they somehow got behind you and you didn’t notice.” I explained what had just happened to her, making her facehoof. “You actually tried to talk them down?”

“Well... yea. And it worked! Except, he still had his gun…

“I shouldn’t be surprised at this point,” she sighed, “I know that the one guy outside was hard on you. But really, these are bad ponies in here; they aren’t called escaped convicts because the title sounds good. Everypony in here did something to have the NCR jail them. Most likely murder, I might add.”

“I know, that’s why I came here. Because then, if I hurt anyone, it wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing. But, I just... I couldn’t kill them, not after Clamp.”

“Clamp?” she asked.

“Oh, the guy I killed outside. That one who was trying to shoot me had told me his name.” I explained.

“Right... well, you seem to need my help then. If you can’t kill them, I’ll handle it.”

“N-no, you don’t need to. I’ll be fine. You should be asleep anyway!” I stammered; her being here ruined the whole reason I came here in the first place!

“So should you,” she replied, “and what’s the deal? Think I can’t handle myself or something?”

“It’s not that, it’s just...” I sighed, “I don’t trust myself right now. It’s not them I’m scared will hurt you.”

“Oh please,” Skydive snickered, “you don’t need to worry about getting me hurt. I can take care of myself, you worry about you. Now are we gonna get that deputy out, or what?”

“Skydive...” I muttered, already knowing I couldn’t argue with her anymore. She wanted to be here, I couldn’t make her leave if I tried.

“I told you to call me Sky,” she said. “It’s what my friends call me.” I just looked at her for a minute. She smiled, but only for a moment. “Are we gonna do something, or are we just gonna sit here and talk forever?”

“Fine,” I said, returning the brief smile, “let’s go.”

We walked through the archway and into a large hallway. There was a room to our left that Skydive immediately went into. I followed her, but there was nothing notable inside. It looked to be an old gift shop, destroyed either by the Gangers or by other looters. Skydive poked around a bit, and I noticed her picking up all the bottlecaps that were on the counter. There were also several bits on it as well, of which she also scooped into her saddlebags.

“Hey,” she called me over, “know how to pick a lock?” She was looking at a safe on the floor. Rather, a safe in the floor. There were several more bits all around it, as well as a book (Tales of a Junktown Pony Peddler, it read.) and some more bottlecaps. Why were there so many of those just lying around, and why did Skydive want them?

“Not that I remember,” I answered.

“Well, shoot,” she said disappointedly. “I bet there’s a bunch of money in there.”

“Wouldn’t it belong to whoever runs this place? I mean, it used to be a hotel for the ponies in Prim before these Gangers moved in, didn’t it?” I asked.

“Ah, nopony’s gonna miss it,” she responded. I shrugged as she walked out. For good measure, I grabbed the book on top of the safe along with the bits. I just stared at the bottlecaps for a moment; why did she want those, and why did I have some? I shrugged again and followed Sky out. We walked down the hallway a bit before she stopped and flew over to the chairs next to the wall, holding a hoof to her mouth in a ‘be silent’ gesture. I trotted as quietly as I could next to her.

“What?” I whispered. She just put her ear to the wall and waited a minute. She pouted and whispered back.

“There’s somepony on the other side of this wall just pacing and muttering to herself. I’d rather not tangle with her, let’s see if this door over here can’t get us around her.” She turned and flew over to a large blue door I hadn’t even noticed was there. Sky pushed on the bar, but the door didn’t budge. “Dammit! Are you sure you can’t pick a lock?”

“Well...” I walked over to the door and looked at it. There was a lock placed at it’s hinges, but it wasn’t like the one on the safe. This one was a simple padlock, rather rusty from the couple hundred years it had been there. I looked at it for a minute and got an idea. Turning, I braced myself on my forelegs as my hind ones wound up before giving the lock a solid buck. It snapped loudly and the door flung open, slamming on the wall inside. “Picked it.” Sky just stood there, mouth agape. I couldn’t help but laugh a bit. She grabbed me and pulled me through the door before quietly, albeit quickly, shutting the door behind us. “Um, you know touching me generally gets you burned right?”

“You said you didn’t burn the pony when you knocked him out. Beside the point! I said to pick the lock, not destroy it!” she half whispered, half shouted at me.

“What’s the difference?” I asked. “Still got the door open.”

“Picking locks is quiet! You’re lucky if that mare didn’t hear that! Hell, you’re lucky if you didn’t wake up Ice Pack back in New Trottingham with that!”

“Now you’re just being silly,” I told her. She opened her mouth to say something, but just sighed in annoyance.

“Let’s just see where this goes.” I nodded and walked down the hall beside her. It turned and led into another room. There were a bunch of hanging pots on the wall, along with a table covered in some kind of cooked meat on a bunch of plates.

“Jackpot,” I quietly cheered. “That guy said they were keeping the deputy in the kitchen, this should be it.” Sky nodded. I let her fly ahead, her wings almost silent, whilst I stayed back in case anypony was in the room. They would hear my hooves on the tile floor. Skydive peeked around both corners of the door before jerking her head back like before, and flying back over to me.

“There’s nopony in the room itself, but there’s wide double doors leading into the hotel proper. I saw a fire going, so they’re mostly going to be gathered in there. I think I saw Basset on the other side of that table.”

“That’d be the deputy,” I said. “If nopony’s there, let’s see if we can’t sneak him out. if we get behind that table, can we be seen through those doors you mentioned?”

“No, and they don’t have direct vision of the deputy either,” she answered.

“Well then, let’s go.” We moved as quietly as we could down the hall. Sky checked around the corner again to make sure the coast was clear before quickly diving behind the table. I followed her, not quite as silent, but effective nonetheless. Next to us lied Basset, tied up in ropes against the table. His silver mane was in stark contrast to his light brown coat and leather barding.

“I don’t suppose you’re here to rescue me?” he asked with a sort of pleading hope in his voice.

“Yea, but keep it down,” Sky chided him.

“Well, that’s wonderful,” he sighed in relief, “now, if you would be so kind as to release me from my bonds, I’ll be on my way.”

“Uh, we’re going to deal with the rest of the raiders in here while we’re here,” Sky told him as she grabbed a rather large knife from the tabletop with a wing.

“Oh, well, I can wait I suppose.” Sky raised an eyebrow at him.

“You’ve got a gun on you still, pal. And we’re not cutting you loose so you can run off on your own.”

“Yea,” I chimed in, “stick with us!”

“Oh, as much as I appreciate the offer to keep me safe, I assure you I can handle myself. I’ll just meet you outside, after-”

“Hey, Basset,” I interrupted him, “if you try to run off on your own, I’ll break your legs. Seriously. You’re the towns fucking deputy, so step it up!” Goddesses, that Ganger wasn’t kidding when he said this guy was a coward.

“Oh... well, I guess I’ll stick with you. If you insist,” he said, a hint of fear in his voice.

Sky cut the ropes around his hooves with a bit of effort, and a few cautions from Basset. After she was done, he stood up and stretched. “Sure feels good to have those off. I assure you, this captivity was certainly the low point of my career. Anyway, if you’re really going to go after these Crystal Gangers, I should warn you that most of them are in the room out there. Most of them just have nine millimeter pistols and wheel irons, but there’s one with a-” he suddenly stopped talking as his verdant eyes stared out the door as his mouth hung open. I could see sweat starting to form on his face.

“With a what?” Sky asked.

“This,” another voice, deeper and quite thicker than even the NCR soldier’s was, answered. Sky and I stood up immediately to see who had said it. What stood in the doorway, armed with a bizarre, massive weapon I couldn’t recognize, was no pony. What I momentarily mistook as a tan coat was in fact feathers, and claws were in place of hooves. What the hell was this creature supposed to be? His face was a white color, stained in several places by blood. He had a beak in which a cigarette was lit, and his eyes looked as though they could stare you down from miles away.

I glanced at the intricate weapon he held in his talons, a large metal... thing that was almost like a cannon in appearance. At it’s base was a large tank, of which I started to piece together what it was filled with.

“GET DOWN!” Sky screamed as she flew to the doorway we’d entered in, drawing her pistol. The inequine beast lifted the weapon off the ground and took aim right at me. Before I could react, a bright light shined and I felt a strong impact knock me off my hooves. I wasn’t quite winded from the impact, but something felt wrong with my chest.

Oh. It was on fire. That might be it. Scrambling to get the burning flames smothered, I noticed they were being fed by some kind of adhesive that was stuck to me. The flames weren’t actually burning me though, perhaps due to whatever that ghost in my head had done. I couldn’t feel any pain from it, and the fire wasn’t charring my hide or even burning my coat. Whatever the reason or case, I got back up. Basset started to run toward the door Sky had taken cover behind.

“Not runnin’ today, coward,” the monster’s voice sounded as he shifted aim towards him.

“No!” I screamed, but too little too late. The light shone again and knocked Basset into the refrigerator behind him. He began to scream, not having the same immunity to fire I did. I rushed to his side and tried to remove the adhesive from his coat. Doing so only pulled searing flesh with it. Through it all, he was still screaming one single, droning yell that went on longer than any scream had the right to. “Basset! Help me get it off!” I yelled at him. He wasn’t listening, only screaming.

After a few seconds, his scream finally died. It took me a moment to realize that he died with it. I’d failed... I promised I’d get him out... and I got him killed instead. Now Sky and I were in deep shit, and I had yet another corpse on my hooves. Only this one really was a townspony; I had actually killed one of the people I came into Prim to save. The sticky gunk was still burning on his hide, and his mouth was still open from his dying shout. I fought back tears in my eyes as I stood up and turned to face that beast that had just slain him.

“I wanted to be nice...” I growled, feeling my anger coming to a boil. “I wanted to let those two at the door go. But the one just had to try and kill me. I wanted to let Clamp live, but he just had to draw a knife on me.” I turned to look at Basset one last time. “And I wanted to just get him out alive, not even bring any of you down. But you...” I walked toward him. He fired another one of those balls of burning fuel at me, causing me to stagger, but I didn’t fall. The fire burned where it streaked down my coat, but it did no actual damage. The monster showed panic in his eyes. Good. He would know fear by the time I was done with him.

“You just had to do this. You sick... sadistic motherfucker...” I kept walking forward. “Sky,” I looked over at her, staring with a frightened expression at me, “I told you I didn’t want to kill anypony... well, thank the Goddesses that the fucker who killed Basset isn’t a pony. Stay there, Sky,” I turned back to face the monster again, “he’s mine.”





Footnote: Level up!
Quest perk added: Enkindled: Your strange burning touch is more than just good for offense, it’s also good for defense! You are immune to flamers, flamethrowers, and fire in general!


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