• Published 24th Mar 2013
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Fallout: Equestria - False Dawn - Requiem Mori



Equestria has fallen, and the pieces are still being recovered. A mare wanders alone, cold and embittered. Perhaps she'll find friendship, even in these dark times... if such a thing is even possible.

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Chapter 16: Rest for the Wicked

Chapter 16: Rest for the Wicked

Nothing in this world is free.

Why do we fight? That question has been lingering in my mind for a while now, my already sharp temper honed to a perfect edge. Why do we fight? It was just a normal question, one to be expected from a reporter during a war. But one that stayed with me. The pegasus mare looked kind, looked curious, an honest question without the malice that another may have asked. But why do we fight? That is something I asked myself many times, during a restless night, brooding the future by the light of a dying candle. The Captain had given a flippant response, as was to be expected. “So we don’t have to fight, of course. I fight for a future free of fighting.” Noble words, even from a fool. If only the rest could share a sentiment like that. Others wax about the glory and triumph we would receive upon defeating the zebras. To win. Victory. Such an aetherial goal. Of course we do not wish to lose, but in this war, can we truly win? I do not think so. Even as the zebras destroy our bodies, we destroy our souls, one death at a time. Why do we fight? To preserve our way of life? We are destroying that every day, sacrificed on the altar of victory. I cannot sleep again, staring out into the darkened sky. Why do we fight?

~From the Journal of Nevermore

Our hooves clip off the pavement, closing towards the mall at a slow pace, the buildings still at a distance even as the afternoon sun beats down on us. Our endurance is flagging, it would be good to rest for a bit. We’ve been needing it. The Wasteland has been wearing at us, tearing at us. Even now we strain at our limits, battered, but not yet broken. I turn my head to look back at Nevermore and Zone, the pair causing me the most worry for now. Well, most of us not broken yet at least, though perhaps we can put the pieces back together again. Fritter keeps shooting daggers at Nevermore, muttering things, cursing her, abusing her, even as she stoically plods along, taking his venom with nary a word. The fire in her had died, the ghoul letting his words fall off her like rain water. I look around us again, painfully aware of how exposed we are, how vulnerable. Low on supplies, ammunition... motivation, we were an easy target. My tail twitches in its armored sleeve as I feel like the other horseshoe is about to drop on us...

~~~~~~~~~~

"Lookee Gangrene, fresh spawns!" The massive stallion elbows his partner playfully, excitedly. After all this waiting, they were finally getting the payoff for watching this road. Ambushing travelers could pay off well, but could also be dangerous if they were prepared well. The green stallion licking his jagged teeth excitedly, anxiously. Either way, he would have his fun today.

"Those ain't fresh-outs, moron..." Gangrene wrinkles her nose as she peers through a set of binoculars, the pale yellow unicorn watching the group moving below. "Injured... means no healing supplies. Close together... Protecting the injured it looks like. Look, that one in the front. That is..." She paused, seeing a larger, armored mare turn back to looks at her wounded companions. "Enclave. Ex by the look of it. Armor's all busted up. You take her..." Her gaze lingers on Star Racer, pausing for a moment before turning to her companion. “Let’s make this nice and clean.”

"How bad you want ‘em hurtin'?" He seems pleased by the idea of cracking some skulls, or blasting them with the shotgun hitched to his battle saddle, a vicious smile creasing his face. His viciousness could be an asset, as much as a liability at times.

"...Just rough em' up, Curbstomp. No killin'. We want their money, not their lives." Gangrene answers much to Curbstomp's disappointment.

He looks at her almost petulantly, the massive stallion pouting as he turns back to the small convoy. "And if they's resist?"

Gangrene pulls the slide on her varmint rifle, grinning, "Blood money..."

~~~~~~~~~~

The first warning I get that something is awry is a veritable mountain of pony barreling out from cover, his shotgun taking me in my armored chest, staggering me. The pellets ring off the powered armor, but the blast prevents me from trying to evade, giving him the opportunity to slam into me, bowling me over. It feels like I just got whacked by a sledgehammer, but what was worse was the horrid stench that seemed to cling to my attacker, which slammed into my senses like a tidal wave of disgusting. Fighting the urge to vomit in my helmet, which is never a fun prospect, I slide across the ground, metal and paint scraping off onto the pavement below. Before I manage to pull myself up, my attacker is already on me. He slams down on my prone form again and again, his hooves starting to dent the armor as he keeps stomping. Luna’s Mercy, what did they feed them down here?

“‘ey ‘ey! Don’tcha forget about the rest of us here!” I don’t have time to look at Tik, trying to fend off his blows, but I hope she’s not about to do anything stupid. “INCOMING!” Of all the... A metal apple comes flying through the air at us, the pin playfully held in Tik’s telekinetic grip. “Ka-boom!”

Time seems to move in slow motion. I see the grenade hit the ground in front of us and bounce up, hanging there for a brief moment, even as the stallion grabs my rear legs. Time snaps back into normal flow as he swings my body over his head. With a sick crunch, he slams my armored body into the pavement, pounding more cracks into it. More importantly, for him at least, he had slammed my stomach right on top of Tik’s grenade. A live grenade. Muffled by my body, the blast flips me over again, my armor marred by shrapnel and explosions. If we get out of this, Tik and I are going to be having some words about friendly fire.

A rifle shot rings over the fight, coupled with a sharp whistle. "Caps 'n gear! Drop ‘em before I drop you!" I look towards the owner of the voice, a small, yellow mare, covered with junkyard armor with stop signs protecting her flanks standing on a ledge above us. The piercings and slicked up greasy mohawk told us who we were dealing with already, raiders. Zone was in no condition to fight, Nevermore wasn’t moving. Fritter was unarmed, his pistol clicking on empty, and Tik was more dangerous to me than them, apparently. The only one I couldn’t see was Vusi. My armor injects me with some Med-X, one of the few things we have a relative abundance of, the auto-med functions kicking it, giving me back some strength. Lashing out, I catch the lumbering giant between his stump-like legs with an armored hoof as he looks at the ring leader, wishing that my rifles had any power left in them at all. The barrel of my body feels like its on fire, but there was no way that we could surrender to raiders... die or die fighting wasn’t really a choice.

His voice jumps up as my hoof connects, though the shotgun shoved at my throat beneath the helmet’s chin tells me that I’m about to pay for that shot. The brutal weapon roars and the pavement next to my head erupts from the blow, showering the road with more rubble. Vusi holds his pose for a second, his hoof having shoved the gun out of the way just in time. “Sorry for interrupting, but I don’t think she wants to dance right now.” The wall of muscle and brutality swings for the zebra, but Vusi was well justified in comparing it to a dance, his body slipping past the blows by the slimmest of margins, his hooves deflecting the strikes just enough. He’s not entirely passive though, his hooves lashing out in return, dealing heavy hits to the slab of pony bearing down on him. While I was trained in hoof-to-hoof, Vusi was far my superior, weaving and bobbing around the strikes like an acrobat, letting the stallion’s rage build, waiting for an opening for a crippling strike. At least Tik wasn’t lobbing grenades at us this time.

With a roar, Vusi’s dodging finally pays off, the infuriated stallion no longer thinking clearly, though... He stamps towards me instead of the evasive zebra, with Vusi trying to draw his attention again, but is knocked aside by sheer bulk. His hoof falls towards my throat with crushing force, the sound of bone and gristle snapping clearly audible in the sudden silence. Opening my eyes, I see Nevermore standing above me, her legs shaking, even as a dollop of ichor oozes down, splattering on my armor. I’m shocked as I see the edges of her eyes glistening, tears joining the rivulets of blood. “Stop... just please... stop...” Her voice is frail and hollow as she wavers, then starts to tip over, the Med-X having long since stopped dulling her pain, his hoof crushing several of her ribs as she blocked the blow meant for me. “Just... stop.” His hoof snaps her head around in response, her mask flying off her face, thin wisps of pink curling out of her muzzle.

The mountain of muscle is interrupted from further punishing the ghoul as a loud crack sounds out. The pale yellow raider pulls her rifle back, the butt of it delivering a stunning blow to the back of his skull. "I said no killin'!" She roars as her lackey falls to the ground dazed, clutching his bleeding head. She plants a solid kick into his side, then smacks him across the head with her rifle again. “Next time, listen to what I tell you! And I said no killin’!” Crack, crack, crack! He finally succumbs to unconsciousness, even as she delivers another kick for good measure.

During this time, my chest hurts too much for me stand, the grenade coupled with the pounding blows making every breath hurt. I probably broke something, one more item to add to the reasons I hate the Wasteland. Vusi watches the raider warily, cautious of her rifle, even as Tik starts to raise her own rifle. To our surprise, the raider drops her rifle, dashing over to my side. Without any direction, she deftly starts to undo the clasps holding my chest piece in place “Shhhh... it’s going to be alright, just let me take a look at you.” Removing powered armor was a difficult task, unless you were trained in it, or took care of those who were. It was so completely at odds with what the mare looked like, that I stare agape at her for a couple seconds. “Now, tell me where it hurts.”

Gangrene ignores my protests, quickly hitting the emergency releases designed for field medics to get at the occupant. She tsks irritatedly to herself, as it looks like the armor held for the most part, the protection provided better than most of the cobbled together pieces found in the Wasteland, but not enough to prevent some serious hurt. Several of my ribs seemed to be broken, though at least I was alive. “Ya gonna live, or should. Stupid meathead, told ‘im to not go for killin’.”

“If that’s the case, madame, then we need to get there.” Vusi points his hoof towards the settlement. “One of our companions... has had a very bad day so far, and she needs medical attention. Quickly.” He looks over to the crumpled form of Zone Control, lying where Nevermore left her, causing Gangrene to rush over to look at the unicorn.

“This damage is pretty severe... are these cloth bandages? Quick, get me some potions and some magical bandages... some Med-X too if you have it.” She barks orders at Vusi, clearly expecting him to hop to it.

“Ain’t got none...” Fritter looks at Gangrene, suspicion filling his eyes. “That’s why we headin’ ta the place the rotter said ta go, try ta fix her up... make sure she’s fine.” His gaze drops to the fallen mare, her breathing weak and shallow. “She gonna make it... she’s strong, never die ta somethin’ like this...”

“Die? Damn straight she’s gonna die unless we get her some help.” The raider pushes him out of the way as she picks up her rifle again. “Alright, come with me, I’ll get ya into the Blok, but you’re gonna owe me for saving your sorry hides.” She starts to mutter to herself, spitting curses and venom as we gather our wounded. Trust her? No. But we don’t have much choice right now, battered as we are. Nevermore pulls Zone back onto her back, vile blood dripping from her torn face, even as Vusi and Tik work to carry me as carefully as they can, having stored my weapons and armor away at Gangrene’s advice. Apparently, ponies were not very keen on the Enclave, even in these parts. Though still wary of her, Gangrene does seem to be trying to help, and Vusi makes sure to keep an eye on her. Fritter hovers near Nevermore, trying to do a mix of getting close to Zone and avoiding Nevermore at the same time.

Left behind them is the forgotten, if still rancid, form of Curbstomp, slowly leaking blood onto the pavement.

~~~~~~~~~~

The gate of the settlement is closed against us, the walls surrounding it seemingly built from the armor of a fallen airship. A brown stallion’s head pops over the wall, looking down at us. “Well well, what have we here? Travelers, at this hour?” He drops out of sight, suddenly reappearing on the other side of the gate. “Hey, ya ain’t going to get in without payment!” He disappears again, reappearing on the other side. “Yeah, payment!”

The pale yellow mare with us looks up at him, shaking her head with exaggerated dismay. “Knock it off Lock, Key, and just let us in.”

The twins both pop up this time, looking down with identical stares. “Hey there Gangly Gal! Didn’t see you down there. You told them the rules, right? No payment, no entrance!” The other one echoes his brother, the identical ponies clearly used to playing this game. “Yeah, no entrance!”

She looks at us, then up at them. “They ponies don’t really have anything you’d want, and their caps are for supplies. Can’t take too much of a cut off ‘em.” She walks up to me, giving me a swat on the flank. “This here is a ghoulie though, know you’re interested Key.” The numbness in my spirit fades, ever so slightly, fueled by the embers of my rage, the fire having died out. But still, there’s a spark, and this mare’s attitude was starting to kindle it again. I instinctively don’t like her, and her attitude now is doing nothing to improve my opinion. It’s hard to explain my feelings for her, just a natural aversion to her. Perhaps due to how many times I’ve cut down a pony with her manestyle, or perhaps there was just something that felt wrong with her.

“Oooooh, a ghoul? More dead than alive, you know how much I like that...” The one on the left’s voice positively coos, running a shiver down my spine. “And she looks so fancy. But you haven’t even introduced us yet.”

“But that’s only one of us, Gangrene, what do you have for me then?” The other one smiles at Gangrene, even as she holds up a hoof, forestalling their bargaining.

“Hey now, none of that yet... you don’t get her just for entrance, what sort of fool do you take me for? She’s worth a lot more than that.” That ember begins to glow, the traces of life starting to fill my limbs again, my emotions starting to recover from the dead zone that they were in before. “After all, just one night is worth more than ya charge for normal entrance.” She looks to Vusi to introduce us, as she never got all our names. As he does so, Key and Gangrene are already haggling for prices.

“Two hundred caps as well as entrance.” He steals a glance at me, my eyes narrowing in response.

“Eight hundred, and you buy Lock something for me.” Was this mare doing what I thought she was? I’m about to protest, when she sees it, cutting me off. “Look, ain’t no way around it. You need medicine, and for that, ya need caps. Unless you have a stash hidden away, you need ta play nice, got it?” In silent response, I drop a bag of caps on the floor, a small one, each cap and the bag itself coated with my rotting blood and ichor. Not because they got dirty normally, no, but because I deliberately coated them out of spite earlier. “Well, looks like you bought yourself entrance, right boys?”

Lock eyes the bag, even as Key starts to sniff it, a smile on his face. “Oh yes, go right on in. Though I do hope you reconsider seeing me sometime...” Biting back my bile, I ignore them, trudging along, Zone heavy on my back, just like my sins. I think I hate this Gangrene.

“Just so you boys know, Curbstomp will be comin’ back later, he’s just a bit indisposed of right now.” She turns back towards me, a smile creasing her face. “Dang girl, you got more of that in there?” She flicks her gaze to my saddlebags, even as I turn to mechanically slash her with my gaze. Greedy harridan, preying upon others for some supplies and caps... Yes, definitely starting to hate her.

“For supplies only. Not for raiders.” My voice is lifeless, not having the same bite that it used to, though starting to recover a slight edge as I mull on the past and the future, existing in the present for now. The mare shrugs at my response, drawing us further into the mall. The place is disgusting, covered in filth, trash, and graffiti, crude statements and sayings. “Welcome to the Blok”. A fine greeting indeed, from a trashed directory. This place reminds me of the mare herself. Outwardly disgusting and filthy, but also possessing a vibrancy and life. Winding through the area, dodging the crowds and the merchants hawking their wares, we find ourselves in front of the Colt & Filly Community center, the doors propped open. To my silent horror, a small tide of young ponies swarm from it, specifically towards the raider with us. Several other older ponies close in, clad in similar garb to Gangrene.

The young ponies pile on to Gangrene, asking her about what she’s brought them, what’s going on, who we are. Their curiosity boundless and enthusiasm endless. Most seem to instinctively shy from me, as if they knew that something was terribly wrong, though Vusi and Tik seem to enjoy their presence. “Well, here we are, home sweet home. Welcome to the ‘Wreck Center’, ain’t got cots for everypony, so some of ya have ta take the floor. Now get the wounded up so I can take a look at ‘em.” She has to back the foals off, clearing a space to begin working, gently pushing them aside as required.

An odd view here, the raider mare tending the wounded. Her vicious demeanor at odds with the gentle ministrations for the wounded. A stream of curses and invective echos her distaste for the damage done to Zone, coupled with a stream of medical supplies and bandages floating in her magical grip. Doing what she can for the fallen mare, she wipes sweat from her brow, her mohawk drooping sadly. Leaving Zone’s side to tend to Star Racer, a pair of potions and some bandages accompany her in the endeavor. “Alright, fortunately that lunk head didn’t do anythin’ too bad ta ya, just a couple ribs. Yer armor is gonna need some definite attention though.”

One of the foals looks up at Star, a sharpened riot shield strapped to his back. He was eggshell blue, with a red and black mohawk, similar to Gangrene in appearance. He had Star’s helmet held between his forehooves, pulling it off the pile where it was sitting. "Whoa! Where'd you get this gear? The owner die? It ain't working worth sh-" He lets out a stream of curses that would make a Talon blush. Surprising for such a small pony. “Really messed this up, didn’t ya?” He rotates the helmet a bit. “I’ll give you this shiny bottlecap and uh... this comic for it!” He whips out a well worn copy of the Mysterious Mare-Do-Well, expectantly. “Please? It’s just like Gangrene’s armor, and I wanna be just like her.” That comment elicits a snort from me. Wanting to grow up to be a raider? What happened to the nobler professions? Or at least not the criminal ones.

Star grunts slightly as Gangrene tightens the bandages, narrowing her eyes slightly from the pain. Her voice sounds strained as she growls at him. “Kid, that’s Enclave power armor. It’s not really for your type.”

The small foal lets out another stream of invective at that point. “Type? You sayin’ it’s too good for me? It’s nothin’ but scrap metal at this point. I could patch it up... it is a bit big for me.” He huffs slightly, looking up as the much taller Star Racer is helped up to her hooves. “Fifty caps for a patch job. It’s a steal!”

Star grunts slightly as she settles her wings down, the other ponies watching her carefully, though the older ones seem to have their eyes flicking to her flanks. “There’s not much to repair any more, most of the systems were shot earlier.” He gives her a deadpan look as he looks from the hole in the helmet to Star’s missing eye. “But maybe you can rig it to work as normal barding.”

Gangrene goes back to cursing as she keeps working on Zone Control, the mare still unconscious from earlier. “Bruise, we need more supplies. Go check with Bitch Fit and see if we can get any more, especially potions or bandages.” She’s not looking at us, though the chocolate colored stallion starts to move towards the door. Star takes a look at me, where I lay against the wall, quietly watching the gathering, before following the stallion out the door, leaving me alone again, even in the middle of the crowd.

Time seems to pass slowly for me, even as Gangrene frantically works on Zone, blood splattering her mane and coat. Several of the foals approach me curiously, stealing glances when they think that I’m not looking. One gets a little closer, the cream colored unicorn filly looking at me for a minute. “I um... I like your hat miss.”

Well, fancy that. I pat the ground next to me, even as she scampers closer, nearly tipping over in the process. She reminds me of another foal, from oh so long ago. Fearless, even when they should be terrified. Full of life, completely at odds with myself. I’m tempted to give her something, perhaps some small sweet that I had saved. But... I do not wish to be swarmed, and offering candy to a room full of foals is one of the best ways to be overwhelmed in a tide of youngsters, so she can wait. Besides, I have never been good with foals, though they seem to be drawn to me for some reason.

Further thoughts are interrupted as the door flings open, a tan mule kicking it clear open, surrounded by a few others. “What do you want, Lunk Head, can’t you see I’m busy here?” Gangrene snarls at him, barely looking up from where she was working on Zone still.

“Don’t be like that lil’ lady! The Boss just wants to say hi!” He has a cruel grin on his face, even as he looks around the ‘Wreck Center’. “Real nice place ya got going here. Should’ve kept it like that, bein’ the Boss’ main squeeze, thought you’d be smarter about this, instead of finding yourself some unicorn tramp.”

“What are you talking about, you idiot? I’m trying to save her life here! So if you ain’t gonna help, then get the buck out! I paid my rent.” The raider snarls at him, looking back down as she keeps working.

“Can’t let ya do that, Gangrene. The Boss was very specific on what she wanted, and I’m sure not gonna disappoint her.” He looks at his goons. “Trash the place.” Instinctively, my wing opens, covering the filly cowering next to me. There were several of them, and in my state, I wasn’t sure I could manage to fight them off. I owed her though, the raider, and I absolutely hate owing ponies. Breathing was right out, due to the proximity of the innocents, though I wouldn’t mind too horribly if Gangrene just caught a whiff, which left it to knives.

A wave of stench rolls over us before I can grab my knife, causing even me to recoil slightly as a massive shadow blots out the lights behind Lunk Head, the sound of a pony cracking their neck clearly audible as everything else falls silent. “Now can I crack some heads, Gangrene?” Curbstomp looks down, even as Lunk Head fouls himself. Hopefully Star Racer wasn’t running into any trouble...

~~~~~~~~~~

A reddish-orange pegasus mare leans over the counter of the concession stand, almost seductively. This was apparently the leader of the Blok, Bitch Fit, her headquarters set up in this dilapidated old theatre. I can admit that she’s a bit of a looker, though there’s a cruel streak in her eyes that repulses me. "Wow, you're a tall glass of scotch on the rocks! What brings a breezy lil number like you to my roost? Got lost looking for Rainbow Sanctuary? Freshly branded? They weren't too rough when they kicked yah out were they, dollface?" Her tone is a mix of taunting and hostility, mostly at my expense.

I glare at Bitch Fit. "Who- what... that is..." I shake my head, my gaze turning cold as the implications begin to sink in. "Branded? BRANDED? You think I'm a Dashite?" I snort my derision. "I'm Lieutenant Star Racer, Enclave Expeditionary Force, and I'm not a *traitor*." My eyes flick to her flanks, confirming my suspicions, her cutie mark obliterated by a brand.

Bitch Fit stares at me for a long second, her cronies coming in from the sides, but she waves them off flippantly. "You ain't nopony down here, dollface," the elder pegasus says crisply. "You know what you are?" She slams down a box of supplies, the contents rattling slightly. "You’re in desperate need of help." She tips it over to spilling its contents over the counter. Potions, bandages, ammo, power cells, everything we needed. Somepony was very well informed. Bitch Fit presses a single hoof over the supplies possessively. "Your injured friend? I could toss her out at night. Or I could sell you these supplies, your choice." She licks her lips, grinning ear to ear. "So, let's try this from the top. I'm Bitch Fit, Gangrene's my girl, and if you want supplies or a warm meal you gotta kiss this hoof." Her attitude is pure cockiness, knowing that she has what we need, and that there’s not much we can do to fight her.

I press my ears down, a low growl in my voice even as I feel ponies looking at the shooting stars on my flanks, waiting to see if I’d bend. "Are you so craven that you would use the wounded for a point of pride?" I look at Bitch Fit, my words cold and biting. "For. Shame. No wonder you abandoned your people. Or maybe you were kicked out?" Bruise desperately tries to silence me, but I ignore him, my stubborn pegasus pride refusing to back down from this confrontation, offended by how low this mare seems to have fallen.

The mare puts her forehooves on the counter, leaning over threateningly. "You're about to get kicked out in a moment you li-"

"They're with me!" Barked a very irate voice. "And I paid my damn rent on time, you harlot!" Gangrene was seethingly pissed off for some reason, trotting up to the concession stand with murder in her eyes, Zone’s blood marring her face and hooves.

"Oh, hey babe, something wrong? I'm in the middle of a transaction here..." Bitch Fit purrs, her demeanor changing instantly as the raider mare shows up, from confrontational to seductive. It was quite a sight, to be honest, how about face the mare could be when something new comes up.

Gangrene strikes her lover in the face with full force, causing the aged mare to tip over, blood running from one of her nostrils. "Don’t play coy with me! I've got good reason to be pissed at you! Fiddling around with other girls, hitting on this one... and then you... YOU send Lunk Head to my place and trash it cuz you think I am going to be sleeping with that injured unicorn? Screw you!"

Bitch Fit wipes her nose, laughing lightly, "Oh come on, it ain't no big thing. It's not like I hurt any of your brats. Calm down babe. I'll just give you the supplies tah bury this particular hatchet and then I'll have your face ‘tween my thighs come movie time."

The light yellow unicorn bristles, her eyes cold. She bites her lower lip hard before relaxing her tense muscles, nodding. "Yeah, sure. See you at nine." She snatched=s up the supplies and lays them over Bruise, nudging him toward the exit. Just as we are about to leave, Bitch Fit springs, snatching Gangrene from behind, pressing a bladed wing to her throat.

"I love you babe. But if you ever hit me again. I'll slit that pretty little throat." The rough mare bit down on her ear hard before shoving her towards the doorway, leaving a thin line of blood leaking down her face. "And don't let me catch you even eyeing this Enclave tramp you done let in! I'll kill her if she even looks at you!"

The visibly shaken Gangrene can only nod, feeling the faint cut on her neck as we leave the shattered remains of the theatre. "Move. Before Curbstomp kills Lunkhead. I don't need Bitch Fit mad at me. She's in a good mood today..."

“Good mood? That’s a good mood?” I seethe inside a bit. "Oh for a clear line and a charged power pack..." I look down at the unicorn, though she seems smaller than average, letting me tower over her. "But thank you for that." I wrinkle my nose, imagining that I can smell that foul pegasus on her, not unfamiliar with the terms she used. But, it wasn't really my place to judge this strange mare's taste after all. We had just met, and barely knew each other. I shake my head, my green mane flipping back and forth since I left it unbound. "Maybe I'll talk to Tik about donating a few apples to her cause..."

The feisty mare looks at me, then at Bruise who’s further ahead, seemingly eager to get back to the ‘Wreck Center’. "Yeah you’re welcome, but my help came at great cost. My rent rate’s going up with you sods sleeping on the floor! You're lucky the runts like you or..." She sighs softly, shaking her head, eyeing me contemplatively. She turns away from me as I’m about to say something to her, her moment of sudden vulnerability hidden from view. "I don't need nothing from ya!" The rough bandit slicks up her mane and masks her trepidation with a forced smile before brazenly stealing a kiss from my cheek. "Sorry." She speaks as she increased the pace of her trot, even as I can feel the warmth of her on my cheek. "Forbidden fruit tastes sweet."

I’m shocked by her action, looking after her as she keeps going. I blink, then blink again, looking at Gangrene. "Wha-that is... what?" I look at the mare again, seeing past the raider, past the wear and grime. "You know... ain't half bad under all that dirt... and grease." Still, it wouldn’t kill the mare to take a bath or something, caked with dirt as she is. Snorting, I shake my head. "As for rent, you'll have to talk to Nevermore about that when she wakes up... if she wakes up." My ears droop as I think about the depressed pegasus mare. The one who seems like she lost her spark, her movements slow and mechanical. I wasn’t talking about resting, and I think we both knew that, even though Gangrene never knew her from before. My gaze flicks down to Gangrene again. Pissing off Bitch Fit might be worth it, but I’m not as... casual as some either... especially as some of the ponies down here apparently. Something curious, perhaps, and may explain how they managed to survive and spread so much.

"Ain't half bad? Half bad?!" Gangrene seems taken aback, feigning a pained expression on her face. "I'm the finest flank in this freak show we call a home." She rolls her eyes, adding under her breath that it 'did not amount to much'. Still, she was a thoroughbred by the looks of her, leaner and more petite than most ponies. She was, however, more of a firecracker personality-wise. "Like I said," She about faces in a near militaristic manner, prodding a hoof into my bandaged chest with every word she spoke thereafter. "I. Don't. Need. Nothin'." Each word brings her closer to my face, until our noses touch. Gangrene holds there for a moment, her horn lightly grazing against my forehead. She lets out a sigh laced with peppermint alcohol and turns about just as abruptly as before, swatting the me with her greasy, grimy tail, leaving a dark mark splattered on my otherwise clean white coat.

I act impulsively, doing something that I could never have imagined doing before coming down from the clouds. Maybe the madness that seems to infect the ponies down here was affecting me as well. Hesitantly, almost shyly, I lean my head down to the smaller mare, giving her a gentle nudge on her neck with my nose before turning away. There was something about her, a fire inside her contained by a fierce yet gentle shell that intrigued me. She was pretty, but more than that, her drive was like a flame drawing me in, coupled with her ruthlessness and her compassion. Truly, she was a study in contrasts. This action, however innocent, sets off a chain reaction in Gangrene. She giggles, softly, returning the nudge with a smile. And a small nip. A playful war of affection? Was that a challenge? "Careful, I get excited easy." Gangrene purrs in my ear as she gives it a tender lipping, having to stretch up to reach. "We're a ways from home. Don't wanna give anypony a show, do we?" She raises her eyebrows suggestively, grinning at me.

I smile, feeling like an idiot, my wings stretching up before gently thwapping Gangrene on the flank with my pony feathers. "Oh, no show... but they can imagine." Being around her is making me not think very clearly, coupled with the stress and despair from earlier. Here was a little slice of normality that I think we all desperately needed, a little touch of rest, safety... love? Perhaps, perhaps not. Maybe it was love, maybe it was just pent up lust and sadness. Whatever it was, I could feel it tugging on me, drawing me to her.

The yellow mare hiccups at the whack to her hind end, choking on some spit as she huffs. Tucking her tail between her legs, she turns her head down to hide the deepest blush anypony had ever worn in the history of blushing. "Hey, n-no foolin'. Yah'll break my poor widdle heart!" She chuckles, her smile fades as she looks at me, slowly dying as she flicks a glance back at Bitch Fit’s theatre. Once again, the rowdy mare falls to solemn silence before tearing her expression up into a cocky grin. "Yah couldn't handle me anyway!" She snorts, stopping in front of her home. "Hey, wait a minute." She says to me, keeping me from entering the ‘Wreck Center’. "Say, uh, we don't gotta go straight home. We got this lil alley out back with a futon..." She shuffles her forehoof against the ground, scraping at the pavement nervously.

I look down at Gangrene the hint of a smile creasing my face. A futon? I’d never done that not on a cloud... I cough slightly, rubbing my hoof against the floor. "An alley, huh? Sure that Bitch's cronies aren't lurking around?" I chuckle slightly as I watch the feisty mare. "Or do ya like chasing tail regardless?" I tuck my wings back, tilting my head as I mutter to myself. "Can't be disciplined for 'fraternizing with the indigs' now anyways..." I leave my answer vague enough, seeing where she’d go with it. I still wasn’t completely comfortable with all of this, but... perhaps I’d give it a chance, a chance to see where all of this would go.

Gangrene is considering it heavily, her hoof resting on the door of the center. She hadn't entered yet, imagining the kids were busy inside. Bruise had probably brought the supplies back by now, and the others would be taking care of the foals. She might have enough time for a little fun perhaps... She leads me around to the alley with a furtive wave and a deep blush. It was a modest dump, but there lay the mentioned futon between two dumpsters, apparently well worn and a little stained. Gangrene turns her nose up at it, glancing at me suddenly. "This ain't a good place," She decided, pulling a complete one-eighty. "Nope. No good for what I really want." She flicks her tail once. Cold hooves? No. She needs atmosphere. She wants more than a fling. Still, she settles onto the futon, plopping down onto her side. "The back door's open. I'll be a minute."

I chuckle slightly as I flick my tail, even as the mare... ‘gets to work’. “I’ll see you inside then.” I don’t know if I’m disappointed or relieved by this, my heart drawn to her but my mind focused on what was to come ahead. With a heavy heart, I slip into the door, my thoughts swarming with conflicting emotions, leaving the mare behind, even as I look ahead..

~~~~~~~~~~

Gangrene slips into the door a bit later, looking around her little home. She sees many of the ponies are already asleep, including Curbstomp, his fetid bulk stenching up the floor. Lunk Head and his goons were long gone, not wishing to get into a fight with Curbstomp, especially with the rest of the Vipers nearby to assist if it came down to that. She looks towards Star, who’s settling near the wall, tucking her wings in tight against her body. She feels a shiver run down her spine as she catches the gleam of Nevermore’s eye, the radiation in her causing it to glow slightly as the mare watches over their gear. Watching Gangrene quietly. Nudging Star with a hoof, Gangrene tilts her head towards the hallway. “There's eight rooms in this dump. Zone's taken Bruise's n' you... well..." Gangrene leads Star Racer to one of the doors near the back. “You gots mine. If any of the brats wander in durin' the night n' curl up on yah don't worry, they jus' had nightmares. Sleep tight..." She moves to slam the door, frustration and regret warring in her as she thinks about her life, and her regrets.

.

Star shakes her head slowly, giving her a knowing smile. That mare... something else entirely. "Do you get nightmares as well?" The voice is sympathetic, rather than coy, as if realizing something about the hard-bitten raider. Before Gangrene can respond, she uses her wing to close the door, whispering to the raider. “Good night, Gangrene.” Exhaling hard, she leans forward, resting her head against the door with a quiet thump. "What was that, Star?"

Gangrene sighs, lowering her ears, even as the door clicks shut. She feels the cut along the side of her neck and checks the time. It was nearing quarter to nine at night. Curfew was coming. "Yes..." She whimpers softly as she turns from the closed door, quietly answering Star Racer’s question. "Every night..." She slips out of her home to go meet Bitch Fit for their appointment. Maybe if she did a good job she could get some candy bars for the kids...

~~~~~~~~~~

After yet another harrowing date with Bitch Fit, Gangrene finally returns home in the dead of the night... but only after the sociopathic pegasus had drunk herself stupid and beat her again. She slips into the rec center's rear entrance, closest to her room where she kept her healing supplies, completely forgetting about their ‘guests’ for now. The foals never knew, they never saw, were never meant to see. Well, Rebel Riot saw once... only once. The stream of curses from him would have woken up the center, saved by a well timed bar of chocolate. She shudders, collapsing against her door, wondering why it was shut, wondering when the throbbing in her head would stop. She wondered why Bitch Fit would break a bottle over her head. Or slap her... or... tears fill the proud mare's eyes as she eases the door open gently, collapsing in the threshold. "...D-damnit..." She wheezes quietly. "Jus' a lil further ol' girl... D-don't wake anypony..."

There's a presence in front of her suddenly, accompanied by the faint rustling of wings. "Nightmares indeed." Star Racer looks down at the battered raider, rage warring with sadness at her appearance. This confirmed what she had believed, what she had feared.

"Jus' go back ta sleep..." Gangrene grunts softly, sprawled out over the floor. "I got t-this..." She weakly tries to pull herself up, but is clearly suffering, blood leaking down her face.

"Perhaps, but I'm sure this rug is a pain to clean if you keep bleeding on it." The lanky pegasus shakes her head, though her joke at least draws a faint smile from the mare, before she succumbs to the pain again. "You keep the floor clean, I'll get your things for you. Unless you want it to heal like that."

"Whatever..." Gangrene wheezes. "Cabinet's over there." She points with a hoof to the equipment cabinet. The cabinet was mostly empty, save for the depleted remains of what we had brought back earlier. She had used most, if not all, of her supplies tending to Zone and Star Racer... and this is how she got repaid. The pegasus mare’s heart burns with fury at the treatment Gangrene had received from that disgrace of a pegasus.

Star Racer takes the bandages over towards Gangrene, using her field training to wrap her up as best she can. "That bad, huh?" She smiles kindly at Gangrene, her mind already working on a plan to help this mare. "Maybe we can help repay ya after all."

Gangrene mumbles and mutters softly as I treat her. "Yeah, yeah, don't do me any fa- Ow..." She winces, tears welling in her eyes. Her horn flickers weakly. She smells of sex, booze, blood, and looks twice as bad as she smells. "Looks worse than it is... nothin’ ta worry about."

Star Racer snorts at her stubborn pride, even as she understands it. The pegasus was quite familiar with pride, and its potential costs. "Course it does... course it does." She hugs the raider with her wing, pulling her into a gentle embrace. Gangrene needs the comfort, the companionship, the mare breaking down as she leans against Star Racer. She tells her about the need for cheap rent for the kids, the need for food and money... how much Bitch Fit abused her needs to take advantage of her. And she cried... finally drifting to a disturbed sleep next to the pegasus. Looking up, Star Racer sees a gleaming red eye, a look of hate and rage filling it with a fire that hadn’t been seen since Zone’s fall. The dark shadow had slipped into the room unseen, unannounced.

“Zone Control will be fine, because of that mare. I hate owing any pony, for good or for ill.” Nevermore’s voice has an edge to it, cold and sinister, like that of a drawn blade. Her gaze flicks to the sleeping Gangrene before looking at Star Racer again. “Tell me more. Tell me everything.”

~~~~~~~~~~

Bitch Fit stumbles towards her quarters drunkenly, stopping to scream at or hit anypony foolish enough to get in her way. She’d kept drinking, even after Gangrene had left, the thought of that Enclave tramp fueling her drunken fury. Enclave... Gangrene... she drank to forget all of that, all of what brought her to where she is now. Even now, she can still feel the searing heat of the brand as it obliterated her cutie mark. A stream of curses flows from her lips as she forces the door open, cursing the Enclave, Gangrene, and anything that came to mind deserving of her vitriol. The older mare takes another swig from her bottle before dashing it against the wall, splashing the dregs against the filth. “Fet.” In her drunken haze, she fails to notice a pair of glowing eyes, a shadow unfurling from the ceiling. It’s not until the stench of death hits her that she looks around. “What the-” Nevermore growls as she falls upon the mare, Bitch Fit’s bladed wing parried with the clang of a dagger. “Who tha buck are you?”

No reply, just the hiss of breath and the mare vanishing into the darkness, reappearing with a sudden flash of knives. Again, they clang off each other, sparks flying as they cross weapons. It’s like fighting a shadow, Nevermore fading back after each strike, her eyes glowing balefully before disappearing. Silently taunting the mare. Silently toying with her. “Who sent you? What do you want?” Bitch Fit starts to look around, trying to find a pattern in the strikes, trying to find the mare at all... she thinks that she found the pattern, found the key, striking forward with her bladed wings. She’s fast, but age and alcohol have robbed her of her speed, the blades striking the wall, sticking fast. Tugging at it, she suddenly feels a presence next to her.

A voice from the grave rattles in her ear, even as she tries to free herself. “So this is the famous Bitch Fit... I was expecting more.” She can feel the mare’s presence, smell the death on her, even as a knife rests against her throat, the blade not pressing hard enough to draw blood, but close. “Now, you are going to listen to me, and you are going to listen well.” Bitch Fit looks back, about to unload obscenities on the intruder when her blood runs cold, the mare fouling herself in fear. The ghoul stands behind her, eyes glowing, even as wisps of pink cloud curl from her mouth. “Good... you know what I am.” The knife presses in a little more, a droplet of blood running down the length of the blade even as Bitch Fit is frozen in terror. “If I so much as hear of the Vipers being treated poorly... one whisper of their leader being abused... a hint that the foals are mistreated, I will come back... and I will not be so kind next time.” She exhales slightly, Bitch Fit accidentally taking in a small amount of the deadly gas. She immediately retches, her insides aflame as the necromantic magic burning through her. Not enough to kill, but enough to punish, to cause suffering. “And I will hold you personally responsible.”

As she wheezes her assent, Nevermore turns from her, sheathing her knives. She looks back at the distressed mare. It would have been so easy to kill her. But she provided stability for the region, for these ponies. Her sins and crimes did not deserve the ultimate sanction. Yet. Perhaps in due course, but I will let her live for now.

Turning off into the night she opens her wings settling on top of the Recreation Center, keeping silent vigil. The hatch on top of the Wreck Center opens with a dull creak, a cream unicorn foal popping her head out cautiously. “Could not sleep, little one?” A silent nod, her eyes wet from the terrors that the night brings. Nevermore taps the ground next to her, signaling for her to get closer. “Come here if you wish. I will protect you.” The foal, Taffy, slips over, nestling against the bitter ghoul. Again she opens her wing, covering her from the night air. Nothing would happen to them while she watched. Watched, and remembered.

~~~~~~~~~~

“Are you sure that this is a good idea?” The mare looks at her husband, then back at me. I was inclined to agree with her. This was an absolutely horrible idea. In a long history of terrible plans, this was quite possibly one of the worst that ever spewed from that stallion’s lips.

“Nonsense dear! It’s a great idea! After all, it’s Nevermore! She’s reliable, responsible, and she won’t let Rowdy get out of control.” My Captain flashes his wife a cocky grin, adjusting his hat slightly. “Besides, it’s high time we had some quality time together! You were just saying how much time work took from us, so I volunteered Nevermore here to help us out!”

“I must concur, Captain.” I look between the Captain and his pretty wife. There’s the faintest twinge of jealousy within me, knowledge of what I can never have. But for the most part I am pleased at their joy, even knowing that it was denied me. “Is there not somepony else? When you said that you required my special talents, I did not imagine that it would be... this.” That, and it was fairly ridiculous that I came in full battle garb for foalsitting, my dress heavy with armor and knives.

“Yes... after all this is Nevermore dear...” She looks at me. “No offense, of course.”

“None taken.” Of the ponies in my life, she was one of the least disliked. I daresay we might have been friends if I wasn’t so caustic. “But, do not fear. I will watch over him if required...” I shoot him a venom filled gaze. He will owe me for this. Oh yes, he will owe me dearly.

“Then it’s settled! Nevermore will watch Rowdy, and we can go get dinner and a movie!” We both deadpan at him, but I was already here, recalled from the war. I look down at my hooves, imagining the blood staining his carpet. Lives already taken, lives already lost. My Captain was staying out of the war, not something that I begrudged him. He had a wife, a child. He had more to lose than somepony like me. If I fell, would anypony even notice? And if they did, would they care? My morbid thoughts haunt me as I turn from him, even as he and his pretty wife have a muted argument about my presence.

I step into the other room, my dress trailing behind me, the faintest rattle of metal as my weapons shift. Rowdy knew me by sight, but I could hardly be called familiar to him. He was so young... Gently, I doff my hat, placing it on his small head.

It’s a curious sight, the dark and bitter Nevermore, the small and innocent foal. My hat hangs on his head loosely, oversized by a fair amount. My face is withdrawn and dour, his curious and frightened. My eyes are tired, having seen too much pain, suffering and death. His are young and innocent. Oh so innocent. I give him a tentative pat on the head before standing up. “I shall prepare us tea...”

~~~~~~~~~~

Welcome to Level 11!

New Trait: Morose - Things don’t always get you down, but when they do, you stay pretty down, don’t you?

Author's Note:

Thank you so much, Tinker, for helping me out with this chapter. His story can be found at: http://www.fimfiction.net/story/86057/fallout-equestria-second-wind

Also, thank you everyone who reads my work, I hope you enjoy it!

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