Fallout is Dragons - Stories from the Maw

by Newbiespud

First published

An anthology of short scenes related to the Fallout is Dragons podcast campaign.

Previously, in Dragon's Maw...

A place for collecting short stories that occur on the fringes of Fallout is Dragons, a Fallout: Equestria tabletop campaign.

Powder Keg Goes On A Date (Session 10)

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Previously, in Dragon's Maw...

After wrapping up their business in Gold Rush, the first town in the Maw, the party of six (plus one pet cragodile) (plus one teenage dragoness) made their way southward. On the way, they passed by the Dine 'n' Dash Trading Post, a place for merchants and wastelanders alike to rest and trade goods. The location was staffed at the time by an earth pony mare named Blinkie, possessed of a very frank, very neutral disposition no matter what was thrown her way.

Powder Keg inexplicably became smitten with Blinkie, and commenced flirting with her, to questionable amounts of success. It was highly entertaining to the rest of the group, though: Their dark and brooding raider-hunting companion reduced to awkwardness was a sight to see.

After a short detour to investigate a weird and dangerous clinic, Powder Keg came back to the Trading Post with a salvaged stamp for Blinkie's collection. While she made no great outward reaction to this, she stated clearly after her shift was over that she was interesting in spending the evening with him. Thus, Powder Keg stayed behind at the Dine 'n' Dash while the rest of the party advanced further southward to a location known as Shiny's Rest Stop in order to make camp and wait.

When Powder Keg caught up late in the night, the entire party had questions about how the date went, but Powder refused to say anything other than, "It was good."

This is how that date went.

The sun had mostly set on the jagged horizon. The rest of Dragon Mawlers Inc. had already departed southward, and Blinkie's shift at the Dine 'n' Dash had recently ended. There was very little elsewhere, nothing but sand and dust for a couple of miles in any direction, so they decided to hold their "date" at the Trading Post itself.

Powder Keg started things off by trying to cook for Blinkie. A fancy chef he was not, but he knew how to make pancakes. So he made pancakes. A couple of flapjacks got singed, some were a little underdone, but otherwise Powder was able to serve up two respectable stacks for him and her.

The novelty wasn't lost on Blinkie. "Pancakes at 9 PM. That's new."

"Well, I must admit," Powder drawled, "I'm certainly no chef, but pancakes for dinner was a special thing my father used to do for my brother and I. My brother always loved 'em so much."

Blinkie bit into a chunk of the pancakes and chewed on them for a moment. "It's okay."

"Like I said, not much of a chef. But, the pancakes have always just been something special to me. One of the few things I can make."

She nodded, her expression still dull and neutral. "Neither am I a chef. I sell booze and medicine. That's about it."

"You partake in either?"

"Not on the clock."

There was a bit of a pause.

"Not with the goods to be sold."

Another pause.

"I have a small stash."

Eventually, Powder said, "Sounds like a nice thing to have. Haven't had anything to drink for a while." He grinned wryly. "Had a bit too much last time. It didn't end well."

"I don't like being drunk or high. So I don't."

"I never partake in chems. I'm not a big fan of bein' drunk either. But a good drink every now and then is nice."

"It is," Blinkie agreed. "I just don't get drunk from it."

Powder took another bite of pancakes. "Certainly good to have some self-control. World knows I could use some more."

"You use explosives without dying." Blinkie thought about this for a second. "Then again, you also use explosives and literally nothing else."

"I'm not a fan a' guns. For one, they remind me of something I'd rather forget. For two, they plumb don't work here. As for other methods of attack, well, runnin' up to a foe just seemed imprudent to me."

"True." There was a lull in the conversation after that. Then Blinkie said, "I'm pretty good with a sling."

"Really... Well would you like to show me?"

"After pancakes."

"Sure enough."

"Can I ask a question?" Blinkie asked, changing subjects abruptly.


"What would you rather forget? You keep un-subtly mentioning it."

Powder Keg sighed. "It has to do with my brother's death," he admitted. "I keep trying to get away from it, but we recently ran into one of the ponies responsible for it. It's been hovering over me again since. Sorry to keep mentionin' it. It's hardly good for the mood."

Blinkie shrugged. "Sorry to harp on it. Just seemed like you really wanted to talk about it. Really wanted."

"It's fine. I... I really don't want to talk about it, if you can believe that. There's just been so much going on. Can't make sense a' anythin' anymore."

"Two undead dragons re-dead, the Four Horses are noticing you, the Cult doesn't know what to do with you... Seems simple to me." Blinkie reconsidered, and added, "But maybe that's just me."

"That's part of why you caught my attention. You're so candid 'bout everythin'. Still, I wish it were as simple as you boil it down to be. Just dealin' with my own companions can be a challenge."

Blinkie just listened patiently while Powder Keg spoke.

"That donkey, Javolt, won't stop doing crazy things. I can't stand 'im, but at the end of the day he's too good at what he does to leave behind. Then there's Tempered Steel. The dumb minotaur stood in front of an angry undead dragon and asked it to be civil. He's a great fighter, and he means well, but he sometimes just doesn't think hard enough. And we've all got our own issues to work through. I'm certainly not without mine. We seem to be the biggest heroes in the Maw right now. I look at how dysfunctional we are and I'm surprised we even got out of Gold Rush. I've got no idea how long we can last."

"Maw's full of quitters," Blinkie said at last. "We call them Outcasts."

Thankful for the change of subject, Powder asked, "And what's your story? How'd you end up down here?"

That gave Blinkie pause, and she put a hoof to her chin. "Hmm. Good question. It was a delivery job... then I got caught up in local politics... then I got chased out... then that rockslide happened..."

She put her hoof back down. "I guess a lot of things."

"Sounds like quite an adventure. You ever miss where you used to be?"


"You ever think about going back, gettin' out of this horrid desert?"

Blinkie's lips curled ever so slightly upward, almost too slightly to see. "Yes, back to the other horrid desert."

Powder Keg laughed. "You've got me there. But at least the old desert was curse-free. The only reason I came down here was to get away. It's had some other benefits though."

He slowly slid his hoof onto Blinkie's as he said that. Blinkie's face returned to her usual neutrality, and didn't react further when his hoof touched hers. Not so much as a twitch. Powder withdrew his hoof, looking slightly embarrassed.

Blinkie turned to look out the window towards the dormant volcano in the distance, the one at the center of the massive caldera they called home. "It's not boring here."

"It certainly isn't. Can't say that's always a good thing though."

She didn't reply right away. "Not quite what I meant. Sorry, I must've used the wrong wording. Let me think."

Powder waited for her to gather her thoughts.

Blinkie turned back to face him. "Status quo is boring. Raiders, monsters, survival, that's all normal. But you show up. The situation is changing. Dragons dying, Cult schisming, Raiders organizing. That's interesting."

She put her hoof on his. "You're making this interesting." Her face remained utterly neutral, still.

"Well... when the status quo is as bad as it was when we came in, it just makes it seem like things really need to get better. We've only done what we thought was right."

"That helps. But it's like that mountain." She looked back out at the volcano. "Most ponies think it's too big. You don't. You're thinking about it now, but it hasn't stopped you."

"It's just what I do. If I stopped for every little rock that seemed to big to climb, I'd be dead by now."

"'What you're currently doing.' It's 'what you're currently doing.'" She blinked. "Sorry. I don't like the phrase, 'it's what I do.' It's dumb."

Powder laughed at that. "That's fine. It's how I operate. That work better for you?"

"It's almost the same thing, but I'll let it slide."

By this point, the sun had fully set, giving way to the night. "It's getting late," Blinkie pointed out. "Thanks for the pancakes."

"You're welcome," Powder replied. "I guess I better go catch up with my companions. It's been a wonderful evening."

"Don't die."

"I won't."


"Goodnight, Blinkie."

"Goodnight, Powder Keg."

The two ponies parted ways, one heading home, the other journeying back out into the wasteland.

Xencarn's Great Escape (Session 15)

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Previously, in Dragon's Maw...

The Dragon Mawlers party met Stalker, a slaver gang leader with a drawl suspiciously similar to Powder Keg's, who was working in the Maw and specifically targeting ex-raiders. He met them in Skyfall to deliver a message, paraphrased: "To Burner and Brass Knuckles, if you're considering attacking me, you should be aware that I have people very close to you at my camp. I am, however, open to bargain for their release, if you're interested."

After Stalker left, their medic Firelight left the room in a huff, and the zebra necromancer Xencarn followed. Firelight was privately very disturbed by Stalker's message. Xencarn suggested that they go off to Stalker's camp to investigate the truth of things. Firelight accepted, and the two of them went on ahead.

At the camp, Firelight and Xencarn were welcomed as business customers, albeit customers kept under heavily armed watch. Stalker introduced first introduced them to Trigger, a blind pony from Firelight's past, previously assumed dead. He then showed them Copper Wire, a minotaur mercenary in Stalker's employ who seemed to be Brass Knuckles' (ostensibly Tempered Steel's) brother.

Stalker explained that it would cost them 5,000 caps each, both to free Trigger from his slavery and to provide severance pay for the mercenary Copper Wire, for a total of 10,000 caps. Riches that neither Firelight nor Xencarn had available, nor did the rest of the Dragon Mawlers.

Just as Firelight and Xencarn had decided to leave and come back with either the caps or a new plan, Stalker got a call on his radio, presumably from the Executive. Stalker then informed the group that the price was reduced to 3,500 caps each, for a total of 7,000. In exchange, Firelight would have to stay at the camp until the transaction was completed.

Xencarn offered himself up as trade, to stay at the camp and let Firelight get the payment instead. Stalker agreed to this, saying that he could use a necromancer around the camp in the meantime. Firelight objected at first, but Xencarn insisted that Firelight was more useful to the party than he was, especially if they ended up taking on a dragon to earn enough loot for the ransom.

Firelight eventually relented, but insisted on trying to heal Trigger's wounds before he left. At this point, Firelight had become a miracle worker when it came to magical medicine. Between some healing potions, a doctor's bag, Firelight's innate healing talent, and a great deal of luck, Firelight was able to restore Trigger's sight. Amidst Trigger's teary-eyed gratitude, Firelight was then escorted out of the camp.

Xencarn was then put in one of the slave cages and told to wait for instructions.

The rest of the party got together and had to fight Smaug, the Blood Dragon, who attempted to attack Skyfall. When they were done and had looted Smaug's rather impressive hoard, they came back to the city to find out that Xencarn had escaped the slaver camp on his own, along with a few friends. The question of what happened there and how he got out never got a complete explanation.

This is what happened while Xencarn was at the slaver camp.

About a half-hour or so after Firelight left, Stalker came up to Xencarn's cage.

Xencarn nodded at him.

Stalker explained that one of their slaves had killed herself last night, and he wanted Xencarn to revive her.

Intitally, Xencarn was unsure he could even accomplish such a thing, but he figured he could at least try. He could reach out and invite the mare's soul back into her body. It would be easier since it was recent, but even then such a "revival" wouldn't be permanent.

"I can try," he said to Stalker.

Stalker nodded. He escorted Xencarn to the cage with the freshly made corpse. Xencarn got to work creating a ritual circle for his necromancy:

Once it was made, he channeled his arcana and reached out to the soul of the departed. To his surprise, he made contact almost instantly and was able to establish a strong link to the mare's soul.

However, the immediate feeling he got was that this mare did NOT want to come back. But between the ritual circle and his lucky break, he could easily force her soul back into the dead body.

After considering the implications of this, he said, "Stalker. The soul... I can put it back into the body, yes. But it'll reject it - I'm not all that experienced with that kind of complete revival, so I don't know what will happen or how long it'll last. Is there anything else I can do? Anything else, rather then force an innocent to come back from the abyss?"

"Hmm. Well, probably not worth it, then," Stalker drawled. "Oh well. Would've made a lot of caps if you could make it happen, but if it's not possible it's not possible. Let her go."

"Can do boss. Sorry." And with that, he severed the link and released the mare's soul.

As Stalker escorted him back to the cage, Xencarn thought to himself: I'm a necromancer, not evil. Still, good to know I can revive things outside of specific talents.

It still would've been difficult, for sure, but his necromancy was getting stronger.

That idea filled him with no small amount of glee. Yay!

Xencarn waited in his cage for some time. Firelight had apparently reunited with the rest of the group, because Flotsam telepathically bombarded him with questions for a while. Xencarn confirmed what Firelight was telling them, being sure to mention that the camp had plenty of guards, ponies and gryphons and minotaurs alike. Not to mention the mysterious sniper (with an actual sniper rifle) in the tallest watchtower.

Yeah... Xencarn thought. 'Cause mentioning a mysterious sniper isn't going to set them all on edge.

The conversation basically over, Xencarn considered the slave cages around him. The cages were stacked in box-like formations, so he was both adjacent to and beneath a number of cages.

A sickening thought occurred to him. ...Please tell me there are buckets... But a cursory glance around his own cage and the adjacent ones confirmed there were, indeed, buckets. Phew.

For a while, Xencarn listened in on the Dragon Mawlers' discussion using his telepathic link with Flotsam. They were currently talking about storming the camp, taking out the guards, and freeing Xencarn themselves instead of paying the ridiculous ransom. Aww, they're willing to go to war for me. I feel kinda loved.

The discussion soon turned into a drawn out, circular argument - par for the course with the Dragon Mawlers - so Xencarn decided to see if there were any slaves near him. About three out of four cages were occupied by former raiders, some still wearing their Four Horses Gang bodypaint.

Looking to one of the nearest slaves, he asked how long they'd been there for. But the raider seemed too shell-shocked to answer. Xencarn looked for someone a little more conscious, and settled on a mare in another cell next to his. Hmm... Is she cute? Uh, I mean, sure, I'll ask her. "How long have you been here?"

"Here?" the mare responded. "About... two days."

"I'm sorry. How did you get brought in?"

"I... Well, you destroyed my camp. You let us go."

"Me? Or the Dragon Mawlers?"

"The Dragon Mawlers. You're the zebra in that group, right?"

He grinned. "Xencarn, Novice Necromancer. At your service." And then he chuckled. "As much as I can be in here. May I ask your name?"

A guard came by and whacked his baton against the bars. "Hey! No talking!"

"Sorry, I guess."

Faintly, in the distance, there came a sound not unlike a dragon's roar.

"Okay, new question. What the hell was that?"

The guards seemed instantly on edge after that sound. The mare in the adjacent cage just shrugged, completely unsure.

"In any case..." Xencarn returned his attention to the mare once the guard had left. "Your name if I may, miss?"

"...Pearl. Why? You're not even a real slave here."

"I'm in a cage. And I'm working for the same guy who has you. Close enough to a slave. But... huh. Pearl is a nice name. Interesting choice for a raider name."

Stalker came by and tapped on Xencarn's cell again.

"What's up?" Xencarn asked.

"Got another job for ya."

"What do you need me to do? More reviving?"

"You can commune with the dead, right?"

"That I certainly can."

Stalker opened the cage and, with a group of guards, escorted Xencarn out. The necromancer nodded at Pearl as he passed, but she didn't really react, not sure what to think of him.

The group took Xencarn outside the camp to its perimeter, where a slaver guard lay dead. A gryphon.

This one was pretty simple: Speak With The Dead. He reached out to the gryphon's soul and brought him back temporarily. "You get three questions, Stalker, and he'll answer as truthfully as he is able."

The dead gryphon blinked and looked around worriedly.

Stalker nodded and said to the guard, "Who killed you?"

Terrified but compelled to speak, the gryphon sputtered out a name, explaining that one of the other guards had killed him after they'd found a stash of caps.

Stalker sighed. "Okay, that's all. You're sure this is the truth?"

Xencarn nodded back. "They can't lie. It's what the spell is designed to do. I can end it now if you wish, unless you want to ask him anything else?"

"No, send him off."

The gryphon panicked at that. Xencarn looked again at the undead victim. "Anything you want to say before I banish you back?"

Stalker shook his head before the gryphon could respond. "No, we're done here. You're done."

"...Alright, I guess. I'm sorry, rest in peace. Wherever that is for your species." Xencarn let the gryphon go back, and the body fell still once more. "Got anything else you want me to do while I'm out?"

"No, I'm done for now. Back to your cage."

Xencarn settled back down in the cage. "Hey Pearl, do they take everyone out for these little excursions?"

"No... Just you. When we get taken out, it means we've either been bought or we're past our usefulness."


Xencarn stayed quiet for a bit.

"Hang on, what happened to those other ponies you were with?"

"I dunno. We got separated."

"What about the kid in the cage? And I mean back at your old camp."

Pearl froze up at that. "...Kid?"

"Yeah. The one without a tongue."

She didn't answer. She looked very ashamed.

"Did you know his mother? Me and my friends, we've been trying to find her."

"I..." she started to say.

Xencarn waited patiently for her to continue. "I?"


For a moment, Xencarn didn't pay the explosion any mind. Dragons and explosions. With the Dragon Mawlers? I think I can make an... educated guess... as to what's happened.

But then he realized that the explosion had come from very close by the camp. The guards were up in arms. The sniper in the tower fired a shot to the east.

Ohh... Shite. Xencarn looked towards the explosion. Past the newly smoking crater, he saw a group of zombies. Laden with bombs.

"OH COME ON! THAT'S MY TRICK!" Xencarn shouted. Then he turned to Pearl. "Do you want to get out of here?"

Pearl nodded emphatically. The guards were too preoccupied to pay attention to their conversation.

"Then pray to whatever god you serve I'm not incompetent."

Using his own necromancy, Xencarn reached out and took control of one of the "bombies." With as much precision as he could muster, he steered the zombie close enough to their cages without getting too close before it went off. The resulting explosion dented and blew off some of the cage bars without killing any of the slaves.

Awesome. Xencarn ran out and checked to see if Pearl was okay. She was fine. She seemed to be tougher than she looked.

Xencarn gestured for her to follow, and searched for the nearest exit in the commotion.

Along the way, he noticed that Trigger's cell had also blown open in the blast, and Copper Wire was looking around kind of confused at what to do.

Xencarn rolled his eyes. FIIINE. He gestured at them as well. "You two coming, or are you sticking around here to die?"

Trigger blinked and looked vaguely toward Xencarn, apparently still getting used to his newly regained sight. Copper Wire, though, understood immediately and nodded back.

As a group, they stuck close together, doing their best to avoid the guards and make their way towards one of the fortified camp's exits. As far as stealth went, there were a few close calls, but Xencarn's magic spells helped them to sneak out without being bothered too much.


Behind them, the slaver camp devolved into chaos. A few slaves escape, running for the hills, but the raiders attacking the camp (Four Horses, mainly of the Death gang) are in a brawl with the slavers. The mysterious sniper was nowhere to be seen in his tower.

Man, Death is here, Xencarn thought. I want to go snuggle up with him. BUT... I have charges to look after. So...

The easiest and clearest path away from the chaos behind them was directly out west, towards the other chaos on the horizon: Skyfall and the Blood Dragon.

As they headed off, Xencarn had a thought. ...Dumb question. Did they take my stuff? But no, the slavers hadn't bothered to take his equipment, since he wasn't an actual slave - just a well-guarded guest. Phew. That would have been awkward.

By the time they reached Skyfall, there was a giant rotting corpse of an ancient bloody dracolich near the front gates.

Xencarn was honestly torn. He really wanted to autopsy the dragon right away, but he also wanted to get his miniature party of four settled.

Eventually, he decided that the dragon would still be there in about an hour. And the rest of the group seemed eager to get into town and calm down after the day's craziness.

Town it is. Xencarn went through the city gates, with slaves and guard in tow.

Firelight's Story (Session 15)

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Previously, in Dragon's Maw...

After the battle against the Blood Dragon, Smaug, the party returned to the city of Skyfall to make sure everyone was okay. As fate would have it, the town's doctor had been fatally wounded in the dragon attack, and there weren't any other trained ponies available. Firelight generously offered to stay as Skyfall's resident medic for the foreseeable future.

Since that night would be the last night they would be together as the original six of Dragon Mawlers, Inc., Firelight was determined to tell his whole story before they parted ways.

In the living area above Blinkie’s store the Dragon Mawlers sat, enjoying their last dinner with Firelight for what would probably be quite some time. Trigger sat with them, Firelight happy to see his cousin after all these years. "Well," Firelight said with a sigh, "I guess if I’m gonna tell this whole thing I might as well get started."

"My name was Burner - at least, that was the name they gave me eventually. I know, they weren't too clever with names."

"Most ponies aren't," Javolt observed.

"Yeah, you're kinda right," Firelight replied, chuckling. "I was born into a family of bandits and raiders, and was with them pretty much all my life, stealing, murdering, and just what bandits do in the wasteland."

Steel's eyes widened as he looked like he was about to choke on something, but he quickly cleared his throat.

Aurelia let out a low whistle. "Wow. Seriously? You?"

"Yeah, I know. Surprising, right? I haven't always been the kind, fun-loving pony I am today." Firelight grinned. "Though… I guess I was still 'fun'-loving back then…"

He sighed. "I grew up wary of everyone outside of the gang, careful because they might be holding a dagger behind my back. Ponies aren't too friendly to raiders, as you already know. Most of the gang, though, treated each other like family... I mean some of them actually were." Firelight says as he turns to ruffle some of Trigger's hair.

Powder Keg cringed a bit. Flotsam just smiled fondly at Firelight's long-lost cousin.

"Though… we dealt with any outsider pretty ruthlessly… But don't worry! We never really tortured anypony, I mean maybe once... I'm not really sure…"

The smile faded from Flotsam's face, and she looked down at her hooves. "Sorry…"

"Sorry. I just... We took care of our own, alright?" Firelight took a deep breath and then continued. "And it wasn't that bad. I got to grow up somewhere safe, though I admit they were some really bad influences, but come on, who isn't in the wasteland...?

"Anyway... I was happy then, had a lot of fun, although I was a little rambunctious, getting in trouble more than once."

Powder Keg snorted judgmentally. "Yeah, a little rambunctious. I'm sure the killers you were with really hated that."

Steel glanced in Powder Keg's direction, clearly something on his mind about the unicorn's comment but nothing he was saying out loud.

"Well, yeah, not really I guess… They mostly only cared if I set anything important on fire." Firelight said, looking away.

"Xencarn, you already know how I got my cutie mark, but as for the rest of you, I might as well tell you all. It was when I went on a hunt with a few of the other raiders when I was young. We came across a small caravan, just a small one, maybe a half dozen ponies and their brahmin. They outnumbered us by one or two, but only a couple of them were real fighters, they… they were easy pickings. The gang ambushed them and got the brahmin of the caravan, but had to chase the rest into a small house near by. While arguing about what to do I came up with a suggestion... setting the house on fire…"

Aurelia's eyes widened slightly. "Oh," is all she says.

Flotsam glanced up sharply. "So that's how you got your cutie mark?" She reached a hoof up to scratch the back of her neck awkwardly. "Huh… I guess we have more in common than I thought."

"Thrilled at the idea, they all got the molotovs ready and even let me throw the first one. Several of the caravan tried to run out of the building, but they were gunned down, and the ones who stayed inside eventually just burned to death. I didn't really care too much about them though." Firelight begins to get a dazed look on his face.

"I was too focused on the house engulfed in fire. It was the biggest fire I had ever seen. I had my cutie mark in that moment, realizing it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen... and I wanted to see more."

Firelight lost himself in his old memories with a glazed look over his eyes.

There was an odd cracking sound. Javolt glanced at his glass and sighed. "I really do need to calibrate my claw."

The crack snapped Firelight out of his daze. "Sorry! I, uh… Anyway, that's… that's how it happened."

"After that it just went on as usual, I grew up with the gang, learned how to fight, how to use my magic more… Business as usual… But... That all changed when we were attacked by some wandering wasteland heroes. They just showed up out of nowhere and started shooting. We were hilariously out gunned, even though it was only a few of them. I mean, hell, some of us only had pool cues for crying out loud!"

"No one ever said raiders were weapon smart," Xencarn said with a small smile.

"Yeah, no kidding," Firelight agreed, taking a drink.

"Me and a few others, we managed to escape, including one of my best friends Bloody Grin. He… he wasn't the nicest of ponies… but we took care of each other, we helped each other, he taught me a lot about the wasteland, and we, oh goddesses, we got in so much trouble together you wouldn't believe. Heh. I remember the one time we stole some beer from another member and snuck out to fight some ants, then we…" Firelight began to get a blank look on his face, like one of remembering a ghost.

"Firelight?" Concern had crept into Flotsam's voice.

"Sorry I'm… I'm getting off topic… Anyway, I wasn't sure if any others survived outside our small group. I mean, I know now some made it." Firelight looked at Trigger.

"I assumed that all of my family and the rest of the gang died there. We were traveling the wasteland for awhile after that. After a few days, we found a group of slavers, ambushed them. We were gonna just take their stuff and go, but they put up a lot more of a fight than we expected. After a while of fighting, though, we were at a stalemate. One of them started yelling at us from the cover they took. Told us that we were pretty good fighters for a bunch of savage raiders. Told us we should consider a new career, come join them and be slavers. It honestly seemed like a good deal; get a new gang, reliable food, it all sounded good, but… Grin knew better. He thought it was a bad idea… We should have listened… I should have..."

"I think it's better they didn't. They may have been your ‘family,' but they were worthless scum. No offense." Powder chimed in.

"Yeah… but they were still all I had and they still could have changed… I did…" Firelight said while staring at Powder Keg.

"Well, we left with them and when we arrived at their base, we weren't expecting the slavers waiting for us. They jumped us, knocked us out. When we woke up, we were in the pit surrounded by the slavers and their slaves... told us we had to prove our worth, then threw us some machetes… and then they began to cheer... I had never seen so many ponies, all screaming for blood…"

Firelight continued with a sigh, "I was the first one to strike. The one I hit was… goddesses… I... I can't even remember his name. All I know is I never liked him... I never did… The others started fighting us, and it was me and Grin against them. We were fighting back to back, doing what we did best, blades were our thing... Soon it was me and Bloody Grin just standing over the others. But the slavers, the slaves, all of them, they demanded more, just one more death. Just. One. More."

Firelight stopped for a minute, with a look as though the ghost he'd been remembering had appeared before him.

"We looked at each other for a moment, just a few moments. I took my machete, and I attacked him first. We fought, listening to them cheer, wanting more… I just wanted to live…

"He could have done it, he could have killed me. I was the weaker one, Bloody Grin was the better fighter, he was smarter, he was the better survivor… and I knew it, but I didn't want to die. I was… I was so afraid of dying... I… I thought that maybe if I didn't strike first, Grin would have got the upper hand, would have killed me… He could have done it, but… I was determined... I was going to live and I was willing to kill my best friend to do it. It wasn't until later, when the crowd stopped cheering, when… I had finally realized what I had done."

Tempered Steel grimaced as the story went on, taken back a bit at the brutality of the situation as Firelight was describing it. Flotsam, who had been very still, silent, and visibly shaken ever since Firelight had brought up the slavers, covered her face with her hooves and managed to squeak out, "Oh Firelight, no…"

Firelight looked utterly dead to the world as he spoke. "I knew that Grin could have killed me, and he let me win. He was the most likely to live, to make it out of this hell hole, but he let me live… And the last thing…". Trying to fight back tears, Firelight continued. "The last thing Grin said was ‘Don't forget to keep smiling.' He always did love to smile… He thought a moment spent not smiling, was a moment wasted… I... I miss him." Firelight wiped his eyes. "He was still kinda a psycho, but we all kinda are..."

"Right about that." Xencarn glanced at Powder. Powder Keg glared daggers into Xencarn in response. "I am sorry to hear about your friend, though. Living through loss is never fun."

Firelight stared at his dirty glass of water. "No… It's like living in your own little hell isn't it?"

Steel gave a small nod as he drank from his own glass.

Firelight looked back up. "The slavers, they accepted me after that. They had their fun. I showed that I was worth the trouble to keep around. Made me an official slaver. I tried to tell myself that it was worth it… It was worth losing my friend. I had food. I had work. They let me drink and have as much fun as I wanted, as long as I didn't cause trouble… I tried to tell myself I was happy.

"But then one day, I was drunk on duty. I was supposed to be guarding a group of the slaves. I almost let a few escape. When they found the slaves, and found me… I thought I was dead… I wanted to be dead. They didn't kill me though. They decided I should be punished, and death would be too easy. They wanted me to stay around to keep working. A black bag was put over my head, and the next thing I know, I'm having some of the slavers take turns punching me in the head. That is how I got most of the scars on my head. After that... I hated all of the slavers, I wanted them dead, I just wanted my old life back. I wanted my friend back..."

Aurelia muttered something under her breath in Draconic. From the tone, it sounded like a vulgar curse.

Firelight sat with an almost irritated look on his face, not directed at anyone but himself. "Sorry. I know this story sucks… but hey, it gets better. At least… for a little while.

"One day during a raid on a small camp, I was injured pretty bad and left behind by the slavers. The locals were just going to hang me, but the visiting Followers of the Apocalypse, or at least that's what they call themselves now, stopped them. It was Green Hoof and his daughter Daisy. They defended me. Daisy fought hard to stop the locals, even demanding that if they wanted to hang me, they would have to go through her first.

"Heh… It was honestly kinda funny, looking back. She was actually about your age, Flotsam, maybe a little younger. After a while of them both demanding that I not be killed and Daisy standing over me like she was some sort of big shot, the locals agreed to let me go," Firelight said with a smile on his face.

"They took me back to their headquarters. For a couple months while I was healing, I was constantly worried that they were going to kill me. I was constantly demanding that they let me go, yelling that I was gonna set the place on fire if they didn't. Daisy talked to me the entire time I was strapped to a medical bed. I tried to scare her off, but she refused to let me be." Firelight's smile grew.

"She was so stubborn, she just wouldn't let me lay there in peace. I would tell her that I had killed ponies, but she didn't care. She would tell me about her day, what the other kids were doing, how her homework was. She knew I was hurt and needed help and that's all she cared about…" His smile fades.

"She sounds real special," Flotsam chimed in. "I wish I could'a known her."

"She was special. I wish you all could have met her. I'm sure you would have liked her." Firelight gave a half smile.

"I even told her about Grin, what he did to ponies, what I did to ponies, what we did together, what I did to him, and that he was my best friend… She said she was sorry for me, that I had to do that. She asked me if I wanted him back. I told her I did. Daisy said she knew that I was an OK pony and left. I began to get attached to Daisy after that. I actually started talking to her. When I got better I agreed to stay and behave myself." Firelight smiled once more.

"And I did, for the most part. They taught me various things including healing magic, as well as helping me get rid of some of my bad habits.

"It was nice while I was there. They even taught me how to read. Daisy actually taught me that mostly, though she was kinda a pain about it." Firelight said, his smile growing even wider. "Thought it was funny that a nearly grown stallion had never learned to read. I asked her if she knew how to cut someone with a sword while simultaneously cauterizing the wound. She was impressed by that, actually. Heh. Sorry, I'm getting off topic again.

"Anyway, I worked there for a few years healing people, but mostly acting as a protector for the Followers. I learned to love my new home pretty quick. I even became an adopted son of Green Hoof and changed my name to Firelight. This was... This was the happiest time of my life.

"Of course… it didn't last."

Aurelia puts her claws over her face, already seeing where this is going. "Oh, Tiamat NO."

Firelight's face darkened. "Daisy, Greenhoof and I went to help a nearby village, but we were attacked by a small group of slavers. They recognized me. They remembered me from before, so they decided to take us captive, and try to take us back to I don't know where. Thought that we would fetch a good price. I wasn't going to let Green Hoof and Daisy go through that hell.

"I was able to get out and able to free Green Hoof and Daisy. We tried to make our escape, but Green Hoof and Daisy… They… They were killed by the slavers," Firelight said, dead-faced once again.

"She died, right in front of me… I couldn't do anything, nothing I did could help her, she didn't say anything as she died. She only looked at me…"

Powder Keg looked uncomfortable. The pain felt a bit too real and similar to his own experiences. Tempered Steel slouched as the gruesome details sunk in, making the large Minotaur look depressed.

Flostsam silently got up, flew over to Firelight, and wrapped her forelegs around his neck in a tight hug.

Firelight put a leg around Flotsam, hugging her back.

"I… I wanted nothing more... than to make the slavers pay. I went back and I killed them. I made them burn and I enjoyed every moment of it… I went on my own back to the Followers, but with Green Hoof and Daisy gone, and with what I did… I just couldn't stay. I felt like the other Followers blamed me and I knew that they were right…

"The Followers no longer felt like home and only reminded me... of the slavers… of Daisy and Green Hoof… of everything… I heard of the Maw, heard about how far away it was, and I hoped that if I distanced myself from the Followers I would just forget it all. I would forget it all, eventually. But that didn't happen and it never will.

"...But that doesn't matter anymore. I mean, it wasn't all bad, coming to the Maw. I got to meet you all, and to be honest, it's been one hell of a time." With his story finished, Firelight smiled to everyone.

"I'm gonna miss you all."

"We'll all miss you too," Xencarn said. "Thanks for keeping us alive. You did good. Stay safe, alright?"

Flotsam tightened her hug for a moment before finally releasing the blue unicorn. "What Xencarn said. Or else," she added with a grin.

Smile widened again, Firelight replied, "I will. I promise." A tear started to drip out of his eye. "*sniff* Dammit. I promised I wouldn't cry," he said with a laugh.

"As the only other voice of reason in this group I can safely say your departure will be gravely mourned." Javolt tilted his head. "And of course, as your friend… I will miss you too."

Powder bopped Javolt on the head. "You are not a voice of reason, Javolt. As for you, Firelight, don't get so torn up. This ain't a goodbye. We'll see you again."

"Yeah." Firelight wiped at his eye. "But I'm still not gonna get to be with you all. Heh. I'm gonna miss out on all the adventure aren't I?" Firelight remarked, laughing.

Aurelia looked thoughtful again. "You're the pony that hatched my egg with your magic, and now you're leaving. Not sure how to feel about that. I mean you're a pony, not a dragon, but…"

"Its okay… Heh. Hopefully I've been a better father or whatever I am... than mine was, at least." His grin changed to an utterly serious expression. "Take care of yourself, don't talk to any strange cultists, and don't take gems from strangers." His effort to keep a straight face was faltering. "And practice the fire breathing. It definitely comes in handy," Firelight finished, and a little stream of fire flew from his mouth.

Aurelia grinned. "Right. You're more of a dragon than I give you credit for. Guess it all works out, then."

The gathering quieted down soon after the story was over. Everyone finished their meals and drinks, sharing a few more stories and laughs before they finished, and all were glad for the chance for a bit of relaxation after that last fight with Smaug. As everyone left to get some sleep for the night, Firelight and Trigger left to their new home at the hospital. That night when Firelight settled down in his new cot, he started to think of his friends, knowing that he'll get to see them again, and wished them good luck on their adventures.

Dr. Tibbs Meets Firelight (Session 17)

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Previously, in Dragon's Maw...

After the battle with Smaug, the Blood Dragon, the party's Follower of the Apocalypse, Firelight, had to leave the group in order to act as the city of Skyfall's resident medic. The next morning, Tempered Steel childishly ran away to avoid talking about his past, and ended up running into one Dr. Fractured Tibia, a traveling doctor and provider of drugs to the needy of the Maw. As the party dragged Tempered Steel back into the fold, Dr. Tibbs (as he liked to be called) followed along, partly because he had business in Skyfall and partly because he was amused with the Dragon Mawlers' antics. Quietly, Tibbs was accepted into the fold as the new party medic... except by Powder Keg, who insisted that the new guy was on "probation."

The remainder of the day was spent on a whirlwind adventure solving the mystery of the fallen cloudship that the town of Skyfall was based in, formerly the Enclave's GES New Dawn. They discovered that their filly demolitionist Flotsam had a particular connection to the ship and its history, and in the process, the city was nearly blown up with the ship's own explosive payload. It was only thanks to the entire group that Skyfall was spared a life-ending detonation, though the town was thoroughly frightened by the emergency evacuation.

With Skyfall mostly stable for the moment, the party prepared to assault the Tainted Abyss, the lair of the next cursed undead dragon. As the group discussed plans with the Black Lotus Prospectors and Mayor Chase, Dr. Tibbs went off on his own towards the ship's medbay...

Firelight had barely any time to adjust to his new job before it got thoroughly disrupted. Only now, late in the evening, was the makeshift clinic getting back to normal, his current patients safely back in their cots. Firelight was busy working, mainly finishing up paperwork. He was still wearing his normal clothes and vest, and his swords were leaning up against the desk where he sat. Trigger, his old friend and recently freed slave, was back at their living quarters, leaving Firelight alone with his work.

Outside the clinic's door, Tibbs shook himself a bit, trying to let the craziness of the day ooze out onto the floor beneath him. He compulsively checked his saddlebags one more time, checking his current stock and pulling out a fair-sized pile of papers. They reeked with a chemical smell.

The earth pony doctor organized the letters and knocked on the door. "Oi! Anyone awake in there?"

Firelight jerked his head up in surprise, not expecting anyone else for the night. "Yeah, come on in," he shouted back, piling up and organizing his own papers.

Doctor Tibbs opened the door and entered the repurposed medbay. "Evenin'. You the medicine man that runs this place?"

Firelight stood up from his desk, his horn lighting up as he put his paperwork away. "Hi. And yeah, I guess I am. Heh. Name's Firelight."

Tibbs' face split into a wide grin. "Excellent." He extended his hoof to the unicorn, shoving the letters underneath his other leg in the process, and smiled just a bit wider. "Pleasure to meet'cha. Name's Fractured Tibia, but my compatriots, cohorts, and patients call me Doc Tibbs."

Firelight shook Tibbs' hoof, giving a half smile and raising an eyebrow. "Hi. Name's Firelight, ponies and everything else call me Firelight. Aren't you the doctor that my friends found...?"

"So you ARE the oh so famous Firelight!" Tibbs said quickly, cutting Firelight off and shaking his hoof even more forcefully than before. "Had a feelin' it might be the case, but the Bush is a strange place. Can't go by just a name and a hunch." Tibbs finally withdrew his hoof and began to take a look around the medbay. "So, upgraded from a Wasteland Medic to the Surgeon General of a grouse place like this. Good onya, mate." He raised an eyebrow as he examined the conditions of the room and the general stock of the place. "So, have any trouble with all that excitement earlier today? We barely got out, and we all had some mostly perfectly functionin' bodies. Can't imagine it was the same here though."

Firelight's hoof hung awkwardly in midair for a moment. "Umm... Had a little trouble moving patients, but got the guards to round up some ponies to help me move them. Everything's fine now, though." He finally lowered his hoof to the ground. "And I wouldn't really say I'm the Surgeon General... I mean, I'm the only surgeon..."

Chuckling, Tibbs said, "Strewth, none of ya understand a figure of speech when you hear one." He turned towards Firelight's desk and set down his stack of letters before turning back towards the pony he had replaced. "Well, listen mate, I'd love to yabber with ya, but I need to ask two things first. The first things is, I'd like to discuss with ya the possibility of a trade for some of my supplies and some of this fine establishment's, and seeing as you are the 'only surgeon,' you are the only pony fit to discuss it. Your friends have graciously allowed me to travel with them for the time being, though I'm on 'probation' until... well, until I kill a dragon apparently. Needless to say, I think I'm gonna need some medication, and my stock is... well, it's not gonna cut it."

Rather taken off guard by Tibbs' fast-talking, Firelight just stared at Tibbs with a confused look on his face. "Um... 'Strewth'?"

Tibbs chuckled again and rubbed his temple with one hoof. "Sorry mate, it's a Brismane saying. Don't worry about it."

Firelight's confusion faded a little bit. "Well alright. And as for the supply, believe me, it's never going to be enough with them." He laughed a little. "I think I might have some spare supplies I could trade - extra caps for the hospital wouldn't be bad, I guess. I also have a bit from my personal stuff that I forgot to give to the rest of the group before I left. As for the probation, I wouldn't worry too much about it."

"I've got more than caps, Firelight. I've got painkillers, rad relievers, and all the things that can make a problematic patient less of a panicked pile of pain." With the flourish of a traveling salesman, Tibbs opened up one of his saddlebags, placed it on the desk, and started pulling out drug supplies to show to Firelight. "Medicine is hard to come by, but there's always somepony in the Waste that wants a little brain eraser, right? Even got a little something you can't find most places. Specialized version of Dash, created by yours truly. I call it Zapp." He pulled out an overly bright blue inhaler with a lightning bolt drawn on the side, presenting it like a priceless treasure. "Though this I might save for those hopeless cases. It's more or less designed for ghouls, so giving it to a regular pony is a one-way ticket to a burial plot."

Firelight had a shocked look on his face, blinking a few times. His face then became stern, glaring at Dr. Tibbs, as he slammed his hoof over the bag and onto the desk with a bang. "I'm sorry, but I thought that you were a doctor. I don't want any of this, and I'd prefer if you kept it away from my patients. And please stop the fast talk, you're only annoying me."

The wasteland dealer rolled his eyes and started to repack the bag. "Wasn't fast talk, mate. Just attempting a peaceful transaction, with benefit to your side of the deal. You would not believe the price of some of these items out here." Once the saddlebag had been sealed up and all the drugs packed away, Tibbs turned to Firelight, his face rather dark. "And for the record, I am a Doctor. And a fucking good one, too. But not everypony wants to be fixed, they just want a fix."

He continued to glare at Firelight for a moment, then let out a sigh and shook his head. "But that's beside the point. You've got your oath, and I've got mine, and so long as I keep your friends patched up and healthy, it really doesn't matter what I do elsewhere, does it?" He smiled again and patted Firelight on the shoulder. "Loosen up, Doctor, you're part of a rare breed out here. Nopony really gives a shit about bedside manner, but too much stress is bad for the ticker, and we certainly don't need less doctors in the Bush."

Tibbs took a moment to crack the bones in his neck before reaching into a saddlebag pocket and pulling out his personal stash of caps. "Here's what I've got to trade, then. And there's a bit extra for the second thing I need from you." Tibbs placed a hoof on the stack of letters he'd deposited there earlier. "I hear you're a pony who knows how to light a fire, and it just so happens that I need these burned. Would you be so kind as to oblige a humble bushranger?"

Firelight still glared at Tibbs as he finally took his chance to speak. "Sorry, but I don't think this is how ponies should be 'fixed.' I might have at one point, but I've seen what it does to ponies and I'd prefer that to not happen to anyone..." He let out a sigh. "And I guess I'm sorry about jumping the gun a little... Look, I'd just prefer it if you kept this away from my friends. And if I get any patients coming in here from drug problems and your name comes up, you can expect me coming to your door." The Follower attempted to calm down a bit. "I'll take whatever medical supplies you have to offer and trade for that, and I'll sell you whatever I have to spare. As for burning things... it depends. What's in the letters?"

"Mostly things you disagree with," Tibbs answered matter-of-factly, dropping his fast-talk tone for good this time. "Business letters, dockets, notes to my associates back in Brismane. That sort of thing. Iv'e been in this bizzo for a long time, and it's a bit hard to keep up with everypony and everyghoul face to face."

"Why do you want me to burn all of your business records? I would think your business would be important to you."

"Fancy little trick I whipped up a while back. Ya smell this?" Tibbs pulled the top letter from the pile and held it underneath Firelight's nose, a disgusting combination of chemical fumes drifting up towards the unicorn. "Special treatment to the paper. I burn them, and they get sent all over the wide wide world of Equestria. So long as I know them, I can reach anyone, anytime." Tibbs set the letter back down on the stack.

"Huh. That's... actually really clever," Firelight admitted.

"Thanks. Took me ages to find the right compound, but as they say, any sufficiently studied magic is indistinguishable from chemistry. Or something like that."

Firelight asked, "Do you have to have met the pony before you send them?"

"In most cases, yeah, I need to know the bloke or sheila personally, but there's the rare, rare case of knowing someone well enough by reputation to send a letter. Well. Maybe. Didn't exactly get a response, but the letter went somewhere."

"Well... Alright, I guess it's okay if I help you send them, but I better not come to regret this later." Firelight smiled uneasily as he levitated the letters into a neat pile in the air.

"Can't make any promises on that," Tibbs said with a chuckle and a grin. "If my probation goes well enough, I might be swarmin' you with letters at the biddin' of a the little sheila. Once she finds out I can send the letters at any rate."

Firelight laughed. "Well, I wouldn't mind getting some letters from Flotsam. Though replying might be a bit tricky." Firelight opened his mouth and breathed fire on the letters, lighting them. "And look," he continued without skipping a beat, "I appreciate you going with my friends to help keep them safe. I may not like your little side business, but at least you can still heal ponies when they need it." Firelight's smile became a little less strained and more genuine. "Besides, they'll keep you so busy you'll probably have trouble keeping your little side business running."

"Oh you poor, naive, conchy little wowser," Tibbs said with a grin, watching the ashes fly off the letter in separate directions, guided by an unseen magical force. "Well, if Flotsam does send ya something, I'll send along some blank paper for response. Luckily, you're not the first pony I've had to get letters back from." Tibbs opened up his other saddlebag, packed mostly with beakers, bottles, and sealed raw chemicals, ready for a multitude of purposes. "I've wasted enough of your precious time, so let's get this trading over with, and I'll leave you be. Been a long day, and I'm sure the Surgeon General needs some sleep if he wants to keep takin' care of these sick ponies."

Firelight just looked confused again. "'Wowser'?"

"Stick in the mud," Tibbs said with a smirk.

"Uh-huh." Firelight glared at Tibbs with just a little bit of a smirk of his own. "Well, if you have to go, we can get it over with. You can take the extra medicine I had before I left, too. Though if you have any questions about the group and such, feel free to ask."

"I think I'll get the chance to know 'em plenty when we make our way to the Tainted Abyss. But if it comes up, I'll send ya a letter. Thanks again for doing business with me."

"No problem, and please, take care of them," Firelight said with a look of worry on his face. "Though I have one more question for you, before you go."


"Where did you learn medicine? Not something many folk in the wasteland can teach."

Tibbs frowned, then shrugged. "Doctor out in the Waste broke my leg, and in exchange for 'fixing it' made me his apprentice. Gave me this scar as a graduation present." Tibbs turned to show the Rod of Asclepius on his right hind leg. "Also left me this jacket, though it used to have a lot more straps."

"Wait... He broke the leg?" Firelight asked, his confusion swiftly turning into shock. "He gave you that scar? Is that a goddess-damned straightjacket!? Who was this 'Doctor,' exactly??"

"A pony I made a promise not to flay and wear like a jacket, much as I'd like to," Tibbs replied, turning back towards Firelight. "Once he taught me what he knew, he left me to do my own business. Don't know where he is, and don't care."

"He left you? Just like that? ...And I would try to avoid the skinning... not something I would suggest."

"As far as he was concerned, I'd been a successful experiment. An apprentice who didn't die, and even got a Cutie Mark in the process. Trust me when I say the skinning is the lightest of the revenge fantasies I've had." Tibbs paused, then sighed and shrugged again. "But that's the past. I wouldn't know the first thing about fixin' a pony up if it wasn't for him, so I call it square and just try to focus on the present."

Firelight, listening up to this point with a frown, said, "I guess that's as good a course of action as any.." Then a smile crept up at the corner of his cheek. "Though to be honest... I'm sure you'll fit in with the group perfectly."

"Good to know," Tibbs said with a smile.

The two wasteland doctors spent the next few minutes calmly and professionally deciding what they wanted to trade and what the fair exchange would be. Then, once the transaction was complete, Tibbs packed up his things and said, "Well, I've worn out my welcome, and the rest of them are probably wondering where I've run off to. Have a pleasant evenin' mate, and thanks for your hospitality."

"You're welcome. Make sure you take care of them... and good luck." Firelight watched as Tibbs left the clinic, doing his best to smile, but with a slight look of worry on his face.

A Meeting With Pestilence (Session 16) [Spoilers]

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Previously, in Dragon's Maw...

To say that that Dragon Mawlers Inc. posed a threat to the Four Horses raider gang would be putting it mildly. On their way to Slayer Base, they managed to blow up an entire raider outpost with bombs, zombies, mines, and a little misdirection, leaving only a few survivors and a bloodstained message in their wake. Between that, being the first to conquer any the dragon's curses (much less two), and many other smaller achievements, the Dragon Mawlers were gaining a reputation at lightning speed. Especially Powder Keg, who was on his way to earning the nickname "Raider-Killer."

But despite this ever-present threat, the Four Horses have not yet retaliated directly against the Dragon Mawlers. Part of that might be The Executive, who seems to be pulling a few of the strings on the complex network of the gang. Part of that could also be the titular Four Horses themselves - War, Famine, Pestilence, and Death - each having their own agendas and a loose approach to leadership, more of a wandering pantheon than generals or chieftains.

As the Dragon Mawlers finish off their third dragon, one gang leader weighs his options and decides on an alternative course of action...

An earth pony traveled along the road that encircled the dormant volcano, currently the south side between Skyfall and Apocalypse. This pony, though not wearing his colors as openly as most, was clearly marked with a few signs of the Pestilence gang. This was a pony known for dealing, doing odd jobs, and generally being one of their most capable agents.

As he walked, he was waved down by another earth pony in the distance bearing the colors of another Pestilence member. The dealer adjusted his jacket and saddlebags and waved back, moving at a quick trot towards the other earth pony.

Once they were within speaking distance, the gang pony said to him, "Fractured Tibia?"

"Doctor Tibia. That bit's important to remember, mate. What d'ya need?"

"Pestilence himself asks for your presence. There is an outpost nearby where he is currently making camp. I will take you to him."

Tibbs smiled and gave the pony a heavy pat to the back. "Ace. Thanks for meetin' me out here in the Bush." He reached into his pack and pulled out a small container, a pill bottle, and handed it to the pony. "Some Med-X for the trouble, and because I'm in a ripper mood right now."

"Oh... Well, thanks," the Pestilence member replied, clearly not expecting the generosity from a fellow raider. He pocketed the supplies and started leading Tibbs of the road and to the northeast. Tibbs followed with a grin plastered to his face, humming a strange little ditty ever so softly.

He was taken to an outpost at the base of the mountain, built under what looked like a giant rocky outcropping, almost a cave but not quite. A number of structures were built into the rocks, and a wooden wall stretched across the opening to the area, with a number of Four Horses gang members guarding the entrance and keeping watch.

Tibbs nodded to the gang members, recognizing a few repeat customers, offenders, and patients. A few of them recognized him as well, some of them smiling with gratitude, some of them avoiding eye contact, and some of them glaring at him with a hint of begrudged respect.

"So," Tibbs said, focusing back on his guide, "what sort of yakka does Pestilence need me for? Somethin' t'do with the Rangers? That whacka cult actin' up?" Tibbs paused for a moment. "Somethin' about that new group? The... dragon whatsits?"

"That's not for me to say."

"Kinda figured, but guessin's fun, right?"

They came to the largest building in the settlement, where two raider guards stood by the door. The guards stopped the group as they approached, one of them holding up a hoof and saying, "Pestilence is... communing. He does not wish to be disturbed."

The doctor's raider guide said, "This is the pony he requested to see."

The guarding raider - Tibbs noticed the two of them were more heavily armed than your average Pestilence member - shook his head. "You will wait."

"No sense disturbin' the boss," Tibbs said, placing his hoof on the other raider's shoulder. "'s not like I was busy or anythin'. We can wait. Or at least, I can. If you've got business of yer own to do, feel free. I got some letters to write anyway."

His temporary companion nodded and left to do his own thing, leaving Tibbs with the two door guards. Tibbs set his saddlebags down and began rifling through them for a quill and some parchment. "Shit. Either a' you blokes got a match? I'm out."

The guards gave each other a confused look, but before they could answer, a fit of hacking coughs and wheezes came from within the building.

Tibbs chuckled and closed his saddlebags, putting them back on. "Nevermind. Sounds like I won't have enough time to write anyways."

One of the guards pressed his ear against the door and, after as second, said, "You may enter now."

Tibbs nodded and opened the door, walking inside with his head slightly bowed. Inside was what looked like a hybrid office/living space. The scent of incense and some other kind of burning fumes hit Tibbs immediately as he entered.

To his left, reclined on a mattress, was a very sickly-looking earth pony that he recognized as one of the Four Horses, Pestilence himself. There was a needle jammed into his upper foreleg, and smoke poured from his mouth in small puffs.

"G'day sir," Tibbs greeted him with a bow of his head. "Feelin' as ace as always? How was your... communing?"

"Heh..." Pestilence coughed, his voice raspy. "Almost lost this time. Pony pox is a more insidious foe than I had imagined. Won't *cough* underestimate it again."

"And it you, I imagine."

Pestilence grinned. "I should hope so. What hasn't killed me has made me very, VERY strong. Now..." He blinked and rubbed his eyes with his forehooves. "...Why are you here, again?"

"You sent some bloke out into the Waste to get me, sir. Tracked me down and brought me here."

"Right, yes." Pestilence cleared his throat. "Ahem... There are two things I wish to discuss with you. One... You have been a loyal and effective member of the gang since you first arrived in the Maw. You may ask of me for one boon of your choice, and should it be within my power to grant, it is yours."

"Got a steady gig, and freedom galore, sir. Nothin' worth gettin' I don't already got."

"Very well. Consider it a standing offer, then. Two... *cough cough* One second, sonny." Pestilence started another serious fit of hacking coughs.

"Anythin' I can help with, sir? Fresh batch of meds and drugs available, and of course, free of charge for the boss man himself."

"No, no... *cough* I prefer to let my body do the work. Patch up my brothers all you like, Tibbs, but I fight my own battles."

"As you wish."

"Yes, now... Number two. What do you know of the Prospector group 'Dragon Mawlers Inc.'?"

"That's it. Couldn't remember that Mawler bit. Seem to be more keen on just blowin' all our shit up than maulin' us. Patched up a few runners, but from what I gather, they tend not to leave too many of us left. And... if what's been said is more than a rumor, they've been killin' dragons. Or... dragon souls. Somethin' like that."

"The truth is even more confusing than the reality, Tibbs. The reknowned Raider-Killer is among them, yet Death tells me at least two of them are reformed raiders themselves. They hunt the great dragons - for now all of the northern Maw has been cleansed of curses - yet the Cult worships a new dragonness walking the earth among them.

"War wants to bring the weight of his Path upon them. Famine is barely aware of them, save for their involvement in the affairs of Gold Rush. Death is supremely interested in them, even considering a form of partnership. I... am not sure one way or the other."

A smirk began to grow on Tibbs face, and his eyebrow rose. "Lemme take a swing. You want me to keep an eye on them for ya? Keep ya informed of their 'activities' and maybe even deal with them, should they be any sort of threat?"

Pestilence just nodded.

"Sounds like fun. If I'm gonna get close though, I may end up joinin' in on some of their attacks. I can try and send some warning on which way they head, but it's not always gonna give them enough time. And they may get suspicious if the raiders suddenly start disappearin' from the bases after I sneak my way in. And for that matter, think the gang'll be alright without access to their doc?"

"I have a reserve of specialists I can send out to fill the gap you'll be leaving."

"A whole team to replace little ol' me? I'm honored, sir," Tibbs said with a chuckle. "And the whole joinin' in on killin' what may be members of our gang. That gonna be an issue? All it'll take is one dipshit callin' me out to blow my cover."

Pestilence frowned and thought for a few moments. "We're already hemorrhaging members all across the Maw, fearing the Raider-Killer. And we suspect that The Executive is pulling strings to enslave former raiders as well." He leaned up off the mattress and closer to Tibbs. "The leaders of the Four Horses will be holding a summit at Apocalypse very soon to discuss these matters. I hope that alone says how critical this situation has become."

Tibbs' grin immediately disappeared, and he nodded.

Prestilence laid back down and said, "But no, what you do to preserve your cover is no concern of mine. I will be diverting the majority of my forces out of the Mawlers' path, and any others you meet will most likely be taking caps from The Executive on the side. So you are free to kill whoever you like."

Tibbs nodded again. "Then your will be done, sir. I'll track them down immediately."

"Good. They were last seen heading for Skyfall. I would start there. Make sure you have no traces of your allegiance to the Four Horses when you make contact. We're..." He hacked and coughed again. "...we're done. You are dismissed."

The doctor bowed and made his way out of the room. He stopped just outside the door, slipped off his saddlebags and jacket, and handed his lab coat with the Pestilence markings to one of the guards. "Take care of this for me, will ya?"

Without waiting for an answer, he dug through his saddlebags and pulled out a grimy straightjacket, slipping into it before putting the saddlebags back on. "Haven't worn this thing in ages," he muttered to himself as he trotted out of the base, past the guards and into the wastes. "Next stop, Skyfall."

As he began his trek to the wrecked airship of a city, the strange little ditty he was humming earlier returned, a smile on his face. This was going to be fun.

The Hippocritic Oath

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I swear by Sparkle, the bookkeeper, Celestia, Luna, and Cadance, and I dare any one of them to come back here, and just try to stop me from upholding the following "Oath" and personal agreement:

To show the pony who taught me how to fix some form of mercy by not flaying him and wearing his coat like a jacket; to pay him back for teaching me an art I could not live without by pretending he doesn't exist rather than using said art as the means for a prolonged session of intensive internal study; to ignore any dealings and supposed "machinations" that involve him or his underlings and teach this art to only those I damn well please, and likely leaving them the same as I feel about him. No favors are owed to either party.

I will prescribe dosages that benefit my patient’s mental state, while leaving them in a physical condition good enough to become repeat customers, and do harm only to those who piss me off or skimp payments, which pisses me off.

I will give deadly medication to any shitheads who ask for it, and will not hesitate to suggest offing someone for the benefit of another. Unless of course that pony asking for the deadly medicine is a dick, in which case I’ll let them suffer.

I’ll work however I damn well please, and the original version of this document can wipe my ass for all I care.

I’ll operate on whomever, however, because until Celestia comes out of the sky and personally smites me, no one is going to question my methods if it saves their life, experience with the procedure be damned.

If the only payment available is sex, fine, fuck it. Pun intentional. If they get seduced by me or vice versa, they were either literally asking for it, or I've been completely suckered in which case, whatever, tension relief. Don’t even care about who it is at this point. But this is very unlikely.

Customers should understand that information is just as valuable as caps, and that telling me their life story is not guarantee that it’ll be secret. They should understand that I have no qualms about any service provided, but the price for that is that I get stories to tell.

If I keep this oath, whoop de freaking do, my life is gonna be the same as always, respected only cause I know how to remove bullets and make drugs. If I should break this oath, may ponies react in the exact same way because no one gives a crap, this shit is only for me. Stop reading it, fuckface.

B-Team #1 - When All You Have Is A Hammer

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Previously, in Dragon's Maw...

In the few weeks since their arrival in the Maw, the Dragon Mawlers Inc. prospector group had gained a powerful reputation. Defeating four dragons, restarting Radio Crackle, and changing the fate of every place they visited and every pony they met was bound to make that happen. As their actions rippled out, and as the Mawlers became more aware of various issues in the Maw, it became clear that reputation alone wasn't going to be enough. They couldn't be in two places at once.

The solution was DJ Smack Talk's idea. He sent out a call to anypony who was an ally of the Mawlers: Come to Skyfall and see what you can do to help the Mawlers out. About 15 ponies answered, and the Mawlers had to decide what to do with them. Not all of them were strictly combat-ready, and furthermore they couldn't in good conscience ask for ALL of them to give up their day jobs and aid them in their quest. But if they could narrow it down to a few ponies, about four to six, they could form a secondary team of agents to address problems throughout the Maw - a B-Team to the main group's A-Team.

After much deliberation, the Mawlers agreed on six people: Excalibur the unicorn, Zephyr the pegasus, Ten Paces the minotaur, Short Circuit the pegasus filly, Stalker the unicorn ex-slaver, and Lilypad the unicorn Steel Ranger Star Paladin. Perhaps a less-than-ideal group that was sure to have its conflicts, but the Mawlers felt that these six had the right combination of knowledge, skills, and power to be an effective team.

The decision was made, but there was the Slayer Base crisis to deal with first. Both teams traveled north to restore balance to the Steel Ranger HQ, which was thankfully (though quite bloodily) resolved in a day.

The next morning, the two teams met one last time to trade information and discuss their respective tasks. Lilypad had put together a list of "quests" in various locations throughout the Maw. It was eventually agreed that the Mawlers would head south traveling counter-clockwise through the Maw, while the B-Team headed east and clockwise. This would allow them to cover all their bases and hopefully meet up again somewhere on the other side.

The B-Team's first task was to head to Gold Rush, the northernmost town of the Maw, and investigate the resident construction pony named Hammer for corruption.

Lilypad liked to travel alone. She'd worked very hard to rise up through the ranks and put herself in a position where she could do that. Her reasons were myriad and possibly rooted deep in her psyche, but she was good at it.

Now she was being asked to babysit five others. Not just VIPs or assets or even other Steel Rangers, but five wastelanders with their own motivations and agendas. And in Short Circuit's case, it was almost literal babysitting, tech and explosive skills aside.

But in the risk assessment part of her mind, Short Circuit was the second least of Lilypad's problems. The first least was the minotaur, Ten Paces, who despite his imposing strength seemed to possess a permanent monk-like zen. The rest of the former Black Lotus Traveling Company was somewhat more concerning. Zephyr was a proud, flighty, and carefree thrill-seeker; not uncommon for a pegasus. Excalibur, on the other hoof, had become more withdrawn after his recent disgrace down in the Tainted Abyss, burying his anger under a flimsy facade of aloofness. If it weren't for the two young stallions' inseparability and their strangely powerful exosuits, Lilypad would never have agreed to take both of them along.

Yet as bad as they looked on paper, none of it compared to Stalker. Ex-slaver boss. Dangerous, morally objectionable, and used to being in charge. A perfect cocktail of insubordination and general anti-teamwork. Keeping him under control would be next to impossible. It was good fortune that he had an axe to grind against the Executive and a debt to pay to the Mawlers, but how long would that last?

"So, wanna tell us 'bout this first mission of ours?" Stalker said, his drawl ending the awkward silence that had haunted them since leaving Slayer Base. Lilypad shot him a mildly annoyed look for breaking her reverie.

Zephyr came down from where he was flapping above them and landed next to the group. "Yeah, let's hear it! This is our first time working together as a team on a super-secret mission, right? Can't go on a mission if we don't know what it is. Is anypony else excited? Because I'm excited." The suited blue pegasus had a wide grin on his face, and his wings twitched with barely restrained energy.

"Looks more like you're nervous," Excalibur muttered. Lilypad silently agreed.

"Hey man, just trying to have a good first time! You gotta have the first one go well, 'cause that, y'know, sets a precedent for the rest, right? C'mon, look at this all-star cast!" Zephyr gestured at the present company. "This is the best team we've had in, like, months! I want this to go as well as possible, because if this whole thing works out, there's NOTHING we can't do! C'mon, who's with me?"

"Aw yeah! Hoofbump!" Short Circuit cheered. She and Zephyr bumped hooves. "Yeah!"


Lilypad mentally added "abandonment issues" to her developing psyche profile of Zephyr. Though after what happened in the Backstab Curse territory and Slick's recent departure from the Black Lotus group, she supposed it was understandable.

"Getting back to my question..." Stalker drawled slowly, looking meaningfully at Lilypad. Ten Paces just nodded.

The Star Paladin stifled a sigh and adjusted her stance to face the group as a whole. "Our first task takes us back to Gold Rush. For some of you, it may have been a while, but it's the first town you find coming out of Flametongue Pass, so I assume everypony's been there at least once."

"Been there? I live there!" Short Circuit pointed out. "Well, I guess not right now, but... I'm still the one who set up the electrical grid!"

"That's right, and we'll be relying on your familiarity with the town during the operation," Lilypad said.

Excalibur tapped his chin with a hoof. "I remember Gold Rush. We didn't stay there long. Even for a 'small town,' it was tiny."

Short Circuit nodded. "Yeah... Most ponies head after the dragons and, well... don't come back. And the ones that do either leave the Maw or settle down in Skyfall or Ribcage."

"Yeah, but I remember about three buildings and a bunch of tents and shanties," Excalibur said. "Not exactly the pinnacle of wasteland civilization."

"Hey, we make it work!" Short Circuit exclaimed petulantly.

This time, Lilypad didn't bother to hide her sigh. "Ponies, please... I recall being asked about our mission?"

"Oh, right, sorry," Short Circuit mumbled. Excalibur just shrugged.

"Right then... A few days ago, Skyfall engineer Silver Wrench traveled to Gold Rush to speak with Hammer and Nail, Gold Rush's local construction experts."

"Nail does most of the work, Hammer just bosses him around," Short Circuit explained. Lilypad gave her a stern look, and the filly meekly lowered her head with an apologetic expression.

"Anyway... Silver Wrench returned with a letter for Skyfall's mayor, Chase. The contents of the letter hid magical runes that, when read, caused the letter to explode. The Mawlers investigated and determined that the letter was most likely from the Executive. Which means-"

"Somepony in Gold Rush is takin' caps from the Executive," Stalker finished.

Lilypad shot Stalker another glare, but continued. "Our job is to investigate Gold Rush, figure out if the Executive has an agent there and who it is, and then deal with the situation."

"It's probably-" Short Circuit covered her hooves over her mouth.

Lilypad shook her head. "No, I'm done. The floor is open."

The filly lowered her hooves and said, "It's probably Hammer, though. He's lazy and greedy and... Well, he was never exactly harmful before, but I just don't see anypony else being corrupt enough for that. Except maybe Blue Moon... but he's double-dead now."

"Well, that was easy," Stalker remarked. "Open and shut."

"Not so fast. We need proof before we go dispensing wasteland justice on random ponies," Lilypad said. "It could be someone we haven't considered, or it may be more deep or widespread than we think. We should get all the facts before we take action."

Stalker rolled his eyes. "How reasonable. And boring."

"At ANY rate... If we do our jobs right, we might learn something about the Executive. He's been playing the enigmatic puppetmaster for a little too long; I'd like to put a stop to that. Making sure Gold Rush remains secure is also a priority."

"Of course. Can't wait to be big damn heroes." Stalker raised his hoof in a mock salute and intoned in an announcer's voice, "And once again, the day is saved, thanks to... THE B-TEAM!"

Short Circuit giggled and saluted.

Excalibur grimaced. "Are we... Are we still going with that name? 'B-Team?'"

"It's as good a name as any," Lilypad replied diplomatically. "Do you have an alternative?"

"Well..." Excalibur shuffled one of his hooves against the desert ground. "I was kinda attached to Black Lotus..."

Lilypad gave Excalibur a firm look. "We are not a traveling company. We are not Prospectors. The best description I can think of is a 'volunteer operations unit.'" She fixed her gaze on Zephyr next. "This is a temporary arrangement at best. And if it doesn't work out, then we can part ways and pursue our own goals. That was my condition for joining this team. So as far as I'm concerned, 'B-Team' is perfectly appropriate. Impersonal, unglamorous, and nothing worth getting attached to. Any questions?"

Zephyr and Short Circuit looked utterly crestfallen. Stalker was smirking at her. Excalibur just looked away, pretending not to care, and Ten Paces was as unreadable as ever.

"No, ma'am," Stalker finally answered, still holding back a grin. "I had one, but then you answered it for me."

Slowly, begrudgingly, the group resumed their eastward march towards Gold Rush.

"The question, if yer wonderin', was 'Do you have a stick up yer ass like every other Steel Ranger?'"

Lilypad willfully ignored his comments after that.

The thing they don't tell you about traveling the wasteland is that it isn't all high-octane, deadly, and/or wacky encounters. Sometimes it's just boring. Walking across a balefire-scorched desert boring. So it was for the several hour hike to Gold Rush.

The group's morale slowly improved a while after Lilypad's decree. Short Circuit seemed to be a hard filly to keep down; her natural enthusiasm and energy gelled well with Zephyr's flighty nervousness, restarting the social engine of the party as it were. Excalibur participated mostly to keep Zephyr grounded and play the straight man, while Ten Paces offered a nod or a grunt once in a while. Stalker watched on with a sort of paternal fascination.

Lilypad was lost in her thoughts the whole way over. She regretted saying what she had, but at the same time didn't. This was her show to run, and if she wanted some semblance of professionalism here, she needed to set that standard down early.

But she'd botched it. Slammed down too hard on Short Circuit's and Zephyr's fragile sensibilities. Thoughts of how she could've said it better plagued her the whole way over.

When Gold Rush finally came into view, it took them a while to realize that it looked a little different than any of them remembered. There were more buildings than before, and some of the old structures were taller. What had been metal shanties before were reinforced with wood and plaster. Wiring and lights stretched from rooftop to rooftop. The humble settlement was starting to look like a real wasteland town.

"Did... it always look like that?" Excalibur was the first to ask.

Short Circuit, however, went from a look of wonder to sudden distress. "Oh no... But the generators... That yield... The wiring... AAAH!" And the little pegasus buzzed off towards the town at high speed.

Lilypad wasn't so lost in thought that she couldn't react instantly. "Zephyr! Go with her and keep her safe!"

"Oh, uh... Okay!" The older pegasus was confused, but half-saluted and flew off after Short Circuit, his bigger wings allowing him to catch up.

"I'm going, too," Excalibur said before galloping off after them. "To keep an eye on Zephyr!"

"Not a bad idea," Stalker said.

Which left Ten Paces, Stalker, and Lilypad behind as a subgroup, keeping their normal pace as they approached Gold Rush's outskirts.

Stalker looked towards the other two. "What do you think that was about?"

"Short Circuit was this town's electrician," Ten Paces rumbled, making Lilypad jump a bit. "Still is, I suppose. Whatever was done with the town was clearly not done with her consent. And if it was done poorly, her expertise and her responsibility to the town will demand she fix it."

Stalker gave the minotaur a grin. "Nothin' gets by you, does it?"

Ten Paces grunted and said, "Just stating my observations."

The former slaver focused on Lilypad. "Still... Somethin' like this in just a few days takes a lot of caps, don't it? And we've got rumors of bribery from a very affluent pony... That sound like proof yet?"

Lilypad sighed. "Almost."

"So what's stopping us from putting an end to this bastard Hammer and calling it a day?"

Glaring at Stalker, Lilypad said, "I want to know what the Executive wants with this town. I want to know if he has any other agents besides Hammer. And I'd like to make sure that, when we remove Hammer from his position, we don't unknowingly bring doom upon the town through any Executive backlash."

Stalker grinned and looked forward again. "Good to know. I mean, I knew, but I wanted to make sure you knew - that we were on the same page."

"And you wanted to test my patience," Lilypad added.

"Nah, that's just me havin' fun." The slaver gave her what could only be described as a 'sarcastically smouldering' look. "Yer cute when yer annoyed."

Instantly, Lilypad saw a way to strike back. "Oh, is that what this is about? I get it now."

"Eh, not really..."

"No, I see where this was going in your head." It was Lilypad's turn to smirk. "The hard case Steel Ranger and the worldly ex-slaver, unresolved tension billowing out into a reluctant attraction..."

Stalker started to laugh despite himself. "Yeah, yeah... Makes a good story though, don't it?"

Lilypad put on her best condescending smirk to match Stalker's earlier one. "A little predictable and - to be honest - played out, in my opinion."

But Stalker grinned back. "Oh, so you're a... what's the word, connoisseur... of boring, predictable romances?"

The Steel Ranger's smirk disappeared. That had been a good jab.

"I'd ask you two to get a room," Ten Paces cut in, "but I worry that one of you would end up dead."

"Just havin' some fun, Ten," Stalker replied. "Nice to know our fearless leader has a sense of humor... even if it takes a little bit to coax it out."

Lilypad said nothing and rolled her eyes, a signal that she was officially done with this conversation.

After that, it wasn't too long before the three of them reached the town proper, entering through the openings in the makeshift metal wall into the vaguely defined streets between the buildings, tents, and shanties. Close up, all the new additions to the town - the lights, wiring, new structures, and reinforcements - looked even more chaotic than it had from outside. The town hadn't gotten much cleaner or prettier with all its new contents; just bigger and more brightly lit.

"There's more ponies here than before," Ten Paces noted. At a glance, Lilypad had to agree. The town's population seemed to have grown a bit, though whether they were permanent residents or just passing through was uncertain. But ultimately, where there had been only a couple dozen ponies before, there now seemed to be more than double that, putting it more in line with Skyfall and Ribcage in terms of population count.

"It's only been a few days," Stalker pointed out. "Which means these have got to be new immigrants. Either more ponies comin' in or goin' out. Or both." There seemed to be a few more traveling merchants and wasteland types, as well as ex-raiders with the signs of recently washed-off body paint.

There was a more secret detail that worried Lilypad, though: The matter of Scarlet Shawl and his revitalized super-garden, and the town's protection deal with the Famine gang in exchange for food. Would more permanent residents strain those resources and put the town in danger? Could the Executive be after that, too?

"Ah, I think we found them," Stalker said, pointing upwards.

Short Circuit was flitting about above them, inspecting the wires and power boxes while muttering to herself. A couple of hardhat-wearing ponies followed her from below, politely asking her to stop, while Zephyr and Excalibur watched at more of a distance. As some point during this process, the filly had put on some rubber leg coverings for her forelegs.

After following the wires for a while, the filly seemed to find what she was looking for: A power box mounted to a pole that had yellow caution tape all over it. Before the hardhat ponies could stop her, Short Circuit threw it open with a violent flair.

Electricity immediately crackled out of the opened container, arcs crossing and sparks flying. Short Circuit wheeled on the construction ponies and shouted, "SEE?! I KNEW there was something wrong! Look at this! Look! THIS is what happens when you draw three times as much power from the grid, shove in two extra generators to compensate, and don't bother to properly BALANCE IT!!"

The two earth ponies looked at each other unsurely as Short Circuit ranted on.

"Ugh, I had this grid foolproofed before I left, I swear! Let me guess, you have random outages about four times a day, right? And how many fires have there been since I left, huh? HUH?!"

"O-Only one," the pony on the left meekly replied, before his partner gave him a firm smack to the back of the head.

"RRRGH! Okay, okay okay okay." The filly hovered back to the sparking power box and put a hoof on her chin. "If I had a map of all the wiring in town, I could rearrange everything and get all the proper resistors in place by dinner... But chances are, this was all a hack job without proper planning, so I'll need to make the map myself, which means I'll be up all night trying to..."

"Uh, hold on, you can't do that," the earth pony on her right said. "Not without permission from Hammer."

Short Circuit whipped back around again, and this time it looked as though steam might pore out from her flared nostrils. "WHAT."

But the construction pony stood his ground. "This is a matter for the construction crew. We can't have any interlopers messing with the infrastructure of the town without our supervision."

"Interlopers?! I...! YOU'RE the interwhatevers! Who are you guys, even?! This was a perfectly fine power grid before you guys showed up and... and built all this!"

The left-side pony backed up a few steps, but the pony on the right stayed and glowered at her. "Move along, little filly. Or go talk to Hammer. Don't. Cause. Trouble."

That was when the hardhat pony noticed the point of a spear under his chin. With a smirk beneath his glowing horn, Excalibur said, "Too late."

Lilypad, watching from a distance, panicked a little. This was supposed to be a covert operation!

The cowardly construction pony took a chance and started running from the obvious threat. Zephyr reacted quickly and tackled him to the ground. The brave one stood completely still as his partner was subdued, the spear holding him hostage.

"Oh, for pity's sake..." Lilypad started running towards the commotion to break it up.

"Now what's going on here?!" another voice called out sharply and with authority, such that everypony kind of froze in place. Lilypad slowed to a trot as she saw Thunder Spear, the current elected mayor of Gold Rush, get there before her.

Short Circuit fluttered over to the mayor in a hurry. "Thunder Spear! Are you seeing this?! How could you let this happen??"

"Alright, alright, calm down, we'll get this sorted..." Thunder Spear replied hastily. He looked to Excalibur, Zephyr, and the construction ponies and said, "You two, get off them. And you two, I'll clear up this little misunderstanding. So go back to, well, whatever you were doing."

Excalibur put his spear away and Zephyr let the cowardly pony up. The brave one looked to Thunder Spear and said, "This is a matter for the construction crew. We had it under control..."

"And I'm the mayor," Thunder Spear shot back. "Or have you already forgotten that? If Hammer has a problem, he can bring it up with me."

After giving him a dark look, the hardhat pony picked up his friend and left.

Lilypad chose that moment to step into the fray and glare at Excalibur. "What did you think you were doing?"

Excalibur shrugged. "Showing him that we weren't to be trifled with." He looked off to the side, towards the retreating ponies. "Hmph, 'had it under control'... What kind of pony has a spear to their jugular and says something like that?"

"Kid, don't look now," Stalker cut in, "but as we speak there's about six pairs of eyes on you that aren't us. Most of 'em lookin' out from under hardhats. Ya dun goofed."

Lilypad nodded. She'd noticed the various watchers down the streets and alleys around them. "If you'd done anything more than tackle the coward, I think you would've been mobbed by half the union."

Excalibur scrunched his face in annoyance before looking away and grumbling something under his breath.

"So who're you ponies, then?" Thunder Spear asked. He looked up at Ten Paces and added, "Well, people."

Ten Paces shook his head. "Don't worry. You get used to 'ponies' as a general term."

"Mr. Mayor, these are... well..." Short Circuit hesitated. "I guess we're called... Well, we're kind of a part of..."

Lilypad stepped forward and leaned in a little bit. "We're aligned with the Dragon Mawlers. Think of us as a 'B-Team.'"

Excalibur sighed and rolled his eyes.

"Ah, Lilypad." Thunder Spear nodded and looked back at Short Circuit. "So they're with you, huh? Got yourself a little adventuring party?"

"Sorta." The filly smiled uneasily. "Hopefully, this'll turn out better than my first one..."

Thunder Spear gave her a little hug, tussled her hair a bit, and stepped back. "Well, it looks promising enough. But we're all digressing a bit here. What brings you back to Gold Rush, besides the state of our electrical grid? Oh, and speaking of, would you mind...?"

Short Circuit reluctantly closed the power box and took off her rubber shoes. "Well, we're here to investigate..."

Lilypad covered her mouth with a hoof. "We're passing through, but as a favor to our mutual friends, we're also checking to see if anything needs doing around town, or if there's anything suspicious that needs investigating." She leaned in to Short Circuit and said, "Let's not announce it to the whole town before we get started, shall we?"

Short Circuit nodded meekly. Lilypad removed her hoof, and the filly added, "Yeah, that."

"I... see." Thunder Spear gestured vaguely at the built-up town around them. "Well, you kinda got a taste of it already. Not sure what else I can say that you haven't probably already observed."

"Well, we can see the 'what,'" Stalker said. "Just not sure of the 'how' and 'why.'"

"Right." The mayor took a few moments to think, and then said, "So as I understand it, word finally got out that the dragons have started to fall. Years of telling people this is a deathtrap, and now we're telling them that you just might be able to reach the hoards after all. So we've got more ponies coming down from Flametongue, and they always come through here first. A few merchants and businessponies saw the opportunity and decided to set up shop down here for a while. Then you've got ex-raiders and ex-cultists going out, some of them staying because they've got nowhere else. Put all that together, and suddenly our little town's gone up a few sizes."

"You had a need for better housing and facilities, and Hammer stepped in," Ten Paces observed.

"With a vengeance," Thunder Spear said with a nod. "I mean, we call them construction ponies, but Hammer and Nail were just good at scavenging scrap and putting them into house-like shapes, and we thanked them for it. But out of nowhere they started getting legit materials and hiring extra help."

"Any idea where they got the caps for all that?" Zephyr piped up.

"Hammer said they found a stash of caps after the Mawlers cleared out Glaurung's territory. I'd believe him if I ever saw him leave his tent, much less the town."

Lilypad frowned. "I sense you're not totally opposed to how suspicious this all is."

The grizzled veteran just let out a sigh. "Like the minotaur said, we needed this. And what's more, like you saw, Hammer's crew have been acting as a pseudo guard force. A bit corrupt, but at least keeping the peace as we've gotten larger and more populated."

"Okay, but..." Lilypad lowered her voice a it. "What about the food problem? And your deal with Famine?"

"Oh, that?" the mayor replied, looking a little surprised at the question. "Why, that's the smoothest part about all this. Scarlet Shawl's been throwing himself into his work nonstop - honestly, wish I could ask him to step away for a while, but my hooves are tied. But his dragon-blessed greenhouse thing has been keeping up. We've got more than enough food to feed everybody and pay our dues to the Famine gang. Certainly no surplus, but... we're going strong right now."

Lilypad was impressed. That was a lot of food to be producing on a weekly basis. Whatever Nidhogg's ashen remains had done to that little patch of land Scarlet Shawl was nurturing, it must've been very magical indeed.

"And, uh, yeah," Thunder Spear finished lamely. "That's the situation as I see it. Hope it helps."

"Almost," Stalker replied, his voice taking on a rather mysterious tone. "One more thing, just to get us started: Out of all the new buildings Hammer's put up, which would you say is the most suspicious?"

Thunder Spear thought for a little while again, before saying, "Well, there's the Dragon Express building. One of the first structures he made, it was for some sharp-looking guy wanting to set up a shipping company in the Maw. It's probably the best-looking and best-built place in town, and it gets a fair amount of business. Plenty of ponies going in and out of there every day, and it seems a lot of Hammer's hired help also double as laborers there."

"Well, damn," Stalker said with a chuckle. "That's plenty suspicious. Why haven't you checked it out yet?"

"I did. That's how I know all these details. But I didn't get too far before I was-" Thunder Spear cleared his throat, "-politely asked to leave."

Excalibur smirked. "I guess we'll have to finish the job, then."

"Just try not to break too much," the mayor advised. "Like it or not, we've got an infrastructure here. I'd rather it not all fall apart in one day. Oh, and don't get killed. Hammer's crew can get a little... brutal, much as I try and tell them not to."

"Thank you for your help," Lilypad said, bowing her head a little. "We'll do our best to protect the town while we're here."

"Hold up!" Short Circuit cried out. "What about my problem?" She flitted right up in Thunder Spear's face. "Thunder Spear, listen. I can fix all this, get rid of the outage problem and prevent any fires from happening again. But you gotta get these hardhat guys off my back. I may have to disconnect some things, but I promise I'd have everything back up better than ever in 12 hours, 24 tops!"

"I'd be more than happy to," Thunder Spear assured her. "But you really should talk to Hammer and make sure he gets the word out that you can do this. Otherwise, the construction ponies might get a bit more aggressive."

Short Circuit huffed. "Alllriiight... Guess we gotta talk to Hammer anyway."

Thunder Spear nodded at them. "I'll let you get to it. Something tells me I'll want plausible deniability for the next hour or so." With that, he walked back down the street whence he came and rounded a corner out of sight.

The six members of the B-Team rounded up for a quick powwow. "So, whatcha thinkin'?" Stalker said to Lilypad. "Divide and conquer again? Same groups?"

"In order: Yes and no." Lilypad pointed to Ten Paces. "You go with Short Circuit and Zephyr to speak to Hammer." Then she pointed at Excalibur. "You're with me and Stalker investigating Dragon Express."

Ten Paces nodded affirmatively. Excalibur made a show of thinking about it before he finally shrugged. The group split into their respective teams, and Lilypad addressed them as a whole. "Our goal is to coax out any evidence of corruption, and look for ways to leave Gold Rush better than we found it. Agreed?"

A chorus of "agreed" answered her. She nodded and said, "Alright, let's go."

Unfortunately, after a brief round of getting directions from passerby, it turned out that their destinations were off in mostly the same direction. So the two teams walked together awkwardly for a little while.

"So, uh... Why am I not watching Zephyr this time?" Excalibur asked just to break the silence.


Lilypad rolled her eyes. "Because talking to Hammer requires diplomacy and a level head, and investigating the shipping company will probably involve magic, force, and violence."

"Oh. Well... okay then," Excalibur mumbled.

Ten Paces let out an affirmative grunt. "Makes sense."

Mercifully, they came to an intersection where their paths split, and the two teams went their separate ways. Short Circuit, Zephyr, and Ten Paces took the path away from the proper buildings part of town and towards the shanties and tents. As it turned out, despite having built up every other part of the town, Hammer still lived in the big old tent he and Nail shared before the expansion started.

Short Circuit recognized the tent when they saw it, a large off-white thing with a tarp stretched over the top to protect it from the rain. It looked relatively humble, even compared to the reinforced shacks nearby. A couple of hardhat-wearing ponies (Short Circuit had called them "Hardhats" and it just stuck) were leaving the tent as they approached. The front entrance flap of the tent was loose, so the three of them walked right in.

The inside was big enough that Ten Paces only had to hunch over a little bit. It also looked completely different from the outside. The inner walls of the tent were lined with some kind of red silk. An orange carpet spanned the central length leading up to an ornate wooden throne, surrounded by a veritable dragon's hoard of... food. Boxed snacks, loaves of bread, slabs of cooked meat, and even a few bowls of fresh fruit were piled up around the central chair, upon which a fat green earth pony (much fatter than Short Circuit remembered) sat.

So jarring was the transition that the group had nothing to say for a few moments as they just took it all in, and they barely noticed the lanky green earth pony standing in front and to the side of the one on the throne. "Hello. Do you have business with Hammer?"


The lanky pony winced. "...Yes?"

The fat pony opened up a box of snack cakes. Some crumbs fell onto the jeweled bracelet around his hoof. "You didn't use my full title."

Nail let out a groan. "That's because it's long, dumb, and I don't remember it," he growled bluntly.

"Then let me remind you. It's Superior Dear Respected Wise Brilliant Unique Great Shining Father Leader Symbol..."

As half the B-Team just stared on in horror, Nail sighed and muttered. "Just give it a minute. We'll be here a while."

"...Beloved Half-Price Guarantee Victorious Supreme Sun Moon..."

Far away from all that, Lilypad's group closed in on the large Dragon Express building. Just in quality and workponyship, it stood out against the rest of the structures around it, to say nothing of the neon sign somepony had nailed to the front of it.

"Subtle," Excalibur quipped.

"The Executive doesn't really do subtle," Stalker replied. "It's all broad strokes. He puts a gun to your head, a bag of caps in your lap, gives you an offer you can't refuse, blows you the hell up anyway, and then walks away. And if you're lucky, in that order."

"Fair enough."

Lilypad opened the front double doors, and the trio stepped into a very fancy lobby. If the outside had been of standout quality, the inside was like stepping into the Old World again, warping back in time to life before the war. Encouraging Ministry posters lined the walls. Hardhat workers came and went, stamping timesheets along the way. There was a break room off to one side, a wing of offices to the other side, and the back wall had multiple service entrances to a great hall large enough to be a factory or a warehouse - though without internal windows, there was no way to know from the entrance. And to top it all off, there was a slick, well-dressed pony stationed at the front desk.

"Hello, travelers!" the pony, a tan earth pony stallion with a golden mane done up in a slick do, welcomed them cordially. "I'm Opportunity, and you've knocked on the door of the Dragon Express Shipping Company! What can we do for you this fine day in the Dragon's Maw?"

"Just browsing," Excalibur said noncommittally.

Lilypad said nothing, observing the room and the workers around them. She noticed that the hardhats in the room were keeping an eye on them in turn.

Stalker resisted the urge to roll his eyes at Excalibur's low-effort cover story. He shot the armored unicorn a look before smiling and stepping up to the front desk. "What my friend meant to say is that we're in the market to move some things up to, uh... New Appleloosa. So we're lookin' around at all the options available."

Opportunity looked confused for a second. "There are other options?" He shook his head a little to clear his mind and said, "Well, New Appleloosa, huh? That's pretty far, but that should be well within Dragon Express's range!"

"Is it, now?" Stalker said slyly. "You guys must be able to reach half the wasteland."

"Well, it helps when you have a..."

One of the hardhats off to the side of the room cleared his throat loudly.

"...p-pegasus helping out. Y'know, flying and all that."

Lilypad and Excalibur exchanged a look.

"B-But really, it's nothing special for a courier service, save for our... well, excellent service. Just give us a package and a destination, and we charge by distance and by risk."

Stalker tapped his chin with his hoof. "Really now? Well, if I said I was transporting some heavy ordinance to help out our friends in New Appleloosa, what would that cost me?"

"Oooh... Quite a bit, sir. If it's heavy, that means we can't fly it, so we'd have to walk it there. Probably with a heavy guard to fend off bandits."

"So I'm in the position to drop several thousand caps on you guys," Stalker pointed out. Then he leaned in towards the slick stallion. "And I ain't spending a cap unless I'm absolutely sure. I'd like to take a look at your operation real quick. If I'm satisfied, you get my business. If not, I walk out."

Opportunity's eyes darted over to the two hardhats, who didn't make any overt motions since they were being watched but just stared intently back. Focusing back on Stalker, Opportunity gave him a sheepish grin. "Sorry. That's... uh... private. Confidential. All... those things."

Stalker stepped back, a frown on his face. "Well, shoot. Guess I'm a little rusty at this speechifyin' thing. Guess that leaves the other way."

Lilypad was losing count of her panic attacks today. "No, don't...!"


As the hardhats were starting to move, Excalibur's horn lit up. The curtains on the external windows closed instantly, and his spear glowed with a strange light. "Say cheese."

A blinding flash filled the room, followed by sounds of stabbing and two stallions groaning out their last breath. Lilypad and Stalker had managed to close their eyes before the flash, and so were quickly able to gaze upon the scene of Excalibur cleaning off the blade of his spear as he stood over the two hardhats.

Lilypad put a hoof on her forehead in frustration. "No, no, no...!"

Stalker reached over the counter to grab Opportunity, who hadn't closed his eyes in time and was still affected by the unnatural flash. The stallion squeaked and wailed, "Please, please don't kill me! Mmph-"

The stallion was muffled by Stalker's hoof covering his mouth. "Now listen here," Stalker said in a conversational tone with an angry edge. "If it weren't obvious already, this 'legitimate business' is bein' run by the Executive. Maybe you've heard of him, maybe not. Best advice for you is to get out of town while you still can."

"Rrrgh," Lilypad groaned. But she pulled herself together and focused on the task at hand. Stepping up to the counter, she stood beside Stalker and said, "Don't leave through the front door or the warehouse. Head to your home, find your things, and get out before anypony becomes suspicious. Understand?"

Opportunity's eyes opened, his vision gradually returning, and he nodded twice.

"Remember, no screamin', no talkin' to anypony else about this," Stalker added. "Else we'll have to off you too." And he slowly loosened his grip on the stallion, who wisely kept his mouth shut as he blearily made his way towards the back rooms, out of sight.

Lilypad rounded on Stalker angrily. "What the hell was that?!" Then on Excalibur. "Both of you! Did you plan this?!"

Excalibur, finished cleaning his spear, shrugged and stowed his weapon away. "No. I improvised."

"Look, cut the kid some slack," Stalker said with a sigh. "We were at the exact moment, the tipping point, of those two numbskulls getting too suspicious and doin' something about it."

"We could've handled it better!" Lilypad argued. "For instance, by knocking them out instead of killing them."

Stalker considered it. "Yeah, but then you run into the risk of them wakin' up and tellin' someone else, or their boss..."

"So we tie them up and gag them, then decide what to do with them once the danger has passed."

"Hmm." Stalker looked pointedly at Excalibur. "Yeah, Cal, why didn't you knock them out?"

The green unicorn was shocked. "What?! You're taking her side?? But isn't she the one who said we needed - what was it? - 'magic, force, and violence'?"

"Oh, I suppose it's my fault, then," Lilypad muttered. "Well, let me clarify. We needed magic, force, and violence... applied with precision and care, and preferably not before warning me first." She shook her head and looked towards the back wall. "As long as we're here and have free reign, we might as well take a look around. Stalker and I will investigate. Excalibur, you hide the bodies, clean up the blood, and guard this entrance hall. If any other suspicious ponies come looking around, knock them out."

"Come on... I'm on guard duty?" Excalibur whined.

Lilypad fixed him with an intense glare. "You made the mess. You clean it up."

Excalibur shrunk back a little under her gaze. "...Okay. Alright. I'll... get right on that."

Stalker and Lilypad made their way toward the back doors while Excalibur got to work cleaning up the bodies. Stalker moved to the central set of doors and pushed them open for Lilypad. "Ladies first."

Lilypad rolled her eyes and walked through. She was greeted with the sight of shelves upon shelves, boxes upon boxes upon crates upon crates. This was definitely a miniature warehouse, taking up two stories' worth of vertical space and the rest of the considerable horizontal space the building had to offer. Perhaps it'd be fairer to call it just a very large storage room, but it had all the trappings of a warehouse, including a walkway encircling the second floor wall and what looked like a control room up and to the very back of the room.

The ex-slaver next to her let out a whistle. "I dunno what the Exec's movin' through this place, but apparently it's a lot of it." He went down the central aisle and inspected some of the boxes. "What do we got here... Labels for sender, recipient, payment, contents..."

"Get down!"

Lilypad dragged Stalker into one of the side aisles as a muffled metallic thunk sent something whizzing past Stalker's head. Getting up from his sprawled position, Stalker grimaced and muttered, "What the..."

The Steel Ranger tapped her Pip-Buck. "Eyes Forward Sparkle. There's a red blip on my compass. Probably hidden in that control room up there."

"Just great..." Stalker growled. He blinked once in realization. "Wait. A silenced bullet? A gun??"

"Seems like it."

The stallion groaned. "We're pinned down by a dragon-pony hybrid. Well, fu-"

"...Fundamentally Great and Powerful Hammer, copyright Team Four Star," Hammer finally finished.

Zephyr looked up from the paper he'd been writing this all down on. "Wait, what wazzat last part?" he asked, the pencil still in his mouth.

Short Circuit let out a frustrated strangled growl and floated up into Hammer's fat face. "Are you done? Because we've got some serious business to discuss, mister!"

Hammer quirked an eyebrow. "Oh. Short Circuit. You should've told me it was you."

For a few brief seconds, the little filly seemed to ponder the possibilities of strangulation without hands. At least, judging by the way her forelegs reached out towards Hammer's neck, trembling a bit.

"Sir," Nail muttered, "I think she's mad about the mess you made of the town's electrical system."

"What's wrong with the electrical system?" Hammer asked lazily.

"Sir, probably the fact we have regular power outages, one building almost burned to the ground, and that we messed with her carefully optimized grid in the first place."

"Oh." Hammer cleared his throat. "Well, what did you expect? You ran off to help out those Mawler guys. Somepony had to stay and maintain things."

"I specifically told everypony to leave it alone! I had it all figured out! I even left a note on every power box!" Short Circuit cried.



"Why didn't you tell me she left a note?"

"Sir, you're the one who ignored them and threw them away."

"Nope. That was obviously your fault. How could you, Nail."

Short Circuit, still hovering, put her forelegs on her hips. "You're not fooling anyone, Hammer."

"Well, note or no note! It doesn't matter," Hammer declared. "So many ponies kept coming in looking for shelter. We had to make more places, which meant we needed more power. I'm not going to apologize for doing what we had to do."

"Then apologize for doing it poorly!"

"Oh yeah? Well how about you try merging two generators into the same power grid to provide electricity to the whole town without shortages or fires."

"Maybe I will!!"

And with that, Short Circuit buzzed out of the tent. Zephyr chased after her. "Hey, wait!" Which left Ten Paces alone in the tent with Hammer and Nail.


Nail sighed. "What?"

"Did I accidentally give Short Circuit permission to mess with the entire electrical system?"

"I think you did, sir."

"Wellll crap."

Ten Paces grunted. "Hmph. It will only benefit the town. You should let her do as she pleases."

Hammer shook his head. "It's going to be a big problem... But then again, not my problem. Somepony will deal with her."

The minotaur lifted his hat up slightly so he could look directly in Hammer's eyes. "You're not going to let your underlings know that she has permission?"

"I didn't actually give her permission, now did I?"

Ten Paces reached for one of his pouches. "So Short Circuit, following the power lines, is about to stumble onto something you don't want discovered. In order to silence her, you're going to leave her out to dry when your subordinates start getting hostile, perhaps even violent."

Nail's eyes widened. "That's... uh, awfully perceptive of you."

"It was a lucky guess." Ten Paces drew out a metallic disc from his pouch that fit into his hand. With a flick of the wrist, the disc revealed three curved blades, forming the glaive he'd retrieved from Smaug's horde. "Now, I'm going to threaten you with violence until you tell me your secrets. You will tell me what I want to know."

"Pffft, as if," Hammer retorted. "Nail. Kick his ass."

"Um, I don't exactly have a weapon," Nail mumbled, looking uneasily at the glaive Ten Paces was holding.

"You're a construction pony. You build civilization out of raw materials and salvage. Figure it out."

Nail still looked nervous, but took a tentative fighting stance anyway.

Ten Paces, however, softened his stance a bit to look slightly less aggressive. "Nail, this is the chance you've been waiting for."


"Naaaail, don't listen to him."

"You've toiled under this pony you once called friend for years and years," Ten Paces continued. "You've done what needs to be done for the good of the town. You've watched patiently as your boss abused his power to usurp this town... watched, perhaps, for far too long. But you were no fool. You knew what was at stake, and what would happen if you blindly took action. But now, Nail, now is the time. Let me and my team do what needs to be done, and I promise we will provide a way out."


"You know what I'm talking about, Nail. This is the chance you've been waiting for."

Nail hesitated for the longest time...

...and then stood by Ten Paces' side.

Hammer's brow wrinkled in something resembling fury. "Well, well, well. Didn't take you for a turncoat, old friend."

"It was either this or keep listening to your annoying title until I snap and murder you in cold blood," Nail deadpanned. "Be thankful that we're going with this option."

Hammer grumbled something under his breath, then said, "Alright, look. I've got caps-"

"Don't even try," Ten Paces cut in.

The fat, spoiled laborer pony finally started to sweat. "Guards..."

Ten Paces quirked an eyebrow. "What was that?"


Nail looked up at the minotaur. "I think he's trying to call some of the hardhats over to protect him."


A faint rumbling of hooves could be heard approaching the tent. Ten Paces turned towards the entrance and took an aggressive stance. "Very well, then."


A sniper round pierced through part of one of the metal shelves, causing it to shudder a bit. Lilypad and Stalker maneuvered to another aisle and took cover behind the side of the shelf rather than the length of it. The shooter was moving along the walkway above them, allowing him to change his angle of attack and forcing the duo to move every so often.

"Frackin' Gunsmith's Curse..." Stalker growled. "Frackin' hybrids..."

As the shooter was moving to a new position, Lilypad stuck her head out briefly and activated SATS through her Pip-Buck. Time slowed to a standstill, allowing her to see the enemy clearly in mid-run. She could've also queued up a few attacks, but without a gun her only option was a few energy blasts with her horn, which would've drained her energy quickly and would be inaccurate at this range anyway. It was probably best to wait for a better opening.

Lilypad deactivated SATS and took the cover behind the shelf next to Stalker. "Male dragon hybrid. Light barding with marks from the Cult of Tiamat. Looked like a... silenced .45."

"A .45? With a silencer?!" Stalker echoed incredulously. "Goddamn, where's the Exec gettin' this kind of good stuff?"

A few bullets crashing into the crates above them rendered the question moot for now.

"Alright," Stalker muttered, "we've got about forty seconds before that bastard gives up and calls for help or somethin'. We need a plan. You got SATS, right?"

"Yeah, but it's too far for me."

"Not for me." Stalker magically lifted up one of the throwing knives from his belt. "Think maybe I can tap into your SATS system?"

Despite the situation, Lilypad found herself a little befuddled. "I... I'm not sure. Never tried that before."

"I'm pretty accurate without it," Stalker admitted. "But we might only got one shot at this. Jus' wanna be sure."

"'Be sure,' he says," Lilypad quipped, "and then he suggests an untested technique that's outside the Pip-Buck's specifications."

Stalker groaned. "Alright, alright! I thought it was a cool idea and I really want to try it out! C'mon!"

A few more silenced shots bounced off the shelves, and then there was tapping on the grated walkway above them. Lilypad sighed and nodded. "He's moving. Now or never."

Stalker and Lilypad started to move out of cover...


"Woah, look at all this stuff! Is this a warehouse? Why are all the power lines converging here?"

The duo froze. Stalker glanced at Lilypad. "Was that...?"

Lilypad thought for a second, then her eyes widened. "Short Circuit. Second-story window!"

"Okay, a control room... What, so they routed all the station controls through here? Hey, wait, who are- AHH!"

Stalker and Lilypad rushed out from the shelves into the main aisle. Above them, through the control station window, they could see the hybrid holding Short Circuit with a gun to her head.

"We're done here," the hybrid stated coldly. He pointed the .45 away from Short Circuit, still holding the filly in his claws, and aimed at the two ponies below. "No witnesses to the Executive's plans."

Neither of them had to say anything. Lilypad stretched out her Pip-Buck-laden hoof, and Stalker's horn lit up. The hybrid pulled the trigger just as time slowed to a stop for Stalker.

When time resumed, a bullet struck Stalker's barding before he lashed out with a volley of throwing knives aimed at the gun. The knives hit their mark, cutting into the hybrid's hand and forcing him to drop the weapon. The .45 clattered off the side of the control station's panels and down to the floor below.

Short Circuit wriggled out of the hybrid's grip and gave him a quick buck to the chest. It wasn't terribly strong, but it knocked the wind out of him for a second. The hybrid tried to grab at her again, but was interrupted by a second volley of knives from Stalker below.

"Should've aimed a little higher!" Stalker taunted, wincing as the light wound in his chest leaked a little blood. He telekinetically recalled his thrown knives and prepared for another round.

The filly had gotten far out of reach at this point, and Lilypad was charging up energy in her horn for an attack as well. Sensing that things weren't going his way, the hybrid reached for the power controls near him and flipped as many levers and switches as he could. The lights in the storage room flickered and died. Sparks flew. In a moment, the only light inside was the gray natural light from the upper windows.

"What?! No! No, what did you do?!" Short Circuit raced back to the control station, but by that point the hybrid had already dashed for the window she'd opened and jumped through it.

"You two stay!" Lilypad shouted at the others. "I'll follow!" She raced out of the storage room, hoping to go around through one of the side doors and get on the hybrid's trail before he got too far away.

Zephyr, who'd nearly lost Short Circuit as she'd flitted about, only caught the last few seconds of the warehouse encounter before the hybrid came barreling out the window he was watching from, knocking him aside. Catching his balance midair, he shook his head, shouted, "Hey, wait!" and took after him.

With his exosuit enhancing his speed, and the hybrid dealing with a wounded hand, Zephyr was able to catch up quickly. He dove down and tackled the hybrid to the ground, the two of them crashing in one of the alleys behind Dragon Express.

Zephyr grinned. "Haha! Gotcha now-" The hybrid's non-wounded hand grabbed him by the throat and silenced him. Before he knew it, Zephyr was thrown against a wall with unnatural strength, dazing him for a second. A second that allowed the hybrid to spread its leathery wings and take to the air.

By the time Zephyr had stopped seeing double, Ten Paces had arrived on the scene investigating the disturbance. Not really questioning why the minotaur was there, Zephyr pointed up at the retreating hybrid and said, "He... He threatened Circuit!"

Ten Paces took in the scene. Due to the hybrid's haphazard switch-throwing, the town was experiencing a severe power outage. Several power boxes nearby were sparking with uncontrolled electricity. Above all this chaos, the hybrid was trying to fly away unnoticed.

The minotaur drew back his hand, still holding the bladed glaive, and threw it towards the power box.

The glaive collided with the power box, and the electricity jumped to the spinning metal. The glaive, charged with electrical power, flew back to Ten Paces' hand. The minotaur didn't seem even fazed by the current jumping to his skin as he brought his arm back for another throw. With all his might and a great shout, he tossed the spinning, electrical glaive at the retreating hybrid.

With surprising speed, the glaive caught up to the hybrid and collided. The electricity exploded outward on contact, shocking the enemy with an entire town's worth of power.

The hybrid, now slightly smoking, when into a spinning nosedive and crashed down to earth in the middle of town.

Ten Paces' glaive returned to its master, who caught it confidently. "Huh. So that's its power," Ten Paces calmly observed, before retracting the blades and placing the disc back in his pouch. He then offered his hand to Zephyr to help him up.

Zephyr looked at the minotaur, then up at where the hybrid had been, then back at him with a grin. "Wow. Glad you're on our side."

During all of this, Excalibur was still in the lobby, mopping up the bloodstains with equipment he'd retrieved from the janitorial closet. When the power went out, he just rolled his eyes and muttered, "Gee, sounds like fun..." before getting back to his mopping.

Ten Paces, Zephyr, and Lilypad broke through the growing crowd in the street to look at the fallen, charred body of the dragon-pony hybrid.

Lilypad looked up at the minotaur questioningly. "I applaud the quick thinking on your part, but... How did you know to get over here so quickly? I thought you were all with Hammer."

Ten Paces tipped his hat a little, smiling ever so slightly. "Oh, that..."


"Hold on," Nail said, holding a hoof in front of Ten Paces. "Let me try something."

The lanky earth pony stepped out of the tent to confront the six or so hardhat ponies approaching them. One of them glared at Nail and growled, "Boss called for guards. Is he in trouble?"

Nail nodded. "Yeah, but listen. Hammer's about to get what's been coming to him for a long time. If he goes, I become the much nicer boss. How about you guys just let nature take its course?"

"Guuuuaaaaaaarrrrrrrrdsssss! Don't listen to Naaaaaaaaiiiillllll!"

Nail winced, but responded with a smirk. "You won't have to listen to that stupid title ever again."

The hardhats glanced amongst themselves. One of them shrugged and said, "Yeah, sounds good." This caused a cascade of passive agreement from the rest of them, and they all walked away.

As Nail re-entered the tent, Hammer let out a huff. "Is loyalty worth anything in the wasteland? What about all the caps I pay them?"

"Not the caps you pay them," Ten Paces corrected, turning back towards Hammer, "the caps the Executive pays them. You're just the middlepony. But to answer your question: Loyalty is earned, not bought."

"At best, it can only be rented," Nail added.

"Grraaaaah... Fiiine. What do you want to know?"

Ten Paces retracted the glaive's blades. "What problem is Short Circuit about to run into?"

Hammer sighed. "If she follows the boxes and wires long enough, she'll find most of the power's routed and controlled through the Dragon Express building. Don't ask me why; that's just how it turned out. But DE is mostly a front for the Executive to ship supplies to all his operation cells in the Maw and beyond. Anyone who goes poking around too much is to be taken out. No exceptions. No witnesses."

Ten Paces tensed up. Short Circuit was about to be in real danger. Looking to Nail, he said, "Think you can take over the interrogation for a little while?"

"Yeah, sure. I'll soften him up for you," Nail replied. Ten Paces dashed out of the tent, and Nail muttered, "Not that he can get much softer..."

"Now that... is a fantastic story."

Stalker rested against one of the crates as Ivy, the local griffon doctor, dug the bullet out of his chest and patched him up with some enchanted bandages. The rest of the group had gathered up in the mini-warehouse in the back of the Dragon Express, along with Thunder Spear but exempting Short Circuit. The filly was already getting to work undoing the damage and drawing up a new, updated power grid for Gold Rush's needs.

"I wish I'd had more of a part in it," Excalibur grumbled.

Zephyr gave his longtime friend a big, squeezing side-hug. "Ah, don't worry about it, buddy! We'll be the big heroes next time."

"I appreciate what you did today," Thunder Spear said, "and I'll make sure the folks around here keep it quiet. But there's no getting around it: Gold Rush is owned by the Executive now. He's got too many caps flowing through this place."

Lilypad grimaced. The mayor was right. The Executive had built up this town from its humble roots - he could easily bring the full weight of his force on it and destroy it, too. Today's success hinged on them not overly disrupting the Executive's operation. Dragon Express would continue to carry their enemy's goods, and the hardhats would remain Gold Rush's security force.

"At least Nail's in charge now," Ten Paces offered. "He'll put the Executive's free caps to better use, and keep the town's safety a higher priority."

"I know, I know," Thunder Spear mumbled. "It's just... This hasn't been a free town for a while. We've been owned by the Famine gang for who knows how long. And now we gotta stay on this Executive's good side? What if we get stretched too thin, is what I'm saying."

Lilypad tapped her chin. "Maybe they're not mutually exclusive problems. Maybe Famine already knows that the Executive's moved in, and has allowed it."

The mayor's eyes widened. "Well, in that case... That's a whole new kind of problem, right there."

"But that's a maybe," Lilypad added with a wave of her hoof. "No concrete evidence just yet."

Thunder Spear stepped up to Lilypad and gave her a serious look. "I don't like relying so much on the help of strangers, but... If you're with the Mawlers, if you can help get Gold Rush out of this mess..."

Lilypad nodded. "We'll do what we can."

"I guess that's all I can ask."

Ivy was done healing Stalker at this point. Stalker levitated a bag of caps over to her as payment. With their business concluded, Ivy and Thunder Spear walked out of the warehouse just as Nail was coming in.

"How are we?" Ten Paces asked the earth pony.

Nail rubbed the back of his neck with his hoof. "I convinced them to give you guys twenty more minutes of free reign, no questions asked, no reports to the boss. But after that, you gotta get out of here."

Stalker got up to his hooves with a groan. "Well, guess we gotta get started." He walked over to one of the shelves they'd been hiding behind earlier and started looking through the crates. "There's one o' these I had my eye on for a while... Let's see what's inside."

When Stalker pointed out the crate he was talking about, Ten Paces grabbed a crowbar and cracked open the nailed-shut container. With a great effort, he lifted off the cover to reveal... caps. Lots and lots of caps, stacked up in tight columns that were kept in place by some kind of metal rack.

Zephyr's eyes brightened up. Excalibur's jaw had dropped. Stalker just grinned maniacally. Ten Paces made no reaction.

Lilypad levitated a lone cap from the crate into the air. "They're..."

Stalker's grin widened. "Yeah?"

"...pristine." Lilypad passed it over to Stalker's magic. "New."

Stalker examined the cap very closely. He also brought out one of his own caps to compare against it. The one he already had was bent slightly and had a few notches. The one from the crate was perfectly formed and clean. "Haha... So it is." He put the cap back in the crate. "And what does that mean?"

"It means we're rich," Zephyr grunted.

"No." Lilypad covered the crate with the lid. "We're not taking any of this. It would make them suspicious, and we're already more on the radar than I'd like as it is."


Stalker examined the label on the crate once again. "'Sender: Glitter Springs.' Well, that's helpful. There are multiple boxes with this sender, too. How many do you think are in this storage room right now?"

"How many caps is the Executive mailing, and where are they coming from?" Lilypad continued, thinking aloud along with Stalker.

From the entrance of the room, Nail cleared his throat. "Uh..."

Stalker looked up from the crates. "Yeah? Speak up, son!"

"Well, I was working over Hammer a bit, right? And I might've made him a little scared for his life in the process."

"That must've been therapeutic," Ten Paces remarked.

"Heh heh, yeah... Well, anyway, to make me stop, he started jabbering about how he's got vital information about one of the Executive's secret operations. You said 'Glitter Springs,' right?"

The B-Team looked amongst themselves, then back at Nail. "Yeah..." Excalibur said tentatively.

Nail shrugged. "Well, looks like Hammer might know more about that. So I guess go talk to him. He'll be, uh... real compliant now."

Ten Paces tipped his hat. "Thanks, Nail. You've been a great help."

"Just doing what I can."

With a grin, Stalker looked to Lilypad and said, "So, fearless leader. Think this B-Team's up for another mission?"

Lilypad looked at those present. Excalibur didn't look like he cared either way. Zephyr was ecstatic about their victory as a team, regardless of his part in it. Ten Paces was unreadable as usual, but the command performance he'd put into this mission was probably a sign that he was on board. Short Circuit would probably be fine by tomorrow, once she'd finished repairing the town. And Stalker...

Well, the jury was still out on Stalker, but he was useful so far. It wasn't time to throw in the towel yet.

The Star Paladin sighed, briefly thought about the events that had led her to this point in her life, and said, "Alright."

Hush Now

View Online

The campfire sparks and snaps as all gather around it. “So. It’s as nice a night as any… Perhaps a story? Not a ghost story of course, the wasteland is truer and scarier than any ghost story I’ve ever heard.” The storyteller takes a seat as everyone settles in around the growing fire, as if it becomes eager for a story as well. “It starts long ago, in a different life, a different place, and with a different family.”

“Hey Gr-” Bang! “Grin I-” Bang! “Grin!” Bang!

“What is it you little twat?!?” Bang! Goes the gun as the older colt dispatches the last giant ant.

“I’m bored… I mean we’re already done with this batch and it’s not even dark yet.” Says the younger blue colt lying across a boulder as he watches an ant’s corpse burn.

The older red colt holsters his gun, “And what do you want me to do about it? This was your idea.” he says walking over to one of their beer bottles.

“Well I was hoping you’d take your time with it this time. You didn’t even try to have some fun with it.” The young blue colt rolls over on the rock now looking at the older colt upside down.

“That’s because I take this more seriously than you, just like everything else.” Grin explains as he drains their last bottle of beer and tosses it aside toward their small pile.

The younger colt levitates a knife to cut a hunk of burned meat out of the dead ant. “You always are, and you’re only a couple years older, so why don’t you pull that stick out of your ass and have a little fun for once?” He replies as he takes a bite out of the ant meat.

“Hey! I can have fun!” The older colt exclaims as he pulls his knife and begins to gather the ant meat. “And maybe I like the stick up my ass.”

Burner tries holds back a laugh. “Pffft! Yeah that I’m sure of!” He yells as he laughs and rolls off of the rock.

Grin rolls his eyes. “You know what I fucking mean, Burner.” He adds with a bit of anger.

“Don’t get your tail in a twist.” Burner stands and goes over to their scattered beer bottles. “Now we got no fire water, no ants, and no fun.” He says with disappointment as he looks around the horizon, spotting a familiar building near by. “Hey I’ve got an idea… See that building over there?”

Grin looks up from the dead ants. “Yeah? What about it?” He says as he walks over to Burner.

“You hear about it from the rest of the gang? They say it’s haunted. OOoooooh.” Burner says tauntingly.

Grin laughs. “HAH! Yeah right. They’re just trying to pull your leg, you idiot.”

“Good! Then you wouldn’t mind checking it out with me then right? Or are you scaaared.” Burner taunts as he begins to circle around Grin.

“What? I-I’m not scared, it’s just that it’s getting late.” Grin glances around nervously careful to make sure Burner didn’t see his worried face.

“We’ll be back before it gets too dark. Come on, I’ll lead the way.” Burner then walks off in the direction of the building.

“...I have a bad feeling about this.” Grin trails after him reluctantly.

“So… Umm. Why do they say this place is haunted?” Grin glances around the entrance a little nervously.

Burner steps inside and shines the light from his horn around the room. “Not much. Just that it used to be a hospital.” And he moves the light to cast a menacing shadow over his face, “and that ponies go in, but they don’t come out.” The young colt mocks.

Grin walks with his head high over the younger colts trying not to show his fear. They walk around the building entrance, checking out the cabinets behind the old secretary desk and the shelves around the empty room. Continuing on they explore more rooms, taking anything they find, all in silence as the light from the outside fades slowly.

“By Luna this place is quiet…” Grin says as they leave another room and carry on down the hall and pass two big swinging doors. “It doesn’t even look like people have been in here since the war.”

“Yeah. We haven’t even found much, just a bunch of junk.” They open the door into one of the rooms in the hall. “I know we haven’t been here long, but I was hoping for more than this. Maybe a radroach or two.” Burner says looking around the room.

The room is nothing but a small patients room with one bed in the corner, curtains drawn around it. Burner looks to Grin then looks back to the bed. “Go on. Check it out.” Grin looks at him with a face that screams ‘you’re kidding right?’. “What? Scared?” Burner says taunting him.

Grin looks into the room cautiously, then straightens out his neck and holds his head up as he walks in. He stops halfway through the room and looks back at Burner, standing only a few feet into the room. Burner just nods forward encouraging him on shining light into the room. As the older colt goes on he stops right in front of the curtain, and gulps nervously. Glancing back one more time reassuringly at Burner, he raises a hoof to pull back the curtain slowly. Closing his eyes a little afraid of what he’ll see, he continues to open the curtain further. Peeking through his eyes they fly open and he steps back in shock, as he sees a long dead skeleton of a pony lying in the bed. He takes a sigh of relief for a moment as he looks at the lifeless remains, before the light in the room goes out. “BURNER!? Burner… This isn’t funny. T-Turn the light back on... Burner?” He turns around stumbling in the dark, trying to find the younger colt. “Burner!” His voice cracks as he yells with desperation and fear as a cold hoof touches his shoulder.

Jumping and screaming he dives for the door as light slowly returns to the room and he hears laughter. “Haha. You fuckin’ pansy!” Burner continues laughing as he points and mocks the older colt, levitating the skeleton’s hoof. “Scared of a dead pony, Bloody Grin?” He says with a bit of sarcasm dripping from the name.

“You fucking prick!” Grin’s voice cracks again, as he tackles Burner. They roll around on the ground for a while, bumping into the bed and cabinets. Hooves fly as the two colts punch and wrestle across the room, slamming each other into walls and the floor. Bones fall from the bed as they continue to fight and yell at each other. After a while it ends with Grin sitting on top of Burner’s chest and popping him in the face with his hoof. “You do that again I’ll fuckin’ stab you with celestia’s horn! You- You crazy fuckin’ raider!” Grin screams at Burner as he breaths heavily staring down at him with a look of anger in his eyes.

Burner looks up at Grin in shock as his nose starts bleeds. “I’m… I’m sorry.”

Grin’s face goes from anger to surprise as he continues to sit on Burner’s chest. “Yeah. Well… Just don’t do it again.” Grin says as he gets off of Burner. Burner stands staring over at the older colt, with a disappointed look. Grin sighs with frustration and a bit of disappointment as well. “Look. I’m sorry for calling you a crazy raider ok?”

Burner shakes his head. “You know, you’re a raider too now. You might as well get fuckin’ used to it.” He looks around the room, at the cabinets that were shaken loose and starts to rummage through them like nothing happened.

“Right…” Bloody Grin sighs and helps Burner look through the rest of the room, looking at all the bones on the floor.


Time goes by, Grin and Burner continue checking rooms as they explore the hospital some more. Finding more bones, more junk, and even more silence in the dark rooms than before with the absence of their voices. Eventually they come to the door of another patient room and Burner’s ears perk up. “Hey. Hey did you hear that?”

Grin shakes his head in annoyance. “Not now Burner I’m not in the mood.”

“I wasn- fine whatever.” Burner says frustrated, he opens the door and shines a light into the room, finding another bed and another curtain drawn.

Grin sniffs the air. “Wait… Do you smell that?” Outstretching his hoof in front of Burner to stop him.

Burner lowers Grin’s hoof. “Now you’re doing it too?” And walks into the room up to the curtain ignoring the warning, Grin sighs and follows beside him.

“What you a little jumpy about another pile of bones?” Burner says as he pulls back the curtain with Grin beside him. The room turns cold and their skins pale as they look at the body in front of them, rotting, no older than a year, with it’s eyes wide and empty. Flies and other bugs eating at the dead body.

They both stand there staring at the body in surprise at the fresh body lying before them looking back with lifeless eyes. The room sits in total silence for a few heart beats before a rattling comes from one of the cabinets and both colts scream as Burner throws fire across the room and Grin draws his gun and starts firing. One bullet after another as they continue screaming until Grin’s gun goes click click click. They both hazard look at each other cautiously as the destroyed cabinet door falls off, showing a radroach within, looking a lot like burned swiss cheese.

The dead radroach slowly falls out onto the floor and they stare at each other. “Heh. Hah. Haha. Hahaha!” Both of them start laughing in relief, hanging onto each other before falling to the floor. Laughing until they have tears in their eyes, almost hyperventilating as they lie on the ground.

“Oh goddess, I thought I was gonna die.” Burner says as he wipes the tears from his eyes.

Wiping his eyes as well Grin stands up holstering his gun. “By Luna I thought I was a goner to. And now I’ve wasted all my bullets.”
Burner just looks up at Grin quietly from the floor as the older colt walks over to the radroach. “Hey, I’m sorry again, about scaring you like that back there. It’s just,,, you know you gotta relax more. The rest of the gang worries about you sometimes, you always seem to be on edge looking over your shoulder.”

“They worry about me?” Grin asks skeptical as he starts to check the cabinets.

Yeah. I mean it’s been years and you still don’t really relax around anyone. Except me really and only when we aren’t with the others.” Burner says looking up at him genuinely worried.

“Yeah well… They’re your family, not mine.” Grin says hiding his sour expression.

Burner gets up off of the floor and puts a hoof on Grin’s shoulder. “They’re your family too now. Whether you like it or not. And you are actually kinda fun to hang out with when you stop acting all twitchy.” The younger colt says, then goes over to the rotting body on the bed. “So… What do you think did him in?”

Grin finishes checking the cabinets and walks over. “I don’t know. I’m not even sure how he got into the bed.”

“What do you mean?” Burner lifts one of the corpses hooves.

“I mean. It’s not that old… So did he really just crawl into the bed to die here? Or did someone move him here trying to heal him up?” Grin looks to Burner nervously.

Looking back at the older colt, Burner tries to look tough fails. “Don’t… Now you’re just getting yourself all worked up again. He probably was just left here after someone couldn’t fix him up.” He starts to rummage through the corpse's pockets, finding only a few caps. “Come on, let’s get out of here. I’m tired of this smell.” Burner turns to leave the room.

Grin turns to follow Burner, taking one last glance at the corpse staring back at him with wide eyes before shutting the door behind him.

Once again with the same routine, moving through the rooms of the hospital, climbing floor after floor, with the outside now in almost total darkness. Finding more useful junk and the occasional medicine as they climb to higher and higher floors. “Don’t you think we should be heading back now? It is getting pretty dark out.” Grin says as they walk down the hallway.

“We’re on the last floor, might as well check it out before going. Won’t take long right?” Burner asks looking into another room. Nearly empty save for another rotting corpse in the bed, both of the young colts share a look of concern. “Shit… How many does that make it now?”

“Three... Maybe we should think about heading back.” Grin suggests nervously.

Burner looks to the dead body. “I don’t know. We’ve started to find some decent stuff now… And I mean it isn’t anything but a few dead bodies. It’s up to you I guess.”

Grin stares at it as well. “There aren’t many wounds on them either, just some cuts. We’ve both had worse than that…”

“So… We keep going then?” Burner says trying to sound a little reassuring.

“Yeah. Yeah we keep going.” Grin replies sounding a bit more confident.

They both leave the room continuing on as they check rooms. Some time passes by, a few more rooms checked and more quiet hallways filled with debris. “Hey.” Grin says cutting through the quiet hall. “Wanna break the silence a bit?” Grin says with a smile trying to put on a strong face as he bumps himself into Burner.

“Yeah sure. What you have in mind?” Burner says starting to loosen up from all the stress of the dark quiet halls and silent bodies.

“What’s one of those songs you know from the radio?” Grin’s smile grows.

Burner chuckles and gets a big grin on his face. “Hmm… Let me think.” He begins to hum a little as he walks down the hallway and they pass through the a door marked patriatrics. Burner begins to sing, a little off key, but trying to make a good try of it.

“Oh I don’t want to set the woooorld on firrreeee.
I just want to start a flame in your heart.”

Burner begins to step in beat as he sings and sway back and forth.

“No no, not that one. One that’s a little more upbeat maybe.” Grin says his face growing a bit brighter. Burner smiles back as he starts to take quicker steps across the hallway.

“Oh have you heard about the man named butcher pete!
He’s goin’ round hackin’ up the ladies meat!
He’s hackin’ he’s wackin’ he’s hackin’
He’s wackin’ he’s hackin’ he’s wackin’”

He starts singing wholeheartedly as he begins dancing down the hallway, kicking up sparks with each step as he moves further and further down the hallway.

“Haha. Much better!” Grin starts dancing down the hallway along with Burner. They both just dance down the hallway in Burner’s light as both of the young colts dance and kick over trash cans and baskets making even more of a mess. Shoving into each other as they begin to laugh and sing together.

Burner takes a break in the song to catch his breath and sees Grin stopping in his tracks, a pale and fearful stare. “What is it?” He turns to look down the hallway with Grin all look of joy in his face gone. The younger colt begin to see it, a green light from far down the hallway growing brighter and brighter, and they start to hear a mare, with a voice that is soothing but has a rasp in it that sounds like they have been smoking cigarettes for a century, singing a very different song.

“Hush now quiet now.
It’s time to lay your sleepy heads,
Hush now quiet now.
It’s time to go to bed.”

As the sickly light grows Burner stands there in shock staring down the hallway, before Grin grabs him and they duck through a door. “Turn the light off. Turn it off!” Grin whispers in a panicked cracking voice. Burner does so just after they get a quick look around the room, beds line the long room on each side, all with foal sized skeletons lying in them. Grin drags Burner under a bed as they scramble to hide.

“What the fuck!” Burner exclaims.

“Shut up you fucking idiot.” Grin whispers hastily.

“What was it? What is it?!” Burner says in a quieter but still panicked voice.

“I don’t know... Just-” Before Grin finishes they see the green light glow through the windows of the room, hearing the dreadful and beautiful song.

“Drifting off to sleep,
Exciting day behind you.
Drifting off to sleep.
Let the joy of dreamland find you.”

“Fuck. Fuckfuckfuckfuck.” Burner whispers in panic.

“Quiet!” Grin yells in a hushed cracking voice.

The door to their room opens and both of the colts hold their breath as they see the legs of the creature walk into the room, filling it with a green light. “How are you all my little ponies? I hope you are all good and ready for bed?” It speaks quietly in kind and soothing voice that rasps from centuries of age. They see the things body rotted like a ghoul's, but glowing as if it was a firefly. The creature walks from bed to bed, checking all of the skeletons as it hums it’s little song. Grin and Burner both start to feel ill as they lay beneath the bed, sweat dripping from their brows.

“Oh don’t worry my sweet little pony, you’ll get better soon.” The creature says softly as she walks closer and closer to the bed the two colts are hiding under. Burner whimpers a little as Grin holds him tightly, gesturing him to stay quiet. Finally the creature reaches their bed, stopping for a moment next to it, before continuing on. Burner takes a quiet sigh of relief as the creature’s head peaks under the bed right in front of them. The rotted gaunt face sits inches from their own, it’s glowing eyes looking at them as if scorching their souls. The mare’s hair hang in strands with the sickly green light emanating from cracks in its skin all across it’s body and scalp. It opens it’s mouth and the same light glows from deep in its throat, silhouetting the mare’s rotted teeth. She begins to speak, and green wisps of smoke slowly pour out of her mouth. “What are you doing my little ponies?” The nurse says in a voice that was probably much more lovely and sweet years ago.

Burner starts to scream before Grin smothers his mouth with a hoof, they both stare at the thing and begin to feel as though they may vomit. “We-we’re sorry miss. We were just playing a- a game of h-hide and seek… Right buddy?” Grin voice still cracking he looks to Burner pleading him to play along.

Burner nods hurriedly, tears almost welling up in his eyes.

“Well the both of you have had your fun. Now come on it’s getting to be past your bedtimes.” She says standing up.

Burner and Grin hurriedly scramble out from under the bed and each move to one of the empty ones. They pull the tattered covers over themselves, as the glowing ghoul in it’s torn and ruined nurse uniform stands in the room, staring at them. “Here now little one, let me help you.” The creature says in a rasping, but calm voice as she walks over to Burner, beginning to tuck him in. “There. You nice and comfy now?” Burner nods as he tries not to look like he’s fighting the urge to throw up. “That’s good. Now you get some good sleep alright little one?” She leans over to kiss Burner on the cheek and he resists the urge to puke in her face or scream or both, then she walks into the middle of the room. “Alright my little ponies, you sleep well alright? And you two stay out of trouble.” The she says gesturing at Burner and Grin and walks out of the room slowly and sings one last time as she leaves.

“Hush now quiet now.
It’s time to lay your sleepy heads,
Hush now quiet now.
It’s time to go to bed.”

As the creature leaves the room, Burner and Grin look at each other nervously. The door shuts behind it and they can still hear the song as the emerald light fades from the room. As soon as the room grows completely dark, the both of them jump from their beds, scrambling across the floor and burst through the door, running as fast as they can in the opposite direction of the singing. They fly down the hallways as Burner creates his light, jumping at every shadow it casts, running faster and faster as they go down stairs and crash through doors. The entrance door comes into view and they slam into it, throwing it open. They continue to gallop, further and further away from the hospital and the glowing ghoul that they had seen, not stopping until they start to slow to a trot, and then just a slow walk as their legs begin drag across the ground until they finally to give out.

Burner stops first as he drops to lay on the ground and pukes all over the dry barren dirt, hacking and wheezing as he continues to throw up, then begin to dry heave. Grin stops with him and looks back at the hospital far in the distance now, as he stands next to Burner a hoof on the colts shoulder. He breaths in and out carefully trying to stay composed, but drops to the ground throwing up along side Burner. Both roll over away from the vomit on the ground and look up to the stars breathing heavily. The young colts look at each other for a moment and smile, laugh a little even, happy to still be alive. Not wanting to move another step, they fall asleep there for the night lying next to each other under the grey overcast of the night sky.