What do you get when you cross a down-on-his-luck earth pony, an ex-Enclave pegasus mare and a naive unicorn from Stable 6? One of the strongest friendships forged in postwar Equestria. (Spin-off of "Fallout: Equestria" by Kkat)
Stable 6, a bomb shelter created before the Great War, is opening its door for the first time in over two hundred years. Fizzy Pop, a young mare who's known nothing but the happiness of her underground home, is greeted to a world so horrifying that it makes her addiction to Sparkle Cola the least of her problems. A stallion named Dirt has been cheated of his money and his father's gun and must now pursue the mare who mugged him using the only assets he has left: his muscles and his resolve. But will he be able to accomplish his goals on his own? Night Shade, who wishes for nothing more than to escape the long shadow of the Grand Pegasus Enclave, is thrown into a world where everypony is her enemy. Can she prove them wrong, or will she become the monster that she's perceived to be? But when these three strangers meet for the first time, they realize that their true strength lies within their friendship.
Obviously, this is a spin-off of Kkat's "Fallout: Equestria". I recommend reading that first simply because it's a freaking amazing story. WARNING: Story contains blood and gore, gun use, drug use, sexual themes and swearing, all involving ponies. Current Status: Chapters 1-14 written. Writing Chapter 15.
Deep within the bowels of Stable 6, there sat a vending machine, its magical components whirring and groaning as they had for over two hundred years. Leaned against this machine was a young unicorn named Fizzy Pop. The mare pressed a button on the machine and licked her lips, awaiting the sweet sight of Sparkle-Cola. After a short pause, the machine sputtered and dispensed nothing. Fizzy groaned in frustration.
"Damn it, the machine's busted again," she muttered. Not that it was much of a problem for her; after all, it was her job to fix this thing. With expert precision, the pony did something she'd done hundreds of times before and would do hundreds of times after: she banged on the side of the machine with her hoof and shook it side to side. It was a trick Fizzy had learned as a young filly back when the old repairpony wasn't very good at his job. When she had finished shaking the dispenser, she pressed the button again. Out popped an ice-cold beverage, the same that appeared on her cutie mark.
The reason that Fizzy's special talent was fixing soda machines is because the Stable used them so often; as far as the residents knew, theirs was the only Stable that had been stocked with hundreds of cases of soda. They had decided to put them to good use, which meant frequent use. Whenever a dispenser wouldn't dispense or a machine wouldn't run, it was Fizzy Pop's duty to get it working again. Thanks to that trick, she hardly ever needed tools, either!
She popped the Sparkle-Cola bottle open, drinking the contents in ten seconds flat (and flat it was; those things didn't stay fresh after two centuries). When it was empty, she threw the bottle into the nearest recycler and slipped the bottle cap into her saddlebag. She had a habit of collecting them. At her last count, she was at 346.
At that moment, the Stable's intercom crackled to life. "Attention, all Stable residents. Please assemble in front of the entrance. We will begin leaving in five minutes. Thank you." The intercom shut off.
Fizzy blinked. How could she have forgotten? They were about to open the Stable doors! With the expert knowledge that only a Stable dweller could have, she navigated through the bunker until she reached the entrance. Waiting there were almost a thousand of her fellow neighbors, all itching to see the outside world. Her parents spotted her and trotted through the crowd to reach her.
"There you are, honey!" cooed her mother. "Can you believe it's finally happening? This is what your great-great-great-grandparents waited for when the door first closed. Now, we can finally get out there and rebuild!"
Fizzy nodded. "I hope they have Sparkle-Cola there."
The crowd's indistinguishable murmurs were quieted when the Overmare, the leader of the Stable, stood atop a pedestal to get their attention. "Fellow residents of Stable 6," she said, her commanding voice surging through the room. "We are gathered here today because one chapter of our lives is ending and another is beginning. In a moment, we will be opening the door for the first time in generations." The crowd began cheering, but the Overmare silenced them with a hoof. "No matter what lies outside, we will face it with hope and dignity. Now..." She flipped the hydraulics lever. "...let's face our destiny!"
As the metallic gear-shaped door rolled aside, Fizzy thought of what awaited her. A new beginning. A chance to explore an entirely new world beyond the Stable. But when she and her fellow residents saw what was waiting for them just outside the door, her hopes gave way to fear.
A band of crazed ponies, all armed with guns, were standing there. Without hesitation, they opened fire.
After a long day of guarding caravans, Dirt was ready to let loose and hit the town. Armed with nothing more than his six-shooter and a hoofful of bottle caps, he decided to pay a visit to Cloppington's, a local gentleman's club.
As he approached the place, he could hear electronic music emanating from its doors and windows. This place was classy enough to afford its own sound system. The bouncer, a mean-looking earth pony, stopped him at the door.
"Entrance fee's twenty caps," he said. Dirt hoofed him the money without much thought and trotted inside. Surprisingly, the place wasn't very strict on the no-weapons rule; the bouncer hadn't even searched him!
Once inside, he surveyed the condition of the place. There were a few ponies at the bar and in front of the pole-dancers, but otherwise there was hardly anypony there. He decided to visit the bar first.
"Just a shot of cider," he said to the bartender. He tossed ten caps onto the counter. Within a few seconds, his drink was placed beside him. He took it in his hooves and downed it in one smooth and heavily rehearsed motion. He ordered another, then turned his attention to the dancing mares. He had a feeling he would be getting lucky tonight.
After a few (dozen) more drinks, he made his way towards the stage, sitting at the closest unoccupied seat. In front of him, a yellow mare danced for her audience. Dirt, his mind rapidly becoming more and more clouded, decided that he would throw her a few bottle caps.
That seemed to be just the motivation she needed. She turned her attention - and her flank - to him, her body gyrating to the beat of the music that was playing. He happened to notice her cutie mark: a flower petal. His eyes quickly shifted to her other asset. With curves like that, she would drive any stallion crazy. Dirt tossed some more caps and watched the show.
Eventually, though, the mare picked up her earnings and trotted offstage. Dirt saw his chance. Quickly, he hurried over to the mare and called her. "Hey there," he said.
She looked up at him, her blue eyes studying his body. "Yes?" she asked.
"You know, you're pretty good up on stage. Think you'd be as talented back at my place?"
At first, she seemed to be irritated, but her expression quickly changed to one of flirtatiousness. "Tell you what. Meet me out back in five minutes, and I'll show you just how talented I am." She gave him a lusty grin and flicked her tail, practically making him quiver with excitement. "By the way, the name's Daisy Petal." With that, she trotted backstage.
Dirt smiled. "Works every time." He shuffled back to the bar to wait. The night seemed to be going his way; he hadn't even spent that much money, yet here he was with a mare that was like putty in his hooves. Perhaps it was his lucky night.
After five minutes, he trotted out the back door and looked around the alley, ready to drive Miss Daisy into the wall. "Are you out here?" he called.
Suddenly, something slammed into the back of his head, and he was out like a light.
Dirt slowly opened his eyes, letting out a harsh groan. His ribs hurt, and his head was pounding like a hammer on a nail.
He very tentatively sat up, studying his surroundings. Then it came back to him. He remembered what Daisy Petal had done to him.
He felt for the gun on his belt. However, it wasn't there. In a panic, he looked all around him in hopes of finding it. No such luck. The familiar rattle of the bottle caps in his pouch was also not present.
"That bitch!" Dirt cursed. "Musta knocked me out or somethin'." She had taken almost everything of his, aside for his clothes and the bobby pins he kept stashed under his belt.
It was going to be a rough morning.
He circled around to the front of the building, hoping to have a word with the owner. Of course, the place was closed and locked in the morning. That didn't stop Dirt, though. He reached into his belt and removed a bobby pin with his teeth. Ever so carefully, he began to work on unlocking the front door. He struggled with it a little bit, cursing a few times when one of his bobby pins broke. Finally, he managed to open the door. He grinned, rather proud of himself.
"Ahem," said a voice behind him.
Dirt turned around and found himself face to face with a muscular earth pony, presumably the owner. Caught red-hooved, Dirt smiled through the lockpick in his teeth. "Oh, hello."
The owner was not amused. "You have three seconds to get your flank out my club before I kick it out myself." He began to count. "One, two..."
"Oh, all right," Dirt grumbled. He spat the pin out and began to shuffle away. As soon as the stallion wasn't paying attention, though, he tackled him and began beating him with his bare hooves. The owner, caught off guard, could do almost nothing. When he had been sufficiently bloodied, Dirt looked at him sharply.
"A mare of yours named Daisy has something of mine. You tell me where I can find her and you can keep your remaining teeth, sleazebag."
The owner spat blood on his cheek. "I ain't tellin' you nothing!"
Dirt hit the stallion over the head with his hoof. "Oh, you will if you value your life."
Finally, the owner of the club came clean. "All right! She's staying in New Appleloosa. Just stop hitting me!"
"Thank you." Dirt whacked him one last time, knocking him out. That should teach him to let his girls steal from the customer.
He climbed off of the poor sap, then looked around. New Appleloosa was about a day from here by hoof, but that didn't bother Dirt much.
He was going to get his money even if he had to trek through Tartarus itself.
Night Shade zoomed through the air, her laser pistol gripped firmly between her teeth. Behind her, she could hear her pursuers firing at her with their own laser weapons. Normally, she would be able to easily overpower them, but these were no ordinary ponies.
These were Grand Pegasus Enclave soldiers, who were just as skilled as herself. Not only that, but they were her former allies, her squadmates. They knew her strengths and her weaknesses.
Night felt a searing bolt of pure magical energy zip right above her head. If she didn't do something immediately, she'd surely get fried. With this in mind, she managed to twist around in mid-air, now face-to-face with her attackers. She fired at them in rapid succession, managing to strike one in the wing and knock him out of the air. That left three well-trained and furious troops still chasing her. She flipped back around, but not before she was struck in the leg by a well-placed shot. She cried out, but managed to stay aloft.
"Shoot her down!" called one of the soldiers to his allies. "We can't let her escape!" Knowing that they would kill her any second, she folded her wings and dive-bombed towards the rocky and uninviting ground below her. Two of them hesitated, but the third followed after her, eager to claim the prize on her head.
Night, seeing the soldier on her tail, tucked even closer and sped up her fall. When the other pegasus attempted that, he began to fall even faster than her. Seeing his error, he spread his wings to their full length.
It was the last mistake he would ever make. The wind resistance was so strong that his wings snapped. He screamed all the way down.
Still falling to the ground with alarming speed, Night opened her own wings to slow her descent, albeit at a slower pace. However, she miscalculated how fast she was going. At that speed, the only thing she accomplished was straining her wings to the point of agony. She felt the muscles in her wings pull out of place, and she lost control. She was a thousand feet above the ground and in a freefall.
Above her, the Enclave agents watched. "The target is down," reported one on his radio. "I repeat, target is down."
"Wait!" scolded a boyish pegasus mare. "She's not dead yet."
Night Shade struggled to regain her balance, but might as well have been a stalled aeroplane. She was spiraling to her doom. With one final push, she attempted to spread her damaged wings. Miraculously, she recovered her control and began to descend at a much slower pace. Still, her wings were throbbing with pain. She wouldn't be able to stay airborne forever.
Below her were the ruins of a small town. She smiled. Perfect. Just like in the training exercises.
Glancing behind her, she saw the soldiers continuing the chase. Thankfully, they were far behind her. She had time to land and take cover behind a burnt-out wall before the troops approached and began to search for her.
"Spread out," the other mare ordered the stallion. "If you see the target, shoot to kill." With that, they began combing the ruins for her. Night knew a thing or two about stealth, though. When one soldier began to search the area around her, she dove behind another building. Scooping up a pebble from the dirt, she threw it towards another building.
The clattering sound alerted both of the Enclave troops. They approached the area where they'd heard the noise, their backs turned to the hidden Night. She saw her opportunity and lined up a shot. She held her breath to steady her aim; when she was sure that her aim was true, she pulled the mouth-operated trigger.
The laser beam drilled through both of the soldiers' heads. They collapsed in a vaporized heap.
Night Shade sighed. It was over. She stepped out of cover and proceeded to the most painful part of combat: patching up her wounds. Studying her injured leg, she found that it had only been grazed. Her Enclave armor was well-protected against lasers, so she only had a minor burn. This was fixed with a short length of bandage and a bit of the rapidly-depleting stash of burn ointment she had.
She flexed her wings and winced. Clearly, she would not be doing any flying for a while. However, it would heal in good time. And it's not like she needed to fly anywhere. The only items of interest in the sky were the Enclave bases, and she sure as hell wasn't going back there.
Even from the beginning, she had despised what the Enclave stood for. But she had been born into the Enclave, and once you're in, there's no way out.
Unless, of course, you didn't mind having your cutie mark branded.
Night, against all odds, had found another way. She had simply deserted her squad in the middle of training. Or, tried to. They'd followed her pretty far.
Speaking of far... She pulled a small paper map from her saddlebag and studied it. She had been traveling north for a few miles to try to shake her ex-comrades, but that obviously hadn't helped much. She figured that she was just in the outskirts of Ponyville, a raider-controlled town. It had long-since been looted dry, so there was no point in exploring. However, the nearest settlement, New Appleloosa, was a few hours away...
...as the pegasus flies, which she couldn't do. She cursed. That meant she would have to fight her way through Ponyville's colorful assortment of murderers and rapists just to find sanctuary.
Well, nopony ever said that deserting your faction was easy. She would have to manage. After reloading her pistol, she silently began to creep through the ruins.
Stable 6 was as silent as a tomb. Sprawled across the floor of the bunker were hundreds of dead Stable dwellers. Raiders trotted over - but more often, on top of - the piles of bodies, looting anything that wasn't nailed down. A few survivors had taken to running and hiding when the raiders had opened fire; now the savages were searching for them, laughing and shouting like it was some form of a game.
An old stallion, his Stable barding bloodstained and torn, attempt to run away. He was cut down almost immediately by a raider, who grinned maniacally. "Got one!" he called to his mates.
"Ah, give it a fuckin' rest, Jet," said another raider. "We're not keepin' score, ya don't have to brag." He went back to rummaging through dead ponies' saddlebags.
A third stallion trotted into the room from the atrium. "Hey guys! They've got hundreds of Sparkle-Cola crates! We're gonna be living like princes!"
'Jet', the trigger-happy stallion, looked at the stallion. "Holy shit! We've gotta get some of that!"
Fizzy Pop was partially buried under a corpse heap, but otherwise unharmed. She was staying as still as possible in hopes that they would go away soon and allow her a chance to escape. She tried to keep it together, but tears were streaming down her face. Everypony she ever knew was either dead or about to be. Her parents, friends and teachers. As the raiders all filed out of the room to examine their incredible find, Fizzy continued to play dead.
A pony that she couldn't see trotted over her, stepping on her back. She gritted her teeth in pain. What kind of world existed out there if this was what people were like?
For quite a long time, there was no sound. Had they gone yet? Could she finally get away from here? Very slowly and deliberately, she craned her head to see what was going on.
It appeared to be that they were all gone. After a moment of hesitation, Fizzy Pop climbed out of the pile. The smell of death was beginning to form in the room. It was a scent that she would despise for the rest of her life. As she galloped out of the Stable's doors and into the adjoining cave, she knew that she would be haunted forever by this awful memory.
The cave was darker than Luna's flank, so Fizzy decided to make use of her PipBuck, the magic wrist device that was issued to every Stable dweller. Lifting her wrist, she pressed a button that activated the light function. The cave was illuminated well enough for her to see, so she kept going.
Eventually, she reached a rusty metal door that marked the end of the cave. Hoping that it would lead to the outside, Fizzy tried the knob. Despite its rusted nature, it opened with little difficulty. What greeted her on the other end was something she had never seen before.
Clouds spanned the entire length of the sky. The air itself, and everything around it, seemed to be tinted an ugly greenish-brown. There were skeletal metal structures that littered the landscape. Where were all the great cities? The cheerful ponies? This wasn't how it had been described to her at all!
A thought occurred to the young Fizzy. Perhaps the teachers and textbooks had lied to her to keep her hopeful. After all, as long as ponies had hope, they could accomplish anything, right? All that she had to do was stay hopeful and she would be okay. Maybe not everypony was bad. Maybe there was somewhere safe out there where good ponies lived. She decided right then and there that she would start looking for that place.
Fizzy set off at a trot, her ears listening for any more raiders. For all she knew, they could be anywhere. Hay, they could be everywhere! However, she realized that there was hardly a point to getting paranoid. She levitated a bottle of Sparkle-Cola from her knapsack to her lips and was immensely calmed by the refreshing carroty beverage. The soda seemed to have the opposite effect for her than it did on other ponies: drinking some always soothed her nerves, made her feel safe. Sort of like a security blanket, she had once mused.
When the bottle was empty, she threw it aside, then put the bottle cap in her bag with the rest. The young unicorn began to wonder why she had even brought all of them. When did hoarding ever come in handy, anyway? They were just a bunch of stupid caps. Without putting much thought into it, she took the bag of caps out and threw it aside. She would need the space in her knapsack for food, if she could ever find some.
Fizzy trotted along some more, but she soon began to feel tired. It had been a long day, what with her entire life being destroyed and her parents dying. All she needed was some sleep...
She shook her head. No. It wasn't safe, she was sure of it. If she could just find some sort of town, she would sleep for at least a day and a half.
After what felt like an hour of trotting, she sat down on the ground and rested her aching hooves. She had never walked this much before. Back in the Stable, there was never any reason to. Out of the corner of her eye, she spotted something shiny. She picked the object up, then groaned when she realized what it was.
It was the bottle of Sparkle-Cola she'd thrown earlier. She had been walking in circles the entire time.
Dirt had to be cautious on his journey; despite the fact that he could hit hardest with his hooves, being caught without a gun in between settlements was a death sentence. That's why he stuck to the buildings as he traveled so he could take cover at a moment's notice.
The stallion was still mad at himself for trusting Daisy Petal. He would never have been robbed if he hadn't started talking to her. The fact that he had been hoping to get lucky only taught himself that he should never be caught with his metaphorical pants down. No more screwing around, in either sense of the word, until he got his money and his gun back.
The gun in question was a huge six-shooter that had belonged to his father, a big fellow named Mud. That gun had been passed down from generation to generation ever since the megaspells dropped, his father had told him. Dirt would someday give it to his own son when he settled down. If he failed to get the gun back, he'd be failing his father and all of his ancestors before him. Not exactly the kind of thing he wanted on his shoulders.
His mind flickered back to the task at hoof. He had no map, but he knew that he was a few miles from New Appleloosa. The mare had a head start of a few hours, he figured, but he could catch up if he quickened his pace. He hurried on.
Along the way, Dirt discovered an old Sparkle-Cola machine leaning against the base of a burnt-out commercial building. He smiled. Usually, these things held a couple drinks and some bottle caps. He trotted over to it, but halted just a few feet from it. Directly in front of the machine was a bear trap, its open maws stained with the blood of many unaware victims. He crouched down and examined it for a moment. It was a simple enough trap that he could probably set it off with a stick or something. Looking around, he found the next best thing: an empty bottle.
He picked up the bottle in his teeth and used one end of it to push on the trap's pressure pad. The jaws snapped close on the bottle, breaking it in half. Satisfied, Dirt spat out the broken end and turned his attention to the vending machine. He kicked it open with a back leg and its payload spilled forth. Three bottles of Sparkle-Cola. That would fetch some caps in New Appleloosa. He scooped them into his saddlebag.
At that moment, Dirt heard a scuffle of hooves on the ground less than ten feet away from him. He tensed, his nostrils flaring. Raiders. He quietly crouched down behind a large boulder, hoping to catch them by surprise.
To his shock, though, it wasn't a raider. Trotting along the path was a young unicorn mare, clad in the blue and yellow barding that marked Stable dwellers. This particular one was from Stable 6, as evident by the uniform. The mare had her head down, a lost expression about her. She seemed innocent enough, so he probably didn't have anything to fear from her.
He was about to turn away and continue on his journey, but he stopped. Following right behind her we three tumorous, insect-like flying creatures: a murderous band of bloatsprites, all poised to attack. He galloped toward the mare, trying to alert her. "Hey! Behind you!" he called in a desperate attempt to get her attention.
The mare turned around, a look of surprise on her face. That look quickly turned to fear as she spotted what he was talking about. She screamed, a sound that could practically shatter glass. This only seemed to egg the sprites on. One of them began firing sharp spines at the girl. Dirt rushed forward with a surge of adrenaline and pushed her behind a dumpster, knocking her out of the bloatsprites' line of fire.
"Stay there!" he said to her before galloping back to fight the sprites. He lifted a rock in his forelegs, then spun around and released it. Two sprites fell to the ground, their bodies crushed. The last one charged at him, but he was ready. He turned sharply and caught the insect with a kick that sent it flying. It fell dead as well.
Dirt sighed. He was lucky that nopony had gotten hurt. He looked back to the mare. "Y'alright, miss?" he asked.
"Y-yeah. I'm fine," she said, avoiding eye contact. "Thank you for saving me."
"Well, what was I gonna do? Watch a filly get killed? I may not be the nicest fella, but I'm no raider." He gave her a friendly smile, but she was too sullen to return one. Awkwardly, he scratched his dull mane with a hoof.
"By the way, my name's Dirt. What's your name?" he asked.
"Do you know where you're headed, Fizzy?" Most Stable dwellers had no idea where to start once they had left their homes.
"Not really. I'm just looking for some place to stay."
"Well, you do know that there's a town just a bit southwest of here?" he suggested. "I could take you there."
The unicorn looked up at him. "You would do that?"
"Sure. It's safer to travel together, anyway."
Her sadness seemed to wash away. "Great! I'd like that. I just have one question for you, Mister Dirt."
Ponyville, although usually filled with raiders, was completely empty. Not a single sound emanated from the desecrated ruins, which surprised Night Shade beyond belief. Despite the lack of visible enemies, she still kept her guard up as she sneaked from building to building. After all, the raiders had set traps, no doubt.
She darted down the street, making her way to the other end of the town. She noticed scorch marks littering the ground where land mines or grenades had exploded, leaving a blast mark in the concrete. Turning her attention further down the road, she was greeted with the sight of a dismembered corpse. Whether it had been a trader, a raider or a Stable dweller didn't matter now. They were deader than dead.
The sight of the body didn't disturb Night. She had witnessed - and done - much worse during her time as an Enclave grunt. Most of her comrades had. However, she did make sure to watch where she stepped from then on.
She was quickly approaching the halfway mark. She had reached the town square when she finally encountered another living pony. Atop the town square's building was a lone sniper, scanning the horizon with the scope of her rifle. Night lay flat with the ground, staying out of the gunmare's line of sight. Unfortunately, the sniper was cutting her off from the exit.
She weighed her options: she could attempt to sneak past the raider and continue on her way; or, Night could try and catch her by surprise and take her out. She studied the mare's rifle from a distance. It appeared to be a completely average bolt-action rifle, but she could tell even from her distance that the gun was in poor condition. She could probably handle one little sniper, and she needed supplies anyway. Why not just take her out?
Night decided that was her best option. The pegasus silently crept past when her target was looking elsewhere. She looked for a way up: with her wings in their damaged condition, she couldn't just fly up. So how had the raider climbed up, then? Her question was answered when she discovered a service ladder leaned against one end of the building. She clambered onto the metal ladder and cursed inwardly as her hoof made a soft clang against a rung. However, the sniper must not have noticed.
Being extra careful to make no noises now, Night climbed up with little difficulty. Upon reaching the top, she peeked over the edge. The sniper had set her gun down and was now wrestling with a rusty can of beans.
"Damn it, open, you stupid piece of shit." The mare's choice of words clearly demonstrated her intelligence. Night Shade unholstered her weapon and hopped on top of the building. The mare turned sharply, surprised by this armored stranger. "Who the hell are you?"
Night didn't bother answering. She pulled the trigger of her pistol, and a red beam of light pierced the sniper's neck. The laser instantly cauterized the wound, but now the sniper was screaming in agony, which only aggravated the hole in her throat. Night fired once more, putting the murderer out of her misery.
Once that was taken care of, she immediately began to loot the roof. She snatched not only the rifle, still leaned against the edge of the roof, but the mare's can of beans as well. She decided that she would save it for later, when she had time. After strapping the rifle to her back, she prepared to climb down the ladder-
The sound of approaching hoofsteps silenced Night Shade's thoughts. "Did you hear those lasers?" said one raider to another as they made their way to her location. "Somethin' happened to Gorehead, I bet." She saw them approaching from the corner of the street. She swung her newly-acquired rifle forward, aiming down the scope at them. She fired.
The bullet struck one of the two raiders in the hind leg. He let out a rather ungentlemanly scream as he collapsed to the pavement. His blood spilled forth from him, pooling together around him and his partner. The standing pony dove behind a building as his crippled friend called for him, begging him to pull him to safety.
"Damn," Night muttered, pulling the bolt back and aiming again. This gun was really unstable. This time, she aimed for the space right above the stallion's head.
"P-please!" he cried to his friend. "Help! They're gonna get me!"
The other stallion merely called back, "Tough luck! I ain't going back to get ya."
She fired. The stallion's head exploded in a shower of skin, bones and other assorted gore. The hiding one panicked and galloped full-speed from the building, leaving him open. She cocked it back one last time and pulled the trigger. The stallion was dead before he hit the ground.
Satisfied that the job was done, Night Shade slid the gun onto her back and climbed down the ladder. She continued on her way, still irritated that her progress was being hindered by her wings. If it weren't for her stupid escape stunt, she would've been in New Appleloosa by now!
Still, she tried not to dwell in the past. A broken gem cannot be mended, after all. She tried to distract herself from the monotony of travel by any means, including and not limited to counting the skeletons on the side of the road. By the time she reached Ponyville's city limits, her count was up to about twelve.
As she exited Ponyville, she finally let out a sigh of relief. It had been almost too easy, as if somepony had just cleared out the place. Nearly all the raiders who usually lurked there were dead or missing. Not that Night Shade was complaining or anything. As long as it made her job easier, then it was good.
She spotted a rocky cliff just outside Ponyville and decided to climb it to get a better view. After a bit of stumbling and cursing, she made it to the top just in time to see the sun rise above the horizon. If she were any other mare, she would have thought it was a metaphor for something, but she was only here to see how much further she had to go.
She raised a foreleg over her eyes to block the sun's glare. Further down was New Appleloosa, only about half a dozen miles away. She was nearly there. With newfound eagerness, Night slid down the cliff and hurried toward her destination.
Fizzy burped, throwing an empty bottle of Sparkle-Cola over her shoulder. It was a long journey, and her hooves were getting tired from all the trotting. She longed to be able to lay down and rest, but the option wasn't available in a place as dangerous as this. The caffeine was helping a bit, though.
Dirt blinked in surprise at the filly's lack of manners. "I know I'm not exactly a gentlecolt myself, but aren't you Stable dwellers supposed to be a bit less vulgar?"
"Some of us," replied Fizzy absentmindedly, looking at her aching hooves. "Back in my Stable, burping was not only unavoidable, but acceptable."
"What do you mean, 'was'? What happened?"
Fizzy closed her eyes and winced, as if just thinking about it hurt her. "Nothing that I care to think about at the moment." In an attempt to change the subject, she asked, "So what's this settlement called?"
"New Appleloosa. It's a decent enough place, but I wouldn't want to live there."
"Well, where do you wanna live?" the young mare inquired.
He shrugged. "I was born on the road. I've followed the road my entire life. Might as well die on the road."
"Oh, okay," Fizzy said. The two of them fell silent, trotting along for many minutes. To distract herself, the unicorn studied the area they were passing through. Before the war, this must have been a farm of some sort; all around were the charred, thin corpses of trees. What fruits they had bore prior to the megaspells were a mystery to her. Further ahead of them along the path was a barn, its foundations scorched and blackened but otherwise intact.
Dirt wondered if this filly was going to slow him down at all. He couldn't afford to stop for any reason; Daisy already had a head start with his belongings. Without realizing it, he increased his pace.
Fizzy struggled to keep up. How long had they been walking now? Hours? She only had so much patience, a side effect of living in an all-providing Stable. "Are we there yet?" she asked.
Dirt looked behind him at the unicorn. "Look around you." He gestured with his nose at the blasted and dead countryside. "Does it look like we're anywhere near?"
Fizzy appeared to be infatuated with the cracked asphalt underneath her. "N-no..." She shut her mouth for a few blissful moments. As they continued their walk, Dirt looked at the Stable dweller, a bit curious. He hadn't seen many Stable dwellers in his time. Most ended up dead within a week, thanks to their lack of knowledge of the Wasteland. That is, if they survived their first night. He looked at the PipBuck on her wrist. This, he had even less familiarity with. He'd heard that it could do all sorts of things, including map out the entire world as its wearer explored it. Some had told him that it could even assist in targeting hostiles to fire at them. One thing was for sure: those fellas at Stable-Tec sure had prepared.
The filly caught him staring and looked at him. For a moment, their eyes met, but she quickly looked away, her face turning red underneath her glossy lavender coat. Dirt looked back forward, deciding that it would be more valuable to be aware of their surroundings than to stare at Fizzy's PipBuck.
"Got another Sparkle-Cola?" asked Fizzy a short time later.
Dirt raised an eyebrow. "You just had one not more than twenty minutes ago. Are you hooked on these or something?"
"Back in Stable 6, everypony was. As far as we knew, we were the only one that came with hundreds of crates of the stuff. So we put it to good use."
"So, can I have another?"
"What?" he started. "No, just wait until we get to New Appleloosa. You gotta ration them out if you want them to last." And avoid withdrawal symptoms, he added silently. He knew a few things about addiction himself, but that was all behind him.
"Fine," pouted Fizzy. She felt like if she trotted much longer, she would just collapse. She felt a headache coming on, but she said nothing. She was learning quickly that complaining was not going to get her far.
A short time later, they came upon a crossroads. A signpost pointed to three different cities: to their north, Ponyville. To the south, Appleloosa. To the southeast, there was another town that caught Fizzy's eye. "What's 'Los Pegasus'?"
"You mean New Pegasus? That's where suckers go to lose all their bottle caps at the slots."
"Bottle caps?" she asked.
"Yeah. It's the currency here in the Wasteland. Why do you ask?"
"Oh. No reason at all." She screamed internally.
They took the road that led to New Appleloosa. "We're getting pretty close now," remarked Dirt. "All we have to do is cross the Ghastly Gorge bridge and we'll be there."
Fizzy let out a sigh of relief. "Thank Celestia! We've been walking all day."
"Actually, it's been about two hours, but I'm glad we're almost there, too." They were making good time, despite the filly's rather irritating "Are we there yet?"s and "My hooves hurt"s. But that was to be expected from a young teenager, especially one who never traveled in her life.
Soon, they saw the bridge. It was rather makeshift, clearly something made after the war, but it still served its purpose well enough. It was a rope bridge, attached to either side of the gorge by long wooden stakes that the rope was tied around. Dirt approached the bridge and tested it with a forehoof. It creaked loudly, but held firm.
Fizzy eyed the bridge with uncertainty. "Are you absolutely sure it's safe?"
"Of course. I've been on this thing a few times before, and it never broke while I was on it."
"Obviously," she said. "Otherwise you'd be dead."
Dirt stepped onto the bridge, which protested with squeaks and groans. "C'mon then. I promise it's safe."
"Okay," said Fizzy. She followed behind him as they crossed the gorge. About halfway through, she looked down beneath her. Below was nothing but a dark and vast abyss. She felt her stomach drop and quickly looked forward again, promising herself that she would never do that again. She nudged Dirt. "Can we hurry?"
"What do you think I'm doing, Fizzy?" He was going as fast as he dared to. The boards underneath him were creaking louder than ever. Maybe the bridge wasn't as secure as he thought it was.
One of the wooden boards snapped beneath his hoof, and he almost fell right in. "Whoa!" he shouted. "Careful, this one's broken." He stepped lightly over it. The unicorn mare did the same.
After a few more terrifying missteps, they managed to get across. Dirt gave her a reassuring smile. "See? Told you it was safe."
"Yeah. Sure." Fizzy could still feel her heart pounding in her chest. That could have ended a lot worse. She noticed the faint outline of buildings on the horizon. "Hey... is that New Appleloosa over there?"
"Yep. We're only a short walk away."
Fizzy beamed. "Yes! I can't wait to finally take a nap." She recklessly began to gallop ahead, her exhaustion outweighed by her eagerness.
"Wait up!" Dirt ran forward to catch up with her. He, too, was eager to rest, but he knew he couldn't sleep until he had confronted Daisy and taken back what was rightfully his. With force, if he needed to.
Of course, he had no idea what he would do after that. He never planned that far ahead.
Within twenty minutes, the duo had reached New Appleloosa. Dirt and Fizzy trotted past a pair of earth pony sentries, who greeted them warmly. Moving past the front entrance, they wondered where to go next. Dirt had only agreed to take Fizzy as far as the town, but he felt like he would be abandoning her if he said his goodbyes already. On the other hoof, he needed to hunt for Daisy as soon as possible.
"Wow," Fizzy Pop said as she marveled at the place. The buildings were made of old cabooses and boxcars, which had been lying around on the tracks near the town when it was first founded. Unicorns, with their powerful levitation magic, had moved them to their current positions long ago. The railroad tracks were even cleared, as trains still came through on occasion. "So, this town is made out of trains?"
"Yeah," replied Dirt. He knew he had to ditch the kid for a while if he wanted to find Daisy and... do what he needed to do. "Hey, I've got to take care of something. Can you meet me back here in an hour?"
Fizzy raised an eyebrow. "What something needs taken care of?"
"Personal matters," he said, hoping she'd take the hint that he wouldn't say any more on the subject.
"Oh, all right."
"Just explore the town until I get back, and we'll talk about what to do next." He reached into his bags and bribed her with a Sparkle-Cola. "But don't talk to anypony. Some of these guys aren't exactly friendly." The last thing he wanted was a dead filly on his hooves.
She levitated the bottle away from him and cracked it open with her magic. "Gotcha." With that, she trotted down the street with her prize.
Dirt turned his attention to the nearest saloon. He still had no caps, but he might be able to get information. He pushed open the building's doors and studied the interior.
Several groups of tough-looking stallions and mares were sitting at the tables, playing blackjack and drinking hard cider. Some of them looked up at him as he entered, but the rest didn't pay him any mind, instead choosing to focus on the game at hand. Dirt moved past them to the bar, where a pink bartender mare was banging on a broken radio with her hoof.
"Stupid thing," she muttered under her breath. When she saw Dirt out of the corner of her eye, she stopped and swung around to face him. "Oh, hey hon. Need a drink? Or, something else?"
"I'm looking for a mare," he said flatly.
"You've found one." The bartender winked at him.
"Cut the crap. The pony I'm looking for is yellow, with a flower cutie mark. Goes by the name of Daisy Petal. Ring any bells?"
The bartender frowned, rather upset at being shot down. "Well... you know the motto: 'Everything has a price'. How much are you willing to hoof over for information?"
Dirt glared at her. "I should be asking how much you're willing to tell me to keep your teeth." Sure, it was a bluff; he wasn't going to hit a mare, but she didn't know that.
"You wouldn't. The gentlecolts would gladly put down their cards to make sure of that." She gestured with a hoof to the blackjack players at the table.
He held back an irritated groan. "Tell you what: How about I fix that radio for you? Is that a deal?"
She tapped a hoof to her chin. "Hmm, I suppose so. But you've got to fulfill your end of the bargain first." She lifted the radio and placed it at the bar in front of him. "Go ahead. If you can fix it, I'll tell you what I know."
Dirt nodded and got to work, looking at the components. Unfortunately for him, the stallion had never fixed anything in his life. He was better at breaking them. After a few minutes spent doing nothing but staring at the damn thing, he was about ready to give up. He could always ask somepony else for info.
The doors to the saloon swung open. Fizzy poked her head into the building. "So this must be where they sell drinks," she spoke out loud to herself. Her eyes locked on Dirt. "Oh, hey!" She trotted right in and sat on the barstool beside the earth pony.
"Fizzy," he began. "This place isn't for little fillies."
"I'm no filly!" she argued. "I'm sixteen. Besides, you're here, and you have about the intelligence and maturity of a foal."
The bartender giggled. "I like this kid already."
Dirt sighed. "While you're here, could you help me out?" He pointed at the radio with his hoof.
"Sure," she said. She levitated the device over to herself and flicked the switches on it. "I know a thing or two about machines. Vending machines, at least." When it didn't turn on, she spun the radio around and looked at the back side. "Huh," she said, popping the battery lid off. Then she laughed. "Did you change these batteries recently?" she asked the mare behind the bar.
"How did you know?"
"You put them in backwards." She levitated the batteries out, then turned them around and placed them back inside. After putting the lid back on, she flicked the switch. A masculine voice spouted reports over the speakers, slightly staticky but still audible:
"...and they were never seen again. In other news, reports have arrived of raiders wearing the stolen PipBucks and uniforms of Stable 6, which was attacked earlier today. There have been no known survivors. If you see anypony wearing Stable 6 barding, be extremely careful. Do not approach them for any reason whatsoever. This has been an important message from Shout Out, your friendly neighborhood disc jockey. Stay tuned for more broadcasts."
The radio began to play soft jazz. Dirt looked at Fizzy, completely shocked. He knew, of course, that Fizzy was no raider. She had given him enough proof of that just by being so oblivious to Wasteland culture. What he couldn't believe was the fact that she hadn't told him this. That was why she had been alone when he found her. Her whole family was either dead or missing. Suddenly, he felt like a plothole for being so stern with her earlier.
A single tear rolled down Fizzy's eye. She quickly wiped it away. "Don't worry. I'm not one of those raiders."
The bartender picked up the radio. "Well, it is fixed, so I guess you deserve your info: Daisy Petal came by here earlier in the afternoon. Said she was heading northeast to trade away some gun or something."
Dirt nodded. "Thanks." He turned his attention back to his companion. "Are you going to stay here in New Appleloosa?"
"N-no. I want to go wherever you're going. You're the closest thing I've got to a friend out here."
He blinked. She considered him a friend? "Likewise." He figured that they could probably find a place to sleep in town, if they traded away some non-essentials. "In that case, we should spend the night here before we leave."
"Okay. And one more thing," Fizzy said.
"Thanks for helping me today. I'd be dead if it weren't for you."
The hot sun had begun to retreat to the horizon. Darkness was creeping over the Wasteland. It infiltrated every nook and cranny, something even light couldn't do. Many ponies despised the night, a time of deception and danger. Night Shade, however, couldn't feel any more different. The night was her ally, her cloak, her dagger.
Night looked ahead, where New Appleloosa was only a short distance away. The final stretch, she thought. She might be able to pick up some odd jobs there. When Night had earned enough caps to buy a healing potion, she could fix her wing. Then, she would be able to take to the air and seek out other settlements to live.
Night Shade smiled at the thought. She might be able to settle down, find a good home. A new start, she thought. The Enclave couldn't possibly mess with her here...
Before long, Night Shade had reached New Appleloosa. The town was ringed with red, green and blue boxcars, most of which had been arranged like so when the town was built after the war. Several ponies stood guard around the town, armed with rifles attached to their battle saddles.
A group of stallions, most wearing cowpony hats, were talking amongst each other in front of the town. When they heard the soft impact of the pegasus' hooves upon the dirt, they looked up at her in alarm.
One of them, a large, puke-green earth pony wearing a white hat, cocked his head sideways. "I'd suggest turning around, missy. There's nothing for you here."
"Not for your kind, anyway," added a stallion from behind.
Night Shade snorted in irritation at being called "missy", but stopped herself when she saw the pistols hanging on each of their belts. She put on a neutral expression. "My kind? You mean pegasi?"
The jolly green giant-looking one shook his head. "We mean the Enclave. We don't want any of you marching around in our town. You soldiers have stayed outta here so far, and we would very much like to keep it that way." He didn't seem like he would budge on the issue.
"I'm not Enclave anymore," argued Night Shade. "I'm a deserter, just trying to find a place to sleep for the night."
The stallion raised an eyebrow and stared at her in an effort to deduce whether she was telling the truth or not. After a few tense seconds, he relaxed slightly. "All right," he said. "But if you so much as look at anypony funny, we'll deal with you. Harshly. Understand?"
If this were any other situation, she would have socked him in the mouth for giving her attitude. But this was no place for her to be making enemies. She nodded. "You have my word." As she started to trot past them, though, the stallion stopped her again.
"Weapons, please." He held out a hoof expectantly. "You can never be too careful, after all."
The pegasus sighed and hoofed over her laser pistol and rifle. However, the combat knife she had, tucked and hidden under her boot, stayed. "Anything else?" she asked, somehow maintaining her dwindling patience.
The stallion shook his head again. "Welcome to New Appleloosa. I hope your stay is pleasant." And brief, he seemed to say with his eyes. With that, he stepped back and allowed her entry.
The town was different from most that she had seen; while the places she had visited in the past were built from previously standing structures, these were all made from rusty trains and cabooses. The ingenuity of it surprised her. These ponies were less than friendly to the Enclave, but they sure weren't stupid (In fact, they weren't stupid because they didn't trust the Enclave).
Night Shade passed by a store called "Absolutely Everything", preferring to find an inn or something to get some rest. Some ponies passing by her simply stared, but others were more active in their intolerance. An older mare took one look at the pegasus and spat at her hooves. Night just ignored them, knowing that retaliation would mean being kicked out or worse.
She groaned, absolutely exhausted. There were, of course, a few places to rent a bed, but none of them would take her in. At least, not while she was still wearing her Enclave armor. At that moment, she hatched an idea. Since she couldn't carry the armor with her, she would store it somewhere until she left town.
The pegasus trotted down an alley, checking behind her every so often to make sure nopony was watching. When the coast was clear, she slipped off her armor. Night stopped for a moment to admire her cutie mark, a shadowy pegasus silhouette. The mare had been lucky to escape being branded a Dashite, she thought. She couldn't even imagine how painful and humiliating it was to lose one's cutie mark forever. Night Shade put her gear underneath a nearby dumpster for safekeeping. She knew that beggars and scavengers would go searching in the garbage, but she doubted they would be so thorough as to look underneath.
When the deed was done, she headed back out and entered the nearest inn, a place called "Stone Soup's Bed and Breakfast (Minus the Breakfast)". The place was dingy, even for Wasteland standards; the paint was peeling, there was a pile of garbage in one corner and a chunk missing from one wall. However, a bed was a bed, no matter how many bugs she would end up sharing it with. The owner, an old grey mare, spotted Night and made her way over.
"Sorry dear, no vacancy," the hag said apologetically.
Night Shade raised an eyebrow. "Are you sure?" She'd had just about enough out of these ponies. Didn't any of them trust a pegasus? "I've got caps."
The other mare shook her head. "A stallion and his unicorn friend just took the last beds."
"B-but..." Night began, desperate to get a good night's rest, "...how much did they pay you? I can pay more."
"For starters, they paid in me Sparkle-Cola, which I doubt you can top. Second of all, I don't con my customers out of a place to rent. Good evening." The old lady shooed Night Shade out of the building with a surprising amount of energy for someone her age.
The pegasus sighed, sitting down at the side of the street. That was just about the last place in town. She had only one very unsavory option left: to sleep in the alley.
Well, it was better than no sleep at all. She made her way there with a heavy heart. At this rate, would she even be able to get a job? Maybe she had been wrong to leave the Enclave. Sure, they were bastards, but they had provided for her. She could have been somepony up there in the clouds; all she had down here were a mob of ponies who despised what she stood for.
Night propped herself against the alleyway dumpster, trying to get comfortable. Eventually, though, she acknowledged that there would be no such thing as comfort for her tonight. The mare made an attempt to think positively on the matter. At least it was free.
After a few hours of tossing and turning, she finally managed to fall into a somewhat fitful sleep.
The next morning, Night Shade was awoken by a firm tap on her shoulder. She flinched, then snapped her eyes open in surprise. Standing in front of her were the stallions from the previous night. The leader of them lifted a baseball bat in his teeth, then brought it down on her head without mercy. Everything went pitch-black.
Fizzy was alone, surrounded by the metal walls of her underground home. The only light in the room came from a dim bulb hanging above her. Confused, the unicorn looked for the door, for any way out, but there was nothing. She was trapped in a dark, suffocating box. She had never had a problem with confined spaces before, but now she began to hyperventilate.
She turned around and her parents were there, watching her with cold, dead eyes. The two were covered in deep cuts and wounds from which a thin brown liquid poured out. Fizzy couldn't turn away, utterly shocked.
"Fizzy Pop?" said her mother. "Where are you?"
"Please come with us," her father said. "We're all waiting for you."
"What are you talking about?" Fizzy said. "Waiting for me where?"
They ignored her question. "Come with us," they chanted. The liquid poured faster and faster from them; soon it began to flood the room. The filly could do nothing to block out the chanting. She covered her ears in desperation.
"No! Get away!" The liquid was now up to her neck and rising quickly. She struggled to stay afloat. "I'm sorry! I couldn't save you. I couldn't save anypony!"
"Come with us. Come with us." The metal box was becoming a watery grave for Fizzy. She couldn't keep her head above water, and the liquid began to fill her throat and lungs, suffocating her. She opened her mouth underwater, letting out an unheard scream.
She was drowning in Sparkle-Cola.
Fizzy sat up in bed, her heart pounding within her chest. She could remember every single detail of that dream. Her mouth was dry, so she licked her lips with her tongue. For a fleeting moment, she thought she could still taste the beverage, but she passed it off as her overactive imagination.
The unicorn looked around the room. Dirt was sleeping in the bed at the other end of the room, snoring softly. She put a hoof on her chest to calm herself, then looked at the time on her PipBuck. It was about eight o'clock in the morning. She debated for a minute on whether to wake her companion, but ultimately decided that he needed his sleep. She hopped out of bed and made her way downstairs, passing the old lady who tended the inn on her way down.
Fizzy trotted outside. She figured that she might as well take a walk to kill some time. Besides, she needed to shake that awful dream from her head. The mare had never had a nightmare like that in all her years in the Stable. Yet, one day in the Wasteland had done so much to her. How much would it change her over the course of a week? A month? The rest of her life? She didn't want to think about it.
Fizzy Pop was drawn from her thoughts by the sound of a loud thunk. She flinched at the sound, not sure what to think of it. She looked to where the sound had come from, an alley. Despite her fear, her curiosity was piqued. She paced down the alleyway in search of the source of the noise.
She saw a group of ponies surrounding an unconscious pegasus mare. One of them, a green stallion with a baseball bat, looked at Fizzy and narrowed his eyes. "This ain't your business, little pony. Get out."
Fizzy wasn't so easily persuaded. She took a step forward and got a good look at the victim. The mare had a grey coat and a jet-black mane and tail. One of the her wings was wrapped in a bandage, and her face was covered in fresh blood. Even Fizzy could tell that the mare had been in a one-sided fight. As Fizzy stared, the grey mare opened her eyes a bit, letting a pained moan escape her bloody lips. The stallion raised the baseball bat, preparing to hit her a second time, but Fizzy galloped in between him and his target.
"Wait!" she cried, making the green pony hesitate. "Why are you doing this?"
"I already told you it ain't your business. Get outta the way before I smack you with this thing." He didn't lower the bat.
Fizzy held her ground. "You wouldn't. Now tell me: what did this poor mare do to you?"
"She's a member of the Enclave!" shouted a pony in the mob. "She deserves to die."
"Enclave?" asked the unicorn.
The one with the bat rolled his eyes. "You get shot in the head or somethin'? The Enclave is a group of bastard pegasi that are tryin' to take over Equestria with propaganda and fear tactics. They're good for nothing, all of 'em!"
The pegasus attempted to stand, holding her head with a foreleg. She mumbled something incoherent.
"What was that?" said the stallion in the crowd again.
The mare cleared her throat. "I said, how many times..." She rose to her hooves. "...do I have to tell you..."
The stallion, seeing her efforts to get up, swung the bat in his teeth. The mare caught it with a foreleg, then brought her other one down upon it and snapped it in two. The shockwave made the green pony spit the remainder of the bat out of his mouth. The pegasus reared and kicked him in the chin, sending him sprawling across the alleyway. "...I'm not with the Enclave anymore," the mare finished.
The remainder of the stallions were dumbfounded, standing completely still. They shook themselves out of their stupor and began to charge at her. Faster than lightning, she pulled a knife from her boot and jabbed at the space in front of them. They stepped back, not expecting this turn of events.
Fizzy backed away as well, not sure of which side to be more afraid of. This mare, armed only with a knife, was managing to hold back five muscular stallions. What kind of training did she have?!
One earth pony charged at the pegasus and was met with a slash to the side that toppled him over. Two more approached, but she caught one of them with a hoof to their face. The other knocked the knife out of her teeth and pinned her against the wall with his foreleg. The pegasus mare only grinned and kicked out with her rear leg, hitting the poor stallion where it counted. He fell to the concrete, writhing in pain. The others, seeing that they were clearly outmatched, turned tail and galloped out of the alleyway.
The pegasus watched them leave, blood trickling down her forehead. "You better run! Next time, bring an army!" She scooped up her knife, wiped the excess blood from it and sheathed it back in her boot. Then she turned her attention to Fizzy. "Thanks for distracting those guys. I would've been dead if it weren't for you." She cantered out of the alley and into the street.
"Uh..." Fizzy hesitated. "You're welcome, I guess?" She followed behind the stranger, not necessarily with her, but definitely not against her.
Out in the streets, a group of ponies armed with guns were assembling. Once they saw the grey pegasus step out, they set their sights on her. Of course, the pegasus dove behind a mailbox for cover (like it would really help). Fizzy stood a good distance away to avoid getting caught in any crossfire.
"Get down on the ground, Enclave scum!" ordered a mare with a brown cowpony hat and a copper badge. Most likely the sheriff.
"Perhaps you didn't hear what I told those other fellas not more than a minute ago," said the pegasus. "I am a Dashite!"
"Then why isn't your flank branded?" chimed one of the stallions.
"I happen to like my cutie mark," called back the Dashite.
The sheriff scoffed. "She's probably an Enclave spy." She looked back at the pegasus. "Come out and get down on the ground! I promise we won't kill you."
The Dashite peeked over the mailbox. "You're not very good at lying, ma'am. Has anypony ever told you that?"
This was just about the last straw for the sheriff. She groaned loudly, then looked to the crowd of armed ponies. "Shoot her! Shoot her so we can get this over with!"
The Dashite scrambled away from the mailbox and across the street just as the mob began to open fire. The metal box was torn to shreds by a barrage of firepower, and by the time they realized she had moved, it was too late. The pegasus was out of their sight. The crowd poured down the street after her, guns at the ready.
Fizzy, having watched the event unfold, didn't know what to think. What in the world was a Dashite, anyway? At that moment, Dirt came galloping down the street. When the stallion saw Fizzy, he hurried over and stopped in front of her, panting heavily.
"Fizzy! What in Tartarus is going on? Why were there gunshots?" He turned around and looked at where they had been firing not thirty seconds ago. "And what did they do to that mailbox?"
"There was this pegasus pony," she began. "The sheriff thinks she's a member of the Enclave or something. The whole town is after her."
Dirt blinked. "I think it's about time we get out of here. This place has gone nuts."
Dirt and Fizzy were trotting out of New Appleloosa now, making their way to their next destination. It was early afternoon, only a few hours after Fizzy had had the encounter with the rogue Enclave agent. They hadn't seen her since, but most of the town was still gone in their pursuit of her.
In response to Fizzy's question, Dirt craned his head behind him and looked at her. "Northeast."
"How far? And why?"
"Not far," replied Dirt. "There's somepony I'm looking for up there." He still didn't want to go into too many details, especially considering he didn't know how Fizzy would react. Perhaps she never needed to know.
Fizzy seemed happy enough with his answer and left the subject as it was. Just then, the two of them heard faint gunshots in the distance. Probably the New Appleloosans on their chase, Dirt thought to himself.
The mare seemed to be slightly concerned with this, however. "Shouldn't we get guns soon? You know, to protect us from bandits?"
Dirt looked back forward and focused on the road. "Your parents ever tell you that you ask a lot of questions?"
"..." Fizzy closed her eyes, remembering something unpleasant.
He realized that her parents were probably still a sore topic. "We'll find something eventually. We would just have to go scavenging if we wanted to get a gun. After all, we can't go and buy one without any caps." If Fizzy didn't feel safe unless they owned a gun, though, then he would get one somehow.
They walked along the railroad tracks for a time. Dirt knew that the nearest safe town northeast of New Appleloosa was Dust, a small settlement just a day's trot from Manehattan. However, that was practically on the other side of Equestria, with few safe havens between. The journey would be nearly impossible, especially considering the amount of manticores, alicorns and raiders they might encounter on the way.
"Let me see that PipBuck for a second," Dirt said to Fizzy, deciding that he needed to double-check their direction.
"Okay," said Fizzy, lifting her foreleg so Dirt could view the screen.
Dirt squinted at the screen, which faintly glowed green thanks to Stable-Tec magic. He didn't know a lot about these things, but it was simple enough for him to check the map. They were in the right direction, but judging by the map key, they were quite a distance away. Just as he had suspected. "It's gonna be a long walk," he told Fizzy, looking her in the eyes. "If you want to turn back, Appleloosa's right behind you."
The filly shook her head. "No way. I've got nowhere else to go. I told you that before, and I'm sticking to it."
Dirt smiled. She was certainly determined. But if she really wanted to follow him, who was he to complain? "All right, kid." Then his expression turned serious. "But you've gotta do what I say if we're traveling together. I know the Equestrian Wasteland better than you do, and I don't want you getting hurt on my watch. Got it?"
She nodded, sobered by his non-humorous manner. "Got it."
They continued on the trail, occasionally stopping and splitting up to search the area for valuables and caps. It had been one of Dirt's pastimes, a trick taught to him by his old man when times were tough. "You should never be too proud to scavenge," his father had told him once. Unfortunately this particular search held nothing of interest for them.
After their fourth stop finding nothing interesting, Dirt was preparing to call Fizzy back when he heard a shuffling noise in a nearby bush. He stopped abruptly. It may have just been an old dog or a mole rat or something. However, there was always the chance it was some bandit, making an attempt to sneak up on them. Dirt crouched low to the ground, sneaking around the bush to get a closer look. He rounded the bush and found the source of the noise: a lone crow, pecking around the bush in search of scraps of food. He eased himself, breathing a sigh of relief. Perhaps he worried too much.
A grey hoof wrapped around his head from behind, covering his mouth before he could shout. Dirt felt the pressure of a knife blade against his vulnerable throat. Then, a cool and collected feminine voice spoke through gritted teeth next to his ear:
"Keep your mouth shut and you'll live. Nod if you understand."
"You from Appleloosa?" the voice asked, its hot breath on his ear.
Was this the Enclave mare? He shook his head at her question, but the knife scraped against his neck, allowing a few droplets of blood to escape from him. He winced.
His assailant considered this for a moment, then spoke again: "Are you alone?"
He shook his head again, this time much slower to avoid getting cut.
"All right. Call for your friends, nice and easy. Any funny business and they get it too." At this, his eyes widened. The hoof left his mouth, but the knife remained.
He wanted to try and break free, but he had a feeling he was outmatched. Without further hesitation, he called out, "Fizzy! Could you come here for a moment?"
"Okay!" Fizzy called from behind a pile of rubble, trotting over to him. When she rounded the corner and saw Dirt, her jaw dropped. The stallion's assailant seemed surprised, slightly loosening their grip on the blade. He saw his chance and kicked out a back hoof, tripping the mare. The knife fell to the ground. Without hesitation, he whirled around and pinned his attacker down with a powerful foreleg. She was trapped.
While she squirmed under his hoof, he managed to get a good look at her. She was indeed a pegasus, but one of her wings was bandaged. Her long mane was clinging to her forehead with a mixture of sweat and blood. "So, you're the one who stirred up all that trouble in New Appleloosa," he remarked. He noticed her cutie mark wasn't branded; the rumors of her being a spy must be true.
The pegasus said nothing. She was preoccupied with staring at Fizzy. Angered by this, Dirt pressed down harder on her chest to wind her.
"Give me one good reason why I should let you go," he commanded.
The mare finally looked up at him. "I don't have one." She seemed incredibly exhausted, both physically and emotionally. No wonder she'd been so easy to overpower. "Celestia knows that I've done some bad things."
Fizzy was uneasy. "Maybe we should let her go, Dirt."
"Why?" he asked sharply, turning his head to face the unicorn.
"Well... I mean, she didn't kill anypony. And the whole thing wasn't her fault." Before he could ask her to explain, she continued: "I saw her in that alleyway, being beaten by a gang of stallions because they thought she was a part of the Enclave. But she said that she had changed." She looked at the pegasus. "What if she really has changed?"
"We can't know that for sure. For all we know, she's rotten like the rest of them. And besides, a real Enclave deserter would have their cute mark branded." Dirt maintained his pressure on the mare's torso.
"Do what you want with me," said the pegasus. "I tried to change, but nopony wants me to forget my past. So if I have to die, then die I will." She closed her eyes, preparing for her ultimate fate.
Dirt felt unsure of himself. He knew a liar pretty well, but this mare was telling the truth. He looked at her for a moment, debating in his mind about what to do. Finally, he released his hold on her.
She sat up at once, trying to get the breath to return to her lungs. She breathed heavily for a while, then looked up to the stallion. "Thank you." The mare stood up and began to trot away.
Fizzy called out to her. "Wait! Why don't you come with us?"
"Are you crazy?" cried Dirt and the pegasus simultaneously.
"She tried to kill me!" Dirt pointed to the pegasus. "You're just going to invite her to come along?"
"Why not? She's not evil. She's trying to change. Why not give her the benefit of the doubt?"
The pegasus shook her head. "It wouldn't work. I hardly even know you. And you hardly know me."
Fizzy gave her a smile - An honest to Celestia smile! - and offered a hoof for her to shake. "Let's fix that. My name is Fizzy Pop, and this is my friend Dirt. What's your name?"
The mare looked at the filly's hoof, then sighed and shook it. "My name's Night Shade. It's a... pleasure to meet you."
Dirt groaned. "Fine. You can tag along, Miss Shade." Then, he stepped close to her and whispered in her ear. "But if you do anything to hurt me or the kid, I will fucking end you."
Night Shade was trying to make the best of her situation.
She had lost her armor, her guns and most of her energy. Avoiding those New Appleloosans had taken quite a bit of her stamina from her. And now she was half-traveling with half-held captive by these two ponies.
At least they trusted her. These two were the first to do so. And here in the Wasteland, trust was not optional. They weren't exactly friends (Well, Fizzy was, sort of), but Night was sure they would warm up to her. If they managed to live long enough.
The three of them had one weapon, her own knife, between them. Thankfully, Night was extremely talented with it. They needed guns. The easiest way to obtain them, they decided, was to go poking around in Equestria's ruins.
They were making their way past Old Appleloosa, a slaver's haven, when Night stopped them. "I think we should look around here for supplies," she suggested to the party.
"Supplies? What do we need?" Fizzy asked.
"For starters," Dirt replied, "we've got no food. Not only that, but we need something to defend ourselves besides Miss Shade's rusty blade."
"It's not rusty!" argued Night, who happened to polish her blade daily.
Dirt ignored her. "We also need some healing potions, in case something happens to one of us."
Night nodded. "I know I sure as hell could use one. My wing's sprained." She cracked her neck. "Well, I'll go and fetch what we need. I'm the sneakiest of us three, so they won't find me if I go alone."
"Nope," said Dirt. "If you go alone, you'll probably just take everything for yourself and leave us here."
Night was hurt. "Have a little faith, Mister Dirt." Ha. That'll teach him to use that "Miss Shade" crap. "I swear I'll return."
"I'll go with her!" volunteered Fizzy.
"I don't trust her alone with you," said Dirt.
"Then you come with me," Night said.
"But then Fizzy would be alone right next to a town full of slavers."
Night groaned. "Fine, let's all go! The more the merrier, I always say."
They all seemed to agree with that. They quietly trotted into town, avoiding any areas that seemed inhabited. Sure, the town was crawling with slavers, but there were still a few sections of the ruins that they hadn't touched. With the sun setting behind them, they combed through an area of rubble. Dirt was vigilant in his search, but Fizzy and Night were less-than-skilled at scavenging, having spent only a few days in the Wasteland. They managed to find a couple bobby pins, which Dirt claimed for himself. "You can use these things to pick locks," he told Fizzy. "They're definitely worth hoarding."
As they explored the town further, the trio came upon an ancient, crumbling building. Written in faded white lettering on the front of the building was, "Appleloosa Police Station". Night grinned.
"A police station. That means guns."
Dirt wasn't as sure. "They must have ransacked the place already."
Fizzy shrugged. "Well, what other option do we have? It's worth a shot," she said hopefully.
Night trotted over and tried the door. It opened with a groan, swinging outward toward them. The Pegasus peered inside, but couldn't make anything out. "It's dark in there. Anypony got a light?"
"I do!" Fizzy trotted over and pressed a button on her PipBuck, flooding the interior with sickly-green light.
The main lobby of the station was a wreck. Papers were torn and scattered across the floor and desk. Bloodstains adorned the ground, walls and ceiling (How they had managed that, Night had no idea). In the corner was the skeleton of a police officer, its ragged uniform still clinging to its bones. Beyond that, they couldn't see much.
"First order of business," Dirt said as he entered, "is to turn on the lights." He glanced around, searching for a switch of any sort, but found nothing.
"We'll have to split up," Night Shade told him. "Fizzy, see if there's a generator around here somewhere. Dirt and I will search for anything we can use."
Dirt rolled his eyes. "Who said you were the one giving orders around here?"
Night Shade sighed. "All right. What would you have us do, oh great leader?"
"Well, um..." Dirt was flustered. "I guess your idea was good. Let's do that."
"Okay!" said Fizzy as she trotted away with her PipBuck light, leaving the two in darkness. Thankfully, their eyes adjusted quickly to the lack of light, and they began their search.
While Dirt looted the other side of the room, Night Shade trotted behind the main desk, peeking inside the drawers. She managed to find some pre-war bits and a roll of duct tape. Into the saddlebag they went. Next, she examined the computer. Miraculously, it was still running. She tried to access it, but apparently it was locked. She would need to either hack it or find the password.
The pegasus figured that hacking it would be easier. Immediately, she set to work on it, clacking away at the keyboard with her hooves. She pressed 'enter' and received a negative beep for her efforts. She cursed.
Dirt looked over at the computer. "That still works? What are you hoping to gain from unlocking it, though?"
Night shrugged. "Anything. Maybe a command that will light this place up." She typed something else in. Another beep. She had two more tries left.
"You're wasting your energy," Dirt scolded her. "Probably nothing but old reports from before the war. We should be spending our time looking for actual loot." He trotted down the lobby, opening a door and moving inside.
Night, with nopony to distract her, tried again. For the third time, she failed. "Celestia damn this! What kind of a password did they put on this thing?" She had to back out of the program and reenter it in order to try again. Desperately, she racked her brain for the password. There had to be some sort of way to figure it out.
After coming up with nothing, Night decided to leave it alone for a while and do some scavving, like Dirt had told her. But there was hardly anything in this stupid place. The slavers must have cleaned it out already.
"Night Shade," called Dirt from the other room. "Come here for a second, will ya?"
She trotted into the room, about to ask him what he wanted, when she saw it. A gun cage, filled to the brim with firearms of all shapes and sizes. How had they not gotten to this yet?!
"It's locked," Dirt told her. "And I can't pick it."
Of course. There was always a catch. "What do you mean, you can't pick it?"
"It's beyond my skill level. There's gotta be a key around here somewhere."
Night laughed. "Well, this makes two things that need unlocking. It would sure be helpful if Fizzy could hurry up with the..." The lights flickered on, bathing the station in glorious white light. "...lights."
With the lights on, it was much easier to see their surroundings now. They could see some of the guns inside the cage - Pistols, rifles, shotguns, and even what appeared to be a missile launcher. Night knew that they absolutely had to get inside.
Fizzy headed over to them, fiddling with her PipBuck. "There was a generator in the basement," she told them. "It was still full of fuel!"
Dirt looked concerned. "Still full? But..."
"I'm gonna go and check that terminal one last time," said Night, walking over to it and booting it up. She thought hard for a moment. "Now I just have to figure out the password."
"Try 'Donuts'," Fizzy said. "We're in a police station, after all."
Night gave her a look. "Hon, I don't think that's it." She decided, though, that she may as well humor her. She typed it in.
"ACCESS GRANTED" appeared across the screen.
"Told you!" Fizzy laughed.
The pegasus was more grateful than surprised. Without delay, she examined the various logs that had been saved. "These aren't pre-war messages," she said aloud as she scrolled past them. "One of these was made yesterday!"
Dirt's eyes widened. "This must be their base of operations. That explains the full generator and the gun cage." He looked at the two. "We've gotta go now, before they come back."
Night Shade noticed a certain command built into the computer. "Not before we grab some guns," she said. The mare typed in the command '/open gun cage'. From the other room, the trio heard the lock slide open.
They scrambled to take as much as they could carry. Dirt grabbed himself a battle saddle and a pair of combat shotguns. Night was more than upset at the lack of energy weapons in the cage, but figured that she may as well take a hunting rifle for herself. In addition, she found a small pistol and hoofed it over to Fizzy. Dirt witnessed this and gave the pegasus a glare.
"She doesn't know how to use a gun," he told her.
"There's a first time for everything," Night said. "Besides, it's for emergencies only."
"When else would you use a gun besides in an emergency?" argued the stallion. "I still think it's a bad idea."
Fizzy looked between them. "Do I get a say in this? I think that I could use one."
Dirt gave up. "Okay. But first thing when we get out of here, I'm teaching you how to shoot."
They heard hoofsteps quickly approaching the building. They had waited too long to make their escape, it seemed. They dove behind the lobby's desk, weapons at the ready. Fizzy levitated hers at her side, still getting a feel for it. The doors burst open and eight slavers came pouring in.
Dirt and Night stood up, letting loose a hail of bullets. The stallion's shotguns managed to rip apart two of the enemies, but the others were prepared. A bullet found its home in his chest, making him flinch. He let go of the saddle's mouthgrip for a moment and ducked back under. Night fired off a round with her rifle that buried itself in another slaver's eye. Three down, five to go.
The slavers realized their tactical disadvantage and fell back behind the doors of the police station. For a moment, all gunfire stopped. Then, a small metal apple sailed over the trio's heads and landed right behind them.
"Grenade!" yelled Dirt, shoving Fizzy out of harm's way. He and Night barely had time to flee before the apple detonated, sending them flying across opposite sides of the lobby.
Fizzy had sustained the least injuries, only slightly bruised. Night was struggling to regain her footing and ignore the painful shrapnel. Dirt was completely unconscious, his face covered in fresh blood.
The slavers calmly trotted in, surveying the scene. One of them, a brownish-green unicorn, paid special attention to Fizzy. "Put the filly in the cages with the rest of them," he ordered. "As for the other two, turn 'em into glue for all I care. We don't tolerate ponies coming into our camp and taking our guns."
Night stood up, trying to calculate whether she could fight them all herself. But three of the slavers approached and tackled her before she could do anything.
While the pegasus was struggling against her assailants, Fizzy was sobbing quietly. The unicorn slaver looked at her, slightly irritated. "Aw, shut the fuck up. We'll find you a new home with Red Eye or some other asshole." The fellow clearly had little tolerance for crying. "You'll forget all about your little friends here."
Fizzy's crying quickly stopped, replaced with angry, guttural sounds. "N-no! Don't hurt them!" Her horn sparked slightly.
The slaver approached her, levitating her own pistol from the ground and pressing it against her temple. "Ha! And what're you gonna do about it?"
Fizzy grit her teeth and unleashed an unusually feral cry. Her horn glowed with purple magic, growing in intensity until it was overpoweringly bright. The slaver took a step back and dropped the gun in shock. Then, Fizzy's horn erupted in a shower of purple light, launching forth a magic beam that pierced through the slaver's throat and punched a hole in the police station's roof. The slaver collapsed to the floor, twitching and bleeding. Within a moment, he was dead.
The other slavers stared in awe. Night kicked them off of her, diving for the gun that had been dropped just moments ago. Then, the pegasus whirled around and fired recklessly, managing to kill the remaining four slavers.
The gun was still smoking when Night released her grip on it, letting it clatter to the floor as she turned her attention to the wounded Dirt. He was still unconscious, and one of his eyes was bleeding heavily. "Fizzy, search these guys for a healing potion. Dirt's not doing too well."
Fizzy, still shocked by what she had done, somehow managed to come to her senses and look through the corpses' saddlebags. She managed to find exactly one of the potions, which she quickly hoofed over to Night. The pegasus poured it down Dirt's throat, praying to whatever god there was that he would recover. "Dirt?" Night called. "Are you okay?"
After a few tense moments of no response, the stallion's uninjured eye opened. He let out a moan. "Ow." He lifted a hoof to touch his bloodied left eye. As soon as he did, he winced. "I think I need a doctor."
"You think you do? I just gave you the only healing potion," Night told him. "C'mon, get up. There might be more of them."
The earth pony complied. He noticed the giant hole in the slaver's throat and cocked his head. "What happened here?"
"I'll explain it later," Night said, leading him and Fizzy out into the Wasteland.
That beam of magic... She had never done anything nearly as complicated as that before. Hay, the only spell she knew was levitation! Every unicorn knew that one. At least, everypony in Stable 6 did.
Night Shade was leading Dirt along the railroad tracks, making sure he didn't stumble thanks to his half-blindness. She had covered his eye in gauze, but the smart pony knows a bandage only hides their wounds. If healing potions and bandages couldn't help it, they would have to find a doctor.
Fizzy was bringing up the back, a puzzled expression on her face. She'd had a headache since they had fled Old Appleloosa, but she chalked it up to the stress of battle. She figured if she had a Sparkle-Cola, though, her headache would be gone. Dirt had traded them all away, though, to get a room in New Appleloosa for them.
Night looked over her shoulder at the young filly. "So, what did you do back there? I had no idea you knew combat spells."
"I don't," replied Fizzy. "I have no idea how I did it. It's just... I was scared, they were going to hurt you... I guess I just lost it a little bit."
"We all lose it out here. We just have to find it again before it's gone forever." Night shook the half-conscious Dirt in the right direction, watching him closely so he didn't trip on the tracks. "So, how do you feel about it?"
"About what?" the unicorn asked.
"Your first kill."
Fizzy blinked. She hadn't thought of it that way. "It was more of an accident," she argued. The poor filly couldn't take the idea of having murdered another pony, regardless of what they had done.
"Accident, my flank." Night snorted. "You saved all of us, including yourself. If anything, you should be trying to figure out how to do that again."
Dirt seemed to be stirred by these words. "No. If she doesn't want to hurt anypony, she doesn't have to. No matter how powerful that spell was, we can't exploit it."
Fizzy didn't bother speaking any more on the subject, as Dirt had pretty much voiced her opinion for her. It seemed that Night, too, was done talking about it for now. The filly checked her PipBuck to kill some time. It appeared that they were still far away from their destination. Thanks to the injuries Dirt and Night Shade had sustained, though, the distance seemed even greater.
From behind them came a faint rumble. At first, Fizzy thought it was the sound of thunder. As she turned around, however, she realized it was definitely not the weather.
"A train!" she cried to her companions.
Dirt squinted with his good eye. "Looks to be about six cars," he noted. "Must be delivering goods."
The train was approaching quickly, but they had plenty of time to move out of the way. It passed them at a relatively slow speed. Fizzy noticed that it was loaded with cargo.
As the train began passing them, Night looked at Fizzy. "Jump on the back of the train when you see it. We're going to bum a ride from these fellas."
Fizzy nodded, preparing to make the leap. Night shook Dirt, trying to get his attention. "You hear me, Dirt? Get ready to jump." The stallion merely nodded.
One boxcar passed. Another. Finally, the caboose. The group managed to jump at precisely the right moment, landing on the back of the car. Dirt was winded by the jump, though, and pressed a foreleg against his side in pain. Night hurried and led him inside the caboose with Fizzy.
The train car was filled with crates, containing everything from scrap metal to bits of electronics. Each crate was addressed to the same group: "The Enlightened". What the significance of this was, the three didn't know. Then again, there were so many groups in this place that the odds of them ever meeting these Enlightened were slim.
"Wonder what anypony would need with all this junk," Dirt muttered.
"Why couldn't they have been delivering crates of healing potions?" said an irritated Night Shade. "At least then I could fix us all up!"
Fizzy said nothing, merely fiddling with the radio to distract herself. Of course, there wasn't much to fiddle with, considering there were only a hoofful of stations. She eventually decided on listening to the radio station hosted by that stallion Shout Out.
"I've been getting reports of strange goings-on in the Wasteland, listeners. Sources in New Appleloosa today told me that they encountered a spy from the Grand Pegasus Enclave in their town. What the Enclave would be doing below the clouds, I have no idea. But still, if they're plotting something, I'd recommend steering clear. The only good Enclave grunt is a dead one, as I always say.
"Furthermore, there have also been sightings of large numbers of glowing ghouls just outside Manehattan. It isn't known whether they're feral or not, but I would avoid them either way. That appears to be the last of the new reports. Until next time, listeners. This has been Shout Out."
Fizzy looked over at the other two. Dirt was resting peacefully, but she noticed grimly that his bandage already needed changing. The bleeding was slowing, though, compared to what she had seen right after the battle.
Night was sharpening her knife with a chunk of rock. Not exactly the finest way to do it, but better than leaving it dull. Fizzy got the mare's attention. "Do you think he'll be okay?" the unicorn whispered, gesturing to the sleeping Dirt.
Night continued sharpening the blade, not looking up at Fizzy. "If he doesn't go through all our bandages, we should be able to find him a doctor before his wound does him in."
Fizzy's eyes widened. "How far is it to the next town?"
"You're the one with the PipBuck. You tell me."
The mare blinked. "Oh, right." She lifted her foreleg and examined the digital map. She hadn't noticed it, but her map had already programmed the locations she had visited. The marker that Dirt had left on her PipBuck told her that they were closing in on the town of Dust. "It looks like we'll be on track to arrive before the day is out!"
Night chuckled. "Yeah, and I'll sprout a horn and become the next goddamned Princess. Odds are, this train isn't going exactly where we're going. It could be heading for Stalliongrad, Dise or even Tartarus for all we know. We're just riding it for as long as it's going in our direction."
Fizzy dropped her head in embarrassment. She'd been too optimistic. "Right. But, at least we're getting closer..." Her headache increased in severity, and she pressed a hoof against her forehead in pain.
This did not elude Night, who put her knife away and looked at the filly with concern. "I suggest you get some rest, Fizzy. There won't be any time to sleep while we're walking." Her tone betrayed quite a bit of compassion, which surprised the unicorn.
"Okay," Fizzy said. She plopped down on the wooden flooring of the caboose and leaned her pounding head against a crate. It wasn't comfortable at all, but she didn't complain. Fizzy noticed that Night was still sitting, watching the scenery pass through the window. "Aren't you gonna sleep?"
"Somepony's gotta keep an eye on you- I mean, on the train. I've got to watch and wake you two up when it changes direction." The pegasus scratched the back of her head with her hoof. "Don't worry about it."
"All right. Thank you." Fizzy closed her eyes and relaxed as much as she could. After a long time spent tossing and turning, she finally managed to get to sleep.
When the unicorn awoke, Night Shade was shaking her with a hoof. "Train's stopped. We should hoof it from here."
Fizzy yawned, rubbing her eyes with her hooves. She sat up and looked around. Dirt was already awake, gathering his things. He still looked like his wound was bothering him, but resting had done him some good. Night, on the other hoof, looked a bit tired. Fizzy checked her PipBuck's map. "We're a lot closer than before," she remarked to her comrades.
"Good," Night replied. "If it means less trotting, I'm happy."
The caboose's cargo door opened abruptly, allowing bright beams of sunlight to invade the dark container. The conductor, a thin orange stallion, peered in at the unexpected passengers. "Oi!" he shouted. "Get the buck outta my train!"
Fizzy widened her eyes. "Sorry, mister! We'll be going!"
The conductor, either too wise or too stupid to be afraid of Dirt's guns, scoffed at the three. "Well, ya better be! Do ya see a sign that says 'Stowaway Pony Storage'?!" He narrowed his eyes as the trio hopped out of the car and onto the cracked ground. "Yer lucky I'm lettin' ya off easy, ya punks!"
The ponies walked away from the angry conductor as fast as they could. Once the fellow was out of earshot, they all laughed. Despite all they had been through in the past 24 hours, despite the injuries they had taken, - and given - they couldn't contain themselves.
"What was that guy all about?" Fizzy said after a brief pause to compose herself. "Letting us off easy? We could have squashed him flat. Hay, I could have squashed him flat."
Night nodded at the unicorn's comment. "He was less a stallion and more of a beanpole. His threats were about as intimidating as his figure." She chuckled.
Dirt snickered as well, but stopped himself quickly. "All right, enough of that. We've got to keep our eyes peeled. Even you, Fizzy."
The filly did a mock salute. "Aye aye, Captain Dirt." She looked around at the area. They were far from the railroad tracks now, surrounded only by dead plants and a few farms along the path. The farms, of course, were rundown and the crops long-since shriveled and/or harvested. Even the few barns still standing were smeared with blood or blasted full of holes.
They were in raider country. Thankfully, there appeared to be no hostiles, according to Fizzy's PipBuck. Either that, or they were just hiding. "Uh, guys? Do you think we're safe out here?"
"Of course," assured Night Shade. "As long as we're quiet. Anypony out there will know to steer clear of a stallion armed with two shotguns and a mare with a rifle."
"What about me?" Fizzy had left the pistol behind in Old Appleloosa, which she now regretted immensely.
Night looked back at the unicorn. "Just stay close to me."
Dirt's ears perked up at something in the distance. "Hey, gang. Check it out."
Fizzy strained her eyes to see an object in the distance. It appeared to be some sort of carriage, partially buried in the dirt. It looked different from the normal fare of wrecks; this one had recently crashed. She could tell because the upturned soil was relatively fresh. There was aging paint on the side of the carriage that was no longer readable.
She blinked. How had she noticed all of that at a glance? She wasn't nearly that observant back in the Stable. Perhaps, she mused, there was less to notice back then. "Wonder what's in it?"
Dirt approached the carriage and began to search through it, rummaging through the trunk. "Not much," he said aloud. "There's some shotgun shells here, though." He grinned. "And a book." He hoofed the tome to Fizzy, who studied it. The cover was black and yellow, with a monochrome, confused and cross-eyed mare on the front. It was slightly dog-eared at the corners, and a few pages appeared to have been ripped out hastily. Nevertheless, it was an honest-to-Celestia legible pre-war book!
"Unicorn Magic for Eggheads?" the filly read the title aloud. "Oh, so you think I'm an egghead now." She chuckled and placed the item in her saddlebag. She had a feeling it might be useful.
"You know what I'm wondering?" Night asked. "Why anypony would crash their carriage and not take what was inside with them."
Dirt raised an eyebrow. "You think it's a trap?" he asked.
"Either that, or whoever crashed this thing didn't have time to get their things." The pegasus scratched her head. "Because they were being chased."
"By raiders." Dirt spat on the ground. Fizzy was looking to the distance, where an amorphous black mass was forming on the horizon. The unicorn could see the mass clearly, though.
It was a mob of rotting, shrieking zombie ponies.
"Or by those things," she said quietly, pointing a hoof to the rapidly advancing army. Dirt took notice and readied his battle saddle.
"Ghouls!" he shouted. "Get to one of the barns!" The three of them turned tail and galloped as fast as they could. Fizzy hadn't any idea what ghouls were, but if they scared Dirt, then the group was in deep trouble.
Night Shade attempted to fire into the crowd of ghouls, but it did little to stop them. There were dozens of the monsters, all quite bloodthirsty. Cursing, Night loaded another bullet into her rifle and sprinted with her companions.
Fizzy looked behind her and gasped, terrified to see that the ghouls were gaining on them. She somehow managed to increase her speed, putting even more stress on her muscles. The others followed suit, but Dirt seemed to be struggling to stay ahead. He was panting, glancing behind him in fear. The zombies were practically upon him.
The unicorn knew she had to do something. Thinking quickly, she grasped Night's knife with her magic and removed it from its sheath. She swung the blade around and slashed the closest ghoul in the eye. It screeched, falling over and tripping the ghouls behind it. It bought them just enough time to charge into the closest barn and slam the door. Night picked up a stray chunk of wood and barricaded the doors with it. Not a second after she had accomplished this task, the ghouls began to pound on it. The door held firm, though, and the three were safe for the moment.
Dirt took a deep breath, patting Fizzy on the head. "Thanks. They nearly had me back there."
Night Shade took her knife from the filly and almost cracked a smile. "You did well, kid."
The unicorn shrugged. "I did what anypony else would do." She sat down in a pile of hay. "What are those things?"
"Ghouls," Dirt explained. "When a pony gets too irradiated, they either die or become one of them. Not all of them are feral, but they all look that ugly."
Night looked at the door. The pounding was dying down now. "We should wait for them to disperse, then we'll keep going. Dirt, how's your eye?"
The stallion sighed. "It feels funny. Not a good sign, I suppose?"
Night trotted over to him and lifted his bandage with a hoof. Upon getting a good look, she cringed and replaced the gauze. "I don't know how to tell you this, but... it's infected."
Dirt frowned. "Well, I guess I only need one of 'em, anyway." He sat down next to Fizzy and looked at her. "You should start reading that book. We might be here for a bit."
The feral ghouls left after some time, their prey too difficult to catch. After, waiting for a few moments in silence, Dirt slowly opened the wooden barn door to see if the coast was clear. When it had become evident that they were alone, he motioned with a hoof for Fizzy and Night to follow him out.
They made their way out of the farmland. Dirt kept his one eye open for any ghoul ambushes. He noticed that Night was sticking closer to Fizzy's side, checking the entire perimeter for danger. He, however, decided to stay a bit ahead of the group to ensure that, if he did trigger any trap, the others would be out of harm's way. The last thing he needed was for something to happen to Fizzy. Despite the fact that she was difficult at times, and still complained about the lack of Sparkle-Cola, she was one of the most important things to him. In a way, she was like family at this point. The filly didn't want to leave his side, and he didn't want her to either.
"Hey, Fizzy," he began, "how far are we to Dust?"
She checked her PipBuck. "Nearly there. Can I ask you something, though?"
"As soon as we get to Dust, will you promise to check yourself in to the nearest clinic? You can't let your injury get any worse than it already is." She tilted her head, shooting him a pleading look.
He touched the bandage over what was left of his eye. "But there are so many other things we can spend our caps-"
Fizzy shook her head. "No. If something happens to you, where does that leave us? Stuck in the middle of nowhere with no idea where to go. You're the only one of us three who knows this place. I lived in a Stable all my life and Night was up in the clouds. Without you, we're clueless."
Dirt sighed. "Okay, you've made your point. I'll see what they can do." He returned his focus to the path. In the distance, if he looked very closely, he could see Dust. They were close enough that he could even see that another train line, different from the one that they had ridden, passed through the town from the opposite direction. A small cargo train was stopping in front of the town as he watched.
"Too bad our train wasn't going this way," Night Shade muttered, echoing Dirt's thoughts. He looked back at her and gave an empathetic smile.
Dirt was about to say something to the pegasus, but a brilliant flash of light blinded him and dashed away any thoughts he had. The others saw it, too, and covered their eyes with a foreleg.
Then came the explosion. They were assaulted with the loudest sound they had ever heard, a deafening roar that left them torn between covering their eyes or ears. Dirt instinctively reached for Fizzy and Night, pulling them to the ground and laying prone. Not a moment later, a shockwave pushed at them, sending dust and debris into their faces. If they had been standing, they would have been blown away like leaves against the wind.
Dirt gritted his teeth, waiting for it to be over. Yet, after a solid minute, he could still hear the roar. Hesitantly, he raised his head off the ground and looked up, rubbing at his eye with a hoof.
Where the town of Dust had been just a moment ago, there was now only a fiery mushroom cloud towering above them. He stared in disbelief at the destruction in front of them. But he could only stare so long before he began to feel the heat.
He stood up, surveying the damage the explosion had done to him. He had scorch marks all along his forelegs and back, where the wave of heat and radiation had caught him.
To his right, he heard Fizzy's PipBuck clickity-clacking in alarm, possibly to alert her to her radiation level. Slowly, panic began to rise in him. If they were caught that close to the explosion, what would the long-term damage be?!
"Is everyone okay?" he managed, though his throat was rough and sore.
Night stood up, examining her scorched and singed coat. She coughed, spattering the ground with fine crimson droplets. "I'm fine. What about you, Fizzy?"
Fizzy still lay on the ground, unmoving and unconscious. She had been injured just as badly, but she was much smaller. Dirt scooped her up in his hooves, pressing his ear against her chest.
"Thank Celestia. She's just passed out. But I think we've all got a bad dose of rads." He looked at Night. "We have to go to Tenpony Tower, and fast. It's the closest place where we can get medical attention."
Night Shade nodded, but she showed the faintest amount of doubt. "Can we even afford it?"
"Do we have a choice?" Dirt shot back. He glanced back at Fizzy. "It's not far. We just have to get through Manehattan." With that, he hefted Fizzy onto his back and began at a gallop in the direction of the city. Night Shade followed behind, but both of them were beginning to feel the immediate effects of the blast. Their burns made it nearly unbearable to move, but Dirt simply ignored the pain. Fizzy needed help, and that was all that mattered.
No sooner had they started, though, Dirt began to feel weak. His muscles refused to cooperate with him, and he couldn't continue at the pace he was going at. Night, too, slowed down.
"Dirt," she said between drawn-out breaths, "we can't make it. The radiation... is screwing with us. We have to stop for a moment. Rest."
"No!" Dirt barked. "We can't. We..." He didn't even finish his sentence. He collapsed to the ground, his energy drained. Fizzy, still unconscious, toppled off his back and landed with a light thump, her breath becoming shallower by the minute. Night limped toward the filly and lay down next to her.
"Fizzy." Her voice was weak. "Please wake up. You've got to stay awake." But the unicorn did not stir. Night Shade shook her with a hoof. "Fizzy..." The pegasus closed her eyes and lay still.
Dirt was the last one conscious. He had neither the energy to stand up nor to call for help. Who the hell would he call for? They were alone, stranded and dying in the middle of the Wasteland. They had no chance. His eyelids shut, and the world slipped away from him.
A scuffling of hooves in the dirt. Raspy voices, speaking slowly and matter-of-factly. A rustling of cloth, and the clink of glass on baked ground. Someone poured liquid down Dirt's throat. The taste of oranges. The stallion coughed once, twice. He heard hoarse words, most likely addressed to him.
"Little ponies, you have been given a second chance. A new purpose, a new goal. You shall be the courier for our message. Do not fail us."
Just like that, the voice stopped. The hoofsteps became quieter and quieter as the pony (ponies?) trotted away. Dirt felt strength return to him somehow. When he had gathered enough energy to open his eyes, he saw that it was snowing. He looked to his side, where his companions were still breathing. They were okay!
He felt the snow fall onto his shoulders and mane, but it did not melt. Then he realized something: it wasn't snow. It was falling ashes.
He saw the empty potion bottles, as well as the plastic I.V. bags with remnants of a strange orange liquid in them. RadAway. His eyes drifted to the side of these items, where an envelope lay. It was even stamped with a green wax insignia: a glowing sun. Written on the envelope was, "To DJ Pon3 of Tenpony Tower. From The Enlightened."
Curious, he stood up and picked up the letter, shaking off the ashes. Then, he shook his companions awake. "Wake up," he told them.
Fizzy awoke with little difficulty. "Oof. What the hay happened?"
Night groaned, placing a hoof on her head. "What...?" she said, opening her eyes. "Am I dead?"
"No," Dirt replied. "We're very much alive. And it appears that we've become couriers, for the time being." He showed her the letter.
She blinked. "The Enlightened... Where have we heard that before?"
"On the train. They were being delivered parts for something." He slipped the letter in his saddlebag and furrowed his brow in thought. "I've got a feeling that what's happened here is big. More important than we can possibly fathom."
Fizzy glanced at her PipBuck. "Did those Enlightened ponies heal us? My radiation level is at zero."
Dirt nodded. "I think so. If they did heal us, then delivering this is the least that we can do."
Night stretched her wings, testing them. "That healing potion was just what I needed. I think my wing's fixed." She flapped and managed to raise herself a few feet in the air.
"That's great," Dirt replied absentmindedly. He stared at the smoking remains of Dust, now just a crater in the middle of nowhere. However it had happened, and for whatever reason, somepony had deemed it necessary that it be nuked. Whoever had access to that kind of technology was a force to be reckoned with. "We should get going as soon as possible. Is everypony ready to go?"
The other two nodded. "Yeah," spoke Fizzy. "I'm ready for anything."
Dirt ruffled the filly's mane with a hoof. "Don't get too eager. It's not gonna be easy getting there. I've heard there's monsters, bandits and Celestia-knows-what out there. I've been considering this ever since those ghouls chased us, but... you may have to learn some combat spells."
Fizzy's eyes widened. "I don't know how!"
"You've already proved that you have the ability when you saved us back in Appleloosa. All you need to do is read that book and practice."
"But, but..." She sighed, resigning to his decision. "Okay. I just hope I never have to use it."
Night patted her on the back. "Hon, this is the Wasteland you're talking about. You'll have to use them eventually. That's why it's better that you learn them now, so you're prepared." She got an idea. "In fact, why don't you try that spell right now?"
Fizzy looked unsure. Nevertheless, she took a few steps away from her companions and braced herself. She narrowed her eyes in concentration. Then, after a moment of silence, her horn began to pulse with purple energy. She spread her stance a bit, clenching her teeth and focusing. But her horn abruptly fizzled, ending the spell prematurely.
She gave her friends an apologetic look. "I'm sorry. I can't."
Dirt shrugged. He figured that she wouldn't be perfect at her first try, and there was no shame in that. "It's okay. I'm sure you'll learn along the way. In the meantime, just stay close to us." He glanced to the skyscrapers a few miles away. "We should get going, before we lose what's left of our daylight."
"Right," Night Shade agreed. They set off for Tenpony Tower, their goal still fresh in their mind.
Dirt and company trotted through the ruins of Manehattan, each lost in their own thought. Dirt was thinking over the annihilation of Dust. That town had been around for as long as he remembered, and he had been there more times than he could count. Not only that, but Daisy Petal had been heading in that direction. If she - and his gun - were in town when the bomb went off, then his journey was for nothing.
Night noticed his look of worry and placed a hoof on his shoulder. "Are you okay? You look concerned."
"Something dear to me was in Dust. My father's old gun. It was a family heirloom."
She seemed to understand. "I've lost my fair share of things. My Enclave armor is still back in New Appleloosa, under a dumpster." She elaborated: "Sure, I'm a deserter now, but I'd had it for most of my life. Funny. You get attached to the littlest things after a while."
Fizzy was marveling at the skyscrapers, which quite fit their name. "Wow. I've only heard stories about Manehattan from Stable 6. It really is as impressive as they described it."
Dirt felt like telling her that it was hardly any different from the rest of the Equestrian ruins, but he felt that she should at least have this moment to marvel at it. "As long as you're looking around so much, why don't you keep an eye out for trouble?" he asked.
She nodded. "Okay." The filly kept her eyes peeled.
"I think we're getting close," said Dirt. He looked to the building, now visible just half a mile away. Although the distance was short, one would have to account for the massive amount of debris between them and their goal.
Out of the corner of his eye, Dirt spotted something leaned up against the side of a nearby building. He turned his head to get a clearer look. It appeared to be the lifeless corpse of a mercenary, still clutching a laser rifle between its forelegs. "Look," he addressed his companions.
Night Shade grinned at the sight of energy weaponry. "Dibs on the rifle!" She cantered over to the body, eager for her share of the spoils.
Dirt scratched his head in thought. "Wait a second, Night." He hurried after her.
The pegasus ignored his warning, dragging the corpse over so she could get a better grasp at his saddlebags. That's when Dirt saw the live grenade roll out from behind the body.
Time seemed to slow down for a second as Dirt went on autopilot, instinctively kicking out a foreleg at the apple-shaped explosive. The object went soaring over their heads before ultimately detonating in midair. They were showered with debris that bounced harmlessly off their heads.
Dirt wondered if he had ever mentioned how much he fucking hated grenades.
The stallion could feel his heart pounding in his chest. "You idiot!" he shouted at Night. "You nearly got yourself killed!"
"I could have kicked it away," the pegasus argued back. "Stop worrying so much." She claimed her prize, examining it with great interest. "It was worth it, anyway. This rifle is in pristine condition!"
Dirt groaned. "Is that all you can think about? Your precious laser rifle?"
A shot rang out from down the street, ricocheting off of the concrete and embedding itself in the wall of a building. Dirt tensed, looking for cover from the unexpected shooter. He spotted a nearby carriage wreck and pointed it out to his companions. They all got behind it just as the second shot rang out, landing where they had been not a moment ago.
"We're not out of danger yet!" Dirt said, raising his shotguns.
Fizzy covered her eyes, planted firmly behind the carriage to avoid becoming a target. "You think?"
Night aimed down her rifle's sights, trying to spot the attacker. She fired a volley of shots in quick succession, then peered over the side of the carriage to draw the sniper's fire. It did not elude Dirt that this was an efficient military tactic; clearly her time in the Enclave had been worth something.
Another shot sounded, striking the carriage and narrowly avoiding Night's head. She leaned back behind cover. "The shooter's in the building across from us. Center window, first floor."
Dirt nodded, knowing what he needed to do. "You suppress him with your rifle and I'll close in for the kill." He rushed out of cover as soon as Night resumed firing, occasionally ducking behind trash cans and other debris for protection. Then he made his way to the building, shotguns poised to fire.
He kicked the door open, whirling around to face the shooter. But to his surprise, the shooter wasn't a raider.
It was just a colt, no older than Fizzy, holding a weathered cowboy repeater. Dirt was prepared to kill almost anypony to keep his group safe. From ghouls to Steel Rangers to Hellhounds. But he was not prepared to start killing foals.
The colt was midway in raising his gun to Dirt's head when the stallion trotted over and knocked him out with a swipe of his hoof. The boy collapsed in a heap.
"Didn't your momma ever tell you not to play with guns?" Dirt muttered before trotting back out and rejoining Night and Fizzy.