Fallout: Equestria - Joker's Wild

by Shenanigans

First published

50 Years before the events of Fallout Equestria, a monster falls in love with his victim and becomes best of friends with his hunter. Talk of a legendary Raider King brings pariahs from all over the wasteland to the town of Ponyville.

The wasteland is a living hell...but it is a hell of a place to live. There is more to find than you could ever imagine. It is a frontier filled with infinite possibilities. Join Tumbleweed, a swashbuckling tribal merchant of the Gloryroad Company and the mysterious, gun slinging Calypto, as they walk the untamable Interprovincial Road 95, trailblazing the path for new trade routes. All the while, they find themselves irreversibly entangled in the events surrounding powerful magical artifacts that up heave the balance of power within the wasteland.

It’s the end of the world, but things are still kickin’, and it’s happenin’ times for the wasteland.

(Story is labeled for Gore, due to setting, but I'll try to keep it to a minimum when possible, and humorous and entertaining when it does show up. This is an up-beat story, relatively so...)

This story is technically been deemed an Alternate universe that takes established ideas within Kkat's universe and through interpretation does interesting things.

A thank you goes out to Kkat for providing the setting and story of Fallout Equestria. Thanks also goes out to all the companies involved in the Fallout Games (I.E. Black Isle studios, Interplay, Bethesda games, ect).

Chapter 1: Washing Dishes For All Eternity

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Chapter 1: Washing Dishes For All Eternity

Everything is perspective. Could one count their friends and not find an enemy among them? I’d say 'no', but that’s just one earth pony’s take on things. The same could be said of ones enemies. Maybe that was just the “magic" of one's enemies. Locked away in precious safety, one could live long enough to see your beard grow long and white, but would you have any hair on top? A body well preserved, but not exactly lived in... and still, some insist on keeping strictly mint as they starve the soul in fear of being born. One can also die living more than anypony ever did. I have no intentions on dying, but if I had to choose, I’d rather be one of the latter. When some pony talks about “what is good”, you can’t understand them with out asking “to whom” or “for what”. Everything is always changing, transforming, mutating. There was one exception.

But how could that be? The truth is often hard to find beneath the waves of perspective and what concepts we create. Where we fight? Who we fight? How we fight? All those fun things are abound with chaos and belligerent creativity, but those are just symptoms, really. Keep perspective. There is always struggle. It is something so inherent that it commands the universe by its decree. Without fail, without escape, the universe abides.

War. War never changes.

And what a stubborn bastard war is. War wasn’t always so prominent in the pony-lands, but there were always struggles. Great magics were acquired and learned to face off against the forces of evil, and it kept the order. Eventually, tensions became strained for one reason or another with the Zebralands, and we turned our righteous magics against somepony we should have called kin, but rather called ‘brother’.

The time awoke in us evils that we were neither familiar with, nor could control. They found themselves amid games that placed bets on blood and bullet. They learned quickly, one terrifying mistake after another. One didn’t have to be a prophet to see what would happen. The end came pretty much as we had predicted. War visited when the megaspells fell, and the earth burned. They sacrificed their cities, their loves, their lives, even their world to the god of the struggle, and he greedily accepted.

They got good at war... a little too good, some might say.

…But it was not the ‘end of the world’ as some had predicted. As good as old Equestria got, it wasn't good enough.

For the eternal law rang again. The scourge of balefire scoured the lands, but we struggled in accordance with the eternal law. We fought back. We waged a war against extinction, and the cycle continued. War. War never changes. And so we warred…

When the balefire blew away, we rose out of the holes in the ground we dug for ourselves. Vast underground labyrinths built with tons of magic infused steel, called Stables, littered the Equestrian landscape. We were left with the scraps of a world of war. Since then, we've done a lot of remodeling. Violently, sure, but I always liked what we've done with the place. For all the suffering and pain we dug our stupid little pony hooves in, the world struggled back for life and joy and laughter. Not even war could change that. The darkest times in equestrian history would bring forth the greatest of lights. Good and Evil, what ever those were, would battle it out. All the same, there were wasteland roads to dreams or destruction, and ponies willing to find their place in a scarred world with a story to tell.

Sometimes, I could hear the old ghosts wail in their requiem for that fairytale utopia, and my heart goes out to them, for sure, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't find the rhythm catchy. Their tragedy is our comedy, and I can't apologize for that. It wasn't our fault they destroyed everything. This wild wasteland was all I knew, and it was everything I needed, so to all those idiots from beyond the grave: "Thanks for blowing up the world. I mean that." I'd pour them a drink, but let's face it, they've already had enough. Besides, they creeped me out, and if I poured one drink, they might come back to get another. So let me addendum it with this.

"Now, Get the hell out! ~ Love, Tumbleweed"




FALLOUT EQUESTRIA: Joker’s Wild

By SiriusShenanigans
*** *** ***

Caught between scorching earth below and the unfeeling cloud layer above, the wasteland was scalding hot. If the end of the world wasn’t something to be mad about, the heat certainly was. I heard things weren’t always this way, and that weather was once something both obedient and pleasant, but it sure wasn’t that way now. The feather gave up on their role in the natural order a long time ago, and it left the rest of us in the remains of an allegedly beautiful country in a perpetual sauna. I wish I could use the word ‘toasty’, but the weather was as it always had been, humid... and damn how humid it was. It wasn’t always this way either. You could feel the rads sweat out of your body as you walked along. Something about that ambient magical residue trying to tear you apart ever so slowly, made surviving that much more interesting. For some reason, those damn horseflies took an interest in things this side of the capital. Probably not to get a spot in the sun, that’s for sure.

Blood curdling heat aside, it was a damn beautiful day. Sometimes the things that could be the most hellish things in the wastes could be some of the greatest blessings. Sure, half the wastes was trying to kill the other half most of the time, but nopony wanted to go out and kill each other in this kind of heat. It was the kind of heat that made thoroughbred raiders pass on the usual homicidal jaunts and play a nice bone breaking, grenade chucking, gunslinging game of indoor raider ball. The steel rangers were canned away in where ever the hell those bastards hid out in (probably something metal cupboard), because they didn't exactly believe in shorts and the standard attire was already a functional toaster on a mild day. Most of everypony was on their best behavior when the weather sucked... except for the slavers... but fuck the slavers.

I trotted along the broken remnants of the great roads of old. "I-95" they called it. It was going to be my friend and companion for quite a while, although it wasn’t much of a talker. The pavement had been all but obliterated, due to the shifts in the land, the spell impacts, and general lack of maintenance for 150 years. For a little while, I had bunkered down in a ditch to get out of the heat, even the radscorpion there with me seemed to be cool with the idea. It lasted only for a good half hour, but even that was a miracle in its own right. There may have been bribery involved in the form of food, but after a certain amount of time, it didn't matter how many radigator steaks I pushed. The radscorpion decided that, by his authority of being a giant, mutated arachnid, it was time for me to leave.

I trudged along with reinforced horseshoes, and hell of a pack in tow. I had a saddle bag for basic supplies, but the giant wall of metal I hauled over my shoulder on a web of small, but reinforced straps of nylon and steel, was my greatest treasure. It was almost 3 feet tall, and over a foot deep. It was square with reinforced edges and pneumatic pistons running inside and on the hinge side, with solid lock opened by input sequence. It was big enough to fit a pony, albeit not comfortably. It was emblazoned with several insignia. The first was a golden sun with wavy rays. The second symbol was a star with six spiky points, with 5 smaller asterisks surrounding it. The last symbol was a cloud with a red yellow and blue lightning bolt bursting out beneath it. The words, Pandora, were etched on it. It was an old device from the before-times, made to hold the most precious of things, in the most protective of conditions. To me it was an amazing stronghold for everything that was important in the wastes, as safety was a luxury in the wastes, and often wispy like a mirage in these stormy times. I had a visor cap for the shade, but without direct sunlight, it only intensified the screaming heat in the air, so I jettisoned the hat along the road, keeping the goggles just in case. I pressed my bandanna to my neck to soak up the strains of sweat accumulating there. It was a lonely road on a day like today, but lonely roads are roads that seldom shoot you dead, and that was good enough for me. I almost didn’t travel, but I felt the weirdest sensation of challenge by the day. A hoof full of ponies calling me crazy for breaking camp in the deadliest of heat was the kind of reverse psychology that gave me the gung ho spirit to tear through my own personal inhibitions and make a voyage. Fuck the weather! I had places to be.

Just on the side of the highway, I found the remains of an old park and ride. It was a real boneyard of wagons. Technology abandoned by its owners and left out to rot and rust as the world ended, but just beyond it were the rickety walls of what looked like an old diner, or even a bar. I checked my instructions, lovingly written out by my gracious boss, just to be sure, but I figured this little detour would be fine.

Tumbleweed,

The objective is to secure new trade routes along I-95. There are countless more ponies out there, and if we can find them, we can bring the world closer together. Living in Post-Apocalyptia is rough, but we can make it better, and it all starts with the roads. The trailblazer before you hasn’t responded back, and we think something happened to him, so be on your guard. We've heard of some rather powerful groups coming out of that region. There is an empire of "protectors" who have been forming their own rule of law, although the word on the trail is that they have their eyes on the wastes. It seems New Reino has interests in the towns on the road, but try not to get their attention. Supposedly there is a rather prosperous stable around those parts. Apparently there are claims of, and I quote, "Giant, screaming goat monsters with gigantic horns" that have organized into some kind of kingdom. I know you are a tough pony, you have a way of doing things that surprises me often, it is probably one of the reason’s I trust you with this job, but you are no use to anypony dead. Be careful. Raider activity has been on the rise, and they seem to be gathering for something. Please, Tumbleweed, I know what you went through, but please don't get involved if it is what they say. Stick to the roads unless it’s of the utmost importance. Check in over the usual frequency every two days. You are your own back-up, so try not to mess this up. Remember, if its bigger than you, don't throw rocks at it, if they out number you, don't insult them to their faces, if you have something explosive, don't. I know that list doesn't cover the extent of your creative antics, but try to use your head. You are the representative of ‘Glory Road’. Don’t do anything that would make us look bad. We can’t send another one after you, so be careful, and for the love of Celestia, don’t get into trouble.

DD

The ghostly skeleton of the old diner was hardily off the side of the road, and it stared at me beckoning. Shelter was in order and ‘trouble’ was something the wasteland never gave me, ever. It was positively foreign. I hardly counted it as deviating from the course. All the same, a strange whurrr-ing noise was drawing me in.

For a place 150 years old, the inside was surprisingly clean. The place had been tended to with love. I was right on the call, saying that it was a bar. Most signs of debris had been swept away and there was no build up of cobwebs or anything of the sort. The windows had been washed, but only on the insides, giving a perfect view of a century’s worth of grim and mold. That being said, a rather large arachnid like creation hovered over the bar, with an assortment of tools at the end of each of its long metallic legs. The most prominent of these being the power buffer it was using to polish the bar. It was buffering along and humming a tune when I stepped through the threshold and into the bar. The power buffer got too close to one of the beer bottles on display, launching the bottle right past my head, shattering against the wall behind me.

“Oh shoot!” The mechanical Mr.Hoovsy said. Unlike other robotic familiars, the Mr.Hoovsy lacked the usual tinny voice and had a fully operational voice function. It was almost like talking to a ghost of the before-times. “Sorry about that. Can’t tell you how embarrassing that is. I’ll have Fernando get that.” His mechanical spideryness hovered around the corner and hollered into the back rooms. “Fernando, pull up your boot-straps, my boy! One of the patrons broke a glass out front, get on it. Chip chop!” Out of curiosity I poked my head around the corner, only to see another Mr.Hoovsy lying nonoperational in the sink, with a tremendous pile of plates and glasses littering the counter.

“It’s so hard to get good help around here." The machine stared off with an iron melancholy. It turned back to me, snatching a glass between a pair of clamps and started cleaning it with a rag. "Anyway, have seat, you look like you’ve been on quite the journey. It is PROBE ERROR degrees outside. ” The Mr.Hoovsy said.

“I’m just a pony with a love for the road.” I replied, taking ‘Probe error’ to be his way of saying ‘hot as hell’. I walked in, albeit hesitantly, carefully observing the area, scanning for potential threats. I slinked across the relatively well-shined floors, taking a seat at the counter the Hoovsy was polishing at. I had to admit, the robot had charisma for being an ancient pile of scrap. I didn’t notice the pony skeleton in the seat next to me until my butt was firmly planted on the barstool and I was eyeing up the bar selection. I jumped when it popped into my peripheral vision, and I almost punched its lights out.

“Oh don’t mind Mr. Hayseed. He is one of our regulars. He really loves the place.” The robot pontificated off. “I can’t seem to get him to leave.”

The robot leaned in and raised a saw to his audio speaker, pretending to whisper, despite having no change in volume to speak of, and in response I leaned back, not being familiar with robots trying to say things on the down low. “He still has yet to pay his tab. I keep suggesting that he can always wash the dishes, but quite frankly… I think he is giving me the cold shoulder.”

It was pretty rude for a guy, considering, but still, something about the dead being unable to pay their debts felt wrong to me. “So, what’s this guy's tab look like anyway?” I asked, poking at the guy’s skull.

“For the whiskey and cola…” Alright, that should be nothing, I got this. “… compounded over 7816.2832 weeks,” Wait, what? “The total comes to about 48134 bits. Though, I might be .014 percent off with my calculations, forgive me. It’s been a long time since I have crunched numbers so exhilaratingly.”

I snorted. “huh... well that's interesting.”

The number made me almost throw up, but I caught myself. Sorry, Hayseed. That was a level of money way beyond my capacity. Sadly, I’d have to leave Hayseed hanging, but sometimes that was just the way things were. The wasteland was nothing if not ironic.

I shot a glance around the place and, taking a leap of faith in the undying spirit of earth pony built, technological contraptions, I decided to put a little trust in that living metal.

“Y’know what? Forget it. Can I get a drink?” I said as I tapped on the bar.

“Sure. What can I get you?” it asked.

“Can I get a ‘Holy Toledo’?” I asked.

He beeped and buzzed at me.

“I guess that means you don’t do wasteland drinks…”

“Afraid not, but I can get you something else.”

“I’ll have rum and sparkle.”

“Right away!” it said enthusiastically. It then pulled out a rum bottle, clamped two tongs on the top of the bottle and then rotated the mechanical hand around until it came loose… or at least until it skipped on the grooves of the cap a few times. It took out a chilled bottle of Sparkle Cola, which was more than I was expecting to be honest (these places could be a real gamble when they don’t realize their product has passed the point of no return), but then started revving its power saw… I tried to stop it, but it hacked off almost half the bottle, sending glass and fizz everywhere. It was certainly a reminder as to how terrifying prewar technology could be given a century and a half of haywire. All the same, he poured my drink.

“So, what bring you out here on the lovely 95 this day? Have you heard the news? I hear there is a war going on!” The robot bartender said to me.

“Really? A war? Couldn’t tell!” I laughed as I slammed a hoof on the bar, sipping my drink. “I’ve been trailblazing new caravan paths through the wastes. I am sort of batting clean up, looking for a guy who came before me. Have you seen any guys pass through here, wearing a similar outfit to my own… went by the name of ‘Victory’?” I asked.

The Mr.Hoovsy raised a tong to a groove in its carapace just above where the sensor ‘eye’ protruded from, as if to scratch its temple. “I can not say that I have seen him. Dreadfully Sorry! Oh, but I do get lots of stories from vagrants from time to time.”

I raised a cocky eyebrow. “Like actually useful information, or do mean like ghost stories?”

“Both, if you’re interested.”

I chuckled at the notion of a robot’s concept of ghost stories. “Ghost stories? You mean like the headless horse?”

“Oh, yes. Terrifyingly dreadful they are. I hear the land is positively popping with spirits left unfulfilled!” The robot spun his digits around as he spoke. I couldn’t tell if he was trying to set atmosphere or if the crazy Robronco Corporation had programmed them to have fear. I took swig of my drink leaned inward.

“Are you scared of ghosts?” I baited.

“Well, aren’t we all? They send shivers up my circuits!”

I smiled. “What would you do if ‘The Headless Horse’ came in here, right now?” I couldn’t help leaning in like predatory as I asked. .

“I’d serve him a drink of course!” He responded triumphantly.

At the end of the day, I guess you can’t change the programming you were given. To be honest, I envied the robots quickness answer. It was a difficult challenge facing your fears, and I wish it went smoothly like that every time I did. I guess I couldn't blame him for wanting to serve spirits to spirits. The backwards robot made me laugh. “If you ask me to pick my poison, I’ll pick the monsters that I know are real. What information have you heard about the area?”

“Well, I’ve heard the local police force has been incorporating some rather unorthodox maxims in recent years. I have to wonder what the royal princesses are thinking allowing them to do such things. If I were princess--”

“I get it. The war has made some big changes. What else you heard?” I cut him off. The stories of the ‘before times’ have interesting bits; however, I was hoping to find out more about the region.

“Well what do you want to hear about then? Poniesburg apparently has a new restaurant that has been selling a wonderful new cuisine that is ‘to die for’. The locals have been struggling with an influx of immigrant goat populations in a big way. I hear the Saddleton Thunder-hooves have been having an amazing season. There seem to be a lot more hoof-ball teams running about, and they sometimes seem like a bunch of reckless mobs of ruffians. There is something about a triple crown I've hear musings about, and it seems like ponies are ready to bite each other's heads off just to win it. If you'd like to hear the horoscopes, I hear they are just dreadful these days.”

I sighed. Nothing but old stories it seemed. I was about to humor myself, but then the doors swung open, accompanied by the jingle of the bell by the door, and the jangle of spurs. I turned a gnarly face and shot a look of befuddlement out at the traveler. I was hoping to get a look at what my own brand of crazy looked like, but his face was shaded by a wide brimmed hat.

The fellow with a wide brimmed hat and an eccentric poncho carried himself in. The poncho was mostly dark blues and purples, but had spots of whites, reds, greens, and yellows. It didn’t look like anything I was used to seeing. It was vibrant with various crests and symbols, most prominently with studs at various points where the lines met. His hat had several bottle caps affixed to the bond of the hat and the entire thing was made of metal. He had two revolvers strapped to the collar of the poncho facing outward. They were a weird sight to see… they didn’t have a speck of rust to them. He had bones and feathers hanging from his ears, and a necklace of rusted bolts and mechanical trinkets. Every step this fella took clanged with the metal sound of those spurs attached. The powerful aura he exuded demanded my attention. I could feel a force to his presence, one that tried to stomp out the energy of those around him. It was the kind of force I was familiar with, but certainly not willing to take lightly. He had a wandering lightning to the way he carried himself. The wasteland had a way of meddling with a pony’s soul, either breaking them into something submissive and empty, or tempering them into something brilliant. This stranger had the air of the latter.

“Well look at that! And I was just beginning to think the entire wasteland up and left without me.” The pony grinned... or should I say, the zebra grinned, as I got a better look at him. I couldn’t see his face, but I could tell he was sweating seas in that poncho. “The weather is too... damn... hot!” He said emphasizing each word.

“Hell yeah it is!” I added back.

I turned motioned him over, and he gladly took a seat. I wanted a better look at the guy, and if he was going to start something fun, I wanted him in my range.

“Well met, traveler! Can I get you something to drink?!” The robot chimed in. With the zebra’s attention diverted, my naïve-side took to the helm and I ducked my head down to get a better look at the zebra’s face, just to make sure he had one. There were questions that needed to be answered, mysteries that needed to be solved! Did he have a face? Was it a face in need of a hoof? They were pressing questions.

He was exceptionally talented in keeping the brim of his hat over his eyes. I was a little disappointed to be honest. I was hoping he could have been the headless horse. He had really strong eyebrows and a couple of scars across his stripes. He caught me gawking at him. I was forced to dodge because I could tell he was getting ready to spit in my face. I got the feeling this was something he had experience dealing with.

“You know anything about respect?" He said clapping a hoof onto the counter. "Here is a good rule I happen to like." He said leaning in with a smile. "Be rude to me, and I’ll be rude to you... but don’t let that stop you, every moment of rudeness that is fair and square is worth more than gold to me.” He tilted his hat up, opening a channel for him to impose a powerful stare. I swished my drink around as I fished for the words.

“That is by far, the most conceited, arrogant, and sensible pile of Brahmin shit I have heard come out of anypony’s mouth other than my own in a long, long, time.”

The stranger gave me an appraising glance. “Well played. You’re one of those tricky ponies aren’t you.”


Before I could respond, the bartending robot chimed in with an insistent beep at the zebra stranger, asking for his drink. I sighed and braced my head up with my hoof against the bar.

“Yeah, I think I’ll have a Holy Toledo.” He said, stretching a hoof forward and then riding his spur back. The shock and surprise welling in me was crawled all over my face as I gawked at him. After a moment, he turned to me, hat brim down. “Something wrong with you’re face, strawpony?” Only when his hat was staring me dead in my face, did I notice that he had slits cut in the brim lined with mesh. He was a treacherous soul, I could feel, but to me, it didn’t matter because he spoke magic words.

“There once was a clever dog…” I sputtered like I was in a trance, and he smiled.

“His name was ‘Holy Toledo’ and everypony thought he was best…” he responded.

“One day, a bunch of mole ponies attacked the village…” I continued.

“So, he came up with the cleverest of clever plans to defeat the mole ponies.” He said, and then sweeping his hooves out and nodding, he added, “The end.”

“Mr.Hoovsy, I’d like to… neigh, I am going to buy this magnificent bastard a drink!” I yelled slamming my hooves against the bar.

“You know, when I think about it, it really is a juvenile story.” The zebra said.

"It's so bad it makes my ears bleed."

"Ha! Doesn't it?"

“Absolutely! It’s a terrible story, but it’s an amazing drink!” I nodded in agreement. “I’m just excited to know there are other ponies who know about the same crazy drinks that I do!” I added.

“Sorry to be the nagging nanny in this celebration, but I already told you, I am not programmed to make ‘Holy Toledos’.” The robot reminded us. I was so excited I had completely forgotten about that.

“Command Prompt Colon operations slash Delta 0139” the zebra spouted out. I thought he was crazy until I saw the Mr. Hoovsy relax, its mechanical arms retiring to its sides.

“Coffee Percolator settings: Adjust brewing time? Adjust temperature?”

Well, that was interesting. “For a second there, I thought that was going to be useful.” I jested.

“Shut up, I just made a small error.” The zebra rested his head on his hooves, in a moment of deep zebra meditation, or something like that. “ Default, Reset. Command Prompt Colon Operations Slash delta 0834…”

“Air Conditioning Failsafe control: Adjust Temperature?” It spoke back to the Zebra in a computerized voice.

“It really wants you to adjust the temperature.” I bugged the zebra.

“Shut the hell up. One of these things allows for you to change the stored recipes.” The zebra took a long sigh. “Default. Reset. Command Prompt Colon Operations Slash…”

“Omega Alpha Zero Zero Zero!” I butted in, bursting with reckless enthusiasm.

Before the Zebra could slap a hoof at my face, the robot’s eye started flashing a bright red light and a gem which was probably the brain of the thing pushed out of the top of the robot. “ Reconfirm Self Destruct Sequence?”

“Negative. Abort Action! Abort Action!” The zebra stammered out trying to quell the flashing lights and sounds, coming out the tin can. I could hardly contain laughter at the situation.

“Maybe, just maybe, we should stop playing with the coffee machine, before we break it again?” I joked.

The zebra grumbled at this. “I was close... I was this close…”

“To what? …To getting us blown up, in the middle of Wasteland No-Where? How about we order something we can actually get?”

“Funny you should blame me for something you did.”

“Sorry about all the fuss, my programs are rather rambunctious if you ask me.” The robot pontificated. “What will you have?”

The Zebra rolled a stirrup across the table. “I’ll just have rum, then.”

“Well, anyway, do you have a name?”

“Yeah, I got one. Tell me yours, and I might just tell you what it is.” The zebra said. He was being protective, but I was a haggling pony.

“Hey, come on I asked first. Pony up.”

“Think of it as a trust thing. There is a lot of purpose in a name… at least for you ponies anyway. You always have names like ‘Sunny Faceplant’, like it is your destiny to spend your entire life happily slamming your face in the ground. It’s rather helpful sometimes… For when you want to know who you are getting involved with.” He spoke smoothly from behind his hat. Pony naming conventions were a weird tradition to be sure, but I think that trust might have been the exact reason it existed in the first place.

“Why yes, my name is ‘Sunny Faceplant’!” I cut in.

He growled at me.

“Fine, my name is ‘Tumbleweed’.”

“They should really call you ‘Wiseass’.”

“Hey, I told you my name, so time to make good on your end.”

“The name is ‘Calypto’.”

It was an ominous name to be sure, and the confidence he had while saying it gave me shivers. “Wait a second, your not one of those crazy baby eating legion guys are you?”

At the question, Calypto stood a hoof up on the table and pushed up his hat, revealing a sinister grin and violet eyes. “What if I was?” He challenged.

A smile crept its way across my face. I cracked my neck, and put a hoof on the table and looked him in the eyes. “Then I’d be three for three in insulting a legion bastard to his face.” We stood there for a moment, staring daggers into each others souls. I was getting ready to knock the gun out of his mouth if he tried pulling it. The ball was in my court, I was sure, but this zebra had a menacing aura to be sure.

Calypto burst into laughter. He stepped down and spun a spur across the table. “Ha, you are really something, Tumbleweed. You thought I was serious! Rest assured, though the tension got rather hot, of the many things I am, a legionnaire, I am not.”

I collapsed in on the bar. I knew I had to be ready to defend myself at the tip of hat, but it was certainly exhausting. I really wanted to lay a solid punch in his white and black face. I wasn’t sure he had a good face for punching, but his personality was made for it. “Don’t do that, I’ve had more than enough close encounters. So, if you aren’t a legionnaire, what do you do?”

“What do I do? Hmm, What do you do?”

“Hey, we already played this game! I told you my name first, let’s keep this fair. Wasn’t that your rule? I want to know you’re not playing with me again. How do I know you’re not a legionnaire? It’s a trust thing.”

Calypto grumbled at this. “I am a hunter of justice.”

Really? A hunter of justice? Sounded like some sort of Legionnaire job, but then again, I didn’t know all too much about the legions business. I knew that I liked making fun of their stupid looking hats and calling them a bunch of no good, shit-eating, flank sucking, slaver bastards.

“So, do they issue licenses for that? Is that like some kind of bounty hunter job?” He scoffed when I mentioned ‘bounty hunter’.

“You could say that I am similar to them, but the difference is I don’t think you put a price on what is right.” Calypto spoke.

I hadn’t met a lot of hero types who didn’t refer to themselves as heroes or saviors. It was a nice touch. I was also used to them being ten types derogatory to bounty hunters. It was an interesting scenario to be sure.

“So what are you, then? Professional tumbling weed? dead beat? faceplanter? Ball of dirt?” Calypto leaned in, brandishing a crocodile grin.

“No, I’m a caravaner.” I said sipping my drink.

“Oh, that makes sense. My people have a word for your type. I believe it was… Scoundrel!” Calypto happily harped. He jingled his spurs against the bar like a drum.

“Watch it, or I’ll make you pick up your own teeth.” I barked out, furrowing my brow.

“Sorry, it’s an old joke, and I can’t help my humor. Kekeke.” Calypto apologized.

I looked away at the Mr.Hoovsy. “Hey, barkeep, can I get another refill.”

“Certainly!” The spider robot spoke, then realizing the sparkle coke was out, and the rum was gone, he hovered off to the freezer behind him. It was heavily frosted over. So much so, that I couldn’t see a single bottle in there. The Mr.Hoovsy didn’t seem to mind as he sprayed the freezer down with a flame thrower. Something was definitely wrong with those prewar engineers.

“You say you are a caravanner, but I am used to seeing them with more of a…y’know, caravan. A Brahmin or two, maybe a guard. What’s your deal?”

I pulled up to the bar the 3x1.5 foot metal case I had layed down beside the stool. I tapped in the 8 digit combination. Some interior gears shifted as pistons on the sides pushed open the door. A curtain of cool air pushed out from inside the container.

“Barkeep, two plates please.” I was excited to show off my fanciest toy, but it appeared Calypto was sharing the feeling.

“You carry a giant metal fridge?”

“Food and water is precious. And while most of what I carry is food, I sometimes carry gems, other things in here as well. It’s an excellent container. It’s neigh indestructible. And while it’s not the lightest thing in the world, there are some talismans built into it to make it lighter. So tell me, are you a traditionalist, or are you a zebra with a wider pallet?”

“If you’re asking me if I eat meat. I am a vegetarian. Like any self-respecting normal equine.”

“Fine by me.” I pulled out a breaded delight and put it on Calypto’s plate. He looked at it with absolute bewilderment.

“It’s a hayburger. Its a recipe that calls for ingredients that are a little bit more fresh than some of the things that have been lying around for the last century.”

“This is food?” Calypto poked the burger.

“I promise you that it is food.” He began eating, but I stopped him. “It needs to be heated first.” I looked around at the Mr.Hoovsy. “Hey, do they have one of those… uhhh, the … what do you call them… um… electrowaves! Wait, no, microwaves! Yeah, that’s what they are called. Do you have a microwave?”

“Sorry, I can not say that we do. The boss’s son kept trying to stuff the family cat inside of it.”

Foiled! Foiled by the children of a previous generation. “It seems your high tech food is defective.” Calypto squawked.

“It’s not defective.” I jabbed in. I caught him about to eat the burger again. “Don’t eat it cold. It won’t do it justice. You’re a justice kind of guy, right?” Calypto grumbled at this, but I handed him some fried alfalfa with seasoned bell peppers and onions, which he seemed to like. I closed my fridge and put it back under the bar.

“Anyway, I deal in food on the side. My primary job is as a trailblazer.” I spoke proudly. Calypto, stuffing his face with alfalfa, raised an eyebrow at me. “I travel to towns to establish trade routes, find out where dangerous things are, scope out detours to get around said threats, and help keep the roads clear.”

“Sounds like a lot of work, just to make a buck, buck.” He quipped.

“Really, it’s not the most profit oriented venture, but it is an investment. We’re putting our stakes on the growth of civilization. Living ponies are good for business.”

“Sounds like an interesting gig.”

That was when I noticed the old radio on the far side of the bar. “Hey, Arachnoid!” The Mr.Hoovsy didn’t respond. “Barkeep!” That got his attention. “Mind if we turn on the radio.”

“Not at all, that is what it is there for… after all.” The robot said.

The two of us slid over to the end of the row, huddling around the ancient little box. After a little tinkering, the circuits and lights came to life with the buzz buzz buzzing of static.

“What’s that, wasteland? You say it’s not over yet? It’s not the end of the world? Even after all these bombs? Damn straight it’s not the end, and we bringing it all across the airwaves, singin’ it out. This is DJ-Pon3, bringing it…”

Calypto winced at the voice. “Not my taste in music.” He said before turning the knobs. I thought it was strange, seeing as the two didn’t seem far cut from the same tree, at least in my eyes.

“What gives? Not hip enough to that zebra music?” He gave me a shrug,

“I don’t like listening to liars.” Zebra’s and their poetic devices aside, I got the idea that he had some kind of bone to pick with radio host.

“bzzzt…crrrrrr…gaaah….ell, Rodeo, I just think the ponies are just incredibly JEALOUS of the PERFECT SOCIETY we have built here with our own GIGANTIC hooves in the soaring heights of Broquestria!...” A masculine voice yelled various degrees of loud. We only hovered on the station for a moment, but I found myself totally entranced with what ever the hell the yelling voice was talking about. I tried to make a note as to what frequency it was on, but Calypto egged me on to keep going
.

“... --- ... .-.-.- / ... . -. -.. /” It was frustrating that the rest of the wasteland seemed to be better at morse code than I ever was. I could never deal with anything without a cheat sheet in front of me.

“Come on everypony, smile , smile, smile!...”

I was about to settle on the old ministry of morale radio station, when Calypto, switched it back to the morse code.

“... --- ... .-.-.- / ... . -. -.. / .... . .-.. .--. / - --- / --... -.... .-.-.- ....- ..--- .-.-.- ..--- .---- / .--. --- -. -.-- ...- .. .-.. .-.. . .-.-.- / .. .----. -- / - .-. .- .--. .--. . -.. / .- -. -.. / - .... . .-. . / .- .-. . / .-. .- .. -.. . .-. ... / .--. .-.. .- -. -. .. -. --. / ... --- -- . - .... .. -. --. .-.-.- / .. / -.. --- -. .----. - / -.- -. --- .-- / .... --- .-- / .-.. --- -. --. / .. / -.-. .- -. / .--. .-.. .- -.-- / -.. . .- -.. .-.-.-/”

“What gives, Calypto?” I prodded, but he was lost in concentration. I couldn’t believe my eyes. This guy was translating morse code on the fly. He probably had a cheat sheet under his hat or something! That bastard…

“It’s close. Also, they misuse S.O.S...”

“What is?” I asked, my ears sinking. I caught one of those rare glimpses of Calypto’s face, and it was lit ablaze with ambitions.

“It’s a distress signal.”

“Brahminshit!” I called out. “Seriously, it needs to be about 20% cooler out there if anypony is going to be killing anypony else.” I had a good sense about these things, or at least I felt I did. When you can think like ‘crazy’ they don’t seem crazy, and this was ‘crazy’ for crazy.

“How can you tell?” I asked.

“How can I tell what?”

“That it’s close?”

“I’ve been mapping area out. The location is one of the old locations pre built into the database I’m using.”

As far as maps were concerned, I had a scrape on the inside of my right hind leg that kind of looked like the general area. I have a rash where Canterlot was, a big ol’ scab for junk town, a little scar for I-95, and a bunch of nicks here and there that were other established settlements. It was a little bit weird, but it worked.

“I’m headed out. I’ll pay for my own drink.” My striped drinking buddy said. I almost felt insulted that he wouldn’t accept my offer to pay, but there were some souls out there with so much pride they couldn’t accept those types of things. It was something I understood, but couldn’t reciprocate.

“Your tab comes to 12 bits total.”

The zebra emptied 11 bottle caps onto the table before leaning in and spitting the last one onto the table. He turned to me and said “Morse is the language of the wastes. It might behoove you to learn how to read it.” Then, the stormed out. He was gone so fast I couldn’t tell him how stupid he was.

It was an old pre-war machine, and it wanted pre-war money.

“Well, never in all of my years…” The bartending robot complained. “I just finished waxing the counters, and he even goes so far as to run on the tab.”

“You’ll have to forgive the guy. I’ll pick up the slack. No worries, Barkeep.”

“Thank you, you are a generous soul.”

“Hardly.” I told the robot.
********************************************************************

Some time passed, and I continued to enjoy a few drinks. Who did he think he was? Strutting off, thinking he was sprite, just because he knows morse code like the back of his hoof. ‘I’m not illiterate,’ I thought to myself. There is more to wastelanding than knowing the language of the blips and bloops. He had to have a cheat sheet. I just knew it. Damn him! I knew he had a good punching face, and I should have made use of it. I sighed. Still, he was being the better pony than me. He was gonna play hero, and I was stuck with my leash and a mini-fridge…

I knew without even looking down road, from horror stories and the wasteland tendencies, that I could have used a hired gun like him.

Having been left without a drinking buddy, I turned to the radio for company. I was on my way to trying to find the silly radio station with all yelling when I stopped back on the DJ-Pon3 wasteland radio.

“… I want to talk to you about something breaks my little pony heart. There are some crude individuals who have been taking over the airwaves, just like yours truly. They have been broadcasting distress signals, as a means of luring in ponies. And those that wander in to the devious trap have not been heard from since. So, remember, you can hear all those screams, but they just in your head. Don’t go trying save no pony if you can’t save yourself.”

What I heard made perfect sense. Attacking ponies? In this weather? Raiders have some interesting logic, but nine tenths of what you have to be a raider is knowing when and when not to raid. When the weather is nasty out, but you still have that craving, what do you do? You order out. It was a crazy idea, but it made sense to me. It would be the type of thing that I would do. It looked like my drinking buddy was heading straight into a trap. I thought on it for a spell while nursing my drink. Odds were always against in this type of thing, and I wasn’t a pony for feeding the house. I wondered what would happen to that zebra. Death was something that came by suddenly and often in the wastes, but it was certainly weird knowing that the fellow who sat across from me was doomed to die today. It was a frustrating feeling if you let it get to you, but investment, in feelings or in caps, was a choice. I sat on the line of indecision for moment. If he died, it would be a stretch to say that I chose for his death. Even so, death was not a stranger, and guilt could be forgotten. It was something that helped. The wasteland was not something I saw as cruel, it was merely unfeeling. Sometimes, it paid to be like the wasteland.

I was going to sit around while a good pony died, and the thought that all that remained in the world were indecisive business ponies like me and the raiders left me with a bitter taste in my mouth. I gritted my teeth and took a hoof to the radio dials, sailing the air waves to try and help.

Unwittingly, I stumbled upon the bleeping of the morse message from before, but the biggest problem still remained, morse code meant nothing to me but annoying blips and bleeps. Unwittingly, I had let my head make the slightest of ambitions that would lead me toward unwanted despair. That stranger had quite an aura about him, and it resonated well with my own. When you see somepony being strong, you can’t help but want to be strong as well. Even with the will to offer a hoof, I had no clue where to travel. Even if I did go, It had been some time since he set out. The logic of my head told me that by the time I got there, he might already be dead, but that pony didn’t feel like the usual wastelander. Something was telling me that he just might be the kind to survive and surpass that kind of obstacle. It was a naïve thought, but since ancient times, there have always been heroic figures that have done amazing things. Those feelings struck a chord that had been long passed down through generation in the collective soul of Equestria. In so many words, I had a nerdy little hunch that wanted to spit in the face of 28 years of survival.

“That broad cast is rather incessant. It just keeps going on about …---… this and save me that.”

I turned to the Mr.hoovsy, mouth agape. “Do you understand what it is saying?”

“Well of course. It’s one of seventy four scripting languages I am programmed to understand.”

“Do you know where the location it is talking about is?”

“Oh, ponyville? It is just east of here.”

I wanted to give that giant metal relic the biggest hug, but he would probably percolate me or something. The pieces were coming together.

Just as I was beginning to enjoy the idea of getting out, that bothersome little edict from my so called ‘boss’ came to mind.

And for the love of Celestia, don’t get into trouble…

I sat and pondered my values, because I owed her, and this job was probably the best thing I had going for me in a long time.

“Hey, Barkeep. I want to know what you think on something.”

“As a bartender, I am programmed for advice and counseling!”

“Marvelous!” I grinned as I swayed over my third drink. “If a guy wanted to single hoofedly take out an entire raider encampment, in stupid hot weather, with nothing but a riot shield shaped like a refrigerator, that wouldn’t be troublesome, right?”

The robot blipped and beeped for a second. Just as I was getting comfortable with the silence, he blurted out, “You have certainly had a few. That sounds dreadfully troublesome. I think I am cutting you off, buddy boy.”

“Damn it, it would be troublesome wouldn’t it, and I was told to steer clear of that.” I said, slouching as I waved my whipped tail. The alcohol was probably getting to me. Still, I didn’t want to drink to the passing of a good pony just because of a stupid maxim. I was a pony of integrity these days. I couldn’t go against the rules, or else they wouldn’t mean anything. Rules, rules, rules… I truly hated ‘em, but I hated me without them probably more. “Does this count as being something important?”

“My algorithms inform me that it is hasty to risk ones life for some pony you only just met.”

I cracked my tail like a whip in frustration. “But I want to do it anyway!” Still, robot logic was a lot less biased than my own, and part of me wanted to respect that. Unfortunately, that would leave me in a bar with my own sorrows. Emotions were a trap, and I already walked this far into them. It was then that something hit me…

“Hey, he said he would pay for his own drink, right?”

“That is correct, approximately 37 minutes and 23 seconds ago the zebra patron asserted he would in fact pay for his own drink.” The robot told me.

“Well, he didn’t pay it. Did he?”

“No, he didn’t,” the robot said. Then, his one eye turned from the soft yellowish white glow to a violent red. “the bastard.” His eye promptly returned to its usual color. “And you agreed to pick up the tab.” The Mr.Hoovsy said.

“Yeah, I did, didn’t I!” I exclaimed triumphantly.

The spider contraption’s eye turned red again. “And you aren’t thinking about stepping out on the tab are you?”

“Of course not, old pal. I wouldn’t dream of it.” I smiled and shook my tail back and forth. “I am going to pay both our debts in full.” I stomped a hoof to open my side bag’s pouch, and bucked one of many old mintal tins up out of the bag and into my hooves. I popped the tin open and counted out 39 bits worth of the old currency.

“That bastard now owes me money!” I said slamming the bits on the counter and cracking my whipped tail again. Hwachi-iin! The Mr.Hoovsy looked at me with a mechanical confusion.

“If my memory is to recall, did you not say you would pay for Mr.Calypto’s drink even before he said he would pay for his own? My circuitry has a maxim override for cases like this where misunderstanding are quite common.”

Of course the robot would have overrides for those kinds of misunderstandings, but not for any of the other crazy oversights those brain dead earth ponies I am descended from failed to account for. “Yeah, well, he shouldn’t have said that he was going to pay for his own drink then!” I yelled back in a drunken fit. My golden coat must have been taking on a rather reddish hue in face by now.

“My advice matrix is still reading indecisive on this matter.”

“It still stands that I am down 12 bits due to this guy. Keeping an eye on your debtors is important, am I right?”

“Times are tough! After all, it is a war time! You should let ponies pay at there own pace.” Mr.Hoovsy said.

Damn it, I forgot all about this guy’s debt collecting policy. A bunch of bones sitting next to me and I still can’t remember the relevant details. He could be here for all of eternity and it wouldn’t matter. He doesn’t care because he has him right in his sensors all the time. Sometimes guilt felt like debt, and I had enough times where it had driven me mad in the past. Nopony lives forever, so with the undeniable value of the now, a business pony could feel an infinite guilt when faced with an unpayable debt…

Then, something hit me like a some kind of wicked revelation. In that moment, I found the language that would lead me to my victory. I licked my lips and gritted my teeth in a bastardly grin as I whisked my tail at a leisurely pace.

I reached over and took the skull of lazy old Hayseed and tucked it under my forehoof.

“You know what? I think you are onto something! I should definitely let him pay his debt at his own pace. In the mean time, I am going to go on a little stroll with our friend Mr. Hayseed.” I said to the Mr.Hoovsy as it was washing a glass I had finished using just a while ago. In a flash, his eye turned to that dark blood red again as its clamps shattered the glass, flinging shards everywhere.

“Mr.Hayseed is not going anywhere!!” The robot boomed at me, his sawblade whirring violently.

“Why is that? Didn’t you say he should pay at his own rate?”

The click and clack of clamps chomping down rang out of the countertops. Mr.Hoovsy beeped a few times. “He cannot leave until he has paid. I do not know that he will ever pay this restaurant back unless he is firmly in my sensors. This is a fine establishment and I will not have its record soiled.”

“Oh that would be terrible wouldn’t it? Hey, thinking back to my conundrum, how the hell am I supposed to collect the debt that tacky poncho wearing stripe-skin owes from me if I never see him again?”

“That is a conundrum indeed, but it is only over 12 bits.” The robot reminded me, with its eyes going yellow for a moment…a moment that was surely not going to last long.

“Ah, yes, but interest is a searing hot horse shoe up the rear. I might never see him again, and in forever’s time, that pony will owe me infinite bits. If he owed a million bits, it would be extremely important for me to chase this pony down wouldn’t it?”

“Damn straight it would be, Mr.Tumbleweed!” The angry spider said as its saw blade began cutting directly into the bar with one arm, and wiping down the accumulating sawdust with another.

“I knew you would understand, you are an incredibly smart business pony. So what do we do with bandits that owe us millions of bits?”

“WE MAKE THEM WASH THE DISHES!” The robot thundered with an authoritative voice as flames began to spew from the flamethrower arm.

I had my victory, but I wanted to be sure. I smiled and put down the skull of the unfortunate Mr.Hayseed. “So, what is that advice matrix telling you now? What should I do?” My tail sliced the air with a satisfying crack.

“Chase that fucker down! Tar feathers to his stripes and make him wash the dishes!” The mechanical spider roared.

Zing! I felt like a champion. It felt heroic. It was a feeling I had long missed. I could let go with no reservations. A terrifying excitement rushed over me. Not only was I not breaking the rules, I had the backing of an ancient robot, and by proxy the ancient legacy of my ancestral people.


Really, it was no trouble at all.

Still, things were getting toasty in the bar. The roof caught fire first, and bit by bit the temperature was rising. Bottles in the wine racks started bursting due to the heat, and the dripping alcohol had caught fire, quickly turning the bar into a roaring inferno. It was really too hot to deal with. I pocketed my tin and picked up my trusty aegis and lugged it over my shoulder.

“You can’t leave. I am authorized to halt any intoxicated individuals who may be a danger to society. Mr.Tumbleweed, I am going to have to ask for the keys to your wagon.” The robot said to me, its voice flickering as got caught in the growing flames.

“I ain’t got no keys! But it’s no worries, Barkeep. I’m walking!”

And with that I made my way from one blazing hot kitchen to another, as I stepped outside. I was playing debt collector to a bandit playing hero, because one million bits isn’t anything to scoff at. If I saved his life, he would have to agree to help me out on this journey. I took a moment to change the icepacks under my barding. Yeah, you had to be stupid to walk around in this kind of weather. Thankfully, I was smart enough to figure out how.

So I headed off the trail to Ponyville. Ain’t no trouble at all…

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
Level up:

New Perk: Scoundrel- Ha, that bastard called you a ‘Scoundrel’! You get a nice little bonus to speech and bartering. Not that it will help you any. Go ahead, try to talk down a bullet. It won’t make it kill ya any less!
.

Chapter 2:The New Friend Gambit [If you kill me does that make us friends?]

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Chapter 2 The New Friend Gambit

“Do you know the leading causes of death? The first is sickness carried by mosquitoes, being killed by a horse kick is after that. Do you plan on changing the rankings?"

Gyro Zeppelli, Jojo's Bizzare Adventure Part 7 Steel Ball Run Chapter 3

It would have been a lovely day for a swim, had the water not been irradiated and full of monstrous radigators swimming about in the lakes outside of Ponyville. Luckily for me, when the bridge gave way, even the radigators were too lazy to do much more than gnaw playfully. The bites in my shoulder still hurt, but the heat was great enough that many of the radigators were sitting in shade with their mouth hanging open to cool off.

If I were sober when I set out on this, I probably would have thought twice about plunging forth into unknown territory. Drunk me, for all his oversights, had a showmanship and business instinct that I admired. When I wrestled free of teething baby radigators, I paddled over to the over grown shore of the lake. Poking through the grass, I found myself in awe of the grave of Ponyville.

The husk of the old town breathed again. Once home to so many, torn apart by time, and weather, and chaos. The houses and structures lining the streets were crippled afterthoughts of what they once were. They seemed as though war had chewed them up and spat them back out. Plant-life seemed to have taken over in the last 150 years, with no natural predators to fight it. Tall grasses and black roots fought back against pavement and beaten path.

I took a moment to think to myself. ‘Why was I doing this again?’ It was a good question, and drunk me was the one with eloquent answer. It was something about that zebra, I met earlier. I wasn’t a pony who believed in fate, but rather believed in will. The world needed better ponies, and if it meant diving into a rat’s nest of raiders or radigators, then I would have to take a stand to make it happen. Good things couldn’t be counted on happening by accident in the wastes. You made them happen. For my kind of plans, I wanted a good pony at my side, and that zebra struck me as having potential to be that kind of good pony. Good ponies were a strange bunch, and good ponies that could withstand the horrors of the wastes without becoming whiny or excessively burdening were hard to find. Inside, I could feel a fear welling up, but it was the kind of feeling I couldn’t avoid. If I wanted to make change, the terror would be inevitable. It seemed if you wanted to shake things up, you had to do a little bit of shaking yourself.

Half a home of debris piled high over the road into Ponyville. The remains of a roof and all its shingles were visible from atop the heap of moldy cedar, brick, glass, and other assorted material. Among the rest of the debris, a trash can stood tall out from a heap of junk, with the faded words barely legible, “Keep Ponyville Clean! Do your part!” As I passed by, I made sure to drop an empty bottle as a good gesture.

Only the sounds of the wind blowing hot air about through the ruins and small animal life in the nooks and crannies of the town could be heard. It was enough to make an earth pony feel lonely… just the kind of environment to set your nerves on fire.

I climbed high upon the mountain of dirt and house and junk to survey the land from above. War had taken a bite out of the town, although one might just call it a nibble. Only a few craters were visible, and their size was hardly that of the megaspells that ravaged cities. If what I knew from stories was any sign, it seems war had been merciful. I had heard that after the megaspells fell, even the dead screamed in pain.

Side by side homes and buildings stretched up the town, with gnarly foliage clawing up the sides of buildings and trellising around posts and signs. At the end of the lane was a prominent looking building at the center of the town, battered but without surrender in the face of the apocalypse.

It became clear to me as I shuffled down the mountain of torn up buildings where I was: The shattered glass showcase, the broken counters of stalls, the plethora of signs begging for your eye, everything and anything of worth pilfered away. This was Market Street. It was a place of the vain struggles of civilians at the hour of their grim enlightenment of the looming end. Somepony had painted the words, “The end is neigh,” on the side of an old haberdashery, but somepony else had crossed that out. Just beneath it, that somepony wrote less in paint, and more in blood, the words, “Killjoy was here.” It gave you an idea of the voice of the city. The glorious change between “Keep the city clean” to “Its the end everypony, smoke if you got ‘em…” to “Look everypony, there’s a new pony in town who doesn’t give two bucks about anything and his name Killjoy.”

Suddenly, the rocks on the sides moved…

Okay, on a second look, maybe they didn’t. I stared at them for probably a good thirty seconds before the snarky side of my brain kicked in, saying things like, “Hey, better keep an eye on that rock, it might sneak up on you when you’re not looking!” and “Unbelievable, it is the rock of destiny! Contrary to the name, it has absolutely nothing to do this story!” It would have been lovely, had evolution made it so my eyes could look everywhere at once. I hated feeling like a fool.

If a rock was going to be the cause of my death, I would never be able to call myself an earth pony. Snarky me needed to be quiet. I had zero intention on dying here. My new life with the ‘Glory Road’ company was more than I ever deserved, and no wall would stand in my way from following that road. Both this dream and I drank from the sweet goblet of ambition. Even in breaking my rules, I would bet my life that my ambitions are still in line with the spirit of the journey. I pressed on across the cobble stones, looking about the signs. The one with the prominent letters “G”, “U”, and “N” stood out to me. What a terrible ghost of the past… I couldn’t say I knew too much history about how they came to be, but I did know that they were vicious little things. What I did know was that the flankhead trot that made them was a sadistic bastard who decided “Throwing rocks at a mare’s head is nice, but what if I exploded a rock through one’s head? Wouldn’t that be great?” The rank haunch fool made a device that you feed perfectly good lead into, so that it can proceed to vomit death over everything. My life as a Caravan runner would be all peace and pastels, if who ever made the stupid things had decided he would have rather been a gardener or something. Still, I’m glad I never had to deal with the gun in its prime. The wastelander was more often than not a lazy bastard who could not bother herself with reinventing the wheel. She picked at the leftovers from the before-times, which were typically rusty, covered in mold, rendering them terribly ramshackle. Thank Celestia for that. In the before-times, I bet guns were scary dangerous. They were still scary, per se, but they had a wacky way of falling apart. Guns just made me shiver, because at the very core of there nature, they are power: pure and unrelenting. Thus, they became the key to the wastelands.

As I peaked through a bit of brush, I laid eyes on an odd wooden stall. It was crudely hammered together with the ripwood from fallen buildings. The counter was dyed a dark red. A shoddy sign held above the stall read the words:

“Zmileys Eyes Cold Read LLemonaide.

25 kaps”

My own attentiveness betrayed me. In a moment so many things were happening at once.

A thought of “Do raiders these days actually try to pull this kind of junk? This is terrible, I can’t even read this!” raced across my mind.

A pony with black stripes across his eyes popped up from behind the counter and screamed at the top of his lungs.

"Is this illiterate bullshit your fault?" I quipped as the moronic raider slung a thick lasso around my neck, pulling it into a noose. Trained instinct served me well, I raised my left hoof just in time to catch the inside of the lasso loop. It helped that I was pointing to his inane sign. He still got me by the neck, but he couldn’t choke me out. The earth pony behind the stall yanked the rope, sending me tumbling downward as I ate countertop. The rough unfinished wood grated against my face. "Tch." I shook my head. "Come on, you can do better than this. If you're gonna kill me, be professional about it."

"You'reph nawt gonna care abowght dat when yer dead." The raider mumbled with the rope in his mouth.

The snickering earth pony pinned the rope and blew an old whistle.

There was the rumble of moving rocks as the raider’s accomplices came out of the woodwork. Damn it, this was obvious, and I still fell into it. My mind was racing. “Did I actually fall into this stupid trap?” “A lemonade stand? ...Really?” “25 Caps for lemonade is just highway robbery!” “This isn’t fair! I blame the rocks…”

The whistle was a give away. That was for sure. Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a unicorn raider gal perched over the edge of the red roof of a building behind me. The technical vocabulary to describe her gun would be something like ‘loud’ and ‘angry’ and maybe even creative as it spat a storm down from above.

‘Plink, zink, clink, clank, tang, tink!’ went the bullets as I rolled over to block them with the metal case over my shoulder. "Ha!" I cackled. "Nice try." I said, peaking out from the edge of my fridge. As the mare growled at me, I cupped a hoof to my mouth as I braced myself back against the stand with my hind hooves. "Keep trying!" I encouraged her.

"Yerf a realf zon oph-a biffph!" The rope pony sneered at me.

"Tch!" I clicked my tongue, holding a wink and grinning arrogantly. "Thanks, I try."

“Wah deh hhhell iff daat? Gert dat ting ourt off de way, dis bad fer da lemonade!” the raider behind the stand blurted out. He pulled tighter and tighter. His hooves seemed to grip the ground with inequine traction. This was what we called earth pony magic.

“For an--agh...illiterate pony this is kind of clever.” I managed to choke out as the raider behind the counter pulled at rope again. "Have you ever tried getting tutoring for that kind of thing? Do you have those kinds of caps?" I shot the pony an inquisitive look. "What are your overheads?"

“Furch you, I eighn't irritarate” The yellow earth pony gruffed. It was certainly hard to talk with rope in your mouth, but it was a language I was perfectly fluent in. Understanding the words wasn’t hard, but the semantics still threw me for a loop.

More raiders were probably coming. They never came on their own. It was always a pack infestation. This was fun, but I needed get going before I got dead. As the pony tugged harder. I sank my weight back in resistance, which only caused the earthpony to pull on the rope harder. I was strong, but strong might get me killed, between strangling myself, getting ponypiled by a gang of goons, and getting lead implants by the sniper, I had a number ways to go. I snickered. "Oh yeah? How do you spell 'pugilism?'"

The raider's eyes widened a little bit at the challenge. His eyes wandered away as he really put his thoughts into it. "uh... Pee...yuu--"

Crash! That was as far as he got before I catapulted into him. My master once taught me, the heart of miracles is found in harmony. The pony who masters harmony controls life, she told me. “In the great science, when they push you, be one with it. It’s not their push. It is your push, for you are one. And if you can make them push, then they are already yours.” He was pulling so hard I was primed like a rocket. I pounded my steel shoed hooves in the guys face again and again with a jovial rhythm. I danced all over his face as I made him swallow his own teeth. My hooves were nice and bloody after a few good hits. I took a nice moment to wipe the blood off on the guy's barding.

Zakan!

The roar of a shotgun sounded and peppered my ear as I ducked down. Shoot, there were more of them, weren’t there? Stupid and greedy traveled in herds… Pulling the noose off of my neck, I slipped out beyond the grass towards what looked like a jewelry store. Suddenly, there was teal earth pony barreling towards me with a sharpened road sign. You gotta love the creativity here in the wasteland...

The pony slashed in, but I dashed past, clinging to his flank. As his head followed, trying to clip me with the strike I threw a hoof around his neck and danced him through the doorway of the jewelry shop with a circular throw. Before he could pick himself up, I bucked the door closed, slamming it against the raider's neck with an unsettling cracking noise. He didn't get up. Phew. I needed to get moving. Heading to my right, I leaned over towards the high grass. With my hooves, I parted the grass ever so slightly to take a peak.

I found myself inches away from a cadre of raiders, all with bloodshot eyes who seemed to pride themselves in looking like a scary bunch of fun hating bastards. At the head was a spikey pauldroned earth pony gigant with a red coat, scowling at me. Behind him was an infestation of 15 raiders (infestation being the proper term for a collective a maggots.) They had Mohawks, piercings, facial scars with puss oozing out them, and a wicked smell. It was eau d'rank. One even had a mushroom growing out of his face. They were practically piled on top of each other.

Zwwwoash! A spear lashed out, hitting me in the chest. Thankfully, I lifted back onto my hind legs and belayed the strike, passing the spear down underneath my body as my armor deflected the bulk of the blow. A zinging rock knocked me back as it collided with my head. "Yowch! Was that a rock?"

Rocks were just after me today! My head was ringing, but I powered through the disorienting shaking in my head. I rolled to the side, landing awkwardly as I dodged a shotgun blast. I scampered into a gallop as the wave of raiders crashed through the grass cover. Some of the raiders seemed to get caught in the grass almost as if something was holding them there. I looked back to see a raider trying to claw himself out from the grasp of some toothy plant creature. Still, when you had this many raiders chasing you, it never felt like you get rid of any of them. One raider practically beamed a grenade at me, but I managed to intercept it, letting it bounce off my fridge case as I ran past it. All but one stupid raider halted before the grenade exploded. I felt pretty cool running away from the explosion until a tiny bit shrapnel implanted itself in my behind. Rainbow colored hell that hurt. It curbed my stride a bit, but the explosion gave me a wonderful head start.

I jumped through a bunch of grass, but a large black plant stem with bluish green thorns and gnarly teeth turned at me and hissed. It had large thorny brambles wrapped around a pony skeleton. No questions asked, I quickly skedaddled back out through the grass.

I dodged to the side as a burst of buckshot ripped out to the side of me. A second shot came in, hitting me in the side, but it was far away and my armor managed to stem most of the damage. I wasn't dead, and objectively, that was a good thing. I bolted towards an open alley up ahead.

There were several dumpsters, with novelty-sized moles poking their heads out of them. The side of one of the buildings was torn open. Old posters of Stable-Tec lined the walls. "On to the bright future," they said. With the tendency toward overcast and bloodshed, I think Stable Tec would feel rather dumb about there assertions about the future, literally and metaphorically. Who the hell couldn’t see chaos erupting out of a lawless landscape? Ramblings on the idiocy of the damned aside, I was being chased and didn’t have much time for scenery.

I was halfway down the alleyway when a pair of large boisterous horns emerged from the side of the building. The creature that carried them looked almost like a pony, but much bigger and taller and with cloven hooves. It had a dark green coat and bulging muscles that were covered with tons of long hair. It also had distinct beard on the end of its boxish chin. It's face was twisted with immutable anger.

The creature reeled back, expanding its lungs, its chest almost doubling in size, as it wafted a long draw of air through flared nostrils. You could hear the air ring through all contortions as it traced the passageways deep within the creature’s nose.

“WHAT’S THAT SMELL?” It yelled out to nopony in particular. It snorted again, this time much quicker, but just as loud. “SMELLS LIKE PONIES!”

The towering creature turned to me, gazing at me with its bright red eyes. “I… HATE… PONIES!” It screamed. It spoke loudly and with all the breath in its lungs, blowing a heavy burst of air directly into my face. Weather forecast called for heavy winds and scattered spit storms. The voice made me tremble just a bit.

Well… I picked the wrong dark alley to go into… The creature had such ridiculously gigantic horns, and was two, maybe three times as tall as me. Damn it, I didn’t want to become pony kababs anytime soon. Couldn’t he bother somepony else?

I checked behind me to see if I could make back the way I came, but the raiders soon filled the entire mouth of the alley chest to chest. I frantically looked back between the raider and the big horned creature.

I took a deep breath to calm my nerves and stared directly back into the big horners eyes full of hate. It was a gamble, but I took myself as a gambling type of pony. I pointed a hoof down to the raiders.

“Hey, look!” I shouted at the big horned creature. "Ponies!'

“PONIES? WHY… I HATE PONIES! DO YOU KNOW WHAT WE GIVE PONIES?” The creature leaned in to scream in my ear.

I decided to go out on a limb and take a guess. “We give them the horns?” Intonation for questions was hard to establish while yelling.

“WE GIVE THEM THE HORNS!” The big horner screamed before jumping straight over me and plowing headfirst into the infestation.

A couple of raiders got flattened as the big horner transformed them into a red paste. The swarm of raiders tried to overwhelm the creature. When I left, the creature had thrown a unicorn through a store on the other side of the street, and had started rolling on the ground to crush the raiders on its back. The raiders had lodged a spear deep into the creature and were unloading tons of firepower into the thing. A pack of 8 raiders had followed me out after me.

I didn’t like the idea of fighting 8 on 1, but my odds were getting better thanks to tall, green, and scary. I probably should have known this was what was going to await me when I chose to follow Calypto, but… as they say, hindsight is 20/20. The other side of the alleyway opened up into a line of residential housing. I decided to hide behind a corner as one raider spearheaded the charge.

As the raider mare split through the mouth of the alleyway, I sprang up, shooting a hoof to the underside of her jaw. I grabbed hold of her head which was gripping a mouth held machine gun of some sort. The tiny kind that was made for midgets or something. I didn't understand guns too much. Wrenching her head back towards the alley way, I pressed down on her jaw. I sprayed a wild flurry of bullets at the oncoming raiders. I hit 2 or 3 of them, but the rest jumped to cover behind dumpsters. I backed up, laying down suppression fire as I made my way across the open plaza.

Click, click! The gun stopped spitting bullets, no matter how many times or how hard I smacked down on the raider mare's jaw. Guess that was that. I ripped the gun out of the mares teeth, tossed it far to my right, then gave the flailing mare a peck on the cheek and flung her to my left before dashing off. I didn't have much time until the chase came back on.

I made a beeline for one home that had the roofing of its patio collapse inward. A wagon had lodged itself into the house, the body of the wagon made a scanty path to the roofway on the second level. I stopped for a moment before climbing, choosing to grab a sizable rock, the size of a saddle bag, along the way. I made a break for the house when a flurry of gun fire hit me in the side. It was hard to tell, but only a few bullets made it sufficiently through my armor, but I could feel the blunt force punch through me, even if they didn’t pierce. Fuck, if I didn't shape up, I'd probably die soon. I ran up the wagon toward the second level. The wagon slipped a bit as I fumbled with my injuries, my fridge eating my bullets for me. When my hooves touched down on the rooftop, I felt the foundation shake.

Even so, the raiders chased me up to the top of the building. Only four got up to the top before the wagon slipped free and collapsed. The first raider, baby blue with orange hair, galloped at me screaming with a lance made from a road sign. It was built directly into his harness, almost like a battle saddle. I could see the faintest glimmer of a spark in the raider’s aura as he accelerated fast in a burst towards me.

I pressed one way luring him in, then juked the opposite direction at the last second, I striking with a swift kick in the hinds as he passed. His enthusiasm became my enthusiasm as he flew clear of the roof and embedded his lances deep into the neighboring building. The lance had run deep into the wall, suspending the earth pony 10 feet up in the air.

The second pony came chasing with a shotgun. I deflected a volley against the face of my fridge, just before spinning around to toss the massive rock at the raider. Panicking, he lifted back onto his hind hooves to catch the flying boulder. As he struggled with the rock, I jaunted forward and gave him a spirited push, sending him tumbling down the side of the roof. I waved accordingly.

The foundation shook as the ponies from below started throwing grenades into the house. Business guru, Sunny Zoo, didn’t say anything about the tactical disadvantages of having a building collapse on you, but I was hardly interested in chancing that struggle. I climbed the side of the roof, looking around for an escape, but a unicorn started unloading rifle rounds around me. Sometimes I had a hard time determining if the raiders were actually shooting at me. Either they were really bad at it, or if they merely just liked the sounds of their weapons and aiming anywhere was fine so long as bullets were flying.

I scrambled over the peak of the roof dodging the incoming lead buffet. Then, I saw it… a fire escape on the neighboring building. With two raiders in hot pursuit, and the house about to drop, I didn’t have time to judge whether this was a safe plan. I had already made it this far on break neck schemes, so I leapt onto the rusty pseudo scaffolds.

…Hrrrnnnnnngngggngng… kkkkkrink!

When I landed, I heard a distinct pop, and the fire escape started to sway. Across the way, the swarm leader of the raiders shot me a lovely grin just before flinging himself onto the escape railing. The railing began to twang and wail again. On the lower levels, one of the other raiders had climbed up from the bottom ladder of the escape. This seemed to be over the passenger limit… I had nowhere to go but up, so I clamored up as the entire structure began to sway almost free from the walls. The leader struggled to climb with the large body axe in his harness, so he jettisoned it after knocking another support loose. After passing boarded up door after boarded up door, I found a window, two floors up, just as the frame of the escape was swaying several feet away from the wall. The fridge was slowing me down, so I unhooked its reinforced nylons, and chucked it straight through the window. I had lovely plans for jumping inside the buildings, but I was forced to reconsider as the raider boss barreled into me.

He was a big pony with lots of muscle and a bloody look in his eyes. They were the type of eyes you could get lost in for hours, thinking about all the things you could say to piss them off, just to see how big the veins in those searing spheres of anger could get. He was bigger than I was, and he hit like a truck. I doubled over when he crashed into the side of my ribs.

"Well, bitch. For a quick cap, you were way more than your worth." The boss spat to the side. "You killed a lot of my gang. You've ruined my chances at the throne, so I'm gonna make you pay."

This raider fool... he didn't even know the first thing about being an effective raider. Hanging onto the rusted railings, I gave a strained grin. I was hurting bad. Still, I could sense down into the crumbling foundations of the metal structure. "Ha. You get your ass kicked and you suddenly want to do business. Is there a word for incompetent bitches who pretend to be raiders? Because you look like an idiot and the mohawks and body odor aren't doing you any favors."

The raider cackled as he clenched his brow in rage. "You really have a death wish, don't you?"

I took a deep breath, my wounds were killing me. "Frankly, I was just curious. If kept insulting you, would your eyes pop out of your head?"

The raider boss seethed. No eyes popped, though. It was a bit disappointing. “End of the line, scrapper. You had a good run, but now you’re gonna be pulp.” He shouted.

“I see you raiders are going with a theme.” I spat back at the raider. It had been a while since I was fending for myself like this. Kill or be killed, it was the wasteland royale. I wasn’t quite out, and if basic geometry taught me anything about lines, is that they continue on infinitely. That was the kind of line I was feeling. It had been a long time since I fought quite like this, but it felt good. One on one. Nothing scared me more than an entire group. I still had my traumas. It gave me shivers, but this kind of fight was a call to glory.

The raider boss lifted a heavy hoof as he closed in toward me. Grounding myself, I let my body feel the lofty sway of railings. I snaked a hoof around the side of the rails. When he came barreling toward me, I gave a controlled jerk with my body, sending the fire escape swinging away from the wall. The raider was thrown into metal cage around the railing, his hoof swinging wide of my face. I curled my body back and bucked him in the shoulder with my two back hooves. He almost fell off the railing as he fumbled back, but he caught himself.

"What's wrong? Lose your balance?" I quipped.

"I'll fucking kill you, you guttersnipe."

"Yeah, yeah..." I gasped for air as my wounds pained me. How long was it before I passed out? I didn't care about worry on that. If I was going out, I'd do it with a grin and pissing somepony off. "Hehe, try not to fall, big guy."

The railing was only barely holding up, the metal teetering about, the old rusty bars screaming under the strain. This raider clearly wasn’t given to the great art, he let brute force guide his strikes, almost like a bulked up child. The raider swung his body back toward me, trying to hook me with his gigantic hooves, but I stepped back, and lurched my body toward the inside of the rails, swinging our section of the escape back into the wall. The raider boss lost his balance again and took a heavy hit to the head as he slammed into the side of the building. The raider groaned from the intense pain. I got the feeling his muzzle might have gotten a little shorter from that.

There was an unpony howl as the malleable lower section of the rails had bent inward, against the will of the upper part, which had been bending outward. I felt a sinking sensation as the lower level began sheering the metal supports as it turned further inward, not helped by a panicking raider below. I leaped over the dazed raider boss to get to the next ladder of the escape. I almost kissed the railing when the level below fell completely loose. The escape was standing, only due to the loose metal spokes getting trapped in the metal platforms, or the cage-like bars. I had to climb another ladder on the rickety structure to get on level with the window. The raider boss recovered and climbed up after me. The upper railing was several feet out from the window, and the lowest supports for the fire escape were buckling under the added strain. I took a leap at the open window, catching the threshold with my hooves.

I turned back to look at the red raider boss as he sank his weight to jump. Unfortunately for him, throwing around his bulky body was the final straw for the fire escape. The platform fell lopsided, dropping ten feet on one end and fifteen feet on the other as the metal cage of one of the lower levels crumpled like a aluminum foil. The raider bastard screamed in pure rage at me, and I gave him a suitable grin in return.

From inside, I heard hoof steps. When I turned back inside, I saw a muddy looking mare with red hair and what looked like a purple coat. Her mane was really pretty, despite being frayed and disheveled. It was actually a blend of light and dark reds that gave it vibrancy, and it was tied back in a ponytail. Her mane was long and fluffly and curled around to her left flank. She sat there, staring at me as I hung from the window. She didn’t look like a raider, or at least if she was a raider, she was the professional kind. The leather jacket that wrapped around her was unzipped midway, clearly a product of how hot it was. She had a short, half-cloak with unremarkable, matted brooches fastening it to the shoulders of the jacket. The cloak came with a small hood, and a long, starched strip hung loose from the right side of the cloak. It looked like a face mask of some sort. A silver chain cascaded down her neck between the opening of her jacket, bearing a heart shaped locket made of crystal. The jacket was covered with pockets, she had nothing hanging off of her. The magenta mare had a weird harness around her body, and over her shoulder was a coil of climbing rope with a four pronged hook hanging from it. The ends of her jeans were tied off with athletic tape. Her eyes perused from looking at me, out to the angry raider behind me, then back to a book she had propped up in her hooves.

She sat in thought for a moment, furrowing her brow. Sweat dropped down her temple as she gave a tense frown. I was glad to see somepony who might help me, but the glass shards I fell on jumping to the window really made it hurt to move.

“Hmmmm. Yeah, I’m not taking any chances.”

…And then she shot me right in the face with a laser pistol. She SHOT ME! It hit me right in the forehead! Magic energy weapons were a strange dichotomy. Either they worked or they didn't. They lacked the power to pierce through most things, and mostly they just burned. The difference between a laser pistol and a pistol was getting a headache versus getting your brain spilling out across the ground. The magic laser pistol was pretty much the laughing stock of the wasteland, its only saving grace being its ability to vaporizing things into a fine powder, but as far as I could tell, it happened so irregularly that choosing to use one meant playing dice with some kind of higher power. Still, she shot me! Here I thought we could have been friends... I flinched back, almost losing my hold, but with some kind of earth pony resolve, I barely held on by the windowsill.

“Errgh… Ow! Fucking hell…”

“You’re still there? Dang, raiders are really persistent these days...”

She pointed the laser pistol in my face again and fired. I jerked my neck to the side to dodge, but lost my grip. With my hind hooves, I pushed out from the wall, launching me back toward the fire escape. The raider boss, having learned a thing or two, panicked when he saw me flying down at an angle at the fire escape. He could see it reflected in my eyes, we were going for a ride.

With a mighty clang, I crashed into the wavering fire escape. If the railings didn’t like the pulp master trying to jump before, it was certainly going to hate my soaring assault. The fire escape gave a final death howl as it toppled over into the old house next to it. Both OJ and I were catapulted into the ruins.

It was incredibly disorienting, flying through dry wall and roofing, broken furniture. My head was throbbing. It was dark, and for a naïve moment I entertained the thought that I was dead. Ultimately, I couldn’t understand the idea of the afterlife being so dang dusty. After a little poking around, I was able to push open an odd metal door. I crawled out of the oven I seemed to have smashed my head through. After swimming through some rubble, I climbed out from the tower of junk. I was already off track for my day, and I needed to add “beat that laser flinging mare” and “retrieve my precious fridge chest” to my “To-Do” list.

The raider leader was on top of the roof, looking worse for wear. My head was hurting, but his head had to be screaming. It was hard to see how much he was bleeding, but the red trails he was leaving was a bit of tell in that respect. I wasn’t doing so hot either.

The raider’s face perked up with a grin when I started climbing the pile of rubble towards him.

“Done running?”

“Yeah,” I said with a smile. A cool wave washed over me, and the rest of the world faded away, everything except for me, the earth, and the raider in front of me. One on one matches were my personal style. I liked them. They were a bit of a treat, so I took them when ever I could.

The raider reared back and forth in excitement. “You’re cheeky for a road rat. I’m gonna enjoy cutting you open and bleeding you out. I’m gonna take your head and carve it up with a….”

His monologue was cut off as I shot a hoof right into his mandible. He tried to turn back with a right hook, but I stepped inward to his left side, moving with him. I had noticed he was a one-trick pony. He looked stupid with his weight forward even when fighting with his hooves, so I swooped in under his left hoof. I bit down on the skin on the back of the mane, and with a hop backward, I pulled the raider forth, away from the balance of his foundation. I saved no enthusiasm as I flung his face into the rubble. Free of the weight of the fridge unlocked an entire world of speed for me, and it was a joy, even if it was a solid factor of my defense. Still, I was king of the hill, and that made me happy.

I moved the raider’s left hoof behind him as he struggled against the ground.

“Rrrgh. Fuck…. Damn it! This isn’t fair.” The raider barked unable to move.

“The wasteland isn’t fair.” I fired back and gave him a courtesy stomp.

Suddenly the three raiders made a noise at the base of the tower of rubble. Two unicorns and an earth pony, one of them was the sniper from back at the stand.

Two of them started making their way up the hill. The earth pony began flinging buckshot everywhere with his shotgun. The unicorn laid down a spray of fire with her assault rifle.

I ducked down, dodging a wave of lead as they reached across the empty air. Then, biting down on the earth pony raider boss’s mane, I lifted him up and walked him toward the raiders as a meat shield. I slipped a hoof under his forehoof and over the top of his pinned arm, so I could force is shoulder joint for control.

“That’s right hold him still!” The unicorn sniper yelled as she filled the boss with bullets.


What a nice bunch of friends... Guess that proves what little bond they had. Just a bunch of dirty rats. My meat shield grunted in pain, but he seemed to be holding. Withdrawing my hoof, I front-bucked the boss down the hill; sending him flying into the two raiders coming up the hill. The group of three was knocked down to the base of the rubble. With a triumphant yell, I jumped down the hill, hoofstooling the raider boss so I could jump in range of the sniper. It was the nice thing about having a solid meat shield like him. I could trust that I could get a good enough footing for a solid jump.

The unicorn’s rifle spat bullets at me, but her aim was shody, and I closed the distance with a few powerful bounds. She pointed her gun right in my face, but I batted it away with a hoof and socked her right in her giant adorable raider eyes. Her telekinetic grip on her rifle sputtered out, dropping the rifle as she flew back.

I turned back around to see the pity pile of raiders getting back up. Even the pulp pony was getting up. It was enough to make a pony ask what it takes to kill an earth pony. My wounds were catching up to me, and my breath was unsteady, but I felt a rush that made me feel more animal than pony. It was a sickening joy. Just as I way gearing up to fight the three, a little metal ball landed in the middle of the three of them, and exploded.

A thick wave of pony gore splashed over me, mostly hitting the front of me. Thankfully, I closed my eyes before it happened. It was in my mane, it was on a lot of my clothes, but more than anything, it was all over my face. I took a delicate breath to not let the vicera into my mouth before blowing a breath of air to clear the blood from my lips. With a hoof, I wiped the grime from my face. I hated getting coated in blood these days. In the wastes, these things happened from time to time, because… well… things bleed. It was certainly better to be covered in somepony else’s blood than one’s own, I guess. Still, it was bad for business, so I tried not to make a habit about it. I almost collapsed on my own, letting my legs fall into place as I sat on my hinds. I spent a moment catching my breath. When I turned around there was nopony there.


“Oi! Did you get blood in your eyes? Up here!” a voice called out.

I looked up to see the purple coated mare from earlier waving from another window. I stared at her with frustration for as long as I could muster.

The mare frowned as she mad a whining noise. “Hey, I wanted to say ‘I’m sorry for what happened earlier.’”

I cocked my head to side. “Sorry? Sorry doesn’t work when you use somepony for target practice! You shot me!” I shouted, breathing heavy. First she shot me, then she is tries to be all buddy-buddy with me. I just wanted to yell at her to pick a damn side and stick with it, but yelling up 2 stories wasn’t the best for communication anyway.

“I was scared for my life, but I don't mean to make enemies and I don’t’ feel right leaving things as is.” She waved a hoof at me with a smile.

“Apology not accepted. Why the hell did you shoot me in the face? Do you do this to ponies regularly?” I tapped my hoof in anticipation.

“It was an accident.”

“Accident my fetlock!" I crossed my hooves and glared to the side. " I saw you think on it for about 10 seconds. That was not an accident.”

“Sorry, I was trying to determine whether or not you were a raider.”

“Sweet cakes, do I look like a raider to you? Do raiders wear established caravan sigils and patches.”

“You were half a horse, all the way up to your smelly pits on the window, I couldn’t tell what you were wearing.”

Angry, hungry, and hurting, I scoffed.

“My neck hurts. You stay right there, I'm coming up.” I barked up to the mare.

“Fuck you bastards, get me down from here, you stupid cunts.” A voice screamed out from above. It was the raider from before that got stuck in the wall earlier with the lances.

I looked at him for a moment, and nonchalantly added, “You can stay there and think about what you did.”

The purple mare said something along the lines of, “Hey, you might have trouble …” or something, but I didn’t listen.

It took me a little while to find the entrance to the building. As I was walking around, I noticed my gear had gotten wet on the inside. Go figure, I thought, my cold pack got pierced. I couldn’t say that I was surprised. I stumbled through several halls of the apartment complex. As far as ruined buildings went, it was rather par for the course. Over turned tables, broken glass, scattered papers, broken furniture, and all the other favorites. I couldn’t say I was paying too much attention to them. I was on a personal mission, and it gave me tunnel vision… until I noticed the stairs were completely totaled. They had collapsed in on themselves, and there was no evidence of a way to break through.

I spent several minutes looking for another stairwell, but to my chagrin there wasn’t any such stairs around. Eventually, I found an elevator door that was probably pried open with a crow bar. Running down the open elevator shaft was a long rope with notches on it, and a smooth rope, probably for rappelling. I gritted my teeth, and started climbing. It wasn’t that ponies and ropes couldn’t work together, but they certainly weren’t friends.

The rope was latched into a wall by a heavy rivet. It didn’t go all the way to the top, but it went high enough to reach an opened door on the second floor. With some inspection I discovered the stairs weren’t compromised beyond the first floor. I walked straight passed the purple mare, not even acknowledging her.

Up a flight of stairs, I stumbled through room after disorderly room, barging in on skeletons in bathtubs and skeleton couples enjoying the last moments before things fell apart. I’ll admit, I wasn’t the best with spacial awareness beyond the art of throwing ponies. I kept looking around for a broken window, but after 150 years without maintenance, there were a lot of rooms with broken windows. Eventually, the purple mare showed up behind me again.

“Looking for this.” She said, her hooves on top of the metal fridge.

I squinted at her and she smirked.

“I figured as much.” She said with a sigh.

“Don’t touch my things…” I bit back.

“I didn’t want some raider finding a way in here, and taking it… After all, it looks rather valuable from the tech.”

“Fine. Thanks. Thanks for that and thanks for shooting me in the face. Gimme the damn fridge.”

"Fridge? Are you joking?" She raised an eyebrow at me.

"Just gimme it."

She leaned the box back as I stretched a hoof out for it. “Forgive me.” She said with starry eyes.

“….hmmm, you drive a hard bargain. I… forgive you.”

The mare looked at me quizzically but still surrendered the fridge. No sooner did the box make it to my muddled mitts when I spoke back, “Why the hell did you shoot me?”

“You were being followed by quite the cadre of raiders. After getting hit by a giant flying box, I felt inclined towards mistrust. You never know who is trying to kill you.” She said with a frustrated look on her face.

After a little grumbling, I sighed. “You aren’t helping the global mistrust thing, but I do get that. My name is Tumbleweed.” I said, opening the latches to the fridge and browsing about inside.

“Well, Tumbleweed, you were pretty fierce in that fight earlier. The name’s Scapegrace.” She grinned. As petty as I was, she helped me and was being civil, so I decided now was a time to refresh myself.
**** **** ****

“You have some weird habits. You could be attacked by anypony, and you choose to do laundry.” Scapegrace scoffed with crossed hooves.

Some time had passed. I had situated myself with an ancient wash basin and a box of Abraexo cleaner. Some of the faucets were still functional in the building, which told me an earth pony had to have built it. It was good to wash my face, because the smell of it was making me nauseous and I just felt dirty.

“A business pony has to look sharp." I said with a grin. I leaned in towards Scapegrace as I continued to scrub. "Besides, I already had you shoot me today... I don’t want anypony else mistaking me for a raider.” I said back. Scapegrace dismissed the comment with a chortle. I started taking off my gear. I slipped off my jacket, and pulled the over-shirt over my head. It involved a lot of pinching and shuffling on my part.


“Hey, can you help me get out of my barding. It’s a royal pain on my own.” I asked.

Scapegrace flushed red as she faltered back. “Are you sure you want to take your armor off around me? I might just be waiting for you to lower your guard.” She said with smirk.

“Hehe, I am keeping you in range. My guard is never down.” I bragged. That was the wonderful nature of the sweet science of hoofticuffs. I was ready, even when I wasn’t. She smiled at the sentiment and walked over to give me a hoof. She helped pull the straps on my sides, letting the leather woven armor fall loose.

Looking up and down, she gawked at me. “Mi amore Cadenza, you have a lot of injuries!” She blurted out, leaning in on my back. She poked a hoof right into one of my gun shot wounds. I had forgotten the number of injuries I had. The armor had smeared blood over my coat around the wounds.

“Ouch! Get off me already, I’m fine!” I flailed, but she hung on.

“You’re fine? The dotted lines on your shoulder say otherwise. Geez, what the hell happened to you? Either you have hell of a kinky mistress, or you became a radigator’s chew toy.”

Damn it, she poked me again! I knocked my head into hers, and she finally stopped hanging on. “uhhn… What was that for?”

“Stop poking me in my injuries!”

“Oh, whoops. I thought you said you were on guard.” She joked. “I have some healing potions, let me help you out.”

“You have what now?” I asked, dunking a rag into the abraexo solution. I only started scrubbing out the bloody stains on my coat when she started pushing a flask filled with a sickening burgundy fluid inside it. It reeked of rotten xander root and old broc flower.

“Drink this. It will heal you in no time.” She mothered.

I could feel my stomach heave at the thought. “Hell no, don’t push that in my face. I’m fine.”

She poked me in one of my gun wounds.

“Shimmering rainbow colored fuck! That hurts!" I said as I buckled at her touch.:Fine, I get it. I’ll do something about my injuries.” I said, putting down the coat. I had my own methods of self-care. "Geez, what are you trying to do? Kill me again?" I muttered as I shook my head. I moved over to my fridge unit and browsed for a moment. After a breath of time, I settled on a dish I had recently fallen in love with. It was a dish of grilled mantis legs. Grilled was certainly healthier than having them fried. I had marinated it with a red wine sauce for at least 72 hours before cooking it with coriander, basil, onions, mushroom, and copious amounts of garlic. The marinade helped sink the flavor into the gooey gelatinous insides of the legs. The outsides were crisp and carried that nice charcoal scent. I opened the plastic contained I had it in, and fished out two legs with my teeth.

Scapegrace’s coat seemed to take on a subtle tint of green while watching me. “What is all that?” She asked.

“Food.”

She shook her head at me. “Food isn’t going to heal your injuries…”

I puffed my chest out in bravado, which kind of hurt, but I ignored it. “Earth ponies are creatures of the soul, and food is medicine for the soul.” Between retorts, Scapegrace’s eye’s made the subtle switch from focusing on my eyes, to the mantis legs sticking out of my mouth.

“A-are you eating a… bug?” A pail coat washed over her. I nodded with vigorous enthusiasm. “Ew ewwww ew, disgusting!” Her tail fritzed as she leaned away.

“It’s crunchy, nutritious, and delicious.” I said, as the satisfying crunch of carapace rang out as I bit down. Scapegrace looked beside herself for a moment.

She reeled back. "What is wrong with you?"

"You said deal with my injuries." I said with a grin, letting the mantis leg hang out of my mouth.

“Eating bugs isn’t going to heal your injuries!” She was distraught.

“I’ll be fine.” I added. I saw the gears turn in her head as she redoubled her efforts.

She took on a slight red glow as she approached me with the potion. “I am not going to deal with you dying on my conscious. Doc Grace is in, and its time to take your medicine!”

I stumbled backwards as she pressed towards me. I fumbled over the wash basin, splashing water about as she pushed me towards a wall. “I am not drinking the stupid potion!” I cowered as I chewed.


“Tough Love, Baby!” She said cornering me. I actually got a good look at her face. She was really dirty, but with a little cleaning could have been really cute. Her coat had a depth to it. She had particularly glittery eyes, I might have gotten lost in them, but the putrid smell of potion kept me firmly in the realms of reality. Just as she was about to shove the vile vial down my throat, I stuck out my tongue at her, with a weapons-grade payload of chewed bug guts in tow. Her complexion took on a weak green hue. She backed off.

“That is the most disgusting thing!”

“Hey, when was the last time you had a bath?” I asked.

“Don’t switch the focus. This is about you.” She tried dodging, but I could smell the insecurity.

“Oh, come on, I’m fine. But, look at you, you look like a ghoul.”

“I do not!” She turned into a flickering red.

I snickered as I waved my tail back and forth. “Do too!”

We bantered back and forth. Suddenly, there was the raspy groan of a ghoul.

“Bloody fucking Luna, you two are insufferable!” The voice groaned out.

Scapegrace and I jumped up with an “EEP!”, unconsciously wrapping nervous hooves around one another. We looked to see that the body in the bathtub was leaning up and looking at us, with the most baleful eyes.

“Give the dead a rest already! I’m trying to play dead, but I don’t’ think I’m the only vengeful dead that would rise after listening to you two. I don’t care what you do, but get a fucking room…”

The two of us were absolutely mortified. Bleached white, I hoisted Scapegrace over my shoulder, I grabbed my clothes, armor, and the abraxo cleaner before dragging my refrigerator out of the room. “Pardon the intrusion.”

I got a few rooms down before Grace started hammering her hooves at me. “Let me down already! You’re bleeding on me…” She tried to poke one of my injuries, but it had already closed over.

“Sheesh.” I muttered, leaning over to let her down.

“That was incredibly embarrassing,” said Scapegrace. “I feel like a child.” She added.

“You’re telling me! I just had to say ‘you looked like a ghoul’. I am not gonna forget that. I feel like a total Trotflank.”

“Could you imagine if that was a raider?” She asked. “That would be super embarrassing.”

Some wasteland traumas were great, others were just because you got caught with you pants down.

I surrendered to the fact that I was probably not going to get to wash my gear until later. At the very least, I had washed my face. I was willing to settle for that. I popped open the metal fridge and fished out a jar of water. While Grace was still recovering, I swung the open jar in front of her, splashing water all over her face.

“wha- Huh!? What are you…?”

With a wash rag draped over my hoof, I jumped the mare, scrubbing her face with a vengeance. "Hey, I'm just going to clean your face a bit."

"I don't need your help, I can do that on my own." She panicked as tried to turn away.

"You could have prevented this yourself. This is judgement." I joked as I reached over her body, trying to curl my hoof around her neck to get to her face. She flailed, throwing a flurry of hooves at my face. She backed up as I guided her down the hall with my cleaning assault. She got me good in the eye, but I kept scrubbing. Beneath the cloth, her face was puffy and angry, but she had a shimmering coat.

I snapped a hoof down to point at her. “Ha! I knew it! You’re a--“

“Crystal pony?" She replied, cutting me off. She sighed as she looked away. "Yeah, what about it?”

I circled around to get a better look at her. “I just had my suspicions. You didn’t exactly hit on the earth pony idiosyncrasies.” I grinned at her. "Its cool, I've never seen one before."

She rolled her eyes at me. I apparently angered her, but after all the trouble she caused me, I hardly felt sorry.

“So what is your deal anyway?” I asked. “Most folks don't like spending their time in places that are full of raiders.”

Flipping her mane out of her face, she smiled. “I’m a treasure hunter.”

“So you’re a scav!” I said with surprise. She shot me a killer glare. The anger was visible at the ends of every strand of hair in her coat. I kicked up a pile of scrap metal towards her. “There you go! No need to get shot bumblefucking around.” I laughed. "This place is dangerous, y'know."

Something in her coat changed as she began to glow. She scoffed kicking away the scrap. “That kind of stuff is chump change,” She said in a firm voice. It was like I flipped a switch in her head. I felt like I could make 25-50 caps off that particular piece, given I was selling to the right pony, so I felt a little insulted on my tastes. “I hunt out information and data from before the war. Anypony can find a piece of metal and hawk it on the streets, but there is so much information out there that was lost in the great deluge. It takes a keen eye and the right knowledge to know where to go and what to find.”

The past was a scary idea to me. They were ponies, clearly willing to blow up a perfectly good world, and even so, they weren’t very good at that. They got rid of themselves, and I felt safer because of that. “Can’t say I deal too much in the issues of the past.” I added closing up my fridge.

“The past is important. Ponies are trying to recreate the wheel, when so many of the answers already exist, if you know where to look for them. This kind of town can be a treasure trove.” She said flicking her tail about.

“Still, the place is full of raiders. What are you doing here alone?”

She sighed, looking down at the ground. She shook her head. "There is something I need to find. I'm not sure if it exists, but I really don't have a choice." Scapegrace walked over to a window and looked out on the town. “I hired a number of ponies to assist me. This was a target I had my eye on for a while, but I didn’t have a backer until just recently. Raiders have been swarming lately, so I had to make my move before the option was blocked off entirely.”

“So what happened to them?” I asked, but she shook her head.

“They turned coat. Apparently they wanted to cut me out of the equation.”

I gave a firm frown. I walk over to her side. “So you can’t turn back?”

“Not a chance. I told myself I would put everything into this, and I even paid a fair amount to hire some ponies for support…” Her coat flared a fiery magenta. “I am in the red, and I am not going back empty hooved.”

“That explains the dirt on your hooves, and why you were so willing to help me out.”

She tilted her head to the side. “I need help, and I usually am not good at asking for it, but I am out of options.”

“Don’t tell a merchant like me that, I might swoon.”

“Blow it out your ass.”

“You’re crazy.” I said with a grin. “A good merchant would cut their losses. But a good merchant won’t come back a victor. I’m making hell of a gamble, myself, so color me sympathetic.” The crystal mare’s glow was a fiery color, and just like flames, it was infectious. I didn’t realize how her fury was becoming my own, but I wasn’t against it. It wasn’t a controlling force, but an inspiring force.

She smiled back at me. “I was worried you wouldn’t be up for it. You don’t seem prepared for riding into a raider nest.”

“I am an Entrepreneur, and a risk taker by trade. I have just enough smarts and strength that I am willing to play the odds. I have strength of my hooves, and the edge of my wit as a weapon.”

Scapegrace began settling down into a vibrant purple color: not glowing, but not dull either. “So what are you here for?” She asked.

The embarrassment washed over me as I searched for the words. “Have you ever met somepony who is a better pony than you, and thought that they were meant for something big, that they were going to be important to do some good for the wastes?” I paused, taking a moment to put on my over-shirt and jacket. “Well, I think I found a pony who is just like that, and I am working on a job that is big enough to demand of somepony like that.”

“What’s his name?”

My mind went blank for a moment. I totally forgot his name. I was feeling so strongly about the issue, too…

“Caraway…no… Crowley... oh wait, Cauliflower. That’s what it was. Cauliflower.” I spouted off.

“You don’t remember his name, do you?” She stared the guilt into me. “You are crazy.” She added. “What did he look like then?”

“He was a crazy looking Zebra with a penchant for an eccentric style. He had a wide brimmed hat that always shaded his eyes, with tons of bottle caps affixed to it. He had a vibrant poncho with these intricate designs on it. He had golden spurs on every hoof, and he had two, shiny, shoulder holstered guns, like they were spared the end of the world.”

“I might have seen somepony like that earlier, but I wouldn’t get my hopes up.”

“Help me find him, and I’ll help you out with whatever you are looking for. Sound like a deal?”

“Sounds like a deal.”

“Alright follow me.” I said to her, turning around and hoisting my fridge onto my shoulder and walking toward the elevator shaft. Or at least I thought that I was walking toward the elevator shaft. After walking in a circle around the halls, I had demonstrated a complete lack of navigational skill. Scapegrace giggled as she tapped on the walls to get my attention. “Maybe I should take the lead.”

“I’m not lost.”

“Sure…”

I followed Grace down the elevator shaft.

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>----------------------------------------------------------------
What are you looking at? No level up. Try back later.

Chapter 2 Part 2 New Friend Gambit [Chaotic Stroll Through Ponyville]

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Fallout Equestria Joker's Wild
If someone's to blame, it's: SiriusShenanigans
New Friend Gambit 2: Chaotic Stroll Through Ponyville
*** *** ***

“Cleetus! Celestia damn it, Cleetus!”

“What the hell do you want, Jaundice.”

“You whizzed on my gun!”

“Nah uh. You can’t tell it was me. You just mad because somepony sunshined your stuff.”

“It’s still glowing! You’re the only one in the crew who drinks that Ghoulgulp shit!”

I had to keep myself from laughing as Scapegrace and I watched from behind an old Sparkle Cola machine. The pair of raiders started brawling it out in the streets. Shortly after, a bunch of other raiders started gathering up to watch. Some even joined in the scuffle as it happened. One raider ran straight past us and didn’t even acknowledge us.

Sneaking was Grace’s idea, and a good one at that. Neither of us wanted injuries. I didn’t want her shoving noxious concoctions at me, and she didn’t want to see me eating delicious well cooked meals again.

In the confusion, we moved in the shade through a crack in a wall of an abandoned store. Grace was smart to examine the area a bit before walking in head first. I learned that sneaking is 25% knowing how to be quiet, 25% knowing how to avoid being seen, and 50% knowing when and where it is safe to go. She had a weird device, a periscope, that she used to peak around corners. I heard of ponies using them back in the day, but I had never even imagined a pony putting them into use these days. When she gave me the signal, I moved in with her.

The building was largely empty. There were knocked over partitions and felt railings squaring off areas with faded signs listing prices. There were shelves upon shelves, with no fruit to bear. Papers were trashed across the ground.

We took path behind the shelves because the store had gaping holes where its windows used to be. When we were far enough away from the mobs, I asked Grace, “Is it just me, or are the raiders a whole lot less intimidating than they used to be?”

“You’ll notice that there are more of them as well. Apparently there is a migration happening. Raiders are coming from all over Equestria.”

“I would have thought that would mean we would get the big bad ‘blow your house down’ kinda raiders, but I guess that with any massive movement, you are going to get imitators, newbies, and tagalongs.”

“There are thousands of raiders coming in. Some ponies have up and left just to make sure they are out of their way. Neon Khans, Novalux, Flaming Skulls, Black Union, the Poison Jokers, Lightbrights, Melon Heads, The Hellfire Riders, and so many other groups have been seen making a move. They even say that there are some really scary groups that are coming through here. The rumor is, they are coming to choose a new king.”

Raiders were bad for business-- bad for me, bad for merchants. The thought of all this brought a chill to my spine. "Wait, did you say raider king?"

“I hear there was a raider king just over 10 years ago who pulled a bunch of gangs together. They took out the entire city of New Maretropolis, burned it to the ground and built a castle on top of it.”

“I heard about that. It was something truly horrific. A lot of ponies died there.” I said, furrowing my brow.

Grace looked around, even though we were already hidden, and pulled me closer. She sighed. “Everypony knows that, but I heard something interesting. I only heard this… these aren’t my own words, but someponies say that the ponies of New Maretropolis were pretty corrupt as well.”

I stifled a bitter scowl. I had already known that. I was surprised to hear the change of sentiment. “So what do you think about it?”

“I think it’s total bullshit. I think that king killed a lot of ponies, some that were family to me, and some that were family to a whole lot of other ponies as well. In the wasteland, no pony is innocent, but killing ponies because of that doesn’t make you a saint, especially when things get out of control.” I couldn’t see her coat take on any glint or hue as she spoke, and I think that terrified me. “But the pony who did it died, so there isn’t much reason to get annoyed over things. I’m gonna blow my own cover.”

I nodded. “I’d have to agree with you.” I gave a sickening laugh. "He's probably writhing in hell right now."

"Wouldn't that be great... anyway, we've found no treasure yet and you haven't found your zebra friend, so we should keep going." Grace started making her way for the stairs headed upward.

“Where are you going, is this where you saw him?”

“No, but we can get to the roof tops. Besides, I want to check things out. It might be interesting.”

I followed the best I could, but on multiple occasions I found myself nearly jamming my head into her flank because she would stop and check for threats and not tell me anything. Eventually I learned to keep a three step stopping distance for walking. When she signaled the all clear, we walked out into the open hallway. Things were stripped bare, and the walls were worse for wear. Even the locks on the doors were torn to bits.

Scapegrace sighed as she walked into one of the side rooms. It looked like it was a rather large room, probably a bed room. There was a square frame on the ground that probably held a bed, and there was desk against the wall. There was nothing on the walls, and no chairs behind the desk. Financial papers seemed to be the only things that ponies had left in here. There was even a 2’x2’x2’ square missing from the flooring where I suppose a safe was supposed to be.

“Well, boo. I guess there isn’t anything here. That’s a bummer.”

I had begun looking through the financial papers. While I wasn’t explicitly trained in the economics lingo of the past, I was able to make both heads and tails of some of the information.

“Hehe, well look at that… Apparently this guy only sold two kinds of things. Why would anypony sell those together? I don’t understand your business model!”

As I was flipping through, I found something scribbled on the backside of one of the financial papers. Prewar ponies shouldn’t have been writing on important documents, but I took a moment to read the note anyway.

The world has gone to hell in hoofbasket the last couple of days. They are saying this is going to be the end. Cloudsdale and Manehattan are gone. Disappeared like bits falling in between the cushions of a well crafted couch. The town is in a total uproar. The stables are closed they say. They ain’t taking anypony else. There are riots in the streets… and they are singing about it! Looters have sacked my store. They have been taking everything. Every last sofa is gone from my display. Not even a love seat. Given how cheap they were, I bought a gun and tons of those bullet things that go in them, lots of different types… I didn’t know gun’s very well, but I figure some of those bullets had to fit my gun… but it didn’t matter because they took those too. I’ve got nothing left but some old stationary, some financial information, my taxes, and as many quills as I can carry. I’ve stashed the last of my quills here in my safe and have locked myself up here. Some ponies are even shooting each other. All we had these days were gun stores... I guess some of them wanted to finally put those things to use. I hope I can last long enough to rename the store “Quills”, but I don’t think I am gonna make it. They are banging on the doors, and if this is going to be the end, I want to leave my memoirs of the better times. Lives are short, but quills and sofas are forever, just like memories.

When I was young colt, I remem…

…That was all he wrote. There was a big diagonal bit of ink slashed across the page that hinted at a struggle. They took his quill. I would have wanted to as well if he had kept writing.

“Apparently, Quills and Sofas are hot items at the end of the world.” I said. I turned to look Grace in the eye. “Sorry. Looks like they are sold out.”

She was less amused with the note than I was. With nothing to scavenge, she found a way to the rooftops.

From the rooftops, we got a lovely view of what chaos does to a town. You could see the craters of places that got hit by smaller spell-bombs. You could see a large oak tree in the distance to one side, with a river coming in along side a small building that kinda looked like a carousel. Many of the rooftops were linked, or close enough to jump between. I could hear a building collapse over on Market Street. I had no doubt in my mind that it was from the giant screaming goat creature I sicked on a pack of raiders earlier.

“So where are we headed?” I asked.

“There was an old ministry of morale building that way.” She pointed along the rooftops to a building near what looked like a gingerbread house.

“Great.” I didn’t take a moment to start bounding off. I jumped from one roof onto a neighboring one. A skywagon had crashed a hole through the side of the building. I referred to it as a skywagon because any wagon that could land itself into the roof of a building 30 feet in the air was a skywagon in my book. The bones of an ancient earth pony, held together by the faintest remnants of muscle sinew and dash of macabre miracle, were cradled by the metal harness of the wagon.

“Hold up!”

I huffed. I was beginning to get annoyed with this song and dance. I finally had some direction, and I liked that. I could see where I was going.

“We should take a different path.”

“You should take different path." I snapped back, cocking my head to the side. "I already made the jump. It’s a straight shot.”

“Those vines growing out of that building have me worried.”

“They are plants! We eat plants! Quit being so stubborn!”

“Those plants are going to eat you.”

Now that I wanted to see. I chuckled at Scapegrace as I picked up a canter toward the MoM building. I didn’t get to see her, but I was sure she was taking on funny colors.

“You said I was going to handle directions!” She yelled out.

“I don’t have to be good at navigation to know the quickest path between two points is a straight line!”

As I pranced next to the ‘sky’ wagon, I felt a subtle shake in the foundation. My stomach sank as I looked down to see the vines coiling out from the hole in the building.

“Don’t move!” Scapegrace yelled out, brandishing her laser pistol.

Needless to say, when approached with carnivorous plants I adhered to my time-honored tradition of getting the hell away. I broke into a hard gallop.

“Damn it Tumbleweed!” The words echoed back at me as a shadowy bramble lashed out and around my hindlegs. Kicking and screaming, I fought with every thing I had against the grip, but the vines had giant black thorns that dug deeper into my legs. I tried my best to hold my grip on the roof as the plant dragged me down, but… well… hooves. Grip wasn’t something we were good at. I trashed violently against the shingles until it dragged me close enough to the wagon, which I managed to wrap my hooves over the top of.

“Idiot! They sense through vibrations! Don’t struggle.” Scape yelled before taking aim with her pistol.

“Shut up and shoot the damn thing.” I yelled back while flailing for my life.

A bright lance of light sliced through the air, hitting me right in my side, and I let go of the wagon, tumbling down into the building. My fall was broken by a soft pile of metal filing cabinets. I hit my shins really hard when I fell. I recoiled in pain, grabbing my legs, but the sudden pull of the vines kicked my instincts into high gear. I wrapped around the cabinets I was lying on and took a look around.

The room had trellising black vines crawling around every wall. I would describe the floor, but it couldn’t be seen under the thick sea of papers. Why couldn’t I have landed in those? There were more papers on the ground than seemed possible or even plausible for a place this size. Some pony back then was a packrat.

I got a good look behind me at the vines pulling on my legs. Taking a gamble, I let go from my anchor. I spun to my back as it started to drag me toward a set of stairs. With an vigorous burst, I swung my body, arching the fridge up over my head, slamming a hard metal edge of the case down on the vines. The fridge made a dent in the ground as it crippled the tendrils. I heard a light patter of hooves across the roof as the vines around my legs fell limp. I really was hoping that wouldn’t mean it was going to rain, because if it did, it was raining ‘sky’ wagons. Somehow, I could feel that it wasn't.

Scapegrace poked her head through the ‘sunroof’. “I don’t want to say I told you so--”

“You shot me!” I cut in, whipping around to point a hoof at the crystal mare.

“--But I told you so." Scapegrace scoffed and rolled her eyes. "I missed because you were moving around too much.”

"I'm sorry if I was too busy fighting for my life against a plant on a pony eating diet." I said as I jostled in sarcastic mockery.

Scapegrace lied down, bracing her head up from the ground with a hoof. "Which wouldn't have happened in the first place if you didn't move around so much." She looked down from her perch with obnoxious, puffed out cheeks.

I braced my weight on my mini-fridge and kicked my hind legs out in front of me. "You need better aim, mare." I said with a laugh. "It's already been--"

“Look out!” Scapegrace's eyes widened as her face curled into a grimace.

Before I could turn around, another line of spiky vines took grip around my neck. When it began to reel me in, the only thing holding me in place was the little corner of my fridge that was wedged in the floor boards. I could feel the thorns of my noose stabbing in as the vines pulled tighter.

“Hold still! I’ll get it.” Scapegrace yelled, taking aim.

“Hell no! Stop helping, you’ll shoot me!” I choked out, fighting against black flashes.

"I won't if you hold still!"

I glanced to Scapegrace and then to the tendrils. I made my decision. I gave the fridge a swift kick at its base, knocking it free. I fell on my back as the black saplings dragged me to the stairs. I was beginning to really dislike the little town of Ponyville. I could see their signs. ‘Ponyville- Even our carrots try to kill you!’ Ponies try to tell me vegetables are healthy for me and that they are the natural diet of horses, but it was hard to believe this when they were trying to end me... Maybe that was the point. Eat your vegetables, kids, or your vegetables will eat you.

I grabbed a hold of one of the banisters of the stairway. It served as a lucky pivoting point, turning me around so I wasn’t taking a headfirst flying pony ride down the stairs.

“Hold on I am coming down there!” said Scapegrace.

I would have responded, but I was busy trying to bite a hole in the lasso around my neck. The vine around my neck loosened, but black scourge of vines slammed down along my back. Thankfully, the thorns broke apart against my armor. I gripped down hard on the wood banister, but I could sense the level of decay throughout it. The thorny vine across my back slithered over my right shoulder and under my left arm, scraping my coat with every movement before tearing me, along with the banister, from the staircase.

“Tumbleweed!”

As it dragged me down into the dark, I counted the steps with my face. I slammed into the ground, but I recovered to my hooves with the momentum. My restraints tried to pull me down through a door on the other side of the room. Beyond the door was more stairs, pulling down into a basement. I grabbed hold of a vertical support pillar that stood off center to the room. I could feel just how sturdy it was all the way down to my earth pony core, but the skeleton of half a pony gripping around its base could have given me the same conclusion. Looking back, I saw another tentacle hoisting up a large filing cabinet above my head, presumably so that it could pound me flat, and then file me.

"...crap."

As the vine wrenched back to strike, stepped towards the vines pulling me towards the deeper basement chasm. This was the kind of stupid clever thing I was good at. I unlatched the bindings on my fridge and hurled it at the wall. As it bashed against the wall. At the vibrations, the tentacles around me slackened in confusion. I pulled myself forward and circled to the other side of the pillar. The cabinet came crashing down where I was before, pounding the vines around me in half. Everypony knew that you fight flower power with fire power, but in a pinch, it seemed like friendly fire worked just as well.

Out of the corner of my eye, another whipping vine slashed in at me. I ducked, causing it to tether itself around the pillar. As an earthpony… no, as a pony, I valued my freedom, so I made a break along the walls away from the vines. I had better traction because there were less papers littering the ground.

Curse my luck, I didn’t notice the smashed typewriter on the ground as I ran. I tripped over it trying to get to the kitchen I saw further up ahead. A heavy vine slammed down toward me, but I rolled to the side underneath a nearby table in the middle of the room. The vine writhed for a moment, wrenching itself free of the ground before trying to slither in pursuit. It lanced in, I blocked it off, flipping the table on its side. With a hard buck, I launched the table into the vine. The vine vainly struggled to move, but its own giant thorns had pinned it firmly between the wall and the table.

“Sweet Useless Celestia! This place is amazing! This place is a treasure trove.” I heard Scapegrace say from up stairs, accompanied by the sounds of creaking cabinets and fluttering papers. More of the vines were on the move, so I made a move of my own towards the kitchen.

The room had a heavy scent of mildew. The place had undergone heavy water damage. Mold was growing thick between the dishes that were piled up in the waterlogged sink, and it had attracted a few wayward wasteland bugs. Fighting vegetables was different from ponies. I could beat up ponies until the Brahmin rolled on home, but plants were resilient and I didn’t think blunt force was going to work. What was a plant’s weak point anyway? That was half of my bag of tricks, thrown out the window right there! I needed a weapon, and a kitchen was just such a place for fighting a rogue vegetable. I just needed something, a knife, a food processor, a blender, a cheese grater, hell… I’d settle for a toaster. I started looking through cabinets, but most of them yielded things like old sponges or broken plates. Celestia was making fun of me if she thought I was going to use a sponge to fight a salad with an attitude.

Suddenly, a plant stem unfurled itself out from the main room. It swept across the ground, back and forth, scanning for prey. It lashed out towards me, but I wove to its other side. It came swiping back towards me, but I scrambled to the sink and grabbed one of the large oversized flies crawling over the edges of a plate. When the tentacle darted in to snatch me, I tagged myself out for the bug. The tendril pulled the creature swiftly out of the room.

With a sarcastic salute, I turned back to my search. I searched high and low. Just in case the prewar ponies were crazy, I checked in places knives had no business being in. In a freezer, I found a whole bunch of these dusty rectangular boxes. I couldn’t tell what they were. They had the words, “TV Dinner” on them, but there was no way the things inside them could possibly be food (the prewar sometimes had a fundamental misunderstanding as to what counted as food). I walked away from the house’s refrigerator, abandoning the mystery for checking other cabinets built into the bar peninsula.

“Check! This! Out!” I heard again from the other room. When I opened up one of the lower cabinets, I was greeted by a nefarious plant tentacle lying inside. It shot out, aiming for my head, but I blocked it with a hoof. It wrapped around both my hoof and my head before pulling me into a bunch of unused pots and pans. I placed a hindhoof against the counter to brace myself and started to rummage through the other cabinets as fast as I could.

“I think this place was home to a head writer for the Ministry of Image!” Scapegrace said, skipping into the room, her hooves not making a sound. "Apparently his name was 'Feather Weight'." Scapegrace tensed up with a fierce grin. “Eeee! I don’t often get the chance to read original copies of documents. Hehe... This one I was reading was interesting. The headline was ‘Overgrown Plant Menace Averted! Ponyville Saved Again!’…”

“Clearly they need to do some fact checking about that…” I said, wrestling with the vine.

“There are some editorial marks about it being controversial. Apparently his editor, Namby Pamby, got word from the Ministry Mare herself to keep things on the down low. Apparently they had to make some heavy sacrifices the public wasn’t ready for. There is something about the Elements of Harmony being returned to the Tree of Harmony.”

“Little busy! Less reading, more zapping!”

Scapegrace lit up with an effervescent grin. Her magenta coat took on a warm pink shine."It gets even more interesting, some of these things are dead wrong. I found a ton of folders on Zebra infiltration to steal 36,000 crates of ammunition and firearms, but that kind of operation would be a complete joke. The Zebra navy wasn't designed for ships that large until 3 years later in the war."

I was losing oxygen, but I figured I wasn't getting through to her. "Couldn't they just steal an Equestrian ship? They have all those stealth talismans and all."

"Stealth talismans are useful, but between Arcane navigation and ranging technology and the earth pony IFF sensors, you can't just hide an Equestrian ship. The producers they stole it from was named Cuddlesnipe, but if you know anything about security technology, you would know that Cuddlesnipe was one of the largest growing entrepreneurs and designers of security technology in the later end of the war. If you ask me, it wasn't stolen, it was a trade." Scapegrace explained. "That sort of thing happened a lot more than ponies liked to believe, particularly in the weapons market." She stashed away the folder, only to produce a wicker, garbage basket filled with crumpled papers.

"Are you... going through pony's trash? You nerd..." I sputtered as pulled back and started beating the vine against the counter.

"Its the apocalypse. Everything is the pre-war's trash." She said with a joyful hobble. "They don't call it the 'waste'-land for nothing." She said reaching into basket and unfolding a paper. "This isn't a particularly dirty one either, so quit bugging me. Anyway, you never know what you find in somepony's trash. There are a lot of letters from a pony named 'Rattle Tattle' who seemed to confirm what I was telling you about the weapon's trade. I found the same name in a 'send to Fillydelphia MoM' folder. Apparently they didn't want this pony talking. What do you--"

"Oh, come on!" I burst out as I got slammed into the cabinet before another vine raised up a knife. I raised a hoof to point at the knife wielding vine. "That is not funny!"

A magic laser flashed just by my head, piercing into the flesh of the vine. A flood of light devoured the vine from the inside out as a magic chain reaction broke the vine into its natural elements before singeing them into a fine ash. An array of thin spears of light struck the second vine until it, too, turned to dust.

“Happy?” Scapegrace smiled at me.

Cringing at the violent nature of magical weapons, I took a moment to count myself lucky. “Finally, you shoot something that isn’t me.” I said as I dusted myself off. I shook my aching head as I regained my bearings.

She just smiled at me. It wasn’t a smile I particularly liked.

Of course the next cabinet I opened would be the one that had all the knives in it. Of course now that I had a breath of fresh air, I had time to fish out my personal knife. As a cook, I didn’t like the idea of using it for things other than cooking, so I had no choice but to convince myself that this counted as cooking. I was going to julienne this bitch. Humoring myself, I opened the house’s refrigerator. The fleeting memory of the taste I had in my mouth from biting the vine earlier was all I had to go on for direction on where this dish was going, so I had to move quickly.

The refrigerator had only two types of things inside of it. The first type was energy drinks. MadStallion and PowerPony cans lined most of the interior of the fridge. This made a lot of sense, given Scapegrace’s infogram about the guy being a head writer. His veins were probably filled more with caffeine than blood.

The second type of things in the fridge were killer plant vines, stabbing through a gaping hole in the back of the appliance. While I had my knife ready, I realized it really wasn't designed to handle this sort of thing. I fumbled about as it wrapped three reaching tendrils around me and pulled me through the walls.

I needed Scapegrace, but she was probably reading, and I couldn’t yell with a knife in my mouth. Or at least not well…

I think it dropped me in the basement. The room was almost completely dark, only a few motes of light peeked through gaps in the floorboards above. I could barely see the thick weaves and coil of roots and vines. A carpet of pearly ivory of bones could be seen in between the wraps of the vines.
I felt a viscous sap drip from somewhere in the dark above me. When it flowed over the holes in my armor, it stung to the touch. I looked up to see whatever the host of all of this plague had been. A sinister plant bulb blossomed, opening fanged folds of the mouth of this plant creature. It was good to finally get a look at the plant bastard that had been stabbing holes in my armor and dragging me down stairs and through walls.

“Thanks for the tour. I need to repay you for the hospitality. How about I make you dinner?” I said with a grin, but the plant didn’t get my joke…

That grin quickly soured into a panic as the plant lunged down at me, wrapping its jaws around me. It yanked me off of the ground, my legs flailing around.

Somewhere above, there was an explosion, making the plant hesitate. 'Right! They sense vibrations,' I thought. I took the moment to jam my knife into the side of the plant creature, making its maw gape open. I ruminated for an instant to pick out what part of the plant’s face I was going to kick back to the pre-war, but then I realized plant anatomy was completely alien to me. I decided to punch it in its the planty-bits. It spat me on the ground, but it sent a number of vines after me. Jumping and rolling, I only barely dodged them as they came in the corner of my eye. One of them lifted me by one of my hind legs.

Another explosion was followed by a wave of lasers frying several vines from a stairway behind me. A laser shot out and vaporized the vine that was holding me up. When I dropped head first on the ground, a voice called out.

“Tumbleweed, are you okay?” Scapegrace called out, with my fridge and bags over her shoulder.

Covered in acidic sap, perforated with holes, and beaten black with bruises, the question hit me in a way I was not used to. It made me happy.

“Hey, y’know what? I think I am.” I giggled, even as I ached.

“Alright, let’s get out of here. I got you covered.” Scapegrace said. Another wave of muffled zapping noises rang quiet as she unloaded ray after ray. The plant creature flinched at each laser, but it seemed to have a higher critical magic threshold. I gladly ran over to the purple crystal pony.

“Thanks again.” I said, looking around. I felt I was missing something. Scapegrace and I had backed up to the stairs, when I realized what it was.

“Damn it, I left my knife that things mouth.”

“It’s lost! Don't be stupid! Let’s go.” Scapegrace shouted to me. She nearly dropped her laser pistol out of confusion when I replied.

“Don't worry, I've got this….”

I was glad that I was born as a race of ponies genetically evolved to be tougher than nails. The heart of earth was the toughest, and not even the end of the world could stop it. I ran bounding back to the vernal terror, jumping over and under lashing vines along the way. The plant host flared its mouth when I galloped up to it, so jumping straight into its mouth was incredibly easy. It was almost like it wanted me to. I grabbed the knife in my mouth and started slashing. With a few opening and closing tosses, the plant juggled me so that my head was outside of the plant bulb.

"Idiot! That is the exact kind of inane, suicidal shit I just told you not to do!" Scapegrace shouted as she forced her front hooves against her temples. "I am going to regret helping him, but I don't want to lose sleep over this."

I saw Scapegrace fire several of the condensed magic beams at the creature. A few missed, but occasionally they hit. The creature flailed its vines around trying to find the motionless Scapegrace with little success… at least until a giant vine caught the body of the laser pistol, and in a flash, stripped the spell chamber (the important part of the gun) clean off from the bite grip.

“Uh oh.” Grace looked at a loss for words as she stared at what remained of her gun. It was a moment that made me realize this was going to be tougher than before. Suddenly, the thorns of the plant began to glow with a blue light. An aura wrapped around the spark cells in the energy weapon, causing sparks of static to arc out of it. "Eep!" Scapegrace spat the gun out, sending it clacking against the ground towards a mass of vines just before it exploded into a starburst of arcane energy. The creature writhed in pain.

Something I quickly discovered about the plant was that even though it had jaws, it couldn’t chew, so it had to resort to other methods to break down its food. This method, to my misfortune, was slamming its food, repeatedly and mercilessly, into the walls.

“Tumbleweed!”

“Aghm oh-kergh(I'm okay...)” I grumbled through the knife in my mouth, as the powerful serpentine body slammed me from side to side. It smashed me into the wall, where the breaking of glass bottles made me realize where this was. A wine cellar! It gave me an idea. An idea I drew from prior experiences earlier in the day. In a feat of abdominal core strength, I pulled in to stab my knife on the outside the plant creature.

“Fughch!” I screamed realizing that I ended up stabbing myself in the flank. That wasn’t part of the plan if anypony asks… Thankfully, the width of the plant bulb made sure it wasn’t very deep. "Fuck, that was supposed to make it drop me." I said, now free from the knife. I turned to Scapegrace. “Hey, Gracy! I need you to find my lighter. There is enough booze here to torch the bastard."

"That is going to burn this whole place down!" She complained.

"This thing is going to kill me!" I shouted out.

Scapegrace grumbled as she took on a dark red hue. "Idiot..." She sighed. She started looking through my stuff, and damn was she bad at it. It wasn't long before she jumped back. “Great Sombrero, that is a lot of caps!” Scapegrace shouted out with sparkling eyes, a creeping smile, and a fading color.

“ Watch it! Argh!" I moaned as the creature bashed me against the ground. "Don’t touch those, those are for my job.”

Scapegrace sighed. She whimsically hummed as she hooved through gear. “You play card games?”

I managed to grab hold of a pipe coming from the ceiling. “Tragic The Garnering is addictive. You can’t say no to it.”

“Where do you keep your porn?” Scapegrace asked with a mischievous grin.

“I don’t have any!" I shouted as the creature continued to tug at me.

Scapegrace looked at me with unique perturbation. "Are you serious?"

"Quit dicking around and find the damn lighter! Woah-Agh!” My hooves slipped off of the pipe and the plant spun me around in the air.

It was an invasive experience, stabbing into my soul, metaphorically so, unlike the knife which was actually stabbing into me. Still, I had to trust her on this. The black vines started zeroing in on her location.

“Alright, I found it, nut I don’t agree with this!”

“I know, that’s why I’m gonna do it.” I said with a smiles. I pulled in to grab the knife, and pushed with both legs, cutting a line to escape out of the plants mouth. I landed with a roll.

"You bastard! Scapegrace scowled.

I spit my knife into my bag before dashing over to the wine rack while the creature was reeling in pain. I started stomping my hooves all around to get the things attention. It noticed all my movements, just as I wanted to, and it lunged towards me. With a planned jump, I dodged out of the way as the creature slammed straight into an entire wine rack. The creature had a new coat of purplish red, but before I could get back to get the lighter, a bunch of vines coiled around me. The vines constricted around my waist and over my forehooves. I kicked and bucked, but I couldn’t budge.

“Argh! Fuck!" I cursed. "Scapegrace. You have to do it.”

"Damn it, why do I have to do this?" Scapegrace growled with a scrunched muzzle. She fumbled the lighter, which had a locking mechanism requiring one hoof to be pressed vertically to release the gas, and a trigger for the flint that had to be pressed inward. “This place is worth so much. There is so much information here. I don’t want to do this.”

“These thorns really hurt, and I can’t get out of this. I need you to help me out.”

“Will you drink a health potion?”

“What? What does that have to do with anything?” I asked as the brambles knocked me to the ground.

“I don’t want to see you eating bugs in front of me, and you’re gonna need healing, so will you drink a health potion?”

“Yes! I will drink as many as you want! Just get me out of here!”

Scapegrace sighed turning blue, but only for a moment. She furrowed her brow. Then, in the dark of the basement, she began to glow with a fiery orange-red aura. “This is disgusting, but it is going to be cool.” She said to herself before taking a sip of the wine pooling in the wreckage of the wine rack. “I did this for a pub trick once.” She said, holding the wine to one side of her cheek. With a click, she sparked the flame of the lighter. Looking at me, she said, “Panic for me will ya?”

Without many other options, I abided, resisting the vines as much as possible. I had to trust her. It wasn’t something I liked, but when I saw her like this, I wanted to be able to.

The creature turned to look at me, and drew in close. That was when Scapegrace blew a mist of wine through the flames. A plume of fire shot out and new born fire exploded in a wave across the body of the plant monster. It started flailing as it cooked, but the extra motion only made the fires grow even more. It would have done well to listen to the words Scapegrace gave me, and chose to ignore. The fire caught on to the wine puddles on the ground, and to many of the other vines. It also caught fire to a layer of papers I wasn’t able to see earlier due to the darkness. The vines around me shriveled up, loosening their grip on me. The fire was growing quickly and we needed to get out fast.

When I got out of the vines grip, a miffed and fiery looking mare was there to greet me with judging eyes and putrid red potion for me.

“Drink it, filly.”

Without questions, I obliged. It was a terribly bitter drink. Broc flower had a sickening aftertaste, and Xander root just made anything taste terrible, even other food, and those were the main ingredients in a health potion. I would have liked to doctor it before hand, but I owed it to the pony that was trying to prevent this mess in the first place, and who really lost more by doing this than I did. My stomach churned and my nose buckled at the putrid sensation permeating it. I gasped for air at the end. "I'm sorry, I owe you."

After doing this, her color returned to normal. She gave a smile, but I could tell she was still thinking about all the historic things I just made her burn to the ground.

“Hey, cheer up. There are other places, I saw the MoM facility up past here. Bright colors, we couldn't miss it if we tried, and I think had heard that the Ponyville MAS facility was largely untouched, so we could check that out too." I sighed, scratching the back of my head. "Also, I’ll try to listen a little bit more.”

Scapegrace chuckled to herself. “It’s alright. I could have been more attentive. I almost got you killed several times. And besides seeing you beg to me was worth it on its own.” Looking around, she grimaced at the flames crawling up the walls. “This is important and all, but can we hold off until we are outside of the burning building.”

With nod, we escaped up the stairs. Fire had found its way to the upper levels by means of the vines and smoke was everywhere. We found the front door, but there was impassable debris piled up in front of it.

“Well, I can't pick that. Hell, we are going to have to find window.” Scapegrace grumbled as she covered her muzzle. “I still can’t believe we burned down a place filled with so much history and perspective.”

I laughed with a shrug. “This isn’t even the first building I have set on fire today!”

Scapegrace gave a conflicted glare, but with the fire climbing higher, we didn’t sit long on it. On the second level we found a window that led to an open street. I broke the glass with the metal fridge.

“After you.” I said with as I offered a hoof. "Bah! Ahaha! What are you doing?!" I said as I saw her tightly wrapped around thick pile of files.

"Don't judge me..." She said with a squint. Scapegrace was halfway out of window when she hesitated. “Ahh! There are a bunch of radigators down there!”

I grinned. “Good. They’ll break your fall!” I gave her flank a push, forcing her out of the window. She had already pushed me out of a building once today, and that wasn’t nearly as high, and at least I had the common courtesy to refrain from shooting her in the face while I did it. I didn’t feel bad in the slightest. She was taking too long.

She fell completely without grace, and with a lot of internal shrieking. When I jumped she was flailing as radigators were investigating her. I dropped in and locked eyes with the largest one of them. I flared my teeth and glared death into the gators. “Looking at you scaly! Back off, or you will get served with side of hayfries.” I growled.

I didn’t know if it understood the words, but the intonation carried a lot more information for them. The radigators backed off and continued to pick apart the oversized mole rat they were gnawing at before.

Scapegrace's shoulders fell as she raised an eyebrow. “How did you do that?” She asked with wide eyes.

I put a hoof to my heart and looked off over my shoulder. “Dealing with a lot of animals is a game of respect and attitude. It is important to communicate that you aren’t prey.”

Scapegrace flapped her tail and tilted her head. “Where did you learn that?”

I laughed as I walked on in front of her. “In the tribes, you learn to live with the world. It was how I was brought up.”

Scapegrace followed after me. “Any other trick to it?”

I turned back to her, squinting aggressively. I wagged a hoof at her. “You got to make sure they know you really will serve them with a side of fries.”

She laughed at me, but I was serious. Radigators are little dinners with stubby little legs. You had to make sure to cook them right, but it wasn’t really all that difficult.

We made our way on toward the ministry of morale building. There was a moment that made me realize we were in the heart of the raider activity. It was a heavy stink that violated your sense. We snuck by the body of a green pony that was pinned to a wall with railway spikes and all had all four legs cut off along with its head. It was the kind of repulsive thing that had become commonplace to the wasteland. It was the type of thing that makes me ask:
‘Is that all you could do? …. Really?’

It was a real tragedy. Back in the day, there was more to the raiders than just chopping off somepony’s head and putting it on a spike. If somepony wanted to do something like that, they had to think about it. It was an artistic process, really. How could you convey the irony of the wastes in a way that communicates to ponies? Sure, the staples raiders use these days were original at some point, but now they were just manufactured. I’ve heard of raiders selling pre-flayed ponies to other raider groups. It makes me disappointed in them. They just don’t make them how they used to.

"There it is!" Scapegrace called out as she bucked and pranced. Up ahead was a bright pink building, with blue accents. It looked like an old theater house. There were cracked monitors on the outside walls and some statues of performing ponies in short skirts dancing. There were boards on either side as we approached the entrance. Water had plastered paper and posters to the board, but they were beyond recognition. Along the wall, there was a fancy mural of a pink pony sliding down a winding road of piano keys through space. We slipped passed a wandering group of raiders to get to the front doors. The first level had a number of stripped down technological devices. Namely it had holodec-projectors—nonfunctional, of course, and speakers. The walls were covered in multicolored fantasia. Scapegrace was diving in and out of rooms with childish glee as we walked around. She had a warm glow slipping out of her.

As we passed through the main lobby, I turned to Scapegrace.

“Hey, I was wondering… I never asked about your injuries, how many vines did you have to deal with?” I asked casually.

“Zero.” She said smugly, to my chagrin.

I leaned into her with a doubting squint. “You dirty liar! How many? Really!” I refused to believe that my own injuries were my own damn fault. I was quick and had… adequate senses.

Scapegrace giggled at me.“None. I’d like to say it was skill, but I was just emulating one of the weightless talismans. The plants could hardly sense me at all.”

I raised an eyebrow as I peaked into a closet, which was full of props and balls. “So, I’m supposed to believe that you are able to mimic gem-like qualities just because you’re a crystal pony?” I shook my head. I grabbed a ball and tossed it at Scapegrace.

Scapegrace shuffled back and caught it. She tossed it to the side and laughed. “Yeah, yeah you are. It’s more of an absorption thing though…”

I flicked my tail and tensed in aggravation. “Damn it, I knew my fridge felt heavier. You rotten scamp.”

“What’s that? Need another potion?” She flashed a vinegar smile. I gave her a light shove as I walked past her. It knocked her flat against the wall.

One room had a holodisk library, but it was probably one of the first things raided during the riots of the war. There were tons of posters advertising shows from "The Great Ponyacchi Junior" to "The Masked Mare versus the Fetlocks of Fury title match" and even travel brochures for New Reino and all its sinful glory, but there was one larger poster covering over most of the other ones that read:

HEY, LOOK! A MOOSE!

See the Majestic, Magnificent, Bemusing Moose.

It was hard not to get distracted with all the sights to take in. For a place notorious for having an eye all over town, it was very entertainment heavy. Maybe they actually wanted ponies to be happy. It was a nice idea, but the wasteland taught me that the only pony who can make you happy is yourself. A lot of ponies got caught in thinking that the wasteland brought all the terrible things to them. I used to get caught up in thoughts like that in the past, but I stopped worrying about those things, and I was stronger for it. If I had to diagnose the times, the wasteland wasn't suffering from depression, but from a bipolar disorder. It is a place of great highs and great lows, and it makes it a pretty great place live.

Scapegrace had run up ahead. She was a diver in places like this. Even without her changing colors, I could tell she was excited. I was beginning to wonder if she just brought me here for her sake instead of mine.

“Tumbleweed, over here! I might have found him…”

Her voice led me down a hallway. Underneath an unlit sign that read, “on air”, she pointed inside to a room filled with electronic boards covered in knobs and levers, with microphones hanging from the ceiling.

“Is that him?”

There was a figure at one of the desks, face down, with a hat and full body cover. I couldn’t tell at a distance whether it was him, but looked like him. There was a radio, but it was plugged into headphones, so we couldn’t hear it. There were many vinyl records on the walls. When I approached, I realized the body wasn’t moving.

I knew there was always a possibility of things coming down to this. Not all heroes come out on top, although I felt betrayed given the aura he gave me earlier. I might have miscalculated his affinity for kicking ass and taking names. Something told me things were off, but I couldn’t argue with my eyes. It seemed as though he was looking to contact somepony in his last moments, so I reached a hoof out to try and find out what kind of message he was broadcasting.

“Get ya crummy pony mits off mah stuff,” a gravelly voice said as a swollen hoof slapped my hoof out of the way. Blue eyes, caught in between the melted folds of flesh of the ghoul’s brow, stared me into panic.

“Agh! Caboodles’ a zombie pony!” I had to keep myself from punching him out of reflex.

“Oi, keep it down, smoothslicker, you’ll wake the dead." The ghoul whispered, stretching his neck out as he glanced from side to side. He put a hoof forward with a grin. "The name’s Audacity.”

“You ghouls need to stop playing dead all the time, it is really getting to me.” I said with a laugh. "Tumbleweed of Gloryroad." I said as I shook hooves. His hoof shake was really strong for a crumbling pile of bones.

Scapegrace cringed at the ghoul with a frown. It looked like she was in a trance. When I raised an eyebrow at her, she gave a sprite shake of her head. "Oh, sorry. I'm Scapegrace." She said reaching a hoof out.

“Gloryroad, huh? So your one of them junkies?” The ghoul said as he leaned back. While he was talking I noticed he was wearing a tropical shirt and a morning coat (complete with tails.

"Guilty as charged." I said with a grin. "I'm one of their trailblazers.

Audacity leaned back in his swivel chair. "I don't know what that means, does that mean you're a dirty merchant scoundrel or what?" The ghoul said with a grin.

A shrugged. "I'm like a different kind of scoundrel. I'm the crazy pony who runs all over the wasteland making deals for the caravans." I laughed.

"I'm jus' givin' you a hard time, kiddo." Audacity laughed as he tapped his hooves. "Have t'say, I heard a wicked good thing or two 'bout what your company does. I'd love to get some of that lovely stuff, but I've got a whole lot of nothing." The ghoul squinted in glee.

I leaned in, bracing my elbow against the table. "Hey, that doesn't mean anything. Let me drop you a tip. Just cause you can't score a deal doesn't mean that you can't get somepony else to do it, and that is what we call business."


The ghoul's fire glazed eyes widened. "Ohh, that sounds great. Heh, I like the way you think." The ghoul jabbed me in the chest with his elbow. "There are some folks around here somewhere. If you could set something up with them, then you could get rid of all these other messes around here and I could have a little sunshine in my bones." The ghoul turned back to his table and flipped a few switches. He slid down a crossfader on the board and raised a hoof. “Can y’all be hush for a hot second? I was gonna record a bit.” The ghoul said as his horn glowed, wrapping a golden light around a metal case. The light unlocked the latches and floated out a silver microphone and plugged it into the ministry system. The unicorn ghoul took a moment to clear his throat, and then took a deep breath to meditate on a spell.

“If PON-2 is too little and PON-4 is too much, this is DJ PON3, coming to you live from Tennypony Tower!" The ghoul boomed in a spunky masculine voice alien to his own. Both Scapegrace and I dropped our jaws at the sound. "How is it hangin’ in there, wasteland? Good Ol’ Pon-3 has that good ganja to fix all those list’nin’ cravings. Gather round, little chitlins, it’s time for big brother DJ to lay down some hard as brick stacks of facts, ya hear? Remember, a gun is a wonderful tool to keep away the wasteland when it wants cuddle a little tough, and no pony is gonna argue with a bullet, but it can be a might discouraging to anypony with half a heart to help a brony out. The wastelands are only as bad as we make it, everypony, and that’s a fact. Here's a bonus one, just cause I like ya'll so much: Remember, just because they look like something crawling out of ya worst nightmares doesn’t mean that the ghouls are looking to cause trouble. If you look past the melted acrylic coat of those poor unfortunate ghouls, you will find a lovable little pony just looking for a good toaster to make his breakfast. Some of my best friends are ghouls, and they can be your friends, too. So stop hatin’ and get toleratin’. And that’s a pretty good fight, ain’t that right wasteland? And now, for you listening pleasure, the Ministry of Awesome’s very own Lightning Dust and the Awesomebolts, with ‘Keep it cool!’” The ghoul’s magic flashed, and a cloud of magic carried an old record onto the turntable. He clicked a few buttons triumphantly and then spun around in his chair.

Scapegrace and I looked at each other with eyes so wide they twitched. In pantomime we questioned each other. It went back and forth. Did that just happen? Yeah, it did. He is less sexy than I thought he would be. The hell is he doing here? Then she pantomimed something about inadequacy of a banana in the wasteland, and I was confused. Talking without talking was hard. I whispered, “Should I talk?”
“Yeah, you do it.” She whispered back.

“The hell was that?” I burst out. Scapegrace elbowed me in the shoulder.

“…well, ya live 183 years and you realize, you start to get bored…” Audacity said in his usual grimy voice.

“Tennypony tower, eh?” Scapegrace raised an eyebrow. "Can you even tap into the MASEBS from here? That kind of splice, particularly so far from the hub would be insane."

Audacity raised his hooves half way. "Hey, one question at a time, sister." He slouched over the table. "You're a pretty smart mare. Yeah, the security and arcane insulation on that spiffy little MASEBS BS makes it near impossible to hack." The ghoul turned with a grin. "Unless your awesome, like me." He waived a hoof. “and yeah, this ain't look like Tenpony, but, well, I used ta work around that general area. I know dey gotta beautiful set’of ‘quipment up there I would maybe not kill a pony for, but I might push a pony down a flight of stairs for. They say they don’t like ghouls too much, but well the joke is on them, because they are living off an ol’ministry of arcane science facility in there, and they can’t get past the crazy force field they got in there. I could probably walk straight through it.”

Scapegrace pushed me out of the way. “You are compatible with the bypass? Does that mean you’re related to the Twilight Sparkle?”

Audacity blushed as he twirled the tiny bit of hair he had in his mane. “Well, just a little bit. I am the son of the son of her mother’s brother, which makes me like her great nephew. ...although she never really did show up for the reunions.”

It was weird getting to know DJ-pon3, or at least a really good impersonator. I always got the idea that he would be taller. I had some questions.

“Have you seen a fella wearing a…” I stopped myself. “Have you seen a zebra with an attitude and couple shiny guns running around.”

“Sorry if I don’t keep tabs on everypony in town, but everypony in this town is crazy...” He said with a grinning shrug.

“You’re telling me.” I laughed.

“Usually, it’s not half this bad. I figure I’ll just wait it out, and let them kill each other. That or they just decide to pack up and leave. They got to run out of bullets sometime.” My eyes shot him a dose of judgment at his words. The corners of his melted face turned up. “There are more than few benefits to being a ghoul. When you can’t die from starvation or thirst, it opens up a door or two to problem solving.”

“It sounds like you have adapted nicely, given the circumstances.” I told him.

“I do miss my old looks, but I guess ponies always told me I had a face for radio. Although, in the end of the world, I think I made a lot of friends over the airwaves. I hear a lot of stories, and it gives me something to talk about. Sometimes I just go exploring. I search through the old frequencies, and I try to find out if there are other ponies out there. It’s something ponies never really did back before the war. There was too much priority of who got to use what, but now things are pretty free. I can play dead until I’m crusty, if I can listen to my friends talking.”

Despite his horrifying looks, the pony had a tender aura to him. It wasn’t everyday that you could find a pony who was so damn happy about their lot in life. It was nice. His uninviting visage couldn’t compete with the power of his smile.

"Let me say this though... there is a storm brewing, and it is only going to get worse." Audacity said. Then he ghoul took to his hooves, and walking out the door, he beckoned us to follow. He took us through a number of halls, filled with burst balloons and fallen streamers. We found ourselves huddled under a table, looking out a grand window on the first floor. We had a great view of a five way intersection in the middle of town. Ahead of us were the remains of an old barbershop called ‘Mane Street’, and an old hospital with a red cross and several butterflies on it. On the far end of the strip, there was a well, surrounded by a mill and a number of houses.

Suddenly, a building started to shake with the sound of snapping wood. A few combatants fled out of the building. There was a blue earth pony, a silver unicorn, a bat pony, and a green griffon. Each one wore an array of armor, weapons, and trophies to give them an air of intimidation, but the fear plastered on their faces betrayed them of such a semblance. They all wore a rather heinous looking skull around their necks.

“Keep quiet, but watch this. This town wasn’t so big on raiders not too long ago. It’s a bit of quiet neighborhood. But recently, there has been a bad wind blowing and it really stinks.” Said Audacity

The silver unicorn’s horn glowed intensely as it released a swirling black light that flew into the heart of the house, and began pulling everything thing to a single spot. The supports of the house bent inward to the will of the singularity, with waves of debris flowing into the center. I could only barely make out the shape of a pony inside from this distance. The house collapsed in on itself, and the three cheered. I could barely hear the words they were speaking from this position.

“Is he dead?” The earth pony asked as the griffon pulled out a nasty looking red vial and swigged it. The attitudes of the three started to change as soon as the building fell.

“Hell yeah, no thanks to you idiots.” The unicorn muttered. “That bitch had a lot of nerve coming at all three of us.” The griffon said, coughing between draws of potion.

“I could have creamed him all on my own. One smart grenade and he would have been singing to Celestia.” The earth pony said as he smirked.

“Yeah right, without my spells, you would have been the pony doing the singing!”

“What was that? You wanna say that again?” The earth pony reared up in front of the unicorn.

“Yeah, I would. You’re a dirty, useless, mudpony who can’t take on one lousy bastard.”

As the two argued, I kept finding myself drawn back to the house. A sinister energy entwined around it, but not a single pony seemed to notice. Suddenly, a segment of wooden pillar flew out of the building, knocking the griffon out of the sky.

“The hell was that?” The two panicked. The bat pony started walking forward into the dust, when suddenly he flailed back, falling to his hooves.

A cackling laugh came from the debris, obscured by a cloud of dust. From within the cloud, a bulky stone club crashed down on the batpony, splattering him into a mass of red gore. "Boom! How do you like that? That's round 1, and I'm just getting started." The voice said. As the dust settled, a purple earth pony stallion emerged. He had a wild black mane, styled back with Celestia knows what, and a scar across the middle of his face that ran all the way back to his ear. He had a long studded bat made of stone cradled across his back, dripping with the bat pony's blood. It had a ring on the end and the entire club was twice the length of his body. Unlike the other raider’s we had run into earlier, his coat bore no armor. He stood up in fierce half-nakedness in front of his opponents with a grin. Half his face was powdered white with a chalky substance.

The purple earth pony grinned. "Playtime."

The unicorn and earth pony pulled grenades off of their bandoliers as quickly as they could, and hurled them at the purple menace. A burst of fire blew another cloud of dust into the air.

“Take that you sick Fu-AAAAH…!” The unicorn’s insult was cut short as the bounding body of the purple earth pony pierced through the cloud. The purple earth pony clothes-lined the silver unicorn with the length of his stone club, and with an abrupt turn, stole any semblance of balance from the unicorn. With a sprite little jump the purple earth pony painted a gorgeous crescent across the escaping blue earth pony raider with his club. The club cleaved straight through the earth ponies hip, snapping it like one of those pre-war chocolate wafer bars. The blue earth pony tried to crawl away on his forehooves, but the purple raider wrapped a hoof around the neck of his victim.

"Hows it goin', bud? How are you feeling?" The purple pony asked as he pulled the mangled mess up to him. "You still planning on being the raider king?" The mangled talon raider shook his head violently. "That wasn't what you were saying before." The purple pony slammed his head against his targets. the blue earth pony fought with everything he had to get away, the purple earth pony almost showed mercy as he pushed the blue pony away, only to bring his heavy bludgeon down at the perfect length. The earth pony’s shoulder gave way, the club making it seem as though there was nothing between it and the ground. "If you didn't want to be king, you should have stayed out of my way." The purple pony slammed a hoof down the mangled wreck of a pony. Bracing the club on his shoulder, the earth pony scuffed his hooves together as he reared onto his hindhooves.

The raider looked around at the terrified pair. “Let me teach you how to play a gentle pony’s sport. It’ll be fun.” He said. I wouldn’t have been able to hear the pony, but he practically yelled the words. He seemed to be completely enjoying himself. The earth pony braced the bat between his front to hooves and his neck, and with a full body turn, he brought the bat right up to the blue pony’s head, only to stop.

Kri-ting!

A loud burst of a handgun echoed over and over as the unicorn unloaded round upon round into the purple ponies head. The unicorn laughed menacingly as he made the act. The purple pony flinched back as he was riddled with bullets, pulling the bat backwards, and knocking him a few steps back.

“I did it. I actually killed Killjoy! I did it. That makes me strongest… right? I did it. I really fucking did it!”

“FORE!”

The earth pony stomped a hoof forward back onto the mess on the ground, and with a wild swing, he slammed the blue pony’s head flying through the air across the street. The head flew well over the well and embedded itself in a window of a building.

The scarred earth pony kicked at the dirt with the scuff of a hoof. “Damn it! In the rough…” the earth pony sighed. “That is gonna add at least 2 strokes to my game. Celestia knows my putting game isn’t too great either.” He said scrunching his nose. The silver unicorn was without words. The unicorn trembled as quivering legs carried him stumbling backwards. I could see blood running down the side of the earth pony’s head, when I noticed something particular. The blood found its way into the grooves all along the pony’s neck. The pony was covered in scars. His skin was most likely much harder than leather, but taking several bullets to the head was something I could still only chalk up to the fact that he was an earth pony. Even still, it wasn't every earth pony that could do that. It probably had to do with his own personal earth pony magic. The earth pony turned to the unicorn, bracing the studded club on his back. “See, this is what happens when you distract a pony.”

My curiosity peaked, and I found myself stealing a glance at the two ponies next to me. Scapegrace was running pale color, and I could tell she was a little thrown off by the display of force, but part of me got the feeling that the crazy tick of the eyebrow she was showing was a result of disbelief. Not everypony could take a bullet to the head, let alone several, and carry on as if nothing happened. It is the type of thing that makes a pony wonder if there was anything in that pony’s head at all. She was having a hard time watching. Old captain Audacity seemed rather disturbed, but in the way that somepony watching a fight would cringe when somepony took a heavy blow. He seemed to be looking for something entertaining, or maybe he was just waiting for them to be done with it, but he looked impatient. As for me, I couldn’t look away. There was something about watching somepony get served their own flank steak that made you unable to stop watching. I may not have been heroic as I watched, but it was entertaining.

When I looked back up, the purple earth pony juggernaut was grinding the unicorn into a paste or a powder. I guess I missed something, but sometimes that happens. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught the griffon trying to fly away in the confusion. No sooner than that, the earth pony raider called out. “Midnyte! Get that for me!”

There was a swirl of dark fire and smoke. From within the coils of flame, a dark blue unicorn mare appeared as if by a mirage. She had a heavy green cloak, a jewel set upon faded metal bracers, and a horn atop her head that could make a stallion jealous. Her horn flared a dark nimbus, as the fire swirling around her fell straight to the ground almost forming a puddle. The fires quickly formed together in one mass and began flowing up the contours of the body. As they moved, they wove together. When they reached about eye level, they hovered, the energies still spinning for only a moment. All of this happened in a matter of seconds. With a high pitched ring, a burning chain of fire burst out and pierced the wing of the griffon. The griffon shrieked in pain, but even as he failed to beat his wings, the chain came around and pierced the other wing, drawing the fiery chains across his chest. With a mystic flash, the unicorn mare pulled the griffon straight out of the sky, crashing to the ground. She moved to get closer to the griffon. With every step she took, another coil of chain wrapped around the griffon until his body could hardly be seen. With another mote of ashy light, the chains burst into roaring flames, grilling the griffon into a crispy husk.

“Wooohoo! Go Midnyte! You still have the style!” The earth pony raider cheered as he puppetted the mouth of the severed head of the unicorn from before.

“Will you stop playing around here?” Midnyte asked.

“Oh, come on. There are just so many new bastards that want to get in our way, I am just playing with them. Just a little rough-housing…” Killjoy said as he shook the head around in his hooves, almost as if driving it like it was a car.

“You call this rough housing?” She asked, looking around at all the buildings. We all ducked just to be sure we wouldn’t be seen.

“I’m teaching them. These newbies don’t know which side of a gun kills ponies. I’mma believer in tough love. You’ve got to be rough with them, or they will never learn.” The earth pony said, turning the head to face him. “Isn’t that right?” He asked the head before shaking it up and down. “Yes, killjoy. You’re so smart.” He said in a rather silly voice.

“You shouldn’t be wasting your time around here. The reason you get shot in the head so much is because you foal around too much.”

Killjoy seemed taken aback by the statement. “You are literally no fun. Maybe we should call you ‘Killjoy’. Your way has no heart at all. No soul.” the earth pony said in protest, all while hugging the unicorns head.

The unicorn looked at him and laughed at him. “What the hell are you laughing at?” Killjoy asked.

“When you have your blood running through you’re scars like that, you kind of look like a purple and red zebra.” Midnyte added

“Don’t say it!” Killjoy was irate.

“…hehe…bwa…donut steel!” Midnyte was barely able to stifle her laughter.

“You suck, Midnyte.”

“Aww, Tough Cookie. Don’t be mad.”

“I told you not to call me by my real name either…” Killjoy pouted.

“You know I’m just playing with you. Can I get you something for your head?”

“Well what do you want, little buddy?” Killjoy asked the head in his hooves.

“Not that head, your head! The one on your shoulders!” Midnyte corrected.

“Oh, my head? Nah, I’m a tough pony. I eat my wheaties…” Killjoy hesitated for a second. “Actually, if you could get me one of those healing bastards, mix in some sparkle cola, and some hot sauce. That would be great.”

“Alright, but let’s not take too long. We want qualify. This is big.”

“I don’t have any worry on that end, Midnyte. Let me tell ya, there ain’t any other gang that is gonna beat the six of us, because what we got, baby…” Killjoy paused.

“It’s magic!” he added.

Shortly after that, the unicorn mare disappeared into some of the ruins. The donut steel earth pony started walking towards our window.

“Get down.” Audacity whispered. We both followed suit. There was a moment of silence as we sat waiting for the raider to pass. We heard some smudging noises on the window. After a little while, there was the sound of something hitting the dirt, it might have broken some dried mud. We waited after we heard the hoof steps of the pony gallop off. I looked at Scapegrace, and she motioned that she was going to check to see if it was all clear. She looked up, and gave a sign, and we relaxed protocol. There the unicorn’s head was, lying on the ground next to the window. Smeared in blood were the words: Killjoy was here!

“This is what I have been putting up with the last few weeks. It is getting pretty bad.” The ghoul said, breaking the silence. "And it is going to get worse, let me tell you."

“It seems pretty rough to be sure. And that is why I am looking for this guy. He is convinced that he needs to save somepony in here.” I said with a shrug.

"Those ponies he is looking for exist. He must have a good nose though... and balls of steel for that matter." Audacity said with a laugh as he sat back into a chair on the side.

“The Ministry of Morale had lot of cameras back in the pre-war times, do you think there is any chance that any of them still work.” Scapegrace asked the ghoul.

“I am only a radio hoof, but there are some computers upstairs. You are free to give those a look.” The ghoul said.

“Oh, thank you so much.” Scapegrace added, zipping passed the ghoul faster than he could say “you’re welcome.”

Audacity sighed. "Crystal ponies... I feel sad for 'em. They might just be the unluckiest lot in the whole wasteland." He looked to me. "You better take care of her."

What did that even mean? Regardless, I nodded. I owed her more than that anyway... I followed after Scapegrace.

She took on a slightly rosy glow as she approached me. “We get to take a look into actual Ministry of Morale computer databases. They kept an eye and ear out for everything.” She said, absolutely giddily. She had a hard time concealing her enthusiasm. I already knew that looking for Capsule Toad wasn’t her first priority.

I almost lost her trail as I stumbled to follow her pace. The second level was covered in computers. Most of them seemed to personal computers that were hooked up to a large storage device. Many of them weren’t functional. Some were separated from their power sources, others were scrambled from all the radiation, and some just were suffering from the common “rebar-running-through-the-display” issue. Only one of those problems would be in the manual. Still, I was surprised to see Scapegrace canter straight past all of them and straight to a metal door in the back. Dextrously, she pulled out an impressive array of lock picks. Some ponies tried to get by with a bobby pin and a screw driver, but those types of things didn’t work all the time, because there are so many different kinds of locks. Bobby pins are not all purpose burglary tools.

“What to use, what to use…” Scapegrace mumbled to herself while looking at her arsenal. “I could try to bump it, but that would probably take forever, and this kind of high security door probably has bumping protection.” Scapegrace looked at me. “Go make yourself busy. This might take a bit.” She said to me, before getting lost in the conversation between mare and lock.

I found myself with a ton of time to kill and nothing to do. I wasn’t really a computer pony, but I once set the time on an ancient VCR, so I decided it might be fun to see if I could get anything out of the computers.

After looking through the rows, I found an old computer that for some kind of miraculous reason was still kicking. I booted up the computer and it brought me to a login page. Of course the computers were locked, that made sense to me. I sighed. I peeked around the corner to see Scapegrace totally absorbed in her picking activities. She was huddled up close to the wall, concentrating hard as she felt the insides of the lock with the pick and tension. It didn’t look like she was going to be done anytime soon. I decided to give a shot at guessing passwords. With ponderous hooves, I typed in the word “Cupcake”. It seemed like as good a guess as any. I clicked the enter button.

“Incorrect password.” The computer typed at me. Okay, it was a shot in the dark, but let’s try again. I typed in, “I love cupcakes.” When I pressed the return key, I was left in shock. “Are you deficient or something? I already said it’s not cupcakes!” The computer typed at me. In following time honored tradition, I wacked a hoof across the top of the computer. Suddenly the words, “Don’t hit me,” flashed across the screen. “I can hit you if I damn well please, you stupid prewar piece of junk!” I didn’t realize I yelled that out loud until it was too late. Scapegrace in the corner stopped what she was doing and raised an eyebrow at me. I just waved. “Sorry, don’t mind me.” She went back to work on the lock, and I turned my ire back on the computer. I typed into the password textbox, “Morale”. After a brief pause, the computer responded. “Normally, I would just lock you out, but you are so hilariously bad at this, I don’t think I need to.” It also added, “Go read a book or something.” That stupid arcane computer Brahmin shit! I couldn’t lose to the tyranny of this infernal contraption. I typed in, “Investigation”.

Suddenly the computer began making weird noises inside. The words, “Access Granted,” graced the screen and I cheered for myself. The display switched to set of 6 gems, with a light moving around in a circle from gem to gem. Then, it brought me to what I can only imagine was the desktop. There were lots of folders with conspicuous titles on them, so I clicked the directional arrows until it highlighted one of the folders, and then clicked return. It put an image of a wrapped gift labeled ‘super secret stuff’ on the screen. It started counting down.

3…

2…

7…wait a second… 1…

On zero, the gift popped open on the screen with streamers and confetti, and the words “Just kidding” zoomed out of the box.

It took me back to the login page. The words, “I can’t believe you fell for that. What a dolt!” appeared under the password input. I just sat there and stared at it in anger. After a while, the words “Sure you don’t want to try one more time? Hey, maybe you will get it? Hahaha!” appeared. I decided not to play into the computers stupid games. The last message it sent to me was, “Are you mad at me?” I got onto my front legs and bucked that computer with no sense of mercy.

Click! “Hey, I got it,” Scapegrace jingled happily just before the computer smashed against the wall next to her. “What the hell are you doing to that poor defenseless machine, Tumbleweed?”

“It made fun of me.”

Scapegrace shook her head at me. “Just don’t’ touch anything in here alright. This is the good stuff.”

Having defeated the forces of evil, I followed Scapegrace into the next room. Just as we entered, we were assaulted with streams of confetti fired out of hidden cannons on the sides of the doors. In front of us was a grand super-computer, bolted into the walls. It made the computers outside look rather pedestrian.

“Alright, give me a bit, hacking is a delicate process.” Scapegrace added.

I was beginning to realize that Scapegrace was significantly more skilled than I was. She booted up the computer, and when she got to the login screen she dived into her pack for some tools. Curious, and possessed with the hooves of Discord, I typed in, “Cupcakes” into the password box.

“So, we meet again.” read the monitor.

I almost got mad, but then something strange happened. The visuals of the computer started to bug out, flashing upward like in those really old movie reels. Keys started to move on the keyboard, filling in the password.

“Password Accepted.” Flashed across the screen. Scapegrace looked at me with hacking tool in hand and smiled. “I didn’t realize you knew what you were doing. Good job.” I smiled awkwardly. Then there was a thin laser that scanned over the both of us.

“Smile Scan approved. Welcome Tumbleweed.” A tinny voice spoke out.

"Excuse me?" I said with a raised eyebrow. What was that supposed to mean?

Scapegrace looked at me with sheer confusion, and I just shrugged. I couldn’t explain it, but I was certainly appreciative of the result. So, I got down to business. And by me, I meant Scapegrace did.

“Looks like we have access, but it is only to a few specific files. It seems weird. I am going to download everything we can to this memory gem, just to be sure though.”

“Well, get reading!” I pushed Scapegrace on.

“I’ll bring it up on the monitor.”

Scapegrace tapped away at the controls, and she brought a number of files up. I don’t think Scapegrace realized that while she was reading, she was breathing really loud.

This is positively bonkers. The amount of dark magics running about Equestria is super ridiculous. Ridiculous would not be nearly as much of a problem, but this has clearly surpassed the odds and gone straight to super ridiculous levels. It is bad enough, trying to keep a bunch of grumpy anger-y patriot ponies from trying to keep the war going, but now there are powers reaching out to them and I have not a single pink inkling as to how they are getting access to this stuff. We've tried talking to their faces, but it doesn't seem like they like to talk to us. That's what the memory scans are for. Everypony seems to have such good intentions and they just want to get by, but when everypony is an arms dealer things get wicked bad. We think we've pinned down how Hexerai might be reaching out to these ponies. It seems she is a real dream girl. It would be great if we could read dreams with the memory scans, but most of the dreams come out fuzzy because most ponies can't remember the thoughts. Its really no wonder we haven't been able to find them. Luna's been really focused on the war and will of the people, and it seems she doesn't get to sleep enough. That just means we have a bunch of sleepy dream terrorists running around giving things to ponies that shouldn't have those things. Dark magic is particularly bad, because of the effects it has on the user, and the victim. It tends to be crazy powerful in the hooves of a good intentioned pony, but it causes lots of changes to them. It is almost like it sucks all the good out of ponies. It also causes them to change in all sorts of gnarly, evil ways, like giving them crazy side burns and goatees. Goatees are super evil. From what we can tell, it just gives them everything they've ever wanted. Anyhoo, we have a few in custody, and I am gonna take my pink privilege to set a precedent that we send these ponies to MAS. Hopefully, they could find some way to change them back. Even so, I think Twilight will appreciate me sending something that might help with project gardens, they seem to be similar to the things she talked about back then. Even if she isn’t talking to me… Oh, saving the world just isn’t like the old days. Anyway, as big of a problem as the homefront is, I really need to talk with myself because I think she wants to get into contact with the oracle. I'm my own boss, and I'm gonna have my neck if I don't get this done. Last time I went over my own cupcake I think I got on my own bad side. She sent me a letter recently saying that the oracle knows a pony that might be able to work with us. She said he is some kind of ancient ghoul thing. Also, I think she spelled his name wrong, but maybe that is just how his name is supposed to be. I guess if he wants to put the "O" in front of the "A," that is fine by me.


Scapegrace found herself searching through other documents, but I found myself getting bored. I ended up searching through some of the desks in the room. There was a locked drawer, but I forced it open, so it didn’t matter. I found a weird horseshoe with 3 balloon shaped gems bedazzled on the side. I figured it was lucky and decided to keep it with me. I found a bottle cap, a box of prewar mintals, a moldy cupcake, and some eye-patches. Another cabinet was full to the brim with these weird white orb things. I played around with them for a little, but I couldn’t figure out what they were supposed to be. On a whim, I grabbed a hoof full of them. They certainly weren’t going to be missed. I hated being hard with Scapegrace, especially after making her burn down that ministry of image guy’s home, but I was getting bored. Time was valuable.

“Hey, can we find out where my friend is? You said something about videos or something.”

“Yeah, I found what I was looking for, so I can get searching for that.” Scapegrace said as she unplugged the talisman memory device and sorted it safely away in her saddle bags. Then after a few taps at the control panel, she brought up several active cameras around the city. While the arcane components of computers were MAS, these cameras had to be made by an earth pony. Earth ponies liked to make things indestructible, even when it wasn’t necessary. I gave a moment of thanks to my ancestors for leaving at least something that was useful. After a little searching, the striped stranger showed up on one of the cameras near the Carousel. I laughed because the camera’s title on the display was “BOUTI-CAM”.

“Alright, we got him! Let’s get moving!” With no conscious intention, I brought a hoof down on the console as I spoke. A party whistle blew from a wall mounted device and lights began flashing.

“This is why I said, ‘don’t touch anything!’” Scapegrace scolded me.

“It’s not my fault!”

Suddenly, something started making machine noises inside the computer, and there was the ring of a bell, like the kind one might find in a crackle-jack box. Two hatches opened up in the computer, and mechanical arms, bearing a fresh pink and blue cupcake on a plate, emerged. It waited there for a moment before we realized we were supposed to take the cupcakes. Scapegrace and I looked at each other before taking the cupcakes.

As soon as we took them, a giant exclamation point flashed on screen. “Glitter-bombs armed. This computer will now self-destruct in 10…” An automated voice called out.

“987654321haveaniceday!” It was the fastest countdown. It wasn’t fair. We couldn’t get away. All I could do was scruff the cupcake down so I didn’t get glitter on it. The panels on the computer burst open and glitter filled the entire room. It descended upon us like cancer. We did our best to shake as much of the infernal sparkles off of us, but both of us knew there were some things that you couldn't get away from. That was usually the way of the wastes, but I felt the wasteland was laughing at me for this one. Anyway, we knew where to go, and that was all we needed.

*** *** ***

The air itself was rife with violence. The heat was enough to make a pony’s blood boil. The struggle of so many lives forged the killing intent that made the atmosphere so cruel. A single breath could make you hot-headed; a week would make you cruel. Without the rule of law, this kind of sinister magic was an unchecked destroyer of harmony and sanity.

A flurry of bullets screamed through the air, echoing empty against the walls of the boutique. The zebra dodged another burst of gunfire as he slipped through an opening in the old boutique. A marker on his optical display labeled the location as ‘Carousel Boutique’. An earth pony raider with a twin-linked rifle-bearing battle saddle made a charge, unleashing an uneven spread of gunfire that flew only as a means of cover fire. To the raider’s surprise, there was no return fire. In the shadows, the zebra was careful not to smile.

"Come on out, you flamboyant zebra, fuck!" The raider called out.

The raider entered the room to find the place a haunting ghost of the past. The unlit surroundings played tricks on the raider’s head. There was a movement behind him, and in a mighty bound, he turned around and fired the twin-linked scissoring rounds into a bridled dress-form. Behind him, he heard a whistle.

“Don’t play with m-“

Down the line of his arm, the zebra drew a piercing line through the head of the raider. The zebra smiled.

Zukang!

The bullet lanced in between the eyes of the raider and exploded out the back of his head. From behind cover, the shining revolver extruded out from the outstretched zebra hoof.

It was a strange device, the mechanism he used. It was in defiance of the convenience of the battle saddle, but in ways it was a brother to it. The revolver was held in place by a locking harness affixed to his hoof. Lines drew down the zebra’s arm and up his body, connecting to the bite-trigger in his mouth. The bite trigger was covert, unlike that of the battle-saddle, it was held in the back of the mouth. The gunslinger’s-hoof required balance, making it unfavorable among many, but it provided a notable advantage, for a battle saddle required you to point with the entire body. While the battle saddle excelled at combat on an even terrain, it suffered when faced with fighting opponents above and below the wielder. More importantly, the battle saddle was flawed in that it could not function well in tandem with cover.

There was a loud crash as glass scattered across the floor. A mob of ponies began crawling in at every corner of the room.

“Where the hell is that dirty zebra?”

“Maybe he has camouflage?”

“I doubt it. Everything about that bastard was loud. The clothes he wore… that stupid hat, the spurs, and especially the way he didn’t give a shit. You can’t hide balls that big!”

Two raiders snickered; Two bullet flew.

Rataff! Rataff!

Two raider dropped.

“Where the hell did that come from?” The lead raider yelled to his cohorts as they dove to cover beneath whatever they could find. Ten raiders had become six raiders. Hehehe...

“Hey, boss, I got this,” said a pink unicorn with heavy spiked pads wrapping over his shoulders. With a grunt, the unicorn focused his magical soul into his horn. There was a glimmering spark, and then a light emanated forth from the raiders horn.

Zfffwafp!

The light was snuffed out in the blink of an eye by a well placed bullet.

“Stupid fuck gave away his position. Nopony do anything stupid like that, okay? Fuck, I can’t see a damn thing.” The raider boss muttered.

“Between the eyes, win a prize,” the zebra rhymed to himself. “In the head, knock ‘em dead…” With a flick to the side, he opened out the cylinder for the revolver. “Four in row, huh? It must be my lucky day.” With a tilt, he emptied the rounds clanging to the ground.

“What the fuck was that?!” The raider boss whispered.

“I heard it, too.” Another responded.

“Quick he is reloading!” The boss ordered.

A third raider started screaming.

“Where is Klepto? He was right behind me!” The raider screamed before frantically flinging bullets everywhere with his machine gun. The raider flew into a panic as his nerves drove him mad.

“There he is!” One of the remaining raider exclaimed as he pointed to a pile of flamboyant hats.

As they trained their guns on the mound of hats, the pile exclaimed "Fuck...”

Just before a wave of lead crashed, the zebra flung himself out of the way and onto the ground. The leader followed the zebra with his trail of fire, running a line of bullets across the zebra’s side. With a quick hoof, he reached to the reloader on his side. It had several short magazines radiating out from a central hub that spring fed bullets into a 6 pointed circular arrangement. With a touch, his magnetic horseshoe grabbed the bullets and held them in formation as he pushed them into the cylinder. His adrenaline racing, he shook the cylinder into the gun and unloaded 6 shots in a spray of gunfire. He couldn’t aim well from the prone position, but he could still make each shot count. Two of the bullets found lethal spots on the body, and three of the bullets burrowed into the group of raiders.

The two remaining raider pulled themselves together after the flurry of bullets. One of them started laughing as they heard the empty click of the revolver.

“Looks like you’re out. How about a game? How many bullets do you think I got left?” The bloody unicorn raider cockily grinned. Calypto stared intently, not focusing with his eyes, but with his mind, thinking of how fast he could reload and kill these bastards. He needed the motion to be fast with no hesitation. Something moving behind the raiders caught his eye.

“How many?! You stupid fucking zebra! I asked you a… Crank will you stop touching my bags?” The first raider said.

“I’m not touching your bags.” The second raider replied with a grimace.

There was an explosion out of the raider’s saddlebag, and blasting holes in the chests and necks the two raiders, sending them writhing for only a moment before becoming still. Calypto squinted as he glanced from side to side. "I'm not alone, am I? Don't expect me to be so easy." He took to his hooves, and loaded his revolver. He slipped over to the wall, keeping a keen eye out at all angles.

When I stepped out of hiding and come up behind him, he made a vigorous pivot around and placed the barrel of his gun beneath my chin and smiled.

RaTaff!

There was a moment of silence. Something wet dripped down my throat.

My body stood there for a moment. Things happened so quickly. A new mural of blood against the wall is what I would have been a second too late. I gripped the zebra’s hoof against my shoulder. I had parried the gun over my right shoulder as a matter of instinct. It was the best part of learning the ancient arts. A gun was just a piece of metal if it couldn’t hit you.

“Show a little trigger discipline! You almost killed me!” I said gasping.

“Dirtball?” The zebra poked his eyes out from underneath his cap to get a better look at me.

“Eucalyptus!” I said as I shook him by his shoulder.

“I didn’t believe you at first, but I guess you weren’t kidding when you said you carried that fridge around with you everywhere you go… I still don’t get it.” Calypto said, clearing his hoof of my death grip.

“It’s where I keep the cans of whoops ass.” I said with calm grin and a tilt of the head, rapping a hoof against the armored fridge.

Calypto squinted at me as he scanned up and down. “Are you... covered in glitter?”

“I don't know what you are talking about.” I breathed onto my hoof and polished it against my jacket as I looked away. Calypto shrugged.

“I see you figured out morse code. You must be a quick study.” Calypto spoke with a condescending enjoyment in his words. I gave a sunny grin.

I took a look around boarded up room, walking over towards the strange mannequins that were all over the place. I looked over my shoulder back to Calypto. “Sorry, teach, I used a calculator.” …and then that calculator burned down the school.

“A calculator? Heh. Me too.” The zebra said to my surprise. I walked back over to him with a raised eyebrow. He leaned forward and pulled down the skin around his eyes, giving me glimpse of a tiny green lit screen on the surface of his pupil. “See?” He grinned.

I gave him a light smack to the face. “Quit that, you look stupid.”

“So, what brings you here? Are you brain deficient?" Calypto scoffed at me. He paced around me, his spurs jingling, looking around me. "You look unarmed. Do you want to get killed or something? You stay here and you will get hurt.”

“Hurt by what? Tripping?” I quipped back.

The zebra tilted his head and gave me a disapproving glare. “Do you not see the raiders?” I kept a straight face. He pulled off the second revolver on his poncho and stuck it handle first into my mouth. It tasted disgusting. “Use that, it has a bit of a kick, but it’s my personal craft, so I can attest to its effectiveness. Get out of here, this is no place for a merchant.”

I spit the gun right onto the floor, blegch! Calypto glared at me as I did it. I gave him a push. I didn’t understand who thought putting guns into your mouth was a logical idea. Personally, I had couple reasons I wouldn’t use one of those nasty things. Sometimes in the wasteland, you try to make a friend, and then they just try to shove a gun down your throat.

“I’m gonna die? I actually think we did pretty well back there. We took out about half of those guys back there. How about that ‘hot pants combo’ Scapegrace swung out there?” I stuck a hoof out to my side, knowing scapegrace was still hiding. A hoof slinked out from behind a crate to give me a high-hoof. Calypto’s stripes looked a little long as he watched.

“The point is, you are the one who is going to die if you stay around here.” I added putting on a strong face.

“Ah, that is an interesting opinion, but your opinion is wrong.”

“What do you mean, ‘my opinion is wrong?!?’” I asked arching my head around, like a short snake struggling to coil around its prey.

“I have a feeling… A hunch…” Calypto said, turning away as he walked over to the racks of eccentric clothing hanging in an open closet.

My eye widened and I wanted to show him what my hooves thought about his ‘hunch’, but I held off. “I have been running around all damn day, and I am not going to deal with you bugging off. You have no idea what I have been through today. I dragged a raider boss as I fell three stories... I survived not one, but two burning buildings. I almost got eaten by a vegetable. A computer made fun of me, and I made friends with a mood ring, despite her shooting me with laser pistol... twice!” I was furious, but my rant was cut off by the flying projectile dress form that pierced through the darkness.

“I said I was sorry!” A bright red Scapegrace vented from a pile of debris.

Calypto raised an eyebrow at all of this. “I see you found a mare-friend.”

The idea hit me like a ton of bricks. Contemplating the idea felt like something akin to great deluge 150 years ago. We were creatures of fairly different natures, and between the two of us, there could not possibly be harmony. I got the feeling she was in mutual agreement. I shook my head in fervent disagreement.

“Is she your wife?” Calypto asked.

Zebra-buddy, why did you want to bring such terrifying thoughts to my head? My innocent pony soul couldn’t take that kind of torture. Ha... My innocent soul... I couldn’t even see Scapegrace, as she had fallen flat on her face in response. “No, very much no.” I said as I waved my hoof.

Calypto turned back to me with wide eyes in confusion. “Then why does she throw the dress-form at you?”

“…Because she wants to hurt me?” I said with shrug.

“Is that not what love is?” Calypto asked, with a philosophical stroke to his chin and a beckoning shrug.

Okay, he was playing with me. I needed to grab hold of the conversation.

“Why won’t you come with me? I could use a body guard and you are a good gun." I said as I walked up next to Calypto. I prodded him in the chest with my hoof. "I can pay for your services and I think we would make a killer team." I laughed. "You want to help ponies in the wasteland? Well, my boss wants to do just that. Every road we make helps get supplies to ponies in need and makes travel safer. What do you say?”

Calypto sat back on his hinds and stroked the scruff of his chin. "Hmm, that sounds interesting; however..." Calypto pointed a hoof out at me. "There are ponies in this town. I won't abandon them.”

“How can you even tell?” I asked. Then, after a pause, a curious notion came to me. “Was your zebra sense a’tingling?”

He didn’t like the Zebra sense thing. “This is not a ghost town. In fact, it is rather healthy in terms of spirit ecology. As a shaman, the spirits talk to me, and they tell me that there are mortal souls deep within the ruins.”

Spirit ecology? Shamans? I grew up in a tribe, so such a thing wasn’t impossible in my eyes.

“So, you aren’t going to leave until you do something about those ponies.” I sighed.

“Yeah.” Calypto said with resolute eyes. He nodded.

"I hear some really serious stuff is about to go down..." I said as I leaned against my fridge. "But you don't care about that at all, do you?"

Calypto smiled.

"Damn it." I said as I turned a way from him. I took a walk over to the window and braced myself against the wall. "Well, I guess there is no choice." I turned my head back. "Hey, Scapegrace, how do you feel about running around and looking for this mystery town?"

Scapegrace pulled herself out of the shadows as she began sifting through the remains of the fallen raiders. "Tch, these guys have junk... oh well. I guess I needed a weapon though..." She turned back towards me. "It's been interesting." She looked down into her core and looked back up. She nodded. "I'll do it. It might be a good opportunity to find information."

I walked over to the two of them and put a hoof out. "Looks like we have a decision." I closed my eyes and laughed. "We don't even know where these ponies are, but I guess we are going to go save them."

Calypto put his hoof over mine. "Damn right, we're going to save them."

Scapegrace put her hoof in with a grimace. "And if they are dead when we get there?"

Calypto turned to her with a robust frown, then turned away. He pulled down the brim of his hat over his eyes. "Then we will avenge them."

"This hero stuff is going to be terrible." I said with a smirk. "What can I say?" I shrugged as I turned to Calypto. “You still owe me a million bits!”

Calypto raised an eyebrow. “I owe you what now?”

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
Level Up!
New Perk: Hooves of Hustle- Damn, you did a lot of running! This perk grants 2 extra AP per turn for the purpose of movement. I guess it means you move quicker. Why not go run off a bridge or something!

Learning bonus (+10% to Stealth)

Skill Milestone: (Unarmed 100%)

Calypto Perk: A Hoofful of Criticals- You are one bad pony who kills just about every pony. You kill good ponies, bad ponies, ugly ponies, even ponies you ain’t even met yet! +5% Critical rate on all attacks.

Bonus Perk: The Fire of Friendship lvl1- Friendly fire is the fire of friendship! Can you feel it? Hell yeah you can! Hurts, doesn’t it? Well not anymore. Companions deal 20% less damage from friendly fire and have -10% critical rate against you.

Ch3P1 Star Crossed Town [Treasure]

View Online

Fallout Equestria Joker’s Wild
Chapter 3: Star Crossed Town
By Sirius Shenanigans

After reviewing your town’s application, we are sad to inform you that Ponyville has not been selected to receive a fully functioning MAS Sparkle Reactor due to its affinity for class 1 to 3 disasters. Ponyville’s eligibility has been rescinded until further notice.

Letter from MAS

“...Will you get out of my stuff?”

“He-yaaaeagh-lll noo! Arh, yowch! You looked at my stuff, so now I get to dive through your stuuAAAAH- Tirek with a Tire iron, is it possible for you to make this any more painful?!” The pitch of my voice bounced about, peaking high and swooping low. I felt like I was being played with, like a puppet, which was appropriate with Grace, sewing up my wounds. I was getting sweat on my sweat, and I wasn’t sure I was going to make it.

“I mean, I could try, but I don’t want you to pass out.”

I was, once again, half naked, in the dark corners of a ruined building with a mare sadistically poking me in my wounds. She had upgraded from doing it with hooves to poking me with something a little bit sharper.

“I’ve learned… ow, fuck…”

“Sorry…”

“I’ve learned over the years that doctors are smart ponies. Most ponies who like cutting up other ponies get labeled as psychopaths, but somehow they get ponies to want them to cut them up. Let me tell ya, that’s smart!”

“I’m doing this to help you out.”

“I get that…” I said gritting my teeth. Helping ponies through pain... what a twisted world we lived in! Unlike Calypto, I had opted out of pain killers, because I liked being able to feel where I was going, and I couldn’t afford to be loopy in a place like this. My injuries weren’t that bad when I was running around, but without any adrenaline pumping, this was a nightmare.

Scapegrace pulled the head of the needle out of my blood caked wound with her teeth. She had a kerchief in her mouth so that she didn’t have to make love with my wounds every single stitch. She fed the needle into the cavity in the ‘seamstress’s glove’ she was wearing. This kind of thing would be impossible to find in most places, but every once in a while, the wasteland smiles upon you... at my misfortune, of course. I stifled my pain by biting my hoof. Calypto wanted us to ‘save’ some ponies that might be in this crazy town, but forget that!-- Somepony save me!

“Keep it down or we will have a swarm of raiders riding down on us.”
“You are worse than the raiders!” I squawked back. I had to be tough, but without a unicorn, the process was even more physical than usual. I hated everything in the universe, and mostly, I hated Scapegrace, bless her. The wasteland was a dark, dark place, and happiness was a lie. Damn it, why did this hurt so damn much? Why did I say, ‘no, I totally don’t want pain killers, I need to be at my most attentive when we get back to fighting?’ ‘Sewing wounds shouldn’t hurt too much.’ Who the hell was I kidding? I decided to take a mental note.

Dear Princess Celestia,

I am an idiot.

Your Faithful Student,

Tumbleweed

P.S. Why don’t you return my letters???

“Oops,” Scapegrace said with a concerned look on her face. “Alright, the string broke.”

She really was sadistic! “You mean we have to do this all over again?? If you break the string one more time, I swear I will take that needle, shove it down your throat, and embroider your stomach, you hear me?” My wounds were already sore, and her sewing wasn’t making anything better. Oh, she was the artist of my distress.

She sighed. This was not the first time in the process I had resorted to vain threats, and as it looked, it didn’t seem like that trend was going to change. “Alright, what color thread do you want?”

“Color is a lie in this cruel, bleak world!” I cried as I searched deeper into Scapegrace’s bag for what meaning there was in this terrible world of pointy needles.

“But we have so many fancy strings to work with!” She went starry-eyed at all the tailoring supplies she had found. I could only imagine what heartless thing she was planning.

“Just pick one!” I said as I began searching through her bag again. She was really well versed in several avocations; it was surprising given how I saw her. She was klutzy in a way that was going to put me in my grave. She wasn’t a great medic. She had the sadism and wickedness necessary for sure, but it was clear she hadn’t done this often. Even so, she seemed to take care in refining her process. Always absorbing, always learning, always growing.

After a little while she started sewing again, and I started screaming internally. Just as I was about to give up all hope, I then found the bountiful treasure I was looking for.

“We-----ooww—lll, yowch, hah, well what do we have here?” I said, brandishing the saucy magazine. When Scapegrace saw it, her jaw fell loose, dropping the needle to fall to the side of my wound.

“Put that away!” She said, turning an adorable shade of red. I could see her squirm a little inside. The tables had turned. Where was Cadance for you now, Scapegrace?

“Why? This is for team work, so I can get to know you better! So why do you have something like this?” Despite the piercing pain, with a mighty hoof, I cast open the pages to unveil the worlds of her desire. My face transformed into a judgemental squint as my eyes gazed upon the images of stallions in various states of dress… and undress. They had things… some flopping about, others standing with robust vigor, depicting stallions staged in preposterous poses with all manner of goofy props. They clearly designed for a mare’s fantasies; they were in such lofty locations as fancy luxurious beach houses with a view at sunset, the kitchen, in soft, rose petal covered beds lit by candle light, and by flora covered waterfalls, the kinds of places no self respecting stallion would naturally appear in. The weirdness level was elevated by the fact that, to my knowledge, places like these didn’t exist anymore. They had major themes with some of the graphics they had chosen, trying to convey concepts like “Good with foals,” “Amazing listener,” and “committed.” It wasn’t my first time coming into contact with these things, they were all over the wasteland.

“…I-I-I read it for the a-articles.” A fluctuating Scapegrace said as she fumbled around trying to get the magazine from me.

“That is brahmin shit and you know it!”

“No, there is an excellent article on arcane magical weapon use and maintenance!” Scapegrace said, almost jumping on top of me as she wrestled to try and get to the magazine.

“Oh really? If only it could make you more accurate, I might not have all these scars!”

While we were squabbling, Calypto walked back into the boutique to find us all over each other. He had gone out to set up mines and to survey the area.

“Am I interrupting something?”

“No, get over here. Come look at this magazine with us!” I said to Calypto while blocking any of Scapegrace’s advances. Bewildered, Calypto walked over to us.

“Stop it!” Scapegrace added vainly. Vengeance was sweet.

I opened up the magazine to a page that was particularly goofy to me. “Look at this stallion…” I flipped the page, “now look at this stallion. They are like the same damn pony, just different colors.” I flipped to another page that featured body pics of several of the models all next to each other. They were all making a silly looking kissy face. There were three ponies that were almost identical, labeled ‘Ferrari’, ‘Blue Steel’, and “Le Tigre.’

Calypto raised an eyebrow at this. “You two are weird…”

Scapegrace finally grabbed the magazine from me and stuffed it in her bag. Her color seemed to return to the usual coat, but there was a residual tone that remained.

“Sorry, Snagglehoof, I was just playing aro-aaaaaooowww fuck fuck fuck fuck…” She started ruthlessly sewing my wounds together. A once benevolent technique had taken on new forms. The new technique embraced quickness and pain as its priorities. Terrible wailing urges festered in me; I found solace somewhere in the place between my clenching teeth and the hoof they were biting down on. After a while, I started just thinking about my favorite foods and exchange rates for various supplies to keep my mind off the pain. After a little while she was done.

Some time has passed, but it was clear that all of us were antsy. After all, who wouldn’t be in this situation? This town was unusually active, and it was too hot to be getting into such hot things. Still, we weren’t turning back, and I think we realized that might just be suicide. There was an art to sitting on your hooves, and if we were going to sit on our hooves, we might as well do it strategic cally.


By the time Scapegrace had found her way to a bunch of medical supplies in Ministy of Peace first aid kits, I had already started stuffing my face with various delicious treats. With a disgusted look, she decided to toss them to the side.

Everypony was getting shifty-hooved. The clinking of spurs echoed through the boutique as Calypto paced. Gracie was pilfering the corpses of the raiders from earlier. Calypto had a vigorous rhythm to his strut, but it was the look I saw in his eyes that made me a bit worried.. They reflected an ugly nature I was all too familiar with.

“Carroway…” I called to Calypto. He turned to me, raising his hoof to his hat. “If you plan on going to war, you are going to need a bigger gun…”

The zebra flicked the cylinder of his revolver open for a second. It was a tick of his. “hmph, there isn’t a lot of eye work in a big gun. Save that for a more reckless soul. My eyes are good for putting bullet shaped pegs through raider shaped heads. I find my guns are pretty good for that kind of thing.”

While I listened, I opened my fridge and browsed the selections of food. “If you have good eyes, you should take a look at this town. I wouldn’t make a bet on a pair of six’s.”

“Maybe I’m feeling lucky.” Calypto sat back and crossed his arms. I fished out a radigator steak and closed my fridge.

“You have dangerous eyes right now. You have that ‘I’m gonna kill every last raider scumbag’ je ne sais quoi about you right now.” I said, training my gaze on the zebra.

I knew I hit the mark when Calypto laughed. “Bullets are a solution to a problem, and the raiders have got to be dealt with. The choice is simple to me.” Calypto said in his usual nonchalance.

“I never got the idea that you were here to kill raiders. Maybe I’ve misjudged you. If you want to kill raiders, there are plenty around in the wasteland, but you are going to run out of bullets out there, and you are going to run out of bullets here if you try your luck here.” I kept a cool face, but inside my mind was shaking. Conversation wasn’t always about conveying what needs to be said, I needed Calypto to show me what his values were. Try me Calypto. What will you do, I thought.

I saw Calypto stopped in his hooves for a moment. It was a subtle thing, but I could see him making a choice as his hoof hovered about his revolver. To my relief, he cast his hoof away from the gun and walked up to me. The color of his rage seeped through his actions. Even with his face eclipsed by his hat, I could understand his rage.

“What is it that you would want me to do?”

“Just to hold yourself back a little bit.”

“I’ve spent a little too much time sitting back and watching. Have you ever been without hope? Have you taken a look in those eyes, see that part of the soul break apart in these dark times.” Calypto turned his hat up, showing me eyes bent by rage, telling of all the emotions in flux as he fought reason with his soul. “I’d kill all of them to save even just one. The wastes are in need of a judge.” Calypto gasped as anger and exertion robbed him of breath. I took a spell of pause, just to soak in all that I had heard. The wasteland had a way of bringing out the evil in others, but just as trauma can break a noble heart, it is able to forge one.

“Will you two stop fighting? I thought you were friends…” Scapegrace added as she came back into the room.

“You are a good zebra, and I believe in what you said, but sometimes you can’t kill this many raiders.” The words hit Calypto with a sour resonance, but I kept speaking. “You are the kind of pony I think we need in the wastes, so if there is a life that I don’t want thrown away, it would be yours.”

“What good are morals in times of danger, if you choose to run from raiders?” Calypto fired back in anger. His fuse was getting shorter and I had to be careful, but I wanted to smile.

“I never said we were going to run. We can’t kill all the raiders, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t going to save anypony.” Calypto hesitated in his glare at hearing my words. “Something is going on in this town, and it is drawing raiders in. There wouldn’t be a need for this many raiders for taking out a band of squatters. Even if you kill them more will show up…”

“He is right. There are reports of raiders migrating easterly. Bullets won’t solve the problem.” Scapegrace nervously said. She looked like she wanted to say something, but the words eluded her.

Calypto turned away in accrid agitation, focusing his gaze beyond the window. “The raiders don’t deserve mercy…”

“I won’t ask you to be merciful; I want you to be tactical. We are going to live a lot longer if we can keep the attention off of ourselves when we go out. If we die, we can’t save anypony. We can do this, but we are going to have to be smart about it.” I said.

“Going straight into a raider-fueled clusterfuck is not a smart idea!” Scapegrace inserted.

I turned to her with whimsy. “I never said it was smart, I just think if we are going to do something dumb, we should smart about it!” I accented the statement by dropping my shoulders. A memory of the past flushed my whimsy away, replacing it with a colder tone. “Individuals can be simple to deal with, but groups are troublesome. And ponies are the most terrifying in a group. We can fight raiders, but with this many, we wouldn’t last at all.”

“You’re probably right…” I heard the unexpected words from Calypto. Did I break his pride? Debate was soul’s battlefield, but I hadn’t wanted to douse his fire. Any foolish idea of that I had smothered his spirit was blasted away as, in a vibrant turn, he struck a hoof through the side of my face.

“… but don’t give me those kinds of looks, you cocky bastard.” Calypto grinned back at me.

The strike was something sloppy. There was a little evidence that he had some concept of zebra martial arts, but it lacked the follow through to make it really hurt. The pain wasn’t too much, but my senses were on fire because I could feel everything that punch meant. All of the emotion, all of his intensity, were carried in that strike and resounded through my body. I looked at Calypto with a grin, and he raised the brow of his hat showing the fire in his eyes. His eyes were those of the proudest wasteland creatures, declaring its rebellion against a world that doesn’t respect its power. Scapegrace was lost in the exchange, glancing back and forth hoping to find reason in things. Calypto and I continued to glare at each other, before I felt the faint taste of blood in my mouth. It made me laugh. With a gathering swish of spittle in my mouth, I spat a wad of spit and blood out to the side, but I didn’t break eye contact, it commanded my full attention. The intense moment boiled up and soon I wasn’t able to hold the forces back.

“AHHHHHGGH!” The scream burst out of me as I leaped forward. Calypto yelled back as he met my approach. We locked in shoulders in a battle to overpower each other as we collided, holding back no strength.

“I feel you! I understand, you sketchy, striped bastard!” I screamed as I pushed forward.

“What was that?! What does a dirt-rat like you know?!” Calypto yelled back.

“That you are fearless Zebra warrior with a strong wasteland soul!”

“Damn straight! You candy colored, stripeless bastard! ”

Scapegrace was looking for a place to step in, but the argument was beyond her understanding and she feared she would draw the lens of our ire onto herself. Then, just as she found her footing, we backed off from each other. Then I swung my right hoof out, and Calypto did the same, and we locked at the elbow joint, pulling ourselves in.

“Brother!” Calypto yelled out in joy, and I laughed heartily with my soul.

“Brings me back to life in my home village! You are a swell fucking bastard, so don’t take shit from nopony, ya hear! I was right about you! I want you guarding my back!” I said shaking Calypto by his elbow.

Scapegrace was twitching on the side, unable to keep up. “Are you guys trying to kill each other, or what? Because I can’t tell!!”

“We are having a ‘stallion moment’.”

Scapegrace merely shook her head in after wasting more effort than she was willing to permit on understanding the ritual.

“So, what the hell was that you were trying to pull? Asking loaded questions, trying to make me prove myself?” The words were rough, but it could not quell the powerful resonance of the moment.

“Was it that easy to tell?”

“I could smell your bullshit a mile away!”

“Guess I’ve got blood on my hooves!”

“You crooked flank!”

“I had an idea of what kind of pony you were, and I wanted to know for sure.”

As we bantered, a pair of raiders I had knocked out had awoken to find themselves stripped to coat, and with their hooves bound. The first had his front two hooves bound together, and the second one had her back two hooves bound together. They had heard the commotion and were trying to slip away, but Calypto caught sight of them from the corner of his eye.

“You didn’t kill all the raiders?”

“Killing is messy, and I didn’t feel like it. Should I fix that?”

The pair of raiders looked to each other as fear took hold of them. In a panic, they hobbled with haste out towards the door.

“Nah, that is okay…” Calypto smiled. “…I’ve got it covered.”

There was an explosion outside, followed by screaming. The two of us couldn’t help but laugh. I was pumped, and I was in a place where fear couldn’t touch me. How many raiders were in this town? It didn’t matter.

“So, do you have any ideas of where these ponies are hiding? The ones we are trying to save, I mean.” I asked.

“The distress signal pointed towards the town center, so I think our best bet is to check out there.” Calypto replied.

“Scapegrace?”

“If we wanted to avoid getting violently ventilated, I think we really should wait for nightfall.” Scapegrace said.

“Sounds like a plan. We should have a bit of time, so handle your needs.”

I looked at my two compatriots. It had been a while since I had some ponies I could really depend on. We could have stopped here, but even as we prepared to jump straight into to the fire again, I felt exhilarated. It was going to be hell of an evening, and if we didn’t die, then that would be a bonus.

I grinned as the plans played out in my mind. “Get Ready!”
*** *** ***

Ch3P2 Star Crossed Town [Pinecone Head]

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As the sky changed sun for moon, the town took on a new ambience of its own. The shadows overtook everything, but straying from the lights, our eyes adapted to the night well enough to navigate. A lingering malignance saturated the air, even though all to find was wisp and smoke. It felt like somepony was watching, but it wasn’t Celestia. The raiders fought skirmishes all around. We could hear the sounds of war, the sounds of anger… but also the sounds of pain. A vivid night alive, it was in Ponyville. Perhaps the dead were still screaming? Chilling right? Either way, we chose to steer clear of whatever conflict we could. I had no intention of letting this town tear me into pieces.

I directed Scapegrace, motioning to my eyes, then pointing toward a patch of overgrown brush. She had bundled herself up, only her eyes were uncovered. A foggy light shined through her eyes, giving her a world of vision to her alone, but the light was just sufficient enough as I pulled her close to function as a reading lamp. By the faint illumination I could see what I needed without killing my night-vision.

The grass had been parted, meaning others had traveled this route recently. Scape planned accordingly. She waved a hoof in a circle, and then pointed down through another alleyway. We trudged forward.

Clink, clink, clink, clink…

Oh that obnoxious sound crawled in the ear among whatever ambient noises filled the air. Grace and I both turned a dirty eye towards Calypto’s noisy spurs. We were going to need to fix that. Both of us were thinking it, but Grace had an unsettling brand of smile on.

…sigh

“This is never, ever going to happen again…” I grumbled in the dark. And that was how I ended up as the unfortunate steed. The Calypto-Tumbleweed super combo was quieter, but the appearance left something to be desired.

“Giddy up, Buttercup!” Calypto whispered back, kicking his spurs into my sides. I begrudgingly followed Scapegrace into the next overgrown alleyway. There were many structures, but the curtain of shadows made them blend into an indistinguishable wall. My eye caught sight of a torch burning out from the deck of some wasteland re-furnished junk pile of a house. We could barely see the evidence of the raiders camped by it.

“Should we watch out for that? They might be able see us.”

“They can’t see us at all. That light is killing their night vision. What a bunch of idiots…” Scapegrace responded. Did she have experience with this sort of thing? Her specialties were starting to show.

“I don’t know, Desperado and I over here are the size of Canterlot Fucking Castle, I feel like that would count for something.” I added.

“Looks like we have at least two other groups waiting for a party…” Calypto pointed out into the darkness.

“What? Where?” I asked looking around before Calypto clamped a hoof on either side of my head and physically wrenched my eyes towards the two encampments. Even with Calypto’s help it took me a moment to see the band hiding in the dark. This stealth business was dangerous.

Back at the house with the torch, a raider with an eye patch over her right eye walked out in front of the light. Who ever thought putting a half-blind pony on watch was a good idea?

…but then the cyclops lifted the eye-patch, putting a sniper rifle up to her newly unveiled eye. She had her night vision.

I bounded into a sharp pivot, nearly throwing Calypto off of my back when the loud crack of the sniper rifle pierced the air. I barely managed to bring my shield up to deflect the bullet.

“Shit! Let’s boogie!” I said, before Calypto drove his spurs into my side again.

“Boogie? Really?”

Scapegrace was already headed towards another alley, but we didn’t have much time to pick our routes. The raiders with the torch started mobilizing, and the ones in hiding were taking notice.

As I broke into a gallop through the tall grasses, I tripped on something large in the darkness, and Calypto was flung to the ground as I planted my face in the rising earth. A well camouflaged figure rose out of its hiding with a knife in its mouth and blades on its hooves. Another raider behind it struggled to rise to its hooves, but couldn’t hold an intimidating presence. Heat exhaustion had bled it of its precious water and it could barely maintain itself. While I was reorienting myself, the steady raider jumped me, locking into a grapple with me, trying to gut me as we wrestled. The struggle was cut short as Calypto fired two well placed rounds into the backside of the raider.

I rushed in to scoop Calypto off of his hooves. As we approached the corner where Scapegrace had escaped, my own instincts caught my worry. This would be our grave if we had to fight; there were just too many ponies. What were we thinking, coming in here? We would need more ponies to fight this kind of group… Too many ponies, not enough ponies… Just as things were falling apart, an interesting idea came to my mind.

“Calypto, can you shoot one of those other groups?”

“I thought you didn’t want to draw attention…”

“Forget that, draw all the attention! Can you do it?”

The zebra laughed at me. “I’ve been eyeing those bastards this whole time.”

As we were rounding the corner, Calypto turned around and reached out with his revolver on his hoof. The machine spell inside his eye piece outlined each of the targets in the night. The movement was something he wasn’t used to, but with a deep breath and a smile, he let loose a bullet flying through the dark into one of the shoulders of figure posted as a sentry of one of the other raider groups. The raider howled at the injury, and his brothers roused to spot the assailant, but we were already around the corner. Confusion was the terror of battle, and in their search for answers, a shining torch pointed to a most convincing answer. It was the path of least resistance, really. Gunfire erupted between the groups, and the oncoming march was forced to tactically give up pursuit.

As we were running down the alley, my senses picked up on a weak panel of wooden boards in the wall of a building. A quick check revealed that it was loose enough to gain entry. I called Scapegrace over, and we snuck into the house. Between the chaos of raiders and the sanctuary the walls provided, we had escaped a surefire death.

The skirmish confusion was a good draw of attention, giving us some respite in the tense atmosphere. Death was all around, but it wasn’t looking at us, and that was the closest thing to calming we were going to get. It was nice. We crawled through the house, and Scapegrace picked up a few supplies along the way, namely a few dusty old books. To her, pre-war homes might as well be libraries. Be it information or an inspiring story, books were valuable in life. The house was home to several giant mole rats, so to keep our profile low we decided to carry on the journey. This house wasn’t a good match for stealth it seems, but travelling through homes might be a good plan.

We poked our heads through a crime against somepony’s safety deposit to see if we were clear to make it into the neighboring building. I licked the ground to taste it, but Scapegrace gave me a horrified look.

“Is that another earth pony thing?” Scapegrace grimaced.

“Not really, It has been hot, and everypony has been sweating rivers. Well traveled roads are going to taste salty.” I explained.

The dirt was powdery and chalky in taste, but certainly full of nutrients. However, it wasn’t salty, so we were in luck. The stretch reach the next house was longer than I would have liked to risk, but the perpetual cloud cover helped even the clandestinely challenged Calypto keep in the shadows.

When we set out on this, part of me had been waiting for us to hit the limit of our capacity. We would find the point where we would know we couldn’t save those in the town, if they were even there. The silver lining would be that we didn’t betray our intentions, and by working together we could save ourselves. That was the plan that gave me confidence, but we didn’t seem to be hitting that limit. Ponyville was such a mixed scenario of danger and safety. The night was an ally, and it was dangerous to sneak around in the dark, but for the raiders, it seemed equally dangerous to keep watching out for opponents.

When we piled into the building, we caught the sound of an old radio in the upper levels of the house. As we followed it, something gave Calypto an eerie feeling that I wasn’t as quick to pick up on. There were knocked over furniture and couches, and indentations in the walls, but I missed them.

The room with the radio was looking out over a stretch of town. The sight was grizzly. A burning building illuminated the road, the shadows caught upon an array of countless bodies.

“I’ve never seen this many raiders in my entire life. It doesn’t make any sense. They aren’t acting like raiders.” Calypto said as he surveyed the area. There were groups holding up in all the cracks and chasms along the road, but they shared a single fixation. They were focused on a single odd looking stone building, it had the same kind of six pointed star emblazoned on it as I had on the storage crate I carried around. “It looks almost like… a standoff.”

As the music wound down, a voice came over the airwaves.

Children of the wastes, hear this. The wasteland is ripe for the molding, everypony. The end of the world was just the beginning, a necessary shattering of the shackles, but the evils of the old world still plague us. The cities reject you, they toss you out, they mark you as an animal, and they call that justice. The masquerade has gone on far too long, for those who damn their brothers to exile, then fear when their brothers return for their fair share, why must anypony mercy them innocent? No, the days of the parasite are numbered. I call upon you, the rejected, the misunderstood, the outcast, the forgotten, the pariahs of the wastes, for now is the time for reckoning. The march for the kingdom you have been denied has begun. The legacy of kings began 10 years ago, and it will echo again. A king among ponies will rise. How do you ask? It can be only through trial that a king can prove himself. Those great among you, the summons are cast. A king needs a jewel for his crown, and you will find as such a fitting crown in the old ruins of Ponyville. The MAS jewel box is treacherous, and only through combating your own, will a true king be found. Those who survive are those favored by the wasteland. Let combat choose its champion! Go now, to ponyville, ambitious children. This is Pharoah, the heart of the revolution, and this is Evolution Radio.

Suddenly things fell into context. The bodies on the streets were those of the impatient, the greedy, the arrogant, and the desperate. This wasn’t just raiders fighting for blood; it was a battle of ideals. All that was left around were the smart, the experienced, and the determined.

It was Calypto’s wits that caught sight of the incoming blade flying toward my head. He pushed me out of the way and drew his guns to the group of ponies that had crawled in behind us. There were five in total, each with an outfitted silhouette of bulky armor, and various weapons between tooth, back, and hooves obscured in the dark. Scapegrace had brandished the submachine gun she had pilfered off the raiders back at the boutique in absence of her laser pistol. The mouth grip adaptor she had was very useful for this. The unicorn who looked like the leader shook his head at Calypto’s show of arms.

“Tch! Tch! You don’t want to do that friend. Think a little, one shot is going to bring a lot of attention in here.”

“I’m not your friend.” Our zebra shot back. I put a hoof on Calypto’s shoulder and shook my head. I hated to agree with the enemy, but they were right.

“Forcing a melee? Clever.” I said as I stepped forward taking point. After all, I wanted them in hoof swinging range.

“Guns are scary. I much prefer to gut you on my sword, it is much more civilized.” The unicorn said. I could barely make out the bird talon emblem on his armor. I always found it bizarre that bottom feeders had a bird talon on their armor. I must be a buzzard talon. “Raiders keep looking weirder and weirder these days.” The unicorn said.

“We aren’t raiders.” I replied. “You should back off, pinecone head.”

“What did you call me?” The mercenary asked as the shadows caught the angry crevasses on her face.

“I called you a pinecone head. Because you’ve got a pinecone on your head…”

“It’s a horn,” The pinecone head said catching the exact meaning of my words.

“That’s a pinecone, and we aren’t raiders.” I said pointing appropriately.

She scowled at me. “Nothing a little bounty magic can’t fix. Shut up and give me your head already.”

One pony jolted forward, slicing a path of attack toward Scapegrace with a combat knife in their teeth. I intercepted the attack, deflecting the blade by swinging my case into them, also warding off other’s approach. I reached a hoof around the side of the case, and wrapped around their neck, pinning it to the corner of the fridge. With a split-second drop, I made the top of their head touch their shoulder. It all happened in the first moments of combat. I had reached that calm nirvana and I had only one thought on my mind. ‘Next?’

As I readied my stance I caught out of the corner of my eye a dark figure rush in toward Calypto with a hoof spear that ran through a ring on their saddle. They lanced in, and it was a direct hit to the head.

But just as I had thought my adventure with this crazy zebra had come to premature end, there was a metal chinking sound as the spear was deflected along the edges of the hat. Calypto counter-balanced the edge of the visor with a hoof. With the other hoof, he hooked the muzzle of his revolver into the nostril of the offending merc, wrenching the pony off of him by cartilage alone as he extended the revolver upward. The merc’s quaking eyes could be seen only because the reflective surfaces of the revolver had caught a glimmer of ambient light from outside as he repositioned the barrel downward.


“I don’t like your rules…”

And with smile, a bullet tore through the merc’s skull with a visceral headshot. Calypto didn’t drop a beat in changing the rules. Before the body fell to the ground, Calypto was already punching drainage holes in the surrounding mercs like some kind of striped homicidal maniac. It was like he was sending them all off with express tickets to the afterlife. Still, it was dark, and not every bullet was fatal.

“Switch to plan beta!” The leader called out as she dodged out of the way of Scapegrace’s machine gun, which curved up as the recoil tore her off aim.

Damn it, the rules were changing too quickly. We were making a ruckus, and we couldn’t afford to get pinned down. “Damn it, Calypto! This was the one situation where I didn’t have to deal with guns and you blew it!”

“Get over it.”

Personally, I didn’t have any intentions of having guns pointed at me, let alone have them shoot bullets at me. When I saw the frame of a rather large thug of pony with compensatingly oversized rotational gun barrels slung over each of their shoulders in a battle saddle, I had no choice but to ballistically assert myself like wedge beneath the pony as they were crossing the threshold. I interrupted their stride, knocking their body upward, pressing an uppercut to the chin. As badly as they wanted to mow our merry party down, I forced their body to pivot up as their turrets wound up and brutalized the ceiling above. “The pre-war called, they want their stupid looking towers back” I mumbled referring to the ridiculous weapons on the pony’s back. I didn’t know about the S.P.P at the time, but those giant towers were hard to miss, and they killed the view.

An earth pony with blades on their head and hooves rushed at Calypto between reloads. Calypto belayed the first cut, getting by with just another stripe before dashing behind the radio stand. The multi-bladed attacker kept swinging, spinning their torso around for a second and even third attack in a feat of freakish flexibility before rotating their hind legs with a quick hop. Riding one hit to dodge the second strike, Calypto pulled away enough to kick up the stand and, with his hind hoof, pinned the attacker beneath it. The flexible bastard bent around the wooden support for another attack, but Calypto flicked a newly loaded cylinder into his revolver. For all their flexibility, they couldn’t bend around bullets. Not while pinned at least…


Still locked with the emissary of necessary firepower, I was in a tight spot. The brute started bearing down on me, trying to crush me. In my peripheries, I noticed something moving. A pinecone head rushed towards me with a blade in her teeth. I only caught on because of the faint glow of her horn and the aura that coated her blade, but I was the only thing keeping the pony with stupid ridiculous guns from tearing all of us to pieces. I neither could nor wanted to dodge. I whipped my tail, but the attacker didn’t flinch at all, powering through as it wrapped against her temple. But before the blade could reach me, the glow of her magic had faded, and she had collapsed to the ground. It was probably an enlightening experience as the tiny hidden weights in my tail crashed into her skull at just barely subsonic speeds.

The gun barge sized pony wriggled their chin out from my hoof and sank their weight. They telegraphed a shove, pulling back their hooves as they leaned forward, but the thing about tumbleweeds is that they roll with things. Just before they were about to kick me back, I reached my neck out and clamped my teeth on supports for the battle-saddle’s bite trigger. They wanted to kick me down, and I kicked back, thinking that sounded like a grand idea. Now, when ponies work together, the results are incredible. The distance I flew was something of pure beauty, only rivaled by the look on the muscled pony’s face as they vainly probed the air trying to bite hold of the trigger mechanism I had take along with me in my travels. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the pleasure of being able watch it, as I nearly impaled myself on another pine cone headed mercenary. I only barely rolled around them as I stumbled across the room.

Damn it, there were too damn many ponies. I stumbled to catch my breath as the corn-headed pony turned around and readied a charge. From the darkness, it wasn’t until they were close that I realized it wasn’t a pine-cone… er… it wasn’t a normal horn. They were an earth pony, with some kind of animal claw they decided to strap to their face. Sometimes I feel like some ponies think they can get away with duct taping just anything to themselves and calling it a weapon.

As they bolted towards me brandishing their make-shift pinecone at me, I parried the blade with the metal plating on the back of my hoof and passed to their left side.

“Tumbleweed, watch out!” Scapegrace called out before I could manipulate or throw my opponent. Just as I turned to look, my eye caught an exceptional large hoof. I wish Scapegrace could have given me bit more of a heads up about how the turret pony had figured out that I broke their weapon and had decided they didn’t need any weapons to beat me up. I rolled with the strike, fading back, but not before wrapping a hoof around the horn-faced bastard.

“I’ve got your back!” Scapegrace shouted, as she drew her sights. The words rang through my ears, and a chill ran down my spine. I had a chilling flashback. Why did we let her have a machine gun?

My body bolted into action. The horny pony tried their best to break through my hold, but as they tried to rush forward, I curbed their motion around in a circle. This was life or death! With hooves clamped around the pony’s head, I drove him straight into the gun pony, rendering them into shish-kebab. The kabab tried to run away, but I leveraged the horn to pull them back in front of me as the hail of bullets began to fly. The body shook violently as the machine gun ripped holes while I screamed like a filly.

“He has a shield…” Calypto mumbled to himself, bringing a hoof to his face.

The bullet fire ended and I channeled my nervousness into strength. With a powerful sweep and a twist, I robbed the duct-tape unicorn of all connection to the ground. I drove their horn straight down into the flooring. Breathing heavy, I turned to give a powerful double-legged kick, but then another hail of lead minced them to pieces. I only barely noticed in time to abort my strike. The bullets mostly landed in the enemy’s groinal region. I didn’t know what gender they were before, but whatever they were before, they weren’t anymore.

“Got ‘em!” Scapegrace called out with a rather pleased expression on her face.

“You could have killed me!”

“…But I didn’t, so it’s okay.”

As we were bickering, the heavy blast of a shotgun launched Calypto in between the two of us.

“Cal, you okay?” I asked.

Calypto picked himself up and took a small red vial from inside his cloak and drank it. “This is going to be a problem. I think it’s time.”

They had finally surrounded the three of us. Even with taking out as many as we had, there were just so damn many of them. How many ways were they splitting this bounty, anyway? Was there a discount for rent-a-merc? Whatever the cause, it was time. I pulled my goggles over my eyes. They had been modified to have darker frames. Calypto pulled down the brim of his hat, and Scapegrace tossed aside the cloak she had wrapped around herself.

At the center, the unicorn leader from before was at the front, a combat shotgun floating in the air next to her with two blades bracing the bottom of the gun. A sickening smile hung from her face.

“Oh, are you only getting serious now? Sorry, it’s checkmate! Goggles aren’t going to…!”

Before she could finish, there was a sun-like flash of light.

“My eyes!”

“Fuck I can’t see!”

“Where’d they go!”

And like that, we disappeared, or at least it seemed as such. The light had rent the surrounding merc’s eyes, robbing them of night vision. They might as well not have eyes at all.

Gunfire filled the air as they shouted in panic. They fired blind, searching for us, but we had ducked down. They found their comrades before they would find us.

We hugged the ground as we crawled out towards the exit. As we got some distance, we picked ourselves up.

“We should’ve done that from the start” Calypto quipped.

“Let no pony ever say that natural bioluminescence and stealth can’t be compatible” Scapegrace said rather proud of herself.

“You’re still a night-light though…” I joked at her.

I let Scapegrace and Calypto go in front of me down the stairs. We needed to be careful, because other groups could have been drawn to the fighting. As I made my way down the stairway, my ears caught several repeated clanging sounds.

“This isn’t over! Get the fuck back here!” The mercenary unicorn screamed as she rounded the corner. It was as if she had turned into some kind of beast. In a telekinetic vortex she swung three different swords around with mad fury against the walls and ground… but it wasn’t mindless. No, I could tell exactly what she was doing. She was feeling … She wanted to find us. It seemed less like a cloud and more like a whirlwind, her telekinesis picking up blood, dust, and debris as she clawed ravenously with her blades.

I didn’t need more of an invitation to get the hell out, but just as I started down the stairs, I felt the tug of a telekinetic pull at my bags.

“You’re not getting away. I’ll kill you myself!” The blind unicorn screamed, her face twisting and writhing in anger.

A blade lanced forth, hitting my saddlebag, followed by another blade. I tried to dodge down the stairs, but the sword clipped my bag again. As I turned, a white orb, the kind I found in the MoM building, flew out of my bag.

The second the unicorn’s trashing telekinetic maelstrom touched the orb, her movements halted all together. I was surprised at first. She seemed so damn motivated before about killing me. That orb really made her reconsider or something. As I got a better look, I could tell she was really frozen there. I poked her, right in the eye, and I still got no response. I looked at orb, and it was like the skies parted and I could see clearly. I knew exactly what they were. It wasn’t a mystery anymore.

… they were unicorn grenades.

“Hey Dirtbag, get down here already!” Calypto called up the stairs.

I grinned as I cantered down the stairs. I had a shiny new kind of weapon!

--------------------------------oooOOOooo--------------------------------------

It was a strange experience, being thrust into another’s body, not that I had ever experienced anything of that sort. For that bounty hunter, it must have been one of confusion, and then panic. At this point, there was nothing she could do. The room was plain, almost eerily so. The host sat a desk and waited for instruction. She was nervously fidgeting and chipping away her hoof with teeth. An elderly mare entered the room, and with a smile dismissed her escort. She had a pink coat and mane that at some point may have held more color, but age had bleached most of it white, except for a renegade strand of reddish pink hair that made her mane take on the likeness of a candy cane. She was old, but something about how she walked had a warm spring to it.

“Hello, you must be Ms.Forgetmenot? Kind of a mouthful of a name, but a nice image to it.” The elderly mare smiled. “Age 24, birthday January 26th? Working at home in a family run flower shop?”

“Um… actually, I collect for data for Ministry of Image… and my parents are engineers.”

The elderly mare brought a hoof to her head. “My bad… I’ve got my eye on so many things these days it’s hard to keep track of all the things on the dossier. I have a selective memory, and so I usually stick to names and birthdays. I’ve been known to even forget my own birthday from time to time, but we aren’t here for my memory, but rather for your memory. We’ve heard you have a super duper memory! The kind we really really need.”

The host nervously dodged the gaze of the mare.


“Have you been doing the memory exercises that have been distributed to you?” She asked looking from behind fake reading glasses.

“The ones given to me by the ponies with tropical shirts and sunglasses? They said it would ‘radically cool’ if I worked on them for the sake of Equestria… were they from the Ministry of Awesome?” The host asked, to which the pink pony gave shrewd little contortion in her face.

“Whoops, that’s a memory we will probably have to pull later on.”

The host strained her lower lip in concern.

“Oh, don’t worry about that, it just shows you have the kind of memory we need.”

“…um… thank you, Madame…”

With a smile the elderly mare interjected. “Please, we’re friends. Call me Pinkie Pie.”

“We’re friends?”

“Yup, everypony’s my friend… even if they don’t know it. I’m trying my best. Calling me anything else just sounds like I’m supposed to be doing work, and that is just the worst.”

“Okay, Ms. Pinkie pie.”

“It’s just Pinkie Pie. Anyway, I take it you have been doing them?”

“Yes mmmmmmm…” The host caught herself slipping into the honorific, and in an act of social dexterity, turned it into a yawn. “ahhhhhwwwwn… Pinkie pie.”

Pinkie Pie shot her a sassy look from the corners of her eyes. “Nice. Do mind if I test you?” Before Forgetmenot could reply, Pinkie Pie turned her front hooves upward and smiled. “Surprise!” When she said the word, glittery magic confetti popped out of the talisman encrusted horseshoes unleashing a gust of air that blew the shy pony’s hair around. “That was a rhetorical question, I’m testing you anyway!”

The poor pony stared slack-faced for a moment in social whiplash, before shaking out of it. Pinkie Pie showed her a deck of cards, particularly flourishing the order of all the cards. Then, Pinkie placed all the cards faced down across the table.

“Let’s play memory!” She said with a smile, but then a stray thought made her bounce her head back and forth. “Or it’s sorta memory. No pairs, I’m just going to say a card, and you’re going to pick it out. Okay?” The host nodded quietly.

“Ace of spades.”

The host pointed it out rather quickly.

“Queen of diamonds.” The host thought for a moment, and picked another card. Similarly, it was the correct card. This trend continued for the next couple of cards.

“King of Clubs” The host quickly picked out a card, but when it was flipped over, to her shock, it was the red joker. The host looked nervously at her mistake, but Pinkie Pie smiled on.

“Good. You pass.”

“but... but…but…” Forgetmenot mumbled.

“Keep you hold of your ‘buts’, I switched that card. Had to make sure you were doing it by memory and didn’t just have crazy powers to see the future!” Pinkie said oscillating her hooves back and forth. “We have a different department for that!” She said happily. “Now of course you could have lied to and pretended that you were doing it by memory, but since you could see the future, you would know that I would be very disappointed that you would lie to your own friend.” The pink mare blabbered on getting lost in the labyrinth of her own mind. “But enough about that, I want you to look at this!” Pinkie pie said as she put a map over top of the cards.

The host’s gaze crawled all over the map, which was entirely drawn with crayons, taking in details like some kind of high powered machine. A lot of the layout looked familiar to the host, but also to that of mercenary inside. It was Ponyville, although it had strange annotations for things various things. Particularly, it mentioned buildings on fire, places that are destroyed, and notations for various groups scattered around the town.

“Alright, this is going to be a little bit hard for you, so I am getting the traumatic stuff out the way first. Don’t worry about what I am telling you, you’re not even going to remember this.” Pinkie then grabbed Forgetmenot by the head and stared her straight in the eyes. “Hey, you! Yeah, you! I’m Pinkie Pie, and I don’t know your name, but we’re friends, and the oracle and I need you to do us a favor.”


“The oracle…what? Who are you talking to.” The host blathered in a low panic.

“I get the idea that you are good at killing ponies, and there is a pony around your time I need you to kill…” Pinkie paused to look at her watch, which really wasn’t helpful, because at every hour tick it said ‘Party time’. “… in about fifteen…twenty-ish minutes.”

“What? Oh my… Kill somepony? I couldn’t… I wouldn’t…”

“Oh, I know you wouldn’t, you are a nice pony. I wouldn’t make you kill anypony. Don’t be silly.”

“But you just told me to kill somepony.” The host said as her breathing increased.

“I wasn’t talking to you, I was talking to somepony inside of you.”

“But… I’m the only pony inside of me!”

“Well, actually you’re right, but you’re wrong. There isn’t anypony in you right now, but there will be! It will be a while, but they’ll be there. Get it?” Pinkie said letting the pony’s head free so that she could diagram with her hooves a little bit in a very convoluted way.

“No, no, I don’t get it!” said the perplexed pony.

“All you need to know is that future is sometimes now.” Pinkie said turning a grin. “You wouldn’t want to kill somepony, but the pony that is sorta inside you is super mean, so I figured as her friend she would be more up to this.”

The sweat was pouring out of the host. “Oh my… I don’t know if I can handle this…”

“You’ve been doing good. Just keep focusing on this and don’t worry about it.” Pinkie trying to be encouraging to the frantic pony.

“But… killing is wrong. Why are you doing this?”

“Well, it’s a hard job and we are trying to do our best with one eye on current events and one eye on the future. The oracle is helpful, but we wish I was born with way more eyes. In the end, this is why we are the Ministry of Morale, and not the Ministry of Morality.” Pinkie said as her face sagged a little and the lines on her face slackened with her frown.

“I thought you said you were friends with everypony! You don’t kill your friends!” Forgetmenot said as she held her head in her hooves.

“We’ve taken the target under our-wing, and we are going to make sure their life is as comfortable and pleasant for as long as we can afford.” Pinkie said recommitting herself in resolve.

“If they are under your wing, why do you need someone else to kill them?” Forgetmenot asked, her hair now damp from sweat.

“It’s a matter of timing.” Pinkie said, knowing it wasn’t enough of an answer for the mare.

The host sat and breathed in and out for a while until her heart rate had caught up to her. When she calmed down, she looked down and asked, “Will this stop the war?”

Pinkie contemplated giving a lying smile, but she caught her words before she spoke them. She sighed. “Honestly, I wish it would… but we are caught between a bunch of hard decisions and the future we are choosing is a hard one, but it is the one we can protect the most friends with.” Pinkie shook her head. “I guess…” She caught herself again, and waited in indecision for moment.

Forgetmenot squirmed in the silence. She flipped the table, scattering cards and paper all over there ground. “Then why are you doing this?”

Pinkie looked around and sighed. “Since we are going to remove the memory anyway, I might as well tell you. This won’t end the war, but the war isn’t the end. The ball is still in play, and if Equestria is going to have a future, we have got to keep playing the game. This is our rebellion against the hoof we have been dealt.”

“Is that … that group? The Vigil of Chains?”

Pinkie’s eyes widened. “That is going to be another memory we are going to have to take out. Some things need to be left as secrets, and telling somepony’s secret is the fastest way to lose a friend forever, and that is something I want to stop.” Pinkie said with a serious look in her eyes.

Forgetmenot sat with shoulders deflated in a cloud of her own angst. “Are you done playing with me?” Her voice was bitter.

Pinkie leaned back and brought a hoof to chin. “I think I have one last thing. Can you look over here?” Pinkie asked pointing in a direction. “And try to remember that I’m not talking to you, so don’t take it personally.”

Reluctantly Forgetmenot turned and forced the captive mercenary inside her to watch. Pinkie Pie pressed a button, and a party ball descended from the ceiling. Bursting open, a banner, with the words “Congratulations! It’s Your Big Day!” written on it, unfurled in a whirlwind of confetti and streamers.

“Keep your head up, kiddo! You are going to be doing a huge service for the future of what I hope is Equestria. In fact, I’m not asking you to do this, I’m gonna make you do this. We are going to put an enchantment on that memory orb because I’m not entirely certain you will really agree with me! So, thanks for your brave but involuntary service! I couldn’t have asked for a better friend to do this.” She said with hooves up high. When she was done, she hoof on Forgetmenot’s shoulder. “Thanks for putting up with a kooky old mare’s hazardhoofed plans. This was the worst I was willing to give you, so everything from here will be much easier. You’ve helped out in ways that are hard for me to describe. But for now, we are going to let you take a break.” Pinkie said ruffling the hairs on the head of the young mare that she wanted to give a better world for, but couldn’t find the answers. Forgetmenot shrugged. “How about I get you a cupcake? Would you like a cupcake? Hmm?” She said out of habit.

“No… I don’t want a cupcake.” The host said with dismal enthusiasm.

Pinkie Pie looked side to side before leaning in and whispering with the back of her hoof to her mouth. “Well, if you wanted a cupcake, I’m just saying that I have connections. I can get you a cupcake.”

The host didn’t respond. Pinkie sighed and escorted her outside of the white room where a stallion in pink suit and sunglasses was awaiting them. “I want you to take my friend down to extraction. I want her to be taken care of well, and I want you to make sure she is happy and doesn’t have to remember any of this.”

“Did it go poorly?”

“No, it went perfectly, but I hate hurting any of my friends. Unfortunately, the job sometimes requires me to. It’s definitely the worst part of all of this.” Pinkie said pulling the stallion away, knowing that Forgetmenot would not have wanted to hear it. “Anyway, take care of my friend.”

“Anything for you, Pinkie Pie.” The stallion said with a nod. The host gave him a look, and the two of them started walking down the hallway.

The old mare sighed. “I miss the days where I could solve everypony’s problems with a dozen cupcakes…” As she looked around, she caught the gaze of nervous security pony who was stationed on the side. She furrowed her brow as she pointed a wrinkly old hoof at the young guard. “Your birthday is … August 24th.”

The security guard’s sunglasses fell right off his face. “How do you do that?”

The old mare grinned in defiance to world of troubles surrounding her. “I still got it…” She quipped while flapping her ears back and forth. With reborn confidence, she began walking away from host. “Alright, I need some ponies to help me clean up in here. I’ve got another friend coming over, and I want it to look nice! And somepony get me a cupcake!”

----------------------------oooOOOooo-------------------------------------------------

There it was… Town hall. The dome tower stood tall, cracked open to the sky. The wood was decrepit and soggy, as a century or so will do to those things we had built. Plant life had taken a fancy to it, but it didn’t seem to be quite exotic or carnivorous as some of the other things we had encountered before. On one side a great arena was dug out into an amphitheater with several plateaus to seat many ponies, more ponies than I ever wanted to deal with in my life. In the center was a stage. An acoustic arch hung over top, visible only by the smoldering fires that had been eating away at it. Much of the detail was obscured in the dissonance between the arrays of light and shadow, but a single equine figure was distinguishable in waiting, leaning against the tall stone club across his shoulder. Scapegrace shuddered at the sight of the scar that ran across his face from beneath his eye all the way back to his ear. Of all the times and places, this was certainly a terrible one. The purple earth pony tossed and turned, in a world all his own. He drew the air in through his nosed as he paced.

And then he turned to us.

It was hard to tell when the wasteland loved or hated me, but it certainly didn’t mind throwing all these challenges my way. It was too damn hot for this kind of thing.

“Hell of a party, huh?” The voice of Killjoy called out, but he couldn’t coax us from the darkness.

Ch3P3 Star Crossed Town [But I Already Have a Ticket to Hell!]

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“Hey, I’m talkin’ to you! Yeah, you gals slinkin’ around in the dark.” He called out.

“How did he…” Scapegrace cursed.

“ You’re upwind! I can smell you all the way over here. Everypony has been sweating it up.”

What was he? A dog? Ponies have always had crazy traits, but some just seem to have more than they needed.

Calypto smiled. I couldn’t see that he smiled with the shade of his hat blocking out the world, but I knew from all the spirit I’d from him today that he was most certainly smiling. Killjoy was just one crazy pony making an easy shot for Calypto. He leaned back and harnessed a revolver into hoof, and lined the steel barrel up with killjoy. “I don’t chat with bugs…”

‘Bang! Bang!’ went his guns, launching bullets into Killjoy’s face. Much like monsters do, Killjoy stepped forward through it. Swishing the saliva around in his mouth, he spat on the ground. There was a quiet tapping of the deformed bullet as it tumbled across the wood stage.

“What the hell…?” Calypto’s composure dropped from his shoulders.

“He’s an earth pony.” I mumbled. Calypto’s eyes wandered skeptically. There was a moment of calm as the striped bastard stroked the short hairs on his chin. Suddenly, there was a loud bang and pain shot up the side of my hoof. “That doesn’t mean shoot me!”

“Huh, still got it. Guess he really is tough…” Calypto smiled, reassured. There were better ways to check if your guns still had kick, but none of them came to the mind of that zebra. I just knew it, everypony wanted to shoot Tumbleweed.

Killjoy dashed forth in a whirling circle. Those dancing hooves drove down deep, planting themselves hard into the ground. In an instant, the heavy stone club rocketed toward us through the air. We scattered, jumping to the side out of the way as the club perforated the side of the building we were hiding by. This was the type of thing that was much too large to be flying through the air.

“Everypony okay?” I called out, searching out to make sure none of us were pasted on the walls. I had pushed Scapegrace to Calypto’s side when the attack came.

“Yeah, we’re fine.” Scapegrace called out measuring up the distance that had grown between us. Our spirit dodged had placed us several meters apart.

“I want you two to get moving. Find those ponies. If Calypto says they are here, then I have to trust him. Go find, them. You don’t need me for that. I can take this guy.” If we could detour around dogmeat over here, that would have been ideal, but we couldn’t afford to be caught from behind, and he was looking on with an eagerness that demanded attention.

“Are you crazy? We can fight him together!” Scapegrace called out.

“I am the only one with half a chance of surviving this fight. Leave this to me.”

Scapegrace sighed. “Just tell you aren’t doing this because it feels cool.”

It felt really cool… “You go on ahead, this guy is mine.”

Calypto and Scapegrace cantered to the town hall, leaving us behind. I stayed to stare at the pony with the mile thick skin and I grinned. Killjoy leaned from the top of the stage, resting his head in one hoof.

The loud ring of gun fire pulled my attention behind me. Calypto was fond of simple and effective means of getting my attention. From the mouth of the town hall building he called out. “I don’t work for dead ponies, you hear? Don’t even think about dying!”

“I can’t make any promises…” I yelled back before he slipped away again. I felt myself waver on an ethereal line between excited and terrified, but I had to face the holes I had dug for myself. I lowered my stance to prime my muscles. “You must be Killjoy, I presume?”

The raider smiled at me. He had some garb around his waist, but it was quite interesting to look at. It seemed like a personal artisan craft. Perhaps it was stolen, as raiders do, but it didn’t seem like something to wear into battle.

Killjoy leaped from the stage, launching off like a rocket before hitting the ground in full stride. With a two hoof bound, he lunged towards me. “Oh ho ho, look’s like my name is getting around, but what’s your name, bitch? Tell me, I’m curious..”

I met him spearing my right hoof from underneath to his jaw bone, my other hoof gripping to the inside of his fore-hoof. “You don’t want to know my name.”

He was strong! I expected that, but it felt different from what I was used to. I couldn’t figure it out. I had to relinquish ground just to keep a hold. With his free hoof, he swung down at the side of my neck. I raised the crook of my right hoof to block, but it folded in like paper to the sheer strength.

Killjoy bared down with that single attack. I had to readjust just to resist against it, bracing my hind hooves and holding against him with two hooves just to carry the strike. He was just sinking his weight, but it was like he was made of fucking elephants. “Oh why not? I don’t get a lot of ponies who challenge me to one on one! Either you’re dumb or you’re brave. Those are the best, really... or maybe you’re both, but when I tell my friends I want a name to go with it.” Killjoy smiled.

“I’ve got quite a few names…arhh… maybe… I’ll tell you if you beat me.” I joked, struggling with the words. I looked him in the eyes just to see his reaction as all resistance disappeared against his hoof as I slipped to his outer side. I didn’t throw Killjoy so much as Killjoy threw himself. I just gave him push and tug, as I pulled his hoof along his direction of movement before ripping it circularly, both underneath and behind him. His body torqued across his own physiology and his direction of movement, flipping him onto his back and slamming against the ground. I proceeded to stomp a hoof to his head, but the bastard seemed to smiled as I pounded his face like it didn’t do anything to him. “How about that, Tough Cookie?” I yelled.


“You don’t get to call me that!” His tone changed. I could feel it surging through him in the way his body reacted against my hooves.

As I jumped with my stomp, Killjoy rose up, meeting my hoof head on. He ate the brunt of my entire weight, but he didn’t seem to care as he powered through and threw me off balance. As I frantically swung my hooves, trying to regain my footing, Killjoy turned to show a whole lot of flank before two heavy hooves slammed into me. A baren skull with a defiant grin, despite being dead, biting down on a bullet. It was an interesting cutie mark to be sure.

I flew through the air, crashing into the wall of the house behind me. I spread out the impact across my body, but I still braced myself, gasping, as I felt the air that had been knocked out of me. And beyond that, my back hoof hurt! It was like stomping on concrete. It was like somepony left him out too long, he was totally stale! As I fell to my hooves, Killjoy came charging with hellfire on his hooves. I jumped to the side, gunning for the hole that Killjoy’s club made in the building, just as Killjoy tore the building a new earth pony shaped asshole.

The inside was dark, but there was enough ambient light around to tell that it was pony’s home, or somepony’s den or dining room to be more accurate. Killjoy had gored his head through an entire china cabinet, knocking foreign dinnerware all over the floor. There was a round table in the center with several chairs. A mini-bar jutted out of the wall charismatically sectioning off the kitchen. There was a dark void torn through building, telling of the stone club’s adventure through the room. Killjoy shook the powered drywall from his coat.

“You get points, bucko! You hit pretty hard, kid.” Killjoy said as he grinned. They weren’t the words I wanted to hear. I don’t care if I hit hard, I care if it hurts!

I shuffled my way to the opposite side of the round table. Sweat was dripping down my face. “ughh… I’m not a kid. I’m twenty-eight.”

“I’ve been meaning to ask, what is that big hulking ‘mail-box’ looking ass thing you carrying around? You supposed to be some kind of courier?’

Something in my gut burst into fire.“What are you calling a ‘mail-box’? This is a refrigerator! What are you supposed to be? You look like you lost a fight with a garbage disposal.” I snapped back. Nopony knew my struggle. It was a really useful box when I found it, and it made a nice makeshift refrigerator.

“Oh, thems fightin’ words!” Killjoy muttered as he arched a skeptical eyebrow around agitated eyes.. He galloped to his right, so I galloped to my own. Round the table we went. It was a lovely game of cat and mouse. On the second loop, he slowed down with a scoff. I leaned my hooves onto the table and stuck my tongue out at him. He juked one way, and I juked in return. With a snort, he kicked table inward at me, trying to pin me against the wall.

Riding with the flow, I hopped forward onto the clothed table. “Ha!” I cheered triumphantly as I stood on the sliding table, only for that enthusiasm to bite me in the cutie mark as Killjoy raised his hooves up.

Killjoy struck down on his side of the table making the wooden legs of the table cave in like putty, launching me diagonally upwards into the air towards him. I skinned the ceiling, but my hooves caught something metal. What was it? A chandelier? Look at that! It was a chandelier! It had six prongs for gemstones, but the stones had burned out a long time ago. It also had another six spokes running from the center, out beyond the ring that held the prongs. I swung right over Killjoy’s attack. Before I could swing back around for a counter-attack, the screws holding up the chandelier ripped free from the ceiling. Clearly, they were installed by a unicorn. I swung gracelessly to the ground, almost impaling myself on the chandelier.

Killjoy swooped forward launching a piercing kick with his ridiculous amounts of force. I raised the chandelier to intercept the thrust while fading back on a diagonal path to break up the direction of his momentum. The strike sent my hoof reeling back as some of the gems shattered on the chandelier. Even in the dim light, I could see the pristine shape of the chandelier with the old ‘durapony’ logo. My heart skipped a little. This wasn’t just a chandelier… it was an earth pony chandelier.

“Damn, how have I not killed you yet?! Like really! It’s a mystery to me. This is getting interesting....” Killjoy said, digging a hoof into the ground. “Stop moving around so I can tear you to pieces, alright?”

Sweat poured down my face like a shallow river, and I was getting out of breath. Today was a long day, and adrenaline made it hard to tell how much my muscle could give, but I was sure Killjoy was feeling similar. Still, I needed to be all the more clever if I wanted to win. I needed a way to hurt him and right now I just didn’t have that. The longer the fight went, the more I could slip up, and if I got lazy, my bones would be good as dust.

This chandelier was tough. I spun the frame around my hoof, just to feel it out. I felt like a lion tamer. Killjoy took half a step forward and I hopped back preemptively. The bastard chuckled. My nerves were on edge.

Killjoy lunged forward, stepping to my right to swing his left hoof in an unyielding arc. I jumped back on a diagonal, stepping into some of the broken debris as I neared the wall. Quickly, Killjoy ducked left, reaping with both hooves across his body, right hoof following left. The wall behind me let me know I couldn’t keep this game of chase going. I dropped myself nearly flat to the ground (as much as the fridge would allow), but ready to explode up to my hooves. As the swings flew over me, I rose up, planting the spokes under left arm. With a steady push rather than a strike, the stabbing outer spokes of the chandelier forced Killjoy up off his balance.

Even as he fumbled, Killjoy swung a hoof in to strike me away. I pulled the chandelier in to brace against the attack using my whole body for support. With a clever tilt of the chandelier, his hoof fell in the gaps between the prongs. Spinning the frame like a wheel, it locked Killjoy’s hoof in place. Holding the locked hoof close to my chest, I hopped to the outside of Killjoys charge. He resisted with arm force, but with every muscle in my body, I managed to compete. With a pivoting turn I ran him into the wall behind me. That was right! Power wasn’t the only factor in fighting. In a real fight, what matters is control! Just keep swinging Killjoy! Your power is my power!

I made my move. I rotated the chandelier to pull his hoof behind him as he swayed about the ground. I mustered a fiery energy in myself and kicked down at the shoulder joint with my right hind leg, but it didn’t budge! My horseshoe cracked on hitting Killjoy’s body and he smirked with blood running down his face. Killjoy had forced the joint to bend and was braced against the ground and wall. I couldn’t even tell if he didn’t on purpose, but martially it was exactly what he needed to do...

Killjoy forced back his hoof, the chandelier still attached to him. He struck the chandelier into me, sandwiching me against the wall. I breathed out with the strike and braced with both hooves, but it felt like my world shattered. All my strength dwindled, and sight faded in a quick flash. An intense pain screamed in me, droning out the world as my body took the shock of the strike.

Damn it! I got cocky! I thought. I could see my mentor shake her head at me with that unimpressed smirk. I had been cocky this whole time really, and luck caught up with me. Damn it, I didn’t like luck. I believed in my ability, luck had nothing to do with it, or that’s what I want to believe. Maybe this was my escape from luck, from destiny. That destiny I had been told of… Give it to somepony else. Don’t tell me what to do! Maybe death would be my defiance against that fate… but I didn’t like death telling me what to do either… still sometimes, you can’t choose. Guess I made a bad play...

My back had imprinted on the wall. I took the hit really hard. There was a cracking noise. Did my back crack the wall, or did the wall crack my back? I felt suspended and delusional. I wanted to sleep, to fade, to disappear… to not have to try anymore. It would be nice, right? No more sores, no more aches, no more regrets, no more mondays… It sounded beautiful, but there was a nagging sting in my hoof that refused to let me fade into that tempting void. Fuck! It hurt a lot. It wasn’t the worst of my injuries, but it was the loudest in my mind. I couldn’t get away from it, it wouldn’t let me ignore it. That nagging pain was enough to make a pony claw their own brain out... and with hooves, that would be pretty hard.

I strained myself into some faint sense of consciousness, trying to figure out what it was. Can a pony die in peace for fuck sake? I felt the strange sensation of the world moving around me. I must have fallen over after Killjoy hit me. He was dragging me around, fridge and all, by the chandelier, not caring about the added weight. The obnoxious pain in my hoof was mid way down my arm. It was a bullet wound, but I didn’t remember getting shot since Scapegrace took a pick to my flank playing lead miner…

That wasn’t right at all, I did get shot. I didn’t just get shot, I got shot by that fucker of a Zebra, Calypto! That pretentious fuck! That gunslinging flank-hat shot me for little more than a joke. It would be his fucking bullet! I burned inside, and it was all I could think about. I would not go quietly in the night. I had things to do. Compared to him I wasn’t arrogant at all. What was I doing trying to give up like this? I had fallen pretty far.

I raged, but my mind was struggling to move my body. I couldn’t give up, though. I pulled the bullet wound to my mouth and I bit down with my teeth. Pain surged through my body. Good. Life was full of pain, and death was empty, so I bit down to summon all of my life. I’m an idiot! A stubborn, living, air-breathing idiot! My nerves lit on fire, but I bit down even harder. I dug in with my teeth as Calypto and I forced my brain not to give in. I felt… yes, feeling returned screaming and howling inside. My teeth felt something hard in my wound, and I yanked at it. Thought escaped me, and I ascended to a state of pure adrenaline.

Killjoy had been puppeting my body, lifting me up and down via the chandelier. When he brought me down, I caught the ground with my hooves. Never in my entire life had I felt so damn alive. Blood rushed in me like a burning star, pushing back a darkness of death. And I felt powerful. I bolted into motion.

I pulled Killjoy by the chandelier into a punch, and turning in toward him, my tail whipped a windy strike, lashing the weight in my tail hard against his skull. It didn’t do much, but it caught him off guard. I spit the bullet that I kept between my teeth into his eye. With it left my fear, my hesitation, and all of my thoughts. I found a fierce meditation of action. It was trance-like, but not repetitive. It was instinct processing motions quickly. The spit got Killjoy to flinch back. Spinning the spokes of the chandelier like a ship-wheel, I wrenched his hoof back, bending the joint at the base of the hoof back. With all my body I torqued down on the joint, moving smoothly but powerfully. The joint broke out of place, severing muscle, and for the first time Killjoy screamed. I lifted the arm at the fore-hoof and twisted it out of alignment. I didn’t feel it snapped with as much force as the first joint, but it clearly hurt him.

I wrestled my hoof out of the chandelier as it clanged to the ground. Killjoy’s chipper facade had faded away as he cradled the limp arm in pain. I reigned in my heavy breathing and in a sobering instant, I felt quite how much I was sweating.

Killjoy slinked off into the darkness. I won. I felt like I beat a demon and as such I stood in satisfaction and in weariness. What to do now… I didn’t know. All there was in my head was the fight and the screaming pain. My hoof really hurt. Actually, my everything hurt. I sat breathing as I tried to find my thoughts, but it was as if I lost my brain. What was I doing? My head was geared up towards the fight, but the fight was over and it left me empty, so I sat and listened.

I heard a tin clang of a box hitting the floor. I was curious to see what it was so I followed the sound. There was a ting of a latch opening and the clinking of glass. I found Killjoy coiled up around a yellow and pink ministry of peace box, the ones with the butterflies on them. Ha, it felt good to make him lick his wounds… To make him feel pain… that indestructible juggernaut having to break down to drink some kind of healing po...

…THE HELL WAS I THINKING ABOUT!? I didn’t want to fight that pony shaped wall of granite again! Once was more than enough for today! For this week! For this life! Fuck, that’s not how this is supposed to happen! I scrambled over the floor towards him, and he hobbled away from me with a sour looking snarl.

“You cheating, rat-assed bastard!” I yelled out as I swung my hooves into his back side, to little success. I forgot how much it hurt to punch this guy.

“My potions! Get your own!” Killjoy said between gulps, struggling to find limbs to ward me away with. He tilted the red potion back and the liquid swished around before disappearing into his gullet.

Beating this horse wasn’t getting me anywhere, and he wasn’t getting any deader. I pounced in inept fury, wrapping my right hoof around his throat and pinning the hoof behind the crook of my left forehoof, squeezing into violent choke hold. I could feel the muscle strain to force the healing liquid down his esophagus, but I locked tighter around his neck. If he wanted to metabolize that damn vial, it would need to go through me. These tumblers weren’t budging! The physiological gears jammed up and in a spitting fit, the liquid flowed back into the glass.

Killjoy pulled the potion away from his mouth for a moment, as he tried to retaliate against my lock, but I was already making my move. I reached my neck out, grabbing the lips of the potion in my teeth as I pushed Killjoy to the ground. When stealing, steal from the raiders! The tables had turned! I took a great swig in triumph.

The putrid sensation of health potion befell me. Bleagh! What was I thinking!? It tasted fouler than death and not as quick! What was worse was that it had a faint new taste that was befitting of the backwash cocktail it had become. Few times in my life had I rushed so headstrong into pouring liquid filth down my own throat! Clearly I wasn’t using my brain!

The complete lack of counter attack finally pulled my attention. I looked back to see Killjoy hobbling off with the butterfly box. As I gave chase, he slipped into the bathroom down the hall. I collided with the door full sprint, but it held up.

“Let me in!” I screamed to the other side of the door. I tried my hoof at the knob. He had locked the door.

“It’s occupied!” He called out from the other side of the door.

“This is terrible fighting etiquette!” I screamed as I pounded against the door with my hooves.

“Behold! In the vast wasteland world, the grand collective sum of all the fucks I have to give! Oh wait, what that? I seem to have misplaced them!”

“Killjoy, you suck flank!”

I turned around to try to buck the door open, but suddenly the door exploded off of its hinges, throwing me over my own ass. The door’s force was distributed over a large surface area, so it didn’t particularly hurt, but it knocked me back. As I crawled out from behind the door, I was forced to duck behind my shield (the fridge of wonders) as a fast moving porcelain sink soared through the air toward me. The hit knocked off my balance again as I braced against the impact. The sink shattered into pieces, a fine particle dust was cast into the air.

Splinters filled the air Killjoy swung his club out from the debris, tearing apart the portal of the bathroom.

“You’re gonna tell me your damn name!”

Stone club in tooth, he jolted down the hall, the club plowing through the walls like they weren’t even there. In a mad swing, Killjoy narrowly missed me, as I leapt back instinctively. The club grounded itself snugly in the wall, but even before I could enter in for a counter attack, Killjoy ripped the club free for another attack with a jumping swing. I cushioned the strike with my case, but all of the murderous force transferred through its body, knocking me back. The shape of the hallway walls began to sag at the loss of the chunks Killjoy had ripped from them.

Killjoy galloped in with bulging intent in his eyes, almost like they were going to rip out of his head and kill me themselves. Be cool, Tumbleweed, I told myself. With gravity on its side, the club came this time from above, turning over his shoulder. I rose to meet the attack, bracing the metal case at the base of his swing.

“You’re gutsy! That’s why I am going love killing you, you’re fun.” Killjoy said as he leaned in.

“Good to hear, I was beginning to think I pissed you off!” I said, barely managing the words as I resisted against him.

Killjoy bucked his body forward, and I buckled at the strain. I passed the strike down my right side, and stepped beside him. Killjoy took the club in his teeth and carved a circular arch. With a clever leap, I latched onto Killjoy’s side, riding his spinning attack. With a toss of my weight I pulled Killjoy off of center. The club crossed through a support pillar, utterly obliterating it.

Killjoy caught wise to my trick quickly and bucked to throw me off, and I eagerly disengaged. The house was audibly aching. The loose particles sifting through the transforming ceiling alerted both of us, but through my hooves I could feel the strain on the house. Everything on the verge of collapse, but it was like I could see it in every detail. Maybe not see, but I could feel it. It was my perfect weapon.

I rolled over my case as I hit the ground, but I recovered to my hooves as Killjoy marked me with his gaze. He made a powerful charge, but I leaped back behind another pillar. “Hey, stop playing around. Put up your fetlocks! Fight me like a pony!” I said, sticking up my hooves and shuffling them around in the air. Killjoy spat at the ground. The anger in his head must have quiet down, as he started approaching slower. He knew I had schemes, and loud yelling thoughts would get in his way.

Suddenly, the house shook as rays of energy penetrated the wall from above. Strange spears of light cut through the house. We heard the heavy sound of something slamming into the upper level, and that iconic otherworldly ringing of magic. My hazy visions of strain came into focus as giant chunks of debris fell from above. I only barely dodged a falling bed that fell with part of the ceiling between me and Killjoy. Knowing that the ceiling only can fall so many times, I chose to cross towards him.

Even in the chaos of the collapsing house, Killjoy committed to his attack against my approach. He swung in diagonally as a beam fell askew of the ground and to the side. The bed was springy, allowing me to jump clear over Killjoy. I almost didn’t make it, the depression of the springs slowing me down. I wasn’t the only pony thinking with springs. Killjoy used the bit of bounce in the spring to rebound his attack around in a circle. I turned to block the attack with my trusty fridge shield, but the attack sent me rolling out against the ground.

Killjoy rushed in as I rolled about on the ground. My senses picked up on the spiking stress of the ceiling above me as tension crawled all over its foundation. I shuffled towards Killjoy, meeting his charge. He was posed to strike downward, but I entered in grabbing around his torso. With a hind hoof, I kicked to his groin, which did far less than I wanted it to do, he had balls of steel—but bracing the hoof, I carried him over throwing him behind me, with his own momentum launching Killjoy behind me.

Before he could give chase, a sway in the house opened the ceiling up. Sliding out from the sky, a flower pot crashed on his head. Then a cabinet, and then even an entire chunk of floor board fell down at an angle. Killjoy’s angry head burst out through the floorboard and the pile debris, but it was thick, binding him in a loving embrace.

I hobbled over to Killjoy, taking a good look at his lack of being able to move. Just about everything had fallen on top of him. “This is a good look for you!” I said with a smile.

“Bite me, flankwipe…” Killjoy sneered unable to move.

“Some other time, maybe…” I ruffled his hair as I passed him. I climbed up the floorboard to the second level.

“Aaaahhhhhh, yahhhghh!” Killjoy screamed, shaking the floorboard as he freed one hoof. I scrambled up the debris trying not to lose my footing and slide down. When I got to the top, I found a perfect weapon. From what I knew of this guy, it probably wasn’t going to kill him, but I didn’t really care.

“I’m not done with you. Get back here!” Killjoy yelled. There was no response back. “You yellow coward!” Killjoy yelled as he freed another hoof.

“You know me too well!” I said as I pushed the piano towards the edge of slope. “I am yellow!” I said leaning over top of the piano.

Killjoy squinted, putting his head on his hoof. “I don’t like you.” He said with robust frown. That club-flinging bastard double-timed his struggling, as I gave the piano a gentle push. He was most of the way out, when the music found him.

I turned around to make my escape. Sections of the flooring were falling, but I had some weird intuition of which areas could support me or not. The house buckled in toward the hole we had initially torn in it, throwing everything onto a slant. The erie scraping noises crawling up behind me gave me a chill. I glanced over my shoulder, only to realize that all the furniture in the room was sliding towards me. With a room full of cabinets pushing at my back, all I could do was orient myself toward the window, and jump. Putting my case at the front, I crashed through the window. The wave of furniture crumpled as it met the wall.

Aching, bruised, and sweating, I crawled away as best I could. I would be damned before I let myself lose by such a small margin. I turned back to the house as it crumbled in on itself. I looked back at the shambles left behind of the house and sighed. It had been a long fight… however before I could turn away, lightning flashed across the sky..

The stone club punched through the pile of debris. It folded the heavy fragments in on itself like it was a giant mandible.


Killjoy climbed to the top of the rubble and spit the dust from his mouth.

Again he charged, and I jumped to meet him in one final clash, when a figure flew over head. A scarlet array of burning lights filled the sky—illuminations flares. The ambient glow caught the image of one of those aberrant creatures as it darted through the sky. They were tall, well built creatures but they had little expression on their faces. They had both feathered wings and magical horns. My people called them demons of harmony, but they had gained another name…

“Was that a fucking alicorn?!” Killjoy’s eyes nearly fell out of his little raider head.

Something was off about this alicorn. Alicorns only came in three flavors: Sour apple, Grape, and Hawaiian Blue, but this alicorn’s coat was splotched like it was sick or something. Parts of the winged nightmare had taken in a red color. Whether she was actually red, I couldn’t tell because of the flares, but if I had to guess, she would be a deathly white.

A stunning stream of arcane spellfire rained from above. grape flavored alicorn viciously pursued the other, curling in its wings and dropping into a rapid dive. This one was fully armored, like it was geared for war. The strangely colored alicorn had banked a sharp turn, pivoting in the air. The mystery flavor alicorn’s horn shimmered, and a brilliant spell dust blade formed in the air, but before she could intercept, the electric howl of some kind of powerful pre-war cannon ripped through the sky. The shot was too fast to see, but the ricochet off of the first alicorn’s arcane shield was clear as day. The… cinnimon vanilla… or Wildberry alicorn beat it wings back and swooped towards direction of the shot. I love the wasteland, but when it throws these weird colored alicorns at me, it makes the system fall apart.

A sour apple alicorn took off from its sniping perch, but the discolored alicorn blinked from space and in the next instant she had struck the sour apple alicorn out of the sky. The sour apple mutant’s horn shined and her skin took on a layer of stone, becoming statuesque. The discolored alicorn shot a single star-like burst, shattering through the shield projected around the statue. The shot burrowed into the statue, and a fissure crawled up the stone surface. A hissing noise escaped from the cracks with a thick fume of smoke. The aberrant pony cackled hysterically.

“Did she just crack one of the watermelon ones?!?” Killjoy interjected.

“Watermelon?”

“They’re green on the outside, red on the inside. They’re watermelons.” Killjoy explained.

I didn’t have the attention to argue at this point. It didn’t matter. They were sour apple. That was final. I didn’t need his agreement.

The discolored alicorn wove out of the path of the grape dive bomber. Before she could hit the ground, the grape alicorn disappeared in a flash of magic light.

Suddenly the grape pony was chasing the mutated alicorn, firing a heavy barrage from a gatling style spell caster. The alicorn’s target slipped in between the spell charges, leaving the strikes to explode through several nearby buildings. The mutant rolled her wings in looping circularly over the grape alicorn. With a brilliant arch of light, a silver blade of magic sliced through the translucent barrier around the grape alicorn, fracturing it into cinders of spell dust. Her right wing was sheared from her body, sending her spiraling down near us.

When the discolored freak among devils landed, I could see a strange amulet fastened along her neck. It bore a red gemstone, with an ebony sculpt of a red-eyed pony with both wings and horn. She walked with an uncharacteristic gracelessness upon her hooves as she approached the other alicorn.

“Submit… Submit to the Unity.” The crippled alicorn shuddered as it spoke. Its horn was cracked, and it was bleeding profusely.

“I refuse…” The mutated creature flashed a venomous grin. “I don’t have any desire to be the puppet of wanna-be deities...”

“T-the unity… d-demands the key to… the new generation.” The grape pseudo-goddess raised her head in nobility, however, even the mental influence of the pool of thoughts couldn’t keep her from quaking pathetically. “We are strong… a solitary unit can not stand up to us…”

“An infestation of mindless insects wants me to give them the means of reproducing? You really are pathetic scum. Just tell me my name, damn it.”

“Resistance is futile.”

“Say…my…name.” A mass of spell dust materialized all around the unity alicorn. Her horn shimmered, sparks spitting relentlessly out of the fractured stub, as the shield took form around her.

The cloud of spell dust formed a barrier. Two points on the barrier spiraled downward into a bladed eddy. Spell static crackled as the vortex began to drill into the grape pony’s final defense. The silver barrier shrank in size it pulled tight over the alicorn. After a moment, the Unity alicorn’s resistance faded, and the shrinking sphere bent the wing-clipped alicorn’s infamous shield like it was some kind of gelatin, and the gyrating drills of magic, the width of a pony’s foreleg, dove into the shoulder and the pelvis, eviscerating large chunks of flesh. A cloud of splattering red mist coated the inside of the magic sphere. When the spell dissipated, the wall of viscera fell to the ground, revealing a macabre husk.

“She just turned that alicorn into a grape smoothie!” I panicked.

“And she also said ‘I’!” Killjoy added.

We took a moment to look at each other’s wide eyed, horribly contorted faces. Somewhere along the way, the terrified little fillies inside us both had galvanized us to clamor together, wrapping our hooves around each other in a pathetic display of instinctual fright. We were a shuddering, stallion, cry-pile of bitches. After all, it wasn’t everyday where you see one of the wasteland’s alpha predators get blenderized. We looked to each other, then to the alicorn, then back to each other.

“Truce?”

“Truce!”

We shook hooves on it.

“Sorry I dropped a piano on you…”

“S’alright.”

After a few moments of meditating on a particularly egregious case of what we call in the business, a “what in actual pastel pony colored fuck just happened?” incident, we realized just how uncomfortable this position was.

A devious sparkle caught Killjoy’s eye. He ran a quizzical eye over my ensemble.“Do you have glitter on you or something?”

“no….” The emotional stress foiled any slyness I could have worked for such a simple lie.

Killjoy carelessly flung me into the ground. “Eyaech! Don’t touch me!”

That glitter bomb was going to haunt me forever. Anyway, we started trying to sneak our way out. I unfortunately managed to overhear the Alicorn’s conversation in passing.

“Say my name…” The alicorn stomped a hoof down on the neck of the mangled remains of the Unity alicorn. By some twisted miracle, creature was still alive, covered in it’s own blood, its shallow breath weakly struggling vainly to not be drowned in vicera.

“Misera…ble…creature…” It said.

“hmmm… Misera? I guess it will have to do.”

“Pfffffft!!” My body blurted out involuntarily. Killjoy shot me a death glare. I shrugged painfully. How was I supposed to control myself when somepony actually chooses the kind of name that only a one-half dimensional, mustache-twirling, villain who likes kicking puppies would have? Watch out, Killjoy! She’ll kick you!

“Does something amuse you?” asked Mis… Miser… asked the crazy flying pony narwhal.

I took a deep breath. Find the words, Tumbleweed , I told myself. “It must take a lot of guts to pick a fight with one of the wastelands biggest and least socially adept chain gang. It is impressive, Miss.”

“Very polite. It’s good for the weak to know their place…” She looked around in smug approval. “Mis? A lovely nickname…” the renegade princess reject said as she walked far beyond my comfort zone, putting a hoof around my neck and petting my head. “The Unity are weak minded trash. In a group, decision falls down to the lowest denominator. They are nothing but a collective of genetically enhanced slop... I’m taking back everything they took from me…”

I was filled with a simmering rage at my involuntary enabling of her stupid name, but I had to stifle it if I was going to survive this. Being this close, I noticed a strange thing on her flank. It was some kind of remnant of a cutie mark, except it was hazy and blurred. Alicorns didn’t have those! Then I noticed the corpse she carried on her back. It was decked out in a high tech, heavy-looking black armor. What’s more was that it had wings! More winged bastards… what we’re they called again? The kind that didn’t have horns… I could of sworn I had the word earlier today…. Not the time, Tumblefuck! Safety! Survival! Those things you care about… I coughed to call myself together. “They are definitely going to come back here. You should get out of here before they send in their swarms. Alone, fighting so many alicorns could be difficult.” I said. Yes! That’s the way, Tumbleweed. That’s some excellent thinking!

“It is lonely at the peak of power, but it is the price I pay for identity. I saw this town in a fleeting memory. It’s in that MAS building. Knowing is worth the danger.” said ‘Miserable-taste-in-names’. “Hmm, almost time... I don’t like the location, but all I need is an earth pony.” Her eyes sparkled at the two of us. “Why don’t you come with me?”

Damn it! I could sing a song right now about how frustrated I was. I needed to think up lyrics…

She then with a telekinetic grip wrapped an invisible chain around Killjoy’s neck. “On second thought, you look better suited for the spell.”

Spell? What? Did I just dodge getting ‘Temple of Doomed?’ The alicorn dragged Killjoy toward the Town hall stage. Killjoy kicked and struggled, but even with his ridiculous strength it didn’t help him. He gave me a look of desperation.

I didn’t owe him anything, right? Couple minutes ago he was trying to kill me. … I did swear a truce. Damn it, I needed to be more thorough with setting the terms of those kinds of contracts. My old self was smarter than this. I was getting soft.

I followed after them. The splotched pony rose onto the stage. She had also dragged the corpse of the alicorn along with her.

With a magic energy she cut an intricate set of grooves into the wood of the stage. She pooled the blood of the armored pony and the alicorn in two different isometric wells.

Concentrating intensely, she sparked the magical catalyst, gathering her wells of power. The amulet around her neck glowed and spell static flavored the air. Her pupil vanished in the flood of light that poured out of them. It was a fireball… no... more like a small star, but it was dark, it had no light. The temperature started to spike in a deadly way. She launched the star high into the cloud ceiling.

She then turned to Killjoy and floated a simple knife to his chest.

“That is going to take forever, Kalimare. Why don’t you pick on somepony your own size.” I couldn’t believe the words coming out of my mouth.

“What happened to that polite pony from before?” The false goddess walked towards me.

The knife moved with an alacrity I was not expecting. It rose up to my neck, and made a delicate cut. My blood began to flow…

“oh hoho, I was wrong... Your blood is magnificent. This vibrant hue, you’ve done terrible things, haven’t you?”

I didn’t want to hear that when I was actually doing something arguable heroic. I wasn’t listening, I had maybe eight seconds of consciousness left to do something ridiculous. It wasn’t a deep cut, maybe I had a bit longer... I had to try for something.

The demon levitated a measure of blood to fill the third well. “With this, the unity will think twice about coming for me, and it will give that blockage up in front of the MAS building the push it needs.”

I didn’t even care to listen to the words. I couldn’t waste a precious moment as my blood seeped out. This was a fatal injury, and even as I pressed my neck to keep blood in going to my brain, I wouldn’t have much longer than 30 seconds to live and that would be generous. I was searching frantically through my bags. I had one. A potion for this type of emergency. Where the hell did I put it? Damn it all. I was gonna die.

… but it wasn’t there.


Part of me realized I wasn’t going to find it. I looked up in defeat, but I wasn’t ready for what I saw.

The sky itself was being ripped apart. The clouds strained, as lightning flared unnaturally across the landscape. Smoke poured out of one of those giant towers in the distance.

But the thing I was not prepared to see, was the great shining orb in the sky staring down above me. The moon...

In those moments my mind raced in complete disbelief. What the hell was going on? What was ponyville? I didn’t know. My vision faded, and I could feel the heat rapidly pouring out of my body.

The last thing I remember was something hitting me, almost crushing me.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Chp3p4 SCT: Does It Hurt When You Bite Your Tail?

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Joker's Wild
Chapter 3 Part 4 STAR CROSSED TOWN--
[Does It Hurt When You Bite Your Tail?]


“So, on a scale of 1 to 10, how dead do you think Tumbleweed is?”

Calypto gave Scapegrace a quizzical look. “What do you mean?” He asked, fetlocks deep in a filing cabinet. It was a completely valid question, but I would have still taken offense.

“I mean, we basically abandoned him with a ponified steam roller,” (that I made friends with…) “He doesn’t stand a chance.” Scapegrace said, having zero faith in my abilities.

“He’ll be fine.” Calypto said as he skimmed through countless leaves of files, searching for something of note, but each venture coming up dry. Calypto sneered at the yellowing scroll reading ‘In honor of it’s local heroes, Ponyville proudly supports war effort by supplying the construction equipment to build new ministry branches.’ It was worthless script to him. All of it was worthless, and it just felt wrong to have his head in something so far in the past.

“That pony is a thoroughbred line crosser! He is going to get himself killed!” Scapegrace said while she chiseled the gold lining from an office name plate.

“He has a drive, and he has a strong star looking over him. He said he’ll partner with me, so he better not die.” Calypto smirked as something caught his eye. Reaching deep into the cabinet, he clawed at the bottom relentlessly. “If that rat wants to die, I’ll drag his soul right out of hell.” He said, scraping the small sum of caps from the bottom of the cabinet.

“Right…” Scapegrace sighed skeptically.

“That isn’t a joke, I’ll grab his weedy little spirit flank and bring it top side.” Calypto laughed. I certainly had some interesting choice of friends. “Besides, he has that …” You know it’s a refrigerator, you striped tool! “… refrigerator thing. He will be fine.”

“It really hurts me to see him abuse high technology like that, he is a real fool.” Scapegrace pouted over misaligned desk. Pulling one drawer free after another, only to empty them out, Grace threw herself into a pile of documents. Calypto raised an eyebrow at her. “MAW might, but the Ministry of Arcane Sciences and Ministry of Wartime Technology don’t just create nearly indestructible ice boxes.”

“Things are what they are good for.” Calypto shrugged.

“Well maybe he can cheat death just a little bit.” Scapegrace said breaking free of the now sifted mountain of documents. It was an endless trove, but nothing so far being particularly useful. She busted out her lock picks as she set sights on a cabinet. She sighed. “That cheeky bastard gets to me. He better stay living, I’ve got a beating with his name on it for all the trouble he’s caused me.” She said, rolling her eyes as she spun the ring of lock picks around her hoof.

Scapegrace couldn’t see the terrifying creature she had summoned up behind her. A fiendish smile crawled across the zebra’s face. He leaned over her, his hat casting a shadow. “Oh? Having conflicting thoughts? Some leaky pipe in the heart?” Calypto added pedantically.

Scapegrace’s crystal coat popped with a rosy color. The hairs on her tail jolted up on end at the thought. “Hey, don’t get the wrong idea! He is a nice guy, but he pisses me off.”

“He does have a face for hitting…”

“I just want to… want to…” Scapegrace mumbled off as she tried to focus her efforts into picking the lock.

“Crush him?” Calypto said with a venomous guile.

The mere mention of the word made her jump. The audible snap of jamming tumblers made Scapegrace turn a cross glare at Calypto. Calypto snickered.

“I was beginning to wonder what you were doing tagging along…” Kicking a cabinet, a wave of papers poured out across a desk in front of me. Calypto cocked back his head. “You haven’t got the death wish. Mouseheart.”The zebra said with a smug malice. He began folding the edges of one of the prewar documents. “Such a logical pony with an override of the brain by the heart.” Having finished the heart shaped paper airplane, he then sent it flying past Scapegrace.

As it crashed at the wall, it dropped lifelessly to the ground.

“I don’t know what I’m doing here.” With a sigh, the color bled from her coat, leaving her pale. She shook her head as she searched to find better words. Less painful words. “I’ve hit gold. As far as the markets care, this is premium data.” she said pushing closed a cabinet.

A smirk was rude. A laugh was cruel. Calypto did both. “Not enough is it?”

All of her tensions were reflected in her eyes and in her movements. “I have a mission… no, I don’t... but I’m trying to do something with a lot more at stake. The MAS building is a death trap, but seeing the two of you be so gung ho towards the whole situation makes me think I could actually get in there…” Leaning against the cabinet, She crossed her hooves as she buried her head in them. “I think you both are crazy. I think I’m crazy for staying this long… but…” Scapegrace said, lost in a cloud of thoughts.

“Do as you like…” He said as he waltzed away, his spurs ringing with every step. Stopping at the wall, he began to dig at the ground. The shuddering sound of scraping and clinking metal crawled in under Scapegrace’s skin. “I don’t really care whether it’s because you have an eager heart or something deficient in your brain. Whatever makes you move is fine…” Calypto trailed off with a shrug. As he left a vacuous moment, the energy in his eyes shifted. His stripes ruffled as his hair rose with his subtle agitation, and he spoke. “...but all this wavering is making me sick.”

Scapegrace’s rosy coat paled as she grit her teeth, but Calypto turned back his head, throwing back the shade of his hat, clearing way to his eyes. He shot her a mixed grin.

“If you are going to stay, stay... If you are going to run, run. Just don’t hesitate... If you do, you’re just going to get killed.” Calypto said as the ticking in his head got to him. “All of this is boring junk!” The bastard said, knocking the cabinet to the ground. The sound launched Scapegrace’s hooves zooming back to her chest. “This is getting us nowhere. We should check somewhere else.”

“I think I am starting to see what Tumbleweed sees in you. You are well grounded.” Scapegrace turned to Calypto.

By this point, Calypto had dug a small hole in the ground. “Yeah, whatever. I’m done with this room. Somepony’s moving around upstairs and I’m gonna spell their doom!” He said, emphasizing his little rhyme. Clapping his spurs to the ground, he set out the doorway and down the hallway, kicking aside a desk that had, to its misfortune, found itself in his way.

The mare twisted a frown. “Hey, I’m trying to show some appreciation.”

“Appreciate while you walk!” The impatient clinking of his spurs marked his path down the decrepit corridor. A muffled sound and stirring dust were potent things that made the ticking in the zebra’s head throb. Sense was all that made him, and it drove him in search of demons. That was the kind of zebra that he was.

Calypto drew an ear to the wall as he met the threshold before the stairs. The sounds of empty nothings came. It gave him confidence. He raced up to the next floor, sliding from wall to wall, alert to the inherent danger. The old floors offered great tells of the motions ahead, as they creaked and bent exposing something more within.

Blood and dust were in the air, but it was of a particular cocktail. The smell was...different. It was a sort of pungent odor. Not the familiar stench a wasteland life came to know…. Ghoul blood? It wasn’t much to figure it out. There were sounds of metal meeting metal, clashing through the ramshackle office. Black blood dripped down the frayed wood of the broken door, pooling down the faint grooves made from clawing hooves. The door barely held up against the wall, a blade holding up the corpse of a ghoul against the door. Just beyond, the hall opened up into an office lobby. Calypto ducked as a wave of green flames blasted through the doorway, deflecting off of his iron hat.

A familiar white unicorn mare, that renegade mercenary, kicked a wide desk over, sending the lacerated corpse toppling to the ground. She reared back fighting against the green chain around her neck as a pulse of fire danced down the links of the chain. Even so, the mare showed no fear. It was as if she had no mind at all. Roar! The bursting buckshot from her floating shotgun ripped through the arcane chains before the flames could get near her. “Pinkie didn’t tell me to kill you. Guess you are extra.” Dropping down as if to pounce, that mare brandished the blade and gun in a telekinetic hold. She had a strange glowing aura flowing from her eyes.



“I think I might be-in love with love, please love don’t shoot me~” The radio by the wall sang out as the mercenary mare dashed into action. A blast from the shotgun flew clear of anything but the wall. A hooded figure threw herself for cover as the mercenary climbed over the desk like some kind of wolf. Maybe more of a slobbering dog…

The hooded green mare wasn’t going to give the bitch a chance. The ambient ring of magic resonated from her long elegant horn as she wrapped a line of chain around the mercenary’s hoof. Shouting as her horn’s light bolstered, Midnyte’s chain dragged the pony over. The merc tumbled across the ground. The mercenary’s telekinetic grip shattered as she fell to the floor. Midnyte leapt over to kick the shotgun to the corner of the room.

"Ce-les-tia, I think I could die. My baby is the reason why! I’m bleeding too much happiness, I couldn’t stop it even if I tried.” The next verse came in with blaring brass. Midnyte lacked the speed to finish off the merc, when she tried to stomp down on her, she had already rolled out. Midnyte barely dodged the swipe of a blade, but the merc rose in with a double legged buck, knocking her back.

“Her love, I’m too addicted. See these burns I’ve been afflicted?”

The mercenary rose with a grin as her horn hurled a wave a debris. Before she could manifest a burst of fire, Midnyte took the brunt of a computer monitor, sending her skidding to the ground as it busted into pieces. Spell chucking cone heads in the wasteland always seemed to have this problem. They had magic that was straight up magnificent and terrifying, but under pressure, they were all hooves as much as anypony else. The magic would just slip right off the horn, sputtering out and going nowhere.

“I went to dance~ thinking I could not be caught…”

Midnyte scrambled out, trying to dodge both a lamp and a paperweight. Even as Midnyte disappeared behind cover, the mind tossing merc ripped a curved blade out from another corpse beside her. “That pre-war mare was right about this being fun. I’ll cut you up. Hell, I might keep your head as a personal trophy.”


“Romance ~ man, that wasn’t not nothing but a thought…”

The mere mention of trophies sent Calypto’s blood boiling. Peeking around the corner, he opened fire on the mercenary, but she dashed out of the way as if they knew what would happen. At the sight of his stripes, the merc grinned. “You again?” Just from the expression on her face, Calypto knew she had wanted the chance to kill him last time. As she turned toward him, a chain lashed out around the crazed bladepony, gagging her mouth.

The mercenary’s barding met the ground as the faintly glowing chain links spiraled around, constricting her against the floorboard. From the ground, the mercenary mare’s horn sparked, flinging a blade toward Midnyte, who had poked free of cover in the diversion. Midnyte’s spell fractured at the burst of pain, and the unicorn leapt through the frail bindings brandishing a vortex of blades. Midnyte turned back towards her opponent, and in a bright pulse of her horn, an orb of fire burst towards the mercenary’s head.

“With a glance~ A thousand walls to the ground she brought.”

The mercenary reflexively aligned her blades in a panel, and in one full body turn deflected the sphere behind her. She grinned, charging forward on the coattails of the explosion, but her enthusiasm soured as the sensation of heat changed. Tongues of flames transformed into solid chains pulling her back. A second burst of magic lit burning rockets at the ends of two loose lengths of chain. Quickly spinning around the mercenary, the chains coiled around her, wrapping her from mane to flank. With a glare, a stomp and a flash of magic the chains burst into flames.

“She was hell of a shot! I didn’t stand a chaaaaaaance!~”

Even as the smoking flesh formed into cinders, the thing that caught Calypto’s attention were the bodies on floor, most notably the shape of a mutilated ghoul upon a table reaching for the radio. Calypto clenched his teeth before Midnyte could turn around.

She cried out in pain, as the bullet rent through armor at such close range. On a mental twitch of muscle, she launched a small flaring spark that phased into a chain that looped around Calypto’s neck. Just as Calypto lined up a second, more lethal shot, he saw the change in attitude reflected in her eyes down the sights of his revolver. Fear? No, something softer. The chains faded from his neck, and she reached out.

“Wait.” She called out just before the gun unleashed another ear shattering bang. She flinched, expecting the worst, but the moment passed. Trembling she muttered, “I don’t want to fight.”

“Tch...”

The long horned mare gasped as she tried to calm her head. He didn’t know why he missed. It was a stupid move trusting strangers in a place like this.

“Consider that a once in a lifetime miracle.” Calypto said as he lowered the barrel of the gun. “You should stay away from here.”

“Ahhgn...” Midnyte winced at the hole in her armor.

“You should probably get the bullet out first.” Calypto said, taking a step towards her. “Do you mind if I help with that?”

“No, not at all.” Midnyte gave a slight smile. She removed her cloak as well as her barding revealing a rather illustrious coat and a slender physique. Red was pouring out. The wound was small, but the bleeding was profuse. The mare concentrated her magical faculties, drawing a telekinetic nimbus around the bullet, but the pain of pulling out the bullet tore through her focus shattering the glassy structure of spell dust.

Calypto, with a stealthy, gentlecoltly glance, noticed her cutie mark. It was a heart on fire, with a robust crack down the center. The two halves of the heart were held together by chains. Clearly, this glance had nothing to do with the natural magnetism of eyes towards the female form or the shapes of those magical places of stallion’s fantasies.

“Yeah, you’re going to need some help.” Calypto smiled. Finally, somepony to save… Just seeing a face made his fight a little easier. The zebra fashioned a pair tweezers from his bag. Both in bullets and in blood, he would carve justice into a vicious world, but moments like this were healing for him. Peace was a distant dream, and for all the justice he poured into that chasm, it was only a drop in an endless well. Calypto was an impatient kind of zebra. In a battle with no end in sight, these moment would replenish that will to fight. “Do you have a name?”

“My name’s Midnyte.”

“Well, Midnyte. This... is gonna hurt.”

“I’d be surprised if it didn’t…”

Midnyte clenched her teeth and brushed a hoof to the ground to quell the pain. After a bit of tactile probing, the metal tongs yanked the deformed bullet from of the wound. Midnyte gasped in pain.

With a slight glow, Midnyte manifested a miniscule length of chain, and with a weaving touch, placed stitch after stitch around the wound. With a pull, the flesh formed together. In another magical flash, a line of searing metal cauterized the flesh shut.

“That’s quite a trick.” Calypto said, looking on with surprise.

“Don’t call an art form a trick. This is the result of so many years of training.” She said, sweating at her mental strain. She tried to catch her breath. “One last one.”

She closed her eyes in concentration, repeating the same process for the knife wound. Painful moans escaped her mouth as she devoted all her concentration on the spell.

“Hey, Calypto, I think I found some interesting…” Scapegrace said came around the corner. The almost nude Midnyte caught Scapegrace mid-sentence, making her flush red in panic, maybe a little yellow as well. A torrent of papers and projectile clipboard filled the air as Scapegrace tripped over her own gawking disbelief. “I am so sorry!” She said as she scrambled out of the room.

Calypto and Midnyte gave each other a quizzical look. Calypto’s powerful ears managed to catch the murmured words, “Damn, Calypto! You work fast.”

To be honest, I didn’t know how he did it. I feel like I got the short end of the stick. So far, he seemed to have an affinity for the ladies. More research would be necessary to develop a proper conclusion. That would be something for the Alcohol induced Junktown Pub of Science to ponder….

“Wait… was that?” She whispered to herself. “It couldn’t be…” Scapegrace muttered again. Taking a shrewd peek back, her face took upon a dark purple tint as she shouted in complete awe. “That’s that mare that was with Killjoy!”

Something broke in Calypto. A vein popped in his head, and he lost control. He kicked the mare over gritting his teeth in rage. “You’re a raider?!” He raised his gun without any hesitation. He couldn’t stand liars. “I’m putting this bullet right back where it belongs!” With a clench of his teeth, the cylinder rotated and the hammer fell.

Click.

“Wait. I don’t want to fight you. There is no reason to fight.” Midnyte pleaded with desperate eyes as she backed away.

Reason came to Calypto as he saw the eyes. She was a raider, that was enough to warrant killing her by his rules. A zebra without code is like a zebra without stripes, he thought to himself. It was something grounding, and unchanging. Protect the innocent, and hunt the wicked. It was something truly easy in his mind, but raiders seldom had names and faces to associate with them, and usually they did not call out for truces. “That’s hot shit! All I see is a raider. Why should I show you mercy?” He said, as he loaded a hoof full of bullets into the cylinder.

“You don’t know anything about me. You don’t know anything about where I come from. You don’t know anything about Tough Cookie either!” She shouted back defensively as she looked for a way out.

“A raider is still a raider, no matter how you cut it.” Calypto argued back as he spun the now bullet heavy cylinder.

“Some of us aren’t raiders because we choose to be, but rather because we need to be.”

“I don’t care about your reasons!” Calypto shouted in anger. Calypto fired his revolver, but Scapegrace tackled into him, wrestling for control. Calypto literally could not seem to keep the mares off of him. Why did it happen? What’s the technique?

“She doesn’t want to fight, so let’s hear her out! We can’t afford to have more enemies.” Scapegrace said as she blocked Calypto’s shot.

“I haven’t got any mercy for a merciless raider.” Calypto cursed.

“Tough Cookie isn’t going to like me saying this, but we come from a town that lost a lot of its able bodied. We have elderly. We have children, and only so many who can support themselves. We don’t have the knowledge to develop agriculture, and since we were a splinter group from the only near by town, we can’t engage in trade. We raid as we need to feed and protect our families. This is the world we have been given. So, yes… I’m a raider, but before I am a raider. I am a pony.”

The concept was hard for Calypto to grasp. It was not that he didn’t understand the words, but the nuance laid in a gray area that he refused to acknowledge. It shocked him. “A raider is a raider.”

“How fitting… A zebra that only sees in black and white.” Midnyte said as she grimaced at the situation.

“I see all these bodies on the ground, how am I supposed to believe you are innocent?”

“I found that mad pony tearing into that ghoul at the radio. I had to pull her off of them. I swear this is how it was.”

“Likely story...” Calypto quipped sarcastically.

“Hey, Midnyte is everything okay? I heard gunfire so I thought I’d…” A turquoise mare with a heavy-battle saddle armed with miniguns on the sides trotted in the room. It was like Calypto had some kind of magnetism for mares. “What the… Drop your weapon, punk!” The new mare added.

Calypto raised his other hoof and brandished his second revolver, pointing it straight at the mare.

“That is like the exact opposite of what I told you to do!”

“Don’t shoot him, Marina.” Midnyte said.

“Don’t try to protect this raping scumbag, Midnyte.” Marina quipped.

“Raping scumbag?” Calypto turned his head at the comment with enough momentum to sent his hat tilting off center, nearly going free of his head.

“It’s clear to anypony with eyes. My friend has the clothes ripped off of her, and you’re pointing a gun at her. You’re trying to rape her at gunpoint!”

“Huh…” Calypto stared in bewilderment, just trying to understand what he was being accused of, as he pushed his hat back into position with the shiny tip of his revolver.

Marina flicked her tail to the side as she dropped stance down low. “Get ready to look like pumice you striped freak.” She shouted with palpable contempt.

“Don’t even try it!” Calypto yelled. Narrowing his brow he shot a glare at the new, battle saddled mare in front of him. “My bullets will hit before your guns can warm up.” Calypto threatened. Calypto squinted with all his judgment. Who brings a minigun to a quick draw? To a stand off?

“He wasn’t trying to rape me. All he has done is helped me remove a bullet.”

“That counts as rape, Midnyte!”

“With tongs…”

The battle-saddled mare gave a skeptical look. “I think that still counts as rape.” She threw her hooves over a desk to lean closer to Midnyte. “I told you, you need to wear more spikes on your armor! You need to show them that the rose has thorns!” Her eyes were wide, with dire honesty. They spoke something of wounds.

I didn’t know how he did it. Why was it that I got stuck wrestling with a naked, sweaty, death machine of a stallion, and he gets to deal with all these mares fighting over him? Damn it, Calypto!

As the bickering continued, the instrumental music on the radio came to an end, and a charismatic voiced played out over the radio speakers. Calypto cringed. Midnyte sighed. And Scapegrace facehooved.

How’s it going, Wasteland? You still alive out there? What’s that?... uh huh. Well at least you’re trying! Ol’ Pon-3’s got present for ya! Now for another installation of my reoccurring radio series, “Places I would steer my post-apocalyptic ass away from!” Today’s little hellhole I’d like to stay the hell away from is the region in the region of the Canterlot Wasteland’s very own Ponyville. First off, the smell is just awful. It’s a crime against ya nostrils. It stinks fierce. If you count yourself among those who enjoy breathing, this is not the place for you. The place also has hell of a weed problem. They kill the other plant life, they kill the view, they kill the little critters running around, and most of all, they kill ponies. They pretty much kill everything. It’s just nasty. You heard it here folks, don’t feed the plants! Last and probably most important thing is this, there is nothing there! Nothing! Nada! Go Fish! Nothing to scavenge, nothing to eat, nothing to get. Their aren’t even ponies to raid from. With all this bad mojo, I don’t even know why you would want to go there! So, remember, this is DJ- Pon3 saying keep your irradiated-wasteland snout clear of Ponyville. It’s just common sense.

Just as the message was coming to a close, a burning chain and bullet struck the radio sending it flipping off of the table and howling in static.

Calypto and Midnyte looked at each other, and the tension fell apart as they started giggling at each other.

Calypto lowered his gun. “I can’t be mad at somepony who hates Pon-3.” He said.

“He gives us a hard time, and he doesn’t get all the facts.” Midnyte said as she lowered her shoulders. With a magical hum, she pulled the parts of her barding into place and fastened them.

“I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt. Only this time though.” Calypto replied as he sighed. He holstered his revolver as he sighed. Even as the itch in the back of his mind flared, he gritted his teeth and let it go.

“Thanks. You didn’t seem like raiders, so there wasn’t a point in us fighting. We need to save our strength, and I would imagine so do you.” Midnyte said as she finished clasping her hood around her neck.

“…I guess I’ll save my bullets.” Calypto sighed as he looked at the mass of bodies in the haphazard lobby. “So what are you doing in here anyway?”

“We were looking for blueprints.” Midnyte answered smiling, much to Marina’s confusion. Even with Marina making babbling noises, Midnyte continued. “We think there may be a secret entrance to the Ministry of Arcane Sciences building. We found a cabinet, but we can’t open it without damaging what is inside.”

“I could help with that!” Scapegrace said raising a hoof in the air with a cheerful enthusiasm. She even began sparkling just a little. The joy of being able to work collaboratively got Scapegrace giddy. Calypto glanced with stern expectation. “Eh-ahem, Provided we get access to all the information as well…” Scapegrace said, coughing as she tried to salvage her attitude into something more serious.

“If it means you trust us.” Midnyte said with warmth that was quite unexpected out of a raider.

“Don’t get ahead of yourself.” Calypto barked skeptically. It didn’t look like an act, and that was the most terrifying thing for Calypto. Raiders didn’t act this way. He had to be on his guard.

Midnyte gave Calypto a concerned smile. It was a destructive thing. Between his empathy and his vigilance, the confusion came up rosey on his face as he wrinkled his snout. It was rather quick, the way the brim of his hat came down over his face. Quicker than usual.

Midnyte was somewhat eager in leading Scapegrace towards the cabinet. There was a smug glimmer washing over Scapegrace as she spun the ring of picks and tensions as she zoned in on the cabinet. Afterall, nobody else could help with this. She was needed. She was necessary. Sitting down to work, she spoke out. “What do you know about Ponyville?”

“It was a pre-war town. Fairly suburban. Can’t say I know a lot about it.” Midnyte said as she dropped down to her hooves.

“They say it is an earth pony town with terrible luck.” Scapegrace said. ‘Like me’ she thought for a moment, but it wasn’t hard for her to banish the thought.

“From what I can tell, that seems to be the case. It’s a slaughter house out there.” Midnyte replied, holding a wink in sympathy.

“Even back then, all sorts of terrible things befell this town.” Scapegrace said as she dug around with her pick and tension. “This place was witness to large disasters way before settlers dug for foundation. It figures, after all, they are right near Everfree.” As she fiddled with the tumblers, she would strain her face into strange expressions that told a story of just how the process was going. “Over and over again, monsters, and ancient evils would come to this place.”

Midnyte paused out of politeness as Scapegrace began to build up a steady glow. Every pony paused. It became quiet enough to hear the exact moment when all of the springs fell loose, falling back into position and the tiny spark faded from Scapegrace with a short, “damn it.” Scapegrace took a moment to wipe the sweat from her brow.

Midnyte gave a chuckling sigh. “You would think that ponies would stop trying to live there.”

“You would think that…” Scapegrace said repositioning herself to get a bit more control with her hooves.

“Oh, but they didn’t?” Midnyte leaned in. It was such a darling thing. It was always nice when ponies took the bait so readily. Scapegrace even stopped picking just to turn to Midnyte. After all, she had somepony to tell history to.

“These are earth ponies we are talking about!” She said with a grin. Seeing Midnyte nod with interest and agreement was fun, but knowing the particular problem pony she was thinking about added a layer of humor. “Even as terrible things came to visit, they say that heroes would always show up to deal with them…” Scapegrace said, pulling away from her lock picking. Storytelling was an engaging process, and you needed hooves. The crystal pony couldn’t even keep her tail from wagging. “Normal ponies would rise to the occasion to fend off the darkness.” Scapegrace said as her magenta coat took on a vibrant glow. “Get this, they say the six ponies that became the ministry mares in the war effort became friends here in this town on just such an occasion.”

“That is a little bit surreal.” Midnyte said turning her head to the side, letting her mane filter down.

Despite having been exchanging judging glances with Marina, the jovial commotion of Scapegrace’s conversation had a magnetism he couldn’t ignore. Stepping in, Calypto tipped his hat back. “Well, it is a locus for spirits. They like to gather here. Even if they don’t have enough power for physical form.”

Midnyte was pleasantly surprised to see Calypto join in. “It might be something like what is going on now. We’ve all felt drawn to this place. It was only recently, but we all knew something big would happen here. More than just this tournament.”

“When I was young, I read folktales about the theory of these things called ‘Leylines’. I think Ponyville might be such a place.”

“Leylines? I have studied the astral magics, but I can’t say I am familiar.” Midnyte said, glancing between the two of them.

“I don’t think it would come up in learning unicorn magic.” Scapegrace added. “Unicorn magic draws from the stars and soul, but this might be something more like earth pony magic.”

Calypto huffed at the mention of earth pony magic. “Aren’t you supposed to be picking a lock?”

Scapegrace rolled her eyes at the comment, but got resituated on cracking the cabinet. “Anyway, Leylines...They say that they are places where energies converge. They are sort of like crossroads of fate. Various forces are drawn to these points, and they tend to become notable places.” She said as if it really wasn’t even distracting for her.

“Leylines are fairly remarkable phenomenon. It may be hasty to say anything.” Calypto added.

“What if it was such a place?” Scapegrace added. “Calypto, you even said that there are still ponies in this town, even though so much is still happening. We’ve seen all these crazy things running around. You even mentioned that spirits have been gathering here. Is it that hard to believe? It is an unfortunate town, but it is also where heroes are born.”

“Heroes, huh? Tough Cookie would love that.” Marina added as she sauntered around, keeping a wide berth of Calypto.

“Who are the heroes? Could that be us?” Midnyte asked.

“Who knows...” Calypto muttered as he walked away. This was too surreal. Things were starting to look like a slumber party in the middle of a warzone.

“I do!” Scapegrace blurted out gathering everypony’s attention. “Bingo!” She added, turning the lock on the cabinet. The cabinet slide open and Scapegrace spun the picks around before stashing them away. “I’m the best!” Scapegrace said practically hopping, until she realized everypony was looking at her.

Scapegrace passed some of the files to Midnyte as the two of them began perusing the documents. Calypto’s senses caught wind of some strange change in the air, and it painted a disgruntled look his face.

“The spirit ecology… something changed…” Calypto gripped his head and nearly fell. “Something big. What the hell was that?”

The fragments of the radio in the room over cackled in static.

bzzzzt kkkkkkrrrrrr shhhhhhzzztt-P.P Tower #18 to… underhead. There is… kind of anomaly…bzztt… high pressure center two clicks… and …. Clicks north of … the cold barrier has been compromised. I rep...bzzt… stratosphere has been compromised. Bzzzt Can’t maintain stratus layer.

Midnyte looked at Scapegrace in panic. “Killjoy…” Midnyte’s eyes widened. A bead of sweat rolled down her face. In an instant, she bolted out of the room.

“What’s up with her?” Scapegrace asked.

“Something is up. I might check it out.” Calypto answered.

“I’m still looking through files!” Scapegrace said as she tapped the edge of a stack of papers on the ground.

“Just be on guard.”

He strutted back towards the lobby, but a strange occurrence stopped him in his tracks. “Is this coincidence? No, that can’t be coincidence.” Calypto said as he looked at the pattern set out before him. It could only be seen from this one angle, but it was clean and crisp. The blood splatters, the pieces of radio, the scars in the flooring, the mess and havoc all around the room… All of it had come together, writing out a message. Marina galloped straight past him without taking notice. Of course she wouldn’t recognize the message. It was written in Zebra.

If it were just a word or two, it might have been coincidence, but this was much more. These were entire sentences, matching syntax and semantics. This was an elaborate message. The universe, the spirits, something wanted his attention. “Then it really might be a leyline.” Calypto muttered to himself.

Taking one good look at the message placed before him, Calypto smiled. It was clearly for him. How could he refuse?

As he left the room, one of the bodies on the ground began to twitch.

-------------------------------------------xxx XXX xxx--------------------------------------------------------


“You can bring about a better world, and it starts with us.”

Everything came into focus at that sound. An island of consciousness bubbling up from a deep nothing. I was in the middle of a lake. The rain poured down from the skies, but there wasn't a single cloud.

An unfamiliar mare stood before me. She smiled at me in the rain, but it was a smile of a peculiar kind... the kind I hated. It was a bastard's grin. I didn't like or trust a pony as arrogant as I was.

“You some kind of world saving hippie?” I said. I shot a sardonic grin as the cold rain soaked into my clothes.

The unicorn snorted. “A rude comment, but short of the mark.” She said as she walked along the surface of the water. Her image reflected upon the water as a fanged serpent wrapped in heavy chains. The rain refused to disrupt the image... like the rain itself was afraid. “I'm not interested in treating the sickness of a wretched world.”

Who the hell was this pony? She was white as death. She was wrapped in tattered black robes, and an hourglass hung over her shoulder like damn novelty piece. What stood out to me the most, was the emblem she had on her brooch. A snake devouring its own tail. Around her body were thick black chains that bound her to the ground.

“Then what do you want?” I said. I began to shiver, but it fortified my skeptical glare. There was a cold wind, that scraped inside my soul. I could feel it take part of me with it. Or maybe it was just the terrible feeling I got from this pony.

“New Genesis.” Her eyes dug in like knives. From a lantern affixed to her tail came a sinister green light. “Paving over the old world, we make way for a new one. This is a pathetic, dying world. Consider it an act of mercy.”

Genesis? It felt like such a damn twist of words.“What if we don't want your mercy?” As I spoke, a chasm split across the lake.

From her cloak, she levitated out a wrapped bundle. Of all the the faces in the world, hers was permanently locked in smug composure. It was the kind designed to piss me off. Her face was stuck like that, and it made me want to rearrange it. Bones scattered from the unfurling bundle, tumbling through the air and landing in the water.“In a single night, nine tenths of the world's population was consumed in Necromantic Holocaust. It was decimation by balefire.” Rippling out from the sunken bones, pillars of green flame burst from the lake, igniting the sky and land. “Now, the earth itself is saturated in poison. Even as the world sputters in the throes of death, not a single lesson was learned.” From another bone, pillars of stone emerged from the water. Ponies were crucified against the pillars, and more hung down by shackles. “The remnants lie, and cheat, and steal, and kill! You enslave your own kind for profit. The civilization crumbles apart, and ponykind festers. You choose to turn a blind eye to all of the signs?!”

Well look at that! She brought props... Her confidence was grating.

“Some of us like to think that it builds character.” I said with a charming acidity.

“That's a creative way to lie to yourself.” The mare said, tilting her head to the side. “I suppose even the sick can think they are healthy.”

“Perspective is everything.” Oh, I said that one with fury. The chill of the rain steamed away as my blood boiled in its veins. “Let me tell ya! Good? Bad? It's all in your head.” When I spoke it was as if the rain stopped. Stopped? No… It transformed. The drops of rain had turned viscous and sanguine. “Anypony eager to light it all up with an itchy hoof on a big red button just wouldn't understand... It strikes me as that traditional prewar Equestria mentality. Think about it as a 'generation gap'.” It rained, it poured, and I thundered.

“You're a phenomenon, but the rest of your kind would not be so quick to forgive their ancestors for leaving them a world of beggars, scavengers, and savages.” She said casting a hoof out over the array of grizzly totems.

I couldn't help but laugh at accusation. Once upon a time, I had been cut from the same cloth, but a lot has changed since those days. I wasn't going to go back. Also, she forgot cowards. We have stable ponies out here too.

My tail split the air with a whip crack. “I apologize if you can't hear the ire in my voice. I'd boil those prewar bastards alive if I could, but you better believe that I'd invite the whole damn wasteland to watch. They can keep their prewar world!” I shrugged shaking head. Too many rules. I wouldn't survive in that kind of place.” I said.

“There is something endearing about how fond you are of your delusion. It's stockhoof syndrome at it's finest.”

“The one trying to destroy the world is calling me 'Crazy'! What a day...” I said as I closed in on the chasm that divided us. “A sub-par demon would have run off by now, but you're still here. What the hell are you selling?”

“It's an invitation of sorts.” As she spoke, the moon glowed red in the sky. Crawled ever closer towards us as it devoured the sky. “Tonight will mark the beginning of the end of the world.--”

“End of the world? Sorry, we already had one....” She was trying my patience.

“What you had was a pale imitation... the end that comes will be something more absolute.”

“You already know what I am going to say, but you keep on talking....” I said. So many big pretty words, but not one was helping her take a damn hint!

“Well yes. Even among the first sacrificed, you are the peculiar one.” She took a moment to let the words cook. “The one with guilty blood. It is an honor to speak with you.”

I growled at the mention. I had lost all my words, rendering me the savage animal. From beneath the placid lake, a city emerged with us at its peak. Water rushed down the streets over the numerous bodies. The rising civilization carried us up towards the low hanging moon. Despite the waters, the buildings were coated in glowing embers. A stoking wind breathed those gasping embers into roaring fires.

What the hell did she think she knew about my story? “You must have somepony else. I’m just a humble trailblazer for the Glory Road Company.”


“You’re not fooling anypony.” She tilted her head to the side. “For a pony so twisted, I can admire your determination. Your record precedes you in death, Tumbleweed. There is nothing you wouldn't do to accomplish you goals. Cheating, stealing, lying, killing, torture. Despite your conscience, you have done them all in chasing after an ideal. That is the kind of unwavering obsession necessary to bring about Utopia.” She said.

“What if I don't like your damn Utopia?” I said.

“From where your spirit rests, you are free to spectate.”

I grit my teeth, but a smile crawled across my face. It wasn't often that I didn't have to hold back. “You come to my wasteland, talking shit about 'destroying the world', and you think I am going just let you do it?”

“The way your passion gives you the will to speak so brazenly in defense of the wastes is remarkable, but why is it so hard for you to put it to better use?” She held her hooves to her sides as the blood rained down from above. Red rolling rivers washed over the streets of the city. “What was that phrase? 'It's all in your head?'”

She really was trying to piss me off. “logical fallacies, logical fallacies.” A fool might think an argument was always transferable, but when you make a damn decision, it doesn't matter what they say, it's a damn decision. Still, it has been a while since I had a real challenge. I guess I had to respect her. “Ha! What kind of loser tries to play a scoundrel's trick on a scoundrel? I stand against you by choice. Bring whatever armies you want, the wasteland doesn't run from a fight!” I was picking fights I wasn't going to win, but I couldn't give a damn.

For the first time, I could feel the contempt in her smiling glare. “Even if he says that he has 'free-will', a puppet will not be convincing when you see the strings.” She said.

“Puppet?!” I yelled. “Apparently you don't like having teeth!” I didn't care if this was the afterlife or a dream, when there is an ass in need of kicking, a wastelander rises to the task!

… but as I lunged at this hell bitch, an invisible force halted me several feet short of redistributing her face. I could see the reflections of the silky threads that bound me through the rising smoke.

“Pharoah has interesting taste in dogs.”

I could feel a terrible taste in my mouth. The kind of disgusting that never washed away. A putrid ghost that would forever haunt me... “You are bringing that bastard into this? That's the second most pretentious thing I've heard today.” I said.

“You earth ponies always were inflexible bulls--”

“WHY YOU SELF IMPORTANT GEM FUCKING SAP DRIPPING DICK FACED PUTTY HOOVED SHIT SPOUTING SPAWN OF AN EVERGREEN TREE FUCKER--” As much as I roared, she kept on going. What kind of unicorn bullshit was this? Fight me damn it!

“A contemptible lot... Too stubborn for your own good. Even when given the truth, they force their eyelids shut, insisting to sleep out of tradition.” She said as she leaned in.

“What is there to see? Listen JimmyHat! You want truth? This is the only truth I know. You seem to live in some magical fairytale land if you think there is anything worth a damn in the truth you are trying to spout. Any good lying, cheating, gentlecolt knows that the eyes ain't worth damn for figuring out what 'is' and what 'isn't'. Which is to say, you think you know 'truth', but that truth you think you know, you can't know, because I know that you can't know that you don't know because eyes will only show you smoke and mirrors. You want talk about truth, but you don't know that it is a goddamn paradox. Where I come from, a truth is just a pretty lie.”

The mare grit her teeth and she squinted at me with a disdain. “You're the pink one aren't you? You just had to be the pink one...”

“I bet you're real cozy, coming in with all this bringer of the end, angel of death bullshit! With that Apocalypse Genesis plan you have going on, it probably makes you get that warm tingly feeling, just thinking about it. Alright, Doom 'n' Gloom! Here's a real question! What makes you so damn sure that when it all ends that it isn't flat game over? What kind of operatic asswash gave you the idea that this world is obligated to pony over a spiffy new world?!” I was roaring as I struggled against the bindings.

“This is the point where we differ.” She said as the rain was eclipsed in the red moon's shadow. “Since before there was existence, there has been a fickle creature. Compelled by defiance against that nothingness, it brought the world into existence.”She said as she raised a hoof, pointing towards the sky. “The creator is a bastard of contrarian whimsy. Can you imagine that? The one that moves it all. A being powerful beyond any conception, but as flippant as a child.” As she spoke, the blood that pooled across the town began to rise. “Controlling god is a nearly impossible task... but there is a single caveat.”

“Oh, yeah?”

“The absolute. Creation can not abide by absolute order.” She said. “What order is more absolute than death? Everything shall become one.”

“That's it? Kill everything? That's your grand plan?” I said with a scoff.

“In so many words...”

“You're a psychopath... You make me look squeaky clean.”

“We are visionaries, you and I. Both ambitious and obsessed. You should take more pride in it.” She said.

“Visionary my ass. You're a face in need of a hoof.”

“I'm one who is willing to take sacrifices. That is what is necessary to command god...”

“Yeah, you and what goddamned army?”

The devilmare smiled. “This goddamn army.”

Thousands of glowing eyes filled the skies and hills. I could only gawk in awe.

“Tonight, the gates of hell open.” She said.

Something ancient in me stirred. Summoned in rage...

“Bring your armies. We're the wasteland. Our demons will beat your demons.”

“That is arrogant statement, even for blood-soaked lord like you. If that makes you happy, fight all you like. It won't change anything.” She said.

“You trying to tell me what I can and can't do? Now I have to kick your ass.”

“Rebel all you want, but fate is not yours to decide. Nopony could stop it. Not that pink earth pony bitch. Not the fallen princess. What has been written is inevitable. All that is left is for the actors to take to the stage and perform their roles.” As she spoke, the chain binding her to the ground shattered apart. She walked her first steps with a confident swagger. “Sit back and enjoy the show, your majesty.”

Everything around me crumbled into pieces, and I fell into the abyss.

As I fell, I became lost in a thought.

No matter how fast I ran, there were some things I couldn't outrun...

*** *** ***

Chapter 3 Star-Crossed Town Finale: No, Seriously, Who's the Boss?

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Fallout Equestria: Joker's Wild

These Balefire Times

Chapter 3 Star Crossed Town

Part 5 Finale: No, Seriously, Who's the Boss?

Alive. Was I feeling that right? Fuck, I didn’t care. Live or dead, I had things to do. Anger pulled me back from the floating world of delusion and everything fell into focus. It was always empowering to wake up to find that air was still pumping through your lungs. I was shivering. One part icy temperature, two parts angry temperament, and one part simple awe at the notion that I was still kicking. To have the luxury to wake up lying in a bed of my own blood... I had to consider myself lucky! The sight of the empty poultice, uncorked and lying on the blood soaked floorboards explained the sickening taste in my mouth. It gave me the worst kind of sense that I owed somepony. Could you blame a merchant for having a love-hate relationship with debts and favors? Even so, the discarded syringe gave me serious doubts. To the big glowing moon in the sky, hello... Rise and shine, right? Fuck that... I would do neither. I was grumpy.

The fire biting away at the auditorium's acoustic arches filled the air with the aroma of charcoal. My ears perked to the sounds in the distance. Gunfire and screams. It was a night for partying, and a blood red moon hung above, peering out from the hole in the clouds. It was a surreal kind of brahmin shit.

Was this it? The end of the world? It was starting to sound like fun. Regardless, there wasn't any way that lying like a damn corpse would get me anywhere. Coughing and gasping, I mustered the strength to rise, but suddenly everything turned to black and my legs betrayed me.

Fwapp...

I collapsed, my face diving into the floor's embrace like a familiar friend. I grit chagrin between my teeth. In the time that I was out, standing had become a bitch. I never remembered it being so damn hard. Listen legs… I call the shots. When I say ‘Jump!’ you say ‘How high?’ I was in for jolly old time tonight, I could feel it.

The bitching sounds of servos and clunking metal caught my attention, but they came with a new gurgling sounds. A black armored figure staggered towards me. It had the trademark limp of a veteran beggar, hopelessly reanimated by the insatiable hunger for caps and booze. Two things it would have to pry from my cold dead body. You had your chance. Something was off though... I never met a beggar in armor that went ‘whurrr--clichink’ or ‘gzztchyuu’. If the twin-linked deathray-looking things poking out of the sides weren't a dead give away, the manner in which its insectoid helmet cracked out of position struck me as a tad bit uncanny.

As it ambled closer, I pulled myself up, bracing against my fridge. I cursed under my breath the whole way. Guttural noises poured from the stumbling stranger. From beneath the sundered metal carapace, it began to bleed. It all started with a drip. Trickles became flows, catching the blood in the grooves of the armor. The blood was glowing. It bubbled forth like a boiling geyser. A burst of flesh and tissue twisted together forming a macabre appendage. The bleeding limb drenched in blood bulged and morphed. It lined itself with sharp teeth. The armored host lifted the malformed arm above its bow legged body.

I didn't have time to think! I lunged to counterattack but consciousness slipped away from me. When my vision came back, I had thrown my hooves over the parasitic abomination. I opened my mouth, expecting words to come out, but all that came out was pure rage. “WHAT THE HELL IS THIS?! WHAT IS IT?! SOMEPONY TELL ME! THE ACTUAL FUCK AM I LOOKING AT?” I shouted at the top of my lungs. I shifted around, staring furiously at the mystery fucker I had managed to stumble upon. Frantically, I switched my grip around its neck several times as I almost slipped off. “ I’VE NEVER SEEN WHATEVER THE FUCK THIS IS!!” I screamed at the poor nightmarish fuckwaffle I had my belligerent hooves around. “WHAT LAND DO YOU HAIL FROM, YOU SHIT GOBBLING WAFFLE OF FUCKS!? WHO IS RESPONSIBLE FOR THIS?! THIS TUMOR IS NEW! WHY IS THIS TUMOR NEW? I HAVE MANY QUESTIONS!” I just belted it out, royal canterlot style. ...I didn't care if it was a tumor from hell. “WHO THE FUCK PUT THIS IN MY WASTELAND HOW?!”

“Is this yours!?!?” I had never intended to yell, but my body told me that this was the best idea I’ve had in a long time.. The nightmarish creature flailed around me as I pulled it off of it's balance. I glared at the alicorn who killed me earlier, standing center stage. “Is this yours?! Is your hell rising yet?!” I yelled in a haze of spit. “I think I'm gonna name your demon Marla!”

The creature gave muted moans behind its mask. “Pipe down a fucking hush! Listen, I Only play to two strikes! I don't know if you believe in life after death, but interrupt me again and I guarantee that you will get to explore it for the rest of us!”

“Join! Die! Join! Die!” The abominable Marla spouted.... this time more clear than before.

I did what any sane pony would do and bit the thing in its fleshy arm thing. Another tendril burst from the punctured armor. I didn't know why I tolerated the first one, but I definitely didn’t appreciate the second one either. I really didn't appreciate that Marla started shooting nebulous green lasers from the magic weapons fixed to the sides of her armor.

“Out of the way, dumbass!”

Killjoy pulled me from Marla's not-so-sweet embrace. He swung his pony-pasting club up in an arc and sent the aberration flying into the cheap seats. The stone club slammed against the ground beside him. He looked back. “You and your piss-colored coat are welcome.”

Killjoy jumped as I crawled across the ground towards him. “What the hell did you do to me?!”

“I told death to piss off. Be a champ and show a little gratitude.”

“Killjoy, My eyes are bulging out of my head!”

“I'm impressed you can even talk on stampede. Most asswipes just scream incoherent garbage.” Killjoy said.

That little shit! “I know you did not just say that you put me on stampede!!” Damn it! Damn it, damn it, damn it! “Arrgh! You need to kill yourself, right now!”

Killjoy chuckled at me... obviously in fear of my impeccable logic. Okay, I could tell that yelling my brains out was not a smart thing to do, but I felt grand. I was mythically angry.

“You fucker...kaghgt... I need to kill myself? Pfft! Kahahaha...” Killjoy trailed off into silent but violent convulsion as he choked on fear or something. Good. I almost was pleased with his valiant compliance, but he suddenly stopped killing himself. “Shit, you're a stallion with some fucking words. Stampede makes you tough and crazy. You needed the first one to ensure your carotid artery and neck laceration wouldn’t open up until they’ve fully healed, but hot damn that second one is the best. Of my hail-mare choices, stabilizing your anemic dipshit ass was worth it... no regrets.” He was talking like I was buddy-buddy buds with him. Did I amuse him? His shit was starting to sound a lot less like killing himself and a lot more like he was laughing at me.

“I'm serious, giggleshit! Get with the program!” I shouted as I hung from the peak of Mt.Killjoy. “Expurgate yourself!”

Killjoy started walking away from the stage. As a pony with four noodles I called 'legs', so too I 'followed'.

“Or else you'll--”

“Or else I am gonna strangle you into a whole new shade of purple!” My volcanic anger poured out bringing Killjoy to his knees.

Writhing in the asphyxiating grip of laughter, he choked out what I assumed were his last words. “...okay.”

They were not his last words, but Killjoy was already down, and that pretty much meant I was down too. Damn it, Killjoy. Things weren't off to a good start, I had so many questions, and both of us were down.

“Right after I deal with princess over here. Hey you, Bitch!” I screamed toward the horny feather dusting two-for-one standing center stage.

“w-w-woah, w-what are you doing? Stop that.”

Killjoy and I both felt an icy fear scamper our spines as the red-brown-white alicorn turned to us with a smug look. We were going to die. My body begged me, ‘say something.’ It tried to tell me that it was a good idea, and I wouldn’t regret it.

“Yeah! You!” I boomed. Sure, I was scared, but I was also really really angry. I had questions damn it.

A wall of glowing force slammed through Killjoy. Thhwvuumm! He didn't take me or his pony pasting club with him either. He went rolling into the auditorium pit. I was starting to feel a bit jealous when a tight telekinetic aura ripped me off the ground by my neck.

“What?” She growled.

I had her right where I wanted her: At eye level and in hooves reach. With an unyielding fury, I launched my hoof at her, coursing with flaccid, pedestrian judgment.

…I wasn't even remotely in range. This stupid drug was fucking with my head.

“I'm surprised you're still alive.” She said as she carried me along for a promenade. In the light of the magic glowstick stuck to her sweaty face, she squinted at me with her bloodshot eyes. She grit her teeth to show off her scowling muscles. Floating through the air made me feel weak like a giant baby...

… but I was a baby in need of fucking answers! “...” Fuck! I forgot my question. It was not a good day to be Tumbleweed's brain. Wait! Moon! Crazy tumor bastards! I cast my arms to my sides. “What kind of necromantic voodoo brahmin shit is all of this?!” Hovering in the magical aura, I felt rather majestic.

My aerial renaissance was short lived. I plummeted from on high and the stage quaked at the impact of my face.

She cackled to herself as she pinned my head to the ground with a hoof. “How does it feel to be stomped into the ground like the worm you are?” She said as she cast a shadow over me with her wings.

She grinned as I struggled to stand. I had things that I wanted to say, but I had to bottle them up for a rainy day. I found myself able to force myself up to my elbows...

It was because she let me.

She stomped me flat against the ground. “Let me teach you a lesson. The only thing that matters in this cruel world is power.” She said sending a sadistic lightning down her hoof. “Favor belongs to the strong.”

Out of the corner of her eye, she caught Killjoy hesitantly approaching. She leaped to the air before I could tell her to 'step-off!'.

Killjoy turned back in a sprint. A veil of red magic grabbed at his hind leg and Killjoy collapsed into screams of agony. He flailed his hooves as the muscle stretched. Killjoy screamed as the leg was torn from his body.

“There is no escape for the weak.” She said as she walked towards him, levitating the stone club. “That fear is just the compulsion of the body to submit to the natural order.” Light enveloped the dismembered leg, carrying it to the shivering Killjoy's stump. Light began rapidly connecting the muscle fibers back to the leg. Every nerve was torn free and incinerated before being painfully reformed. Flesh tore open, carving and threading skin to form a more proper sutre. She giggled as Killjoy writhed in the healing fog. It was a uniquely painful agony that he was not used to as the muscle, tendon and nerve fibers sewed into their proper counterparts. As soon as it was all attached, a wave of synaptic messages from the severed leg rushed back into Killjoy’s body in a single concentrated convulsive burst. “Pain is the body punishing the mind for disobeying fear.” She put the tip of the stone club to Killjoy's neck. He didn't dare look away, and his face contorted and clenched his pain away. “You will call me, Misera, and you now serve me.”

I could feel that rotten scent blow down wind. There were two things that didn't have a place in my world, and the grander of the two was slavers. I nearly raged myself unconscious. Serve? I'd rather die... And the only thing I was going to call her was 'You', as in short for 'You fucking bitch.' That was short for a whole bunch of other colorful, derogatory things. I propped myself up on my refrigerator. “Where the hell do you think you're going?! I'm not finished with you!” I hollered.

The calico wanna-be princess turned to me, dropping the rock club on Killjoy.

“... With either of you!” I screamed while pointing furiously.

It was not unpredictable that a podium, ripped from the auditorium stage, would be flying into me in my immediate future. Even as weak as I was, a tumbleweed was good at rolling, especially after being hit by flying furniture.

“Tell me, do I need teach you again?” Lady Wing Boner said as she hoisted me up in the air by my neck.

“I'm the one asking the questions here!” I grunted trying to flex my neck muscles. I didn't want the words 'Magically hugged to death' anywhere need my gravestone. I pointed to the creature lurking in the corner. “What kind of butt-munching tumorite is that?!”

I barely finished speaking when she bounced my head against the ground. She dragged my face across the ground towards the thing in the corner.

“Take a good look.”

It was a bastardly looking thing. I think it had to have been a pony at some point... the carcass of the unity alicorn that got shredded to pieces. The bloody mess was festering and grotesque, but it wasn't dead. No, something was wearing it like a macabre coat. The torso had a ravine that split down the neck. It was lined with teeth that snarled at me. The wings had been stripped of feathers and refined into spikes, but it seemed like it was still working on how to walk with them. I think it decided the head at the end of its neck worked much better as some kind of pincer. On the flank of the neck, two deep holes sank into the body. There was a faint red glint deep within their eyes. Looking into the eyes felt terrifying. It was like something was crawling inside me. It stole my anger away for a moment.

“Vengeance begins with putting angry souls in empty bodies.” She said keeping me just close enough to the mutated blood doll that she could see me squirm. “Goddess is a name for a thieving whore. Everything I could ever have she took from me. My body, my memories, my soul... and I was powerless to stop her.”

“Get back here, you tail-headed coward!” I shouted out. That bastard, Killjoy, was buggering off.

Like the bitch out of hell she was, she tossed me straight into Killjoy. “If she is the Goddess, then I will become the devil.” She said. “With my power, I will wring this world of the answers it has denied me. The broken world should tremble under its new queen.”

Something about that last line felt weird to me, but I couldn't figure it out. It was like my mind was dancing around it. Fuck! What was it?

“Fuck everything I've said. I should have left your ass for the crows.” Killjoy said. He tried to run off, but I lassoed my hooves around him.

“Shut up, I know what I'm doing!” I shouted.

Killjoy kept chugging along. “That's the stampede talking.”

“Okay, question!” I shouted. “How am I still alive?!”

“Alright, you angry little piss horse. Stampede 101. It makes your body really fucking durable. It is a shit-fucking magic combat drug.”

Ahoy! The princess of bitchiness cut us off. She started pulling me in with a telekinetic grip, but I held fast to the S.S. Killjoy. I could ride out this storm.

“Get the hell off of me!” Killjoy said as we got flung down stage.

“Tag out! Hell-bitch just keep talking to me and I don't care! Get in there!”

“Don't you drag me into this.” Killjoy said as my head was being smashed into the soil.

“Come on, you need to get better at 'not dying'! It's a team thing!” I yelled as we were being flung back up to the stage. The alicorn tried to strangle us with the broad side of Killjoy’s club.

“I am going to tourniquet your head!”

Killjoy shoved me off of him and watched as I got dragged away by my own tail.

The alicorn-I-really-didn't-want-to-say-the-name-of was right there, staring at me. The grip around the club dropped and Killjoy gasped for air.

“What are you going to do now? Kill me?!” My breathing was heavy. My body hurt all over, but the worst thing was that I couldn't think. My head was foggy. I was a clever bastard, I should be able to get out of this, but I was coming up dry.

“Kill you? You think too much of yourself. The weak cannot contest the strong. There wouldn't be any reason to.” She smiled with sadistic revelry. “You are a toy to entertain me.”

With that, a javelin of silver light hovered beside me. I was sent flying into the plateaued amphitheater seats as it speared me through the chest.

I thought for sure I was going to die, but I should have realized the searing healing hurt more than death. I kicked and screamed till I passed out.

Killjoy was shivering as he watched me get launched across the ground. His nostrils twitched as a creature slithered in behind him. A fan of sharp sickle-like tendrils slashed down at his back.

“Ahhghh! Sneaky fucks.” He growled as the blades clipped him.

“Join... purge... world is rotten...” The abomination incoherently recommended from the toothy maw that cut up its neck. It carried itself on the wings that were its spikes.

“Y'know, This...” Killjoy said as he hauled up the massive club. “...Is how I like to handle solicitors.”

In a sweeping arc, the club pulverized flesh, bone, and air like it was all the same. The creature’s glowing blood splattered out of across the stage.

It was still moving.

It was like it didn't care. Pulsing boils of flesh pulled the ruptured body back together. The eyes on the carcass’ neck stared deep into Killjoy. What once was the alicorn's skull split down the middle with long fangs unfolding from each section.

“I don't care if you keep coming, you're going to be a stain!”

I had come back to consciousness soon enough to see Killjoy make eye contact with the eyes on the creature's neck as he swung down on it. In that moment, something seemed weird with him... like he saw his own death as his weapon crushed the creature’s torso.

Glowing amber veins spilled across Killjoy's body. The scar-striped raider staggered. He reached a hoof to his heart as he stumbled back, down stage. He clenched his teeth. His eyes twitched violently as shudders echoed throughout his body.

He doubled over as the visceral discharge erupted from his mouth. His body seized. Every heave poured more blood and bile out of his mouth until it pushed him off the stage. He hit the ground with thud. The strange mutated flesh golem crawled over to the edge of the stage, leering down over Killjoy.

Damn it, Killjoy! What did I say about dying? Our time was short if we were stuck under wonderbitch's hoof, but damn it, my brain felt like it was made of rocks. There was this big hole in my head. I felt like I was staring at the solution but couldn't fucking see it. Alright, I needed to do something, I just didn't know what... I started shuffling through my packs.


“Tough Cookie!!”

Successive spiralling tongues of green fire lashed against the monster, each one making it shrivel and wane. Midnyte stormed across the stage knocking the creature aside as she leaped down to Killjoy.

“Fu... ahgh fah-ahk. Midnyte, get out-ghh of here.” Killjoy said, sputtering his physiological humours. “And...ahg... don't call me Tough Cookie.”

Midnyte floated a potion out from her saddlebag. “Damn it, Killjoy. You can't die. Not here! You have responsibilities now.” She said as she forced the noxious purple potion down the earth pony's throat.

Killjoy gulped the potion down. “What are you doing? Trying to lecture me to death?”

Midnyte smiled in relief.

“Get out.” Killjoy said with widening eyes. “Get out now!”

Before Midnyte could turn around a silver and red aura ripped her off the ground. The alicorn behind her cackled in malevolence.

“Ah, what a touching moment...” The patchwork alicorn derided.

Killjoy leaped up from the pool of blood. “Damn it. Get off her! Leave her out of this.” Killjoy's eyes twitched in earnest.

“What is she to you? Friend? Lover? It doesn't really matter, does it?”

“You can do whatever you want to me, just don't touch her.” Killjoy barked as he looked back at his friend struggling and kicking in the air.

“If you put it like that, then I just have to do something to her.”

As the shimmering light swirled around Midnyte's front left hoof, Midnyte's eyes darted around in panic. “Ahgh!” She clenched her teeth as pain surged through her. “Ahhh! Ahhhhhhh!” Midnyte screamed as she kicked the air in a mad panic, trying to pull herself out of the grip. She tossed her head side to side violently as her leg was sliced at the second joint.

“Drop her! Drop her now!” Killjoy roared. He breathed pure anger, in and out.

The sadistic alicorn smiled as she sealed the wound. Her magic cloud tossed the lifeless limb back at Killjoy. “I still have a lot of time to wait, so how about we play a little game.” She said looking at the shivering mare floating in her spell. “You can help me quite a lot.”

The corona around the devil pony's horn expanded as arcane bolts of static rippled through the air. The glimmering aura formed a ring around Midnyte as the air within it began to warp. Reality tore apart forming a portal. With her magic, the alicorn cast the maimed Midnyte into the shifting rift.

“Misera, you bitch! What did you do to her?! Fuck! I swear to Celestia I will break every damn bone in your body.” Killjoy thundered as he leaped up to the stage. Without fear or hesitation he collided with her shield. Shockwaves echoed through the magic forcefield as Killjoy relentlessly pummeled his hooves against it, again and again. “Give her back you arrogant bitch!” He screamed as he slammed ever part of his body against the barrier.

...But the shield held.

Her face bloomed with sinister glee at Killjoy's rage. “Why don’t you listen, before you get hurt? To help me, all you have to do is go rescue her. She is alive. She is locked away in that MAS facility, although, with all the dangers in there, alone and with her injuries, she won't last long.”

“Bring her back! Bring her back right now!” Killjoy yelled as he continued his savage assault on the alicorn’s shield.

The alicorn bitch reared back as she gathered light in her horn. Flapping her wings down, she expelled a spiraling concussive vortex that tossed Killjoy tumbling towards me.


'There it is!' I thought to myself as I stumbled upon the little tin from the ministry of morale building. Even as thick headed as I was right now, I could tell that this was a bad idea. I wasn't getting any healthier under Super Conehead's hoof. This seemed as good a time as any for a bad idea.

I popped a mintal.

“Woah.” I mumbled to myself. It was like waking from a long slumber. I could finally think. The fury still burned underneath, but the shackles around my mind fell apart. Gazing out across the amphitheater back at the stage, I just let myself bask in the wonderful situation I had gotten into. The images of that dream rushed to forefront of my mind and I grinned.

I feel a whole world I couldn't see before. From the gunfire of the far off panic, to the myriad of screams, confused, angry, and otherwise, my senses were reaching far.

“No wonder we couldn't find the town.” I whispered under my breath.

I hobbled over to Killjoy as he struggled to pull himself up. Blood trickled down the contours of his face, but like an idiot he still wanted to fight. As I hobbled, I made a point to pick up chain-gang’s severed leg. “Calm down, tea kettle.” I chided.

“I've got to stop her. I have to.”

Look at him, fully automated but missing a few parts. “Remember when I said I know what I'm doing? Well... I know what I'm doing. Trust me.” I said with a cocky aggression. When I opened up my fridge, in went the leg, and out came a container of soup. I needed this. Tired, aching, and furious, if I was going to get myself killed, I sure as hell didn't feel like doing it on an empty stomach. It was a cold elixir, perfect for the beat down that was about to happen.

“Mintal?” I offered the tin to my ally by circumstance.

He shook his head.

“Soup?” I offered the half full tupperware container of soup.

He declined again in confusion.

Tossing the container of soup to the wayside, I wiped the dripping gumbo from my chin. Closing up the fridge, I smiled at the raider. “I need you to do exactly as I say.” I whispered.

Killjoy grit his teeth as he wrestled his battered body to his hooves. “Get in my way--”

“Yeah, yeah, you’ll tear out my spine, grind me into medicine, use my skull as a paper weight. Later. Right now, I need you brace this for me, heavy weight, and try to look confident.” I instructed.

Killjoy dropped his bravado and moved into position, bracing against the fridge.

“This is going to either be a miracle, or get us killed. Either way, it's gonna be a good show.” I said as I cracked my neck from side to side.

“What the hell are you planning?” Killjoy asked.

“We're going to town.” I said as I saw the horn fluffer turn about on the stage

I slovenly leaned off the top of the refrigerator as she flapped her wings. “Hey! Phallic Face!” I shouted.

That got her attention.

“Yeah, you! Water mammal, center stage!” I yelled letting the fury pour out just a bit. “Don't think you can run away from me! I'm not done with you yet.”

“Apparently you haven't had enough...” She said as she dropped her hooves back to the stage.

“Do you feel it?!” I said as I tossed my hooves out to the side and basked in the moonlight.

“Feel what?” That was what the hook sounded like. She couldn't even feel it pull.

“That natural order coursing through your veins?” I slumped over the fridge.

She smiled like some kind of fool. “Are you submitting to your Queen?”

“You spout a lot of shit, you know that? I'm guessing you’re fresh to the wasteland, so I'll let you in on something. You can't lie to a wastelander, we see through shit clear as day!” That of course was a mix of lie and truth, but being honest never had anything to do with being right. “So let me say this again... How does it feel to be weak and afraid?”

“Weak?! Afraid?! The idea of such a thing is-”

“Tearing the sky a new asshole doesn't make you a goddess.” I interrupted. “The unity has you spooked, and you cast a fancy net to keep them away. Nothing preposterous about that.”

“The Unity are insignificant flies! I merely cast my spell to keep pests at bay.” She said as she pushed to the edge of the stage. “I think I'll keep your tongue when I kill you.” She remarked. Her horn flared, swelling with magic power.

“I thought you said there would be no reason to kill me? Something about ‘the weak can not contest the strong’ or something like that?”

I could see the memories flashing back to her. Her magic only faded for a moment, before she growled, summoning her power through the dildo on her head. “For you will make an exception!”


I slammed a hoof behind Killjoy's neck pushing it against the fridge.

“What are you... You fucking coward.” Killjoy gasped.

“Trust me. Look.” I said with a grin.

The alicorn hesitated. The magic dispersed from her horn.

“You've got high hopes for Tough stuff over here.” I said as I let Killjoy up. “It shows how weak you really are. Ponies don't make deals for nothing, and I’m willing to bet that you didn’t open the sky for nothing either. I don't know anything about magic, but that moon is part of it. Looks like you've got training wheels on.” I snickered. Hate me. Hate me more!

“You know nothing about me.”

“You don't know anything about yourself.” I retorted. “The all powerful don't know the meaning of the word opportunity, but you... You’re biding your time.”

“I bow to no one. My hesitation is by pure whimsy.” She barked. I could see her squashing me in her little head. At that rate, she was going to eat her own teeth, and I didn’t have to do anything.

“Whimsy my flank! You're terrified!” I said scuffing a hoof off Killjoy. “That thing in MAS? We know about it.” I growled. We didn't know about it, but I was willing to bet everything on it. “That little something's got you hiding in the hills because you know you can't deal with it yourself. You need the raiders.” It really came down to that. She had to be trying to break up the raider crossfire at the MAS. After all, it was the only thing worth waiting for in this town.

She grimaced. Growling, she opened her wings. Motes of light glimmered as her magic boiled effervescent around her horn. Lightning began to arc. Good. She began gasping as she strained her magic. “You've tested my patience. There are other raiders. I will kill both of you.”

“I thought you wanted to know more about who you are?!” I shouted over the sound of her magic.

The pouring light faded from her eyes. She dropped her posture only for a brief moment. “Lies!” She shouted. Breathing heavy, she seethed as she mustered power in her horn. She jumped down to the pit of the amphitheater.

“Your loss... It's a damn shame.”

This was a live or die moment. She stood with power surging through her horn. The air was getting heavy. She stared at me as I gave my calmest, most solemn eyes.

Her glow faded away from her horn. She trembled. “What do you know?”

I smiled and closed my eyes. “You know, puppets are no longer convincing when you can see the strings.” Just saying it pissed me off.

The radiation hot potato with wings glanced around. “What do you mean? Did I say that? Are those my words?” She bumblefucked.

A terribly ugly grin crawled across my face from ear to ear. “No. No, you didn't.” I said in calm voice. I let my animosity boil up. I cackled. My hair flung from side to side as I vigorously shook my head. I had her wrapped up. “Give somepony a little bit of power and they think they are the most powerful thing in the wasteland.” I sneared. “Hell is rising, but it's not your demons.”

“You! What do you mean?! This is my power!” She panted.

“You don't even know that you're a pawn in all this.”

“I am not a pawn.”

Hit her where it hurts, that was the plan.

My tail snapped through the air with a sonic whipcrack. “Rumor says it's the end of the world! Hate to break it to you, sugar plum, but I have bigger fish to fry!” I shouted. “So, get outta my way!”

“Enough. Tell me what you know about me or I will turn you into dust.” She ordered, stamping her hooves down to the ground.

I almost lost my cool at how funny she was. She was really green. It was seldom that I got to play around with such a good sport. “Well, you're in for a treat, because I don't know a damn thing about you.” I said chuckling. Killjoy turned to me shaking furiously.

“What?!” The little demon erupted, quaking with anger. She tensed up as she began collecting the silver and red light in her horn, the medallion on her chest searing hot; however, this time, it was a slow trickle of power.

“I lied! Welcome to the Wasteland, bitch!” I said with a grin.

Gusts of wind began to howl through the valley of the amphitheater as she built up power in the nexus of her horn. She began to rise up into the air from magic alone. Arcane spelldust coalesced above her in a sphere of magic plasma.

“Ahhghhh! You! I'll destroy you!” She screamed as she continued pooling her energy.

I was beginning to get jitters. Maybe, I underestimated her endurance. I didn't have any more tricks. I couldn't take her for another round if I wanted. As I looked around, there was nothing I could use. Nothing of value. Nothing of importance. Nothing that could save me.

I grinned. “Please... You couldn't kill me the first time!!” I shouted.

“I’ll wipe your entire existence! You've made me cross!” Spell-lightning zapped across the ground. The resonant hum of magic roared from her horn. The ground was shaking.

Hehehe, I made her mad... Good, I was trying to, I wasn't done just yet. I winked at Killjoy with a smile, whispering a “Get ready.” in his ear. “Hey, Misera!” I shouted. Just saying the name left a putrid taste in my mouth. “One more thing!” I slammed a hoof down on the fridge and cracked my tail. I pointed my hoof at the alicorn. “YOUR NAME SUCKS!” I screamed it with every bit of passion I had in me. It felt really good. “I THINK I'M GONNA CALL YOU 'CALICO!'”

The sphere of energy burst into arcane flames. I got the idea that Calico didn't like her new name, but really, who the hell gets to name themselves? Fuck her! Calico screamed like she was trying to squeeze every last ounce of energy out of her ass and face.

“There will be nothing left!” She growled.

Yeah, yeah... turn me to dust, keep me in an ashtray, I got it. I looked up. I took a deep breath. “TAKE THE SHOT!” I yelled, making sure it could be heard over the resounding vibrations from Calico’s magic phallus.

“As you wish!” She said as she arched back to launch the swirling mass of arcane death.

Egotistical to the very end. She thought I was talking to her.

There he was, perched high up on the Town Hall’s balcony, his hind hoof on the banister and righteously pointing a spurred hoof straight up to the moon in the heavens… My guardian angel.

“What the fuck kind of name is 'Misera'? That just sounds pretentious...”Calypto mused to himself as he brought down the revolver, slicing his hoof through the air as he took aim. Didn’t he have something better for this sort of thing? Apparently not... Even from the ground I could see that bastard’s grin. Three bullets ripped through the air. Two missed, but the last pierced right through her shoulder.

“Brace now!” I yelled at Killjoy.

The horrifying mass of swirling energy flickered and morphed as Calico thrashed against pain. The roaring starburst flew off center. The ground quaked. The eruption of force tore a long fissure through the ground. The earth opened up to swallow us. Everything went right as planned. Nothing I could use? That is just the utility of nothing. It was everything I needed. The earth had my back.

Killjoy and I fell down into the dark abyss.

Hey, Calypto... I found the town.

*** *** ***



Delirious, I came to consciousness. It was the second time in a single day, and I was honestly skeptical of me even being alive. I swear if I pass out one more time today, I am going to be pissed. I tried to move, but I was bound. It was dark, and the air smelled old and dusty. Behind me, it appeared I had a binding buddy.

“Hey! Idiot.” Somepony was clearly talking to me. “You dead?” The voice of Killjoy called out.

“I don’t know, how about you?”

“You snarky asswhip.”


“Where are we?”

“We’re underground.”

“huh... I always thought hell would be more… impressive.”

“If you’re dead, then it ain’t my fault...” Killjoy said with monotone apathy.

“I was wondering about that. You know a lot about medical things.” I asked.

“Long time ago, I wanted to be a doctor… but screw my stars, my town didn’t need doctors. We needed supplies. Needless to say, I found other things that I was good at.” Killjoy gritted his teeth. “I’m gonna tear that Calico bitch limb from limb. Maybe I’ll give her a taste of her own medicine.”

“Sorry for you loss…” I said. I was a bit happy that the name was sticking.

“Fuck off.”

I never met a pony with a more apt name. He was a drop of golden sun and I was tied to him. Hopefully this wasn’t a permanent arrangement.

Killjoy simmered down. “Hey asshole…” He said in grave tone, though there wasn’t much joy left to kill. “That thing you said up above ground… You said it was the end of the world. The way you said it, I don’t think you were talking about the megaspells...”

“I’m not really sure what I was talking about, but it was something, and I was talking about it.” End of the world, that was what the forecast said. Weather in the wasteland was never friendly. I wanted to believe I was going crazy, but I had this crazy idea that I was misfortunately sane and sober. Hell was paying a visit, just as prophesized. Those nightmarish corpse creatures were definitely her doing… Calico didn’t have a clue. What was the doomsday mare trying to accomplish here? I really didn’t know. “For the wasteland, it is looking like it is going to be a holiday. A regular party in the Ponyville Hellhole.”

“Raiders, mercs, big horners, alicorns, and now these freaky nightmare things? It doesn't make any sense. I don't believe one radio station could motivate this many raider just on coincidence. I’ve had theory for a while, but this proves it for me. There is something in this town. It’s pulling ponies in, and it all comes down to that MAS building.”

“Sounds like a lot of crazy talk.”

“And crazy is what is going on outside. Do you have a better explanation?”

“Can’t say I do.” Not with any hard evidence, anyway. Dreams were always transient things and they would certainly fuck with your head. Dying is easy when you follow false prophets. I could have just been delusion near death.

“Then shut the hell up!” Killjoy said with a cold ire. “You don’t get it. I’ve had dreams about this place. It is like it is calling me.”

I turned my head to look at the pony in the darkness. “Dreams, huh?” Consider my interest perked. I couldn’t see his face, but I got the idea that he looked more calm and serious than I had ever known him to be. It was almost like he was a different pony.

“I’ve seen visions of this place. There is a lot of screaming, a lot of pain, like they are voices of the past. I’ve walked these same streets at night, even though I had never been here. I see this castle out in the middle of the town, made of pure gemstones. I thought I’d find something by coming here fighting for the crown, but I haven’t found anything. Even in my dreams, I can’t reach it. I see that MAS facility, and it howls like a demon. There is something in there. Fuck, I just know it. Something alluring, trying to draw me in.”

I nodded accordingly. “Then what?”

“Wha-Hey hey hey, we are not friends! Got that? The fuck you think you’re interrogating me for? Step the fuck down!”

“Have you seen a white mare with an emblem of a snake eating its own tail.” I asked.

The way he shut up was a little bit unnerving. “...how do you know that?”


It was stuffy and dark, but the lack of light made every sound more vibrant. I picked up the sound of hoof steps. A door I didn’t even know was there opened up. A grizzled unicorn with a pale blue coat came in levitating a faintly glowing gemstone. On her sides were two earth ponies, brandishing articulate spears, each with a faint aura of spelldust spiraling along the edge of the blade.

The unicorn shut the door and stared into my eyes and I saw that her eyes were faded and gigantic, as if gasping for tiny specs of light. With the motion of a hoof, the blades of the spears were pointed at us.

“Raider, What is going on above ground? Don’t waste my time or you won’t live long.” The nearly blind mare said as she glared at me with her empty faded eyes.

“You have quite the imagination you must have to make that sort of claim. Raiders? Ha! If you didn’t have a weapon at my throat, I might feel offended. Merchants, mam. We are merchants. My name is Tumbleweed, and I am trailblazer from the Glory Road company.”

“Don’t fuck with us!” No-eyes ordered. “We know what a raider looks like. The one behind you looks like a barbarian.”

“Excuse me, that is no way to speak to my son.” The lack of blood was making me loopy, and I wasn’t sure this was a good idea, but hey, nothing ventured, right?

“Your son?” the mare squinted at me.

“Forgive his appearance.” I leaned in to whisper. “He’s in a bit of a rebellious phase.” One of the guards nodded in comprehension. I shook my head with a sigh. “If you can look past that, he really is a good kid. Isn’t that right, Tough Cookie?”

“…I’m a year older than you.” Killjoy muttered under his breath before I tensed up the ropes binding us. “…er…yes, Dad.”

“You seem rather young to be his father.” The mare said scrutinizing my complexion.

“Oh, you flatterer, you! I am so glad you noticed! It is really amazing what pre-war cosmetics are capable of. You can’t even tell that they’re there.” I said giving her my good side.


The wasteland was a magical place of mind boggling things, and age hiding cream was hardly an unbelievable occurrence. Things like that were rare, but not unheard of. The mare rested on her thoughts as I tried my best to look endearing and honest. She stood back a moment and consulted with her guards. After a moment of convening, the unicorn mare stepped forward.

“Suppose we believe you… Why are you here?”

The short answer was ‘We fell down a hole torn by a crazy bitch alicorn,’ but it would have been nice to have something more convincing. For a while, I was nervous about what I would do when I tried to explain to my boss that galloping straight into a raider clusterfuck didn’t constitute as “finding trouble” because I asked a robot, and he agreed with me, but now I didn’t have to worry about any of that at all. I had a perfectly good reason. Tilting my head to the side, I looked to the mare with a confidence that denied my current health.

“I am here on business. I come as an ambassador of the Glory Road company in order to open up new routes of trade for the grand welfare of our wasteland.”

“hmph! Opening trade isn’t one of our chief priorities right now.”

“You have problems, eh captain? hehe... Of course you do. Your upstairs neighbors are the worst!” I grined. “I’ve met ‘em.” I said giving a friendly lean, even to the mooks pointing spears at my head. “ That isn’t your only problem, is it?” I said taking a moment to calm myself. “If I had to place my wager, I’d bet that prolonged life underground has presented problems of its own, hasn’t it?”

“Didn’t you listen before? We aren’t interested in trading wares. Find your caps somewhere else.”

Caps? I looked like they had been topside after all. I laughed. “Well ‘mam, The nature of trade is more than just supplies. On behalf of the Glory Road company, I come as a problem solver, blazing trails through the obstacles to trade, no matter how high the walls. Solving problems is my business, and business is booming.” I said, chiseling charisma from every angle of my face. I glanced from side to side. “I also sell food…” I muttered. For all my joking, I looked her in her eyes with a bit of smirk. “From what I can see, you aren’t in a position to refuse, are you?”

“Sounds like a sweet deal...” She squinted at me. “Sickeningly sweet... What are you after?”

“You’re quick. Good. We like that. Nothing less than expected of the leader of the town. You are the leader, are you not?” My words made the mare double take.

“I am.” The mare said with a softer skepticism. “How did you know that?”

“Normally a grunt can’t make decisions outright, but you are a little bit forward. You also seem to be very protective of the town. I’m just looking at the clues, captain.” I said grinning. “The mission of Glory Road is one of goodwill, but we have just a few rules. You seem smart and I can tell you want specifics, so I’ll bypass my bullshit. Our primary intention is for trade advantage. My company is willing to make generous investments in both service and caps, but in exchange we want trade preference in your town.”

“You can’t be serious! You help us in one time of need so you can gut us with a monopoly?! I should have you executed right here!” She said spitting flecks of liquid on my face. Clearly, not a fan. Not a response in the middle of the bell curve, but definitely on the bell curve. Needless to say, the guards pointed the magic spears to my head. “Do you know what these are? They are dousing talismans recrystallized for combat purposes. They will drain the blood out of you until you are nothing but an old husk.”

Dousing talismans? Those were spiffy little things. In the recycling wasteland tradition, talismans were a wasteland favorite. The scariest thing about them? Sometimes they worked! “Rest assured, we have no intentions on monopoly. I am impressed. You clearly care a great deal for the wellbeing of your town.” As I spoke, the captain motioned to her guards to lower their weapons. “Enslaving a town with monopoly doesn’t help our cause. We want to make for a stronger wasteland, and we need every responsible town we can find to be as strong and independent as possible. We do not ask for exclusive trade rights, we merely wish for a tax on competitors products for the time being.”

“The deal still seems a little sweet. I think you are holding back.”

She really cared about the wellbeing of the town! “I can’t sneak anything past you, can I?” I laughed. “Of course, we want the returns for the tax. It wouldn’t be a large tax, only 10-15% and subject to negotiation, but it would be a suitable buffer against particularly robust competition. We don’t want to be run into the ground by some burn out competitor. Also, we want a 20% cut of profits on products sold to other settlements, but from those we will deduct from caravan fees and we will adjust the price to make that suitable. We aren’t monsters, just business ponies.” I sighed. Parroting the business talk was part of the job, but this late at night, it was just torture. Stop it, Tumbleweed! My boss’s vengeance would be swift with hellfire and brimstone. Give ‘em the business face! “We also want to have a representative stay in your town to be able to keep tabs on pertinent information about your needs and major events in the area that our caravans might need to keep an eye out for. We ask that as long as you are with us, you don’t outright shoot our caravans, but we understand absolute impunity costs extra. We don’t have the horsepower to ensure that every caravanner is above criminal temptations. If you do choose to shoot our caravaners, please refrain from stealing the merchandise.” I always got a kick out of that one. “We will try to send a more suitable agent to pick them up, and hopefully, it will never happen again.”

The captain began to pace. She turned to me. “Is that all?”

“Not quite. Just a little bit more… Hey, it hurts to say it as much as it does to hear it. I feel you. The suits in Junktown put together hell of a contract. Anyway, we ask that you participate in a brief census. Statistics are very interesting to us as business ponies, and while we won’t ask to delve into the privacy of your townsponies, we are interested in knowing general information about them.”

“Statistics? We get to decide on what statistics are fair.”

“My boss assumed that from the beginning.” My boss would have been proud. For the whole situation she would kill me, but this was what I was hired for, and for this, she would be proud.

“Any last articles?”


“Ah yes, Town meetings! Whatever the hell you do to govern yourselves, we want a representative in it.” I added to her contempt.

“And so it comes to light.” She said shaking her head. Her armor shuffled towards me. “You’re just grabbing for power.” She glared defensively.

“We don’t ask for a vote, just for a voice and an ear. We don’t really need to grab for power. We already have it. For the sake of our other clients, we just want a defense against conspiracy.”

“No deal. I’m not getting swindled into slippery slope deals. I won’t bow to some sneaky money-powered warlord.” The mare turned around and headed for the door.

Swindle? That was something I might personally do on a case by case, but it was not the sort of thing the pony who wrote this contract was looking for. My boss had a big heart. “Hold up!” I called out. The mare stopped at the door. “My boss had this crazy idea. The wasteland is a unkind place for everypony. It is often kill or be killed, out of a matter of need... But what if we could address that need directly? Bringing trade from one group to another, they could help keep each other alive. My boss is always telling me, the nature of trade is harmony, and it is what connects us together. She told me, no more royals, only ponies. I believe in my boss’s ideal. In the spirit of harmony, I’d like to remind that this is a negotiation. We are willing to compromise. It is our intention to facilitate fair deals, and to put in place balances of power in order to protect your interests as a client.”

The mare sat at the door looking back at me. After a moment, she called her guards out, although leaving the dim lamps in the room. It was quiet for a moment as they left. Suddenly, I felt something strike me in the back of my head.

“The hell was that?” Killjoy barked at me. “Calling me your son? Really?!”

“Be grateful! I could have said you were my dog, and then you would be dead and embarrassed. We were lucky they bought any of what I had to say.” I said back.

Killjoy gritted his teeth. “Tumbleweed the caravaner, eh? You don’t fight like a merchant.”

“Thanks. I’ve had a lot of good teachers. I’ve been training for quite a while, I would hope that I’m better than a merchant.” I said in pride of my abilities in the sweet science of martial arts. “The caravaners aren’t going to be happy about you calling them weak.”

“Maybe I should just kill you and take your stuff. That would save me a headache and sound like a pretty good time.”

“Hey, I will get another chandelier, and I will beat your ass.”

Killjoy swung his head back at me again, but I ducked my head to the side. I laughed. It was like I was with a raider who seemed more Tough Cookie than Killjoy. It was hard to tell where that ferocity ended and the friendly attitude began in his character.

“You read that guard like a book, and back with that alicorn bitch, you ran circles around her. I got dizzy just watching you. You are a clever bastard... I hate fuckers like that, y’know that?”

“It’s really not that hard. There are tendencies in ponies you can play to. You tell ponies what they like to hear, you focus on what information you can glean from others, and you speak in vague strokes. If you can talk vague, but make it seem specific, you can look way more informed than you actually are. It’s the same thing that you see in horoscopes and fortune telling.” I said. That pony from my dream came to mind. Manipulation was a game, and it was best when ponies didn’t realize they were playing.

“Yeah, that is smart as hell. I fucking hate that!” Killjoy said, cackling like a hyena. It was weird, he kept saying ‘hate’ but I got the idea he was looking for other words. It was a simple change in terminology, but I felt I could understand Killjoy because of it. It was a nuance of communication and it was specific to him in that moment. What did that say for ponies on a whole? In a world of unnecessary struggle, even when using the same language it seemed sometimes we lacked the proper means to understand each other. Ponies were complex, and I think that was the root of our struggles.

“Well, let me make a divination of my own. When I get out of here, I am going to pay hell of a visit to that too-many-appendage-having alicorn bitch, and she is gonna pay! In pain and terror! You can fuck with me, but there ain’t any pony in the wastes who can fuck with my friends. I’m gonna pluck the wings off that sadistic bitch!” Killjoy said panting in anger.

“Are you cry--.”

“Fuck off! Turn around.”

There was a brief time of quiet between us.

“Midnyte…”

He was just a giant ball of passion, always full to bursting, and this had pushed him over the edge.


The clatter of hoofsteps sounded from the hallway before the door opened again. The mare from before had returned with the same guards on either side.

“We have reconsidered your offer on the terms that we can negotiate.” The mare said.

“Terms are what I’m here for. You have problems, I solve them. What are your terms?”

“We want a representative in Junktown.”

“Absolutely, I can advocate for that, but surely that isn’t everything?”

“We want an investment in defenses up-front, and we want the town to be returned to a manageable state. Only then will we consider the deal.”

“I see no problems here.” I said with a soft smile.

The captain tossed my fridge to the ground and motioned to the guards. They swooped in to cut our bonds. I massaged out my limbs at the return of my freedom. I hated being bound, but it wasn’t something new to me.

“As a matter of business, I have questions to ask about the town.” I said, cracking my neck. The captain hummed with antipathy. “I want to ask about your problems. The more specific, the better they can get solved, so let’s get technical.” This was the part that my boss gave me free rein in.

Before I could even ask, the captain responded. “The ever-free plants seemed to have expanded out, and they have been encroaching on the Ponyslags.”

“The Ponyslags?”

“It is what we call the town. Our ancestors felt ashamed to call it Ponyville.” She interjected. “We have a supply of weapons, but they aren’t efficient for taking them out. Our earth ponies struggle with controlling them, and they seem to be able to hijack unicorn magic. Combined with the raiders, we have lost many of our scavengers. Good ponies dying... We have many who are wounded, and we are low on medical supplies. Then those things started showing up tonight. They seem to be some kind of flesh golem. The dousing talismans have been good for dealing with them, but if this persists we won’t last. Solve those problems and you have a deal.”

Well… I did walk into this. “I’ve got my work cut out for me.” I laughed. “I have some other questions about the town.”

“What do you want to know?”

“You have something like a water talisman, correct?”

“What makes you say that?”

“It’s one of the big seven needs. You’re sensitive to light, which means you must have remained subterranean for an extended period of time. Food can be scavenged, but water is much harder to acquire especially while being so reclusive.”

“Hmm, you are nosey. Yes, we have something like that.”

“Can I see it?” I asked, picking up my fridge.

“It is vital to our survival, so we are not eager to show it off to those who might sabotage it.” The captain squinted at me.

“This is part of the trade process. I want to inspect it for quality. The wonder of trade is that you can solve your own problems by solving the problems of others. We just help make it easier for that to happen.” I said shrugging generously. I gave a disarming glance.

“Fine, but you keep a distance, we keep guards on you, and don’t try anything funny.” She said with a scowl.

“I am a very serious pony. I don’t do anything funny ever.” I said doing my best to keep a straight face. “I’m strictly business.”

Killjoy and I followed the captain out into a much grander atrium. The place was lit up with faint talismans. Many ponies were gathered up in the hall looking towards us with the same faded eyes the captain had. These were the ponies Calypto was trying to save. It was like meeting a mythological creature, like the jackelope. They looked with such curiosity and wonder. I doubted they got visitors often.

A youngster came up and pulled at my tail. When I turned to them, they hobbled back and hid behind some other ponies. The ponies came in like a swarm. One colt pushed in front.

“What is it like on the surface?”

“Well… It’s really hot, at least the last couple of days.” I said trying to think of how to describe it. The wasteland was so many things.

“It’s free…” I said with a smile. “Whatever you want to do, whatever you want to be, you can be it.” Yeah, that was what it meant to me. Then, a voice came up that I wasn’t expecting.


“It’s dangerous... can’t say that it isn’t, but that is something I think that makes it interesting. If you are strong, there isn’t any place better to be.” Killjoy said, humoring the pony’s question.

The pony looked in awe at killjoy’s response. That pony probably wondered every day about the surface they couldn’t see.

The flood gates opened! “Have you seen the sun?” “Are dragons real?” “How do ponies survive on the surface?” “I really like your mane!” “Where did you come from?” The questions were endless. Killjoy and I tried to answer what we could, but they just kept coming. Cheers would sound from the masses to the tune of “Dragons confirmed for wasteland,” and other random facts. It was overwhelming, but I couldn’t blame their curiosity.

The captain stomped her hoof, yelling, “enough!” but the sound was droned out in the excitement. Our escort had turned into a parade, and soon enough, we couldn’t move. The captain scowled. She whispered something to her guards. Then she pulled Killjoy and I close.

“When I give the signal, we are going to make a break for it.” She said to us. She looked really tense, like she was going to regret what she was about to do with every part of her pony body. With a deep breath, she arched back onto her hind hooves and screamed out. “IS THAT PRINCESS CELESTIA?!!” All of the curious ponies looked in gullible excitement. The captain nodded to me. “Run!”

A guard led us down the hallway. We found ourselves ducking behind a padded walls made of long chairs. Actually, they looked like they were really old sofas. Wait a second… That sofa clerk! The one with the quills! So that’s where it all went! Oh, that poor sofa clerk, this town had stolen all of his sofas. I shook my head.

We came across a heavy door that was guarded on both sides with sentinels armed with assault rifles in battle saddles. The captain gave a word to the guards, and one of them unlocked the door for her.

“That is a lot of protection for a water talisman.”

“I guess you could say that what we have is like a water talisman… What I am about to show you is something sacred. No horsing around.” The captain said. The choice of words perplexed me.

I figured now would not be a good time to debate on what the functional definition of “no” was.

“...What the… sweet celestia…” I couldn’t keep my jaw shut.

Just beyond the door, a shimmering grotto collected water in glowing reservoirs. There was an underground river flowing under the town, but even as the water in the grotto pooled, it was as if it refused to stagnate. There was an altar like structure in the center of the grotto with shells of creatures I had never seen before... conical shapes that spiraled to a tip, with spokes poking out at every angle. There were several dancing lights upon the surface of the water.

“What in the wild wasteland am I looking at…” I muttered, not able to hold my composure at the sight.

The captain hit me with a hoof. “Be reverent. You are in the presence of our generous water spirit.”

What the hell was I looking at? She was saying words, but they didn’t tell me anything!

An apparition seemed to form in front of the altar and beckoned me closer. It was equine in appearance, but it seemed to have fins and a long tail in place of hind legs. It was made of some strange aquatic material. It seemed like barnacles and oysters had embedded themselves in the coat of the spirit. It didn’t have eyes, but it had eye sockets. Water flowed out from its bony jaw, but currents of water seemed to flow around the lining of its body. It had spines over its joints, like a conch or those on crustaceans. Even with its strange body structure, it seemed to move with great ease through the air. Flowing with grace, it looked happy. There were several other smaller spirits behind it. The small ones seemed to be chasing after one another, playing games atop the water. The greater spirit dipped its head to invite me closer.

I did the only thing I could think of when presented with a graceful and powerful creature of unknown origin.

I scrambled for the exit! Doubletime and hightailed. I didn’t know what it was going to do to me! I had heard rumors back in my tribe long ago that some spirits appraise your heart and would kill those without a pure heart. I certainly tried my best to be good... okay maybe not my best, but sometimes I tried. Even so, I knew I had quite a few incriminating experiences that strike me out for the “Pure hearted” category. It might eat my eyes, or drag me to the bottom of its well, or get really creative. I was really hoping it wouldn’t be the third one. Spirits weren’t ponies. They were different from what I could tell. I didn’t know if that was a good thing or a bad thing, but ignorance was bliss.

The spirit saw me run towards the exit, and in a geyser-like burst, it flew around to the cave entrance. It was much faster than I could run. The guards took one look and got the hell out of its way. It cut off my path and stuck its bizarre looking face in front of me. It looked me up and down. I stumbled back as the creature’s head pushed forward, investigating me. It passed around me, moving in a spiral, almost coiling me with its body.

It was going to eat me… I just knew it.


I looked over to Killjoy and the captain. I mouthed the words, ‘Help me’.

He just snickered at me, and the mare just shook her head.

The spirit was huge, almost five times my size. Its head came around to look at me, and I stared at what I could only imagine it treated as eyes. The water then stopped flowing from its jaw.

I tried not to move.

Shhhdooosshhhh! A high-pressure jet of water sprayed out of the spirit’s mouth. I made like my namesake and spun out across the ground. It continued to spray viciously, without mercy, until I splashed all the way back into one of the grotto’s pools.

Completely soaked, I brought my head above water expecting another attack that didn’t come. Was I fighting for my life? How would I even fight water itself? I didn’t like the idea. I had enough crazy things I was already scheduled to fight!

When I looked at the spirit, it seemed to be shaking its head with jubilance. When I thought about it, the water itself was cool, rather than cold. It was pleasant. The spirit bounced its hooves against the ground as it danced through the air. It was like it was laughing at me.

Suddenly I found myself carried along by a small wave brought by two of the smaller spirits. The wave pulled me along in a small current. I was cradled on the crest of the wave. It was a strange experience, like floating. The small wave crashed into an odd spot in the grotto, taking me along with it. The two spirits swam off, mocking me. As they went off, the water seemed to become shallow. It was a welcome development. I was done with water, professionally. All my stuff was soaked, too. I tried to get a breath of fresh air.

Soon, I found myself lying on the bare bottom of the grotto. I was beginning to think that this was suspicious. When I turned my head, my eyes followed the receding water, in swelling horror, towards the gigantic wave creeping over me. Four little spirits rode atop the wave like little water gremlins. The tip of the towering wave arched over my head about to crash.

The wave of water carried me to the other side of the grotto. I grabbed ahold of a rock as I washed up on the bank. I looked back to the captain. “Save me or something.”

“You got yourself into this.” She retorted.

Killjoy was in no condition to respond to my pleas. He was far too busy rolling on the ground, cackling. Damn giggleshit!! Then, the greater spirit shot an air-to-ground pony ballistic jet of water at Killjoy, launching him back in the grotto with me. The spirit did a spin in the air, mercilessly celebrating. It looked very pleased with itself.

Killjoy didn’t come up. The bastard sank like a rock. For a moment he broke the surface, flailing mad. He splashed all around, clawing for air. He was going to drown! Was that a good thing or a bad thing? I couldn’t remember at that point. It didn’t stop me from weighing my options.

Well… he was my son, from a theatrical standpoint.

If only to pretend to be a better father than my own, I dove to help him out.

The water was surprisingly clear, and I found myself swimming faster than I ever had. I didn’t swim often, but it was something of a pastime when I could get away with it.

I pulled Killjoy up, trying to make the most of my strokes. It wasn’t until I started to rise that I noticed the smaller sprites had attached to my sides and were propelling me up. It wasn’t strong, but it countered the weight of my things.

I threw Killjoy over the side of a rock on the edge of the grotto. “Can’t swim, huh?”

“…” Killjoy lied there in silence.

I had to be quick! I jumped up to a higher rock. I squated down priming my legs. 1,2,3! With mighty splendor I soared through the air. I slammed down on his chest, giving him the ponies’ elbow. Killjoy popped to life as he spat water far across the ground. The smaller spirits looked to him in wonder, as if they believed he was one of their own. The crowd applauded.

“Can’t swim?”

“Do I look like a fish to you?”

I laughed at the response. The smaller sprites seemed to be gathering up around, investigating us. “Hey, knock it off, alright?” I said shielding myself with a hoof. It was then that I made a terrible mistake.

I splashed water at the group of spirits with my hooves...

The group of spirits sprayed streams of water in retaliation. It was relentless. I had forfeited any concept of mercy. This was all a game to them... a duel I could never win. They were having fun. I guess sometimes that is all the spirit wants.

The greater spirit soared over, in front of the smaller ones. The sprites scattered. It looked me up and down again. The creature hummed to me in approval. It broke off a shell about the size of my hoof and presented it to me.

“You want me to have this?” I asked hesitating at the offer. The spirit nodded. I took the shell from the spirit admiring it for what it was. I’m not sure what it was, but I guess it was the spirit of the gift that counted.

The spirit receded away, leaving Killjoy and I to crawl out from the grotto. As I got out of the water, I remembered that my canteen had been emptied out. I pulled out the metal canteen, emblazoned with the number “13” in thick yellow letters against a blue casing. I lowered it just above the surface.

“Is this okay?” I asked the spirit, and the spirit nodded. I filled my personal canteen and secured it away in my coat. Sopping wet, Killjoy and I trudged out towards the captain.

“Are you done horsing around?” The captain barked.

I dragged my drenched body past her. “I think I have seen enough.” I was rather frustrated with the state of all of my stuff. I could have done without all the water damage. “You wouldn’t happen to have a radio I could use, would you?”

“That could be arranged…”

*** *** ***

I was still as soggy and soaked as before, but after a day of burning up in unreasonable heat, it was okay. Most of my things were laid out in front of a heat lamp powered by generators. The table I had was worn away, but the sofa chair I was sitting in was quite comfortable even for its age. Putting the headphones over my ears, I turned the knobs of the radio until I found that familiar station.

I pulled the radio microphone close to me. “I’m looking for a road, does anypony have a road?”

After a little bit of waiting, sound crackled over the radio. “There are plenty of roads. Would you like a winding road or perhaps a humble road?”

“How is the road that leads to hell?”

“It’s rather ambitious, and full of merchants!”

“I think I’ll take that road all the way through hell and into heaven!” I said back being careful of my words.

There was a short pause, followed by laughter. “...Glory Road’s call sign… Tumbleweed? Is that Tumbleweed?”

“Damn right it’s Tumbleweed! Geez Wirehead... you forget me or something?”

“Nah, we just figured you were dead on the side of the road or something…” Wirehead said. There was a pause and I heard at a soft volume, “…hey guys, get ready to weep, Tumbleweed’s alive and kickin. Pay up!” After a moment, Wirehead returned, saying “Sorry about that.”

“What was that about?”

“Oh, some of us Junkies in the radio unit were making bets on various caravans, and momma was just collecting is all.”

“You wagered on me? I’m touched.”

“You’re a persistent flank. Keep winning momma more caps, okay?”

“No promises.” I said shaking my head. “Hey, can you get my boss on the radio?”

“You sure you want to talk to her? She is pretty furious with you.”

“Only furious? That seems better than usual. My lucky day. Just put Ditzy on the radio.”

“Fine, give me a second.”

I tapped my hoof as I waited. I had a lot to update her on. Words needed to be on my side for this, or I could lose my job. After about a minute, a raspy and tired voice played out over the air wave.

“Hello?”

Level Up>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

Tumbleweed Perk: Spicy Tongues of Fire- You spit mad fire. +3 Fire based emotional damage when throwing insults. You also get a +10% bonus to fire resistance. No, you can’t use it to cook your meals.

Calypto Perk: Excellent timing- Destiny has a place for you. When you show up, you show up like a wizard, precisely when you mean to. You deal extra damage when destiny is on your side.

Scapegrace Perk: Thief- You are a pony whose hobbies include not being seen, taking strolls through other pony’s homes, opening things that were not meant to be opened, and stealing everything that isn’t nailed down. It’s not a crime, you’re just redistributing the wealth. Seriously, what is your problem? Maybe if you didn’t sneak around so much, you might get some more screentime. You get a bonus to- woah hold up! You get +10 to stealth, +10 to lockpicking, +10 to traps, and +10 to stealing, are you serious? That’s in the original fallout, you say? Well damn…

Killjoy Perk: Karmic Heartbreak- You live by the code of “Fuck with me and I’ll send you to heaven, Fuck with my friends and I’ll send you to hell.” You would stand down a dragon if you had to. When they fuck with your friends you have to give them what’s coming to them, and you are going to enjoy it. Because you’ve got nothing if you don’t have friends. +25% Loyalty bonus to Damage and 15% life steal against enemies who have seriously hurt or killed your friends.

Chp4:Gardens Pt1: Tongues Worth Cutting Off

View Online

Fallout Equestria: Joker’s Wild
By Sirius Shenanigans
Chapter 4: Gardens

"Did you just ask me to weed your garden?"

Chosen one, Fallout 2

Part 1: Tongues Worth Cutting off.

She was just like the legends said. Some kind of nightmare reborn powerful and full of spite, yet something about drawing the full extent of that legendary anger excited Calypto. He could feel the thrill of an epic hunt in the light of the moon. It was a cruel world and if there were gods or goddesses, they too must have been cruel. Regardless of divinity, she was a symbol of such a goddess. Bringing justice to the divine… for a guy like him it would be a dream come true.

Calico’s powerful feathered wings stretched out, side to side. Her wingspan from tip to tip was twice the length of her body. The gasping alicorn took a short gallop to catch the wind underneath her wings. She clawed the air, climbing up past the amphitheater’s acoustic dome towards the town hall tower. The newfound sting of pain, a wasteland favorite, was burning at the forefront of her mind. She would shed blood for blood.

She ascended at a steep angle, aiming to spear my favorite zebra bastard through the cloud layer. She crusaded skyward towards the heavens, but as she rose, a shadow fell over her, eclipsing the moon.

“W-What the-- You maniac!”

It was a good word for a backwards zebra. Taking to his back the accursed moon his ancestors feared, Calypto dove from the balcony, blinding the alicorn to his assault. The flash of gunfire cast back the cloak of shadows, revealing Calypto’s zealous grin. His hooves lit up Calico’s usually invisible shield with rippling sparks of arcane static. Woefully unprepared to deal with raining zebra, her ascent buckled under the increased strain . The javelin of light from her horn sputtered with the collision. Her spearing arcane strike piffled against Calypto’s cloak.

“How did..?!?”

“I’m dragging you to the ground, demon.”

Three earsplitting cracks of gunfire came with his ivory smile. The shield shuddered as each bullet popped another vein in her eyes.

Calico’s eye quivered violently. How could this happen? She was blessed with supreme power. Blessed by the Unity of the Goddess, then exalted by the power of the artifact clasped around her neck bearing a sanguine gemstone, lined with a dark silver emblem of a pony with both horn and wings. Power was without contest and indisputable, but here she was, smited down by a common zebra. The voices in her head had told her she would be deified as something beyond the pallor of the mundane, yet her magic failed to pierce and kill, while mere bullets nearly cracked her ultimate shield. Ha... She was getting wasteland 101. Again she thought, ‘how can this happen?’

“You’re all spent.” Calypto said as if peering into her mind. As her wing extended, grasping for air, Calypto pulled his second revolver. One, two, three, four shots, echoing that ear-shattering sound through the barrier. Calico’s shield crumbled as the concentrated pressure from the bullets tore through her arcane capacity, sending her writhing. Arcane feedback was a bitch. For a unicorn, there was nothing like hamstringing the dildo sticking out of your skull. It sent pain back through her horn like a lightning rod to her brain. Before Calypto was able to line up a killing shot, Calico thrashed about, launching him into freefall.

He crashed across the acoustic dome, luckily breaking the fall with his face. Who’s Sunny Faceplant now, Calypto?! The zebra rolled along the curve of the top, momentum almost sending him plummeting to an early death, until his cloak caught a frayed divot in the wood.

Calypto snickered at the alicorn, bedraggled, bloodshot, and with the look of delusion visibly fading. Not a goddess. Not the Nightmare Moon. Not a legend. It was a point of victorious rebellion against his ancestry. Fear of stars... fear of goddesses... they were things lost between the ages. He could make them mortal, so that they may be judged. Calypto wouldn’t catch himself stuck in the past like his tribe. Calypto knew he could win simply from observation. She had cast not one, but three exhausting spells in succession, not including the roundabout rodeo I sent her for. She didn’t know how to pace herself. It was merely a matter of catching her when she was trying to do multiple things at once. She knew not her capacity.

“Lesser creature…” Calico muttered. “How can I fail like this?...Submit to me-- Don’t move!”

Calypto raised his gun.

“Put that gun down--”

“No…” Calypto interrupted. The alicorn gasped in terror, but he just squinted at her. “What were you expecting me to say?”

Calico grit her teeth as her horn glowed. A faint light enveloped her wounds as the flesh melted together. “You insignificant fool, I will make your death--”

A bullet interrupted her, burying itself into the same spot the previous bullet had. Calypto fired another shot, aimed at her head, but his aim veered off target under the sudden pain shooting into his leg. “Aghhh, fuck!”



“D-D-Don’t shoot! Stop! ...Bow!” Fear welled in Calico as she sputtered in panic. For the first time, she understood what it meant to be alone. It crawled inside her and made her weak. It was something she thought impossible… and without the Goddess and the Unity, what support did she have? Fear of death poured into her like a bitter elixir. Fear of emptiness, fear of the abyss... How could one face death knowing that it may mean they cease to exist? For a wastelander like Calypto or myself, it was a familiar question asked frequently. It forged how we live... but for a pony robbed of the ability to think for themselves for so long, coddled by their own apparent invincibility, the revelation shook her violently.

“This is judgement.” Calypto said as he guided the barrel of the revolver. “Count up your sins.”

Calico screamed. The pride that held together the frightened pony shattered to pieces and escaped to distant places. She could feel the wrapping of the coil, no longer a goddess, dragged down to the earth by mortality. In a moment of insanity, a wild bolt of arcane lightning burst through the dome of the amphitheater, erratically tearing it into pieces.

“Crayon-colored bitch!” Calypto muttered as he found himself riding an avalanche of debris. One chance! He desperately tried to shoot Calico down, but after the first two shots missed, his guns simply clicked at him rebelliously as he tumbled to the ground.

Coughing in the decrepit air, Calypto looked around. Lying in the wake of her destruction, he grinned to see that the self proclaimed ‘Devil,’ was nowhere to be seen. “On the whole, I think that went better than expected...” He tried moving right hind, but it ignored him, giving way for a surge of pain. He growled. “Still better than expected…”

From the looks of things, Calico had badgered off. For the zebra, it felt good to make a powerful creature run away, but he liked it better when the one with the broken limb was somepony else. That was actually a trend with pain-inflicting things. Preferably not done to him, ideally done to those with an inclination to evil.

‘Now what?’ He thought.

The strange message in the Town Hall radio room came to mind. It was strange, getting messages by freak chance. It was a combination of splattered blood, broken radio parts, and the decay and erosion on the floor itself. Not just that, it was an organized thought! Things resembling letters or even words were not unheard of in the bizarre way the world worked, but random wasteland coincidences seldom demonstrated such complexity. It could not have been by chance, yet somehow it was elegantly constructed with transient features. It was the type of message that would only be good for a short amount of time. It was even in zebra. Every feature pointed to a simple conclusion. It was specifically for him.

To save, to risk, to sacrifice. They are noble goals, and as one who seeks them, you have the heart of the hero.

Calypto liked these opening lines...

I bring gifts to lead you to the next sun. For those you wish to save, look to the east balcony, and the path will be open to you. Do not follow them. Go to the clock tower and you will find the courage to break through the darkness. Follow your instinct! This is my plea, from the past, across this balefire veil, for the sake of the future. Oracle of Sol.

A message from the past? It was an enchanting sentiment, but mindlessly following something so idealistic could get you killed. Still, what brought this to mind for Calypto was the eerie concluding line of the message.

P.S: Sorry about your leg. Tie a stick to it or something.

Calypto found himself leering so that maybe that soothsayer might see. Prophesy fulfilled, his leg was busted. It seemed prophetic, but if they could see the future why would they need a post-script!? Couldn’t they have mentioned something to prevent the breaking of limbs?

Calypto drew out a cigarette and lit it. He rattled his golden spurs, making a resonating metallic sound. Taking a drag from the cigarette, the zebra blew a silky cloud of smoke around himself. Forms started coalescing in the ashen cloud.

A snaking figure emanated from the small computing device flat against his back. It was coiled in a faint electric static with a slender green body that had designs akin to those of golden circuits. Its small golden eyes had tiny circles around them, peering out of its black, sunken sockets, and it had crystalline teeth that pierced through its jaw. The figure stared at Calypto quietly.

Reaching into his bag, Calypto pulled out a strange pellet. The electric spirit lashed out towards the pellet, eagerly, only for Calypto to pull it out of the way before it could devour it.

“Sit…”

Scowling, its eyes glanced back and forth, not knowing where the pellet had gone. The spirit emitted a thin, vertical projection of light from its eyes before surveying in 360 degrees. When it brushed over the pellet the zebra was holding, it immediately snapped towards it. Calypto slammed his hoof down over the things head, pinning it to the ground with his spur.

“I said, ‘hold on’, damn it!”

The electric snake did not seem to take much offense, nor did it seem to listen. It wriggled enthusiastically despite being pinned, extending a thin, wiry tongue out in a desperate effort to reach its beloved pellet. Calypto gave it an icy glare.

“There is a clock tower in this town I need to find.”

The pinned spirit snake bunched itself up in what seemed like a rather serpentine version of a shrug. Calypto rolled his eyes.

“Shut up, I know you don’t know where it is… Chances are, this tower is old. Old and forgotten things can awaken as spirits, and those things roam around. One of them might know the way. You should be able to devour one of them in the area for their knowledge of the layout. Sound good?” Calypto held the pellet over the pinned snake’s head.

The snake nodded emphatically.

“Good.” Calypto dropped the pellet to the snake. The spirit tried to catch the pellet in its mouth, but as it was snapping vainly to get the pellet, it got caught in one of the grooves on the spirit’s face. It didn’t seem to mind though as it extended its tongue, licking all over its own face until it found and coiled around the pellet it so very much desired. Grasping the orb firmly, the tongue dragged it deep into the spirit’s cavernous mouth, never to be seen again.

Calypto lifted his hoof as the spirit began to fluctuate in size. The spirit grew jagged, black, pyramidal spikes with silver bars connecting them along its spine. The detailing of the circuitry became more intricate and the spirit gained an extra pair of eye sockets adjacent to the first pair. From the snout of the spirit, a fluorescent glowing blue tendril extended out from both sides. It seemed to carry some electric current.

The spirit looked pleased with itself and its studly, spirit body. It wiggled in triumphant narcissism. Calypto stared at the creature, unamused. The spirit only became more vigorous with its elaborate wiggling. Calypto scowled before clapping his hooves together. The spirit’s attention instantly shifted to the jingling of the golden spurs. Calypto then grabbed the spirit’s head with his hooves, pulling it in to stare it dead in all four of its eyes.

“I meant today.”

To Calypto’s chagrin, the spirit’s eyes displayed an image reading “Loading… Please wait.”

Calypto did the only logical action to try to speed the computer spirit up. He kicked it.

The spirit continued to load, however, a message appeared on screen. “Tip: Grenades can sometimes look like apples, but have poor nutritional value and can be detrimental to your health. If you do swallow a grenade, please contact your local Ministry of Peace Poison Control Center within three to five seconds.”

Calypto’s rage sizzled. “Damn it, Linux! I am going throw into a bathtub!”

The spirit’s eyes swelled. It quickly switched its monitor to an “OK” sign. Calypto took another drag from his cigarette and blew a cloud out around him. As figures began to move around in the smoke, Linux scanned deliberately.

“Linux, just pick one and eat it.”

The spirit rolled all four of its eyes before finally lashing out at something. It seemed to be insectoid, but it was difficult to tell in its current manifestation. The snake engulfed the other spirit quickly with its distending mouth, devouring it completely. It then belched, and Calypto could feel his hair rise with static. Linux lied itself down, satiated to an extent. It was now picking its teeth with the long luminescent tendrils coming out of its snout.

“Alright, one more thing…” Calypto looked at the spirit. “I want you to splint my leg.”

The spirit simply turned away from him. Calypto dragged Linux by its long slender body until he had it by the head again.

Calypto glared down into Linux’s eyes, his veins pulsing with anger. “I need you to splint my leg.”

The spirit looked away from him, blowing its tongue toward him.

“Excuse me? Don’t play around with me Linux.”

The spirit started flicking it’s little tendrils at Calypto. Shortly afterward, a low battery light flashed on the spirit. With a belch, it shrank back into its punier form. Calypto clicked his tongue.

“Fine, I’ll do it myself.”


The spirit then opened its mouth, and two small plug-like fangs folded out from the roof of its mouth. The spirit bit into Calypto’s shoulder, bonding with him. With a pulsing glow echoing through Calypto’s stripes, the spirit disappeared into his coat.

Using some spare cloth and a short metal pipe Calypto managed to splint his leg although it was a painful process. Bringing himself to his hooves, he found himself able to manage a quick limp. He thought about regrouping with Scapegrace, but as he looked around, there was a mass of raiders pouring out from the alleyways.

Ptaff! Ptaff! Ptaff! Ptaff! Ptaff! Ptaff! Raiders fell right and left as their heads splatterered into a red gravy. Soon enough the remnants started to rise up in amorphous abominations. Just looking at them made the hair on Calypto’s back rise on end. Something was wrong about them. He reloaded as fast as he could, but when he drew his gun across to the raiders and fiends, he stopped. They had turned on each other.

“Gah! Hahahhaha! My bullets just got a lot more useful.” Calypto picked himself up and nodded to the strange monsters. “Thanks for the help.” He said with a sadistic smirk. Holstering his guns he clapped his spurs to the ground. “Alright, point me to that clock tower.”

*** *** ***

“It’s been awhile, Boss.” I said into the cumbersome radio piece. With a click of flint, I sparked a fire on my small personal stove. “How are you doing this fine evening?”

“If I could strangle you over this radio, I would do it, Tumbleweed!” Ditzy shrieked over the airwaves. Her voice was shrill, but also with the soothing ghoulish likeness of a garbage disposal unit. Needless to say, she was terrifyingly adorable. “What did you do this time?”

The usual question... It was a common staple of our relationship and one I kept dear to my heart.

“I do not know what you are talking about, because I am a ‘Responsible Pony’ and I do not get in trouble…” I said in a robotic cadence as I stared into the small vessel of water before me.

Miles away, the ghoulish business mare spit at the ground. Pulling the cuff back from her suit, Ditzy glanced one eye at her watch; the other eye checked over a scouting report. She was the hardest working business mare in the entire wasteland and her dreams were so big that she couldn’t ever focus on one thing at a time. “I’ve got a long way to go before I’m crazy enough to believe that, you bumble muffin. Get to it, Tumbleweed. Fess up. I don’t know what you did, but I know you did it!”

At this hour in the night, I was already feeling the effects of fatigue. Even as she berated me, my attention wandered to the pot of water refusing to boil before me. I stared at it with all the authority I could muster. Watched pots had to boil eventually.

“That’s… I was just… You don’t know that I’d… ha... Damn it, I’m calling to report.”

“That’s great!” Her voice was rich with sarcasm. I could never quite do right by her. “I’d like it if you called in to tell me you’re still alive once in awhile... It’s hard to tell with you. I never know which radio silence is going to be the last time I hear from you. You’re worth more to me alive than dead.” Ditzy said.

She always made a lot of unreasonable demands like ‘don’t die’ or ‘do your job.’

“It’s hard to get a radio out here boss.”

“And yet you always seem to find one when you need to…” Ditzy waited for an answer I wasn’t going to give. “Fine, where are you calling from?”

I leaned back, wrapping my hooves around the centennial sofa chair in preparation for the oncoming storm. “I’m calling from a little town called ‘Ponyville.’”

“*!@^#$&!%! Tumbleweed!” Ditzy screeched, her voice morphing over the radio into some ancient cacophony of sound and anger that only loosely resembled language.

Despite her surging wrath, I always loved the sound of ponies shouting my name. A conflicted grin stretched over my face. I was lucky my boss couldn’t see it.

“What in the muffin loving hell are you doing in a forsaken raider nest like Ponyville?!”

With a big, strong hoof, I forcefully struck the mischievous look off my face to rally my wits. This was a big moment for me, and I would only get one shot. To anypony else, it would be a completely pedestrian phrase, but these were words that I seldom got to say. I drummed my hooves against the table, and cracked the joints in my neck. I stood up, planting one of my hind hooves majestically on the radio table and the other gouged into the cushion of my sofa chair. With one hoof, I pulled the radio microphone close to my chest; I cast out the other, pointing to a metaphorical horizon and all of its beautiful, imaginary serenity. I smiled.

“I was doing... my... job!

Not even all the caps in the wasteland could pacify the raging beast howling on the other end of the radio.

“By what kind creative, tribal, voodoo logic do you plan on using to explain how going to a raider hole is what I told you to do?!”

I couldn’t contain my repulsive excitement as I turned towards the microphone. “First of all, according to the calculating logic instilled in the robotic heirlooms of my ancestors, I have yet to get in trouble.”

“Your ancestors were a bunch of crazy, muffin chucking idiots!” She fired back immediately with an adorable growl. “That’s no exaggeration, either! I knew those crazy ponies.” She clearly did not respect my ancestors... neither did I, and for good reason. “Get to the point. Caps are the lifeblood of this wasteland we’re building, and it’s our job to get the caps moving around the wasteland so that ponies stay alive out there. Time is caps. You got that?” As angry as she was, it was always with a big heart. She had a grand design to help other ponies, and as a defiant pony by nature, I couldn’t help but wander out of line, even if it was an inspiring plan. It was anger of her heart that made her scream.

“Alright, alright.” I said tilting my head. “I found a town.”

“That town better be the golden city of El Dorado!”

I brushed the dirty scruff of my chin.. “Actually, I like to think of it as the lost city of Coltlantis.”

The radio buzzed with static for a moment, but even over the radio I could feel a change in Ditzy’s attitude. “Tumbleweed, could you repeat that again?”

“Code: Seapony.” I said with a calm tone that betrayed the excitement edging to burst out of me.

I could hear the sound of Ditzy knocking over whatever drink or stack of documents she had on her desk. “Tumbleweed, what did I tell you about saying things that make me spit my muffin!?”

“No jokes this time, Boss. Code: Seapony.”

“Wait, you’re serious?” Back at Junktown, she shiftily glanced from side to side, crossing and uncrossing her eyes as she did it. Ditzy started whispering into the microphone. “So, it is a real code: Seapony? Are you sure? Is it clean? Is it sustainable?”

“It’s crystal clear and flowing in rivers.” I said.

“…Sounds too good to be true.”

“I’ve seen it, too.”

Ditzy must have been scratching off the skin of her puffy deformed head. “Do they have a water talisman or something?”

I realized I didn’t know how to explain that they had some kind of magical, equine, water genie without it sounding like the crazy medicinal pony from my hometown. “Something like that...” I said with a jewel of sweat rolling down my head. “If I remember correctly, aren’t there a couple towns that are in a tight space for water in the area?”

“Let me check the record…” Ditzy said before going quiet for a little while. Water was something exciting for a pioneer. All life needed it and wastelanders were no exception. Where there was water, you could build civilization. It was absolutely exciting. Almost as exciting as Killjoy storming into the room without any care for any concept of privacy or courtesy, like he owned the damn place!

“Hey, Tumbleweed when are you-- Woah! What the…” Killjoy reeled back, fumbling his hooves over his eyes as I desperately squirmed to cover up my precious ‘tumbleweeds’.

Killjoy scrambled to the doorway, peeking out from behind his hooves. “Am I interrupting something?”

“YES!” I shrieked like a filly as I fell over into the sofa-chair. “Do ponies not know how to knock where you come from?!”

“Tumbleweed… Are you radioing me whilst naked?” Ditzy’s voice asked in a scathing deadpan.

“…No.” I said sheepishly.

The clack of a hoof slamming onto a table echoed through the speakers. “Again?!” It didn’t even take a moment for her to see through my lie. “Please do not air your tumbleweeds over the airwaves, Tumbleweed.”

“I had a good reason last time and I have a good reason this time!” I said as I tried to gesture Killjoy out of the room. He had become fixated on something that made his jaw drop. Judging from his eyes, he was either mesmerized by my shapely butt or by the symbol upon it. My symbol. It was a free rolling tumbleweed, but trailing behind it was a long, crack ridden fissure. Either way, he was staring at my butt and I didn’t want any of that.

As I pushed Killjoy out of the room, I barely caught him muttering, “…so you’re that ‘Tumbleweed’.”

I returned to the radio panting and a bit dispirited. “Fine, whatever.” Ditzy said over the radio. “I’ve got a whole list of towns that are a bit thirsty, but I think I am interested in this one in particular. It’s called New Appaloosa.

“Something fit into your grand plans?” I had never heard of the name, but Ditzy was smart and had two wandering eyes for these kinds of things.

“According to the record from a visit by Crowe’s caravan, it’s a big, walled settlement, but it has a low population count. It was pretty amazing for a feat by first generation wastelanders.”

“First generation, huh? Just like me?” I asked.

“Most first generation wastelanders aren’t tribals… These are ponies born from thoroughbred Stable ponies.”

I snickered. I always was an odd mug.

“As I was saying...” Ditzy hummed. “This town apparently had a larger population, but they burned out quickly after squandering their water supplies.” She said with creeping enthusiasm.

“And this place isn’t a ghost town right now?”

“They’ve got a small spring, but the amount of clean water that they can get is pretty small. They’ve coped, thanks to some long distance water runs, but it isn’t sufficient to keep the population size up.” Ditzy said. She took a breath. “They’ve got medical supplies from the Stable and a number of resident prospectors dug out an untouched Ministry of Peace distribution center. Food is a constant issue in the town due to the lack of water for agriculture, so they sustain themselves by the efforts of their prospectors and hunters. Since acquiring their surplus medical supplies, apparently some of the youths even risked the dangers of the Everfree Forest in search of food. However, there was one incident where one particular, and I quote, ‘arrogant little shit’ had a brush with something they’re calling ‘killing joke’, which caused his head to inflate like a hot air balloon, whereby his buoyant head quickly ascended into the stratosphere and has since disappeared from sight. In response, the sheriff of the town has locked up all medical supplies for rationing and banned any ventures to the Everfree forest for any reason.”

Chuckles poured out of me at the mention of the hot air balloon pony. As dangerous as killing joke was, it always made me happy, because its victims always got what was coming to them. We didn’t have time for flavor at this point, unfortunately. “I have a suspicion you haven’t gotten to the good part yet, have you?” I sneered.

A giggle snuck out from the radio speaker. “I always save the best for last…” she said, unable to keep the euphoria down. I leaned towards the speaker. “The New Appaloosa encampment is sitting directly on top of the old train station…” Just as I furrowed my brow at the words, the water on the stove began to boil. “…and they have a functioning train engine.”

“Boss, you know that type of thing is probably going to just fall apart. The chances of getting a railroad working are next to zero. You know that, right?”

“Damn right it would fall apart... if anypony else handled it. That is why I want to make sure I can watch over this little project. Think of it, Tumbleweed! Think of all the good we could do with a working train!” I could hear the youth flowing back into Ditzy as she spoke. For a moment I couldn’t hear her ghoulish timbre. I moved to pour a cup of boiling water while I listened. “The town can’t do a damn thing with this engine since they can’t spare any workers to fix it up, but the limiting factor in their population is the water supply.”

I opened a small jar and poured out a black powder into the steaming cup, the heat prickling the nerves on my face. I drew in the fragrant aroma from the concoction and I felt alive. It was my secret weapon in my weariness. “Looks like this slag town is in luck. They just so happen to be in need of medical supplies to treat their injured and to be able to venture outside their settlement.”

“I love when we get a nice triangular trade going...” Ditzy remarked as I burned my tongue on the steaming drink. “I’ll gather up some yolk and folk and see if I can’t get a caravan out by sunrise!” She clearly wasn’t planning on sleeping. She really didn’t need to, being a ghoul n’all. Sometimes I wondered if that was because she wanted to avoid what she saw in her sleep, but I couldn’t really know. What I did know was that it turned her from a rotting corpse into the fierce, economic juggernaut of Junktown.

I wafted the thick aroma of my concoction as it kicked me in the face. “Before I get cleaning up around here, there are a few things I am going to need for this town, Boss.”

“Sure, what do you need?” she asked. Requisitions were a common part of the job. We prided ourselves as a collector and distributor of tools and useful things in the wasteland… for a price, of course.

“I am going to need a couple of flamethrowers...”

I could hear the grinding of Ditzy’s teeth as she held in a furious squawk. “I’ve told you before, we do not, have never, and will never sell those types of things to general wastelanders.” She whispered into the microphone.

Junktown had rules. The caravans were made possible by three things: Supply, contract, and power. There was no guarantee that any town would follow contract. If we went arming towns with heavy weaponry, it could mean that we were giving the means of our own destruction to a potential enemy. In a world of strife, there was always greed, and we always had to be cautious. Even so, it didn’t save those towns from their struggles.

“Yeah, I know we ‘don’t sell’ them. That’s why I need a few of them so I can ‘not sell’ them to these guys.” I said as I tried to drink little drips from my mug.

“What do you need them for?!” She whispered.

“Gardening…” I said blowing the steam from my cup.

“That better be the Queen Chrysalis of weed problems.”

“Who?” I raised an eyebrow.

“Really bad bug…pony... thing. Kind of a home wrecker… She was before your time.”

I didn’t know about bugs, but in my experiences with those nasty plants in town, they were undeniably bad, objectively wrecking homes, and I from what I got from those newspaper headlines Scapegrace kept gushing about while when I was fighting for my life, those plant were definitely before my time. “That seems like an apt description.” I said as I drew a figure eight on the table with my hoof.

“Fine. I’ll see what I can do for getting two … industrial toasters, for you.”

It was a testament to Ditzy’s devotion as an entrepreneur. We sold absolutely everything, even everything we shouldn’t. I smiled as I drank a long drag of the elixir. “You’re the best, boss. Also, some 1000 liter canisters, some medical potions to start them out, and a few of those fancy medical kits from the early war. ”

“Hehehe, well that goes without saying. Don’t try to do my job for me, I’ve been doing it for a whole lot longer than you have.” Ditzy said with a laugh. After a moment of pause, she sighed. “Alright, I’m not going to pry, because I don’t think you’ll tell me, but I just want to ask, how armored do I need to make the caravan?”

“As heavy as you can make it.”

She grunted. “Damn it, Tumbleweed.” She said softly. “Promise me you’ll be safe out there.”

I took a long drink from my mug and sighed. “Till next time, boss.” I said before quickly shutting off the radio. Safety was something I could never guarantee in the wasteland. Nopony could.


I sat with myself in silence for a spell. As rumbling could be heard from the catastrophe that was taking place topside, Scapegrace’s words echoed through my head…




Apparently there is a migration happening. Raiders are coming from all over Equestria… The rumor is, they are coming to choose a new king.


Raider king… Never thought I’d hear that again. It left a bitter taste in my mouth. It looks like it’s a no-holds-barred scrap to be the king of warlords… and apparently, it’s his fault.


I call upon you, the rejected, the misunderstood, the outcast, the forgotten, the pariahs of the wastes, for now is the time for reckoning. The march for the kingdom you have been denied has begun. The legacy of kings began 10 years ago, and it will echo again. A king among ponies will rise…This is Pharoah, the heart of the revolution, and this is Evolution Radio.

Pharoah… that was a voice I hoped never to hear again. It sent shivers down my spine. He had some kind of radio station, huh? It didn’t suit him. Broadcasting across the entire wasteland? Ha! It’s really just a medium for a disease of the heart. How many were infected? Hundreds? Thousands? Legends were better off being left in the past. What a brutal contagion...

I scoffed down the bitter drink and released a heavy sigh. Thoughts like that weren’t going to get me anywhere, and I wasn’t going to get far as naked as I was. I wouldn’t want my natural coat to catch fire as I head straight into hell. That was just safety protocol.


My clothes and armor had been drying by a fire for sometime. I took my time suiting up, making sure every plate of armor was secure and in position. Any hang ups out in the field could spell out death in letters made of lead.

BOOM, BOOM, BOOM! Hrrrrrngg- Ka-Thud!

There was a resounding thud that came from the door as the wall spat screws out of the door’s hinges. The door toppled forward, clapping against the ground to reveal an angry looking Killjoy.

Killjoy glared at me. “I knocked…” As he walked in, the irritation moved away from thoughts of etiquette to the the passage of his nose as he wafted in the aroma. “What’s that weird smell? It’s bothering me.”


I stifled my amusement into the mug clasped in my hooves as I brought it in for another drink. “It’s my secret weapon….” I said as I took a sip.

He raised an eyebrow at me.

“Coffee.” I said. “They say that it was brought here from another dimension by Starswirl the Bearded.” I said as I raised the mug, grinning. I blew away the billowing steam from the mug, trying to cool it down. “From how it looks, we’re not going to be getting any sleep tonight.” I turned towards the raider. “Can I interest you in some?”

Killjoy scowled at me. “ You make the weirdest offers at the worst times. I don’t have time for that. We’ve taken too much time as is.”


“I thought of it as an offer you can't refuse.” I snickered.

“... I refuse.” He said as he walked past me towards the corner of the room.

“You’ve been brooding, I see…” I said as I could see the tension gathering on his face. He was right, though. Time was ticking.

“That alicorn bitch got the best of me, and Midnyte’s gone because of it.” He said before hitting his head against the wall. “Calico's made an enemy she will regret. I’m not going to rest until I’ve pounded her into dust. ” Killjoy growled, digging his hooves into the ground. “She thinks she can come in like she is hot shit, hurting anypony she damn well pleases. She likes to pretend that she is some kind of goddess...” Killjoy took a breath. He slammed his hooves hard into the ground. “I'm gonna make her pray to one.” Killjoy wrapped his hooves tight around himself as he sank back. “Nopony hurts my friends…” It was weird hearing him say those words, but it was moving. I couldn’t tell which one was the real Killjoy, the vicious one, or the kind one. “I'm gonna take my time ripping every limb from her body.”

Maybe he was just both....

He walked toward me and took a deep breath. “I came to ask you a question.”

I walked back to my gear, keeping a calm face. “I'm listening.”

“Are you going to compete in the Equestrian Games?”

I froze for a moment… almost in a literal sense. Have you ever felt something so psychologically chilling that it gave you frostbite? Imagine that... I scowled.

“Given who you are, I wanted to know if you were here to make your claim for it.” Killjoy said with a slight tremble. He tried to look me in the eyes, but I turned away.

“You are pretty arrogant if you think you really know anything about me.” I growled. “I can’t say I’m interested…” I said shaking my head. “Besides, my boss would tie me up and have a Brahmin drag me from Manehattan to Appleloosa if I didn’t do my job.”

Killjoy looked up as a loam of dirt shook loose of the ceiling above. “It’s a war out there, and everypony has been invited. It’s a rare occasion. So what are you planning?”

I laughed a little bit, but none of it was out of joy. I collapsed to my hinds with a deep sigh. This town had three plagues: The plants, Pharoah's game, and that mare in my dream who manipulated a lonely Calico to do her bidding. The plants could be dealt with later, but I didn't know how to deal with the nightmares running around. Just my luck, the only thing I knew how to deal with was the raiders. Still, this wouldn’t be like before. I couldn’t stay on the edges of the conflict. “There is really only place left to go, the way I see it.” I furrowed my brow. “I’ve got to head into that MAS facility… although I can’t say my heart is in it.” I wanted to run away. I didn’t want anything to do with this. “I take it you are chasing after that crown.” I hummed as I sorted my supplies apart. My eyes hovered over a broken manacle that I had kept in my bag. “What makes you want to be king?”

Killjoy walked across to the far side of the room, investigating a barrel of gem encrusted spears in the corner of the room. “I’m fighting to be the king because I can’t ignore it...”

“You are going to find a grave for yourself in trying to pursue your stupid greed.” I said with acidity.

“I don’t give a damn about power or riches, I’m doing this because this is a revolution. Nopony in the wasteland can ignore what is going on here. No town can defend against ten thousand raiders.” Killjoy whipped his tail. “The only thing the world listens to is power. I’m just looking out for my own.”

“You sound like Calico…”

“Just because she’s right doesn’t mean I’m not gonna kill her.” Killjoy said as he walked over to the desk with pulsing veins. “It’s just fundamental. Anypony could know that. All I have to do is become the strongest. Then, I can protect everyone.”


Nothing like this was supposed to happen. I wanted to run as far as I could, but this wasn’t something I could allow myself to run away from. Some part of me wouldn’t forgive myself. Maybe that was why I took so many challenges. “I really can’t turn away from this can I? What rotten luck… I’ll have to chase this path into that MAS facility.” I laughed to myself. It reminded me of those insipid mumblings from the pony in my dream about fate. She seemed so damn convinced it was already over. Shutting down that kind of control freak was the kind of thing a pony like me lived for. I needed that sort of spite to keep me going. “I’ll go into the facility, but I don’t plan on competing.”

“You plan on heading into the heart of war, but what is that going to do for you? That sounds like a good way to get yourself shot.” Kill sneered.

“I don't want to hear that from you.”

“You’re going to die.” Killjoy said with a laugh as he crept up behind.

I whirled around to seize him in my sights. “What did you say?” I stepped in towards him, carving my presence through his space. Killjoy shuffled back. “Do you know who I am?”

“Even if you are who I think you are, unless you have some card up your sleeve, you don’t stand a chance.” Killjoy shined an acrid grin. “You’re shaking.”

Shut up, Killoy. You don't know anything.

A memory of Calico surfaced in my mind.

That fear is just the compulsion of the body to submit to the natural order.


A cooling pearl of sweat rolled down my temple. Even as tempered as I was, I guess a pony cannot change the nature of their subconscious. It wasn't often I ran into much of anything in this wasteland that really shook my bones. I didn't want to be anywhere near this sort of competition, but for some reason I just couldn't look away... maybe some kind of masochistic fascination. It didn't really matter why I did it, but it was just the perfect thing to get me killed. So what? I wanted to prove everypony wrong, my fears, Killjoy, and this situation, everything nicely rigged against me.

Killjoy’s brow clenched down into a firm glare. “It’s dangerous out there.” Killjoy paused, his eyes darting around. “Even if you are Ramshackle.”

“You seem to have me confused with somepony else.”

Killjoy scoffed. “You don’t have my kind of magic. You’ll be a stain on the walls before you know it. It’s suicide. You know it, I know it.”

“Are you trying to look out for me?” I said glancing back at him. A corrosive, whimsical laugh leaked out of me. “I might as well take that as an insult.”

“You're terrified.” He said, giving a sickeningly sympathetic stare. There was nothing quite as revolting as raider tears.

He was right, but it was starting to piss me off. “Let me tell you something I've learned from experience...” I said as I walked away from him. I shook my head, scattering out the things that were tearing away my cool. “In this wasteland there are a lot of powerful creatures capable of killing you, but when you gather them together, ponies should be at the tip top of the list. No question about it, numbers are strength.” I scowled. The taste in my mouth was more bitter than my coffee. “There is this old saying...” I said to myself with a chuckle. “Friendship is magic...” I turned my head to Killjoy. “And it's the most terrifying thing in this entire wasteland.” I raised a hoof. “You see that many raiders rising up together, you should be scared.”

Killjoy just shook his head. “Damn, I don't get you at all...” Killjoy mumbled. “You know it's suicide, and you still insist on going in there.” Killjoy sat back and pulled out a small, woven doll that had been fastened to his belt. Killjoy seemed to stare longingly at it. After a trance-like pause, he stuffed the doll away. “You still plan on going despite that?”

“I did make a deal.” I said, gritting my teeth.

Killjoy smirked. “I'm beginning to think--” Suddenly his jaw fell slack and his eyes widened. “wait... Are you actually trying to get yourself killed?” Killjoy stumbled. It was like he saw something unsettling in the way I was unshaken. “You don't actually care about your own life, do you?”

When I smiled, it left a revolting taste in my mouth. “I like to spend my time doing things other than being afraid of death.” I walked back to my pile of gear. “But I've been blessed these past years. I happen to like my job. Glory Road has been good to me, so I have no intentions of retiring.” I said as I sorted through my bags. I wanted to travel light. I would take only the things I needed.

“You're up against raiders, the plants, and all those things straight out of hell, and you still are gambling on luck?” Killjoy said as he began to pace around me.

“You and every other raider are straight out of hell.” I said as I cut him off. “Have a little pride.” I grinned. “Besides, I don't really care for luck.” I said as I dove back to my saddle bags.

“Y'know... you're really different when you cut the bullshit. It's hard to even tell you are the same pony.” Killjoy said as he walked over towards the desk. “If you think I'm going to waste my time helping you, you'd have to be nuts.” Killjoy barked. “Which I think you are given the breakneck deal I heard you work out with that captain mare. You think you can actually pull any of that off?”

“I don't know, but that is where I start out with most of my jobs. I’ve got friends out there, my boss is going to send a bunch of packrats in about six hours, and there is a pretentious mare that tried to talk to me about junk like fate and the end of the world, and I’m really looking forward to rearranging her face...”

“Woah, woah, woah, look at you...” Killjoy circled around with skeptic gaze. “You want to fight the whole damn world all by yourself. You don't even know if your friends are alive. How are you going to do anything alone?”

I took a deep breath. “Who ever said I was alone?” I said as I calmed my nerves. “I've got the wasteland on my side.”

“Is your brain damaged or something? You seem to have a lot of faith in things that don't give a damn about you.” Killjoy quipped.

“The wasteland and I have been friends for as long as I can remember, Tough Cookie.” I said. “Now that I think about it, this situation couldn't be better.”

“What is that supposed to mean?”

I dug a hoof to the ground. I was ready to spit words. “I waste a lot of time worrying about guns and bullets, but it doesn't really matter if they aren't pointed at me. There are a thousand raiders eager maim and dismember each other. I figure I will let them do it.” I said, speaking quickly. I sat back on my hinds and brought a hoof to my chin. “If you add those mutated freaks, then that just makes it more festive.”

Killjoy moved to take a swig of water. “You think they aren't going to try to kill you?” Killjoy spit.

“Not anymore than anypony else.” I smiled. “And with how those monsters pop up when those raiders kill anypony, their guns are going to cause more problems than they solve. They are going to be rather preoccupied. I'll let them play on their own.” I stretched my forearms across my shoulder. I shook myself loose. I needed to be light and fast.

Killjoy grunted as he relocated his shoulder joint that had only recently been mended from when I broke it in our personal fight. Killjoy scoffed. “That's an interesting way of looking at it.”

I felt like a madcap, but some part of me was resigned to that. “Against an army of raiders and mutants, I wouldn't stand a chance, but I don't intend on picking fights that I can't win.”

Killjoy rolled his shoulders before stamping his hooves to the ground. Bits of dust shook free from the ceiling. “I don't know how you plan on doing something so damn brave by being an absolute coward.”

I cracked open the door to my refrigerator and retrieved a bottle of rum. Rum for the dead, booze for the brave. I unscrewed the cap and took a drink. “If you want to be the daring rogue, you have to be able to run for extended period of time. That's the life of adventure.” I joked as I turned my focus towards my saddlebags. I needed to take only the bare necessities. Speed would be my friend. “This situation suits me just fine. I don't have to kill anypony, I can settle for beating the crap out of them. It makes no difference to me.”

Killjoy kicked back into one of the many sofa chairs strewn about the room. He shook his head at me. “You miserable bastard son of a bitch... I still think you're gonna kill yourself, but I've got to say I'm impressed with just how enthusiastic you are about it.” Killjoy laughed. “...Gold star.”

“You really are awful at reading me.” I said as I sifted through the junk. Cooking ware, maps, caps, I didn’t need any of them. Sleeping pad? Useless. I was hoping to find some left over healing supplies. I wasn’t sure I was willing to stomach drinking a potion, but it was always fun to force it on somepony else. “Even if I’m terrified, I’ll make my gamble.” As I was searching, I stumbled upon the strange pink horseshoe. Where did that even come from? Did I get it from the MoM outpost? I was in need of a replacement shoe, and as embarrassing as it was, it seemed to have a strange compartment at the back of the hoof, as well as a weird note sticking out of it. It was also finely made. I took a moment to inspect the balloon shaped gemstones that lined the bottom of the shoe. “The trick is to move with the flow of the wasteland. Some time ago, I studied under the wise-assed martial arts master who trained the Vieri Da Amore back in New Reino.”

“New Reino? It figures you'd know the Amora.”

“And believe it or not, I may have actually learned something from them.” I said as I took note of the small cubic device jutting off the side of the horseshoe. “The nature of the wastes is chaos. Stiff and rigid plans only take you so far. If you want to succeed you have to go with the flow and crash of the wasteland. You have to find the harmony in chaos.” I rambled as I inspected the shoe.

A small, folded up note was attached to the horseshoe. I unfolded it and scanned it.

MAS Supplemental Commission 083- Party Hoof

Auditory Trigger: “Party Time!”

Party Hoof? Honestly, I didn’t care what it was called, I just needed something on my hoof.

“So that is your plan? That is a really interesting way of saying you're gonna wing it.”

I laughed. “It’s what tumbleweeds do.” I fixed the tacky pink horseshoe to my hoof and clapped it to the ground a few times. “I've got a wild wasteland wind at my back, and it's going to carry me through.” I said as I swooped up my fridge.

Killjoy jumped to his hooves. He stomped along side me with a glare. “You can do whatever you want... I've wasted too much time here. As far as I care, we're enemies from now on.” Killjoy made his way to the exit. “Try not to get in my way.”

“Wasn't planning on it.” I said as I tested the whip of my tail. I thought about telling him that the water spirit had been generous enough to provide some ice to preserve his friend's severed leg, but I figured that it would be a nice surprise down the road.

I strapped on my gear and shook my muscles live and loose. All I had to do was do the impossible. This hero crap sucked… It was what I chose, though. I hated being responsible like this, but maybe it was what I deserved. I took one look back at the note and gave an unsure smirk. It was now or never.

“Partytime.”

Chp4: Gardens Pt2-You Should Be Afraid of Monsters

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Chapter 4 Gardens
Part 2- You Should Be Afraid of Monsters

The shimmering moon, above, cast a brilliant red aura across the town. From the derelict skeleton of what must have been an old clock tower, Calypto struggled to catch his breath. A graveyard of gears had been splayed out across the ground from the open crater of the crumbling structure...

Between the red glow of the moon, the shade, and his wounds, it was hard to differentiate between his stripes and his blood stains. Worse than his aching leg was a bitter taste that lingered in his mind.



Despite his injuries, Calypto made haste through the alleyways, cursing and gritting between steps. He found himself looking out upon the front entrance of the Ministry of Arcane Science building, with it’s degraded six-pointed star insignia upon its blasted open doors.


As Calypto clung to a corner, a mare scrambled out into the alleyway, chased by a pair of bloodied raiders. One was lunging down from a second story building above in the salvaged frame of a suit of power armor. It had carpentry drills revving on either hoof and a strange catapult like device on his shoulders. The second raider had a hoof replaced with the leg of zebra robot and he had a large cylinder that crossed his back.

Fli-ching! The makeshift catapult launched a volley of lawn mower blades. The first ricocheted off of the wall into the ground. Calypto leaned out of the way of the second veering blade as it caught uplift and zoomed into a bulky raider behind him.

“Help! Please!” The mare cried as she leaped into Calypto’s shoulder. Calypto snapped his revolver to the first raider. Gritting down on the trigger, Calypto fired twice.

The first shot deflected off of the pony’s armored frame. Second found its way into a break in the raider’s armor landing in his leg, but failed to stop the barreling raider power train.

“Stripeless bitch.” Calypto muttered as the raider charged in. “Prove your worth, Oracle.” Calyto said as he lined up a shot to the raiders head. As the raider bit his trigger, Calypto’s bullet burst out, whizzing to the right of the raider head. Before Calypto could curse, the device on the Raiders back hiccoughed, snapping in on itself. The raider stumbled as one blade embedded itself into his back. He came crashing to the earth, gutting himself on the metal blade that had buried itself in the ground previously.

Zztang! A harpoon rocketed out from the second raider’s cylinder, but had missed, skewering his friend in his power armor. He bucked back and pulled out a bottle with a thick black goop inside, with a fabric plume coming out the top. As the raider lit the rag of a molotov cocktail, Calypto punched a bullet through the bottle, wreathing the raider in flames. There was nothing like fire to encourage a pony to take their last dance. As the pony writhed, they turned upward to the sky. The speargun launched a final wayward javelin into the empty above.

“We have to get out! It’s not worth it! I-i-it’s a nightmare out there-- I-i-it’s not safe! The monsters, you have to--” The mare whimpered.

Calypto opened his mouth to speak to the mare, only to peek his eyes up. He grabbed the mare and whirled her around as the spear stabbed down to where she stood. Calypto dropped his breath. “Breathe some air, and tell me what happened.”

“T-t-they… I just… everypony…”

“Breathe air, damn it!” Calypto said grabbing the pony by her collar. The unicorn gasped, wide eyed, as Calypto enforced the breathing with a stern glare. After ‘sufficient breathing’, the pony looked to Calypto.

“There are these weird monsters, they are everywhere. They’re repulsive, and nothing can kill them. I don’t want to die. You have got to help me.”

Calypto chuckled to himself as he dusted off his sarape with a brush of his hoof. “Don’t worry about anything. You’ll be…”

In the middle of speaking, Calypto’s eyes wandered. The sunshine on his face soured as his eye fell upon a bouquet of colorful furry things tied onto the side of the pony’s barding. The multicolored assortment was accented by a wet pinkish red that dripped and mixed into the long collection of hairs. Without cool or calm, the silver revolver snaked out, barrel placed flush with the mare’s forehead. In an instant, a lead bullet exploded through the pony’s skull.

“Scalp-taking fuck.” Calypto muttered as the pony’s blood trickled off of him. Breathing heavily, he walked over the dead pony and spit down on her. “...Scalp-taking fuck.”

Calypto glared as he stamped a hoof down on the corpse. An image of Midnyte flashed through his mind. It left a bad taste in his mouth. He knew for himself, there were no good raiders, and none worthy of forgiveness. They were all equally rotten scum to him. Even her…

Especially her...

Most importantly, as he wore the blood of the guilty on his white and black, it satisfied a terrible itch. It was a well timed wake up call.

“Hero... of the oracle....” a strange guttural voice called out.

“Hmm?” Calypto spun to point his revolver at the voice, but there was nopony there. “Where did tha—Whoa!” Calypto stumbled back as he saw boiling red blood flowing out from the power armor.

A curtain of cascading blood gushed from the opening at the middle of the armored carapace. A toothy snout forced its way through the spear sundered gap in the armor, its flesh bulging as it tried to pour through the crack. “Kah! Kah-Kahl-Calypto!” The creature screamed as a pulsing gland split open, revealing two bleeding eyes glaring at the zebra. “Seeker... s-seeker of justice.”

“Ugh. Popped a zit? Didn’t anypony ever tell you? If it swells, don’t scratch it.” Calypto chided as he stepped back and jingled his spurs.

“The world is poisoned... if you seek justice, then look into my eyes and die.” The gibbering mess churned as it lifted onto its back hooves. What was once the pony's neck shot forward, breaching open with a bed of teeth that traced up through the pony’s temple.

“Agh!” Calypto growled as the teeth latched onto his shoulder. The whurring drills on the pony's front two hooves coiled back to strike.

“Linux!”

The spirit snake sprung out from Calypto's back and coiled around the armor. Linux's plug-like teeth plunged into the spell matrix of the armor. His eyes flashed with ones and zeroes, his body pulsed with green light. The gears of the power armor roared as they wrenched the creature back. After the cogs clapped, the bloody haunt bucked and kicked within the armor, but it wouldn't budge. It was like a demon sealed inside a tin can.

The distorted, pulsing head seeped through the cracks and flashed its teeth at Calypto. Ptaff! Calypto shot a bullet at the ground, but he didn't seem to aim for anything. With the barrel still smoking, he drew a line in front of the beast and watched the airborne ash morph around. The smoke formed a direct line between the sunken eyes of the monster and his own, before spiraling around the armor.

“So, they link to the soul? What a rotten creature... I almost shot myself dead.” Calypto stepped forward and pushed the armor to the ground. “Possession? Soul bonds? Blood alchemy? Ha... This is necromancy.” He grinned, looking down on the boxed demon. “You’re breaking the laws of the universe and you want to tell me that you are standing for justice? Don't go throwing around words you don't understand the meaning of.”

“We are the same.”

“That is a lot of hot shit coming from a necromorph.” Calypto shrugged and tipped his head to the side. “Where do you get off saying cliche nonsense like that anyway? What age are you from?”

“You... despise the ponies of this... poisoned world.” The wretched whelp seemed to smile as it coughed the words. “You slaughter them for their sin. We demand the same repentance. We are the same.”

“You’re right.” He stumbled back, wincing at the pain of his hind leg. “I don't like the ponies of this world too much…” His tense grit perked up into a grin. “but that doesn't make us friends, you homicidal freaks. If you are looking for new recruits, try someone else.”

“We do not want you to join us.” Fleshy talons forced themselves between the gaps in the steel armor. Long, bloody arms burst out of the cracks and reached around to the back of the carapace. Each claw hooked itself into the spear hole as the nightmare ripped at each side of the hole.

“What in the star shimmering hell….” Calypto stepped back.

Suddenly, there was a voice that came from below him. “You shall die for our justice.” The corpse of the scalp taking mare spoke through sharp teeth on its shoulder. The corpse's bladed hoof slashed out at Calypto, but he threw himself to the side.

“Die for our purification.” Calypto’s eyes flexed open at the sting of the voice that came from behind him. The zebra whirled around to see the corpse of another raider that had been behind him earlier, shambling towards him. Its head had split down the center and each vertebrae had swelled in size, the spiky fringes piercing out of the ends of its flesh. Its torso had formed a new head with the rib cage flexing out into moving jaws.

The original aberration rent open the armor like a steel chrysalis. Six long sickles unfolded from the cocoon as the tall-jawed face reared out towards Calypto. It ripped the spear out of its body and pointed it at Calypto. “You are the true sacrifice to the world. You die.”

Calypto grinned as he brandished a severed ram’s horn that spiraled around his hoof. With the flick of a silver lever, the cap on the horn opened. He flicked the tip of the horn, sprinkling a liquid into the metamorphic ghast's mouth. The mutated freak raised its arms high to strike, but the strike never came. The creature began to seize and spasm. It struggled until it collapsed beside Calypto, and only a glowing red gel pooled over the open wounds of the monster.

Calypto shook as he pulled himself up to his hooves. “With the four sky-earth winds watching over me, I castigate thee, under the moon and stars and in the name of the sun, the world turns thee undone.” As he spoke, the horn took on a soft purple glow. Calypto stabbed the horn into the scalp-taking gaunt. It fell over similarly to the first, convulsing as it bloated up and began to ooze with viscous red chunks. The third abomination refused to even approach. Calypto clapped his hooves before looking forward to the MAS facility. Turning his back on the host of shivering monsters, he smiled. “I don’t abide by your false justice.” He said over his shoulder as he stepped through out of the alley into the shambled courtyard of the MAS facility into the shadow of the building’s brutalist architecture. “It’s about time I got here.”

` Calypto staggered with an uneven limp, trading his weight across his three undamaged hooves, as he approached the sundered metal gate, the entrance to the Ministry of Arcane Sciences facility. Shattered glass from the door behind the fallen partitions littered the ground. It appeared that strange black vines had sewn themselves between the cracks in the floor tiles.

Only by flickering gem light, Calypto gazed around the lobby as he crossed out of the moonlight. The large lobby was alight with the glow of a large star shaped gemstone in the center, illuminating the bloody entrance desk. Scrawled in dry, black blood across the wall read the words:

Welcome to the garden of evil

“Charming.…” Calypto snickered.

At the sound, a quick light passed over Calypto. He mounted his revolver in anticipation. Suddenly, a female automated voice spoke from the speakers above.

“Welcome…” the system spoke politely. “to Ministry of Arcane Sciences Applied Psychogenics Laboratory: Designation Ponyville.” The voice was clunky, piecing together language rather than forming them into a fluid pattern. “Would you like to fill out a guest… badge…Mr…” The voice broke off mid-sentence, just as it was replaced with robust, masculine voice. “ZEBRA SCUM!”

A panel in the wall flipped open, and a twin linked cannon spun alive. Sounds and lights filled the air, and Calypto smirked.

Draw.

*** *** ***

'Come on, come on, come on, come on, come on!' Scapegrace chanted in her head frantically with an ear pressed flat against a safe. It was all she could do to hear the faint clicks of the dial among the chaos going on outside.

Tak-A-Tak-A-Trakka!

Gunfire matched with screams echoed from every side, getting closer and closer.

Cli--Dakan!

A concussive rumble from below shot through the building, but by a fraction of a second, the safe’s last tumbler clicked into place and popped open. In a pitch black room, Scapegrace peered into the dark through the crystal lenses of her faintly glowing eyes. A gold necklace, a pair of twin diamond rings, and a cadre of other valuables, she swiped them all with a quick hoof.

Cla-clack! Cla-clack!

“Shit!” Scapegrace cursed under her breath as the vibrations from raiders’ hooves rippled through the house. “How many are there? There must be at least ten!” Scapegrace said trying to keep the panicked glow of her body down. “Why does ‘crazy’ always have to have so many friends? And why did I have to stay here? I hate this place. I hate it, hate it, hate it.”

Scapegrace scrambled across the bedroom, but skidded to a stop as gunfire ripped through the floorboards. “Ack! Bad day...” As she ran into the hall, she saw a dark grey unicorn backing up the stairs, with a small levitating rifle firing burst from behind a cabinet. An earth pony beside him with twin-linked shotguns mounted on a battle saddle stood out from cover to try to fire at the unseen attacker, only for orange veins to glow across her face the moment before her head exploded.

Scapegrace saw something strange and amorphous shamble up the stairs through the dark, like some kind of inequine horror. Before the unicorn could turn and run, Scapegrace bolted across the room, barely slipping out of sight. She knocked over a bookcase in front of the door.

Sweat dripped down the side of her face as she looked to every corner of the room. “What does a mare have to do to stay alive in a place like this?” She whispered to herself. The panic felt like snakes were slithering up her shoulders. Looking up, she spotted the pull cord hanging from the ceiling. “Hooves crossed, let’s hope for an earth pony attic.” She galloped for the cord... only to turn 180 degrees and snap back to the door , letting out a muffled whine with every step, as she impulsively snatched 4 books from the bookshelf before running back toward the attic. “Scapegrace, you have problems.”

She climbed up to the attic, which was small and low to the ceiling. It didn't look stable, but she didn't have time. She moved towards a window on the top of the roof when the bending boards collapsed as she was dropped into an adjacent room.

Clack, Clack, Clack, Clack.

More ponies were in the house. Scapegrace scanned the room, frantically. She spotted a window at the far end of the room. Grabbing a coat rack, she smashed a hole in the window. She looked out from the window sill, spotting the open roof of an adjacent house. Scapegrace brandished a four pronged hook fastened to a length of rope, and swiftly locked it into a harness on the inside of her jacket. She pressed down on a lever on the pulley attached to the rope and the grappling hook glided through the air as she threw it onto the peak of the roof. Releasing the lever, the pulley locked the rope into place, and Scapegrace leapt into the air, swinging towards the open building.

Bra-crumble! The grappling hook sent the peak of the roof crumbling down as she swung. She barely made the jump, spinning out onto the floor as she crashed against the ground.

“Son of a bitch... I didn't sign up for any of this.”

The red moon shimmered down on the town, illuminating the night. Scapegrace, gasping, threw herself to the crumbling side of the building. “I always thought I wanted to see the moon, but you are going to get me killed.” She said to herself. She had survived this far by some friendly shadows that hid her from the insanity of blood curdling raiders, but the light cast down ruined her defensive flash flare. The raider scrambled down below through the streets, shooting and hollering. There were so many of them, it was a nightmare. Her nightmare. “This is what it must have been like... it’s the raid of New Maretropolis.” She didn't have time to stand still, she slammed a hoof against the side of the house.

She slunk to the far side the building. It wasn't even a thought for her to snag a holodisk and a magazine along the way. “I just wanted to mess around in some ruins, make something of my time... I'm just going to get myself killed.” She raised her hoof to look at the compass strapped to it. “I need to get out of here.”

As she oriented herself to the south, a shudder ran through her body.

Gardens

She shook her head. “It’s not here. It's not worth any of that.”

Failure

She turned back to the heart of the war zone. She couldn't know that it was there, but she couldn’t ignore the possibility. It might be there... She had heard it mentioned, and that meant it must have existed, and that was way more than anypony figured. Still, was it worth chasing the ghost of a promise? The slightest sliver of hope at that salvation echoed at the back of her mind. It was torture. “I can't. This is suicide.”

Scape Disgrace.

It should have been enough. The MoM logs were plenty valuable on their own... but they weren't a miracle, and she knew that. 'Nothing good comes from sacrifice.' She chanted in her head.

If it was a matter of sacrifice, things would have been easier on her. There were plenty of dangerous places to sacrifice one’s self to in the wasteland. Even if she had sacrificed so much, sacrifices didn’t finish a mission. ‘I can’t turn back… can I?’ She thought reluctantly. 'Why did those two idiots have to run off on their own. This is going to get me killed, but if they were here, at least it might be a little bit of fun.'


‘I’m thinking like Tumbleweed… like that infuriating, irresponsible idiot!’ The thought made her tense. Had I been there, I might have been humbled. ‘This is his fault. He’s a card carrying lunatic! He’s the type to go galloping to his own death, and be happy about it! If I start thinking like him, it’s going to get me killed, too.’ Scapegrace gritted her teeth as she grew even more red underneath her shroud. As she took a sigh, the little pony inside her head posed an insidious question.


‘Do you like him?’


“What kind of stupid question is that?” Scapegrace blurted out loud. Realizing the mistake immediately, she ducked down, before looking around. There was a quiet moment despite the ambient sounds of battle in the distance.

‘Hey, I just ask the important questions…’


‘Listen, you… or me… that ratty vagabond is going to get himself killed recreationally. There is nothing remotely attractive about a dead pony…’

‘Dead sexy pony, maybe…’ her id fired back. Scapegrace burned into an embarrassed pink tone before ramming her head into the wall, as if to try to beat it out of her head.

‘That’s it, I’m leaving this stupid town....’ Scapegrace thought before taking a moment to breath, collecting herself and emptying her mind.

She was quick to scan for movement, especially keen to spot any moving shadows. Ponies ran from street to street, but they were too busy killing each other to notice her, let alone look up enough to see her. The moon was doing quite a lot of work in trying to get her killed, but it was what she was stuck with so it might as well help keep her alive for what little it could.

She peered out from the time-rent windowsill across an empty alleyway. Above and below, it was clear, at least for a moment. Amid the ripping sounds of gunfire in the distance, the sounds of her movements would become muted. Lifting herself onto the windowsill, she jumped across the divide onto a brick ledge. She had some latent weight reduction magic leftover from before, making her leap much less terrifying despite the distance. The ledge held sturdy, but the window was barred up. Wrapping her hooves around the bars, she climbed up, pulling herself to the roof.

It wasn’t the highest place in the town, but by the moonlight, it was a great vantage point.As Scapegrace looked out towards the edges of the town, her face took a grayish blue tint. ‘Another failure, huh?’ She thought.

Simply thinking the thought made her shudder. There was so much expected of her, yet so little she ever had to show for it. She was cursed, being born into that lineage. ‘Your mother was genius, so was your father, as well as your grandmother… so naturally you were chosen for such an important task.’ she thought. She cringed under the weight. It was the torch she was expected to carry into the future, but it felt like too much to carry. Why did they have to place their hopes on her? She turned back towards the center of the town, seeing raiders crawling from cover to cover, the fires, the sounds of gunfire and screams, and the strange lurking shades. It looked a lot like death, and death was hungry, waiting for a feast. It screamed in her mind as something idiotic. ‘But think about all there is to gain? Everything you’ve been searching for… no, what every crystal pony was praying for, might be right in front of you. It could be here. By the end of the night, it may be trashed into pieces beyond any recognition.’

Hope was a bitch.

She looked over her shoulder across the town. ‘There is no guarantee it is there, or that it survived the war. I can’t die over a dream.’ She slunk across the rooftop before lowering herself into a hang against the wall. Looking back, she took a breath to prepare to leap to the ledge opposite her. As she readied herself, the little pony in her head whispered something.

‘Hey… do you like him?’

The thought hit her mid jump, as she catapulted herself into the wall. She stumbled to maintain balance, both physically and mentally. She grabbed her throbbing snout, which had kissed the wall. ‘Traitor! We had an agreement! No more of those thoughts!’

‘Yeah, I know, but do you like him?’

Scapegraced cursed herself. Her brain seemed to have a mind of its own, and that was the worst part about it. Still, she couldn’t imagine how bad it would be not to have one. ‘I’m kinda busy! Go back to all that self-doubt and anxiety stuff would you? At least that might help keep me alive!’ She thought.

‘I will, but before that, just answer the question. Come on, I’m curious, and I'm you, so do us a favor.’

Scapegrace could tell her snout was bleeding, and the pain only made her more furious. ‘I’m not going to confuse being in a dangerous situation with infatuation. Stop bugging me on this!’ Calypto just had to ask those stupid questions before.

‘Come on, you’re a crystal pony! It’s in your blood.’

‘You’re going to get me killed!’

‘Question: Which do you prefer? Dying in his hooves, or dying alone and cold, and possibly insane?’

“Shut up! That pony is loud, obnoxious, and never got quite the beating he deserved for saying I looked like ghoul when we first met.”

‘Hear me out… if you died in his hooves, you would be close enough to hit him in the face… or anything else you might want to do with his face.’

‘Shut up, shut up, shut up!’ She forgot where she was for a moment. She stepped back, but there was nothing there. Scapegrace flailed to try to reclaim her balance, but her movement only delayed the inevitable fall.

Falling was a talent, and one she luckily had. She caught the top half of her body against the roof of a shed a few feet below. The shed refused to hold the strain, shifting under her weight, its original rectangular form slowly skewing into a parallelogram before collapsing upon itself, sending old bottles, cans, and tools across the ground.

‘Failure…’ the word swirled in her head as she hugged her gut in pain. She didn’t have any major injuries, but the damage to her pride was vibrant. As she fumbled on the ground, her ears perked up at a strange set of noises. They were voices. Crude voices inching closer and closer to her location.

“And when I’m the raider king, we are going to get like... all the bitches!”

“Like how many bitches boss? Like 10 of them?”

“More than that!”

A motley crew of ragged raiders turned the corner. There were four of them in total, with as many bastards with horns as there were without. Their armor, if you could call it that, was built from all manner of artifacts of the old world, irreverently repurposed, but lovingly sewn together as if it were a part of their own pride. It was a tacky array of make-shift wonder that triumphantly clashed with any sort of order, especially in terms of color.

“Like twelve bitches?” said the bald pony with a horn poking out from above a pair of oval goggles.

“Yeah, twelve whole bitches.” The golden haired earth pony said as he gripped an aged stalk of grass between his teeth. He had the face of a real douchebag.

“That’s pretty insane. Are there even that many bitches in the wasteland? I’ve never seen that many in my entire life.” Said another unicorn with helmet adorned with a saw blade on the top.

“It’ll be the biggest harem… Whoa, what is that?” said the overweight earth pony with folds of flesh bursting out of the gaps in his armor.

The group turned towards Scapegrace.

“Well, well, well. Look what we got here?” The golden haired raider said as a sickening smile spread across his face. “You’re a pretty one.” He said, his eyes panning up and down Scapegraces body as she had gotten up. “How about we have a little bit of fun?”

Scapegrace sneered, her twitching cheek now visible as her cover had fallen from her face. She stared at them for a moment. A strange concoction of emotions washed over her. Was it fear? What would she do next? Were they really that dumb? They appeared to be wondrously dumb, but that seemed impossible. Were they just not creative enough? It was super cliché, from the beginning to the end of its execution. This was a surreal experience for Scapegrace. As the giggling mob approached, she rolled her eyes.

The boss’s pupils dilated at the gesture. He spat out the blade of grass from his mouth. “That bitch!”

Scapegrace was beginning to wonder whether that was good or bad by their standards.

“Did you fucking see that!?” The golden haired boss screamed as spit erupted from his lips before latching a hoof around the goggle faced unicorn. “She rolled her fucking eyes at us!” He continued blasting. “She’s dead. It’s over. I’ve gotta kill ‘er!” He yelled as the goggle raider as he held his mouth tightly shut so as not to take in any unwanted spit. The boss bucked his legs, cocking the guns in his battle saddle. “Get ready to die, bitch!”

“but, boss-liege…!” The goggle pony called out flailing blindly behind spit covered lenses.

The overweight pony dashed in, plowing his girth into the golden haired raider, throwing his aim off enough for the buckshot glide harmlessly past Scapegrace as she escaped into the hole made by the shed.


“What the hell are you doing?!”

“Think of the harem boss!” The large pony screamed, tears rolling down his face.

“No, she has to die!”

“Forgive me, my lord…” The goggles raider said as he wiped the spit from his lenses. “But he has a point!” He adjusted his goggles as he looked up toward the infinite skies, the light of the moon reflecting off of the lenses. “In this strange mysterious world, there are only so many bitches… if we kill this one, how many will be left for our harem?”

“Damn it, you do have a point!” The boss said as he furrowed his brow. He gritted his teeth in frustration. “Damn it, she is a bad one, like all those raider bitches, and raider bitches are the worst kind of bitches for a harem.”

“But my lord! Think of the harem! It is our unified dream! Our utopia! Can we at least fuck her?” The goggles pony pleaded as the gold haired pony bucked and flailed trying to free himself.

“Hey, I had a crazy idea… so hear me out.” The helmeted pony said as he coughed. “What if we killed her, and then fucked her.”

The boss’s eyes widened in childlike wonderment. “You’re a genius! I knew I kept you around for a reason!”

“Hey, boss. Where did she go?” The big pony asked as he looked around.

“She badgered off!”

Sweat rolled down Scapegrace’s face as she carefully picked away at the lock. She hadn’t gotten very far before hitting the locked door, but they were stupid enough to argue for so long. She figured she might be able to pull it off, but the stress was getting to her. 'Failure.' Again, one bad move after another, she knew she was just going to get herself killed. After another careful movement the tumblers slipped into place. Bursting into a frantic shake as she scrambled with the knob, she escaped through the door.

“There she goes!”

“Chase after that dead mare’s booty!”

They were pathetic, but they were armed with weapons, and that made them enough of a threat. Scapegrace slammed the door behind her before locking it once more. With haste, she fled through the hallway towards the kitchen as she heard the raiders slamming their hooves against the door. Then came the sounds of splintering wood. Scapegrace nervously peeked out behind her only to see the plus sized pony barreling through the door.

“Pussy~!” He screamed as he began to slow down. Inertia overcame momentum as the pony heaved in a desperate attempt to get air into his lungs. The other three passed over the giant pony, as Scapegrace bolted toward the next room.

With nimble movements, Scapegrace vaulted across a long table, her hooves skating across the moldy floor boards. Launching the table back with buck, the dominos of chairs and upturned furniture set askew in the chaos crafted a split-second obstacle to give her enough time to make her escape. Or perhaps even a time to strike?

Scapegrace turned on a heel, drawing the submachine gun from her satchel. She could feel the piercing gazes crawling over her, both lust and bloodlust. The cocktail was disgusting. Out of primal impulse, she bit down on the trigger, but it didn’t depress!

‘Damn it, Forgot the safety!’ the thought passed quickly across her mind. It took only a moment to flick the switch. With that ear shattering rumble, bullets exploded out the short muzzle in ballistic haze. She arched the gunfire across the room.

The second of warning provided in her struggle with the safety gave enough time for counter action. The wave of lead managed to only clip two of them as the raiders ducked around cover.

‘Failure…’


As Scapegrace drew her line of fire across, the golden maned raider leapt to the side. As he rolled across the ground, he rocked his body into position for a gutsy shot.

Set off by a frantic nerve, Scapegrace dodged to the side as buckshot slashed the air beside her flank where she had been standing, blasting through an old cabinet. Splinters spewed into the air, kicking up a centuries worth of dust.

“Don’t shooty the booty, boss! We need that!”

“Where am I supposed to shoot then?”

“In the face, boss! The face!”

Scapegrace slipped into the next hallway with panic in her breath. Had she only hit two of them? All those bullets wasted! She had held the trigger too long. All because of that little slip up. ‘Failure’, she thought.

“Looks like she has a bit of fight in her.” The helmeted raider said as he held his wound.

“Good. Good! I like it when they squirm!” The boss said as a long drip of drool poured from his mouth.

Galloping fast, she climbed through a window to the open street. She climbed up to a first story ledge. The weight talisman had helped in that.

“There she goes, Boss, milord!”

“This is too much running!”

“Guys, can I get some medical attention?”

“Give her chase! We aren’t going to let some bitch play rough like that!”

The boss nearly collided full sail with the window as his comrades piled in. Pushing the goggles raider aside, he made his way through the portal. Searching, sniffing, listening, he scanned the alley, quickly. “There, she is!” He smiled as he spotted Scapegrace climbing over an old wall.

The boss took point as the goggles raider followed, both with eager red eyes. They passed over a small sizzling container. Scapegrace ducked down.

There was a sudden flash, and a bursting sound. A group of small deformed nails lodged themselves midway into the wall she had hidden behind.

Looking down, she saw the two, now splashing in their own pooling blood. The goggles pony was shivering, flailing as his perforated legs oozed. “My… liege! B-boss! Ahhhhhhghhh, what happened?... I can’t see.” His words were quiet and airy, as if it was all he could manage.

Even as the ponies wallowed in pain, she thought to herself, ‘I only killed two?!’ It had been a last ditch effort, the nail bomb. It was a wonderful bit of handicraft, but its mediocre performance left a bad taste in her mouth. Now, she had nothing left, and there were still countless raiders out there. It practically made her decision for her. She was powerless. She was always powerless, she thought. Even if the miracle could be found inside, she was still a failure.

When Scapegrace looked back up, she trembled as a tense drop of sweat trickled down her neck.

The golden maned pony moved. His flesh swayed and folded in bizarre ways, becoming more ‘thing’ than ‘pony’. The blood that poured from it took an iridescent glow, tainting the dark pool as the blood touched it. Crunching and boiling sounds could be heard from inside the corpse.

“Boss…” The goggles pony gasped.

The creature hesitated for a second, almost as if to listen. A splash of boiling blood spurted from a bulging cavity around the neck. It heaved as if to puke, as a tumor on the side of its shoulder expanded with a guttural movement.

The creature jostled the mouth in experimentation. After some playing around, it muttered a strange word. “J-jo-j-joi-joi-join.”

A bony spike lashed out from the growing bulge, bouncing the raider off the ground as it skewered him. The creature wretched as the retracting spike dragged the limp corpse along with it. With a ponderous hoof, it scrapped itself free of the corpse.

Scapegrace watched, half in wonder, half in horror. They were magnificent, terrifying creatures that eluded or maybe even frolicked in death. Where did they come from? Anything that puked violent spears had to be from the prewar. It was a safe bet. You had to be a crazy world destroying pony to come up with this kind of stuff. ‘This is why I should leave.’ She thought. ‘I can’t fight raiders, let alone those… things. Staying here in this nightmare? It’s suicide.’ She sighed. ‘There are kinder ways to kill yourself.’

'You know you don't have much time left...what's wrong with that?' The voice inside her said.

“Help!” A voice called out. Scapegrace turned to see the portly pony caught halfway through the window, nicely wedged in place. The pony struggled furiously, but a trickle of blood had dripped down a shard of glass that held his torso at the window sill.

The second nightmare shuddered at the ground as the first stumbled towards the noisy howls. A chill fell down Scapegrace’s spine. It would be a slaughter. Even so she couldn’t turn away as she heard the unfortunate raider panic.

The large raider craned his body to look behind him. “I’m stuck! You gotta help me.”

The helmet pony stood back, shaking his head while edging away in a limp. “No… Fuck... I don’t want to die!”

The large pony’s eyes swelled as he heard the last words he would hear from a friend.

“Forgive me.” Helmet pony said before escaping down the hallway.

A porous rotting hoof forced the large pony’s tear leaking head to turn around. The creature locked foreheads with him as two deep holes swallowed the corpse’s original eyes. “This world…” The creature awkwardly sputtered. “…has curdled- Ro…tten. Come with us.”

The large pony threw a hoof across the jaw of the creature, torquing the macabre abomination's head in a circle, as if to snap its neck. Despite the twisting spine, the nightmare held a deadlocked gaze. Glowing veins stretched across the fat pony's jaws before the bones snapped. The pony tried to manage its drooping jaw, letting out muffled howls.

'Some kind of magic feedback attack? Damn... how do you even fight that?'

“It’s a ba-aad wo-world... old...” The creature spoke. “Y-you... oh want to be free of of it. We will free everypony. We will make it clean.”

‘Was it learning?’ Scapegrace questioned. ‘No, it already knew the words… Not a parasite, is it necromancy?’

“Free of it!” The creature almost grinned. Glowing blood poured from its maw. “We too, wish to be-e-e free!” The creature adjusted its mouth, which had lengthened, with new teeth taking root from the new gums. “Better. We wish to be free of it.” The creature slowly stretched its probing spike it had used to kill the other pony along the large pony’s face. “Help us, help you. Be free... Join.”

The tendril slithered down the pony’s throat. His skin flexed and bent as the raider seized. A bouquet of blades pierced the torso, turning and grinding, allowing a cocktail of visceral fluid to pour from his holes.

Scapegrace was pale in fear. Curiosity would only get her killed. What hope did she have of surviving this town? ‘What a joke!’ she thought to herself. ‘The wasteland demands sacrifices. It eats and devours. Nopony could beat that.’

She sat in quivering fear for a moment. Wasteland washed over her, and she felt insignificant. Her crystalline coat became dull and matted. She would give up. Before she turned away, a mare strut in laughing.

“Where do these shits keep coming from? It’s like they are crawling out of the woodwork. Ugly son’s of bitches, too. They look like they got chewed up and spat out. Hey, if they keep coming up, I’ll keep kill’n ‘em.” She had a defiantly styled electric blue mohawk with a sour apple coat. She had reflective silver jacket with yellow trimming that shined unabashedly in the moonlight.

Three of the horrendous monsters now turned towards to the lone mare. Scapegrace couldn’t help but worry for the her. “Join.” They demanded, just as they had before.

“Tch!” The mare clicked her tongue in offense. She took on a sickening grin as she walked forward, ignorant of the threat and fear.

‘Get away… just get away…’ Scapegrace wanted to scream, but the words wouldn’t come out.

Despite it all, the lone mare charged in. Scapegrace couldn’t watch. She turned to walk away. She didn't need to watch to know what would happen... Before she could slip away, she heard a peculiar sound.

VRA-Vra-Vryyym--VRAVRA VRHRAAAANNNNNNNG!

The sound pulled Scapegrace back to the edge of the wall. That was not the sound of slaughter… well, actually it very well might have been, but it was a different kind of slaughter. Welcome to the wasteland, where you have to make that distinction.

Even as the creature flailed, the mare wove between the tentacles and claws untouched. From the ripper jutting out of her elbow, a whirring chain tore through the nightmare’s outstretched arm with its cascading blades. The glowing, boiling blood siphoned out, splattering onto the mare and the surrounding area, but somehow, it didn’t seem to hurt her. Shouldn’t it have been hot? It wasn’t pressure boiling, from what scapegrace knew. ‘So, it is alchemical, huh?’

“Join, join, join! That’s all you guys say!” The intrepid mare in silver said. “Conforming isn’t really my rhythm, particularly when you all are so damn revolting. Sorry, Cool-aid, I don’t want you to rubbing off on me. You’ll cramp my style.”

The creature tried to lock eyes, but she simply looked away. It was like something else had her attention. She could see something. Was she distracted? Was she just smart? Or maybe there was something else worth looking at?

The first nightmare grew a new segmented leg, clawing ponderously across the ground. With a fan of rib-like blade, the morphing creature swung in, but the strikes simply swiped the air. She had disappeared. They had passed through her. No! She hadn’t done any of that. Even as the attacks came in, she had glided in and out around the attacks.

Four blades protruding out and down, like a sharply-angled scythe, were affixed to the mare’s left hoof. With it, she clawed into one of the abominations, dragging it along by its flesh. She whirled the creature around by her claw, sending the glowing gore splattering to the ground.

...But there were more of them. Another one of the creatures had slunk up around to her flank (the tactical kind). The abomination swung its deformed face at the mare. The creature had collected the nails that had punctured the raiders body, now internalizing them, as they burst from the monster's head.

The mare spun, throwing the first nightmare into the attack, letting the nails bury deep into it. She forced both of them into the wall. It was like a dance to her.

“One question...” The mare laughed as she leaned into the stack of monsters. “Do you even know how to kill?” She leaned into the beasts with judgmental glare. “Your technique is amatuer.” She laughed. “Keep at it. Practice makes perfect.”

Even after such an assault, the monsters bent and moved again as if immune to pain and free of death. They were impossible to defeat… but, for that mare it didn’t matter. In a furious dance of death, she clawed through the creatures despite their attempts to retaliate. she slammed a hoof down, imploding one of the creature’s skulls against the wall, although it was questionable if that even did anything.

The mare dragged the pair along the wall. “I traveled half a wasteland to fight champions, but all I get is you half-cap bastards. What a waste of time.” The mare dragged her ripper across them, halving their size. “Go back to hell. Come back when you are ready for the wasteland.”

Scapegrace looked on in awe. A word came to mind for what she saw. ‘Genius’. Not in the way of being smart... Scapegrace had all of the intellect, but it didn’t seem to help her. This madmare made something suicidal seem easy. She reminded Scapegrace of somepony.

‘…you like him?’ the question popped in among her thoughts. Scapegrace slammed her head against the partial wall in front of her
.

“Why do you fight? Sunless waifs… forsaken. Join… ess-sscape… this bleakness.” The third creature mumbled from its dislodged jaws. The alchemical blood had formed new, gnarly bone-like spikes across its limbs. The structure of the limbs changed, from muscle structure to its joints. Despite its clumsy motions, it swung its arms as bloody flails with power.


The bone flails whipped towards the raider mare, but in a fluid motion, she rolled around the attack, and with a flurry of kicks and strikes, she bashed the creature to the opposite wall. “Bleak? Let me give you a lesson in wasteland sunshine...” She pulled a rail spike from a bandolier around her hind hooves. “I’m gonna brighten your world. Hahaha...”


“Savvy!” A voice called from around the corner.

She didn't seem to notice. Bracing the mutant's head against the brick, she tossed the rail spike into the air. As it spun into position, she hammered the spike through the creature’s neck, affixing it to the wall. She did this three more times, even as the creature struggled, pinning it’s limbs to the wall.

“Savage Frisket!” A voice called out again. A pair of raiders turned the corner, in Technicolor armor. They sacked the other pair of mutant creatures, striking from behind and pinning them to the ground.

“Not now, I’m gonna make this one pretty!” The mare said.

As the large nightmare struggled against the wall, Savage let the chain run on her weapon. Splattering and buzzing sounds resonated as she sawed open the creatures rib cage. With a powerful buck, she rent the cavity open, revealing a glimmering sea of grossly altered organs.

Most notably was the bulging, expanded heart, with nearly a dozen new valves built into it and lumbering new arteries filling up much of the body. Savage Frisket stared at the heart, watching it as it pulsed. After some time, she sliced open two of the arteries, as the still beating heart pumped out the glowing blood. Savage unstrapped the wide metal dish from her saddlebag and pressed it up to the bleeding heart, collecting the shimmering fluid.

It was hard for Scapegrace to watch. Despite it being some kind of aberration, the semblance to a pony made it hard for the mind to think of it differently; however, it was a fascinating process to watch. It seemed so pointless at first, as it didn’t seem to show signs of pain, but as the blood flowed out of the creature, the mutations visibly slowed down. Savage had made a mockery of this terrifying creature, as nothing more than a crazy raider. She was brilliant, so different from the pony Scapegrace knew herself to be. Scapegrace was frozen in awe of her confidence and ability.

Savage grinned as the creature’s transforming properties seemed to slow. It continued to flail, but less so as she stripped its muscles. “oooh, idea!” She mumbled as she ripped the heart out of the husk of the creature. With another rail spike, she pinned the heart at the corner of a window above her. Then she did something peculiar. She pulled out a role of blue tape. With several lengths of tape, she made lines radiating from the heart, pointing toward the pinned cadaver. She then pulled out a sawed-off shot gun, but the strange thing about it was that it was that it hardly had a muzzle at all. It didn’t seem to be for combat. Her horn glowed as she levitated the device up to the heart, cautious of the exact positioning. The gun exploded, splattering visceral fluid out from the heart.

It seemed like mindless brutality, but when the strips of tape were removed, the dazzling design was present. The glowing blood had made rays of sunlight across the wall.

In a few moments, Savage song had turned to the two remaining nightmares as she massaged her bloodstained hooves maniacally. Savage’s raiders kicked the creatures around. There was a distinct change of atmosphere about the creatures now. They seemed to shiver.

The first aberrant seemed to flail about frantically, hissing to get them to go away. The second monster tried to scoot away from the raiders. “No-no-no-no, no, no, no…” it chanted in all manners of different rhythms as the two mooks grabbed it. The profane mutant carved the ground as they dragged it, chanting changed as it got closer to the wall, “Stoo...stop... Stop! Stop it! Stop!”

Scapegrace’s ears perked up as she watched. It had appeared that in the building around her, other spectators had turned up. It was an inspiring sight for others as well.

“What is she doing?”

“I dunno. I think it’s supposed to be art.”

“Must be modern.”

Turning back from the peanut gallery, Scapegrace watched as the last mutant thing swiped back and forth with a sickle-like claw.

“You can not... defeat us.” The nightmare said. It seemed to have some grasp over how to apply the language. It took a strong pose, but as the raiders stepped forward, it inched back. “We will… cleanse this… world… and…” The creature fumbled back again. “Fear us.” It said swinging it’s jittering claw.

In a single swipe, Frisket sliced through the bone in the claw to the monster’s dismay.

“I don’t want to go on the wall!” The monster said in a pathetic plea.

Savage saw to it that the stakes were driven well into the walls. Veins were drained, hearts were plucked, and the monsters became more docile. She produced several squirt bottles from her bag. As she pooled blood into the wide metal dish, she applied the contents of the bottles and mixed them. The blood took on a variety of vibrant colors, and with them she began to paint. She was fast, taking only a few moments to survey the open space before dragging colors across the empty wall. As putrid as it was, it was captivating.

“I think I am going to title this one ‘Sunshine of the heart’.” Savage said with a smile, placing a hoof over her heart as she looked back on her creation.

Scapegrace sank deeper into the shadows. The great question ran through her mind again. ‘What are you going to do now?’

‘Run, wasn’t that obvious?’ She thought instinctively. ‘You’re not a hero. Don’t kid yourself…’ It made sense in her mind, after all, this place was going to be suicide. Wasn’t it?

Something about that argument didn’t seem as convincing to her anymore. The danger was real, but it was not absolute. Seeing the raiders had cleared away a veil. Survival was possible, she had seen it with her own eyes! She could not ignore the possibility anymore. ‘How many times will danger be a valid excuse for coming back with empty hooves?’ She thought to herself.

‘As many times as it is necessary…’

As the thought came to her, she realized she had tears rolling down her cheeks. Still, she thought that something was wrong with that statement. What were those tears for? Instinctual, perhaps? Crying for the suicide she had been galloping towards?

Scapegrace cursed to herself. ‘Tears don’t solve problems.’ She thought to herself. Regardless of any resolve, her mind and body never seemed to listen. She gritted her teeth as she started to lose control of the color in her body.

This was bigger than herself. A duty was on her shoulders and it weighed heavily. That was why it hurt so much, right? She couldn’t give up with so many crystal ponies counting on her, right?

But she was also the last of a legacy of geniuses. All her training would be wasted if she died. Dying would help nopony. How could she sacrifice it all like that? That would be the utmost stupidity.

I’m not saying it’s not stupid, I’m just saying that if we are going to do something stupid we should do it in the most intelligent way possible…

‘Do you like him?’ The pony in her head asked, once again.

Scapegrace yelled in fury. ‘No! Shut up! I don’t care! I hate that stupid bastard, stop asking me stupid…' Scapegrace caught herself in thought for a moment. 'wait..” Scapegrace grimaced.

‘That isn’t the question you’re asking at all…’ she thought to herself.

‘The real question… it’s not about him, or duty, or vengeance for mom and dad, or any of that.’ She closed her eyes.

‘Do I like myself?’

The pony in her head grinned a little bit.

‘That’s what you…er… what I’ve been trying to get at is. Because the answer is “no”…’ She thought. ‘If I leave, I’ll keep being haunted by this, because I know it’s possible. I want to be like Tumbleweed, or that raider. They don’t seem to be afraid. I want to be like them.’

‘Guess you figured it out? What now?’ the pony in my head replied.

‘Tumbleweed had a point. If I’m going to do something crazy, then I need to have a plan.’

‘You can’t do it. You have no armor, no weapons, no bullets. You don’t have anything! Why don’t you just run back home, failure?’ The pony in her head fired back spitefully.

‘I’m not running… I think I can do this, that’s why I’m pissed… I’m smart, I can figure this out.’ Scapegrace furrowed her brow as she looked up at the blood red moon. ‘So, shut up already.’

And with that, Scapegrace’s imaginary friend shut the hell up. With a clear head, she set out into the streets again. This time, the shadows seemed to come to her. Back at the town hall, she had seen the blueprints of the MAS building, and the notes had revealed that there was an additional entrance in the basement of an old library in the town. That would be her goal. Stay out of sight! Enter into hell, but don't get caught in the fire!

Diving high and low across the night over and through the battle-ridden streets of Ponyville seemed so much easier. Soon enough, she had found herself in front of that so-called ‘library’. The building was strange, as it seemed to be carved out of a tree. An empty balcony seemed to beckon for somepony to read on it.

As Scapegrace approached the portal way, something shifted in the dark. The slender coils of flesh had pulled itself in front of the doorway with a grizzly claw. The deep bores in it’s face stared to her, but Scapegrace averted her eyes.

“Die for us... for everypony.” It said.

A bony blade lashed out at her. The creature laughed as the blade pierced through her chest, pulling out quickly.

But what the creature was unaware of was the shimmering light that siphoned through her hooves that braced against the monster. A mote of light gleamed from her wound, as the blood sewed her body back together.

“I’m surprised... you all use this magic so… inefficiently.” She said, as her hoof began to twist into a crystalline blade. As a trickle of blood came from her eyes, she sliced the creature from her path.

*** *** ***

Chp4 Pt3 Ghosts in the Garden

View Online


*** *** ***

Up above, it was as if the old war had never ended. It was pony against pony against nightmare, and there were no signs of stopping. The night was too young to die, and that blood moon smiled happily as it peaked through the sundered cloud layer. Warriors from all over had come to fight, and it was a battle royale. Bullets ripped through the air and ponies died, turning into whatever those freakish things were. It was a place of certain death, but the rising dead was just the sort of thing to cure that stand-off in front of the MAS building. Down in the tunnels however, it was fairly peaceful. There was no point in any pony trying to kill each other in a rotting hole that smelled like piss. Nopony wanted to fight in a sewer. They were impractical. Bullets were great for long hall ways, but that was a game that was played both ways that nopony liked.

In the faint light emanating from the small talisman I had borrowed, I gripped my head in throbbing pain as I walked down the dark, malodorous corridor. “Funny seeing you here.” I said with sugar in my voice.

Killjoy’s eyes tightened into humorless scowl. “Shut up.” Every chortle that slipped out of me dug Killjoy a little bit deeper into his frustration. “Shut up, shut up, shut up! I’ll kill you!”

Another voice came down the hallway. “Mr.Tumbleweed. Don’t go running off ahead!”

Killjoy’s ears perked up at the noise as a nauseated cringe coiled across his face. .

“By the way, we have a tag-a-long.” I whispered.

“The town wanted somepony to keep tabs?”

“Probably.”

“How do we get rid of him?”

“How? I just figured we would walk fast, and either he will get tired, lost, or dead.”

“Sound’s like a plan.”

The white eyed tag-a-long pattered down the tunnel toward us. “Don’t run off like that!”

“Oh, I’m sorry about that.” I looked back at Killjoy with vile glee. “I was just catching up with my son. He hates being alone. Isn’t that right, son?” I said, wrapping a hoof snug around Killjoy’s neck. Killjoy stared back through a gritted smile.

“Yes… dad.”


We all laughed, though an icy glare reflected off Killjoy’s eyes. “I’ll kill you.” He muttered in the confusion.

“Later.” I replied, disguising my words around a cough.

We stumbled down the dark passageways for quite some time, listening for sounds above. If I was going to survive this, I would need to be able to get out of the sewers safely. Unfortunately, many exits were going to be dangerous positions. All of them were bottlenecks, and… well, death was a matter of wrong place and the wrong time. In a time like this, it was always the wrong time, but if I could help it, I could be there in the right place.

We stumbled and wandered with an ear to the earth until we stopped at a maintenance hatch to the surface. “We shouldn’t be too far from the MAS lab here.” The guide said as I gauged the size of the opening above.

“Good. This place makes me claustrophobic.” Killjoy spat.

“These sewers are dangerous business, but it looks like I might be able to fit my fridge through there, so I’ll take it.” I said as I wrapped a hoof around the rungs of the old ladder. I gave the ladder a tug. I felt through it that it was solid. “I’m going to scout it out.” I climbed upward until I reached the service tunnel cover.

“How’s the view?” Killjoy called up.

“Hush! I’m getting to it!”

Daring to peek above ground, I creaked the sewer cover open. A fresh gust of air carried a scent of blood and burnt flesh to my sweaty hide. It smelled like wasteland. I scanned the surroundings, which were lit by a will’ o the wisp of a lantern talisman that had survived the war. It illuminated a lonely corner in an otherwise moon-lit town. One of those twisted wockenfuss looking aberrations was crawling in the umbra of its glow, hoping for the light to bring something for it to kill.

“Anything up there?” Killjoy yelled from the dark below.

I hung back on the time-worn rungs of the ladder, lowering the sewer cover. “Shut up, you’ll give us--”

Before I could finish the thought, I felt the circular lid open with the crook of my hoof still locked into it. Suddenly, an assault rifle was forced into the opening. To be honest, I didn’t really know if it was an ‘assault rifle’ per se, but it was rifle shaped, and as far as I was concerned any rifle that was shooting at me was qualified to be an ‘assault rifle’. It didn’t really matter, I was going to die!

The ear shattering cacophony of bullets echoed down the tunnels. Even as I managed to parry the gun clear of me, my ears were bleeding from the ringing in the tunnel. Bullets pinged, knocking dirt free of the walls as they richocheted in the vertical corridor.

Wrapping my hooves around the gun, I could tell that it was connected to the pony. I pulled it, trying to drag them down into the tunnel.

The raider braced himself against the iron cover, and with the flick of his tail, there was a plinking sound and a foreign sphere found itself in the folds of my jacket.

Damn it. The bastard forced me to let go of my death grip on his stupid gun, shutting the sewer cover like it was polite to do or something. As I flailed, I managed to loose the grenade into freefall.

A flash in the dark brought about a lot of screaming. Judging from that, I assumed it wasn’t Killjoy.

“Son of a- Fuck! My ears!” That was Killjoy. “Good job, hero. You pretty much killed this guy.”

“I didn’t see you jumping on any grenades.” I spoke back into the dark.

“One second, I’m going to put this loser out of his misery.”

With a heavy thud, the screaming stopped. That was one issue out of the way. I didn’t have time to shed tears for ponies I wasn’t invested in. Treating death every time like it was something new in the wasteland would only give you whiplash.

I took my chances topside. Pushing the refrigerator out first, I climbed through the portal quickly to face the raider, but instead I found myself looking at a ghost. For a moment we stood petrified in the middle of the burning streets, not sure if this could be real. Coincidence was a bitch, especially in this town.

“Well, look who it is...” Red eyes glared at me. A familiar voice sent a faint chill down my spine. He was pale green in coat, his mane held back by a dark bandanna. His voice was fast but calm. Even as he spoke, he pointed a hoof at a nightmare in the distance, then drew a hoof across his throat. Not more than a few seconds later, the disfigured apparition had burst into flames. His eyes continued to scan as began to speak again, as if he was never taking his focus off of the battle. “So, the legend lives? I almost didn’t recognize you, what with you growing out your hair. But even if you hide the brand, I could never forget you.” Unlike every other raider, his armor seemed tuned and trimmed. It was solid combat armor and I had no doubt that he killed and schemed to get it. Knowing him… knowing us… that was how we did things. Just on the side of his neck there was a fire-seared brand in the form of barcode and number, sitting on a barren island of pale, hairless skin.

Something old and rotten had found it’s way back to me, and I grit my teeth in disgust. A smirk cut across the cynical prowess in his eyes as he glanced momentarily towards me.

“Tumbleweed.”

“Crossfire…” I muttered in response.

He smiled. “It’s all like what you dreamed about, isn’t it? These Equestrian games, all the screams? These crazy monsters pushing up daisies? The oppressed rising above even nightmares to fight for a new revolution?” Crossfire exhaled with invigoration. “Its magnificent. Even the moon wanted to poke it’s head out just to watch. That hasn’t happened in a very long time, hasn’t it? I feel honored.” He said as he plucked the pin from the grenade, taking the grenade in tail-bound sling, and launching it toward the window of a nearby building. His grenades had an intricate pattern of designs on them, forged into frame. The bomb ricocheted off the corner of the window sill, disappearing beyond the walls, but faint sounds of struggle before the inevitable ‘bang’ told a story. Probably some poor unicorn thinking they could simply toss away one of those cleverly rune-engraved bombs. No such luxury. Even as Crossfire did all this, his eyes never stopped scanning around.

The town itself looked dead in the immediate area. The buildings even seemed to recede back in a feeble attempt to escape from this earth pony. I walked to the side, circling around Crossfire. “I see you're sense for heat is as keen as ever. I take it you're using that to hit ponies beyond walls. Ever think about giving them a chance?” I sneered.

“Survival of the fittest.” Crossfire shrugged. “It’s more than you would have given. I'm just excited to have the chance.”

“It’s a bloody war, what’s there to get excited about?” I said keeping a straight face despite a gripping fear beneath my mask.

He tilted his head as he sensed my doubts. Bloodlust seemed to emanate from the corners of his grin. “War? ... This is way more than war. This isn’t one side fighting the other, it is conflict upon conflict upon conflict!” He paused his speech only for a moment as he pulled his rifle forward, planting a number of robust, armor piercing bullets straight through a wall. He gave a cold grin in accomplishment. Somepony had died, possibly several… “I don’t even know if there is a word to describe the level of violence going on here.”

“So what? Just another day in wasteland, right?” I said back. “Ponies kill ponies all the time. No sides, just violence. I think it's a bit pedestrian.”

“That’s exactly what it is though... The wasteland! Pure and carnal. The natural world in its true, untarnished form...” The calmness in his words betrayed his underlying passion. “So many just clamoring in blindly, just for a little bit of power.” Crossfire began to walk around to my side. “They think they have suffered so much... that they want to change the world a little.” He said looking over his shoulder.

I shrugged as I lowered onto my hind legs. “This is anyones game. Bullets kill, and anyone can get to the end if they’re lucky. To them, this is a chance at power. It doesn’t matter if it’s a bloody lottery.”

“Is that what they think?” The earth pony grimaced as he spat to the side. “ Weak!” His eyes cut across the fire torn town with a sick reverie.

That nostalgia crept up inside of me, and it made me want to puke.

Crossfire leapt up onto a set of crates that formed a pyramid along the side of a building. From there he could see it all. He pulled forward the assault rifle in the battle harness and swiveled the gun as he aimed. He flicked a switch, and the casing of the gun began to glow blue. When he fired, magic light cut through the walls of buildings like they weren’t even there.

“What they don’t know about this wasteland is that it wants to kill you, and you have to want to kill it. From every corner of this broken little world, the wasteland’s desperate are coming for a chance at glory...” Crossfire patted his chest, then spun a hoof in the air before pointing to a building downtown. They were commands. “... but Lady Luck is Skill’s bitch. They have one thing right, and that is that if you suffer, it makes you stronger. That’s what makes this brilliant.” He fired out into a far edge of the town with controlled shots. Releasing his hoof from the lever on the gun, the rifle snapped back into place on the battle saddle.

“Lady Luck is skills bitch… huh. You really hung onto everything I said back then.” I looked back at him with a dour face. “This place is a storm for disaster. No one in getting out of here in one piece.”

“Only the strong are getting out alive.” The earth pony turned to me with a grin. “This town is going to be the beacon forge that leads all the way to the future. They come bringing death, bringing blood, bringing everything that broke them and made them stronger, risking it all in the name of power. It’s the perfect fuel for this furnace, raising the heat as they suffer, so we can temper the strong! Those who are best suited to the wasteland will be lifted, and they will be ruler. There isn’t a thing about all’ this that is chance.” Crossfire jumped from his perch back to the ground. “It’s all skills and tactics.” He said as he walked back towards me. Then, he looked me in the eyes. “And in these Equestrian wasteland games, those who were born out of the worst struggles, like you and I, are champions!”

“I’d rather not be that kind of champion.” I said back to him, trying to find my reason. This brought too many memories that I’d rather run away from. I spotted Killjoy poking his head up from the sewer hole, but I gave him a dirty look. “There is more to this wasteland than cold hearted killing. We’re too smart. We learned how to take the advantage, break up the peace. We do nothing but make trouble.” In the distance, I saw some lone statue. Some large pony celebrated in the pre-war. Some kind of hero of battle… What a joke. “I want no part of these games except for stopping them.”

Crossfire paced around, his eyes rapidly scanning over the landscape. It was a practiced art. Not panicked, but rather it was as if he was devouring every bit of data carried by the light. Another expertly tossed grenade killed somepony in the distance, but apparently it wasn’t enough as he opened fire with his rifle again. There were no survivors, it was reflected in his eyes. Eyes that once were frightened and gentle, but that was so damn long ago. “Of every pony in this wasteland, you could be the top. What happened to you? What happened to that fire of yours?” Something in Crossfire’s eyes surged. It was only a glance, but he turned away quickly, stomping as he grit his teeth.

I took a deep breath. I really wanted to run away. Emotions boiled up inside of me, of the most irrational kinds. Fear, anger, things I couldn’t control… I looked up, hoping to take myself away from them. “I saw something new. I opened my eyes back then, and suddenly nothing made any sense anymore. I have a new life, and I kinda like it.”

Crossfire growled at me. He shot me a glance, more furious than the last. I saw him pop a pill from behind his back… a mint-al. “I had heard rumors, but I didn't imagine they could be true. To think… you, becoming a dog for those stupid caravans… Did you forget everything that we went through? Did you forget being a slave?”

“I remember when you were afraid to kill. When you were a timid, kind, and creative kid.” I replied.

“Those in the cities think they are better than everypony else... Just because they don’t have to scrape the bottom just to survive.” The earth pony stomped his hoof to the ground. He tilted his head to the side in dry anger. “They never have to pull a trigger, never have to get dirty… But they hog everything to themselves.” He turned away and looked towards the ground. His hoof lashed out to point towards me, then all around. “They don’t care about you… they don’t care about anypony. They let the slavers do what they want. I’ve seen it. Stable State 8, those Vestige bastards… it’s all the same. The caravans will betray you. They’ll send you into the grinder for caps, and if you step out of line with them, they’ll lock you up and pretend it never happened. Just like it was back then…”


Making a point that sharp made me want to kill him, but the notion pinned me down in my mind. Some old part of me resurfaced, and for a moment I agreed with him. They had a different kind of greed, and the nobility was a shallow veil to spin notions of good and evil based on semantics. I had seen them as bad as he had said, and they made me angry. But the anger was a sobering strike and I caught myself. “I don’t know where it will take me, but I think there is a better way. There is more to this wasteland, and I want to explore it.”

“Don’t tell me you are getting soft. Not now of all times.” He turned back to me, staring with disdain. “Back then, you did the impossible, took back the reins, fought for our freedom. You let nopony get in your way, and your enemies didn’t have time to regret underestimating you.” Cross said, his eyes singularly focusing on me, and nothing else. “You were my hero.”

It caught myself from tripping over my own words. I didn’t know what to say, and that was a rarity in itself. “I…”

‘Use him.’ That ancient part of me whispered. This arrogant kid wanted to be king, but he still had the heart of a pawn. His obsession could be a tool. It would be fitting retribution for wolf-headed dog like him. At the last moment, I could double-cross them, and destroy whatever was down there. Yes, it would be that easy.

“There it is.” Crossfire said as his face brightened. “Those are the eyes of my hero.”

In a blinding wave of ego, I had blasted a hoof across Crossfire’s face.

No… damn it, no. I couldn’t do it! Anything but that. It made so much sense, but I couldn’t go back. Sweat simply gushed from my pores. I couldn’t take this. “Hell no…” I was going to stop it all.

I followed in with my strikes, holding him close. I came in like a crashing wave, flowing furiously to strike in at the neck and other vulnerable spots, but Crossfire was awake and vigilant. With circling hooves, he redirected my attacks. As one of my hooves was parried across my body, his elbow swung in with a disorienting strike to my temple.

Lost to instincts, I struck the throat for control. Pressing him back, I moved to sweep, hooking my other hoof around his foreleg joint to keep him close, but he slammed down to crease my hoof at the elbow, preventing me from driving deeper into his neck. Hopping his legs back, he arched his torso forward, and with a grit of his teeth, the rifle on his back erupted in gunfire.

In a desperate dodge, I flung my body around to barely swing out of the stream of bullets, but it compromised everything I had in the way of balance. I could feel the weight of my body ripping up from the comfort of the ground as he threw me to the air.

The assault rifle thrust forward as I rolled across the earth. I tucked my abdominals for my life, spinning my entire body to throw my fridge in the way.

Crossfire’s eyes hovered on me with an icy killing intent. The love for a hero had faded away. No... this was in honor of a hero. I needed to kill him now and seize control. I readied my fridge as I rose to my hooves, expecting gunfire. As I charged, however, the gunfire never came. He pulled a lever linked into a cylindrical device harnessed across his back, and a Frisbee-esque disk dispensed to his hooves. He tossed it to the ground, backing up as I charged in.

My hooves scraped long marks across the ground as I braked out of primal fear. There were some lines that should never be crossed. Then, there were mines. Crossfire stared at me from across the disk. I couldn’t reach him…

“On Mark!” Crossfire yelled as he raised a hoof.

Did he have a crew? Of course Crossfire had a crew! Damn it, I was gonna die at this rate. I glanced around for them, but there were so many buildings and not enough light to spot them.

“Fire!”

Bullets cascaded across the ground. I felt one, then two nick me, before a third hit my right in my side. I managed to dodge a cluster of bullets and block the oncoming deluge with my shield. The mintals really helped improve my reaction time, and the stampede made me faster than I was on my own. I managed to adapt, pulling my fridge to guard me in the shadow of the bullets.

I needed to get away. I would die here. Crossfire would be able to pick me off easily, so I ducked back, shuffling into an alleyway behind me to maximize my angle of defense. Shade would make it harder for them to hit me as well.

“You’re not getting away.” One raider of Crossfire's crew leaped free from the building they were taking cover in and began galloping to flank me as the rest kept laying down fire. Damn it, why did they have to work as a team?

In his wound up tail, Crossfire slung a grenade down the corridor. The explosive landed directly in my path.

Too many angles, I couldn’t defend against this. I had no choice but to turn the fridge toward the grenade. As I looked back at Crossfire, I saw him take aim with his rifle.

It was aimed directly through my eye. I could see down the barrel of the gun. No sight of any side of the gun, it was perfectly aligned on the three points of the barrel, the end of the muzzle, and my eye. I could feel Crossfire’s ambient aura of death zero in, focused to a solitary point.

In trying to get control, I failed in seeing it. I didn’t see the strings. He had been manipulating me. I was going to die, as I saw that he pulled the chains to break me. A surge of pain ran through my head.

That was it. My headache reminded me. In that moment before he fired, I screamed the word, despite how inappropriate it would seem.

“PARTY TIME!”

With the word, a vibrant surge of pink arcane energy burst from that lucky horseshoe, launching me several meters into the air.

Earth ponies were not meant to fly, we didn’t have wings or fins or anything. Unequipped for any kind of maneuvering, I tried anyway! Leaning, flailing, clawing at the air, I snagged a hoof on the low roof on the alleyway.

Even as I had almost escaped, I was victim to my fatigue. It wasn’t a matter of whether I could pull myself up, I could manage that, but to do it quickly would require energy I just didn’t have.

“Pathetic. You’ve fallen so far. You’re worth more as memory.” Crossfire said as he trained his gun over me.

The explosive hum of ballistics rang, but somehow I didn’t die.

Contrary to any expectations, a certain scarred raider, grabbing Crossfire by the tail, had thrown him off of his aim. Snapping out of a daze, Crossfire adapted quickly. He flipped out the folding blade that was fastened along the side of his hoof, locking it into place as he drew a swift, meandering cut across Killjoy’s torso before being flung to the ground.

“Hmph, you should be dead…” Crossfire said while picking his chin out of the dirt. “ are you a friend of his?” He asked as he collected himself to stand tall. Crossfire’s eyes darted around, absorbing everything around him.

The festering scowl on Killjoy’s face morphed into a poisonous smile. “Friend? Ha! Don’t get me wrong, I want him dead, too, but I want to do it myself!”

Killjoy’s eyes reflected some kind of diabolical glee as he glared back at me. “I’m doing this, because I don’t like the kind of wasteland this guy seems to be talking about.” Killjoy stroked back the hair of his mane before crashing a hoof through the wall of the opposite building. “If he wants to be king of the wasteland, then I’ve gotta kill’em!” Ripping his hoof from the crumbling wall, he pointed to Crossfire. “I don’t like you. Ya piss me off.” Killjoy glanced back at me.“I’ve got things to do, so this is where we part ways. I’ll kill you later. Got it?”

“I’ll look forward to it.”

“Get the hell out of my sight…”

A grenade exploded at Killjoy’s hooves while he was speaking. Killjoy’s head seemed to sputter as repeated head shots brought him to the ground.

Crossfire spat at the ground in disappointment.

“That is really annoying…” Killjoy said as he wrenched himself up from the dirt. As he rubbed his head with his hoof, several defiantly misshapen bullets fell from the wound as a faint trickle of blood ran down his face.

A cloud of dust and debris kicked into the air as Killjoy burst towards Crossfire. The green earth pony invited his charge before juking to side, sliding a blade across Killjoy as they passed, only making a shallow scratch.

The soldier that jumped from the building flung a grenade over Killjoy as he laid down laser fire.

“Shit!” Killjoy growled as he noticed the shape of the grenade. He dove away as it exploded in a surge of glowing necromantic energy. The incoming beams of laser fire seared across Killjoy's flesh, causing him to reel and scream.

“Don't like tha-- FUCK!” The soldier fell back on his hinds as Killjoy rushed up faster than his adversary could imagine possible. The berserker slammed a hoof down through the pony's rifle, then through his armor. It was like he was squishing the toothpaste out of a tube. The raider folded into visceral pieces in a matter of seconds. One of allies jumped to help him, but Killjoy splattered him into gore.

“Ceasefire!” Crossfire shouted.

The purple earthpony laughed and grinned as the other ponies' blood dripped over him. “How’s that? Mad because I killed some of your friends?”

Crossfire smiled as if nothing had even happened. “They made a valiant effort, but they got what they deserved.”


Killjoy's eyes twitched in disgust. “What the hell do you mean?!”

Crossfire shrugged as he waved his hoof-blade whimsically. “They stepped out of position, they were at fault.” He said in a smug calm tone.

“What the hell is wrong with you, You heartless son of bitch?!” Killjoy shouted as his eye’s widened. “I can't understand you. You don't even give a damn about your own friends...” He charged in toward Crossfire. Swinging in, his hooves pierced the ground as crossfire sidestepped the attack. As Killjoy arched his hooves in a reaping circle as Crossfire backed off. Killjoy dove in charging and Crossfire couldn’t get away as he backed up. A sobering nausea wiped away the adrenaline fueled bloodlust in Killjoy. Crossfire grinned as he drew blood soaked blade from Killjoy’s torso.

“I’ve figured you out.” He said, slipping out beyond the range of Killjoy’s attack.

Killjoy braced the wound with a hoof, trying to hold his blood. “How did you…”

“You’re an earth pony with strong magic. I was scared at first… you seemed like some kind of invulnerable juggernaut, and to most attacks, you would be.” Crossfire said wiping the blood from his blade. “Earth ponies take after the earth, though in your case you take after sand.” He raised the blade in the moonlight. “You’re not brittle like rock, because you don’t shatter, but you still can survive explosions and bullets, no… you are like sand. When faced with an intense force, you’ll deflect anything.” Turning towards Killjoy, he began to walk.

Killjoy’s footing wavered. As the pony approached he edged away, his blood dripping.

“But if I gently push a knife into your gut, it will cut just as easy as it would a newborn foal.”

A single cackle burst from Killjoy, as he stomped his hind hoof into the ground. From there on, Killjoy didn’t falter back. A strange look reflected in his eyes. Fear was gone from his eyes, dead to every emotion, but with a will to resist. He was ready to die. “Y’know, when you put it that way, I guess I really have to kill ya.”

Crossfire’s march took pause as the demon pony bolted forward furiously, despite his injuries. Crossfire rose to his hind hooves as Killjoy made his assault. Crossfire held the blade to meet the charging berserker, but Killjoy batted it away with his hooves. As Killjoy swiped and kicked relentlessly, Crossfire tried to dodge, but a powerful kick dented his armor as it sent him skidding back a few meters.

Refusing to let the enemy escape, Killjoy closed the space between them again. He came in like a stampede, but Crossfire evaded the rush. Crossfire moved to the outside of Killjoy’s hooves. Even as he swung in, Killjoy realized he had let himself open.

“KILLJOYYYYYYY!!” A voice screamed followed by the gyrating sounds of cylinders.

Crossfire caught sight of the mare across the street in the reflection from the mirrors he had on the top side of his hooves.

The thunderous resounding hum of bullets echoed from Marina’s battle saddle mounted miniguns as she fired indiscriminately at the pair.

Crossfire cursed under his breath. There wasn’t time. He dove behind Killjoy, guiding him to dance into the line of fire at the point of a blade.

“Gotcha now!” Killjoy grinned as he struggled with the bastard.

Crossfire’s brow furrowed. The raider fiend grabbed hold of my old protege, and by pure strength alone, threw him to the side.

Only moments before being flung, Crossfire popped the pin on a grenade, and with his tail, he hurled the explosive in front of Marina.

Marina turned towards the vulnerable earth pony, but as she saw the grenade, she cursed,“Fuck!”- and ducked for cover.

The weakness of the battle saddle was that you had to point the gun with your entire body. You could not run away and fire at the same target. In the moment of confusion, Crossfire escaped into one of the buildings.

As Crossfire left, it seemed like life began to return to the area.

Killjoy gasped as he grabbed his gut in pain, rolling to the ground.

“Killjoy! Where did they touch you? Are you okay?” Marina came hobbling from a light injury.

“I’m fine… sorta…”

“Don’t die, fathers aren’t allowed to die.”

“I lost Midnyte… we have to get her back.”

“You should tend to your injuries first. I know you don’t feel like you get them, but when you get’em, you really get’em.”

“That’s fine. I have a few things I’d like to pick up anyway.”
*** *** ***

When tackling the impossible, it helps to ride the wave of movement. Starting a revolution requires a lot of allies, but in the wasteland, those can be hard to come by, especially on such short notice.

In a pinch, most ponies substituted that with guns. The way they punch holes through ponies worked wonders in convincing ponies to move. As one of the ballistically impaired, I couldn't stick to that wasteland favorite. Besides, when so many ponies are using guns, and well... in this death trap everypony was using guns, they have a way of losing their influence.

Fortunately, I had one trick that never failed to convince valuable allies to my side.

*** *** ***

A raider mare screamed as a macabre blood golem leapt through the air on long, gangling legs and impaled her into the ground.

“Good, joooin.” The creature said as it brought its wing webbed arms to trace along the side of the raider's vertically gashed face.

The mare grit her teeth into a nauseated grin. She reached out and bit into the ghast's neck and shook with all her might. The creature wriggled as the raider latched onto it.

The creature patted the raider's head as it shook. “Soon, you will understand...” It said almost as a mother would to a scared child.

The raider ripped her head free from the embrace, taking a short trail of viscera with her. She spit the blood from her mouth as she sneered with dying eyes. “Understand this.” She said as she pulled the pin from a grenade and slammed down the hole in the creature's throat. The raider wrapped her hooves around the monster as it stood up, severing the spine and letting her lower half fall limp on the ground.

A magic glint of light flashed before the grenade engulfed both of them in a magical flame. The thick curtain of smoke billowed out.

A group of undead descended from the wall. Bullets ripped through the streets, diving into their flesh, but it didn't do anything to stagger their waltz. They were aimlessly strolling, with a deadly whimsy. Curiosity peaked among some of the demons as they eyed the rolling cloud. As they approached the curtain of ash, a flash of iron bolted out from abyss.

A metal pickax, lined with glowing grooves cleaved through the neck flesh of revenant. The unicorn burst from the cloud as she pulled the bloody monstrosity close in. “Fucking... bitch, come on!” The raider cursed as she wrestled with undead creature. The neck punctured creature swiped at the amber unicorn. Duck! Weave! The unicorn raider gal dove her head around, switching her grip, but never letting go as she fiddled with the straps on the monster's armor.

Another nightmare rose up, spreading its neck open like the hood of a cobra. Curving talons lined the edges of the hood, and a pair of spiked tentacles whipped out from the gullet at the center of the of the neck. The tentacles curled in the air before slashing in, but the raider jumped back from the first blood golem as the tentacles cut down between them. Not a moment of hesitation followed before she reached in, biting the end of the pickax-like device, still hooked into the monster, and swung the creature in a giant arch, throwing the creature to the ground. As she spun, the moment the pick ax aligned with the festering tentacle creature, the end of the device spat out a gunpowder propelled stake into the chest of the beast.

The monster didn't seem to mind, stumbling about as the organs shifted about below the surface of its skin. “Joi-” It didn't even finish the sentence before the spike inverted itself into a ball of thorns. A foggy gemstone on the inside of the round began to glow, and the ball of needles wrenched about in the flesh of the creature. A jet of arcane energy sent the thorny ball bouncing and spinning through a crowd.

“Ha!” The raider cheered as she ripped the bags off of the corpse monster that she pinned to the ground. She pulled the armor and gear off of the body as she kicked it away. She twirled the line of packs in her telekinesis as it disappeared into a gemstone on her back. She spit to the side. “Robbing the dead shouldn't be this hard.”

A stallion kicked through the smoke. Most raiders had makeshift armor made of junk and littered with spikes, but somehow this raider figured on a way to make the makeshift sleek and the spikes almost classy. “This job is a bust.”

“Shut up, I want their shit.” The unicorn raider spat back.

More raiders passed through the cloud to join them. “We can't get through, boss.”

The raider mare grabbed the spinning spike ball of death in her telekinetic grip. “There is treasure in there, bucko, and it’s gonna be mine.”

Gunfire erupted from the streets. A pair of raiders from the crowd were sniped through shoulder. “Fuck, who the hell is still using guns?” The stallion asked as he dove for the cover of the wall.

“They keep things interesting.” The mare said as she climbed up along a stack of debris to get a look out on the town. She had a pair of binoculars she pulled out just to survey. She glanced over the town for a brief moment before training the binoculars on the two writhing raiders. Bullet fire splintered at the side of the building she was taking cover at, causing her to recoil back behind the corner. She pulled the binoculars away as shot a dirty look at her two comrades bleeding out on the dirt. “Hey, Struggle Bunny, Twinkle Toes, quit bumblefuckin' around. You die like an amateur.”

“I don't know, death sounds pretty good, right about now.” One of the writhing ponies wailed.

The mare glanced from side to side. “You’re makin' us look bad. Plug yourself up and get in cover, you snivelling bitches.” The mare looked to the rest of the group. “And will somebody shoot that sniping fuck? Come on guys, take some initiative.

“Okay, Blind Rodeo.” Came from somewhere inside on of the buildings.

The mare pointed a hoof out to the sleek armored raider hiding below and behind her. “Look at Ziggy.” She said to the dying ponies. “Ziggy knows how to take cover like he has half a fuckin' brain. Be like Ziggy.”

“Blind, this is stupid.” Ziggy said from the corner. “Somehow I think you actually want to compete in this stupid competition.”

The mare looked out with her binoculars again. “I want it all.” She grinned as she saw the sniper burst out from cover as undead mutants pushed it onto the roof. “Its an investment. Besides, there is treasure in there, I can feel it, and it’s gonna be mine.”

Ziggy turned to the side as he fired off a battle saddle, sending bullets into a far off corner of the town. “I always hated how you always had a way of being committed to raiding places you have no idea how to get into.” Ziggy scrunched his muzzle as he glared. “The fucking place smells like death...”

The mare jumped down from the tower of debris as she pulled a bound parcel of explosives out from her storage talisman. “I have half a ton of 'bullshit' grade fireworks to open a highway to wherever the hell I want...and--” Rodeo stopped mid-sentence as her nostrils opened up to the surrounding. Her pupils dilated as she trailed off. “wow... death smells absolutely fucking delicious. The hell is that...”

Ziggy was looking around. “Did everypony run off?”

The mare didn't see a thing coming as I sprinted through the streets. In a full body tackle I grabbed the bouquet of explosives and kept running. “Yoink!”

“The fuckin-, shit! That ugly son of a bitch.” Rodeo twitched.

“He kinda looks like a male you.”

“Shut up. Nopony takes my shit. I'm gonna kill that fucker more than I usually would.” Rodeo blurted out as she pulled out from her storage talisman an array of guns that seemed to be bolted together into some horrible monstrosity. She didn't hesitate to start shooting.

“...except he has better hair than you.” Ziggy added as he looked back on him.

“Holy shit...” Rodeo said as she pulled back from the scope of the rifle. “I really like his mane.” She said with raised eyebrows. “I kinda want scalp hi—FUCK I should not be talking right now!” Rodeo spat out as she looked behind her.

There had to be over one hundred of them. Some on two legs. Some on four. All of them with thick, ridged scales all over their body. They had smiles with a million teeth. One hundred hungry radigators followed after me in a grand parade following the amazing aroma of fresh cooked food. Pied pipers worked with music, but there was so much more power in a spell cast into a cooking pot.

I cackled as the raiders scrambled out and around the area as I cut through the center of town. As I ran, it inspired others to run. The clanging sounds of the pots dangling from a stick on my back became a warning sound to everyone around. First came the clang of the pots, then came the mystical scent of food. In the wasteland, food had power. Ponies would kill each other over food. To control food is to control life. With an army of radigators at my back, everything in the wastes started going my way, in a very literal sense.

I gasped and clenched my teeth as I ran. I couldn't keep this up forever, but I needed this to pave the path to the MAS building. The wasteland would be at my back. Still, the radigators were catching up.

As I rounded a corner a tall and thick hooved raider in a metal carapace stood against the moving packs. He had shields braced against his shoulders and heavy axes on his hooves. He stood against the running masses.

The bulky raider laughed as I approached, raising his hoofaxes. “I will crush you like the weakling you are.”

“Sure, yeah, whatever, gotta go, thanks a bunch.” I muttered as I slipped just under the raiders strike. Just as I leapt away, I tossed the pan of food onto the head of the helmeted juggernaut. “Remember, running is good for the soul. Work those glutes.”

The raider looked at the oncoming wave of 'not-quite' dragons and scuffled back. “Fuck! You cowardly shit.” He shouted as he kept running.

I clambered up a tree as the goliath led the radigators around below. “I hear zig zagging helps.” I shouted out with cupped hooves. I had also heard something about that being an urban legend. I laughed from up in the tree, until an intense crunching sound from higher in the tree caught my attention.

“This day just gets better and better... fuck.” I said as my eyes trailed up to the massive dark green entity gazing down on me with tiny, beady little eyes that reflected a bright red in the light of the moon. Little chunks of scrap metal as well as screws and bolts trickled down from above as the giant mass of hate masticated. It was munching on a solid steel gun. The creature had a pair of wild and twisting horns that popped out of either side of its head. Its horns were big, and the creature just looked mad. It was that weird goat like behemoth from earlier in the day. This creature had absolutely zero business being in a tree. I didn't know how it got there, or even how the tree could support its massive girth. Oh mysterious goat monster, what the hell was your deal?

“WHAT SMELLS?” The big horner screamed.

“Ponies!” I yelled back.

“THEIR HORNS ARE TOO SMALL!”

A thought came to me and I smirked. I spun my tail in excitement.

“Do you hate ponies?!” I mimicked.

“YEAH!” The creature screamed. “THE ONLY THING THEY ARE GOOD FOR IS DYING!”

“I hate ponies too!” I yelled back at it with a beast. “Hey, do you want to kill some ponies?!” I screamed in inquiry.

“I GREATLY ENJOY KILLING INSIGNIFICANT PONIES!”

“Let me show you where the ponies are!” I yelled at the ponies.

“TAKE ME TO THE PONIES!”

*** **** ***

“I think I'm in.”

I brushed the dust from my jacket as I rose from the rubble. The fragments of the ruptured wall scattered the hallway, radiating out from the now soundly napping body of the big horned creature. I had been wracking my brain on how to get in here, but it came to him so easily. Way to use your head, buddy.

The ministry of arcane sciences, here I was. My eyes glanced back at the oversized goat creature as it lay. Despite concussion induced unconsciousness, its face had molded into an angry scowl. I guess that its muscles forced it to stay that way… wonder how that changed one's outlook on life?

There was no time to lose. The memory of that white mare with the Ouroboros mark from my dream was bothering me. What was she looking for?

“I’m gonna blow you up.” I laughed as I looked around the dark halls. “I don’t know how, but I have faith in creativity.” I couldn’t kill a million raiders, but this was the point where they all converged. No facility, no raiders. Then I could bury this farce.

“Hehehehe…” A familiar voice said to me. It made my fur rise on end as I tensed up.

Down a dark hall, an arc of magic lightning traced along the walls. I charged after it. Damn it, I didn’t want to believe it. I trembled with a bit of madness.

The spark faded into the dark aether as I came by a lone flickering light, guiding me towards a window. There was nothing there. Was it my imagination? I’d prefer if I was out of my damn mind. That wasn’t him, because he doesn’t exist. They were just posers.

Walking to the window, I could see a hall of macabre devices and equipment, illuminated by the sickly green glow of the computer screen... A sheen of light carved a shape of one of two glass chambers out of the shadows, but I couldn't see inside. I could only barely make out an equine form within them, faint and rabid. The image on the screens flashed over strange shapes. A butterfly, a star, a diamond, they were strange. The screen flickered over and over, shifting then to graphs of data. Wave graphs compared against each other, followed by cross-sections of ponies' heads.

Then it flashed red. Splatters of blood came on screen. Four grey specters in coats appeared around the table. The air got cold in a flash and they turned to me. The moment their eyes looked into mine, I could feel the sensation of teeth on my neck behind me.

I span around leading with my elbow to strike, but there was nothing there. I stared off, gasping at the air.

That stampede mintal combo was kicking my ass.

The lights flickered as I collapsed against the wall. I took a moment to catch breath. If today was a good day, I might not see my head explode. Fuck, if I am gonna die, I wanted it to be entertaining.

“Have you heard the tale of the king of raiders?” A voice chattered in my head.

Shut up...

The lights flickered out. In the dark I saw the ambient sparks of electricity spiral down the metal walls. There was a face looking back at me.

It was a ghoul with a gold headdress adorned in fine white wraps of cloth. “He… that can’t be real.” My eyes widened. “I can’t kill what’s not real...”

Pharoah. It was the only thing rushing through my head as I stared down at the apparition. I struggled to catch my breath as my heart thrashed about. Rage boiled up through me as I slammed a hoof against the mirror. “Doesn’t mean I can’t try...” I growled as I burst into a full gallop through halls laced with black vines.

Skidding to an intersection, I saw two bands of raiders wrapped in battle. One was a skull clad tribe of zebra, the others were a mix of ghouls wielding terrifyingly unstable casterguns. Just beyond was the ghoul decked in gold, bathing in his aura of electricity.

I didn't care. Nothing mattered but this. The hell is he doing here? As I began to run, I heard the sounds of that ghoul's voice spill into mind.

“Does it escape your memory, or do you choose to escape from it? Let me share you a tale of an iconoclast.” It said.

Shut up...

As I ran through, a zebra's shadow grew fangs and lifted off the ground. It struck towards me as the zebra kicked in with his hooves. I only barely dodged, throwing myself to the side as one ghoul fired a thick bolt of lightning from the strange gun it had that looked like an open mouthed dragon. The zebra fried in an instant, exploding into smoke and blood.

“Some say that he was a ghost made of burning vengeance... Others say he was the nightmare born again... Some say, some say.”

A ghoul bearing a sapphire talisman around his neck ran out and clotheslined me with a hoof. He dragged me along as he ran up high onto the wall. The bladed spurs on his hooves didn't dig through my armor, but he dragged me up to one of the magic power lines. He grabbed my head by the hair with his teeth, but I kicked a hoof against the wall to prevent him from bashing my head onto the metal tiles. With a solid hit, I struck at the talisman on his neck. I didn't break it, but I cracked it, and arcane sparks forced the crack deeper into the gemstone. The ghoul reeled back and shrieked. The flaring talisman began to pull the ghoul, towards every wall. His old skin ripped and his bones fractured as the unwieldy magic tore him into pieces. I fell to the ground gasping.

“Some say, when he walks, the earth shakes with the drums of war. His touch alone corrupts and destroys the light and good. He is the wasteland, some say, some say.”

Shut up.

My head was pounding. Gunfire, explosions, and the concussions didn't help. I shambled up to my hooves, walking unsteadily. Damn everything. I was struggling to breathe. Fatigue was catching up to me. “Get out... of my way... Get out of my damn way...” I muttered as I stumbled onward. I had to keep moving, I tried to move past, but a zebra with a spear crosschecked me with the length of his weapon, knocking me back to the ground.

Gunfire erupted between the groups. The ghoul with the lightning caster took a golden bullet to shoulder. The wound erupted into a glowing head of a wolf which snapped at the gun's talismans. With a pull of the trigger, the lightning burst in every direction, becoming a mass of electric death.

“In his world, the seas are red. When he is on the horizon, mountains crack and fall.” The voice continued.

None of these bastards knew a damn thing about what they were getting involved in. I wanted to believe this was a bad dream. I had grown to hate big time operations, but I couldn't ignore this. Every last one needed to get out of my way. I’ll kill all of you. Every, last, one.

The zebra with the spear moved in with a raider's glee to finish me off. I pulled myself to my hooves as he lunged in. I didn't have much stamina at the moment, but I threw my weight and belayed the point on the plates of my armor as the spear passed by me, shredding bits of my coat. I almost fell as I put my hind leg up against him.

“Party time...” I muttered as the talisman studded horseshoe erupted in an explosion of magenta energy. The zebra flew back against a wall as the spear sprung through the air. The recoil on the hoof was way more than I could take, so it launched me rolling deeper into the tunnel.

I stood up looking forward, but I could hear the sounds of several zebra coming up from behind. It didn't matter. I just had to keep going. I had to kill that bastard. As they closed the distance, a claw tore through the floors beneath me. Riding the rising debris, I jumped past the group. A raider was riding atop a hellhound that lost much of its fur in place of tattoos. It tore into the ghouls and zebras as they united together against a common enemy.

“Some say, some say, he wields the armies of evil and unifies them. At his guard, he commands even the dogs of hell to wreak his vengeance. Be afraid, they all say.”

I hobbled forward as the screaming in my head became more severe. It became difficult to even think, I could only hold onto one thing. Vengeance. It was the only thing keeping me from falling into a sea of mental static.

The hellhound looked over to me, gauging how delicious I might be, but it took only a few steps before stopping. It ran off with its tail between its legs.

I caught the phantom of the ghoul down through another intersection. As I stumbled through, there were many raiders, curled up, howling on the floors. They couldn't even look at me. No pony fought. Some were from different gangs, holding onto each other to keep their sanity. Others had blade and bullet wounds as they laid out on the ground. Some hoping to bleed out faster were fumbling to try to keep their jaws tight enough on a knife to gut themselves. Alas, their efforts were to no avail.


Looking around, I looked to find the electric ghost of Pharoah gazing at a book on a shelf along the hall. “You... won't... get away.”

Just seeing him was enough to clear the haze in my mind to bolt into action. I chased. Down every hall, I chased as he dove into an arc of lightning. It didn't matter how far, I'd chase him to the end.

The claxons sounding were obnoxious, but the spinning lights lit the path.

As I turned the corner, the magi-mechanical body of a turret turned to me. Instinctively I raised my fridge, but as weird as it was, there was no recoil of fire. The turret fired off at an angle, a targeting talisman aimed directly at me, as the body of the turret hung limply by the side. A hallway full of strange corpses led up to the metal partition that bore a red glowing sign. They had white coats with star-shaped badges. What was strange, however, was the deformed shapes of their skulls and hooves. They had spikes and sharp teeth.

As I approached, the wailing in my brain subsided and I found that I could think again. I'd kill him. I had to find him first though.

The door was beaten and bent, and a strange symbol was drawn upon it. A black circle with arching gold rays drawn out from it. I looked again and I realized it wasn't a circle. It was a snake eating it's tail. Damn it.

There was something alluring about a place ponies died trying to get into. Like a bad wish, the red light behind the door flashed green, and the servos pulled the partitions aside.

At the threshold of the ornate office, tongues of lightning danced from surface to surface. A sinister, raspy laugh slithered through the air and I froze. The blue light from a light talisman reflected off of the metallic trim of the figure that was lurched over in front of a large, floor to ceiling screen display. The spectre lifted his posture and an electric glint of light gleamed from his eyes.

I furrowed my brow and swallowed my rising anxiety and disgust. “Pharoah...”

“Well, if it isn't my old friend.” The ghoul smiled.

“We're not friends, you son of bitch.” My eyes trembled as I tried to calm myself. Calm my frantic breath, my screaming head, and my roiling blood. “I’ve heard you’ve been telling a lot of tales for a dead-man.”

“The games are the beginning of a new age. I take no part, but I am merely a spectator.” said the flickering electric projection of a ghoul. The way he smiled bristled the ends of my hair. Most ghouls were freshly rotten, but this ghoul had already lost much of his skin. The skin around his cheeks had gaping holes rotted through them, allowing anypony to see the gem encrusted golden teeth of his in the illusion of a perpetual grin. His pus ridden face flexed as his eyebrow raised. He was wrapped in layers of embroidered silk, with a purple mantle around his body. “Have you come to do the same? ”

“I don't want any part of this sick joke.” I said stepping back as disgust poured through me.

“You say that, yet you can't ignore these games. You can't run away from it.” He smiled as my eyes dilated at the word 'run'. “It calls to you, and that frightens you, doesn't it? You look as though you've seen a ghost.”

“I remember back then…” I said as I stared him down. Spitting to the side, I walked in towards the flickering electro-static image. “I thought you were part of my imagination.” Just looking at the bastard made me angry, I could barely hold myself from trying to attack him, but I knew it wouldn’t work out. “But when I heard the voice on the radio, it sounded way too damn familiar… I almost lost my cool, but I wouldn’t live the life I have now if I couldn’t tell a lie without obsessing over it.”

“It humbles me that I am not forgotten…” he said. His spoiled flesh was covered in strips of fine silks. From his neck hung an assortment of gold necklaces, but what stood out the most prominently was an amulet in the shape of an ankh. A gem lined headdress cropped back his silver mane. The gold structure seemed to hold up an obsidian sun.

“Y’know, I think I like rotting corpses a whole lot better when they don’t talk.” I growled.

The ghoul smiled. “I've watched you as you've wandered over the years. I had doubts that you would visit this grand moment for the wasteland. I had believed that you had regrets, yet it seems you have returned to seek a former glory.”

“I've got nothing but balefire for your twisted competition. Ha, Don't think I'm your ally. I'm here to shut you down.” I stepped into the room, pacing the the right of the desk in the center of the room. My eyes turned away from Pharoah. There were bookshelves in two sets of two on the right wall with a strange glass tube that rose up from a silver infused machine between them. There was a weird two pronged staff made of twisting wood mounted on the wall. I gave a cynical laugh. “You are still playing the same games.”

“And as such, it is like you have never changed.” Pharoah walked along the edges of the room, static leaping across to the nearest metals. “The names have changed, but the spirit remains the same, Tumbleweed.”

“Shut up, I'm nothing like I used to be. You say a lot of things that piss me off, y'know that?”

“You have always been violently passionate. It is why I am so fond of you.”

“Murderous son of bitch.”

“I do not remember the last time I killed another with my own hooves. It was such a long time ago, and there are none alive who remember it. My blade has grown lonely in its neglect, and yet its blade has never dulled. It waits for the opportunity for it to serve me well, on a day I believe will never come.” Pharoah's horn glowed as he raised a thin, sheathed blade. A haunting aura seemed to emanate from it, and it was stinging to the eye. Pharoah smiled as he wrapped his hooves around the scabbard. “I still keep it in selfish pride.”

“I wouldn't call yourself clean if you convince others to kill for you.” I scoffed. I kicked a hoof against the ground.

Pharoah turned to me and walked forward. I could feel the static in the air lift my hair on end. “The noble leads by virtue of his voice.”

I hated the sound of his voice. The more he talked, the more you fell into his rhythm. There wasn't much that I would want more than to be able to shut him up permanently, but it was out of my power. Breaking his jaw not being an option, I might as well get him to say something useful. “Of all the bastards I've met in the wasteland, none of them are as manipulative as you are...” I said as I crossed the room. I freed the latch on my fridge and braced my forehooves against it. “What exactly you are trying to pull here...” I glared and grit my teeth. “...and I'd appreciate it if you cut out all the bullshit.”


“I suppose I owe you some favor.” With a flash of arcane sparks, Pharoah phased out. Then came his voice. I could hear it like it was coming from everywhere, like it was in my mind. “What I am trying to do is quite simple.” His face appeared on the tall, magical screen, casting a blue light against the room. Each of the adjacent screens in the alcove of the computer display also showed his face. Distortions rolled down the screen as he spoke.“I am rebuilding Equestria.”

I stepped away from my fridge and walked behind the desk, into the full view of the array of screens. “I don't believe you. You don't give a damn about rebuilding anything. You are going to burn everything to the ground.”

“You’re a fool if you believe I am the same as that doom-seeking witch.” Pharoah said.

I threw a hoof to the side. “I never said you intend to destroy it…” I pointed a hoof with a vehement quake. “But it’s gonna happen.”

The ghoul on screen smiled. A surge of voltage burst from the screen of the computer and Pharoah disappeared from the main display. What replaced it was the video of a pair of scavengers ripping off the door of a cabinet. Lifting out tin after tin of food in an arcane grip, the old unicorn stallion and the younger mare began to cheer. The mare was only a teenager, probably was the stallion's daughter. Their faces lit up and they jumped into each others embrace. “At heart, revolution can not be found in prosperity.” From the side of the frame, a trembling, emaciated pony crawled to the corner of a pillar. The pony had ragged hair and was covered in wounds. They were dressed in tatters. The depraved pony grit his teeth as he stared at the smiling pair that was loading cans into a bag. Suddenly I felt electric static behind my ear. “The contented lack the proper hunger...” Pharoah said, standing eerily close. I turned back to him before I heard the sounds on the screen.


“Let’s open one.”


The urchin sprung out from hiding. With nothing but a large piece of glass, the pony stabbed the mare. Again, and again, and again. It happened so fast that the father could barely react. The mare could only scream as the pony wrapped his hooves around her torso, holding her in place as his head slammed against her repeatedly until the father tackled the barbarian.

The glass shard shattered into fragments as the father stomped through it. The stallion pinned the pony to the ground with his hooves. Sheathing his horn in an ambient glow, the father lifted out a knife as he trembled with anger.

The knife reached back, but before it could plunge down, the wretch spat in the father's eyes. His hoof struck the unicorn in the groin, causing him to drop the knife as he buckled forward. The monster took no time to snake his hooves around the pony's head. He pulled him close and bit down on the unicorn's ear. The father screamed as the destitute pony thrashed his head, violently ripping his ear off. Next, he bit down on the father's neck, shaking his teeth aggressively as he chomped down. The unicorn lost control as the bastard threw him to the ground. The psychopath struck his hooves down without rest. I could hear the familiar sound of cracking bones. As he was beaten, the father reached vainly with his hooves to get to the knife that was in front of him. Soon, the maniac's hooves were bloody and the pony stopped moving. He crawled past the two corpses to the pile of tins scattered across rubble.

Pharoah's voice came again. “ In life there is but one guiding law...”

With blood still dripping from his muzzle, the savage slammed a can against the edge of the cabinet and rent it open. As the contents spilled out onto the ground, he licked it up off of the dirt.

“...and that is to fulfill one's needs.” Pharoah said as his face reclaimed the screen.

I grimaced in disgust. I was already hesitant to call prewar canned goods 'food', but the hunger of the wastes and the violence that came from it made me sick.


Pharoah leaned in on the screen. “Those towns that have become self sufficient stand in the path of evolution.” The columns of other screens flashed with images of Ponyville. Ponies ripping off the heads of the flesh golems, others rising up and shouting to the sky. I saw Killjoy on screen tearing a pony into two pieces as the blood washed over him. I saw a mare in a silver coat running through the interior of the facility, tackling into a zebra with golden gauntlets. Her horn glowed as her ripper splattered blood along the wall, causing it to form ornate designs. I saw a bat pony stab his bladed wings into a unicorn, and lifting them into the air, burning the unicorn to a crisp. On a screen in the corner, my eye caught a certain gaudy looking bastard, limping as he fired his heavy revolver. “The raiders, the wretches, and the pariahs are the foundation of a new empire. All of the pieces of a kingdom are here, and I will gather them together.”


“I've heard of a lot of idiots trying to save the wasteland, but I've never heard anypony trying to save the wasteland from peace and order.” I laughed.

“You of all ponies should know how little peace and order relies on moral character. They will be as wretched within society as they were without. All that matters is the will of a sovereign.”

“I don't believe in something as bullshit as morality, but I know a train wreck when I see one. That kingdom would fall apart and kill each other, but they'll never even get that far.” I grit my teeth. “There won’t be any raiders left by morning.”

“Of all the natural emotions, Fear is the greatest motivator.” He said as he appeared before the bookcase in flash of electricity. “The essence of life is war, and yet the living fear it.” He said as his image brushed a hoof along the spines of the line of books. He seem to grumble knowing he could not touch or hold them, but he seemed to hover, taking in each title. “From the slave to the lone survivor, all move in name of fear, and so the wheels of the world turn.” Pharoah flickered in his light blue glow as he put a hoof to the side of my face. My hair raised on end as it charged me with static.

I turned away as I scoffed. I walked along the wall of the room . “Do you expect raiders to listen to reason?”

“That I do.”

I looked up on the wall to find a mutilated dart board, with the image of a purple unicorn stacked atop it. “You’re insane.” I turned around to look at the ghoul. “What’s the trick?”

Suddenly, he was right beside me. Pharoah curled a bandaged hoof in the air. “By my magic’s grace, I bestowed to them the vivid memories of tonight’s bloodshed. The magnate shall exalt themselves from the banal.”

“So they are supposed to bow down when you show them what to think?” I said as I backed up. I swung to hit the ghoul, but I simply passed through him as his illusion filled me with voltage. “Ahghgh!” I fell to the ground as I convulsed violently. I rested there on the floor as I steamed.

Pharoah walked around my body and leaned his neck down towards me, perching himself over my shoulder. “Every empire, from my own to that of Celestia, has been built on fear and power. These horrifying games have granted me the true visions of war. I have shared these visions directly into the minds of the masses--”

“And they will learn their place, huh? You're a real fucked up bastard.” I spat back from the ground.

Pharoah raised himself up. He was up to something, but I didn’t really have much evidence. Even if I had a correct guess he would be able to point me astray and play me for even more of a fool. He walked over my back, shocking me with his steps as he spoke “In fear of the leviathan, all of ponykind will bind together in unity far beyond the pale excuses of that self-proclaimed Goddess.”

I sputtered and coughed as I picked myself off of the ground. Gasping for air, I glared at the ghoul. “Don't cross me. I don't sit well in shackles. You can bet that I'll rise up and give you the overdue death you've been asking for.”

Pharoah turned his head as he walked away from me. “ You seem to think that this revolution can be stopped? The die has been cast. Neither you nor I can stop it.” Pharaoh turned to the screen as his electric aura coursed up the sides of the wall. The display screen lit up with images of elaborate graphs and charts. Images of strange artifacts kept appearing. They had golden necklaces and were shaped a lot like the amulet that Calico was wearing. One word kept popping up again and again. Gardens.

“Watch me, damn it!” I said as I stomped against the ground coughing. If there was anything in this wasteland that gave it virtue, it would be freedom. Wasteland killed and maimed, but there wasn't any damn ruler, not good, not evil, that could tell you how to live if you could fight them down. We lived brighter and bolder than ponies in any other time, and the wasteland didn’t know any bounds. In the wasteland, impossible was just a word.

“Freedom is a lie held by myopic fools. It is a delusion that never existed.”

I clenched my teeth. “Get the hell out of my head...”

Pharoah grinned. “You humble me. I just know how you think. I have a great deal of experience, and you are like a dear friend.”

“I just keep hearing that today.” I said as I brushed the dust off of my coat. “The crazy way tonight has been going, between the bloody golem freaks, the hole in the sky, and the wasteland coming together, I've had this feeling that you've been coordinating things. When dealing with you, I don't believe in coincidence...”

“Alas, you are correct. For more than the last thousand years things scarcely have been left up to coincidence… and in the last century and a half, there is no such thing.”

I braced myself against the desk, taking note of the corpse that lay atop it. “I had a dream where I met this white unicorn mare with the ouroboros cutiemark. This all has something to do with her doesn't it?”

“You have a nice collection of imaginary friends.” Pharoah said.

“I'm glad you realize our friendship is nothing more than imaginary.” I looked to the files on the desk. There was a map on the table. I wanted to be able to find Calypto.

Pharoah laughed. “That miserable bitch could be called a common enemy. You would be wise to be wary of her. Her name is Hexerai.”

“Hexerai, huh?” I said as I looked out the doorway. “You better not be messing with me.”

“One last thing...” In a vertical bolt of lightning, Pharoah's specter manifested in front of me. “What ever fortune she tells you... defy it.” Pharoah smirked as he shattered apart into stray sparks.

“Hey! Don’t you--” I blurted as his image phased away. “Damn it.” I growled. I braced myself against the desk. “This was why the old and the dead should be put underground, otherwise they keep running around…”

****************************************************************************

Chp4 Pt4 Put it in a Letter, Twilight Sparkle!

View Online

Chp4.4 Gardens [Put it in a Letter, Twilight Sparkle!]

‘I need a vacation…’

The claxon rang monotonously as Scapegrace passed through the empty hall. Even as she did, she could hear the trailing echoes of battle, resounding through the walls. ‘Scented bubble bath, a hoof massage, and books… anything was better than this.’ she thought.

She had managed to slip out of a little scare at the center of three definitive gangs launching hell at each other. One crazy unicorn had managed to run straight through the middle with a pair of magically glowing scissors, stabbing one of the other bosses repeatedly. A pony in a stable jumpsuit with spiked pauldrons and a pipbuck squashed an entire crew by telekinetically throwing a supercomputer at them.

A group of renegades with blue masks, piecemeal body armor, and a variety of medical tools from scalpels to buzzsaws had snuck around, descending upon nearly dead ponies like angels… except their wings weren’t white dove wings, they pigeon wings. She had watched ponies’ expressions swing from hopeful surprise to screaming pain in an instant as those maniacal doctors systematically removed their organs, complaining about needing to be back in their town to see clients in the morning! Were they even here for the competition? She didn’t know.

Then there were the horrors of those cackling ghoulish grandmas. Apparently, in the wasteland, crazy sometimes came in floral hats with hoof crocheted saddlebags filled with explosives. Even with so many, that was hardily an exhaustive list of all those flank crazy ponies.

There were too many ponies in this place. It was a nightmare…

‘Everything’s trying to kill me! Why couldn’t just I die getting crushed by a mountain of books or something nice like that?’ That was the kind of death she could get behind.

But somehow, it all fostered a fire inside of her… despite such impossible odds, she had survived. Everything was unfolding right before her. She didn’t want to think about it, though. Still, there was a possibility to jinx everything.


Murderers


It was painted across the walls in blood, long dried. The spinning orange lights of the alarm system casted just enough illumination over the room. Plant life had trellised itself on the remains of the heavy door. Scapegrace carefully stepped between the mangled scraps of iron servos and shattered talisman sharps as she peaked into the room to find a small fort. The misshapen muzzle of a fire-charred turret looked over the chamber, a boneyard of ivory skeletons in white coats scattered before a makeshift embankment of desks. Thick crusted stains of blood had set into the ground, turning black with age.


Gracie let out a sigh. Be cool, she told herself. Terrible advice, really… she was already shaking. She moved beyond the barricade to find the skinny, white bones in little, white coats, huddled around makeshift beds forever quiet since their last moments. Can you say, ‘apocalypse slumber party?’ In playtime, this might have been fun, but reality made for a bitter twist. Each skeleton had a cracked skull, and in the center was a single 10mm sidearm. Time had torn away their bodies, but life had conquered death as ashen vines grew over ivory.

Scapegrace couldn’t help the feeling that plants that thrive in the dark were not to be trusted, especially with the experiences earlier in the day.


Looking around she spotted the dusty screen of a personal computer. What a total mess! She had been looking for scientists. It seems she found them, in their natural habitat no less. The array of desks was decorated and accented with an ocean of discarded cans. A waste bin at the end of the desk had been belligerently stuffed with paper and tin cans of mintals and energy drinks.

It was a graveyard of nerds. It ate away at the mare’s heart.

As she ambled cautiously around the prewar refuse, an array of scratches on the siding of the wall caught her eye. Two sets of four, crossed diagonally, and three hanging lines. Tally marks. ‘Thirteen days…’ she thought to herself. ‘A long time to hold out without many resources.’ As she scanned around the computer, her eyes fell onto a little note pinned to a corkboard on the wall.

“MAS computers are not for personal use. Personal files found on storage matrices will be read over the intercom, and recorded on work report. -Starlight”


“Starlight? That name was in the file.” She mumbled to herself.


‘This might be it…! Is this even real?’ Scapegrace shivered as anticipation coiled up inside her. ‘Everything is going right for once… which means something must be terribly wrong.’

Moving alongside the computer she noticed the lovely desiccated corpse hunched over the keyboard. “You’ll have to forgive me for this, but excuse me…” she said as she pushed it to the side. The dried ligaments holding the pieces together broke apart, scattering the bones onto the chair and floor. Scapegrace’s coat bristled, nearly jumping off of her body. She stifled a pitiful scream internally as she puffed out her cheeks.

Releasing a familiar sigh, she shrugged. “…Sorry.”

Brushing the bones out of the chair, she sat down and pulled the keyboard into place before her. She patted it down, feeling how it cradled her forehooves well for typing. Scientists always got the best toys... She knew how to use one of these bad boys. A few keystrokes was all it would take to bring out the genie inside, and that would tell her everything she needed to know.

Scapegrace beamed with anticipation as she turned on the tower. If only it hadn’t been set up with an elaborate and largely unnecessary startup sequence.

Scapegrace tapped her hoof as she rolled her eyes at the unhurried initialization bar as it crawled up to a modest 12%, where it made itself comfortable.

She glanced back as a defiant line of static rolled up the screen, distorting the image of the six pointed star. ‘I don’t have a good feeling about this.’

Immediately after the thought, the startup progress bar started moving backwards and crawling up the vertical pixels, the colors inverted, and MAS logo had been twisted out of shape. Scapegrace rested her head and hooves against the desk with an aggravated sigh, practically mirroring the skeleton from before. The skull of the pony was making the same face she was as it layed there, knocked on its side.

Turning to the side, Scapegrace looked at the fallen pile of bones. “What did you do to this thing?!”

Believe it or not, it had the gall to give her the cold shoulder. Maybe it was still mad about being knocked over…

“You might be related to somepony I know…” she said as she gave a disgruntled look.

The computer started making an annoying rattling sound as the progress bar had wrapped around the screen, and the top of the MAS star was now sticking out the bottom of the screen. She wrinkled her nose at it.

‘I can fix this’

Scapegrace lifted the tower up onto the table, its wires trailing out behind it. Scapegrace breathed out. With every manifestation of this twisted magic, it came with an array of nauseating feelings. Some lost nightmares of ghosts of the past perhaps, but she would endure anything for this goal. At the end of her hoof, a small crystalline screwdriver head appeared. Unfastening the holds on the chassis of the computer tower with the spinning appendage, she opened up the assembly of talismans. Finely carved gems lined with golden trimmings connected a series of spell matrixes. A black vine trellised around the central processing orb. Many of the talismans had little small dents and scratches in them.

Morphing her hoof back to its natural state, she pulled out a small, unremarkable rose-colored talisman. Furrowing her brow alongside a contemplative frown, she wondered to herself. ‘Do I have the capacity for this?... I picked up a little bit of ammunition for the submachine gun, but with my aim, I don’t think it will help me much. I used up my explosives, including my holdout stash, and I know things are going to get harder from here.’ She thought to herself. ‘This spell is the only thing I have to defend myself...’

Turning back to the display, she noticed it had somehow reached a login screen, but it had been scarred beyond recognition.

‘I can’t turn back here, even if it hurts.”

She cupped her hoof over the purple storage matrix and her coat began to glow as a stream of runic symbols within the crystalline formations of the talisman flowed into her. She grit her teeth. “Let’s do this quick…” She muttered. ‘Don’t need that… don’t need that… I don’t even know what was going on with that glyph… goodbye security screen, I won’t be needing you.” She said to herself as light cracks began to splinter along her temple. The screen began to fix itself, one string at a time in rapid succession. “And… there.” She said as she expelled a short lived magical glow. A little cracked and bleeding internally, but she had bypassed her way to the matrix index. There were many file names, but scores of them had distorted into scrambled nonsense.

Scapegrace slouched in relief for moment, catching her breath. She looked back at the rosy talisman she had pulled out before. “... didn’t have to overhaul the matrix. I lucked out.” She said before tucking the gem away.

Her hooves glided on the keyboard like a dance. “First things first…”

A few keystrokes later, she had found herself a link to the alarm system. With a satisfying push of a button, the obnoxious claxon shut up eternally. She didn’t just turn it off, she deleted the entire system. ‘Better’

Tapping into that network of power, she clicked away at the keyboard. She had some things that needed to be done. Accessing security was a difficult process back in the day, but 150 years of hacking to systems that weren’t updated streamlined the process. She brought up the feeds from several cameras around the facility. Many of them were sending back static, but she had enough that if she kept an eye out, she could be alert to any threat coming by her hall.

It wasn’t hard for the mare to find a map in the files. Strangely for her, it was one of the last accessed files in the days before the end. There were many rooms. Three floors, all crawling subterranean. There were laboratories of every kind, labeled after historical ponies or philosophical ideals, sub-headed with the usual denotation of zone and lab number. She had every single bathroom, broom closet, and breakroom marked down. Celestial Historium took Scapegrace’s interest as the historical research chamber. Athenaeum Elegance was a large library set deep below. Just reading ‘Athenaeum’ made Scapegrace want to dive in deeper. Among other rooms, the most unsettling to her was the size of the holding areas deep below, along with its proximity to a then-newly built furnace. She knew it had to do with those MoM files she found earlier.

Scapegrace took a moment to shuffle through the lining of the skeleton’s coat to find a dusty, clip-on badge. With a little bit of computer wizardry she spruced the authorizations up where she could. Carrying the badge, she hopefully wouldn’t have to deal with turrets grumpily waking up on her.

It was almost like she knew her way around now. Jumping back to the index, She shivered in disbelief as the marker flashed at her, awaiting her input. ‘This is real… wow. Here goes nothing.’

She typed two little words. Two little words that every crystal pony who ever lived knew.

Crystal. Heart.

She pressed the ‘enter’ key with a prayer.

A barrage of swiftly tessellating words flew across the screen too quickly to read, but after the arcane info grinder had pulled to a stop, the only results that had piled up linked to entries of a list of reports from a wide variety of ponies with either “Crystal” or “Heart” in their name like “Crystal Éclair” and “Heartstrong”. Pre-war naming conventions had damned her. This wasn’t the first time this problem showed up either.

‘They just had to give it the most generic name, didn’t they?’ She cursed to herself. ‘We know it was here… I need to keep looking.’

In her magic computer wizardry, she put quotation marks on that search. The computer blipped about as it summoned a whole lot of nothing.

‘Well fuck...’

There was still hope. Knowing history was a useful thing for Scapegrace. Scientists, particularly those that aspired to serve the Ministry of Arcane Science were unabashed abusers of the tradition and craft of professional nomenclature. The reckless abandon towards the process of inventing unnecessary lingo had become an unwitting conspiracy against common understanding. Having searched several ministry facilities on behalf of the Fractale Covenant, she had often run into MAS dossier files for joint-tasks between the ministries. They often filed documents away with the a stamp, reading “Translate for Normal Ponies”. The MAS had prided themselves on their technical jargon, claiming that it was a defense against Zebra spies. Apparently they thought zebra didn’t speak nerd. As a historian and an intellectual, it was the source of much irritation and sorrow for Scapegrace.

If it was here, it had probably acquired some strange name. It would take some digging.

Suddenly, there was a loud clang and an explosion that came from outside. Scapegrace ducked down, shutting off the monitor to avoid detection, but when she looked around, nopony was there…

“What was that?” Shit was going down all around, but she need to know where to avoid. Scapegrace switched the monitor back on and flipped to the security camera network. She caught a glimpse on screen of my lovely yellow self stumbling in chase of Pharoah. “No… please, no…”

The visual display wavered with static as the hellhound broke through the ground beneath me. It was like a javelin through the heart, and the brittle confidence she had was showing cracks.

“I can’t watch this… not now. I’m finally getting everything right, I don’t need this.” Scapegrace shook. She closed the camera feeds, even though she knew she needed them. She didn’t want to see.

It wouldn’t make sense for her to spend time trying to decipher project journals. While glancing through file indexes, her eye grasped hold of a section labeled ‘Reports’. That would be the answer. If a scientist had to discuss results with the director, they would be forced to tone down the neologisms. Yes, focus on what was in front of you, Scapegrace. Don’t worry about me.

‘Ministry of Arcane Science, Designation: Ponyville’ it read on its heading.

COMMISION: PROJECT HARMONY= RESEARCH DIVISION

Director: Twilight Sparkle

Research Coordinator: Gestalt

Entry: 5

Research regarding sociomagnagraphic specimens one through six have been steadily progressing. With the recent installation of a Magi-magnetic spectrometer, we hope to be able to isolate and identify the psychogenic link between the host and specimen, however, we’ve run into issues with establishing proper resonance. We've devised plans for psychoscopic litmus tests, but finding proper neuro-indicators has proven difficult. When we have figure out proper exposure techniques to prevent arcane hemophilic scattering we would request to study the bearers to ensure results.


Judging by the date, this was sometime in the early war, but given the names it was a little bit surprising. Gestalt and Mosaic were notable directors, overseeing experiments at the Canterlot hub after Twilight had left. It must have been before Twilight left for Canterlot.



Still, the name Twilight could not be ignored. This place was bonafide. A studying capital of the magic queen herself. It didn't seem real.

The search would require something more specific to find the right information. It was not an easy task to guess the keywords in labyrinth of language... particularly when it was in a language nopony remembered. Anxiety faintly clawed at the back of her mind. Standing idly for too long could get her killed. She could feel Calypto was laughing at her. In her rumination, a little tab on the screen stared back at her. 'Recent files'. Scapegrace glanced back to the skull of the pony next to her.


'…one look.'


Just one look. That was what she told herself. She needed this. It would be quick, and nopony could stop her. Even in the heart of danger, some addictions could not be broken. If she didn’t read them, who would? Somepony had to, she was just being courteous. It made her crystal coat shimmer just a little brighter. After all, this was 'research'.

At first there was nothing, but she knew they had to exist. She changed a few settings to reveal hidden files, and like promise they appeared in droves. So many files, just dying to be sifted through. Just the kind of thing an addict never needed.


A little black thing trellised itself up the desk. It went as unnoticed as the air.



Personal Log 6923

… Scapegrace looked back at the note on the wall. No personal files, huh? The end of the world had a way with changing things.

Last modified 150 years ago: I never thought I'd be looking down at the abyss from the front seat. I think this is it. It is really going to end. Director Starlight has lost it. Something's happened outside, but she won't let us figure it out. Yeah, something out there exploded. I know that. Everypony knows that. I just want to know which one went boom first. If karma actually exists in the world, then it’s hard to believe that the first target wasn’t us… All the doors have been sealed. Is anypony else alive? I can’t know can I. Alive and dead at the same time. This is what it’s like in Schrodinger’s world. Now I know what it feels like to be a lab rat. At least I’m not the cat in the box...

As her eyes devoured the words, the sapling plant struck like a viper. With a blueish green thorns, the plant lashed out. It wrapped around her neck, trying to pull her away.

It tried, but she refused to be ripped from the screen. Her eyes were tethers.

Starlight…. That name from before. This was therapeutic, she needed to read more. One more!

Log 6924: Spell Checker is dead. A smart and qualified researcher killed in an instant. At the meeting, Starlight Glimmer told us we were to keep working or else we would be fired. None of us wanted to stay, not here, but Spell Checker wasn’t as talented as the rest of us in smiling and shutting up. She just had to speak up... Glimmer seemed fine at the time. A few hours later, the defense turrets just opened fire on Spell Checker claiming she was some kind of intruder! Well, the data’s in on that experiment. Though none of us are eager to see that one peer reviewed... We are trapped now. One of us tried to send out for help, but the network’s shut down. We have to work. Just remember to tell yourself. You love your job. You love it.

Two flower heads had snapped out at her. Their teeth sank in. One at her shoulder, and another at her oblique. “Aygh!” Scapegrace returned to her senses at the pain. She looked back at the computer as she clung to the desk.

‘It doesn’t hurt that much, can I still read?-- Eeek-gah! Damn it, I’m reading!’

Twisting a hoof into a blade and lining herself with serrated spikes, Scapegrace swiped at the vines. She tried to keep her eyes on the screen, just to read a bit more as she cut them away, but when the plant’s thorns began to dig in, she knew she had to devote everything to slicing them apart. Plants let out alien screeches as she diced away at them until they writhed away.

Scapegrace fell back to her hinds. What was she even doing here? Shaking, and covered in holes, she was a mess. She knew she couldn’t even hold herself to what she needed to do. She looked to the door. One more. Anything was better than going back. She would have to leave at some point, but after one more… that made her feel better. As she began to read, she couldn’t hear the sound of hoofsteps.

Log6945: I don't care anymore. Starlight has started broadcasting all our personal logs over the intercoms to prevent us from logging any of this, but we can't get any lower. It’s war now. Some just wouldn’t take it sitting down. Starlight reprogrammed the food dispensers, and now its scientist against scientist to survive. I miss the days where we worked under Twilight, or Gestalt. It was different then, we were encouraged to write letters to Celestia. Even if they never got sent, it was good to reflect. Twilight liked the idea that friendship was magic, but… Starlight is skeptical. The research must continue. Starlight says that our work is to save Equestria. She says that our research is our salvation. She says that we are heroes. That sort of thing was a nice thought, but I wish we had a Celestia damned choice. The magic we do here is twisted and profane, but if she says that we are heroes, then I won’t argue with the one who controls the security turrets…

It was then that the strange scent of smoke made her tense up. Scapegrace froze. Out of the reflection on screen, Scapegrace could make out a drum-fed tommy gun enveloped in an amber glow. 'Why did it have to be now?'

Scapegrace shivered as she breathed in and out. She never wanted to see him again. The pony levitating the gun had a ratty scuffed up suit, tattering at the ends of his sleeves. A cigarette was clamped between his teeth as he clicked his tongue pedantically. “Hey, crystal doll. Look who we stumbled upon.”

Scapegrace paled as the colors sank away from her coat. Hadn't she gotten tougher? She had hoped so, but that was the kind of dream that was quickly forgotten as one wakes to reality. Scapegrace winced before continuing to scroll away at the computer.

Brrrr-r-r-r-rt! The gangster fired a short burst into the air. The shaking sound made Scapegrace fall, chest to desk. Scapegrace spun frantically as the stallion flipped his gun through her tail. The unicorn grinned as he took a long drag from his cigarette. He blew a plume of smoke as he looked down on the scrambled mess clenching her tail. “Look at me when I'm talkin', babe.”

“Damn it, Vinny.” A zebra in business casual called out from atop the makeshift rampart as he watched the exit. “You could have slapped the collar on and saved us a trip.”

They were a pair of “Nice Ponies” from the nightmare city of New Reino. The very ones she had hired as guides on this expedition. Somewhere along the line, the rules had changed without her knowing. When she ran from the contract, they didn't exactly appreciate it.

“Hey, I'm getting' to it, I wanted to see how long it’d take her to notice.” Vinny replied. Looking back to Scapegrace, he smiled. “Traffic doesn't want her. Even for slaves, the stallion's going to want 'em to not be... y'know, useless screw ups. Besides, I heard the crystal bastards don't age well.”

Useless screw up. Scapegrace mumbled as she sank into herself. She tried to dodge the unicorn's eyes.

“What was that, Book Club?” Vinny said as he prodded her with the tommy gun.

Sometimes the hardest thing to say was what you felt. Scapegrace fumbled as she failed again and again to shape the words. She couldn't keep her eyes from swelling up. “I'm not... a screw up.” She said gritting her teeth.

The unicorn leaned in towards her and gave a cocky shrug. Tapping the gun against her forehead in a light, whimsical rhythm, he said the words: “Ya got caught, bitch~.”

What else was there to say? Scapegrace scowled. “Were you following me?”

The unicorn cracked into a smirk as he leaned against desk. “Don't I wish? I'd love to say we were hot on your trail, but we just figured you'd get yourself killed on your own.” The bastard raised a hoof. “You want the honest truth?” Vinny floated his cigarette out of his mouth and tapped the ashes onto the skull on the table, before flicking the short stub spinning away into the corner. “It's just not your lucky day.”

“Stop showboating, Vinny, hell-damn.” The zebra added. “Keep that up, and I'll the put the shackles on y-- hold up!” Suddenly there was a howl that came from hallway. A shambling horror came through the doorway.

“We will save you from despair.” It called, and for a moment it almost gave Scapegrace hope.

The zebra lifted a strange gemstone fitted rifle. The zebra slid the focus on the gun's spell chamber and pulled the trigger. The air filled with an unsettling malevolent aura as the surging green spear of energy pierced the creature. The mutant writhed as it's body seemed to boil. Like a wild fire from within, a green light could be seen cutting through the inside of the body as the flesh melted off in thick visceral chunks. When the light show ceased, the deformed skeleton of the creature was all that was left, charred to a blackened crisp.

“If you gonna fight, fight. If gonna talk, talk. Come on, this shit's basics.” The zebra mumbled to himself. He turned to Vinny. “As I was, sayin-- for fuck sake!” More aberrations were crawling in. The zebra opened fire to keep them at bay.

Scapegrace could feel a shiver every time the gun fired. She sank down to the floor. “Are you going to kill me?”

“Maybe.” He grinned. “Make me a happy stallion. You know what we want.” The pony’s grin soured into a grimace. “Find it.”

Scapegrace turned back to the computer. “You’re not going to find it here. ... Go try Maripony.”

“I didn't ask for a recommendation.” Vinny brought the backside of his hoof across Scapegrace's face. “I said find it.”

Scapegrace shook her head. She had to get out of this. Could she reach her weapon fast enough? Could she fight him with this blood magic? It could heal, but if he shot her in the head, she would die in an instant, right? She thought about it, but she kept stumbling on one critical little detail. 'That gun shoots really fast.'

“Alright, you talentless freak, let me run you through the condition…” He said as he pulled a hoof around Scapegrace. He pointed down to the mare chest with authority. “My boss gave you hell of an opportunity. He gave you the information, resources, and all the little tools you got wid' ya.” He scowled as he poked at her repeatedly. He threw her to the ground and towered over her. “Wid'out him, ya ain't have nothing, and you ain't worth nothin', kapiche? He owns you. You begged to my boss, and he gave you everything, but when he says he wants you to help out a little bit, you run the hell away.”

“I never asked your boss for help. I asked the Xiamonte.” Scapegrace said under her breathe.

Vincent slammed the butt of the rifle against her cracked temple. “Property doesn't talk, bitch.”

Scapegrace shut up. She wanted to say that she didn't have a choice. She wanted to say that it didn't make sense to stay when they were going to do tests on her. She wanted to say that he should go fuck himself, but she knew already what he would do. So out of fear, she went silent clenching at her head.

“Here's how it goes, folks.” Vinny said as he pulled Scapegrace off the ground, gripping her by the collar. “You are gonna do exactly as I say, and maybe I won't have to ventilate that empty little head of yours.”- He said as he threw the mare into the desk. “This is one of the T-mare's special little palaces, you are gonna find anything you can on IMP and anything else we might be interested in, and then you’re going to download it onto one of your little diamond drives.” He pointed back to the computer. “Now, while you're still pretty...”

Scapegrace tried to shake the fear out of herself, but her body was fumbling. What chance did she have? Nothing was more convincing than a gun to one’s back, and she could feel her bad luck crawling back all over her. She put the storage talisman into the computer, but what was she supposed to do? How did you find something that didn’t exist?

“What do you want me to do?”

The gangster kicked her again. “I want you to read. That should be something you’re good at? Right? Skim around in there, poindexter, until you find what we want.” Vinny said. He spit to the side. “And don’t even about trying anything stupid…”

‘What would Tumblewe--’

Before she could even finish the thought, pain shot up through Scapegrace’s leg as the unicorn fired a bullet into her leg.


“I said no thinking!”

Trembling, Scapegrace complied as she fell to the desk. Her head throbbed as she discreetly focused her magic to patch the hole.

Searching was long. The bastard was hardly watching the screen, he was just watching for any sign of rebellion. To calm herself down, Scapegrace began looking at the personal logs again.

Log 7003: They're here. The ponies with the strange arcano-physiology that the MoM commissioned broke out of holding. They have been going crazy and destroying the facility intranet. The turret took care of a few of them, but it worries me. The first level is the only floor that is safe anymore. The most of the equipment is down below, and we have to make expeditions to keep up our research. What's worse is... yesterday, we got lost. We worked here for ten years… How the hell do we get lost? Zero Deviation and some ponies went to check on Gardens, but they never came back. We are paying for our sins. It's Starlight's fault, ever since she came here. Ever since we lost the specimens Garden's changed. Gardens of Equestria should have died back then… 6 years ago. Back before Starlight. She was too smart. If we lost the old specimens, we could make new ones. What we've done here… we made atrocities out of science fair projects. I think we all knew it, but we all held our tongues for the sake of progress. We deserved this. We think they’re coming for us in our dreams… unlucky for them. We never slept much, knowing about the things we’ve done.


Scapegrace caught her own gasp with a hoof. Gardens of Equestria. That was all the confirmation she needed. It was a buried dead-end project, but it was one of the few places she had heard being tied to the crystal empire. It wasn't valuable by itself, but if this was worked on Gardens of Equestria, then the crystal heart might just be here. Still, something caused the project to fall apart. From the repealed headlines of Ministry of Image writer’s house, something happened with a plant disaster around the same time...

“You find it yet?”

“It’s going to take a bit of time…”

Tracking down to a time frame, she scoured the archive. She had her reference points. Twilight Sparkle left well before Gestalt or Mosaic. A search for the earliest mention of Starlight could lead to positive results.

“Hey.” Vinny called back to his zebra partner. “Since we have her so delightfully captive, What do you say? Eh? How’s about a round?”

“You’re a sick bastard.” The zebra called back.

“Suit yourself.” Vinny shrugged.

She found it.

Log 5482: Dear Minister Twilight,

I hope that you are well. I can’t help but wonder what is going on in your head. Everypony else is trying to transfer from the project, but as per your request I’ll stay. It is shocking to be on inside. It was exciting hearing about every instance where the Elements had to be retrieved for some grand crisis, but knowing that the we no longer have them is a harrowing thought. Gardens of Equestria has little left to work with, other than the gracious donations from Cadance and Shining Armor. I am grateful for you pulling strings to make things possible, but I cannot image they can relinquish such national treasures like that just to prolong an experiment. Until then, we took some time to examine those Discordian tanglevines that caused the upheaval. They appear to exhibit semi-sentient behavior and learning, although they don’t seem to possess a brain. They are highly resistant to unicorn, pegasi, and earth pony magic. They are functionally blind and use their expansive vine network as a sensory system to detect vibrations through the ground. Their cell walls are weak to radiation, but we determined that casting megaspells across Equestria was not a good solution to the problem. The most fascinating trait of them is their ability to manipulate magic. We have had to hire many earth ponies to restrain the small specimens we retrieved. We even kept a few seeds for further study. With the death of gardens of equestria, we might as well find something to salvage after this endeavor. As a scientist, it is my job to think for the future, but it is also my job to act. Before the new director, Starlight Glimmer arrives, we must act to find new direction.

Your faithful student,

Integra

As Scapegrace read, a disgusting sensation crawled up her side as Vinny stroked a hoof across her side. She shivered at the vile touch, but couldn’t just turn around. He stood a hoof up on her back, and she could hear the sounds of magic unbuckling the gangster’s belt and unzipping his pants. He licked his lips. She had to listen to him.

She had to stop thinking and just act.

Her hind leg, cradled in blind spot of the gangster’s lusting position, contorted into a curved spike. Leaning forward with a gratifying kick to the groin and hips, Scapegrace sent the bastard cascading down to his hinds. Before he could act, she whipped her front hoof across his face with a serrated edge. Do or die. There was no time for thinking.

Scapegrace winced as she realized she didn’t even come close to taking off his head.

The gangster collapsed into the desk behind him. “My fucking eye!” Vinny cursed. “Bitch clawed out my fucking eye.” As he gripped his eye in pain, he grinned. The blood came trickling back through the air, slipping back into the broken vessels and cracks in the skin. “Bet you feel stupid now, bi--”

Vinny should have listened to his zebra friend. Talking does not help much during a fight. Scapegrace threw down the computer monitor down on Vinny’s head, letting it splinter and shatter into countless fragments. She flipped a desk over top of him, then pulled down a cabinet. She had to do everything she could.

A blazing green bolt lanced over Scapegrace’s shoulder and she froze. The zebra was pointing that terrifying rifle at her. She couldn’t fight that. All she could do was pray.

“Well now you fucked up, Scapey. I was thinking about letting you live a little longer, but you finally pissed me off.” Vinny said as he stomped out from under the pile of debris, knocking it to the side. “Let’s see if you crystal ponies shatter.”

Vinny grit his teeth into a tight scowl, but nothing really happened. “What the…?” He grit his teeth again to no avail. He went through an entire spectrum of angry expressions that seemed to soften as his eyes noticed the strange blue aura that was enveloping the tommy gun. His aura was amber. He knew that much. As he turned around, he saw the hovering black tendril with glowing blue thorns. “Z, kill it!” He shouted, but before the zebra could react, the gun began to fire wildly.

Scapegrace ducked gently down for cover as the bullets ripped through the air. The zebra guard took several bullets to the chest, sending him and the unstable rampart he was on crashing to the ground. The thorny vines seemed to descend upon him ravenously, tearing him apart.

“Bitch!” The gangster charged over to Scapegrace, but a whirling tentacle slammed a long thorn through his skull, from one end to another. “I feel so weird right now.” He said, as his body tried to put itself back together. Another tendril slithered around his neck and slammed him back against the ground.

Everything went according to plan. It was a gamble, and had she thought about it, she would have never taken it. They felt through vibrations, every step dug her grave a little bit deeper. As the gangster was being dragged away, Scapegrace sighed.

The tentacle turned their tips toward her at her sigh. Shit. She had solved one problem, but now she was going to die to the solution. This was why she liked to think things through.

She began to shiver. Another plant seemed to trellis over the ground to find her. As it looked, it knocked aside many cans attracting other tendrils towards them in confusion.

She needed to get out of here, while not moving. She got the idea that such a thing was going to be hard. Looking around for some solution, she lost her balance, causing her to trip back.

The vines turned towards her.

Scapegrace made a dash over the desk, kicking it on its side as she passed. It only confused them for a moment as she galloped down the halls. With that blood magic spell, she could reinforce her muscles to give her the power she needed. As she ran, a thicker root burst in front of her path and she rolled over it. The plants seemed to notice. One lashed out and slipped around her leg, pulling her to the ground. It dragged her through remains of the fallen rampart.

She could put herself back together with blood magic, but magic didn’t help if you took a killing blow or got knocked out. She could feel a rotting sensation crawl over her as she morphed her hooves into many talons, clawing fervently to break the grip of the vine.

She cut the one on her leg, only for two more to take hold, digging deeper with long thorns.

She held fast to a desk buried in the pile. Gasping, she looked around for some kind of way out. Beside her, she saw the severed head of the zebra guard.

More importantly…

She found his gun, barely out of reach.


As she struggled and stretched to grab the gun, a tendril slammed through it, dashing any hopes of survival apart.



*** *** ***


I took a moment to breathe as I looked over the office. I hadn’t left since Pharoah came and went. Whether or not it was the end of days, I was too tired to move. Today had been a test of endurance, and if I kept going, I’d get sloppy. Like splattered all over the walls, sloppy. I was thinking I might die from not getting enough radioactive dust in my lungs. Damn the apocalypse, I was staying in this cozy little… office? I guessed that was what it was. It was more like a tomb. Stale air, rotting corpses, the hoarded possessions compiled in the moments of death, and even a large screen computer to keep a corpse entertained. As my eyes wandered, I caught sight of a curious book beside the old corpse in the room. It was flipped open to the final page.

As it all comes to an end, everything is done. I gladly take my place in hell, between Lady Twilight and Celestia.

The words were written in blood, but what was astonishing was the penmanship. This was not the frantic scrawlings of a pony twisted in fear, but a determined pony with resolve and will. It was not painted with hooves, but with a quill. Classy. Little bit edgy, but classy.

I wasn’t the nerdiest pony, but I did study for a time in Junktown. Reading was an escape, but I always seemed to read for the wrong reasons. Hearing about the suffering of prewar ponies did provide some disgusting glee. Okay, better reason: maybe I could find something useful for Scapegrace. I owed her. Letting myself rest, I flipped the book to the opening page. It was a diary. The date was sometime prewar, I couldn’t tell. I would guess that it was late in the game.

Today, I, Dr. Starlight Glimmer, have begun my first days here as lead scientist, Archmagus, and Director of Experimental Thaumaturgy here in Ponyville branch of the Ministry of Arcane Science and Technology. I was surprised at my appointment, as the Ministry Mare and I have openly traded discourse regarding the nature of magic in the past in less than professional disagreement, especially as this facility seemed to be a fond project of hers. In these exciting times, it appears that she upholds a principle of meritocracy. Quite noble of her. Perhaps the laws of contagion apply to more than just magic. I have been selected on my expertise and experience in domains and study of psychogenic thaumaturgy and synthesis. The accreditation of my insights based on my dissertations on the Alicorn amulet lends itself well to the focus of the experiments being conducted. It appears that my rise could not have been timed better. Still, as those loud song-singing Morale-ites have eyes and ears in all places, I’ll keep this diary close to my heart, if only for a shred of privacy.

Psychopathic Thaw-my-what now? I knew the prewar was crazy, but apparently you could get professional education in it. So this Starlight was pretty big… I took the book in my hooves and collapsed, back against the desk. It let me keep the hallway in my peripherals. I found myself flipping pages. There were many scribbles and scratch marks along the sides.

Research has been scattered with mixed results. The variety of experiments has been outlandish given the lack of requisitions. The primary experiment ‘Gardens’ has a lot of promising research, given their equipment, but they are muddled in nothing but empty hypotheticals.


Must the MoM keep sending me these ponies? I do not care if whether these terrorist captives are zebra sympathizers or simply anarchists waging war against the kingdom, they have no place in my facility. Regardless of what that friendship enamored Twilight says, the study of Psychogenics disproves the theory of ‘dark magic’. It is the mind that makes the magic, not the other way around. It is not magics fault that it works. Magic does not scar a pony’s mind, they scar their own trying to make magic. The crazed are among the most formidable. Madness and power have a strong link in Psychogenic theory. The heart of magic is not in brain alone. The bleeding heart is a bountiful garden of magic. Those who feel powerfully pave the roads to new magics. Still, these are not masterminds, but tools given a droplet of power. Nothing more. The labs have started to look like a prison with all of our containment zones. I do not mind taking the necessary steps in the name of science, but they serve no purpose here. They take up our space and require our attention, as well as our care so that they do not starve. Some have been known to defecate and urinate in the holding areas. They are distractions and I want them gone.

The more I read in life, the more I realized that nopony knew a damn thing. The other back in the ministry of morale building seemed to clash with this one. They seemed like some MAS pony had told them that dark magics did in fact exist and did make ponies evil. Good and evil… what a joke.

The next couple pages were frantic. Unlike the neat organized pages of before, it was passionately illegible. Torn fragments of page leaf could be seen budding out of the bindings. The pages around it were scratched, the flesh of the paper torn by the frantic writing. It was awful, I couldn’t even read it. It didn’t help that lines were drawn all over it. From the few words I could read, it was very angry, colorfully critical of somepony named Twilight Sparkle, and kept talking about some weird book that apparently was black. Yada yada, it was a mess. The word that most often came up was “Soul”. It was a funky word. Finally, I came to a semi-legible page.

That two-faced bitch… It all makes sense now: the generous offering of a position, abdicating her most prized pet project, the scattered disarray and lack of progress in the experiments. You despised me, didn’t you, Twilight? Giving me the abandoned husk of a failed project… It seemed too good for you to forsake your beloved experiment, but when the facility was forced to relinquish control of those six critical specimens, just before it falls into the abyss, you chain me to its failure. What a comical farce... Now, you send me the psychopathic equine refuse that your society fails to understand, so I have no choice but to humor your outdated theorems on the laws of magic! When you stab a pony in the back, Twilight, it’s improper to blame them for getting blood on your knife. Fine. I accept your punishment… Ha! I’ll take it beyond to places you would never dream. Ponies are fearful these days... if they discovered that Equestria’s most powerful defense was missing, the number of terrorists might just skyrocket. The kingdom would fall apart. Equestria is floating on a bubble in the middle of an unforgiving ocean, and the only thing keeping that bubble from bursting and casting us into an icy abyss is the intoxication with believing a well kept lie. The people want a weapon... the type of thing you would never make. Project Gardens will rise from its ashes, but it will not be your project, Twilight. It will be mine. I’ll give the people the power to grasp hold of what they truly desire. It will call for renovations. I will convince her majesty to accommodate the request. Lady Luna is a princess of the people, she wouldn’t want her citizens to writhe in nightmares over the loss of the elements. We will need equipment more powerful than our own to just observe the nature of the soul. I’ll use those ponies they keep sending us. Perhaps we could use a disposal furnace as well. Finally, they can make themselves useful to me.

… so this was Pharoah’s plan. Taking powerful magic weapons… and throwing them into the irresponsible hooves of the wasteland’s most violent. Oh, they’d love that. You’d think they’d have enough weapons. Promises like the one in the diary worried me. Everything a raider could ever wish for… fuck. There were two things raiders should never have. Power and organization. Pharoah was giving them both, with a pretty little bow on top. What was this “most powerful defense” she mentioned anyway? Didn’t matter. Where were these weapons?

It’s brilliant! I have transcended the barriers of that grand threshold. The idea came from a strange little book I found during my time studying abroad in the Zebra lands. It was an old book that had been passed down for generations. It had been crafted with an alluring script that detailed spell workings governing the realms of the soul. Some called it “necromancy”, but that is a word that carries crude connotations that betray the possibilities. Twilight wanted to understand the nature of those ancient artifacts, but she was too scared to turn to an ancient zebra text on necromancy, fearing that if she got too close to it, that the laws of contagion would bind her to them. Colloquially, it is the magic of the dead, but that is just the nature of how it is used. Animating an object is a common spell among the enlightened, and yet it is not accused of being necromancy. Necromancy refers to the magic governing the brilliant soul. If you wish to understand the magic of the soul, you must understand necromancy. The magic expounded upon within the book was rather quaint. It discussed the capabilities of magic with a single soul. It is limited in that mindset, treating it as a forbidden art. I am not so afraid, and my mind not so encumbered. What becomes possible with the infusion of multiple souls? My mind for Psychogenic thaumaturgy can hardly contain itself. To truly harness those powers, this would be the ultimate way.


‘Damn it, you stupid book! Where the hell is your stupid artifacts.’ I yelled internally as fury built up. This had been a good rest, but I needed to move. Maybe I had to check the computer for more answers.

Okay, let’s face it. That wasn’t happening.

I saw something move from the corner of my eye and jumped to my feet, only to be greeted by a stumbling raider with a blank expression. He was wounded with a terrible gash to the side of his head, and fuck… did he have an extra horn or something? Sharp teeth too… something was eating away at him like an infection or parasite, but he was still breathing. What kind of chicks was this guy trying to impress? The eldritch kind? He had a pale glow to the whites of his eyes. No pupils.

He walked past me like I didn’t exist… like he couldn’t see me. A splatter of blood fell onto the corpse of Starlight.

The blood sank deep into the desiccated flesh. The cadaver flushed with a fresh texture as it drank. The eyes swelled to a proper shape as they turned to me. “Why is it that you can’t stay dead like everypony else…” I muttered under my breath.

“I could say the same to you, my rebellious sacrifice.” A wet tongue said from the barren dead husk. The dry corpse cracked as it lifted itself off the table.

I stepped back from the desk, regrouping to my fridge. “Damn it, why the hell did I have to be so regrettably popular today?”

“Ah…” the corpse said as it seemed to gasp a long indulgent breath. “I had forgotten this dreadful feeling…”

The corpse brought its ragged hooves up to its face. I watched as the dried skin seemed brighten, becoming soft and flexible, as if it had washed back the sands of time. A red glow beneath her hooves quickly tore cavities through them. A pustulous membrane burst, and in bloody explosion, five claw-like structures formed from both stumps. Trickling blood dripped down in a spiral from the tips forming muscles along the sides. With a breaking sound, the muscles clenched ripping the claws free. Those ten claws, crossing over each other, wrapped around the corpse’s head, digging in.

“This terrible sensation I am addicted to…” It said as it dragged the claws down it’s face, the rest of it’s body twitching in rejection of what the mind was telling it to do. She tore the face of the dry corpse clean off. The spilling blood formed a new layer of skin, and from their new hair sprouted, forming a mane and coat. A white coat with a black mane. “After so long, I live.” She said turning to me with holes digging into the pupils of the rejuvenated eyes.


Trembling, I strapped on my fridge and stumbled back. “Who are you?”


“It is I, Hexerai,” she rhymed.

“Then I better make this quick.” I said panting. Before she could take full form, I lunged at her aiming a hoof under the chin. I’d take her apart one piece at a time, and pray she couldn’t die more than once… but I never made it there. A splash of glowing blood burst out of her, and mid-air, the liquid cloud formed into a multi jointed leg, covered in spines. It wrapped around me and flung me into the computer display. I fell to the ground in as crystal glass fragments rained from above.

“Fuck… you’re faster than the other ones.” I said as I strained myself. I had tried to pick myself off the ground, but somehow, using my legs properly had gotten hard. I was shaking. I fell back to the wall. “I guess this is the part where you kill me… It’s long deserved.”


“Why would I do anything like that, Tumbleweed?” Hexerai said as her new grown limb slowly melted away.

“Because you should... ” I spat back.

“I won’t.” She said with a grin.

“Kill me, you insane, second-hoof, body snatching bitch.” I growled. The sickening thought that she wanted me alive pissed me off. “I like this world, there is no way I’m helping you with your stupid plans.”


“You still keep telling yourself that you are so enamored with this wasteland.” She braced herself on the desk as she grasped her head in her claws. She looked like she was having a hangover. “I understand the sentiment, but it does not matter.” She unfurled the digits of her claw as she waved it out towards me. “It is inevitable.”

“What the hell did you just say to me?” I pulled to my hooves and glared back at her. I was sick and tired of hearing about brahmin shit like destiny.

“It is simple fate.” She said as she picked up her head. “Only those blessed with the gifts of fate-weaving can change the future, and only those with oracle’s endowment can even read fortune. I am both and you are neither.”

This was just what I needed to wake up. “Fortunes are just lies about things that haven’t happened yet.” I quipped as I stomped a hoof on the ground. My tail snaked back and forth in anticipation. “Tell the stars to bite me, because I don’t give a damn about your stupid prophesies. So shut up and kill me already.”

“I could fight you, but you won’t die. You aren’t destined to die tonight.” She said as she turned around the room.

“What did you say?” I bawked. I can’t die? What kind of crazy talk is that?

Her eyes kept scanning around the room. “No… You will run away with your life as you watch the ruins burn.

“Are you calling me a coward?” I grit my teeth.

“You will run away like the rat you are, just as you have all those other times.” She said as her claws sifted through the books on the shelf.

“I don’t…” I stumbled as tried to keep my head from boiling over. “I didn’t… I didn’t run.”

“Heroic play does not suit you, Tumbleweed.” Hexerai said as she migrated from one bookcase to another. “You will abandon your so-called friends, and wallow in your self-inflicted agony when you watch them die as you live a tragically long life.”

I took a deep breath to calm myself down. “I won’t abandon them.”

“Haven’t you already done that? Where are they now?”

Fuck, she got me. No, I didn’t want to believe that.

Tragically long life, huh? “As long as I am living, I am going to celebrate this damn world.” I said as I walked up towards Hexerai. I pulled her from a bookcase by the shoulder and struck her in the face. “Listen to me, damn it!” I shouted. “I am never going to help you and your little plan.” Hey, if I could die, then that would prove her wrong right? I guess I had no reason to hold back.

When Hexerai gazed back at me, I felt a twisted agony wash over me. It was like I was on fire. She leaned forward, pressing up eye to eye with me as her voice descended into something inequine. “Allow me to explain your fate to you.” She said as she gripped her claws around my skull. “Out of the rippling echo of this mid-summer cataclysm will be born a new king of savage raiders.” Hexerai slid her fingers down to grasp my neck. “They will bring with them the insanity and cruelty of the worst of the wasteland, and they will know no equal.” Her grip tightened as her other foreleg wrapped over the top of my head and as she stared death into me. I couldn’t move. “You will live to see this terrible king conquer every last vestige of civilization. They will not destroy this world. It will be a slow and sadistic torment that will forever scar this world.” She tossed me to the ground.

I breathed in and out as I shuddered.

“You will see the suffering and despair, knowing that it is all your fault.” She said as she walked over top of me. Her voice returned to its original tone. “What is fated is inevitable… I am merely offering to spare such a nightmare.” She held her open claw to me. “Submit to me, and we can purge the world of its misery, and you can be absolved of your guilt.”

Quivering, I looked back to her, then to her claw. What real choice did I have? I could feel a harsh reality quaking through my body. I could feel the chains. Inevitably, it was my worst nightmare. I made a decision.

I reached up my hoof. Hexerai took my hoof in her claw as she lifted me up to eye level.

Hexerai smiled. “Good. Together we sha--”

Catching her off guard, I crashed my forehead through her jaw as she started talking. “Kill me, bitch!” I slammed my head into her again. “Shut up and kill me!” I thrashed and kicked as she struggled to throw me off of her. I gave a smug grin as I lay on the ground.

“As you wish… That determined spirit is quite attractive. I do not despise you for it.” Hexerai said as she brushed away the mane from her eyes, and her wounds sealed.

“First of all, you had my face too damn close. You have the breath of a century and a half of death.” I said as I circled around. “Second, you keep ignoring me, and I don’t like that.”

“You keep acting like a child.” Hexerai said as she glanced over the desk. She brushed the papers and folders aside as she searched in and around things.

“Put it in a letter, Twilight Sparkle!” I cut in.


Hexerai growled as she knocked everything off the top of the desk as she searched.

“Threesies, the one thing I really admire is your tenacity. You have to be special kind of stupid to not take a hint.” I said with scowl. “And listen the hell up, because this is the important one…” I pointed a hoof adamantly to my glaring eye. “Nopony! Not you! Not your Twinkle Twinkle Horoscopes! Not any damn thing that can speak language… tells me what to do!”

Hexerai ripped open the cabinets of the desk one after another. “Will you be quiet? Aghhh!” Hexerai flipped the desk, sending clattering across the tiles. She threw down one of the bookcases and began patting down the walls.

I circled around to the open door to the facility. As I watched her tear the room apart, I whistled. “Hey…”

Hexerai continued to tear apart the office until she caught a glimpse of the little book I had resting in my hooves. She stopped everything to look at me.

“Looking for something?” I said with a grin.

Her eyes widened as she clenched her claws together. “Give that to me….”

“Or what? You gonna kill me?” I said, cocking an eyebrow up.

Hexerai dashed for the door as I slammed on a big red panic button by the doorway. I slipped through the door as the partition came crashing down.

“Suck inevitability, bitch.” I shouted through the door.


“You can’t change anything. I’ll kill those two first.”

“What?” My heart dropped into my stomach.

“The zebra and the crystal pony you seem to think of as friends.”

I stomped my hoof. “Alright, go ahead. Try. I won’t let you.”

“The champions of Cadance and Celestia will die.” She yelled.


“That will be hard to do from the inside of an impenetrable metal box.” I yelled cupping my hooves to the bulkhead. As soon as I finished saying it, a bony spike slammed through the metal door. “Well that’s not even fair…”

I bolted down the halls as Hexerai kept striking away at the partition. It all came back to what I came to this little hell hole for. I was looking for a friend, and this time, I knew where I was going.

*** *** ***

I heard the sounds of gunfire burst loud just in front of me. It was rare that I grinned so much when doing something as stupid as running towards the sounds of gunshots. It was undeniable. That clinking sound, that tacky poncho, that ridiculous hat. He didn’t get very far from where I saw him on the display in the Director’s Office.

“Hey, bastard!” I called out to the hobbling mass of pretense.

Calypto turned rigidly. He had the empty visage of a zombie, except he was like an arrogant zombie. The undead never needed a hoof to the face so badly. He stared viciously at me with tired eyes, raising his revolver without recourse.

It roared out again and again.

As the bullets bounced off my shield, I stampeded up close into his space. With a little too much enthusiasm, I struck a heavy hoof right between the smug ridge in his grin and the self-important look in his eyes.

“Wake the hell up, Calypto!”

“Wha-… who’in the, and the mmrmgh, monkeys...” Calypto muttered incoherently before frantically breaking out of fatigue’s spell. “What the hell was that for?!” He growled as his usual hubris was brought out of that deep meditation.

“That was justice swooping in wide from three hours ago. Shooting me earlier? That’s a party foul, amigo.” I said with a grin. That was something he could understand. It was just great to see him alive and doing his thing. That’s what I was thinking, until I saw that shamelessly drooling face hanging loosely over closed eyes.


I slapped the stripes off of him. “Justice doesn’t sleep, Calypto!”

I saw Calypto start to raise his gun again as the rusty gears in his head were grinding along. My hoof crashed against his face again. “Don’t autopilot on me either!”

“I’m awake, I’m awake. Stop hitting me!”

I hit him again!

“Fuck, what was that for?!”

“That’s because we’re friends!” I said cheerfully as Calypto’s eyes widened. “It’s so good to see you. We got to get…”

Before I could finish the thought Calypto pushed me over as the whipping blade struck across his hat.

Hexerai’s gaunt body turned from Calypto as the flesh around her shoulders blossomed open, revealing rows of grotesque fangs. The lab coat she was wearing was ripped and bulging from her body underneath. Her legs were bulkier with more pronounced joints from having longer bones. She might have absorbed something along the way. She towered over me with so much enjoyment on that relaxed face. This was fun for her.

“I want you to understand just how insigni…”

Bang! Bang! Bang!

Three shots rang out from behind Hexy, but she scoffed as she turned, but before she could talk, she was interrupted.

“Tumbleweed!” Calypto called out. “Who is this beautiful fuck?”

I groaned on the ground as I arched my head towards Calypto. When Hexerai turned her head, I threw her off me with a kick to the hip joint and a vigorous sweeping kick across both legs. I rolled to the opposite side of her. “This is Hexerai… met her in a dream. She is awful. Target with extreme prejudice, she is a total bitch.”

“Did you just say Hexerai?” Calypto nearly fell over as he leaned back onto his bad leg.

Hexerai bristled with spikes as she reversed her joints to pick herself up. She laughed. “It seems you’ve heard of me.”

Calypto poked the brim of his hat up to squint at me directly. “What kind of technicolor pony brahmincrap did you do to get the zebra boogiemare to come after you?”

Hexerai’s coat bulged into a boney carapace. “What did you call me?”

“She’s a witch that hide under the beds of naughty zebra. Eat ‘em alive. Every zebra knows that.” Calypto laughed as he pulled down his visor. “Shit’s creepy.”

“Tch… Celestia plays vain tricks…” Hexerai said with a scowl.

“I don’t make this shit up.” Calypto shrugged with a wry grin.

Her lab coat ripped into shreds as sharp spidery legs burst out from her back. “I’ll kill you later.” She said, glaring at Calypto. She turned to me. “Give me the book.”

I shuffled back. She couldn’t kill me, but she could probably almost kill me, and that might be worse than actual death. She thrusted with her back spikes, but she flew off course as she reached for her heart with her claws. She began to writhe and spasm as she fell to the floor.


As Calypto stepped away, he pulled the twisted horn-shaped tool out from torso, struggling to get it free from between the bones. The glowing blood had congealed solid. Hexerai heaved, trying to strike at me from the ground. “Tumbleweed. You need to stop pissing off ponies I can’t shoot.”

“It’s not my fault I keep discovering these new species of radroach. It just happens. I’m a pioneer of science.” I said as I tried to catch my breath.

“It is the middle of the night…” Calypto groaned.

“Well sorry, I couldn’t help it.”

“At least don’t do it after 11:00 pm.”


“Fair enough.” I nodded.


Despite all expectations, Hexerai was frozen. I kicked her with a hoof and jumped back, but she didn’t do anything on contact. “Damn, what did you do?”

“Nothing but a little shaman magic… Snake venom. Coagulates the blood.” He said with a grin.

I looked down at the puffy and swollen Hexerai taking joy at the view from up above her. I stomped a hoof down on her, then again, and again. “Where is your prophesy now? I said brushing a hoof through my hair. Then it came to me! There was a lot to catch up on. I turned to Calypto. “I thought you should know, I found those ponies you wanted to save.” I said.

I could see the knowledge fortify Calypto and give him strength. Just knowing that his instincts weren’t wrong was enough to empower him. It was better than a potion. “I guess the writing on the wall did me right…”

As the spirit that gave him strength settled in him, like a magic flash, Calypto’s face soured as he brought both hooves to the side of his head. “That’s right! I’ve got eggs!” He said as his balance toppled over to his weak side. Something had hurt his leg.

“Woah, are you alright?” I rushed over to him.

“I’m fine.” He said, not so much lying as stubborn, grabbing at the pain of his broken leg. He rolled over, and started taking to his hooves. As I reached to help him up, he locked his fore arm around mine. “I need your fridge.” He said pulling me close.

“What for?”

“I have eggs.” He said looking side to side as stress rolled down his face. “Like a dozen of them.”

He’s gone full circle! The moon got to him or something. It was clear that justice needed to sleep. The zebra needed Zs. “What? Why do you have eggs?”


“I’ve got a plan.” He said with a maniacal grin.

“A plan for what?”

“Justice.”

I don’t know why I bothered asking. “Calypto, are you okay to go on?”

“I’m just getting started with these raiders. You said I couldn’t shoot ‘em all, but now I have eggs!”

What did eggs have to do with anything? I sighed in confusion. What happened…

“We have to be careful, or the eggs will break. Few things are worse in this wasteland than a broken egg. That’d ruin my day.” Calypto said as he furrowed his brow, concentrating on being awake.


“Calypto, I think you’ve simmered a little too long.”

Just as I was shaking my head, Calypto’s leaned forward his eyes gaping wide. “Great celestial googly moogly...”

Hexerai had planted a five fingered claw down, pushing herself up as her body festered and steamed with a wretched odor. She wrenched herself up from the ground bearing rows of sharp teeth. We couldn’t stop her. How do you stop something that never dies? “What a nice little trick, but it won’t work again. We are the unborn, the ultimate lifeform unbound.”

“The viper venom didn’t work… how…?” Calypto cursed.

“We have to get out of here.” I said dashing down the hall... but Calypto didn’t follow. I turned back to see him hobbling. He gave me a grave look.

A part of me sank inside. Was there no other way to get away? Prophesy…

You will abandon your so-called friends, and wallow in your self-inflicted agony when you watch them die as you live a tragically long life.

I didn’t want it to come to this. Not again… not so soon.

I looked at the monster that was Hexerai, then looked back to Calypto. I knew what I had to do. It was hard decision, but I guess it was the only choice. No time to be stupid about it.

“Get on, Loser!” I said rushing in toward the two of them. I scooped Calypto off of his hooves. The weight in my tail whipped across Hexerai’s temple as I passed in front of her. “Let’s get out of here!”

“Yah!” Calypto added, shoving a spur in my side.

Damn everything in my life, why were we doing this again!? Fate was laughing at me, but we were going to make it through this.

I broke into a full gallop; a few corners would be all it took to make our escape. It was slower, but I wasn’t losing Calypto. Running past the window, several of the black and green plants slammed into the side of the thin barrier. I just kept running. This was going to be harder with so much extra luggage.

I passed around the corner only to find a small group of raiders. The unicorn of the group was raising their gun to shoot when his head burst open with a loud bang.

“Keep running.” Calypto said before shooting again.

Bounding on, I traveled through the mass as Calypto picked them like it was easy. I couldn’t help grinning. This was nice! Shortest fight I’ve ever had! Maybe this wasn’t so bad. It was still criminally ridiculous, but it was also ridiculously effective.

“Good to see you’re awake up there.”

“Damn straight, my face is still stinging!”

Alright, we could make this work!


“So you never answered my question.” Calypto said only pausing to take a shot. “Why is she trying to kill you… Go right.” Calypto said, directing me away from the passage that said ‘Containment’. It was a decent call.


“It’s been an eventful day. There was ritual thing, I think I got sacrificed or something… was saved by suicidal cocktail of drugs, and now the fucking moon is out and people can’t stay dead.” I said as I strained my face in embarrassment. “It’s kind of a long story. Have you been outside?”

“So that was all your fault. I should have known.” Calypto said as he reloaded his cylinders. I charged into a group of raiders. There was no way around but over, so I ran over the tops of two raiders faces. Calypto shot several dead as we passed, before Hexerai came bounding through them.

We had to keep going. She was faster than us, but she wasn’t built for turns. Had to keep going... Turn one corner, then another. Dead end. Fuck. Double back.

Hexerai chased us into a small briefing room. I climbed up onto a plateau of desks as the sleek and refined form of Hexerai stormed in. “End of the line. Stop running away from things that won’t change.”

There was no such thing as luck, and I was going to prove it. She was built for forward speed and acceleration. She wasn’t built for bizarre terrain. Calypto knocked over a bookcase, which awkwardly found itself in the cracks between the desks. We threw chairs up and around just to create more obstacles. “If things were truly inevitable, then why are you taking so much effort to chase us.” I said as I tossed a rolling chair at her.

Hexerai’s forehooves split into four hooves. They coated themselves with armored scales and muscles. Each one looked like the head of some kind of deformed beast. “You have me mistaken. Fate is absolute, but the method is whimsical. This is merely the sport of the hunt. Even if you know what is going to happen, there is beauty in seeing the pieces unfold.”

As Hexerai tried to step up onto the first row of desks, I jumped onto the top half of the bookcase that was wedged under it like a lever. The desk flipped up and knocked Hexerai back.

Calypto raised up the snake venom horn in one hoof, and a wreath of some plant in the other. “I hunted a false goddess today. I made her feel mortality as she ran with her tail between her legs.” He said as he took a stern glare.

“Psst. Calypto.” I whispered. “That false goddess was her gopher. “

Calypto continued to hold his stoic front. “Then maybe you should tell her to find a real goddess that doesn’t crack under pressure next time.”

Hexerai built up her arms into thick, bloody axe-like wedges. She cleaved straight through the desks with a powerful strike. She climbed over a mess of debris stepping into an open space with us in it. “And what do you hope to accomplish?”

Calypto raised the horn up to the ceiling, letting the lights reflect off the silver revolver hidden under the coiling bone. “This.”

Clash! The light shattered as the room fell into darkness. Everything was built on a gamble. I dashed over the wrecked obstacles and through the door. Calypto pulled a bookcase across to block the exit. I even closed the door for good measure. We took a moment even to wave to Hexerai from the window, as we passed down the hall. Hexerai hacked through the debris, but had trouble fitting through the door. That was all according to plan. She had built up too much towards speed at first, so we made her adapt to terrain. She bulked up to cut through it, but it wasn’t very good for mobility, so she had to jettison it all. She was a ways behind, and she didn’t have as much to kill us with as before.

“So I told you about my exciting adventures, how was your day?” I asked as we rampaged through the halls. Through a window, Calypto shot at some raiders that weren’t even in the same hallway as us. I couldn’t stop him I guess.

“You want to know?” Calypto asked hesitantly. Hesitation was rare out of him.

“Yeah, I’m ready for anything.” I said as I ran.

“Well, I think I might have been exalted by the universe to be some kind of hero.” Calypto said as he took a look back.

“You think?” I almost tripped at how ridiculous he sounded. Of course I hesitated! Even I thought he was crazy!

Calypto almost lost his hat in the turbulence. “I don’t know.” Calypto grumbled as he tried to get a ring of bullets into his revolver, which was harder on horseback. “I am… very tired.”

“With everything that’s happened tonight, I am willing to give some benefit of the doubt.”

“I think we lost her.” Calypto said as he glanced back. “We broke line of sight, just get around this corner.”

It was simple, we could just duck inside one of the side rooms, and she would run past us. It pushed me faster, but the strange fragments of ice that were scattered across the floor gave me an unsettling sensation.

As we rounded the corner, I realized that sensation was right. A grisly gallery of frozen stalagmites stuck in the ground lined the passageway. One spiky set of armor held together the shattered pieces tall, even as the head had fallen to the ground. At the end of the pathway, a composite turret, with a large barrel protruding just below the talisman based cannon, twitched as it came to life and set its aim upon us.

I could survive this if I was alone, but I couldn’t shield both Calypto and myself. Calypto would be left open. We had to turn back.

I drove out back the way we came as the cerulean spell sliced through the air, encasing the wall in a thick layer of ice.

We both cursed, but we needed to backtrack. There wasn’t even a hole to hide in, and the lighting was good enough that Calypto would stand out like a sore thumb. As we raced back to the last intersection, Hexerai barreled down the hallway.

“Fuck inevitability.”

Chp4 Finale- A Garden Inside of All of Us

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Chapter 4 Finale: A Garden Inside of All of Us

*** *** ***

To her it was among the most diabolical things to ever grace the world. Stalwart and unchanging, its simple existence was an affront to her very way of life. Both wide and long, stretching on and on, but with a chilling emptiness, it whispered things to her. They were the kind of devil's deals one traded their soul for.

“This wall needs a mural....” The raider Savage Frisket Song declared, weak kneed, as her eyes drank up from the tall glass of pure whiteness on the wall.

“Boss, we don't have time.” A voice spoke out from the vibrant band of raiders she had lead into conquest.

She shot them a glare as she braced herself against monolithic expanse of shimmering alabaster. It was cool to the touch, the cheeks of her face pressed directly against it. She could barely stand due to her trembling legs.

Between the grime, and rust, and destruction, time had remade much of the world in its rusty artistic image. White was a rarity. She had even thought it went extinct, but here... here in catacombs of an MAS research facility, a chance specimen had appeared. Much of the walls in here had some level of damage, but this hallway was nearly pristine.

“But... it’s so long... and white...” she moaned. Her mind was brimming with possibilities, she had nearly forgotten how to speak. There was no place in her head for speech. Only muses could reach her in that land of infinite serenity.

“There are other walls, boss! If we don't vamoose, we are going to be the ones up on the walls,” one of Frisket’s underlings bantered back.

“What? No!” Savage cried. This was a chance meeting! Love at first sight! “I'm gonna be the one to put you up there if you try to separate me from this... big... beautiful, hunk of potential wonderment!” she said with indulgent glee as she oozed with artistic juices between her thighs.

As the tinging of ricocheting bullets and blasts from explosions approached from down the hall, Savvy's eyes widened. The riotous sounds of snarling hordes of raiders were just beyond the hall.

“Protect the wall!” Savage yelled as her ripper growled with fury. She and her raiders swarmed into defensive positions, ready for a fight.


As they prepared for the oncoming conflict, passing down at the intersection further down the hall, several fast-moving shadows passed tangentially to them. With the powerful beating of their leathery wing, they javelined down the halls.

“Rip their flesh! I’m hungry,” the lead pony growled, proudly flaunting his dagger-like fangs. “Their blood, their weapons, their souls! Their power becomes our own!”

As they swooped through the winding labyrinth, they closed in on a group locked in combat with the flesh-morphing aberrations.

A muscular unicorn with a burgundy coat, bound in thick, bladed armor, stood tall above one of the flailing abominations. Looking out from behind a bone plated mask, the raider grinned at the oncoming storm of bat ponies.

As the lead bat bucked their legs and the spring loaded lock released. A pair of blades burst out, extending from his wings. A short dive planted the bat pony hard against the ground for a quick moment. Flexing its wings back over his head, it clapped the blades together. From the metal-born sparks erupted a blazing arc. As the bat pony vaulted up into air, it torqued with its whole body, from its swinging hooves, to its clenching core, down to the tips of its wings. He descended, a tempestuous whirling death, his blades wreathed in flames.

In a separate lab down the hall, a ragtag gang bunkered down flank to flank behind tall golden tanks. There wasn't more than eight ponies between them and they hailed from separate gangs. As a group of zebras, coated in adornments made of gold, pinned them down with a barrage of enchanted bullets from the eastern flank, and crazed mob of psychopaths bombarded them with grenades on west end, a need became mutual. It was survival.

“You're one kind of an ugly looking bloke, aren'tcha?” the clementine mare said while stealing glances out over the large, modular dais that took up a large part of the room. Cords and cables snaked across the walls. Generators pumped power to the devices all around.

The crystal pony bastard stranded next to her spat. “You wanna fight? I can make you die ugly.”

“Oh, hush up, you half-n-half!” she said as gold bullets formed into jaws of teeth, sinking into the line of cabinets they were hiding behind. “The cancery rotting thing going over half your face has a good ne’er-do-well thuggery to it. It’s raider proper. Very fierce. I’m just stating that is not much for some desperado nobbing, is all.” The mare turned her head, examining the motley crew around her: a cowering mess... a savage tribal pressed in wait... a rather vehement looking goat, eating the flakes of scrap metal right off the floor... “By my bloody wasteland luck! What a 'pulsive lookin' lot you all are.”

The grizzled crystal pony growled, “A lot of hell-going words you've got. What do you think this is?”

She looked at him aghast. “Piss! That's what this is! I don't even want to think about dyin' if it isn't going to be romantic!” Her tied back locks of hair fell back to her shoulder as she brought a hoof up to the other pony's cheek. With judging eyes beneath the peculiar tricorne hat she wore, she examined his face. On one side, festering necrosis, not unlike that of a ghoul. On the other, cracked and jagged flesh that looked like gemstone. Fiery veins painted a glowing warpaint mask beneath the surface. More alluring was the exotic white-furred pelt wrapped across his shoulder, a dead hell hound's head watching over his shoulder. The crystal raider’s name was Arctic. “Maybe, if you just turn your face to the side.”

He knocked her hoof away. “I'll kill you,” he said with deadened eyes. The roots of the warpaint went from red to black.

“Oh, you're no fun!” she said, flicking the tassels that hung down from his shoulder.

“You don't even look like a raider.” Arctic retorted. “You want to be king? I doubt you know how to kill...” He had ripped open a cable running directly to the generator. The escaping sparks all coursing into his skin.

“It seemed interesting! A call to adventure! Swashbuckling! Mares! Feats of daring! That’s a right proper good time. Lady King of the Wasteland? I think I could enjoy that,” the clementine mare said with rippling bravado. “I always wanted to make myself King!” she said with a wink and a smile. Her name was 'Jailbird'.

“What a joke! You haven't got a horse in this race, let alone the legs to make it happen!” Arctic said as he gazed over at the crazy bomb-flinging ponies on his east flank.

Jailbird pulled a curved cutlass from a scabbard in her telekinetic grip. “Well, let me tell you this...” she said as she began waving the sword in the half-ghoul's face. “You can go an tell me all about the horses I don't have in these races, when you're bowing at my royal hooves,” she finished poking him gently with it. “Alright you piss-wallowing jacks! Listen up! I'm not about this whole death thing, so change of plans!” she belted with a maniacal grin.

Out from the cover, she stood. In a feat of telekinetic deflection, she passed a swarm of grenades mid-toss, as a generous gift to the zebras across the hallway.

Arctic sprang into action. Torquing his entire body, the steel ball attached to his tail swung out. The pulley device on it kept dispensing longer and longer lengths of chain as the high velocity morning star zoomed towards the bomb flinging ponies. He grinned as his body converted the coursing magic into pure electricity. The arcs of lightning traveled down the chain. The bolt of lightning jumped from the steel end, hunting out each of the raiders. Boom! An explosion ripped the group to pieces.

Arctic scowled. “You could have done that earlier...”

The swashbuckling mare smiled. “Well, it wouldn't have been as interesting! I like to do things... dramatically.”

There were so many stories in the winding trap of the MAS facility; at their crossroads, it opened war. In the hall on the other side of the lab, a pair of cackling raiders dicking around. How they had even got so far in this meat grinder of a place was something of mystery.

The orange raider popped pills as he snickered with his friend. One pony's neck had swelled to a disgusting size, the markers between chest, neck and chin having completely vanished. It was not caused by fat, but rather it was a thick layer of muscles, tensed, pulling the pony's entire face taut into a teeth-grinding scowl. Even if they tried, the folds of that face wouldn't change.

The pony slammed itself against the wall, forcing its hooves like tiny wedges beneath the heavy partition door and began yelling like some kind of wild animal. The muscular bulk flexed, and bulging veins popped all along the pony's head and hooves. As the monolith of a partition door slowly moved up, the raider tried with all his might to bend his iron face in hopes of achieving expression. However, the face refused its master's demands, and so he sat there staring with fervent intensity as the door was lifted up over his friend's head. In his defense, he had managed to burst a vein in his nose, sending blood trickling down his face. Technically, it could be argued that it served an expressive purpose.


As the raider held the door up, suddenly the pounding rhythm in his chest redoubled, and like some kind of bloody explosion, the pony's heart flopped out onto the floor. The two of them followed the still-beating heart with their stares as it bounced around like a fish out of water. They glanced back to each other, no longer giggling, but unable to express themselves.

My hoof splattered the heart as I came thundering out of the stairwell and through the door.

Hexerai thrashed through the passageway, her body stretched long into a centipedal form with what seemed like one hundred appendages to carve a macabre path toward her goals.

Calypto tucked his hat down, dropping his body low as we raced past the confused Buck-high raiders. It was not without a modest potshot from the zebra that we’d passed them by, the bullet ripping through the head of the shit-colored one. Buck-induced muscle tension kept the pony locked in rigor mortis.

With a flick of my tail, I wrangled a bouquet of borrowed grenades. It hadn't required much dexterity to fling the whole mass out behind us.

Hexerai had made it to the threshold before the fuse had detonated, but with a toothy smile, Calypto slung a bullet through the bundle of grenades. The erupting blast blew the petrified raider apart, causing the heavy blast door to come falling down on Hexerai. It came with a lovely squishing/snapping noise.

“Hey, don't let the door hit ya, where good ol’ princess split'cha!” I said, triumphantly prancing about. Even despite my panting, I was thrilled. I raised up a beckoning hoof to Calypto above me.

“That was lame, but I dig it,” Calypto said, wrapping his hoof around mine.

“So many tricks. You remind me of that damned princess.”

We turned to see Hexerai's flesh melt apart as she ripped a limb free of the fallen door. As blood dripped from the stump, the fluids swirled around to shape a new limb.

“Lady, you're trouble!” I said backing up. This wasn't fair. Just what did we have to do to stop this bitch? How do you kill the immortal? I was getting tired, I couldn't keep this up.

“Keep running. A century has left me in need of a little exercise...” the monster said with poisonous glee.

“She has a point.”

“Shut up, Apocalypto!”

“Hey, don't you go full naming me.”

“Passengers don't get to complain.”

I bolted down the passageway before I could see the chimera bitch rip her torso free of the guillotine door. We had a head start, but I was getting to my limit. The strain burning in my muscles was building up, and I had lost control of my breath.

I needed some kind of diversion, something to draw her attention. Was I thinking about this the wrong way? This isn't Killjoy, he couldn't control the rules of his body. This was my fight, and I dragged Calypto into this. If I ran out of steam, it would be better if one of us got out of this, right? I grit my teeth.

“Calypto, I want you to listen--”

“Shut up.” he fired back before I could finish.

“You were going to say something dumb,” Calypto said, turning back to gauge the distance we had to work with. It pissed me off - why did he have to read me so well? That was a dangerous thing. “Keep heading up, make a right, then take the next left. I've got a plan.”

It hit me. That would have been game over. I would have abandoned him… Either way, it would have been the end. I was beginning to realize just how hard it was to fight fate.

I was dead tired, but just hearing that thought scream in my head gave me the burst I needed to keep going. Hexerai was smaller this time, but it made her that much faster. Still, as I rounded the two corners, I caught a sign that read: “<--- Furnace, Morgue --->”.

“Y’know, I think I have a plan too,” I said as I barreled toward the furnace room. The path to heaven was straight through hell!

When Hexerai stormed in on lithe, reverse-jointed legs, wrapped in red short burst muscles, she found the room empty, but in disarray. “Am I supposed to think you left?” she spoke out. Her head and neck were the only things that were still equine about her, and the glowing blood seeped from the ravaged scars on the body that shred apart with how quickly she demanded it to change.


Her lips split longer than they should have, showing a shark-toothed grin full of glee: she knew that this was a cage with no ways out; she had us locked up, and the fun part of the game could begin. “It’s a dead end,” she said as her nose morphed into a long, canine snout. “I can smell you.”

She surveyed around, and we kept still in our hiding place, sweating and cursing our plan. We didn't have time to think or discuss what it would be.

“It's really just a game,” she said as she passed by every likely hideout spotl, her eyes darting around for any sudden movements we might make. She wanted us to be the ones to break out. “When we unite together, there will be a new world,” she said as she ambled past the blood-stained gurneys and control panels. “An elegant world, full of wonder, full of possibilities, full of life. And it will come, whether or not you insist on playing these inevitable games.”

She turned her head at a creaking sound, but there was nothing there. She might not have understood, but “hide and seek” too was a game, and a game that wastelanders liked taking very seriously.

“Why play a game, you know you are going to lose?” she said as she lunged, and my heart stopped.

“hmph...”

Behind the control panel was a haphazard assortment of junk: a pile of broken glass, plastic ware, and wastefully discarded foods... but none of it was a pony.

“If it’s inevitable, why are you trying so hard?” I called out from my hiding place.

“What did you say?!” she turned about in furious confusion, sniffing at the air to find my scent but mysteriously coming up dry.

“Over here, bitch!” said Calypto, who was covered in a dirty coat of ash. He threw a small earthen looking pellet that exploded in a cloud of incense.

Hexerai writhed as the strong scent overpowered her nose. The horn atop her head sparked as it let out a wave of air that dispersed the cloud. “Disguising your scent with ash... was a nice trick, but...” she said, coughing, “you gave yourself away.”

“Did I?” Calypto shrugged.

Hexerai’s body lined with teeth as she primed to jump.

Calypto coughed, “Roses are red. Candy is sweet. You’ll fit in the fridge if we cut off your feet!”

Like an explosion, I lunged out from behind Hexerai. Some part of me didn't think this plan would work. Hexerai shuddered and slid as I crashed into her with the fridge's door swinging wide open. She had opted for a sleeker form to be able to catch up with us, but she was small enough that she could be shoved inside. Years of travelling had taught me how to pack things efficiently.

With the protruding claws at the ends of her limbs, she braced against the fridge as I tried sandwiching the door closed on her. For being little, she was still incredibly strong! As she struggled her body began to desiccate and thin, it was as if watching a pony starve for weeks in an instant. Her bones shifted and changed in bursts of blood. “Out of my way. Stop trying to stop what is already in motion.”

Her words turned into shrieks as Calypto blew a cloud of ash-like dust at Hexerai, causing her body to react with anaphylactic spasms, stopping her mid-mutation.

I bore down, but a magic bolt struck me from the side. My forearm started to fester as bloody-eyed rats manifested from nowhere and crawled all over me. As I panicked, Hexerai threw me to the ground with an oversized fiddler crab-esque claw. She turned away from me.

“Linux!” Calypto shouted as he rang his spurs in the background.

“It’s finally time,” she said, looking towards Calypto as her body morphed out of control.

She hadn't noticed the metal jaws of the furnace door open up behind her. I had been waiting for a good time to say these magical words. I tackled into her, bracing my hind leg against her, and grinned.

“It’s Party Time.”

A blitz of magic force and confetti erupted from my back hoof, catapulting her deep into the maw of the industrial furnace. She hit the back with a clang.

She didn’t even have time to react.

Calypto pulled a lever on the control panel, and the heavy mechanical doors chomped down. “Light'er up!”

The electric snake dove from Calypto's computer into the control terminal. The buttons on the terminal flickered erratically, and in short order the low rumble of fire echoed out from the furnace.


Calypto came limping over with the same “piss in the face of danger” grin that I had on. “Who you gonna call?” He said swaying around like some kind of happy maniac.

“Get over here you, you majestic, striped bastard!”

Linking hooves, we spent a good moment hopping on one hoof in a circle. It was an absolute necessity. We’d just beat up a foal's nightmare! Zebra children across the wasteland rejoiced. Most of all, we were alive! The wasteland smiled on us. What's-her-face could take her stupid utopia, and piss off!


We raved around for a while, chanting unintelligibly like rapture-possessed children. In the excitement we dragged each other to the ground. As we lied on our backs on the ancient, decrepit floors of that abandoned MAS facility, Calypto spoke out. “There is no way she is dead.”

I turned to look at him. “Please shut up.”

“She is a loose soul, she is probably going to find another body out there,” the zebra said, with a smile that betrayed his words.

“Don’t kill this moment. We won, she’s well-done, that’s all I want to hear right now.” I laughed with a gripping wonderment in my eye. “That was a work of art back there!”

“We got her toasty.” Calypto chuckled.

“Downright crispy!”

“Stick a fork in her, am I right?”

“I feel so damn alive right now.” I said gasping.

Calypto turned to me, his hat completely off his head with crazy, bedraggled hair crisscrossing his face. “We should be dead!” he said with wide eyed glee, “I mean, we didn't even get to conspire plans, how are we alive?!”

“I didn’t have any clue where we were going. Imagine if I’d made a right turn. We should have died, but then you just had to be brilliant,” I said, lacking the calm to keep my hoof from shaking with violent enthusiasm as I pointed at Calypto.

He turned over to his side with an enthusiastic escape from his usual cool-headed demeanor. “I thought you were crazy when you started dumping buckets of ash on me, but that saved our dumbass little hides. She was going to kill you, then she was going to kill me!”

“Can we please please talk about your voodoo zebra super powers?” I cut in. “Is there anything you can’t do with that?”

“Well, I can’t shove a formless nightmare creature into a box with it, that is for certain!” Calypto said, struggling to talk and grin at the same time.

“I didn't know what you wanted me to do, but I figured that was exactly what needed to happen!” I said as I shrugged with unparalleled fury. I threw my hooves over my head. “Do you think the wasteland is going to be mad that we didn't die?”

Calypto flipped the hat back onto his head. “They better get used to it, since we are going to be partners.”

I smiled. Mission accomplished. I jumped back to my hooves. “You haven't even heard the terms of the job!”

“Who cares?! We are an unstoppable team!” he said as he struggled to pull himself up off the ground. We laughed nefariously... like comic book villains. It was wonderful. “And besides, we are on the same wavelength...” he said as he hopped over beside me, wrapping a single hoof around my neck. With his leg injury, he clearly needed support. “The way I figure, you will know what I want, and will want what I know you know that I know that I want.”

“Don’t go getting scared on me. Your first job is to help me keep my job,” I laughed. “Something is going down in this town, I said as I looked away. I had been so nervous before, I had failed to notice these strange crystalline roots that were covering the floor. They were glowing bright blue. “And I was crazy enough to agree to help save it.”

“I knew I liked your business sense. I was going to do that anyway, now that I know I’m getting paid for it,” Calypto added, turning his hat down. “So now let’s get to business.”

“Right.” I nodded. “Pharoah’s at the heart of this. ” Just thinking about the guy made my words curdle.

Calypto turned to me with a quizzical look. He kept his gaze as he spat a bottlecap out in the other direction. Had that been in his mouth this whole time? Calypto was a zebra of many mysteries. “What's he like?”

“He's a ghoul.” I said, barely opening my mouth enough to separate my teeth.

“I've dealt with ghouls before.” Calypto sneered at me.

“He's a ghoul from before it was cool.” I said.

Calypto's jaw slackened just a bit and his eyes widened.

“He's been playing the game a long time, and when you lurk around that long, you get ideas, and you get smart. He is really good at getting inside of ponies' heads. He has a plan… I just know it. He is raising up a raider king, but why is he doing it?” Thinking of him made me angry. He was an infuriating pony to deal with. I could link many of my problems back to that pony. “Whatever is going on here is going to play into his grand plan.”

“Raising up a Raider King? Is he going to try to take over the world?” Calypto asked. It was funny how you could read a pony (or a zebra) just on how they said their words. I could feel his agitation at the word 'Raider King.'

“He is definitely the type, I wouldn't put it past him...” I said as I brought Calypto to the ground. “But that isn't what bothers me. He wants the raiders to get something here, but what is he trying to get at with it?”

“I couldn't tell you,” Calypto said. “So what are we going to do about it?”

“I figure you're up with popping the heads of raiders,” I said as I took my kerchief and wiped off my face.

“I tend not to like when they keep coming back,” Calypto said. “I'm not equipped to deal with all of these spirits.”

“Calypto, I don't think either of us were equipped to deal with any of this, and both us still ran headfirst into this thing,” I said, turning back to him.

Calypto paused and stared at me from the ground. “You know, I never thought about it that way.”

“It didn't bother you before, don't let it bother you now,” I said as I looked around the room. Much of my food had been compromised by the incense bomb.

“For a ground-hugger, you are really fond of winging it,” Calypto said as he began tugging at the bindings on his broken leg.

“I roll with the punches,” I said as I gave up on salvaging the food and turned back to Calypto.

“So, now you want me to help kill all the raiders?” he asked while adjusting the bracing pipe on his leg. “I thought you said we couldn't kill all of them?”

I threw myself over a control panel. The tone of our conversation had shifted. I think we were entertaining the thought of needless dramatics. “Never said we were going to kill 'em.”

The zebra pulled his bandage tight with a degree of skepticism. “Dead raiders don’t raid. In my experience, it’s the only real solution. How are you gonna stop it without killing them?”

“Didn’t say I wouldn’t kill ‘em, either.” I leaned in towards him, hanging onto the terminal. “These raiders are digging like crazed dogs, searching for buried treasure,” I said, taking back to my hooves and walking past Calypto. “So what happens when we blow up the treasure island?”

Calypto paused as he judged me. He rose to his hooves. “I like this plan.” He grinned. “How?”

I let myself slouch back as I mused. “Can't say I know for sure, but if luck has it, a madpony laboratory would have something like a sparkle reactor. You just turn the oven on, and let it bake.”

“No good.” He shook his head. “No reactor.” I raised an eyebrow as he continued, “Found some documents at the Town Hall. Said this town had too much of an affinity for disasters.”

“No kidding?” My slouch became more of a slump as I shrugged. “Well, fuck.” Maybe I was a bit hopeful. I was willing to gamble on ingenuity. “Sabotage is kinda like an art form. There has to be more than one way to send this place spiraling. We need to get creative.”

“You really are a sickening sort,” Calypto said with a laugh. “I've got something to help with your kind of thinking.”


I wasn't sure what I was expecting, but I think I started twitching as he began pulling the things out of his pack. One by one, he stacked them up into a bewildering tower. He just kept pulling them out. After three or four, it should have become a boring routine to keep watching, but reason refused to believe each successive item. Conceptually, they were the type of thing a post-end pony might think of as an urban legend, and to see this many here together in one place was like a fairy tale. I held back my bangs just to gawk at it all. “Oh... that kind of eggs.”

“They were a gift from a guardian angel.” Calypto stroked his stubble. “I got a dozen of ‘em.”

“That’s not a dozen…” I said gawking at the horrific stack of eggs, counting them a third time in my head just to be sure. “That’s a baker’s dozen…”

It was horrifically appropriate. “Well, I can’t say I’m not impressed,” I said as I opened up the fridge. The labels on the inside, 'Pandora' and ‘GECK’ stared back at me as I loaded each one up. It was a good thing I had made space earlier....


“Tumbleweed...” Calypto’s brow furrowed with morbid fascination as he watched me stack up the eggs. “Why is there a severed leg in your refrigerator.”

“There’s a what in my what now?” My attention snapped down, and there it was. A beautiful green leg, attached to a whole lot of nothing, peeking out from an ice cooler. I got so used to it that I’d totally forgotten about it! It just seemed to fit in there. “Oh, right, that! This beautiful specimen is a valuable bargaining chip.” I picked up the leg in two hooves and cradled it. “I have plans for you.”

“Watch it, you’re being creepy,” Calypto said as he snatched the hoof from me. “Wait a second…” His eyes pored over the leg. “This is a mare’s leg.” His pupils dilated. He leaned his head in to sniff the leg. “I have the strange feeling I’ve met this leg before.”

I nearly fell over at Calypto’s fascination with the leg. “Now I get why I shouldn’t be creepy!” I clenched my hooves to my chest. “You’re much better at it than I am!”

“Where did you find this? Were there more of them?”

“Of course there were, what kind of question is that?”

“Good,” he nodded. His eyes shifted back and forth. “You didn’t steal this from the poor mare, did you?”

“Who do you take me for?”

Calypto put one hoof up in smug surrender. “I don’t know your interests.” Calypto smiled. “You could have a leg fetish.”

“I don’t…” A bead of sweat dripped down from my temple as I choked on my own words. “Well, kinda… but this and that are totally unrelated, I assure you.”

“I’ll be the judge of that.” Calypto sternly glared.

“Does it matter?” I said leaning in, aggrieved at the interrogation..

Calypto raised an eyebrow. “Where’d’ya get the hoof?”

“I found it,” I bantered.

“On a mare?” Calypto was judging me.

“Well…” I snickered. “At one point it was on a mare.” Calypto was staring daggers at me. “Calico, the alicorn gal, cut it off.”


“I remember her. Almost killed her, but she got away,” Calypto said nodding his head with a bizarre nostalgia. He then looked back at the hoof. “I want to meet this mare, and the rest of her legs.”

“Alright, Prince Charming,” I said as I reached over. “Can you quit groping the leg?”

Calypto recoiled as I reached. “She has fine legs. I would protect her, and never let harm come to her.”

“Give it back.”

“It’s gonna get all puffy.”

“Fine…”

Calypto relinquished the leg, begrudgingly. We were both tired and a bit looney, so it was fine.

The zebra took a few steps around, testing out his own troubled leg’s limits. Side by side, we strode over toward the threshold, where the glowing blue veins formed on the ground. We knew that if something was at the heart of this glorified thunderdome, these roots would lead us to them. It was instinct.

I paused in my preparations as my enthusiasm fell back to earth. “I’m worried.”

“Worry solves nothing.” Calypto took a moment to reload the bullets in his gun’s cylinder. I was just surprised that he still had bullets.

“Can I tell you something?” I grit my teeth. “Something you’re not going to like.”

Calypto tilted his hat back up. “Be real with me.”

“Hexerai told me that I can’t die tonight...says it’s not in the cards.” I laughed. “Guess I should feel happy about that… right?” I said trying to hold composure.

Calypto looked at me and grinned. “So I am going to die, huh?”

“Scapegrace, too.” I slammed my hoof against the control panel. “I don’t believe in fate, but between Hexerai and this oracle guardian you talked about, it makes me worried...”

Calypto flipped the cylinder back into his revolver and gave it a spin. “So be it.”

“I want to fight it.” I held my hooves to my head. “I don’t like being told that I can’t do anything about it. There have just been so many things that seemed too wild to have been coincidences tonight.” I shook my head. “Maybe I shouldn’t have said anything at all.”

“Have I told you about my village? About my people?” Calypto said as offered me a cigarette.

“Nah,” I muttered as I took the cigarette in my mouth. “I don’t know a damn thing about where you came from.”

“I came from a tribe of diviners, blessed by the spirits of the all-seeing third eye,” he said as he threw the cape of his sarape to the side. He paused after seeing me glare at him.

“Do I need to open up the furnace or are you gonna give me a light?” I grumbled.

Calypto snickered as he produced a lighter. “Fate is a powerful thing, and my tribe respected it. They used their gifts to cast away any threat to their village in this foreign land.”

“Are you trying to tell me to just accept it?” I growled as I blew a tail of smoke.

“If I was, would I have ever left?” Calypto said with a smug air of resolve. I didn’t reply. “They had their eyes too focused on stars and bones and sticks, they couldn’t see the ponies suffering around them.”

“I thought having only one ludicrous shaman in my village was bad. They must have driven you nuts,” I said as I looked over my friend. He was so resolute, even in the face of being told he would die.

“They told me there would only be suffering if I left the town, and I would die trying to save the lives of strangers.” Calypto struck his own cigarette and took a long drag. “Even if they are right, I’d rather die than sit down doing nothing.” Calypto looked me in the eyes. “It doesn’t matter what fate says. I’m going to do what I set out to do. They called me a ‘fool’, but that’s my foolish code.”

I stood up and lined myself up next to Calypto. “Well, we’re just a couple of idiots, then.” I shrugged as we looked out. “Good. Fuck fate. We’re gonna get through this.”

“We should get going. We need to find Scapegrace too.” Calypto said as he took his hat off and stroked a hoof through his hair.

Somehow that noir feeling had seeped back into our approach, because we stood their as if we were trying to make sure we started off on the same hoof.

I glanced over to my friend. “Caliphate...” I said, taking a moment to grin. “A severed leg, a carton of eggs, and we are trying to blow up a perfectly good building, while we are standing inside it. Spittin’ in the face of destiny. Do you think we might be a bunch of crazy dorks?”

Calypto kept looking forward as he produced another cigarette from his pack. Lighting it, he took a long drag. He spat smoke in a fine plume. The response was quick and firm. “Don't ask questions you already know the answer to....”

We were total dorks, but to us, we were the coolest bastards in the entire wasteland. Having a kindred spirit felt powerful. I think I had questions as to what had possessed me to come to this town earlier. From where I stood right now, it all seemed reasonable. It was a rare feeling worth the gamble, and we would ride that feeling straight to the heart of these Equestria raider games. With the morgue that was down the hall, the dead were crawling up just to welcome us.

“So, what happened with Scapegrace?”

“Uhhhh...”

“Is she okay?”

“Uhhhhh....”

“Calypto....”

I get the feeling the undead didn’t like being ignored.

*** *** ***

The night burned on in the labyrinth. Several murderous goons, in refined combat armor and weapons beyond their worth snickered as they looted the bodies of their victims. The real challenge of course had shifted from killing to figuring out how to get their prizes from the bodies of the flailing dead.

As the group slinked up and around the corner, a pale green earth pony with bright red eyes held up a hoof. Not a single bastard even dared step out of line, and not single one who had ever been foolish enough to step out by accident was alive to tell about it.

Crossfire watched the corner, peeking around with the mirror on the back of his hoof. He grinned at the reflection of a hunting turret, waiting silently for its prey.


Taking a grenade in the sling of his tail, he pulled the pin. His senses zeroed in on the distance between the fuse of the grenade. Letting it bake for a moment, he let instinct and experience take hold. As if without thought at all, his body devised the necessary formula for explosive objects in motion. The angle of trajectory, the amount of force exerted, the angle of rebound, degree of spin, and the moment of detonation all were calculated in and around the obstacles and forces acting on the grenade sending it bouncing directly underneath the rotating base of the turret. The concussive blast ripped it free of its supports, and sent it clattering against the floor.


“Tsst tsst” he clicked with his mouth. To any outsider, it was a strange sound, but not unlike the sounds of bugs in the nighttime, but when he made it, his squad refined their focus all on him. Without even turning around he waved a hoof forward.


Passing across the root-laden halls, the group rallied around an open lab. “Beta, Gridlock, you're on watch. Everypony else, I want this room scoured. Leave the computers to me. You find something interesting, point it to me,” Crossfire said, his voice reeking of control. He spoke in a soft quiet voice, but never did he whisper. Whispers travel.


With machetes and entrenching tools, the group hacked through the black vines, disappearing into the lab.

“One by one, they are dropping out… and yet its getting hot enough that my senses are burning out. Keep searching… we’re getting closer. I can smell it.”

“Ugh…” I recoiled as I read the scuff marks and bullet holes on the ground. “I can smell Crossfire’s radical militarism from here.” I mumbled to myself. Pointing down a different route, we followed the strange luminescent road further inward. That was a fight I wanted to avoid if I could.

The glowing roots lead us deep into a strange part of the facility. A card locked door was blown free with a glowing sunburst sigil upon it. Calypto's oracle friend seemed to want us to go inside. I wasn't sure how much I trusted her. The sun was not exactly a symbol of the wasteland.

We slipped in and hugged the sides as another raider group brawled out among more of the nasty less-than-dead freaks. “Taffagaunts,” Calypto whispered.

“Not feeling it.”

“They are like taffy.”

“What kind of taffy do you eat? How about 'Pusmonkeys'?” I retorted.

“Bloodmonkeys?”

“Now, that just sounds silly.”

“They are silly.”

“I'm just gonna call them 'dorks.'” I said as we sneaked along the computer circuitry in the room. There were tables with spell circles carved into them that looked like they came from a more magical bygone age. A mechanical claw-like arm hung lifelessly over top of the table. It had arcane coils lining into a mess of unicorn matrix bullshit, and three gold plated talons arced out from it, converging on a crystal speartip in the center. Down the claw’s body was an array of talisman gems, linked with silver plated circuitry. It had all sorts of strange flourishes and protruding doodads, none of which I could give any guess as to the purpose of.

“This place is like the temple of doom,” Calypto whispered to me.

“That thing right there...” I pointed to the scary claw table device. “I'm no expert, but I'd bet that thing scienced the crap out of ponies. That thing takes souls.”

We kept moving as the raiders turned from one type to another. There were black vines tracing the perimeter too, now. “How many times do I have to fight a fucking vegetable?”

“Five a day.” Calypto smirked as he watched the raiders kill each other. Somehow I think he was just fine as long as raiders were dying.

We saw a shimmering capsule in the room that carried a floating image of dream catcher. It had a weird fracture in it, and it was wavering. On a flickering screen it featured an image of a woven web and burning tire. Were they combining those things? What was the point? “What the hell is any of this?”

“This is nightmarish.” Calypto said as he put a hoof up to the containers.There were more emblems in tubular containers. Some were distorting and twisting out of shape, some grew out of control. They seemed like they were bleeding. “I'm surprised you aren't freaking out yourself.”

The fighting died down along with the raiders.

We came across a large wall of iridescent symbols locked in a vault-like grid. They were erratically thrashing in their cages, shifting in imbalanced chaos. “What exactly am I looking at?”

“Those are cutie marks. Souls,” Calypto said as he looked back at the approaching horde of necrodorks.

I nodded with wide eyes. “Well, look at that... an actual temple of doom.”


There was a loud crash that sounded from the previous halls. Latching the fridge back in place, I looked back at Calypto. “Come on, we should keep moving.”

“Our pain... tainted this world, join us...” a group of those things clamored as they inched closer.

“Seriously, these guys just travel in packs,” I muttered. Calypto put away his guns so he could limp with a little more vigor.

There were a ton of those bastards. We could avoid looking at them in one-on-one fighting, but with so many, it would just be a bad idea. Just locking eyes with one of them could end the fight before it began. Running over to Calypto, I helped him walk.

“We can bottleneck them at the door,” Calypto said as we moved. They were getting faster, like they were adapting to their new forms. It was like a banquet for these monsters’ necrotic evolution - so many dead and dying.

We were ready for the worst as we scrambled over the glowing blue lines on the ground toward the doorway, but when we got there, they just gave up. There were maybe twenty or thirty of them, crawling over machines and desks, but they all just stopped several meters from the door.

“Whatever these roots are, they are afraid of it,” Calypto stated. “Trust me.”

“Well, if they are gonna be so polite, I won't complain,” I said.

They just watched as we carried on. It was unsettling.

We walked along the trail of azure veins that lit up the ground, taking us out of the lab. Having a reliable shield and four working legs, I played vanguard as we trekked through the halls. Lighting was shoddy here, and as we kept moving further in, it seemed as though the noises outside had got quieter.


As I was walking, my hoof snagged on something, and the ground came up to hit me in the face. “Wha- damn it.”

It was too dark to see what it was, so I nudged the thing where the light from the blue tendrils lit up the floor. “Look at that,” I muttered. It was somepony, emphasis on the past tense, or at least that is what I thought. “They look dried out,” I said, poking the corpse; the skin fractured apart at the touch of my hoof.

“There is a spirit inside that,” Calypto said.

My hooves recoiled at the thought. “Eek,” I muttered with little enthusiasm.

“But they aren't doing anything,” Calypto said as he got up close to it. I think that meant I was allowed to go on poking it.

“This guy is crispy, but not in a burnt kind of way. Kind of as if something stuck a straw in him, and just drank him dry,” I observed.


Having better eyes than I had, Calypto caught sight of the weapon and armor at the corpse's side. “This was a raider...”

“You are telling me this was recent?” I asked.

“It would have to be,” Calypto said. “We are getting close to something.”

As I was poking around at the corpse's desiccated skin, I cracked off a solid chunk of it. “Well, damn.” There were the same glowing blue crystal tendrils crawling up the bone of the corpse's skull. “It is how they say - nothing good ever came from the prewar.”

Any sane pony would have looked at this, said 'I didn't know that this was on the list of things I would not be willing to deal with today, but hey! Look at that! There it is!' and turned the hell away, but the sane just didn't make it in the wastes. Adventure! We kept a watch out, following the veins which had carried over to walls.

“Woah!” Something had snagged my leg. It felt like some kind of thick cable. There was something that was crossing over the trails of sapphire glow, blotting them out. It was something familiar.

Out of the dark, a black and green thing snapped at me. It was about to latch down on me with its jaws, but I barely managed to substitute the fridge in my stead. I’d got a good look at the thing - it was another one of those black thorny plants. I could barely keep my balance as it pulled. I wrestled, but soon enough I was being dragged through the halls.

“Tumbleweed!” I could hear Calypto yelling as the mouthy vine went on retreating back into its lair, my weed-wrapped self tumbling against the corners, corpses and other debris.

The flytrap dropped me in the middle of an open chamber as my fridge broke free of its latching. There were two stubborn emergency lights that actually gave light in this room, so I could see what was going on. There were several of them... the small lashing trapper plants, and in the dark, wrapped around some kind of statue, there was the acid dripping flora. The plant before me, the one that’d just released me, seemed to have been drinking its milk, because it was much larger than the last one I had fought with Scapegrace.

One of the plant-like mouths jumped in at me, but I ducked and clamped its jaws shut. I would need something to fight these things with. I stomped over the plant as I reached for the discarded fridge. Suddenly, there was a turquoise glow that illuminated down the thorns of the creature, and a line of burning chains lashed out at me.

What in the...These things did magic?! I wanted to put them even lower on the food chain just for that. These were not good for my health.

I slipped around the chains when I found myself surrounded by the mouthy flytraps. They opened up, and spat out heavy gas that left me wheezing. I could feel my heartbeat getting slower, and my hooves made a veto decision to just give out on me. Damn it, I was fading! This wasn't a good place to sleep!

“Get the hell out of my way!” That eccentric zebra stumbled in, like he had no concept of self-preservation.

One of the plants slithered toward him, but as it pounced, he splashed some strange powder over the plant and it just halted in this weird way, as if it was pondering the existential crisis of realizing it was a plant. It looked very perturbed.

A lashing vine knocked Calypto to the ground as he was drawing his revolver. As the vines lit up again, he saw something I didn't. It wasn't something I would have particularly noticed. By his vicious instinct, he drew his gun to the figure, but a split-second doubt threw off his aim, letting the bullet fly clear of the target. By the time he had caught onto it, he cursed himself. He had done it again.

There she was…Midnyte, the mare with three legs, wrapped up in a weave of vines, drenched in sap. It was casting her magic. These things controlled pony magic. Hot damn. She grit her teeth as the light surging through the thorns carried into her horn, and a fiery blast erupted from it. Calypto ducked, tucking his hat down to shield himself from much of the heat. Their eyes crossed as she panted at the stress.

It surged again and chains wrapped around my limp body. I could barely keep awake, despite all my efforts.

Calypto raised his gun, lining up a bullet to go straight through her head. But the gun wouldn't fire. He wouldn't fire. His stripes seethed as he glared his intent down at her. He should kill her, he told himself. A raider in the wastes only cried irradiated tears. They were a byproduct of a poisoned road, that nothing living should have followed. She needed to die. It wasn't even a question. One bullet, straight through the head, and it would make the wasteland better. It was how it should be. It was infuriating to think that it would be any other way. It wasn't any different from all of those that had come before. This was his decision. So why did it feel so wrong?!

“You, raider bitch!” he shouted. “I don't owe you anything!”

The thorns were lining up with magic. These chains were about to get really hot. After a life of sauteing vegetables, I couldn't help but feel that this was some kind of vengeance. “Don't...” I barely managed to mumble. “Killjoy would get pissed... I don't want to deal with him being pissed...”

I don't think Calypto heard me. The chains started to burn, and although I had a few layers, I was going to rotisserie fairly quickly.

Calypto's hoof shook as he held it out. He was the kind of zebra that was possessed by what he saw, and in her, he didn't see a raider. First impression was a poisonous vision for the mind, and Calypto had already encoded her in his mind as a civilian. He cursed himself, because some part of him knew this was a simple issue... but it toyed with the very code that guided him through the wastes.

“You are a lying, murderous, despicable piece of equine waste!” he snarled, his spit catching on his words as he forced them through his teeth. “This is your justice.”

It was probably the worst thing that she could do, and she probably did even realize it. Taking heavy breaths, she looked at him with tired eyes. He could see her face swelling, and the subtle glisten at her eyes as she held back her tears. She nodded to him, with a weak, recoiled smile.

“ARRRRRGGGHHHH!” Calypto screamed as he tossed himself around. One bad step on his broken leg sent him toppling down. He yelled as he tossed his gun across the ground. He couldn't do it. It was a mockery of that essence that he had devoted himself to. “You don't know anything!” he barked. Taking to his hooves, he dragged himself towards her. He wore his rage on every part of his body. “Don't give me any that. You don't understand-- you can't! I'll kill you with my own hooves.”

Even as he inched forward, a heavy vine struck Calypto from behind, knocking him down. As the ambient glow of the thorns carried up the vine to Midnyte, her tears came rushing forth.

Damn it. I couldn’t stop anything like this. Calypto was going to die, and I was going to watch. Still… I could barely fight.

The burning pain kicked through my sedation. I think I was beginning to realize something. This was the thing Calico was afraid of. I struggled the best I could in a vain attempt to break free. Fate has no chains on me. Fate has no chains on me.

“Partytime!” I screamed, but there was nothing. No force, no confetti, no comeback. It wasn't partytime...

I didn't have the strength. I wanted it more than anything, but wanting didn't make it so. Soon, I was going to be burned up, and somehow, I wasn’t going to die.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw one of the grinning, gas spewing plants fall flat to the ground... severed from its vital stem. A moment later something jabbed at my back, and the chains fell apart, dropping me to the ground.

“Sorry! Tried catching you...” a familiar voice said.

I thought it was Hexerai at first. She was distorted and decked in blades. It was strange to see how much a pony could change in a day. Between the malleable crystal pincer that was jutting out of her hoof and the headstrong look in her eyes, it was hard to believe it was her.

“Scapegrace?”

“Did'ya miss me?” she said as her coat fluctuated between a brighter orange tint and a confident magenta. The heads of the plants seemed to back off from her aura of light. “I just keep saving you....”

“Hey…” I mumbled in drowsy stupor. “When do I get to save you?”

She walked forward towards the core plant. “Never. I don't think I want that to happen.”

I was getting the worst kinda feeling in my chest, and it was pleasant. It was dangerous. Especially because she was going to get herself killed! Sweet vindictive wasteland, everything was falling apart.

The coiling black flower reared its head over Scapegrace, its three stamen tongues thrashing about. The turquoise aura ran down the row of thorns towards Midnyte, and her eyes went white with magic. Scapegrace morphed her hooves back to normal. “I didn't think it would be this easy.”

From a burning vortex, a searing spear of green fire lashed out at Scapegrace, the burst knocking her back off of her hooves.

“Scapegrace!” I shouted. It wasn't even a thought, I just burst to my hooves to go towards her, but... as I approached, she picked herself up.

It had burned her through her shoulder, ruining her jacket, or whatever armor she might have had, but she still got up. I watched her grit through her pain until a smile pierced through the anguished scowl. She held her right hoof up and marvelled with pride at the glow emanating from it.

The room grew dark as her bright aura faded for a moment, leaving nothing but her empowered eyes glowing. A stream of green flame pierced through darkness, igniting the plants all around. It came straight from her lips. She was breathing fire like she was some kind of dragon.

The entire room came alive. Up until now, it must have imagined us as some kind of plaything. What were we going to do? Shoot it? It had control... but Scapegrace was something different.

Vines whipped around towards her as she dashed towards the cocoon that trapped Midnyte. The Scapegrace of old wouldn't have done this. Inside, she was probably terrified, but she was fighting. She coated herself in flames and galloped straight at Midnyte.

“Hey, wake up!” She said, tearing at the vines with burning hooves.

Midnyte couldn't find the words. Tears just kept running down her face.

“Help me fight this thing!”

In a moment, the tears were tucked away, and Midnyte put the special kind of face she saved for her enemies. The soft kindness melted away, leaving behind a stern glare. “Glad to….”

The two engulfed the room in flames. The plants didn't stand a chance. From a young age, a wastelander learns a thing or two about who rightfully be afraid of. At the end of the world, the fiercest ones were undeniably the wasteland mares. Hell couldn't match their fury.


*** *** ***

In wheezing fits, we funneled through the corridor. Starting a fire indoors was probably not among the smartest ideas, but the monster plants becoming a vegetable stir-fry was one less problem for us to deal with.

Scapegrace braced herself against a wall. Everything was coming in like a harbor wave. The real fear of death, the anxiety about herself, the knowledge of one too many close calls, the frustration with how crazy and stupid it was to do any of the things she had actually just done, but more than any of that, the disbelief that any of that actually happened.

“You were hot out there...” I stumbled as I slid against the wall.

“Huh...?” It was like snapping her out of trance.

“You were on fire.” Clinging onto my tenuous consciousness, I leaned harder into the wall to afford myself the use of my hooves. “That’s not a metaphor… you were on fire.” As I spoke, I started to descend vaguely downwards towards an inevitable collision with the tile.

Scapegrace flushed red as she dove to catch me, the angel. “Wah! Hey, don’t fall on me.”

“I can apologize later.” I laughed as I tried to keep conscious. “Hey, look! You caught me this time. You’re getting better at this.”

“Tumbleweed...” she grumbled as she held my slouching body by little more than my jaw bones.

“Is this inappropriate? Was I interrupting your breakdown?” I said as I looked her over. She had seen so much tonight. I could see it in how she acted, how she carried herself, the look in her eye.

“Yes! Don’t you have hooves?” Scapegrace struggled with my limp body as she grimaced. “It’s too much. I’m losing my mind here.”

As she spoke, I caught myself. Groggily, I took a breath. I slammed my head against the wall.

“Arrgghhhh! That huuuuurt!” I screamed as I rolled around in pain back and forth.

Scapegrace was lost somewhere between concern and bubbling laughter. “What did you expect to happen?”

I clung to the wall wincing at the pain. “Ahgh, I just… wanted to be awake to tell you. You were really amazing out there, and whatever it is you’re after here in Ponyville, you can do this.”

Scapegrace sank back as she glanced away. “You really must have hit your head hard.”

“Ow, fuck! You’re telling me.” I laughed as I gripped my head. “But really… You’ve grown, it’s like you’re a different pony.” I managed to open an eye to look at her. “You’ve got that crazy brave look in your eyes, but your body can’t keep up.”

She laughed at me like I was absolutely crazy. “Me, brave? What is that supposed to mean?”

“You’re like me. I can see it.” I grinned.

“--But you’re an idiot!” she fired back instantaneously. By the time she heard herself saying the words she had taken on a dark blue tint.

I grit teeth as I pondered. She might have a point. “Yes...well.”

Scapegrace stepped towards me looking like she was going to breath fire again. “Hey, you are not allowed to go agreeing with me when I make a comparison like that. We are completely, totally, definitely, not the same.”

There was a long scraping sound that echoed down the hall. The sound of beating wings… I jumped off to my hooves as I saw a cadre of bat ponies with burning blades jutting out from their wings and forelegs.

“Here it is! Cut through a path, let nopony slow our advance” the leader called.

I knew it wasn’t safe here. There wasn’t time to think. I wrestled through despite my aching head, lunging to meet the bat ponies with my fridge, but…

Everything fell through…

I collapsed to the ground. What even happened there? I turned over in shock, expecting to see a dead Scapegrace, but she was just staring at me with confusion. I patted myself down to make sure I had everything. Hooves, thighs, ass, forehooves, torso-- Fuck! Ah! Shit! Head. Yeah… all still there. Looking down the hall, there were no raiders. “What the hell was that?”


“What was what?”

“Did you see those ponies? They bat wings, and fiery swords… they just… they came… and… fuck…”


“I think you’re just seeing things. How hard did you hit your head?” Scapegrace walked over in concern. “Are you gonna be alri--” Scapegrace was cut off as she tried to lean down to help. Pain shot through her and twisted her as she grabbed at her shoulder.

“Wow, let me take a look at that!” I said it like it was instinct. I wanted to know, but I could feel a dangerous addiction in it. It was a burn wound, but it wasn’t a slice or stab. “Guess even dragons get burnt!”

Scapegrace bucked in fierce protest. “No! No, no, no....” Both of my hooves sprung alive to shield me away, but it left with her nothing to prop herself up with on the wall. “I-I-I do not need first aid,” she said as her back slid down the wall.

“That is piss-swig! Your skin is going bubbly. Hell, your crystals might go metamorphic!” I said as she held my face back with a hoof.

“Don't worry about me, I'm fine!”

“Come on, hero! Let's treat those wounds.”

She gave me a dodgy look. “Shouldn't you be treating your own burns?”

That was strange, wasn't it? I should have had more burns. It was toasty! I was a pony-s'more! I should have been well-done - dead and tasteless. I played with the thought for a moment. “I did sorta make friends with an embodiment of water...”

Confusion sapped the power right out of her hooves at the statement. The time had come. Out came the canteen. Splash! Right at ground zero! She shivered at the contact. Her tint changed in a series of flashes from white to blue to yellowish red. She rose up to give me words or pieces of her mind, but it was good, because she was close enough for me to apply the wet kerchief to the wound.

“Owww, aiiiigh, Don't do that!”

“Turnabout is fair play!” This was for that first aid earlier!

She plastered her face with anger. Her lips curved into a tight frown. She was scrunching like she could crush boxcars with her muzzle muscles. Her cheeks puffed out, to give any predators in the area the impression that we was much larger. And me? I was trying keep a straight face. We held that gaze for a while, but nothing lasts forever. Even statues crack up, given time. We broke, both of us. Frowns bent against their will. A giggle opened into a chuckle, and soon enough, the dams broke.

Scapegrace tried to hide her face. “Stopght... pfffft... I'mb...I'm mad at you...”

“Please... you can barely talk.” I said giving her a side glance.

It had reached critical mass in the giggle factory. We had to shut down operations in fear of conversation meltdown. The way it was going, one of us was going to die. We took some time to handle things - important things that ponies often forget about, like breathing! Important things like getting our mischief fix squared away with a single well-placed “Are you done?” There was production like repro-- COUNTER PRODUCTION! I meant counterproducton. It happened, it was necessary, and we got over it.

We came back together, our shit squared away. We were going to start this off again.

“Hey, I’m glad you’re okay.”

“I can’t believe it myself...” She fidgeted back and forth. “I almost died so many times. I can only take so much crazy and stupid. I feel… I feel...”

“Alive?” I chided. I was rambunctious, walking around her. “Wastelander!”

“Confused! Scared! Out of my mind!” She said trying to show concern. It was really pointless, because she had that subtle glow all over her coat.

“Life is confusing and scary…” I nodded. “That’s what makes things fun.”

“It’s the worst feeling of my life.” She shook her head.

I smiled at her. “You’ve grown. What happened out there?”

“I think I had a wake up call…” Scapegrace walked away from the wall and looked at her hooves. “Something hit me and I realized I didn’t want to run away.”

I was right. She was brave. “What exactly are you running from? I know why I’m here, but it doesn’t make sense for you to risk it all.”

“I have a feeling the thing I’ve spent my life looking for is here.” The crystal pony stood up straight. She had fire in her eyes, though it faded in a moment as she turned back towards me, stumbling over her own hooves a bit as she spoke. “So why are you here?”

I shrugged. “I made a deal to protect the town.” I said.

“Oh, you found the town? That’s great.” She said.

“Yeah, my work never ends.” I scratched the back of my head. “I got sacrificed, met the zebra boogiemare, was made fun of by a flying magical seapony, not in that particular order of course...” It was all kinda funny when I said it out loud.

Scapegrace dropped her jaw in blindsided confusion. “You got sacrificed… how are you sti--” She turned beat red mid-question as her hair frazzled. “You’re the reason everything got weird topside?”

She started pacing towards me aggressively so I started backing up in a circle. “Hey, this is not my fault. There was a crazy magical horny wingy pony, I just happened to be there.”

Scapegrace picked up the speed and I had to turn around to keep away. “It is absolute madness up there, of course you were involved. ” She berated me, but she seemed to have a smile on, as well.


“Forget about my boring evening, let’s talk about you? You’re really turning into something.” I said as Scapegrace lunged towards me. I narrowly wove around her. “You come swoop in like some kind of ninja, thwacking weeds, dropping one liners, and spitting fire everywhere. Slash and burn! No plants on your watch. You are a sneaky little arsonist when you try.”


“What is that supposed to mean? Worried I'm gonna burn your house down?” she said as we continued circling.


I laughed a bit to myself. She might actually do that, considering her track record. “No, I'm just saying you have a way with killing plants.” It might make a stallion think that she doesn't want flowers-- wait! Stop it! Not there. Nope!

“Maybe, I was trying take out my aggression on some other infuriating weeds,“ she said as she watched me walk straight into a wall. I fell flat on the ground. She laughed as she looked down on me. “Are you okay?”


“No worries, I like it down here,” I said, looking around from a new perspective. Lounging on the cold tiles probably wasn't a good idea in the long run, but it was nice to lay down and get a different angle.


“Maybe I'll join you.”

What?

As Scapegrace walked to my side, I caught a glimpse of something through a rip in her khaki jeans. It was white and triangular.


My little arsonist sat down beside me. She tilted her head to the side. “Something you're looking at?” Caught, with the blood on my hooves! “Hehe, I didn't know you changed colors too.”


“Shut up...” I wasn't helping my color. “Sorry, I was just looking at your cutie mark.”


Her eyes changed. “Sure, you did...” She said rolling her eyes and scoffing. “Jerk.”


“What? No, I swear I wasn’t looking at you in that way.” I said. Don’t run off. Don’t get yourself killed….


The hairs of her coat stood on end, she had been bristled. “Knock it off.” She rose to her hooves. Her glow had vanished. Muted colors wasn't good.


“Hey!” I called out, trying to get to my hooves as she started walking down the hallway. “I just thought it kinda looked cool.”


Her coat started going black. I’d really messed up, I didn’t know what I’d done, but she hadn’t liked it it one bit. “Can you drop it.”


Things would be better like this in the long run, but the reason wasn't reaching my brain. I chased after her. “Hey, did I say something wrong? Do you not like talking about your cutie mark?” I guess it was a really personal thing, but usually you can't get ponies to shut up when you get them talking about their cutie marks. Was she hiding something? Did she have enemies?


There was a sudden turn, and she looked at me in the eyes.“I don't like being picked on.”


“Picked on?” Ironically denying things that I do was definitely part of my game, but I certainly didn't think I was doing that. That seemed like a weird accusation, especially here in the big, tough, 'we ain't got no sunshine' wasteland.


“I get that I don't have one. Don't rub it in.” She was scornful.


“One what?”


“A cutie mark!” She almost screamed it.


For a moment, I had forgotten how to emote. “You don’t?” I asked in an empty tone. I had no idea where this conversation had gone, and I took a break from the controls. By the dead serious looks she was giving me, it looked like I had some news for her. “Well, Gracie. You’re good as marked.”


“Arghhh!” It was weird when ponies were mad at you and you weren't trying to make them mad.

“Romance! Adventure! Can you feel it, soldier boy?” The voice came out of nowhere.


I lost my cool as I looked around the room to see a rather piratey-looking unicorn charge through us. An angry crystal pony wearing way too much clothing was following close behind.

“We’re not friends. This is temporary truce to get what we want.” the figure grumbled as they passed directly through us. Was I going crazy?

I scanned desperately for answers, I caught Scapegrace’s glare.

“There you go again. I know I don't have...” She trailed off mid-diatribe as she turned her head. “I have a...” she mumbled blankly.


I had seen many things in the wasteland, but I had never seen a full-grown mare stealthily try to peek into her own pants with such deliberation. She turned back to me, her coat and face completely blank. “I have a cutie mark...” she stated.


Did she not know?

Her eyes doubled in size and her cheeks began to twitch.

“I FINALLY GOT MY MARK!!”

It came like the end of days. An eye-scathing burst of light, followed by an intense shock wave. The prismatic Scapegrace tackled me, wrapping those slender hooves around my neck. It was a hug of death.

“WOOOOO!” She threw her weight out in circles, taking me with her in her tornado. “FUCK, ABOUT FUCKING TIME! WOOHOOO!” she said bouncing around and aggressively tucking head into my shoulder. She was so soft, but her grip was so tight. I might have been dying in more ways than one.

Caught in her rapture, she stood up on her hind legs, forcing me to do the same thing. More figures paraded through the hall, but I could hardly pay attention to any of it. “Woah, woah, woah, calm the hell down!” I said as the miraculous shining mare started pushing me back.


“I CAN'T!” she yelled back happily.

“Something weird is going on here.”


“I KNOW! IT’S LIKE HOPES AND DREAMS ARE COMING TRUE!!” she sang back, just before kicking her legs up, leaving me to carry her.

“That’s not what I-- Hey, what are you--?!”

We came tumbling down and I might have hit my head on my fridge. She didn't mind swinging around to throw me to the ground as a cushion. I groaned as she crashed herself against me. “ThankyouThankyouThankyouThankyouThankyou.” It was dangerous for a moment, but she got up off of me.

“Ahgh… anytime…” I mumbled incoherently.

From the ground, I watched her spin around in circles chasing her own flank as she changed colors through the whole rainbow while giggling and squealing like an idiot. Every once in while she stopped to take another peek inside her own pants. “I used to check this baby everyday. All the other foals had got theirs, and I was so fucking pissed off. Try to imagine that.”


...Looking at your ass everyday?-- fuck! Stop making this hard for me!


“Can you?” she asked excitedly.


“Sure! Y-Yeah. I do... I imagine it.” This conversation was dangerous for me.


“It was the worst!” she said, barreling back into her rhythm. “They told me to stop checking out my butt all the time because it was weird. I got teased with the crazy idea that I'd get a cutie mark in staring at my ass.”


I was dangerously close to getting a cutie mark in staring at her ass.


“They kept telling me that it wasn't going to show up if I kept looking at it, but it finally happened!” she said while she rolled over the ground. She sneaked another peek down her jeans. “Oh my gosh, it is so cool! Cool, and Awesome, and Sexy, and it's mine!” she said as she gawked at her own flank. “All mine...”

I chuckled at the dorky mare. To think she was petrified just a few moments ago… wow.

“Just look at it!” she said as she ran up beside me, scooting down the side of her jeans. It was beyond my control, everything was at full attention. An ass is an ass, but legs were my true weakness. And she didn't seem to mind at all as she wrestled with the fabric enough to show off her new symbol.

It was a white flower in bloom. In the center, however, was gemstone chip, the kind you would find in any prewar computer. Out from different angles came spell circuitry, as the roots of the flower, but on the circuits curved out sharp thorns. It suited her. Her smarts, her skill with computers, her love of the root of history, a skill with adapted magic, and most of all, she grows. A late bloomer.


While I was staring at it, I noticed the color of her coat suddenly pale and take on a deep pink hue. She finally noticed...


She flung herself back, flailing awkwardly in her clothes. She scampered off, only to scamper right back. “Sorry!” she said as she laid her hooves on my chest. “I know I'm weird.” she said with a frustrated sigh.


“Hey, that's okay. It’s a wild wasteland.”


Suddenly, her head dropped down to my chest. “I just know that if I wasn't here today... I don't think it would have happened. And I think I owe that to you,” she said trying to collect herself.


I didn't know what I was going to do. I knew what I should have done, but I can say I didn't exactly want to. Was it too much to put a hoof around? Maybe her back? Her head?


In the middle of my stressing, she spoke out. “Hey Tumbleweed...” Her voice was soft.


“Yeah?”


“If we make it through the night, would you do something with me?” she asked meekly.

The air was getting heavier, and I could feel a sweat coming on. “It depends on what it is...” I said turning my head to her.


“Do you know what today is?” she asked rolling her head over my chest.


My face stalled out in confusion. “Uhh, what is it?”


“It's the summer solstice. The longest day of the year,” she said. It was like she was whispering to me, but I could still hear her. “They say that back in the prewar, they used to have something called ‘The Summer Sun Celebration.' Ponies would stay up all night to watch the sunrise.” Scapegrace picked up her head and smiled at me. “Can we watch the sunrise together?”


“Yeah. I'd like that.” As I said that, Scapegrace smiled and got up. I had spent too long lying down.


“Good.”


“Provided we survive. We have to get moving,” I added after brushing myself off. “Calypto hasn't come back yet.”

“Should we check on them? They looked like they needed to sort something out,” Scapegrace said, looking around.


“Come on. Let's check them out.:

We followed down the hall of crystalline vines that continued deep beyond. Scapegrace stopped me as she spotted the two of them in the cluttered halls. They were standing apart. Calypto hugged the wall turned away from Midnyte. They were silent.

“Have they been like this the whole time?” I whispered to Scapegrace before she smacked me with a hoof.

“Get out,” Calypto's voice rumbled. Even hidden beneath his hat, he was emanating aggression.


Midnyte's eyes darted around and she bit down on her lip. She fidgeted as if to turn around, only to turn back towards Calypto. It happened back and forth.

“Leave,” the zebra restated. The cigarette in his mouth cast a thin trail of smoke

But she would not leave. She couldn't... or at least she had told herself that. With a breath, she collected up her powers. It was something more difficult to do than magic itself. “I wanted to say...” She trembled as she spoke, but she wouldn't back down. It was important to her. “I wanted to say 'Thank you'...”

Calypto turned and she froze.

“Thank you, for not taking the shot... I won't forget it.”

“I said 'Get out!'” he roared.

Even as she faltered, with her horn shimmering, a telekinetic cloud reached into her bag. She floated the silver revolver out, placing it on the ground before Calypto. As soon as it was on the ground, she limped past us.


Begrudgingly, the zebra stomped over to the revolver, his spurs ringing with his anger. It was a curious indecision. The gun that didn't fire. Betrayal by an old friend. A guilty symbol. What would he even do with such a thing? He stood there standing over the revolver, glaring at it.

Realizing I’d messed up, I facehooved myself as I turned around. “By the way I have your leg!”

With a grumble, the zebra took the gun. It was part of him. A part of the ensemble. From the iron brimmed hat, to the vibrant poncho of dark blues, magentas, and indigo, down to the golden spurs on his hooves. He would need to think on it.


“Let's go.” We could not see his eyes.


I closed the gap between us. I had never seen this side of him, but he was a good friend. “Are you gonna be alright?”


“I said 'Let's Go...'” he said again.


As we walked down the halls, the number of crystal vines expanded. No longer bound to floors. Now they clung to walls... even to the ceiling. They wove over each other like a tapestry.


“We've been walking this hall for a while now...” I muttered. It was hard to tell that this was even an MAS scientific facility. There were no intersections, no branching off rooms. “Like who designed this place?”


“So it's not just me?” Scapegrace asked. “You were right. Something is weird…”

What was going on? I liked being able to understand what was going on when I walked into danger. Scapegrace and I turned to each other in the ambient aura of the vines. Calypto, however, pressed on in silence. Despite the worries, we followed his lead.


As the tunnel came to an end, there was a large golden gate. A cloud of cold billowed out from door, cracked open. A dim light flickered over the gate. Engraved into a plaque on the walls were these words:


“A GARDEN INSIDE OF ALL OF US”


At the door we could feel something elusively awry. It was as if the crystal veins were sapping our nerve. Was this what you were planning, Pharoah?


Pulling the heavy gate wide open, we could feel the hairs of our coats stand on end. It was cold, that much was clear. But even more so, it was evil. Maybe not evil, but sinister.


Roots. Crystalline, but also pulsing. In that open coliseum they all converged into a wretched, twisting mass. In the strangest way, I could feel it calling to me. The guilty me.


“Tumbleweed?” Scapegrace called out to me as I entered the strange room. The cold whisper’s enigmatic gravity pulled me further away from her. It felt like I was growing distant though she was so close.

“Damn it, Tumbleweed! Get away from that thing!” Calypto called out as he grabbed hold of the door frame. It seemed to call to him too. I turned my head, but it was hard to hear as he grew further away.

I saw the other raiders, but they seemed as intangible as ghosts. Crossfire, Savage, and many more I didn’t recognize. All of us wrapped up in the same distortion. We marched together towards the anomaly.


Strange wisps of light drifted through the air, constantly in flux. As I walked, I passed strange corpses on the ground, the same kind as the ones from earlier. As I walked over the thick geode roots, I could feel something flowing beneath. Or was that the pulse of my own heart? Maybe it was both. At the nexus of those roots, something was definitely beating. Definitely alive.


What was more, there were strange figures in the crystals. Ponies, stretched out and twisted out of shape, each immortally petrified in a writhe within a glassy sarcophagus. It was like they were trying to hold me back... push me away from something wicked.


The mass stretched tall, its winding crystals up over my head forming a twisted canopy. There was a word for something like this. A familiar shape.


A tree.


It had long, malevolent branches, reaching out like a spider’s legs. It bore pulsing gemstones that hung low, invitingly. A gracious offering of fruit.


I walked past it all. What the hell was this? My instincts were firing off telling me this was dangerous... and yet it called to me.


I stood before the morbid trunk. All of it, twisted, and shaped of ponies. It was as if they were trapped in a crystal prison, or perhaps made into it. The holes in the eyes and mouths, empty, but they were bent with such emotion. I could feel thirst. Fury. Feelings of great intensity seeping in through the heavy air. Demons...


I reached out.


I touched...


It turned...

They turned.

Eyes beneath the ice...


All of them...


“Hail to the King...”


“King of vengeance.”


Something crawled up behind...


I turned.

A crystal hand!


Tendrils digging in.


I flung myself back, and the vision melted away. I gasped like it would be my last breath. A breath I would need to save until the next time would come. A time where it was safe. It felt so real, but as I gazed back at the strange tree with such overwhelming terror, it seemed to be flexing back as if to sting...


It was.


A snaking crystal javelin speared through me. Straight through the heart. Carrying me away. Far away. Flying.


I dropped at the wall.


///////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////////
LEVEL UP >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

Scapegrace Cutie Mark Trait: Full bloom: It took you this fucking long to figure out who you really are? Hot damn, somebody should get you an award. Reap more skill points and information from books and terminal entries. Somepony once said: the beauty of a flower is that it only lasts for a short time.


Calypto Glyph Trait: Natural Stoic- You don’t change for anybody, and you follow your heart. What a total idiot. The target on your flank represents the five grand spirits and the four cardinal directions, it is the target of your sight and the rose of your compass.


Scapegrace Perk: Noid- At below 35% health, you get a bonus to perception of +2.

Calypto Perk: Witch Hunter- Dedication to a cause makes you kill the magic. You ignore 5 points of damage threshold and 4 points of damage threshold against magic barriers,

Tumbleweed Earthpony Perk: Improved Break Dance Level 1- Hey, just because they run silent under the hood ain’t mean earth ponies aren’t magical. Extend the range and accuracy of your senses. The world is breaking, but you can feel the cracks.

Ch5 p1: The Skeletons in My Closet are Dinosaurs

View Online

Joker's Wild Chapter 5: Gate to Wild
Part 1: The Skeletons in My Closet are Dinosaurs
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Men honor what lies within the sphere of their knowledge, but do not realize how dependent they are on what lies beyond it.

Zhuang Zhou
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“How many hooves am I holding up?”

I was still waking to the world when the challenge came. I had only just opened my eyes, but I had no time to figure out where I was or which direction was up. The only option I had was to fire into the dark. It was do or die!

My hoof whipped across the broadside of Calypto's jaw, as his hoof slammed through mine. We spun to the ground side by side. The pain had banished the waking daze, and as I recognized the groans of my opponent, I knew that I was safe, and my own pained moans turned to irreverent snickering. We laughed together as we rolled around clasping our hooves to our throbbing faces.

Calypto turned to Scapegrace, who was caught in the emotional whiplash between worry and terrified confusion.“He's fine,” Calypto said with firm confidence.


Scapegrace pushed Calypto out of the way as she took me in her hooves and cradled me in her chest. What?! She didn’t, she wasn’t…. Ugh… well, I wasn’t exactly in a position to stop her. I could see so many things bubbling up inside Scapegrace. Demands for explanations, reprimands, worries about my health, it all pushed up to the surface, as she puffed up her cheeks. “Where in the spectrum of cranial trauma do you see him being ‘fine’?” She was indignantly purple, but when she saw me rise up, she let it fume out of her. “He could have brain damage.”

“Good. Guess nothing of importance was damaged,” I said as I massaged my throbbing head and stood up to my hooves.

“I guess it’s hard to hurt something you only seem to have occasionally.” Scapegrace sighed. Calming down, she just flashed a wry smile before turning back to the impressive computer setup built into the wall. “Don’t scare me like that.” The mare buried herself into the world of computers as she grumbled. “What even happened back there?”

“I’m not really sure, to be frank.” So much was happening, and I couldn’t see where it all connected up. That thing drew me in. I didn’t like being manipulated, but sometimes just not wanting it wasn’t a good enough defense.

Scapegrace turned back from the keyboard as she took long wistful gaze towards me. I didn’t know what to tell her.

Calypto pulled close to me to whisper in my ear, “You saw that tree, didn't you....”

Blinking I grasped at my chest and felt something pound. I winced. “Agh, yeah... how could I miss it?”

“It's not as hard as you might think. Apparently Scapegrace couldn't see it at all. I couldn't even see more than outlines myself, but you saw it directly.”

Scapegrace looked back over her shoulder with concern.

“She didn’t see it, huh? What makes you so sure.”

“She can’t see it, but she’s not a fool. She knows there is something she isn’t getting, and she wants to put the pieces together.”

“I saw the other raiders beside me. Is this what Pharoah’s game is? Does that make me a candidate? Can't say I'm honored…” I groaned as I looked down the broken hallways.

“Hahaha, you’d make a terrible raider king,” Calypto laughed as he shook his head at me.

“Y’know what? I think I agree with you,” I said with a smile that quickly faded as I clenched at the ephemeral thing that affixed itself on my heart. “That tree was a nightmare. The pre-war always was coming up with fucked up things, but the freaks in here must have been overachievers,” I said with a virulent sting. “What happened to me?” No seriously, what was going on here? I was grateful to still being around, but this rude-awakening-after-a-cliffhanger-death thing has happened way too many times today and it was getting a little bit redundant.



“Don't have an answer to that one, but I can tell, it planted something on you,” Calypto said as he turned away, “but you're alive, so we can worry about that later.” Calypto was about to walk away when he turned back with frightening enthusiasm, “Besides, there is a mare waiting for her hero....” Calypto whispered as he tipped his head towards Scapegrace, who had dismantled the paneling of the computer and was tapping into the talisman network while simultaneously inputting codes through the keyboard. The exuberant look on Calypto's face was downright terrifying.

“Huh?” It was the sound of being blindsided.

“Get in there!” he whispered.

“What?” I whispered back as I tensed up.

“Sweep her off her hooves!”

I twisted up inside at the thought. Stretched out wide then snapped back together, my emotions couldn't handle this sort of thing. There were things he didn’t know about, but this was something that shouldn’t happen. Between a rock and a hard place, story of my life. “Nonono. I can't do that...get outta here.”

Scapegrace groaned as she slammed on the desk. The sickly green computer light contoured the mare’s tired expression as she turned back. “Do I have to do everything myself or can I get a hoof in here?”

Calypto prodded me forward with a grin, nodding furiously.

I looked at him with perturbed judgement. “I mean, are you sure you want help in there? Last time I checked you didn’t want me anywhere near your computers, but if that’s the case fine,” I said, taking a few steps into the room.

“I wasn’t asking you!” Scapegrace growled as her body basked in an abyssal black aura. “Get out! Get out! Get out! This is a place of logic and reason, and you don’t belong here!” She said as she shooed me out of the room. “Now, can I get that help?”

Calypto sheepishly pointed his two hooves upward, daintily. “Well… we were in the middle of a conversation.” Calypto coughed.

“Ugh… you guys are useless to me.” Scapegrace stormed back into her den of magical words like science and algorithms.

As she walked away, I turned to Calypto with a smug expression. “See?”

“She likes you,” Calypto said, his audacious grin unphased.

“Where hell do you get that?”

“Well you like her…” Calypto braced himself on the door frame.

“Do not!”

Calypto shrugged. “You’re eyes argue otherwise.”

What? Really? “It is late, and it is not my problem that my adrenaline is making me zero in on anything that moves.”

“Hahaha, that’s your peripheral vision!” Scapegrace chimed in from outside, unexpectedly. Was she listening?! Calypto and I traded strained smiles as sweat rolled down my chin. “Yeah, your probably on edge. Its a defense mechanism. But down worry, I’m gonna try to rig the security systems to guard off these hallways, so we don’t get any rude interruptions,” the mare rattled off as she worked the keyboard.

“G-good work, Scapegrace,uh… keep it up!” I sputtered as Calypto and I traded glances as we confered nonverbally about how close that was.

“You have to watch the signs: when you hit that wall, her heart skipped a beat. She was worried about you.”

“I'd be worried about you if you almost died, that doesn't mean I want to bone you. A little bit of worrying doesn't mean anything,” I whispered furiously.

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step,” Calypto advised quietly. After a short pause he leaned in real close with a the look of a real bastard, “And that first point is brahmin crap, everypony wants to chase Calypto.”

I squinted at Calypto. “Oh yeah? What makes you so sure?”

“Because I'm best pony, and I'm a zebra.” He said it calmly, straight faced, and with no hesitation. I didn't know how he did it, but he turned arrogance into a talent.

“You pretentious shit,” I whispered, snickering. “I don't know, you have kind of a flamboyant look to you, it kind of makes you look like you play to a selective team.”

“It's the peacock's feathers. Mares dig the sarape,” Calypto whispered as he flapped his poncho, accompanied by the ringing of his spurs. “But forget about that, she is waiting for a world of Tumbleweed, and you have to strike while the iron is hot.”

It was actually fascinating watching Scapegrace get lost in her work of cracking the computer. I’d mistaken her for a mouse when I’d first met her, but she had a lot more to her than I’d given her credit for. That still didn't mean I was looking to chase after her. “The iron is not hot,” I differed. “I think you are making things out to be way more than they really are.”

“I'm a zebra. We invented romance. I can not lead you astray. I can just feel it,” he insisted fervently.

“You have a lot of zebra senses...” I doubted.

Calypto shrugged.“I'm a sensational stallion.”

Touche. That was a clever response. Good delivery. I sighed and shook my head. “I not doing this. I can't-”

“-You can.”

“Shut up. I can't-”

“Not with that attitude you can't.”

“I am going to put you in a hole, and then I am going to fling brahmin shit into that hole until it piles up high enough for you to climb out.”

“You have to chase after the mayfly of happiness.”

“I'm a little busy at the moment, trying to blow this place up and all,” I spoke back.

“You can multitask.”

This silly conversation had gone on way longer than it had any right to. “Let's get going,” I said as I started walking up to the threshold of the hallway to the office Scapegrace was working in.

I looked around the room and it was a strange sight to behold. Bookcases packed with books lining every wall, clean, well maintained floors. There was not a single loose paper on the ground. On the desk beside the computer, there was stationary neatly aligned in the corner in front of a filing cabinet, with color-coded tabs poking out of the top. There was an organized row of supplies: ink wells, staplers, a mug filled with quills, a phone wedged into a corner. A mug sat perfectly aligned atop the mantelpiece. On the wall was a cork board that featured every project in the facility organized by some ancient eldritch code or worse. It had nothing overlapping, and every piece was fit perfectly together, edge to edge. Next to the cork board was a calendar and a daily planner. Both were filled to the brim. It was horrifying. I bet in the desks they had something organized alphabetically. On a separate desk joined on the corner of the desk was a neat array of test tubes, beakers, microscopes, and hotplates.

Calypto and I looked at each other.

In an echoing crash, the bookcase came toppling to the ground, books and files scattering across the ground. I rushed to the desk. In a vicious frenzy, I ripped each cabinet from the desk, tossing them back over my head unceremoniously with extreme prejudice. Calypto leaped to the lab table, grasping beaker and test tube alike, and ruthlessly cast them to the ground. He raised his gun to wreak judgment on those unfortunate lab supplies that refused to shatter on impact. We joined back at the desk. Calypto dug his hooves at the ground ravenously, waiting for me to finish pouring water into the quill filled mug upon the mantelpiece. As soon as it was filled, Calypto knocked it over, spilling water all over the desk. We showed no mercy. I let out a mighty battle cry as Calypto reaped his hooves across the desk. There were no survivors.

Scapegrace materialized in the door, frozen up. Her eyes desperately darted around the room in a vain attempt to find anything intact or unturned, and then turned her head towards us, aghast. Pale white, slack jawed, and twitchy-eyed... there were no words to describe her terror.

I pulled my coat into a snug fit against my back as Calypto lit a cigarette. I looked to him with a proud smile, “Our job here is done.”

“By Fuckalodesta, Alicorn Princess of Fucks, what the fuck are you doing?!” Scapegrace said frantically. “You two are insane. As in 'We the jury find the defendant...'” She tried to catch her breath. “I almost had a heart attack.”

“It was so neat it was oppressive,” I said sneering towards corner of the room.

“It was suffocating,” Calypto added, holding the brim of his hat down.

“This was a crime against the wasteland.”

“It had to be done,”

“I was afraid for my life,” I said looking at Scapegrace so she could feel my complete sincerity.

“What is wrong with you?” Scapegrace sent us withering glares.

Calypto and I boiled alive as the relative silence focused that judgement on us. Calypto coughed trying to clear his throat and I dodged the crystal ponies eyes as I kicked at the ground. “The wasteland demands sacrifices…” I said sheepishly. Scapegrace wasn’t buying any of it. “...It was bothering us,” I added as Calypto nodded in fierce, but tacet agreement.

She sighed as she looked over the destruction of the room. Just when I thought I had pissed her off again, she laughed. “Warn me next time, okay?”

With a few keystrokes and an arcing zap of magic from Gracie's hoof to the spell matrix, the security password prompt vaporized, dissolving into the startup interface for the main computer. “I've been meaning to ask: I know why I'm here, but why are you two?” Scapegrace said, turning back away from the computer. She had taken more of a healthy color, although still reserved.

“I have somewhere between six to forty-eight hours to get rid of all the raiders, close up the hole in the sky, and stop some kind of doom-slinging maniac, or my boss will kill me,” I said, tossing my head to the side as I quietly laughed at myself. “You wouldn’t know how to kill an immortal witch, would you? I’m...uh… asking for a friend.” I smiled with faux confidence.

“I don’t know, maybe I could look into it.” Scapegrace giggled at me. “Wow, you’re just... that's amazing. How much do you get paid?”

I leaned against my fridge. “Not enough...”

“Must be rough,” she said giving a charming roll of the eyes.

“It's a labor of love.”

“No kidding?” she said shaking her head, “So your boss just expects you to be some kind of miracle worker?”

“It's one of my marketable skills,” I said as I trotted over to stand beside Scapegrace. Or at least I tried to. The second I got within a meter and a half of the computer, Scapegrace let out an inequine hiss.

I locked eyes with her, trying not to earn any more of her ire. She hissed at me again, motioning for me to back off with her head. As I slowly stepped back, she returned to her cheerful demeanor.

Scapegrace took a deep breath,“You're biting off way more than you can chew. Don't try to bear everything on your shoulders.”

“Besides, there is an arrogant pinecone-headed bitch that has challenged me to a fight, and I'm going to knock her off her high horse,” I said, rearing up and stomping against the ground with a double clap.

At some point in the middle of our ruckus, our eyes had come to rest on Calypto, who was smiling to himself in the corner. His eyes zoomed like lightning, glancing to Scapegrace and then me in a burst of alacrity. “hmm. Don't mind me. Keep going.”

Damn it, Calypto!

“Don't give us that. What are you here for?” Scapegrace asked.

Calypto planted his hooves in the floor, jingling his spurs. “I'm here to bring justice to the wasteland.”

Scapegrace turned to me as sweat dripped down her face and she took on a pale green hue.“Y’know what? Forget what I said about biting off more than you can chew….” she said with a furrowed brow.

“This is what he is normally like. It's why I keep him around,” I added in.

“To think that before I used to believe I was the crazy one...” she said as her shoulders fell. “So, tell me. Do you two even have a plan to accomplish any of this?”

Calypto and I exchanged devious glances. “You could say we have something.” I chuckled to myself. I hurled my fridge out in front of me. I swelled with pride as I was opening our magic jewel box.

“Where in Equestria did you find twel-thirt-thirteen?! THIRTEEN balefire eggs?!” Scapegrace demanded, her aura matted with disbelief. Color washed back in as yellows, oranges, and purples mixed in bizarre intrigue as she leaned in get a better look. “Is that a severed leg?” She asked with disgust.

“That’s not part of the plan, don’t worry about that,” I laughed as I shook my hoof. “Look at the eggs, not the legs.”

Calypto blew a long trail of smoke, “A little white bird showed me a treasure map to find them. We have some friends in high places.”

“With this, we should be able to cause enough damage to topple this place,” I said as I ogled our arsenal. “If the raiders keep coming because they are chasing some kind of treasure in here, then all we have to do is blow up the treasure chest.”

“I hope you know the payload of a couple of balefire eggs on their own isn't nearly enough to break through the tempered arcano-ferric supports that hold up an MAS facility? The high-end wartime laboratories were designed to have fairly high stress resistance, given their affinity for experiments on volatile reactive magical agents on top of the usual government building bomb-proofing protocols,” Scapegrace informed.

Calypto and I turned to each other in shared befuddlement.

“She keeps talking but I just don't know what she's saying...” I whispered to Calypto.

“I've only heard legends of this kind of moonspeak,” he fired back.

“The bombs go boom, the building stays up. The walls are really hard,” Scapegrace sighed as she started tapping away at the terminal keys. She glanced back only for a moment to see the enlightenment wash over us buffoons. “Seriously, that was too much for you? I'm not even getting into the really complicated stuff.”

I raised my hoof in the air, waving it like a lunatic. “Teacher! Teacher! Ms. Grace!”

Scapegrace chuckled as she leaned her head back. She didn't even take a break from typing. “Yes, Tumbleweed?”

“If it is a unicorn facility--”

“-Made by earth ponies.”

“Ah. Nevermind.”

“Well, we can work on that later. There is something I’m looking for,” Scapegrace said as she skipped from page to page on the computer. Calypto and I watched on in silence as she worked her magic. After a pregnant moment of searching, the mare raised an eyebrow as she turned to me. “That’s Midnyte’s leg isn’t it?”

“Yeppers.”

Scapegrace groaned as she continued searching. “You know she was like right here, right? And you didn’t give it to her?”

“I forgot.” I said with a shrug. Scapegrace whirled around to show me just how dumb I sounded. I was fairly used to that look at this point. “There was a lot going on at the time, and I was less than lucid.”

“That poor mare’s leg is going to rot away in your fridge.”

“To be fair, in her current state, four legs would just slow her down. She was trucking pretty well for a tripod.”

“Shut up, I think I found something.”

Scapegrace got deeper into her search as she jumped from window to window on the terminal screen. Her eyes rapidly scanned for information. I didn't think I had ever seen a pony read that fast. Six strange images popped up on the screen. They were labeled as Specimen Zero-Zero all the way through Zero-Five. The shapes were familiar - a six-pointed star, an orange apple, a red lightning bolt, a blue balloon, a purple gemstone, and a pink butterfly - but they were fixed upon golden necklaces of some sort. The edges of the documents were lined with graphs and statistics, as well as detailed reports that looked as if they had been clinically dissected and cross-referenced for possible applications. Visual outlines with cross-sections of equine brains highlighted areas of activity linking them to weird trinkets. Other reports detailed some kind of spell structure blueprints to be inscribed on moving pieces of technology. The crystal mare was downloading it all, but she kept processing away, ravenously questing for something. Scapegrace smiled and hummed as she jumped from file to file, soaking up information. “As I was saying, about your little bombs, that won't be enough to blow up the facility... At least on its own. Although I...” Scapegrace's eyes widened as she found a document on a strange heart carved out of crystal. Specimen Zero-Six: A crystalline heart. A glowing ring of light pulsed through her coat, bursting into an amber corona.

“Where have I seen that before...” I mumbled to myself as I watched that mare stampede over the keyboard like a savage animal.

“Where... Where is it?! Tell me damn it!” She shouted as she grabbed at the edge of the screen with her hooves.

It was all so alien to me. Magic wasn’t something earth ponies focused on. Our knowledge of magic was largely based on how to make other ponies stop using it. Everything else was just natural, so I couldn’t really follow along too well. As I waited, feeling for Scapegrace’s plight, my eyes caught sight of a dorky looking doll on the ground.


I couldn’t help but pick up the dumb looking thing. It had a weird pink earth pony with floofy hair all over the place. She was upside down very seriously searching for something, as she looked under herself. It kinda reminded me of Scapegrace’s current struggle. It said something like “Awareness: It was under E." Clearly, there was something that was under E and she found it, by why make a statue about it? Regardless, it was a stupid looking thing, so dumb in fact that I think I found myself more engaged with the documents on screen.

She opened up to series of emails and documents from the Ministry Mare's personal account.

Project: Harmony

Princess Luna has commissioned a research program on the potential and the inherent capabilities of the magical artifacts that have blessed Equestria.

“No...” Scapegrace whimpered heartbrokenly as she shifted to another document.

Express Permission Granted

Twilight,

Emergency withdrawal of primary specimens 00-05, Elements of Harmony, have been given full permission, authorized for three days in secure containment via Pandora Aegis Containment Unit to be returned and deposited in the Ponyville Ministry of Arcane Science and Technology facility Arcanium vault for further research.



“She insisted on documenting everything, huh? That's a good sign.” Scapegrace glowed hopeful.

Project: Gardens of Equestria

Royal Commission by Princesses Luna of Equestria and Cadence of the Crystal Empire, under the recommendation of Ministry Mare Twilight Sparkle:
The Ponyville Department of Ministry of Arcane Sciences and Technology is hereby ordered to commence research into the possible large-scale eco-restorative applications of Project Harmony Specimens 00-05 (Elements of Harmony), with special focus on reducing Luminescent spell saturation and neutralizing toxic alchemical agents. The main body of the commissioned work is to be conducted in conjunction with research on the enhancement of the desired effects through the megaspell matrix amplification process.

“Cadance... Is this it? Please... Please, please, please, please, please...”

Classified For Your Eyes Only: Labs A2-A4 Suspended Until Further Notice.

Due to unforeseen developments, the biological super threat: Audrey III has been neutralized at the cost of Specimens 00-05. It is a regrettable loss for Equestria, however, with the possibility of Audrey II activating high yield telekinetic megaspells via MAS Megaspell Chambers, it was a sacrifice that could not be avoided. This information is classified and only to be distributed among those with an S-1 security clearance on a need-to-know basis. Project Gardens of Equestria will be downsized, due to lack of specimens. Labs A2-A4 will be dedicated to archaeological research, arcanoforensic study in coordination with the Ministry of Morale, and psychogenic magical research. The Crystal Empire has supplied a new specimen, Specimen 06, the Crystal Heart, to be deposited in the Arcanium vault for the purposes of continuing research.

T.S.

Scapegrace's eyes widened as her light compressed into a little star deep under her coat, ready to burst. “It's here. I think it's here. I don't believe it.” Scapegrace's joy was cut short as she stumbled across another file.

Project: Gardens of Equestria Suspended Indefinitely

“No...” Scapegrace shook her head in betrayed disbelief. “No, not this, not now. I was so close...”

Due to the withdrawal of the Crystal Heart by Princess Cadance of the Crystal Empire, the Arcanium has depleted all specimens for research. All research will be suspended indefinitely. Personnel and resources will be redistributed toward other projects. Research and findings are to be transferred to Stable 13 upon completion, as per request of Apple Bloom of Stable-Tec, for the purpose of practical application.

Scapegrace was stubbornly prying ever deeper into the terminal’s memory, but I could tell she was on the verge of collapse. “Tell me there's more. There has to be. I'll find it.”

Dear Princess Celestia

It has felt like forever since I have written to you, but I still find solace in maintaining the habit. I have fond memories of those days. I have become far too used to this new technology, so you will have to forgive me for typing this out. Even if I don't know where you are right now, and I don't know how it will get to you, I hope you will one day get to read this. Today, I have elected to transfer my work on Project Gardens of Equestria over to new hooves. It pains me to abandon this project, as it has become a personal favorite of mine, but I just know that my attention is needed elsewhere. The work of Gestalt and Mosaic has earned my approval, and I have chosen to promote them to a position where their talents would be better applied. I meant to write “positions”, but it’s hard for me to separate the two in my mind, they are just so tightly synchronized. . In my absence as Head Magus and Director, I've made a decision to bequeath the title to a brilliant psychogenic scientist named Starlight Glimmer. While we have had our differences in the past, I have no doubts about the capabilities and prowess of Starlight. I am selfish, but I want to task her with the mission of reviving Project Gardens of Equestria. While the project has dropped to a standstill, I believe with my whole heart that if there is any mare in the Ministry of Arcane Science and Technology that is capable of salvaging this project, it could not be anypony other than Starlight. It is a difficult task, but it is one that will demonstrate the full extent of my faith in her.

These days I do not get to see my friends too often. Every once in awhile, I sneak away, teleporting to visit Rarity and Applejack, but so often they are busy. I do get to see Fluttershy when we hold conferences on the progress of Megaspell research. I don't even know what Rainbow Dash is doing. If she is going to relax and shirk her ministry duties, she could at least come down to visit more often. Lately, I've been worried about Pinkie Pie. She doesn't feel the same these days. It is almost as if I don't even know her. She has been taking an alchemical stimulant called “Mint-als.” I’ve read up on it, and some of the drug’s commonly used components have been known to have corrosive effects on cognitive function. I think they have something to do with the way she's been acting. She has been rather sporadic... well, more than usual. She gets stressed and runs off spouting things about fate and trying to do crazy things like predict the future, even though we already know that’s impossible, and then the next second I see her bouncing in from the totally opposite direction. The serious issue is that when I talk to her then, she is suspiciously enthusiastic, like she doesn’t have a care in the world, and I try to talk to her about what she was doing or what we were talking about and she simply has no memory of it. I've never seen Pinkie act so manic before. She pretends that she has never taken those drugs in her entire life, lying to my face, even though we are practically family. I don't know her anymore, and it breaks my heart. I can see the damage those drugs are inflicting on her brain. I don't know where you are, Celestia, but wherever you are, please keep watch over Pinkie Pie for me.

Your Faithful Student,

Twilight Sparkle.

That was the final terminal entry. Scapegrace collapsed onto the control panel. Her body shuddered as she tried to stifle the urge to break down and cry. “I risked everything for nothing...” she mumbled as she tightened the cocoon she made with her hooves. “... I should have expected this would happen, but I didn't want to believe it.”

“HA!” I shouted as I put my hoof down on the ragged bloody pocket book. Flipping through tabs, I had found it coincidentally underneath a big letter “E”. Well what do you know? “Today, I found myself recipient of curious gift.” I paused to clear my throat as I prepared to read aloud in a boisterous voice.

“Damn it, Tumbleweed...” Scapegrace whimpered

“‘A cadre of red-eyed ponies, showing biomorphed features such as unusual horns forming at the temples and mandible, came to my demesne... no doubt on behalf of the mare with the ouroboros mark,’” I read, taking interest at the mention of Hexerai.

“I said shut up!” Scapegrace murmured.

“Deal with it, Gracie!” I cut in, segueing right back into reciting, “‘I never thought I would find my hooves wrapped around the mythic Crystal Heart.’”

The wallowing blue undertone infecting her coat began to melt away, rapidly climbing up the color spectrum. She really was a mood ring.

“'I can only imagine the lengths of skulduggery and treason that were required to bring this treat to me. It has been bathed in criminality, a blood diamond for a heart. I do not quarrel over loyalty, and I care not about how, now that such a critical artifact has come into my grasp. I don't really care. I have no sympathies for the Crystal Empire, those impotent cowards. As expected, there is a give and take: Hexerai demands of me certain services. She knows that no inspection or search would ever reveal that which I have hidden. They are hidden from time, and space, and fate. I wonder what kind of pact she must have made to discover my talents. Her request is that I smuggle away the Malleus Maleficarum. It is a dreaded artifact, but one that I will happily embrace. Between the heart and the hammer, my research will surely be complete,’” I read all in one big chunk; my tongue had dried out just from talking so long. I laughed to myself. “Maleficarum? More like Mareficarum, am I right?”

“Where did you find that?” Scapegrace asked. She hobbled in my direction, not unlike a zombie pony.

“I found the director’s note book. It was a good read, so I kept onto it,” I said, looking up from the book that was perched upon my fridge.

I could see the hope and life slowly flush back into her. “Can I see that?”

“Of course. Knock yourself out.”

Scapegrace lost herself in the pages of the book.

The sound of gunfire erupted through the hallway. My eyes darted towards the noise, only to see Calypto wrapped around the corner.

“It's fine, I've got this under control,” Calypto said.

“Thanks Calypto...” I chuckled. “Don't waste all of your ammo.”

“Yea, yeah...”

I found myself oddly alone between the two of them. I didn't have much to do but read the letter that was lit up across the giant screen.

“Y'know, this Twilight Sparkle seems to have a very different idea of how things were going down in this facility,” I bantered realizing I had nopony to talk to. I sighed. “Hehe... Mint-als, huh? That's what I'm on right now.”


Soon enough Scapegrace started chattering. “It's here...It's actually here. There is a map and everything...”

Tears began to pour down her face. Her body seized up with every breath.

Calypto slunk his head into the room, leaning back so I could see him raise his eyebrow beneath his hat. “I step away for a minute... and this happens.” The zebra bastard cocked his head to the side. “The girl's crying. Damn it, Tumbleweed. What did you do?”

“I don't know!” I said pulling back the hair in my mane with hoof. “I didn’t do anything.”

Scapegrace pushed straight through me, knocking me over in her stride as she dove back into the terminal.

“Well, you must have done something,” Calypto said. He shook his head at me. “Whatever you did, stop doing it. These are not good signs, Tumbleweed.”

“I don't know what I did!”

“Sounds like something you need to figure out.”

“It's not my fault!” I squealed as I whirled my head from side to side.

Scapegrace pulled the third memory talisman from the terminal, coated in shimmering light. From her joyful smile emanated a blossoming confidence.

“Good job Tumbleweed. Keep it up.” Calypto patted my shoulder in approval.

“Keep what up?”

“Whatever you’re doing, keep doing it.”

“What am I doing?!” I squinted as I thought about it. Today had been a series of very interesting decisions, many of them not the smartest.

“Well, whatever it is, it's working.”

Scapegrace fell into a snickering mess on the ground.

“Damn it, Tumbleweed!” Calypto interjected. “Look what you did. The lady is falling apart.”

“Stop it. Stop it, stop it, stop it,” Scapegrace pleaded from the ground.

“Stop what?!” I demanded.

Scapegrace took a moment to pull herself together. “My word, you two are a catty bunch.” The crystal pony sighed.

“So what exactly did you need that for?” I asked leaning over towards her.

The mare gave a sheepish look. “Let's just say that it is very important. Forgive me, but that is all I can really say about it....”

“That's alright. I won't pry,” I nodded. “By the way, I found a commorative trophy to honor use as the most frantic intellectual dumpster diver I’ve ever met.” I said as I presented the Pink pony statuette.

Scapegrace’s reeled back as she looked at the thing. “You should keep that. Those things are said to be powerful charms” she said as she took on a fascination with the thing.

I felt a little insulted at the suggestion. “Do I look like I play with dolls to you?”

“I could see it,” Calypto said abandoning me.

“Probably.” Scapegrace smiled as I groaned a little bit. “Besides, they are valuable in certain circles.”


I stopped listening at the word ‘valuable,’ stuff the figure into my jacket. “That was all you had to say.” I grinned looking back at them. Things were looking up. We had a plan and everything. Wait! No, we didn’t! “Shit! I just remembered! We still don't have a plan!” I fritzed, putting my hooves to my temples. “Alright, so what if we can't normally blow up the facility. I can feel out the cracks and structural weaknesses, and we can exploit them one by one.”

“Have you gone completely insane? It’s a war out there, there’s something even more horrible lurking down here, you’ve earned a cutie mark for attracting dangers, you can barely stand from the injuries, and you’re going to scamper around the facility with a daisy chain of powerful explosives dangling around your neck, tapping at the walls to see if they’ll be likely to collapse on you? You're going to die!” Scapegrace remarked in concern.

“It's the best plan I've got,” I said, pulling my fridge back onto my shoulder. “Doing anything out there is going to get me killed, so I might as well just get going.”

“Hey, I'm not saying it's not dangerous, I'm just saying that if we are going to live dangerously, we should be smart about it,” Scapegrace said, walking up to me with a cocky grin.

It knocked my ass back into taking a seat. Pointing my hoof back and forth, I found myself in a pleasant confusion, “Did she just… ?”

I think I swooned a little. Shit! Stop it! I couldn't have my head do this to me.

“If the balefire eggs are too weak to deal damage, how do you suppose we do this smart?” Calypto asked as he hobbled over on his bad leg.

“The balefire eggs on their own aren't nearly powerful enough, but they are so full of volatile magic they are practically solidified spells... and there is a megaspell chamber down the hall,” Scapegrace said with a cheeky enthusiasm.

“I think we are understaffed to make anything of a megaspell chamber,” Calypto said as he started to check through his autoloaders.

“We don't need ponies. I've learned a lot about megaspells and the inner workings of magic. I've pretty much been studying all my life for this,” Scapegrace said as she returned to the computer. A few keystrokes and she was able to bring up a map and a diagram of the megaspell chamber. “Balefire eggs are capable of being used as spells on their own. I can rig several of them up to the spell structures of the chamber.”

“Will that really work?” Calypto said as he inspected the cylinders of his revolvers. “Be effective, I mean...”

“We have one third of a balefire bomb. Hell yeah it is going to work!” Scapegrace cheered. “So, what do you think, Tumbleweed?”

“Did she... I don't know... I think she did...Did she really? I can't believe she did, but I maybe think she did...”

“Tumbleweed!”

“Wha-Yes! I agree!” I insisted as I broke out of my trance.

“I don't really believe you,” Scapegrace squinted at me.

“I was paying attention...” I tried to keep a brave face.

“Alright, fine, fine,” Scapegrace said with closed eyes. “To think I'm this close... This is a miracle.” She smiled, but soon enough it melted away into a heap of anxious slag. “We still have to figure out how to get out....” she whimpered.

“We should get moving,” I said. “We've wasted more than enough time.”

“That is what we do in the wasteland,” Calypto jested.

“So, do you want me to run you through the plan one more time while we move... in case you missed anything.” Scapegrace chided.

“Yes, please!” I said, cantering towards the exit.

The faint jingle of spurs caught my ear. “High ho, Silver,” Calypto called out with a sadistic glee.

“I am going to rip that broken leg of yours and shove it so far down your throat that the spur comes out your ass!” I ran back to scoop Calypto up as we made our exit.

*** *** ***

Tick tock, baby. Tick, tick, tock. We had gotten ourselves crammed in equipment storage; with all the junk lying around, I was starting to feel more at home.

“Are you guys in a band or something?” I jested as a mare in nothing but jet black adornments came charging at me. Somewhere, under all that makeup, I was sure that there was a pony… somewhere. She was angry, shrieking like a banshee, and with the fiercest eyebrows I had ever seen. She was touched by a mascara goddess or something for that shit not to run. Her hoof seemed to dislocate as she swung it like a whip.

I dodged back into a little alcove behind a desk in the storage room, kicking over a bundle of steel bars that had been leaned up against the wall, all of it clattering down in her way. She charged through all the same. I intercepted, stomping down all of my weight onto one of the falling poles, snuffing out her advance as I pinned her beneath the pipe. Her hoof whirred with mechanical servos, hissing as it bent out of shape and a jagged edged teeth emerged from the hoof. The hoof coiled around the bar and shredded it to pieces. Vicious. Which was great for me... The bar slipped under her hoof as she sprung forward.

I never had so much dexterity in a fight before, but like it was rote action, my hoof traced down the pole and caught the edge with my horseshoe as I ducked under cyber-raider’s hoof as it swept harmlessly over my head. I stepped deep with my kick. The raider didn’t see it coming as the bar slipped under her defenses, spearing her through, just under the neck. The magic trick left her stunned in place as she gasped trying figure out why it was so hard to breath. I snaked the back end of the pole under one of her hooves. Pinned between her bleeding neck and the noncybernetic hoof I was going to break, I made myself a tight little death handle, and with a wrenching twist, a torque, and some jump, I convinced her to throw herself onto the table. She groaned as she rolled on the cabinet.

“Cause I think you should try forming a band, I whispered. Where did that technique come from? I didn’t know, but everything felt so simple. Everything was becoming my new favorite technique, I felt great.

A jet of flames shot out from a flamethrower built into the mask on a raider galloping towards me, nearly singeing me to a crisp as I vaulted over the cabinet. I ripped the bar out from the goth mare as I dove under cover. I poked out of cover to send it spinning towards a bastard with flamethrowers poking out of his face parts. It stabbed in through the side of the tank. Almost in a precise kind of way. Kaboom. What a rush... Fighting hoof to hoof always shook me to the core. There was never a time I couldn't feel the weight of another's life in combat, but I wasn't used to it feeling this light…. It was perfect. I felt incredible. Like a dance across a dream...

The maimed, flame-tailed raider still picked himself off the ground, refusing to die as he shambled towards Scapegrace. The singed survivor fumbled back and forth with a shotgun before dashing it across the ground as the raider lacked the motor skills to put shells into chambers. With a mangled knife the brute towered over the shaken crystal pony. Scapegrace rolled about, blinded by the a tongue of fire that went in her eyes.

“Nitebrite! Watch out!” I called out as the derelict raider reared up.

You will watch your friends die.

The knife swung down as a shiver ran down my back.

By a fine hair's breadth Scapegrace dodged the blade’s whistling descent, her head grazed by the side of the dagger. She slipped to the side and leapt for the pile of shotgun shells. Without a gun or barrel, she made her own hoof into a chamber.

Ga-kow!

Scapegrace scrambled away as her bloody, cracking hoof began to piece itself back together.

The fervent howls of a bounding raider in its natural habitat broke me out of that intoxicating reverie. From behind, another raider, looking as gothic as a fool with a vendetta against happy colors, came up charging with a pistoning hoof-mounted piledriver. I grabbed the mare on the table and wrenched her about by her revving cybernetic appendage. Mid-throw, the mare cried a bitter farewell as the grafting on her shoulder tore apart, one bloody bolt after another. The mare crashed full sail into the approaching bastard in glorious collision. I was left grinning, still holding onto the bloody metal ponyhoof.

When one tried to get back up, I sent the metal hoof spinning into his head. For the first time tonight, I was on fire in the least literal way possible. Stepping on top of them and pinning them down, I could see the impetus pushing them deep within. It was all or nothing to them. They were desperate dogs. Still, how come there were so damn many of them on my back?

“Calypto?” I called out as I turned to see him crouched behind an overturned desk, gritting his teeth as he intermittently glared at raiders. He wasn't shooting! That son of a bitch! What was he thinking?

I grabbed the two dazed and confused raiders by the neck as I dove behind a cabinet adjacent to Calypto's. Just as I had, some other raider with a pair of oversized miniguns began raining bullets everywhere.

“Hey, Topcat,” I said looking away to watch the minigun kick up glass, cement and other detritus as it carved across the room.

“Roadkil,” Calypto replied as he lit up a cigarette with a disgruntled look stuck on his face.

I wrangled the two bloodied raiders as they wriggled in my grasp. “Lookie right here. I brought you some things.” I pulled the raiders forward by their necks. They had ultimately lost the fight in them. “They are the ponies you forgot to shoot. Why is that? Wanna fill me in, champ?”

Calypto breathed a cloud of smoke as he sulked, “I'm out of ammo.”

“I hate to say I told you so...” I said with a grin.

Calypto fired a glare towards me.

“But I told you so,” I said, my grin growing more sinister.

“Tch!” Calypto glanced away.

I turned to the quivering raider in my grip and whispered, “I told him so!”

“Why don't you go get yourself shot? Take a walk around. The ventilation would be good for your head,” Calypto sneered.

“Would, but I guess I'll need help from my new friends...” I pulled the two raiders up at that moment. When one started to writhe violently, I slammed their heads together. “At least they know not to waste bullets.”

“Looks like that worked well for them.” Calypto gritted his teeth. “And I did not waste bullets.”

“Oh yeah?” I raised an eyebrow.

That zebra looked at me dead in the eyes with an unwavering resolve. There was a pause in the gunfire. “I used them.”

I groaned as I rolled my eyes. I looked at one of the raiders, “Can you believe what I have to put up with?”

“Fucking Shitface-” the female raider muttered as she swung her forehoof with a blade on it at me. I repositioned myself to sit on top of the power-hoofed raider while I choked out the three-legged mare.

“If you are going to curse at me, be more creative. I don't take no tomblethumping goggleshit,” I said to the raider as I tightened my grip. Looking back to Calypto, I sighed. I sifted through the raider's pack with one hoof and scooped a hoofful of bullets. Big bullets, little bullets, some with lots of bullet buddies, banded together... They all looked like bullets to me. I flung them at Calypto. “There. Bullets. Can you please do something about 'spin-cycle' up there?” Calypto was not amused.


The bullets fell about the ground. “You have no idea how guns work, do you?” Calypto accused accurately.

“What do you want now? You ran out of bullets, so I gave you bullets. What's the hold up, champ? Lock and load!” I said as I struggled to maintain my grasp over both raiders. The powerhoofer down below was thrashing about, but I choked him between my legs.

Calypto pulled the cigarette out of his mouth as he put a hoof out towards me.“Bullets need to have the right caliber and craft to go with each gun. They aren't interchangeable.”

“‘Wah, Wah, Wah, I don't have my fancy premium bullets for my fancy schmancy gun. Boohoo hoo.’”

“If I could shoot them with my gun, I would,” the zebra said as he squinted at me. “I swear, you’re the first thing I’m gonna shoot.”

“Hey, that is less than nice.”

Calypto threw a pile of bullets back towards me. “Why don't you try to shoot yourself with random bullets, and I get to laugh you?”

“Fine, I get it! Why not use somepony else's gun!” I threw a hoof up into the air. I proceeded to slam that hoof back down into the face of the three-legged bitch. How the hell was she still alive? What a trooper!

“I like my guns. I'm not using no antique ballistic throwaway piece a raider wiped his balls with,” Calypto complained.

The rain of bullets suddenly stopped as Scapegrace pounced from behind the muscle packed bruiser. With the long crystalline blade she’d shaped her hoof into, she sliced his neck and began hacking apart the bite-trigger apparatus of the battle saddle.

“Since when was she better at this than us?” Calypto questioned as his hat fell askew against his head. He took a long drag of his cigarette.



“Yeah, we should probably get moving.” I said as I laid the two bloody, black-eyed raiders against the ground to nap. “So what kind of bullets do you need?”

Before Calypto speak, a unicorn with a collection of four floating revolvers bucked into the room.

“That kind,” Calypto posited nonchalantly.

“No problem, I got this.” I reached into my pack to pull out one pearly white sphere. Bane of unicorns! Unicorn grenade go! “Grenade!” I shouted as I tossed the orb behind me.

Hook, line and sinker. Unicorns are so simple.

-----oooOOOooo

The raider found herself ripped from her body and put into a new one. All the craze and rampage had been reined in and locked away. What would those ponies do if the raider didn't kill them? They would never know. Now, she found herself forced into a grinning, chipper disposition by the wandering mare she was woefully imprisoned in.

It was dark. The winding hall was lined with ancient stone. Shadows curved around the carvings on the walls; the only light provided was from a ring of small candles on the makeshift candelabra the pony held. The raider could feel the pony suppressing an intense urge within her legs. Was it nerves? Even in the dark, they somehow didn't feel that was the case.

“Hellooooooo~” the pony called out in a sing song voice as she lifted the cake into the air for better lighting. “Anypony in- wha-” the pony jolted.

The peppermint stick fell out of her mouth as she tried to speak. “Drat!” Covered in dirt... she contemplated the risks, but some part of her resigned to the fact that her peppermint belonged to the temple now. The pony smiled, because, clearly, the temple would enjoy it.

“Hey! Hello! Hi... How you doing? Helloooo? Hellooooo!” the pony kept rattling off greetings right and left. It was dark and she didn't know who she was looking for or where they would be. What she did know, however, was that they were going to have the life greeted out of them and feel truly appreciated. She would befriend them so hard that they might die, but not actually die because that would be terrible and they have so much to live for with good friends like her who care about them. Obviously! It was a golden balance that brought forth her powerful aura. Maintaining that radiant friendship required her to greet every pony, thing and place, high and low.

Needless to say, the unfortunate raider locked inside was experiencing cabin fever.

As the cake-bearing mare continued to assault the caverns with salutations that echoed down the halls, the tunnel opened up into a larger atrium. “Que pasa. Waazzaaaa....” the mare trailed off as she saw a cloaked figure embraced by a strange cloud of mist that poured out from ornate gargoyles on the walls, and after a moment, the mare's tongue receded back into her mouth. Perched in the crook of the figure’s hoof was a brilliant bird of fire, a phoenix. The mare's eyes darted around quickly to take in the new environment, from the star-esque lights that shimmered from the ceiling to the golden dais that the cloaked pony loomed over, as her jaw hung open. There were icons on the walls that she didn't recognize, which were very alluring, but none of that mattered right now. She was no longer alone. The pony inside of her could feel her trembling. The cake mare just followed her nature...

“uh... Hi!” The mare found herself at odds with her circumstances. She could not wave with her right hoof, and if she reared up to wave with her left, it might compromise the cake, and she could not afford to suffer a cake emergency… not since that day. Even with the sense of impropriety burning her up inside, she knew she would have to make that sacrifice for the greater baked good. “I hope you like Birthday Cake, because Happy Birthday, I brought you a cake!”

The white muzzle jutting out from hood smiled. “I'm glad you’re here, Pinkie Pie,” the cloaked figure said as she pulled back her hood. A familiar flowing mane of green, magenta, and blue billowed out, looking rather worse for wear. It had been so weird to see her long horn barren of its crown, and the circles beneath the tall mare's eyes were not befitting of her.

Pinkie's eyes dashed frantically back and forth between Princess Celestia and her cake. No matter how she looked at it, there weren't nearly enough candles. “If I-... I just-... I'm gonna need a bigger cake!”

Before Pinkie could gallop away, Celestia's golden telekinetic cloud reached out to catch the pink pony. “Hold it. I need to speak with you.”

“Just let me go, I'll be really quick! I'll get you a big cake, you won't regret it! Pinkie promise,” Pinkie Pie urged as she strained herself against the intense magical barrier of a princess.

Celestia realized that pony was going to strangle herself trying to get another cake. Celestia dropped her magic tether and tackled the pony. “It's not my Birthday.”

“Yes, it is!” Pinkie Pie stopped wriggling. “Wait… no, it’s not. I should know that.” The mare furrowed her brow in intrigue. “Then, who’s birthday is it?”

“It was a ruse, Pinkie. This was the best way I knew to get into contact with you.”

“I had no idea.” Pinkie pie froze in place. “Is it my birthday? I hope it isn’t my birthday. I’ve forgetten that way too many times,” The pony rambled as she saw Celestia raise an eyebrow at her. “I haven’t even gotten a present for myself…”

Celestia continued to gaze at her.

“Right!” Pinkie exclaimed. “Noponies party. Just a ruse. Got it.” Pinkie said with a stealthy hoof pump in celebration. Pinkie pulled herself up as Celestia levitated the cake onto the table. “I guess I don't need that cake, huh?”

Celestia glanced away from Pinkie to see the phoenix hunched up over the cake. “I wouldn't worry about it.”

Pinkie picked herself off the ground. “It has been a long time, Princess Celestia. Nopony has seen you in forever.”

“No need for formalities, Pinkie. I'm no longer Princess, and I doubt that I will become Princess again.”

As dense as the host pony had been, a wave of grim realization had washed over her. Pinkie gazed down at the ground. “It...it must have been hard for you, your hi--erp...I… I... I know that Little Horn must have been a real shock to you... all those foals, you couldn't have known.”

Celestia gave a bitter chuckle. “That is where you are wrong.” Celestia grit her teeth. “It wasn't supposed to happen...” Celestia levitated out a mug that had been hidden in the curling fog. As Celestia brought it to her lips, Pinkie could read the words on the side. I don't make mistakes, You're just wrong! “And that's why I've called you here today.” Celestia's eyes glanced from side to side, then back to Pinkie. She raised her mug to Pinkie, “...Coffee?”

“Everypony I've ever known has told me that I am not allowed to have coffee ever.”

Celestia started pouring a mug for Pinkie. “Better get used to it, because you're going to be drinking this until your death or the end of the world.” Celestia shrugged. “Whichever comes first.”

“End of the world?”

“I'll start you on decaf.”

“So, if the reason you called me here was...” Pinkie's eyes widened with her audible gasp. “Oh my you… Was I supposed to stop Littlehorn? Was Littlehorn my fault? I'm so sorry, it'll never happen again.”

Celestia passed Pinkie the mug. “It's not your fault, but neither is it my fault alone... somepony has been tampering with fate and it happened on my watch.”

“That seems kinda... I don't know. I don't know much about fate and watches and all that, but I know ponies. I know lots of ponies. Do you know their birthday?” Pinkie touched her tongue down to the steaming coffee for a moment, but it still burned her. “Ow!...I'm just saying it might narrow things down.” Pinkie looked toward Celestia, who was trying to process the question. “Wait! Are you saying you can see the future?”

“You make some interesting jumps in logic, but you are correct. How do you do that?”

“I can just feel it.”

Celestia nodded her head. With the spark of her horn, the walls of the cave faded away, opening up to a sea of stars. The carvings on the wall now were suspended into the sky. One large star was shining brighter than the rest. “I've had my empire for one thousand year. Peace for so long without oppression does not happen naturally. I've owed my power to the sun and stars. My pact with the sun has given me the gift of foresight.”

“Is that why you keep sending Twilight and the rest of us to go fight for the fate of Equestria without really caring about our safety and well-being? I'd had always kinda wondered about that.”

Celestia shrugged. “More or less...”

For once, the pink mare grimaced. “I don't like that. I want to be free to make my own choices.”

“And I've let you and every other citizen of Equestria make them. I've worked in nudging here and there to avoid conflicts. I never believed in absolute control. If Discord could be managed without him disrupting everything, I would have gladly kept even him around.” Celestia walked out towards a star and held it in her hooves. “I've learned a lot from my experiences. The ponies of Equestria have taught me much about how to govern benevolently. I had grown confident in my abilities and had neglected my oracle duties in the past years.”

Pinkie slithered across the ground in wonder of the stars around her. She grabbed a pair of stars and forced them together. As they got close to one and another they spiraled in the gravity of each other, then fused together into a brighter star. “So, when Twilight kept mentioning how the stars aided in Nightmare Moon’s escape...”

“I may have had a hoof in that...” Celestia laughed. “She is my sister.” Celestia shook her head. Pulling the star apart, the light stretched out to reveal a vision of destruction. A powerful centaurish creature laying waste to the land.

“Tirek?” Pinkie raised her eyebrow. “April 14th.” She said squinting. “So he's behind all of this?”

“Pfft, Tirek's a small fry. He is just one of many problems that have been lined up, one after another.” Celestia pulled another star apart, revealing a white pony with an Ouroboros on her flank. The image flickered and burned as it obscured the face of the pony. The white mare turned as if to look at Celestia, then Pinkie Pie. The mare smirked. “Time is a river, and fate is a tapestry. This is the pony I believe is to blame.”

“Who is that?” Pinkie leaned in, her interest perked at the thought of somepony she didn’t know. Whoever they were, they were going to be friends.

“A product of an ancient divide, older than I, let live too long. I would have hoped she had learned to love the world, but something changed her.” Celestia looked back to Pinkie. “The world is going to be destroyed. I not sure if I can fix it, but I'm going to try. That's why I need your help.”

“My help?” Pinkie put a hoof to her chest, trying to hold her nervous energy in manually. “How am I supposed to help? Are you crazy?”

“Pinkie, you have a gift.”

Pinkie's eyes widened as she put her hooves to her head. “I DIDN'T BRING A GIFT!” She shouted. She ran out into the nebulous abyss, slamming headfirst into a wall she had thought didn't exist anymore.

“It's not my Birthday, Pinkie. We've been over this,” Celestia said as she cut out a slice of cake.

“Whoops. I forgot. I was in the zone earlier.” Pinkie picked herself off the ground as she massaged the lump on her head. “...but what would you want me for? My pinkie sense is only good for vague, immediate events.”

“Indeed, and that is why I must take you under my wing,” Celestia said taking a pause between eating cake and washing it down with coffee. “I am going to train you the best I can with the spells and tools I have available. Still, you won't be able to become skilled enough at divining or fateweaving in time to handle everything I need you to handle.”

“Fateweaving and divining sound like Rarity things,” Pinkie said as she took a slice of cake.

“Different kind of weaving, divine of a different sort, Pinkie.”

“I have a question.” Pinkie frowned. “Why me?” She leaned on the table. “Well, I know why me, but why not Twilight? She is good with this kind of magical world saving stuff, and she has worked with you for a long time.” Pinkie looked down at her coffee and then up at Celestia. “Twilight misses you sosososo much.”

“Twilight cannot handle this task.” Celestia sighed. “She wouldn't take to it. I've taught her too well.” The air grew colder as Celestia spoke. “She would question everything I asked of her based on her lessons, and she would turn on me.”

Pinkie trembled under the gravitas of Celestia’s voice. “What do you mean?”

“I will not sugarcoat it. You will have to do terrible things in the name of defending this world. You may have to lie, you may have to be cruel. If we must betray, then we have no choice. Most of all, we cannot give any quarter to our enemy.” Pinkie saw Celestia’s expression harden, and all the earlier tenderness and humor vanish from her eyes - they now were the harsh eyes of a warrior. “All you need is courage and the will to keep going. That is laughter. Why did I choose you? Because you are open-minded. We may need to do awful things, but I know you will do it to protect as many as you can.”

“I don't know if I can. It's so much responsibility...”

“My kingdom is endangered. I will not run away from this fight. Of the elements of harmony, you remind me the most of myself. I could not become sovereign without friendship. I know that it will pain you, but when you can see into time and fate, it changes how you see things. It will give you perspective. Out there, there is always hope - hope that somepony will change for the better, that the good will be rewarded, and dreams fulfilled. When you gaze from the other side, it changes your perspective. Everypony lives and dies. You can only make their lives worth living. When you gaze into time, I think you will agree. We have to fight for those past, present, and future.” Celestia placed a small, wallet-sized tin case onto the table. “So…” she started as she pushed the tin labeled ‘Mint-als,’ towards Pinkie. “Are you willing to fight for your friends?”

--------------------------------------oooOOOooo-------------------------------------

Ch5 p2: What Goes Around...

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The winding halls seemed to go on and on, forever, but nothing ever felt familiar. Every outlet was a new bed of mayhem. The dead bulging and scraping at the ground. We ran through the tunnels, our clattering hooves keeping time with a ticking clock in our heads. Burning the candle at both ends, we raced down the halls with some distorted sense of hope. The deck was loaded, full to bursting, we were hoping with a little spark we could let it go with a boom.

I knew where to go, or at least I thought did. Shadows and flickering lights dancing on the edges of my vision. Fatigue was biting at my neck. The space beyond seemed to shift and change as it pleased in the penumbra of our vision. Frantically, I checked back, hoping my friends were still there. This bloody night had run a little too long and our breaths were growing heavier by the minute. Twisted shadows of the dead creeped in from the winding claw-like tunnels of the labyrinth, each one a broken dream rising from corpse. An ambition betrayed, every one of 'em. Bulging out of armor, twisting out of control, and evolving with every moment. They were faster, more dexterous, and stronger.

It was an infestation. Every turn, every hall, they were crawling in stagnant pools of blood. We picked up the pace as we rounded the equipment maintenance halls. As the night dragged on, as more ponies died, more of these things showed up. It was a losing battle I wasn't interesting in staying for. We didn't have time to waste on these assholes. This was an accident waiting to happen. Why couldn’t we just cut it quits while we were ahead? Who cared about some stupid artifact? ...but that would just prove Hexerai right.

Against the trembling fear of this deathtrap claiming my friends and myself should any of us slip up, there was one, solitary demon feeding me the strength to keep going... a singular desire rebuffing and echoing violently through my mind, “Prove her wrong”.

“Are we really doing this?” I called out as we passed by the staircase to the upper level. Scapegrace didn't answer. “Hey!” I yelled again, but she didn't even turn to look at me.

“Ha. She ignored you.” Calypto laughed from my back. “Looks like the missy grew a pair. What happened to yours?.”

“Should I make it a point to find out if you are striped on the inside or are you gonna shut up?” I groaned. Calypto smiled as he pointed after Scapegrace as her clacking hooves carried her around the corner. I chased after her at full gallop.

One screw up. That’s all it would take.

“Alright! Hold Up!” I planted my hooves in the ground as I yanked her tail.

Scapegrace skidded to a stop. “Argh! What?!” she snapped with a caustic venom that I wasn't used to.

“I'm calling this one.” I walked up to her as I scanned the halls. I had to keep on guard. This was a window for escape, and it might not be there if something came up from behind. “We're running the clock on that spell, and I don't want to figure out what happens on the other side with those undead dorks. The exit is right there.” As I spoke Scapegrace's eyes avoided mine.

Scapegrace had no color or light emanating from her, just as before. She looked on ahead. She flicked her tail as she took a breath. “You can go. I won't force you to stay with me.”

“What? No! Wait--” With that, she started to gallop down the hall. “Damn it!” I kicked the ground to chase her. “This is not the kind of attitude I need from her right now!” I grumbled to Calypto.

“What can you do? I don't think she wants to listen to you,” he said back as he scratched at his chin.

“Well, listening was what she was so damn good at before,” I cursed. “She's gonna get herself killed.”

“Whatever you do, do it. I'll follow,” Calypto said with a snide grin and small tap of his spurs.

“I should kick you off for that. Passengers don't get to talk about 'following',” I grumbled as I pursued the mare down the corridor. “Scapegrace!” I called out. Fuck. I needed to keep an eye on her. “Don't be brash!” I yelled as I lined up with her.

“What? Does it make you jealous?” Her voice was weak as she spoke. I could barely hear her, but I could tell she was trembling. “Thanks, I needed that. Really, if you can tell me to be careful then anything is possible,” she said as she picked up the speed. Her coat shimmered slightly. She was reworking her own anatomy as she ran.

“What goes around comes around!” Calypto laughed again. “That sting? We call that, Karma. You’re gonna feel that in the next life.”

“I hope your stripes fall off,” I muttered as I chased after the crystal mare. I lost sight her for a moment, then again. I had to pick up speed. “How important is this thing? Is it worth dying?”

“I'm sorry...” Scapegrace yelled out between gasps. “...but, please. Just shut up!”

“If you keep this up, she is going to think you're clingy,” Calypto quipped from his perch.

“The all mares in my life are crazy, but I'm not going to let this one go get herself killed.” As I said it, I stumbled on some uneven flooring and the remains of a dislodged vent that laid scattered across the ground.

“Still clingy...”

“Shut up.”

“You're chasing mares. This should be fun for you.”

“Excuse me, do you want to walk or something?”

I picked myself up and climbed over the vent. “Well, I guess that's one way to look at it,” I muttered as I bounded off. I couldn't see her anymore, but I knew where she was going. There was only one route she could be taking. I just had to get there before something happened.

“Scapegra--” I called out when I turned the corner, only to find her standing in front of a grisly conspiracy of nightmares. She was shaking as she stumbled backwards. I paced up beside her, but when I tried to turn her around, she resisted my hoof. Damn it, why in the hell couldn't she be consistent when I needed her to be? “I don't want to see you get yourself killed. We have to know when to cut our losses.”

“You don't understand. My life isn't important. I don't have a choice,” she said as her coat began to bristle and morph. It seemed to glaze over, forming a tough exterior with rigged crests. Tears gushed down her cheeks as she trembled. She spoke in a weak voice, “I have to...”

She knocked my hoof away as she broke into a gallop. I tried to grab her tail, but she kicked me in the face.

“Nothing else matters! I have to. I [i[need to!” she screamed.

It was like watching her dive right into the jaws of death. There were countless ghasts and they morphed to accept her, with boney blades and claws. She didn't care about dodging, she just charged in.

“You were supposed to be the one with the good ideas!” I charged. She forced my hoof. If I died, that just proved Hexy wrong. It was like a rolling ocean. I had to keep up. Through a road of shattered glasses I charged towards the mare like a lighthouse in the dark. From the shadowy windows the twisting monsters crawled in as I breached the herd. Sharp blades slashed in from where I couldn't see. I reeled my head around the blades as best I could, just trying to make sure it stayed attached to my neck. As the attacks came in I slipped around them and parried them, but every time I lost distance as Scapegrace became harder and harder to see. I needed to take faith in prophecy and keep moving. Things latched on and cut deep. On my hooves, on my stomach, on my neck. I had to keep going. I had some armor, which saved me from being entirely eviscerated. Each step got harder and heavier. The creatures were wrenching me back. Soon I was too entangled to move forward and all I could do was swat at them with my hooves to keep them from crawling all over me.

Suddenly, Calypto threw an ashy-looking sphere down into the crowd. It burst into a choking smoke and a sensation hit me with all the subtle grace of a two-hundred ton freight train. “Ughck! That smell is rank! And it's like it’s coating my mouth and my face and everything.” The disgusting ashen sooty residue clung to everything and lingered in the air. The flesh of the horrors started to wither and writhe in their shells as they withdrew in what almost looked like disgust.

“What the hell did you do, Calypto?” I coughed as I picked myself up through the mass of heavy flesh.

“Incense bomb. It will ward them off.”

“Ullghck! It's like it’s violating my eyes and my nose and my mouth. Bleahhh!” I groaned as I detached the embedded claws as I crawled forward.

“It elevates the spirit and makes us more aware of higher things.”

“Euyaoch, the only... thing this is making me more a-...ware of, is that you just let out the ethereal equivalent of fart.”

“Incense calms the mind and wards off evil.”

“Do I look calm to you?!”

“It suspends their essence and it disperses the coils that anchor spirits of possession.”

“It went in through my lungs straight into my soul. I'm gonna need to wash for days. This stuff better work.”

“Did your tribe's shaman tell you your totem was a vending machine or something, or do you just not know about respect? Trust me. It wards them off.”

I looked around to see all the ghasts curling and falling on top of each other, some clawing at their own skin to try to tear off the terrible odor. Coughing, I picked myself up. I wavered back and forth as it hurt a lot to move. “Scapegrace... did she get through?” My heart dropped as I saw a wet trail of fresh blood leading down the hall.

An echoing crash from behind us showed that the droves of abominations were melding together. It was muscular and downright creepy, and more than that, unlike all the other nightmare golems, it looked pissed. “I'm thinking trust is a bad insurance right about now,” I muttered.

“Damn. Didn't stay in the air long enough...” Calypto grumbled.

I bolted down the room as fast as I could manage. The bulging hulk was staggering as well, having difficulty keeping a straight line as it ricocheted from wall to wall knocking loose pipes and breaking windows and stretchers as it picked up speed. Defying the paralyzing terror at the spectacle of the thing’s lumbering advance, somehow my legs managed to keep putting one hoof in front of the other.

Down the hall was an open door to a lab. I bolted towards it, following the small red splatterings of blood. When we hit the threshold, Calypto dismounted mid-gallop, like some kind of maniac. He was quick to dive on the door control panel. “We have to shut this door,” Calypto called out. As much as he fiddled, the metal partition wouldn’t budge.

The charging mass had turned the corner and barreled toward us when an array of turrets came to life with an arcane hum. A golden emblem of the sun bore into them as the turrets reved. The guns unleashed a barrage of glowing blue blasts that quickly froze giant chunks of the conglomeration of dorks. Again and again it fired until it was frozen solid, forming an impassable wall, barring the pursuit of any other dorks. We were safe it seemed, but we were also trapped.

I didn’t care. I was more interested in the mare who was sprawled out across the ground. I had tried to tell her, and she hadn't listened. Now she was shivering in a pool of her own blood with the logical consequences due. This shouldn't have happened to her. She didn't deserve this.

I hobbled to her side and gingerly lifted her head from the ground and cradled her close. I tried to find words to say, but I had guilt pulsing through my brain. Her timid eyes glanced over towards me as she quivered. “I am never going to run anywhere, ever again, for the rest of my life,” she said in a timid voice. “Running is for ponies who hate themselves....” she muttered.

“You were acting like me out there.” I said as I gripped her shoulders tighter.

“Hmm, so it wasn't just me. I was acting like an idiot.” She faintly chuckled. “I've never internally screamed so much in my entire life. I think my voice is a little hoarse...”

It was hard to figure out how to take that. I perked an eyebrow up as I looked at her.

“... the voice in my head, I mean,” she said with a embarrassed smile. “That was the stupidest thing I think I'dve ever done in my life. I kinda proud of it.”

“Don't be,” I chided.

Scapegrace just stuck her tongue out. I just gripped her tighter. She then spoke up, “I'm surprised you came after me.”

“Of course, I'd come after you.” I gave a tense smile. Was that saying too much? “You're the reasonable one among us. Don't go doing stupid things. That's my thing,” I said in a grave tone.

As I spoke, Scapegrace wiggled just a little bit with a smile. “I am the smart one.” She chuckled to herself.

“Huh?” I furrowed my brow as I noticed the cheery hue return to Scapegrace's coat. Her shivering seemed to stop. I looked her over and noticed that while there was blood on her clothes and coat, I couldn't see any wounds. “What the-- Y-You're not dying, you're totally fine,” I muttered monotonously as my head caught up with reality. My face lit on fire as I gawked at her wide-eyed. “Y-you! I’ve taken a lot of shit tonight, but... that. Don't scare me like that, again!”

Scapegrace flushed a rosy pink. “I patched myself up ‘cause I'm smart,” she said with a coy smile as her eyes flared with a spark of magic. Concerned about her priorities. Scapegrace puffed her cheeks out. “Don't move, this is comfy.”

“We have just over an hour until this place explodes!” I shouted to her as I shook her back and forth, vigorously. The suddenly motion made me wince at my wounds.

Scapegrace picked her head up as soon as I reacted. “Aiya! You need more help than I do!” Her eyes darted back and forth as her usual phrenetic manner began to sink in again. She pointed a hoof towards me, and to herself with the other, “Should we switch?”

“I'm fine.”

“But--”

“I said I'm fine.”

Scapegrace frowned. I looked about the lab room. There were many physical representations of spell arrangements about the room, now scattered in disarray. There were globes and preservative glass chambers everywhere. Weird tablets and daises carved out of stone, metal, and bone were encased in these chambers. Magnifying lenses on slender arms descended from the ceiling. There were circles drawn beneath our hooves, but I couldn't tell a damn what they were meant for. Some unicorn spell definitely, but everything unicorns did had to do with some wishy-washy spell, so that told me fuck all.

Calypto limped in towards Scapegrace. “Got to hoof it to you, you surprised me, kid,” he said as he passed me by. “You finally figured out how to stop wavering and jump in there. Well done.”

Scapegrace grinned as she rose to her hooves. “Thanks.”

“While you were fooling around, I was checking around the room. We have a real problem.” Calypto braced himself against one of the cases on pedestals. “We don't have an escape route,” Calypto said pushing the brim of his hat up, only to reveal a tight glare. “The door on the far side is jammed to all hell. The way we came in is frozen shut.”


“Frozen? How long would it take to thaw?” I asked as I looked back to see the frozen barricade that encased the mob of corpses.


“With ice that thick, it might be hours. We don’t have that kind of time,” Scapegrace worried. A cold blue tone creeped across her face as she pondered useless escape routes. Calypto and I felt the same, though we didn’t say it.

I huffed and stomped back towards the room. Trapped? No, we weren’t gonna die in here. None of us. I was gonna get everypony out of here. We needed to focus on something else. “What was with those turrets anyway?” I questioned as I furrowed my brow. “They didn’t shoot at us.”

“I suspect the somepony wanted to keep a very specific something out,” Calypto said with a smirk.

“Hexerai,” I snorted.

“Hexawho?” Scapegrace looked at us befuddled.

I scratched the back of my head. I didn’t really want to explain that one right now. I looked around. “Alright, what other escape routes do we have? Vents?” I asked as I scanned ceiling.

“Not a damn one,” Calypto added.

“This is the archaeological storage room. Air flow is tightly controlled sealed as much as possible to prevent oxidation of live artifacts. They probably managed talismans and old relics here in this room.” Scapegrace spoke up.

I tapped a hoof to the ground. “Can't go back the way we came...” I furrowed my brow. “Well, shit.”

“So, we're locked in here?” All strength and spirit dropped from Scapegrace's shoulder. In brief shudders she pouted as hope bled out of her. “I got so close to it! It's not fair!”

“Don't give up just yet!” I assured her. I wasn't going to let despair set in. Hexerai wanted us to panic, we couldn’t afford to lose our calm. “We came here for a reason. Those artifacts are here, right? Well, let’s find 'em!”

I smashed my fridge through a glass display case, sending the shards flying. I blew the glass off of the statuette inside; it was a small draconic looking creature riding atop a cloud with fire pouring out onto the base. It had an ugly-looking head for a dragon, and it didn't seem to know what it wanted to be... as if it wanted to be everything at once. It was ivory and obsidian, but also granite, but when I grabbed it, it didn't seem to weigh a damn thing. I could have sworn I saw it move. Carved runes were etched into it, but it wasn't anything I could read.

“That's pre-Celestian...” Scapegrace muttered.

“Huh.”

“Put that down, you muscle-headed dork...” Scapegrace wrenched the idol from my hooves and placed it back on the pedestal.

“I'm fine. I'm not an idiot.”

“Don't take this the wrong way, but here, you are.”

“I was just looking at it.”

“You were stallion-hoofing it, and it was going to turn you into a cactus...”

“What?!” As I looked at it, it almost looked as if it had been caught in the act of mischief. .

“Head of a horse, body of a dragon, eagle claw, lions paw, That's an idol of Discord, alright. He's one of the oldest figures of recorded history. These things were bad new back in the day. Just carving his image or drawing his picture was said to invite him into your home.” Scapegrace took out tongs and sighed. “Many of them were destroyed a long time ago, for that very reason. It’s really a lovely piece of magical history. I wish I had the time to appreciate it.”

“So is he a bad guy or what?” I asked as I marveled at the thing.

“It's hard to say. He's different. Sometimes he's helped ponies out, other times he just messes with everything that exists, simply because they’re there. He's the Spirit of Chaos. Some ponies in the old times blamed all the world’s problems on him alone.”

Spirit of Chaos, huh? He must have been having a blast since the world fell apart. “Why would anypony keep around a statue that summons a troublemaker like this?”


Scapegrace seemed to get her color back just by talking. I think I distracted her. “There are few reason, really. Inviting Discord was inviting change into your life, so the short answer is, it kept things interesting. Some ponies worshiped him.” Scapegrace pointed her hoof to the carving on the side. “Also, these things were historical recordings of stories and other magical writings.”

“You'd think they'd have something better to write it on,” Calypto cut in as he looked on from the side. Scapegrace had to stop him from trying to poke it with the snake venom horn out of morbid curiosity.

“They were insane, and that's what made it the perfect foundation for the roots of magic as we know it.” Scapegrace perched herself over the figurine protectively. “This is probably here because it has valuable magic inscribed on it.” Scapegrace looked over the hall of objects. “Everything here probably has some magical significance to them that could be incredibly dangerous.”

Scapegrace turned to us glaring, “So don't touch anything!”

Calypto and I looked at each other as we stood frozen, me winding up to smash another case and Calypto opening up his packs ready to swipe. Scapegrace looked at us as if we two were very irresponsible colts on a trip to the marketplace, and she was our caretaker. How were we supposed to control ourselves when she was talking up how useful and amazing these things were? Imagine what any one of these things could be pawned for! Imagine what it would be like if we figured out what they actually did!

Scapegrace growled at us and we dropped our hooves.

“Fine. Well, what if we can use one of these things to get out of here?” I said as I tapped my hoof on the glass encasing some sort of stone tablet.

Scapegrace had already drifted off into investigating the area. “Not everything is going to be helpful for that. It’s a historical preservation wing, not some super weapon storage unit,” she said as she bounced from pedestal to pedestal. “So many different ages... it’s kinda amazing what they had access to. If I lived back then, this would have been my dream.”

“What age do you suppose this one is?” Calypto said as he pointed toward the back. My eyes widened as they followed his hoof to the macabre display of corpses affixed to the wall, bloody, and only barely writhing.

“How did we not see that?” I laughed as I took in the strange mural.

Scapegrace stepped and seemed to examine the corpse. “Well look at that... That's Discord, alright.”

A weird mishmash of reappropriated scrap and body parts helped make the somewhat three dimensional work of art come to life. A horse-headed dragon creature popped out of the wall, and it seemed to trace the edges of the wall as it spectated from above. It seemed to be focused on the bouquet of severed legs that were pushing a grimacing shark-toothed pony up to the sky. The hooves all had shackles on them, as well, while the exalted pony had broken the shackles. There was some creature trying to eat the tail of Discord, it was painted in with blood. Features of the snake-like devourer were depicted in negative and it seemed to burn alive.

There was a lot of craftsmanship.

“Do we have time for this?” I asked Scapegrace as she creeped closer to the image in morbid fascination.

“It depicts the repeat of history. That's Jormungandr and Discord locked in an ouroboros of sorts... and there is some figure being lifted up. A ruler? A liberator? The blood on their face makes me think they aren’t the nice, peaceful sort of leader.” Scapegrace walked along the image. “An ouroboros is a symbol of cycles. Things that repeat. Does that mean this is the raider king being raised up.”

“Are you really trying to find meaning in this?” Calypto growled as he limped across to the mural.

“It's horrifying, but somepony clearly put a lot of...” Scapegrace winced as she walked up to one of the hoof-surfing corpses. The sharp teeth were nailed in. “bleh... love into this.”

“We don't have time for this,” I said as I looked over the artifacts.

“I know we don't have time... it's just...” Scapegrace sighed. “Huh?”

I was too busy to argue. Again and again I circled around. None of them were matching the descriptions of the hammer or the Heart. Was it not here? “I don't see it, help me look. Could you track it down on a computer.”

“It's not going to be on the computer. Starlight was skeptical about being watched. She went to great lengths to make sure the MoM didn't catch her,” Scapegrace said as she continued to look at the murder art on the wall. “Hold up! I think I found something.”

Calypto and I rushed over to her. “Look here.” She pointed to a spot where the blood from the grisly artpiece had dripped down against the wall, finding its way into the crevasses that broke up its surface. It was subtle, but there was some kind of divot disrupting the flow of the blood. It was uneven.

“What exactly is it?” I raised an eyebrow. There were strange shapes and designs all over the painted part of the wall, plain to see now that I was close. “A hatch?”

“It's a spell matrix,” Scapegrace said as she dipped a hoof in the blood and spread it along the wall. “I think the whole room is one.”

As I looked back, the room felt so much bigger than it ever should have.

“Tell us what to do,” Calypto said.

Scapegrace followed the wall, tracing the design with her hoof. We called out to her, but I don't think she could contain herself. She was in her own world. She ran along the floor and morphed her hoof into a pointed blade on it. She hooked it under a latch and flipped it aside.

The walls sparked as magic exhaust emptied from the circle on the floor. My field of view stretched and wavered, giving me a strong vertigo before it tremulously firmed itself as the illusion was peeled away. An ornate altar now peered over the rest of the artifacts. Beside me there had appeared the skeleton of a pony in a pink suit as bright as day. There were three or four more of the skeletons. Scientists, inspectors...it was hard to tell, but I could guess based on the remains of their clothing and on the notion that they probably hadn’t allowed just anyone inside back in the facility’s heyday. It reeked of death and secrets, the nasty sorts of things the old world wanted to hide away.

“Bingo!” Scapegrace grinned as she walked around.

“Was that just sitting there, smack dab in the middle of the room, and we didn't see it?” I asked as we converged at the center of room.

“An illusion and a talisman network for diverting attention,” Scapegrace explained as she climbed up the steps to inspect the twisting spires on the sides of the alter. It had a little rock garden of talismans on the side. She walked towards the steps of the altar when Calypto stopped her.

“Ten Thousand caps says it’s trapped,” he called as he circled around the alter.

Scapegrace grimaced. “I'm not taking that bet.”

“Smart mare.” Calypto grinned.

Concentrating on my senses, I could feel he was right. It’s hard to say why I did, but it was my earth pony intuition. The Mint-als had made me more perceptive than I usually was. “I'm feeling a pressure plate on the inside of the container. I can't really tell for sure, but if you open it, it’s gonna do something fun... I don't know, probably kill ya.”

Scapegrace flipped through the pages of Glimmer’s diary, her eyes darting between paragraphs in a frenzy. “Yeah...mmhmm... Aha!” Scapegrace put a hoof down with excitement on the page and grinned. She began walking around the pedestal, aligning the pieces of the statuettes. “And that...should...” she muttered, and a trapdoor sprung open. The three of us stopped to look at each other, before carefully leaning in. Within was a chest... it had a similar design to the fridge that I carried with me.

Suddenly, the room quaked. A long fissure ripped across the ceiling of the room. “What the hell--” I hesitated as I felt a vindictive atmosphere ooze through the crack. “Scapegrace! We need to--”

A quick and violent cataclysm tore the ceiling asunder. The broken chunks of steel and concrete crashed to the ground, crushing the many of the artifacts beneath. High-pitched arcane howls and blinding bursts of light erupted as the broken artifacts set off a chain reaction, throwing the room into total chaos. Smoke and dust from the debris choked the room. I couldn't see anypony, but I could taste a viscous hatred flooding in. It coated the air and left us sputtering. Damn it. I barely missed getting crushed as I was flung off my hooves, but my head was ringing. Before I could call out for my friends, my body silenced itself instinctively.

“Finally... it’s here. Everything, it all comes down to this!” a cackling voice cut through the billowing dust cloud. Her voice was different now. It carried a bitter gravel, no doubt a sign of the wasteland. She cleared the air with a flap of her broad wings, revealing the distorted white flesh of the alicorn.

“Calico...” I muttered as I ducked behind a fallen pillar. Damn it, why did she have to show up? It was fine, she didn't know we were here... not yet. We could lay low... We wouldn't win a fight. Not here. Not now. Forget Hexerai... we could call this a loss and get away with our lives.

That was what we should have done... but my heart dropped as I saw Calico marching towards Scapegrace.

Damn it, girl! Hide! That was what she was good at, why wasn't she?

“Out of my way!” Calico growled.

As if she didn't hear, Scapegrace trembled as her hooves traced the frame of the box. Scapegrace produced her ring of lock picks and flipped to the most twisted ones among them.

“I have a short fuse, whelp. Do you want to die?” Calico barked.

“Do you want this open?” Scapegrace muttered in brittle defiance as her eyes soaked in the details of the lock. The alicorn tensed as a haze grew around her horn. A tight, certain kill strike, judging by the look in her eyes. “It’s trapped, and you'd break the lock. The runes are designed to reduce a unicorn down to a singularity.”

Calico faltered.

“That's what I thought,” Scapegrace sighed as she fumbled with the lock picks feeling around. Removing the picks, she grit her teeth and molded a new bone slowly... not into a lock pick... but a key. “I've been looking for this for too damn long. I can't lose it to you. I don't care what you do with anything else, but I need the Heart.”

The box, made of foreign clockwork structures reeking of skeptic paranoia, howled as it gaped open, gasping for its first breaths of air in over a century. Inside, there were several talon-like vices, pinning two artifacts into place. Calico seemed to gawk at the twisted bone scepter within, like it whisked away her mind and left her body chasing after. It was a hammer, with a strange equine skull, linked to distorted shaft of various bones of different creatures, all fused together by some color-stealing ichor.

The other item was a large gemstone, almost as big as a pony's head. It was heart-shaped, but looking worse for wear. Chipped and fragmented; divots and holes dotted the surface. Scapegrace basked in the sickly green glow of the crystal heart. So this was the thing that made her act like a madmare.

Calico's eyes gleamed red as she shoved Scapegrace aside. “You're a talented one. Very servile, as a crystal pony would be. I guess I owe you a debt.” Calico floated up the hammer in a cloud of magic dust, twirling it around as it consumed her focus.

Scapegrace picked herself off the ground, barely fazed. Nothing seemed to matter to her now... now that the Heart was right in front of her. She reached a hoof out to grab it, but the Heart slipped away in Calico's spell. Scapegrace paled as she looked up at Calico.

“This has a name...” Calico hummed. The word meandered through the air with sinister venom, “Yes... Crystal Heart... I remember. Treasure of the crystal ponies, but perhaps it's more of a curse... I couldn't give up something that draws such memory from me... maybe I should keep it.” The false princess pondered. “Hmm, I do owe you a favor.” The alicorn's face plunged into a nightmarish grin that made me bolt into action, even before the glow... even before the words: “I'll kill you quickly.”

“Calico!” I charged in without any plan. Plan didn't matter. I just needed to create a diversion. I aimed to tackle through her, but I met a thick invisible barrier. “Hey, Bit--” I didn't even finish taunting before her telekinetic talons wrapped around my neck. I coughed as I fought the grip, watching Calico's visage roast in fury. “Remember m--” The alicorn smashed me against the ground in short-fused anger. I only clung to consciousness enough to register my reflexes, whirling my hooves to break fall.

“You idiotic roach!” Calico growled. She was possessed in a way that made me feel important. Such terrifying yet fulfilling anger... Good. Scapegrace could get out, or so I thought. The Crystal Heart was still tight in the monster's grip. For Scapegrace, there was no escape. “You don't learn lessons, do you?” Calico burst out. “Well, I do... and that's the difference.”

I spat at her eye, vainly. With her shield up, it only reached halfway. She flung me down, again, but I could feel the direction she was throwing me in. I caught myself on my hooves to spite her. Anger made her uncontrollable, but fairly straightforward. Somehow, with just the angle of my resistance, I managed to trick her into throwing me into Scapegrace.

Scapegrace groaned as I blindsided her like a bighorner. I grit my teeth and scowled at the mare. “Get out.”

Scapegrace gave a rebellious grimace.

Damn it.

Calico rose above on a pile of rubble and slashed out with an ethereal blade without hesitation. I couldn't block the entire strike with my shield, as it lapsed across both Scapegrace and I.

Wait! Maybe we could get through this. Scapegrace could absorb magic. That was right.

“Did you get tha-- holy pastel hell...” I trailed off to see Scapegrace shivering in pain, her face and neck carved up with splintering cracks along her coat, blood seeping through the crevasses.

“Too much... can't handle that much.” Scapegrace coughed. Her coat flickered with a faint, sporadic glow as she tried to repair herself.

Calico grabbed both of us and lifted us off the ground by our necks, letting our hooves kick vainly.

The bloodlust in her eyes made me call out. “Leave her out of this! This is between you and--”

“I don't care. You die.” Calico summoned up a small lightning-coiled spear as she grinned.

Suddenly, the spine-raising sound of heavy revolver fire shattered the moment of deathly silence. As if haunted by ghosts, Calico screamed, rebuffing her shield with a wave of force. In the storm of her fear, she cast everything out to the corners of the room: Scapegrace, myself, even the Malleus and the Heart. Alright, Calypto! Calico remained in the center bracing on all fours, gasping for air in a state of panic. She remembered the sounds of the gun. The feeling of bullets piercing flesh resounding in an echo brought with it a resurfacing sense of fear and weakness.

The alicorn shuddered as she spun around, scanning through the thin veil of dust that was kicked up from the impulse of the shield. She cackled as her shield shined a bold red. “Hahahaha, you should have killed me when you had the chance. Where are you?” Calico laughed again as a hunting thrill took over. Bullets ripped out of the cloud, driving the alicorn to tense up, even as the bullets ricocheted harmlessly away. Glancing side to side, she peered into the haze. “There... you've given yourself away... This shield won't break. I learned from last time.”

Calico lashed out with exploding spears of light that kicked up more dust. I had put my goggles on, and put my bandana up to my mouth. One coughing fit would quickly get us added to the macabre wall at the back. I lost track of Gracie, as she continued to chase after that damn heart.

I couldn't worry about that, Calico was closing on Calypto... and he couldn't run. I did the only thing that I could.

I whistled.

When she ignored me, I tossed a rock.

Calico turned about and blindly struck through the dust, with about as much success as you would imagine. Fuck.. now what?

I started to crawl through the cloud to escape, but I slipped and knocked a block of concrete over. The alicorn struck again, this time even closer.

I dove for cover.

“I'll find you.”

Just as she was getting close, Calypto whistled from across the room.

She turned around and launched a chunk of concrete at the wall, knocking up another billowing plume of concrete dust. Every furious move she made clouded up the room, making it easier and easier to blend in.

Bingo!

I pursed my lips and gave my best bloodwing mating call.

It drove Calico nuts. Even so, she caught herself expending too much energy.

“Moooooo~ don't cha know!”

I almost died as Calypto gave what might have been the best or the worst brahmin impression I had ever heard.

But Calico didn't strike... She listened. She flapped her wings and funneled the dust up and above, clearing the room.

A bolt sent Calypto flying back against the wall, his hat clattering to the side as he wailed in agony.

The zebra grimaced, falling down to his side as he gripped his stomach with one hoof and pointed his revolver with the other.

Nestled between an overturned computer and a shattered hieroglyphic tablet, was the Witch's Hammer. Racing over, I snatched it up. Actually grabbing onto it felt disgusting. It felt invasive. It felt cruel. Still, I needed to have it to get her attention. Hopefully, it wouldn't make my legs go numb. “Hey, Sparky!” I yelled out as I threw a rock at Sparky (Calico).

The pebble rebounded, pitifully, against the side of the alicorn’s shield. Calico glared at me.

“Look at what I found just lying around!” I said as wiggled the hammer in the most profane method I could manage.

Three small star bursts ripped craters in the ground around me, overturning the mound of debris I was standing on. I tripped and rolled down the backside of the hill. When I collected myself, I was bloody and my head was ringing.

“Where are your words now?” Calico said as she cast a spell that enveloped my body in a green light. I felt my strength drain from my body. My coat started to wrinkle and my hair started to grey.

I'd never seen anything like this before. I was growing old...

Another red arcane burst sent me rolling back as I groaned, enfeebled by unnatural age. Suddenly, my shoulder began to throb. My skin was pulled tight and it felt like my bones were filled with magma. A malformed head started growing out of my shoulder. It started back at me with the same confusion as myself.


“Come on, where did all your enthusiasm go?” Calico lifted me up with her magic and she scowled. “Lie to me!” She howled as she javelined a spear through my second head.

It splattered blood and brains across the ground and the shocks reeled throughout my body as I flew back to the wall. It came in paralyzing waves that left me shuddering. I could barely breathe. Damn it, this sealed it for me. I wanted to die before I turned fifty. It was hard to think... hard to remember, and all of me was breaking down. Calico took her time strolling over.

Scapegrace groaned as she turned away from the Crystal Heart. She brandished her stolen tommy gun and sprayed bullets harmlessly against Calico's shield until the gun clicked empty. Scapegrace started to tear up. Calico shot a sanguine ray at her, and she began to shrink in size. The regression sent Scapegrace wailing and shivering.

I couldn't keel over and die, not now... Not after ten years ago. I could hardly remember what it was, but even in this cronish state, the body remembered its grudges. I pushed through the pain. I through open my fridge and grabbed one of the three Balefire eggs I had remaining. I called out “Calypto!” as I hurled the egg as hard as I could.

Calypto grinned as Linux's green glow coursed through his stripes and up his body, fixating on the eyes. Zeroing in on the lone egg, the zebra lined up his revolver as he laid on the ground. With locked jaw growl, Calypto's bullet sliced through the air toward the balefire egg...

But it didn't make it...

Calico swiftly extended her shield out to deflect the incoming fire. My heart dropped as I watched the alicorn sweep up the egg with a whirl of her horn. She cannoned the explosive right back towards Calypto, detonating it against the wall just above the zebra.

“No! Calypto!?” I called out. “Calypto!”

There was no response.

It was happening. Hexerai was right. I was watching my friends die. I'll survive but I will abandon them...

What absolute filth.


What was that voice?

I am you and you are me... or at least you were when you were great... What happened to your spine? Don't forget, old wreck, we're the ones who never bow.

I found the voice sickeningly comforting. I didn't have the time or strength to question it, I just needed it to give me strength. I needed some way to deal with this, but we were out of time. What could I do? I had to do something.

When given shackles, we strangle the slaver. Just as we used to.

Even as cryptic as it was, I understood exactly what needed to be done. My quivering hooves grabbed hold of a balefire egg.

“You're a pathetic rat,” Calico said as she stopped in front of me.

“Stay the hell back!” I growled.

“Your bag of tricks has been exhausted. Try to use that bomb on me. It won't work. It won't break through the door. There is no escape,” Calico said.

“This bomb isn't for you.” I dropped the egg to the ground and clapped my metal horseshoe to it. Gripping the Malleus Maleficarum in my hooves, I held the hammer head flush against the twisted ovaloid. “It's for me.”

“What?!”

Hexerai said that I would survive this evening, so let's put that little prophesy to the test.

The plan was simple: if Calico listened to my deal, I could bargain her away and save my friends. If she tries anything funny, I blow myself up. If I died, that would be the worst, but I'd have the peace of mind that Hexerai was full of shit. If she was right, I could save my friends. Screw saving the world, I wanted to protect those two ponies.


“I can't hurt you with this bomb, I know that much... but perhaps I could destroy this precious artifact.”

Calico faltered as she leaned in. The artificial alicorn took one step and I swung the hammer back, ready to strike. “You're a lunatic.” Calico's brow furrowed.

“I'm a business pony,” I grunted in a gravelly, old voice. “Let's make a deal. It's really simple for you, and I think you'll like it a lot.”

“Why should I listen to you?” The alicorn was perplexed. This time I really wasn't a threat to her.

“Because I'm gonna give you everything you want.” I tried to grin, but the fatigue was making it difficult. “I will give you the hammer, no funny business, if you heal my friends and leave us alone.”

Calico's horn began to glow, but as I vigorously swung back the hammer, the shimmering light dispersed.

“You're right, Calico. I'm a rat!” I growled as I spit on the ground. “I've got nothing, but the corner. My desperate tricks are all I have. So, please. Do whatever the hell you like.”

Calico stared at me as she measured the depth of my resolves. It was a heavy silence, but eventually she backed down. “Alright, it is a deal.” Calico reached out a hoof.

I readied the hammer to strike. “Heal them first, bitch. I know you can, you sadistic cunt.”

Calico flapped her wings in indignant frustration, but ultimately, she complied. With a ray of light, one by one she repaired the injuries. My skin became more elastic and stretched back into position, and my muscle and joints fortified to their usual vigor. Scapegrace aged back into usual size, she even fixed her shattered skin. Calypto rose up and was able to walk on all four legs.

Somehow, it managed to work out.

Calico turned to me. “Now, the hammer.”

For once in my life, I didn't really have any trick up my sleeve. It was funny how if a scoundrel was forced to use up their bag of tricks, when everything else is gone, all that is left is an honest pony. I felt weak. I felt vulnerable... but I had no choice. “Alright. Fine.”

It was the moment when I tossed the hammer that it clicked in my head... the reason I felt so off. I lacked leverage. Calico's face dove into a nefarious glee as she took hold of the artifact. Her horn cast the room in a deep red light.

Scapegrace was the one to scream first as fissures of blood cut down her face and neck as the cracks returned on her face. She began to shrink, faster than before, reverting to her previous state.


Calypto fell down to the ground as his leg snapped like a twig. From within his gritting teeth, his body heaved up fountains of blood.

I stared daggers at Calico as my body aged and withered, giving her my thousand years of hatred. “You lying bitch….”

Calico reeled back onto her hind legs as she fell into laughter. “What was the phrase you use?” She pondered as she put a hoof to her chin. “Ah yes... Welcome to the wasteland.”

I had nothing left. I took one of the balefire eggs and charged at the false goddess... but my body was too weak to carry on.

Suddenly, a little rock bounced off of Calico's shield. It was a tiny foal, Scapegrace. She was holding back tears with a stern glare in her eyes. “Meanie!”

Calico grunted. “So you will be the first to die,” Calico said as she spread her wing out wide, casting a shadow over the foal.

Scapegrace sniffled as she wiped away her tears, and grabbed another rock.

Calico scoffed. “Yes, try to strike me down with that. I will wait.”

The bluish magenta foal threw the stone and it hit the shield with an earsplitting “ZZZZrGRNPROING”

The alicorn was knocked off of her hooves as her shield dented from the impact. The walls shook as a heavy pounding force slammed chunk after chunk out of the wall.

Calico got up to see a purple earth pony with countless scars all over his body, with a club over one shoulder, and a long gemstone-infused rifled mounted on a battle saddle hanging over the other. Behind him was a motley crew of raiders.

“CALICO!!” Killjoy roared as he fired round after round from the high-tech Gestalt rifle. Flanked on either side of his rambunctious charge was Midnyte and Marina, all unified in their intentions.

“That isn't even my name...” Calico picked her self off the ground and stretched her wing to the side as magic surged from her eyes and horn. The amulet on her neck seemed to grin.. “To think, you're still alive. I'll have to correct that.”

“I'm gonna rip every limb from your body.”

“Fool. You can't win.” The alicorn fortified her shield as she focused her coalescing spelldust into two blades of blinding arcane energy. The blades arced in from either sides.


“This is for my leg.” Walls of chains appeared out of nowhere, criss-crossing over each other, weaving into a solid, reinforced barrier. I noticed the mare three legged mare beside Tough Cookie, her eyes flooded with light as her horn erupted in intense green fire. If Calypto was alive, he might be regretting it about now. The chains were able to slow the blades down, but their sheer power wasn't enough to keep them at bay.

However, Killjoy didn't seem to be afraid. He stopped his charge just before Calico. One of his comrades kicked a strange bundled mass into his hooves. As the chaotic, air-eviscerating blades of light swung in towards Killjoy, he cast off the cover on the bizarre package and raised it up to Calico's eyes.

It was a severed head. Mutating and distorting into the nightmares we had seen all night. It locked eyes with the alicorn before she could even understand what was going on.

Orange glowing veins lit up across Calico's face, legs, and back, just before they erupted into geysers of blood.

“AAHHGHHHGGHHGHGHYEEEEOOOOW!”

Calico screamed in terror for the second time in her life. She writhed as pain crawled all over her body. Screams replaced themselves with hysterical laughter, as she began trying to patch herself with medicinal spells. “You... ignorant... whelps!! I'll slaughter all of you.”


Marina hunkered down to restrain the insurmountable kickback from her unrelenting firepower, not letting up with the attacks from her revolving miniguns. “Bitch, you gonna get the thorns!” came her battlecry, barely heard through the roar of gunfire

Calico wrenched her body back as she rebuffed her shields. Letting her power surge, she gathered it in her horn. A specter of a serpent formed from Calico's amassed energies.

Killjoy stuck his hoof through the ring at the end of his stone club. He galloped forward as Calico and her serpent cast down a wave of spellfire. With the strength of the whirling earth, the scarred raider spun his heavy club over his head, catching the spellfire along its stony exterior.

Dashing through the conflagration, he whipped the whirling club in a big wind-up, the spellfire clinging to the outline of the weapon as Killjoy arched the strike counterclockwise. For a moment, I saw him coated in a brilliant iridescent aura.

The burning club crashed through Calico's shield and followed through, from low to high, crushing any conceptions of pride or strength in Calico along with bone and tissue. Like a shooting star, the alicorn streaked across the room, colliding with the mural wall. The figure of Discord appeared to be laughing at her.

Calico's head clapped the wall as she crashed. Arcane voltage spiked through her horn, which was now splintered down the center.

As the fissure drove down the horn, I could feel my strength return to me and my skin smooth out. It seemed that the spells were breaking down. Even the ball of fire splitting the sky seemed to evaporate. All that was left was the moon.

The alicorn stumbled on crumbling legs, struggling to balance as her split skull oozed.

Killjoy stepped forward bearing his club along his shoulder.

The alicorn scrambled across the floor, tripping over her own hooves and wings. “No,no,no,no,no. Back...baaacck!” Calico spat, struggling to even form words.

Killjoy glared down at the pathetic excuse for an evolved lifeform. With roiling contempt he backed Calico into a corner. “Don't fuck with my friends.”

Calico panicked, taking to her wings. Killjoy swung for Calico, but a renegade bolt from her shattered horn jerked Calico out of the way of the strike. Feathers scattered through the air as she grasped for higher altitudes even if she lacked the control to not crash into the wall while she did so. It was enough for her to escape out the top while Marina took potshots at the struggling alicorn.



The monster was gone, and I was alive, but it was hard to imagine how. I took a breath and fell to my back as I saw Tough Cookie stepping forward towards me.

“I already know what you're going to say...” I interjected before the raider could form words.

Killjoy looked displeased that Calico got away, but his ire softened as he looked back over the room. Somewhere in his head between surveying the room and taking stock of damages, he found the time to respond to me. “Really?”

I pulled my cheeks down with my hooves, giving myself the killjoy-esque rings under my eyes to give a proper impression. “We aren't friends. Ha!” I picked myself up as I looked away. “You don't need to tell me. I'm not gonna look for friendship in the reflection of revenge.” A grim thought raised my hair on edge as I looked back to my friends... to Calypto... to Scapegrace. “If you’re still looking to kill me, I'd be happy to give you the opportunity, but before you do... could you do me one last favor and help save my friends?”

Killjoy cocked his head to the side as a long smile stretched across his face, but from that a soft laughter poured out of him. “Hahaha, I was going to ask if you are okay...”

What? I balked as my head tried to understand what was going on. “Wait, what do you mean, am I okay?””

“Guess you don't know half as much about the world as you think you do.” Killjoy pulled a strangely shaped multitool out from a bag. With a turn of a dial and the click of a grip, he was shining a little light in my eyes.

“Ack! What the--”

Killjoy held my eye open as he muttered. “Heh... glad you haven't taken anything else since those mint-als...” He shut off the light and tapped my stomach. I nearly had the wind knocked out of me. “Say ‘Aahhhh.’”

“ungg~” I stuck my tongue out at him. My mouth suddenly opened wider as he dug the edges of his hooves into my temples slightly. “Ahhhhhhhhhh!”

Looking me over, he grinned. “Your skull is cracked, you’re sleep deprived, you have quite a few mutations, and I'm seeing a few fractures that I can't remember if I caused... but your body is recovering quickly. Looks like the wasteland’s smiling on you.”

I was healing faster? Something told me that tree had something to do with it. Was it destiny? Whatever it was, it could wait. “Thanks, Doc...” My eyes caught sight of Midnyte hobbling on three legs towards Calypto.

The zebra clung to life with thick, bloody breaths. Trembling in a pool of his own blood, the crusader raised his revolver on an unsteady hoof, but it didn't stop Midnyte from laying by his side.

Killjoy saw this and stepped forward pushing me out of the way.

“Damn it, Killjoy. If you kill him, I will make your life hell.”

“Midnyte told me all about you,” Killjoy said as he stood over Calypto. “Normally, I'd crush a violent bastard like you, because you make me afraid for the ones I love... but I heard you spared my one of my closest friends.” Killjoy threw his bag down next to Calypto. “So, shoot me all you want. I'm saving your damn life, bud.”

My eyes widened at that moment as I saw the face of Killjoy fade away behind smile Tough Cookie. What a big damn softy...

Tough Cookie muttered as he began treating individual wounds with all manner of strange tools. He removed several pieces of shrapnel, pinning blood flow with heavy hooves when a procedure called for it, and with magical serums, he reformed the broken flesh and even bone. It was like watching a miracle worker.

Rendered speechless, it was easy for me hear the shrill cries of Scapegrace from behind a pile of debris/over in the corner of the demolished room. I nearly burst out laughing: she was rolling around on the ground, awkwardly trapped in her own clothing.

“ahhn~ Help meeee!” Scapegrace groaned.

“Sure thing!” I said as I leapt over to her. I reached over to loosen her jacket and shirt, but she rolled away like a caterpillar. “Hey, I'm trying to help.”

Scapegrace's hues didn't change... or maybe they couldn't, all cracked as they were. She writhed as she tried to crawl away.

“I'm trying to help.”

Scapegrace calmed for a moment as I helped unzip and unbutton her clothes, but I could feel her anxiety beneath the surface. I was a weak pony. As I pulled open her shirt to let her free her folded elbows from her sleeves, I snuck a glimpse of her bare skin beneath. Cracked as it was, it was more than I ever deserved, and I felt the sins of the world weigh down on me... but somewhere in those guilty wanderings, I saw a faint patch of dark festering skin, with the color in the middle of it hinging on obsidian. Not like a bleeding wound or a burn, it looked a disease or a tumor, but as soon as it appeared it was shuffled away. “Hey, is something--”

Scapegrace shied away as she tucked her hooves through her sleeves. “It's nothing. I can handle everything from here.”

A raider from before, the one that kicked the head to Killjoy, approached us. He was young and had a PipBuck, one of those old Stable devices, on his leg. He had the number “7” painted on the back of his armor in white paint. “Coach told me to give you this,” the stallion said as he hoofed over a health potion to Scapegrace.

Scapegrace drank a little bit, letting her coat reform. After the initial regeneration, her fur shimmered as she began healing on her own. “Here, I only need a little.”

The raiderball lunatic looked at the potion and winced. “Gross. Hope you don't backwash.” Despite the reaction, it didn't stop him from putting the potion back in the bag. “Whatever.”

Scapegrace stumbled away without me being able to catch her. As she scoured the debris for the Crystal Heart, I decided to join her to find the Maleficarum. It had taken a few minutes, but by the time we collected both, Calypto was stumbling around as he collected what was probably the most important artifact in the room, in his eyes. His hat.

“I'd tell you to go easy on your injuries, but I get the feeling you wouldn't know how,” Killjoy said as he pulled aside his mask and tools and put them inside a bag emblazoned with three stylized skeleton butterflies.

Calypto just turned away from the raider.

“Glad to see you're up on all fours,” I said as I galloped over to Calypto. “Maybe now you can stop bumming me for rides. The hitchhiking thing gotta stop...”

Calypto glared at me with chilling eyes. Something was eating at him inside, stealing away the humor I was used to. He wrapped his hooves in my duster and pulled me close. “Tumbleweed.”

“Yes, mi amigo, my business buddy, ol' pal, ol' friend?”

Calypto's eyes squinted. “Why is there a raider with a pristine m72 MAS Gestalt Rifle?”

Looking at the rifle on Marina's back, I stroked the scruff of my chin. “Oh yeah, back before the necrodoodle sacrifice thing, there were a bunch of Unity alicorns flying around. They had some seriously spiffy tech.”

I flinched when I glanced back to Calypto as he swelled with anger. He huffed and puffed as his bloodshot eyes shuddered with rage. “THERE WAS A STATE OF THE ART M72 JUST LYING AROUND AND YOU DIDN'T EVEN THINK TO TELL ME ABOUT IT?”

I shrugged as I dodged his optic fury. “Oops?”

“We are not friends anymore.” Calypto dropped me to the ground and stormed off in a stampede of jingling spurs.

I caught a breath as I saw the some of the raiders moving blocks of debris, piling them up to form a stairway to the rooftop. Marina was keeping watch on the second floor while Midnyte magically bound and fused stones together. While I watched,Tough Cookie approached me with a weary smile. “So that's your friend.”

“He's fine. He'll be back.”

“You two seem close. What your history?”

“Yeah, we go way back to yesterday at alcoholic tea time.” I smiled as I flicked a hoof, pointing back and forth between Calypto and I. Killjoy shot me a confused look. “That bastard owes me twelve bits,” I said, glancing snidely away from the zebra as I shook my hoof.

Wide-eyed, Killjoy tensed in bewilderment. “No kidding.”

I didn’t really expect him to understand. Afterall, it was something I didn’t entirely understand myself, but Calypto and I were buds, and I knew I just didn’t want to let a friend like that go… not in the tumultuous wastes. It was only a short time, but we clicked.


“Thanks for everything. I owe you one,” I said as combed my brain for the exact thing that I owed him. It was something, and I owed it to him, but what the hell was it?

“Friends don't owe me anything.” Tough Cookie grinned.

While we talked the jingle train worked its way back to us. The zebra sighed, but didn't speak.

“You don't need to thank me. I was paying back a debt of gratitude. Anypony who saves my friends has a place at my dinner table.”

“You didn't have to...” Calypto muttered.

“I wanted to,” Killjoy replied.

“This doesn't mean I'll turn a blind eye to what you are and who you hurt... but thank you.”

Killjoy sighed. “Can we please stop with all the thanking and debt junk? It’s giving me a headache. Do we need to call a meeting or some crap?”

My hoof shot up as my memory caught up to me. “Well, it’s fine if there are no debts, but as you are a freakish horse of medical wizardry, I might have something you might be interested in,” I said as I trotted back to my fridge.

“Oh my gosh, am I speaking a different language? Stop thanking me. I keep explaining it, over and over. This is such a nightmare. What part do you not...” Killjoy trailed off as he saw me pull the severed leg out of the refrigerator. “Is that...?”

The room shook with a thundering crash of a massive chunk of concrete falling from Midnyte's grip as her jaw dropped down two floors.

I cradled the leg in my hooves, much like a cat, stroking it a little bit. “I figured you might be interested in this, but hey, if you don't feel like I owe you anything, maybe I'll keep it.”

Killjoy nearly tackled me to the ground. “Your spine will make accordion noises!” the raider growled.

“You are a very persuasive pony, you know that?” I laughed as I passed him the leg.

That whole gang of raiders seemed to light up with enthusiasm at it. A bunch of ponies cheering and celebrating over a severed leg... somepony might look at something like this and say, “This! This is what raiders look like,” but no, this wasn't anything like raiders. This was friendship. That what friendship looked like. They were genuinely relieved that they might return their friends leg. The wasteland was a crazy place, but seeing that, that might have been the craziest thing of all.

As they cheered on, I put my hoof down. “Hey, listen up!” I shouted. “Closing time, everypony. This place is gonna blow up, end-of-days style. We’ve got to get out of here.”

I looked at Scapegrace and Calypto, and they nodded back to me.

“You don't have to go home, but you can't stay here.”

We got all rounded up and started climbing the paths Midnyte and the rest of the raiders had built. Climbing towards the bright red moon. An eerie laughter echoed through my mind for a moment. I took one look back to the room we should have died in... to the wall with the grizzly mural.

But it wasn't there...

Chapter 5 p3: The Wasteland Demands

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Calypto hadn’t missed, but he’d been a split second too late. The raider died, the bullets through their head made sure of that, but it didn't stop the momentum as the grenade clattered towards Scapegrace and Calypto.

But I could not let destiny have its way. The only way to meet momentum was with momentum, and where they met would be a crash to break apart the universe. I charged towards the grenade, kicking it mid-gallop with my hind leg. It’d barely traveled before it erupted into fire and shrapnel. I grit my teeth and howled as pain shot through my bloody leg. The clicking sounds of a raider's busted trigger just rebuffed the terror that echoed through them with every growling step I made with bloody hooves. The few raiders left on the MAS rooftop trembled as I roared with fury in my eyes. They dropped their weapons and ran. I was invincible, and nothing was going to stand in my way.

This was my answer, Hexerai. Whose fate was stronger? Yours or mine?

From the rooftops, we could see everything. The confidence of raiders had been whittled down. The undead abominations were everywhere. We had parted ways with Tough Cookie and his gang.

Scapegrace, Calypto, and I galloped across the MAS facility’s flat top.

“How much time left?” I turned to Scapegrace as we ran.

“Twenty-five minutes.”

Good. If we were actually pushing down to the second, we would have been dead anyway.

Scapegrace stared at my leg. “Gah! Y-your leg! Are you gonna be okay?”

“Ain't anything to worry about.”
“Gotta say...” Calypto chimed in. “I'm looking forward to this. I so excited I think I'm gonna burst.”

Balefire birds were cawing in the distance as we passed across the satellite stations that tapped into the old broadcasting systems. The floors were littered with bullet holes, casings, and viscera all the way to the gargoyled edges of the building. It wasn't as if we cared about the sights we were missing. The only thing that was important right now was getting away before the whole place lit up.

“Ahh!” Scapegrace cried out as a knife-edged tongue whipped around her leg from within a decayed garden bush.

“Why do you resist?” the saggy-fleshed abomination cried out as it extended a myriad of slashing blades from beneath its gut.

“Shit, Scapegrace!”

The creature was calm, speaking now on its own, even at a steady rhythm. “Forget the coldness of this hateful world that rejects you, rejects everyone, rejects everything. Come into our warm embrace, beyond disparities!”

Scapegrace kicked frantically as she morphed her hooves into crude blades. She thrashed in panic, cutting at the limb pulling at her leg, but just as she would sever one, two would replace it. “Stay away!”

The mare's flailing stopped as she found herself having locked eyes with the terrible thing. Paralyzed in fear, she couldn't look away.

“You can be free of your fears,” the lopsided horsehead on the creature replied as it stabbed a pincer down on Scapegrace's leg, and she wailed in agony. “Don't fear us.”

Damn it, she had been pulled so far. It was going to eviscerate her. I scrambled after Scapegrace, slamming through dead branches in my charge.

“I don't... want to... I don't...” Scapegrace panicked as the creature caressed her face with a bulbous talon, despite her punching and thrashing against the creature.

“Lies. All things seek love and acceptance. Rest in us, until there is a better world,” the giant nightmare said as it towered over Scapegrace.

Scapegrace teared up as she shivered.

“Keep fighting!” I shouted as I crashed headlong into the abomination. Its larvae-esque form rolled out as I broadsided it with my fridge. “And I thought you guys were creepy before you started talking about love! ”

“Sins of the thief and the monster, not your fault, we can forgive.” A different voice came from the side. A slender corpsebeast hung from the trellis walls. “Children of a broken world. There is chance at rebirth.”

“Fight me, you jackasses!” I grunted.

The whelps lunged and slashed, but it was like I knew where they were going to be, before they even reached there. I felt light. I felt strong. I arched the fridge over top of the nightmare, letting the fridge block my own vision.

“We can forgive you,” the slender creature called as it jumped onto me from behind. “We can forgive what you are. The monster you've become.”

“Shut the hell up!” I said as I turned and flung the creature from my back, ripping my jacket on its jagged claws.
“Join.”
“Embrace.”

“Love.”
Three more appeared. Fuck.

As the first one charged me with several horns and tusks jutting from its face and jaw, I heard the jingle of spurs. “Give me your good side!” Calypto shouted, breaking gallop to rise up on his hinds. Upon his hoof was a stubby-looking double barreled shotgun. He pointed it straight at my face.

The explosion of buckshot ripped through the carcass of the nightmare as I turned my fridge towards Calypto. He fired at me again, splattering the head of the monster in a burst of lead, only taking a moment to reload as he made his mad approach.

“You finally pick up a new gun and first thing you decide to do with it is shoot at me,” I grumbled as Calypto smiled. We repositioned to kick away the newly dead corpse as we stood back to back.”

“What else was I going to shoot at?”

The huge larva gaunt reared up above us with its many blades poised to strike. “We can forgive...”

Calypto and I stepped back as the monster primed itself to leap, but it began to writhe unnaturally, before suddenly falling to the ground. Scapegrace stood on its back quivering, coated in blood as her clawed hooves held a grotesque, pulsing organ. Scapegrace let the heart roll out of her hooves to the ground as she grit her teeth. “Forgive that.”

“Did she just rip that thing’s heart out?” I spazzed.

“Holy shit, she just ripped that thing’s heart out,” Calypto reiterated.
“What the hell did they mean? Love? What are they trying to do?” Scapegrace joined in our circle.

“They want to kill everything?” I said as I slid down into a ready stance. “They're betting everything on the end.”
“And that's love, huh?” Scapegrace asked, still a bit shaken.


“Join!”

“Die”

“Embrace!”

“Love!”

“Get ready to run!” I commanded.

The circling aberrations struck in, but Calypto intercepted the first with his horn of venom, then blasting the head off of another. It didn't kill them, but it made them stop for some time. With me bashing a path through with the fridge, we broke free of the horde. We galloped across the rooftop garden, until something in the sky caught our attention.

They swooped down from above. They had Celestia-damned wings. Shit! I watched as Calypto was ripped off the ground by one of the winged nightmares.

“Calypto!” I screamed out. I took a moment to grab his fallen hat before chasing after that thing. I had to cling to hope. It was never over. Dashing through the shriveled branches and vines, past the horrors on the ground, over benches and around crumbling statues and through empty fountains, I followed after the creature. Scapegrace had caught up with me after a while, and was cantering by my side. The trail was laden with the many things falling out of Calypto's pack.
We chased all the way until we reached a tall radio tower and the stone insignia of the MAS. Calypto struggled and cursed as the skydork wavered in its flight like a drunken bird. Its vain attempts to tread the air robbed it of its altitude. With an echoing thunder, the eruption of Calypto's shotgun sent the zebra rolling out across the garden bed.

“Stupid ugly, shit loving taff. Fuck! Damn it!” Calypto cursed, picking himself off of the ground as we skidded to a stop behind him.

“Are you alright?” I rushed over to Calypto.

The zebra grit his teeth as he spat blood. He was covered in light lacerations and scrapes. He glared at me. “Just give me my hat.”
“You got it.”
“Mi Amore Cadenza...” Scapegrace glowed ghastly white as she called our attention to the macabre scene on the elevated plane.
Killjoy's blood was dripping from the grated staircase that led up to the garden radio tower. Impaled on the railings, he was shivering intensely. Marina, Midnyte, and the rest of Killjoy's gang were scattered on the garden grounds in similar shape.

Eerie shadows of the garden's broken arches stretched out as if to grab us. Upon the arches were several ashen birds, searing with a glowing green light that pierced the veil of their blackened cores. Balefire phoenixes, their wings smoldering with bitter tongues of fire, watched over the elevated courtyard, and the unicorn standing above on the antenna platform that skirted the edge of the garden by the large MAS insignia.

Some kind of weird, biological gunk had coated the platform. The white mare above, cloaked in tattered robes adorned with countless bones, stomped her hoof down as a miserable screech came from the broken looking phoenix on the ground. As she ground her leg into the writhing animal, the flock of phoenixes seared with balefire anger.

“Miserable immortal birds... Still holding loyalties and grudges all this time, ha!” Hexerai laughed as she kicked the bird to one of her whelps below. The witch smiled as her creature devoured the bird. “And not one of you has the guts to stand up for your friends... Pitiful. I'll ruin every one of you for raising those flames against me.
Calypto rushed up to Midnyte who was struggling to get up. “Get out of here...” She coughed as she stumbled on her weak leg.

“I should kill you...” Calypto grimaced as he gripped onto her.

“I don't want to be one of those things,” Midnyte cried. “I don't want to be a monster.”
As I took steps towards Killjoy, he growled and spat up blood. “Get away, you fucking idiot!” he howled through pain. “She'll kill everypony.”
Hexerai waltzed in front of six-pronged star of the Ministry logo. A corpse was suspended against the wall, delicately carved to give fresh air to viscera inside. With the glow of her horn, the blood lifted into the air as it swirled into a nightmarish tapestry. The mare was focused intently on the intricate designs and patterns weaving together through the dancing blood.

“And at last, the rats in the tapestry have fallen into the soft of my hooves.” The bone-clad mare grinned. “Do you finally understand? Tumbleweed?”
I needed to stop making friends.

Calypto sneered. “Looks like we don't have to track her down now. This makes everything simpler.”
I took a few breaths as the wind kicked up. “Scapegrace. You got everything you needed, right? I want you to get out. Don't turn back.”

“But--”

“I said get out!” I growled.

Hexerai grinned as she looked up to the moon before turning back to me. “Trying to save your skin-deep friendship. Still clinging to a liar's vanity, yet maybe that is fitting for a snake.” She turned and braced a hoof against the railing. “You hide it well, Tumbleweed.”

My face hurt as I grit my teeth and contorted my mouth into a caustic grin.“ And you look good for a cremated old hag, Hexerai.” My head hurt, but I was ready. A balefire spirit was coursing through me, and I didn't want to bow to her. “You know what? Stay. I'd like to break your damn prophecy once and for all. Still alive. Hexy. How do you like that?”

“Hexerai?” Scapegrace questioned.

“She's like the boogie mare,” Calypto chimed in. “Look at that, you're on a first name basis with a fairytale.”

“Is there anypony you haven't managed to piss off today?” Scapegrace muttered.

“Thanks for the support, everybody.”

Hexerai stood tall with a smug look upon her face. “How many more have to die before you start cooperating?” she said as she dragged a ghoul up into view, bound and gagged with biogunk. Audacity wriggled in his bindings as his horn shimmered.

“Don't worry about me, kid. Do you see how ugly this face is? Be better than your damn fate,” Audacity's voice spoke out from the glowing vibrations of his magic. Hexerai slammed his head into railings.

“I should cut out your tongue.”

“That wouldn't do shit, honey. Do you see how awesome I am? Cut off my horn and I'll talk through my ass,” Audacity said despite his gag.

In a geyser of blood, a blade erupted from Hexerai's hoof, hovering at Audacity's neck.
“I'll make this easy. I can change your fate. I could spare you your friends’ deaths. Nopony has to die tonight. Just join with me. Give me your strength, the Malleus, and your friends can live,” Hexerai said with brutal serenity.

“Don't do it, kiddo. She's a bitch, and a witch!” Audacity shouted as he earned himself another strike.
Scapegrace looked over to me as she helped up Marina. “Tumbleweed, You can't...”

Calypto grunted, “Kill 'em.”
I sighed as I shook my head. “I don't know who you take me for, but I know a bad deal when I see it. There's no choice there. Either way I'm killing everybody. I can't take that deal.”

“Good choice, kiddo,” Audacity grunted through his magic.
Hexerai grinned. “And now you die--”

As the blade was about to reave. A flash of light burst in the air as one of the phoenixes erupted into a flare. Another flash came with the twang of vigorous magic as a unicorn ghoul blinked into existence right next to Audacity. She was wearing bulletproof vest and what looked like a tropical shirt and sunglasses. Hexerai swiped with her bladed hoof at blistering pace, but the two ghouls disappeared in an instant, just as her hoof rent through the heavy bars of the railing.

The mare reappeared, gripping her gut as blood dripped out from the wound. She blinked in to grab Midnyte and Marina, then the rest of the Killjoy gang. It happened at such a blinding speed.

“What the hell is going on?” I balked as I couldn't believe what had just happened.

“It's cause we're awesome!” Audacity's voice blared over the speaker system. “Let me tell ya, Phone-A-Friend is the best lifeline.”

What the hell was going on? Could he hear me through the radio? Could he just jack anything he wanted?

“Cavalry's arrived. Celestia sends her regards,” the ghoul shouted through the speakers.

The teleporting ghoul reappeared again in a flash, this time with a spear... the kind from the underground village. How in hell did she even know about that?

Before she could plunge the dousing talisman in, a burst of spikes jutted out from the sleeves of Hexerai's tattered robes as she shredded the ghoul into bloody fragments. The ghoul muttered her last words. “How cool was that? Whatever... Peace out.”


“So much for cavalry,” Audacity burst in. “Damn, it’s gonna be awhile until rest show up. Get the hell out of there. Be smart, have fun, don't die.”

I grinned at the strained face of the mare on the tower. “What's wrong, Hexerai? Not going as planned?”

“Give me... the artifact!” Hexerai growled.
“Let's get out of here, guys.”

“Um, Tumbleweed, that's gonna be a bit tough,” Scapegrace muttered as she pointed to the masses of undead crawling up the sides of the MAS building.

“Join.”
“Embrace.”

The voices came together into a symphony of madness as they formed around Hexerai. They bound together into pulsing mass of flesh, towering above.

“Suffuse yourself across the oceans of our love.”

“Shove it up your ass!” Calypto called out.
“Your individual hatred can not measure up to our infinite love,” the myriad of voices cried out as it formed alien arms and legs of chaotic transforming flesh. Gross tendrils wrapped over each other, weaving into a repulsive mass. “All life will eventually succumb to death, find love in our joined embrace. We are inevitable.”

“Come on. Can we please just get a break today?” Scapegrace groaned.

“Well, look at that...” I choked as I looked that the abomination. “They made a mega-dork.”

“It's like the dumbest thing I've ever seen, and it’s still going to kill us,” Calypto muttered.

My zebra friend and I looked at each other and nodded. Born on different days from different tribes, but we die on the same day.

The giant necrotic titan swung down with a destructive splattering fist as Calypto and I split to different sides of the strike. With whistle and I cheer, I pointed to the pass under the satellite station railing. We galloped along its sides as the body of the twisted beast tangled itself, trying to chase after all three of us at once.


Just as we slide underneath the railing, the colossus unraveled its limbs with whirling force. It was fast! The railing crumpled in several feet, knocking Scapegrace to the ground as she took on a dark yellow tone.
The creature’s revolting head reared down to peer in at us in the cavity beneath the stairs. “Your individual strength can not measure up to our love,” it said as its equinoid torso with webbed digits reached out to grab at us.

As it reached in, the creature's balance lurched, causing it to fall forward and roll out onto its back.

“pfft. It fell!” Calypto snickered.

“It's gonna kill us, but it's also a bit adorable,” I laughed.

“It's got too many controllers,” Scapegrace said shaking with excitement. “It’s not brainy. It is fast, but the reaction time is slow, so it overcommits. The town was founded by earth ponies, if we head to the east, there's the old district of Ponyville, we might stand a chance there.”
“You're brilliant!” I grabbed Scapegrace by the shoulders. “But you have your own mission to handle. You get out of here. We'll be fine.”

Scapegrace fretted in protest, but I pushed her on. “I can't leave you... I thought we were doing this together.”

“Bitch.” I bit my lip as I growled. This hurt, but I had to do it. “Useless bitch. You're just gonna get in the way.” Scapegrace shuddered, turning pale as I glared at her. Even so I couldn't hold it. “You've gotten what you came here for, so shut and get out of here, while we distract it,” I seethed with bile in my throat. I seethed not at her, but to myself. I wanted to tell her I'd see her at sunrise, but this was better in the long run. The ground shook as the mutant behemoth rolled to its legs.

Scapegrace teared up as she stumbled/shrunk back. Breathing heavy, she fought through her seizing emotions as she choked out the words, “Fine. I don't want to be a burden anyway.” She collapsed to her hind hooves. She groaned as she wiped away the tears with her forehoof. “Than-kga...ah...thanks.” Scapegrace's colors faded into washed out greys. “For... I don't know...” She started shaking.

Fuck. This hurt more than anything, but it’s what I should have done from the start. “Wait until it chases us off the building. Climb down the side. You can handle yourself,” I said as I motioned to Calypto to move to the side of the railing.

“Little harsh, don't you think?”

“I can't watch my friends die if I don't have any friends.”

“Cold. What does that make me?”

I turned to Calypto. “You wouldn't run even if I told you to.” I grinned. This was good. I didn't have anything to worry about anymore. I could cut loose and do this right... just me and Calypto.

Calypto and I nodded to each other. The two of us rushed out the opposite side of of the satellite tower, whooping and hollering. I knocked over one of the smaller abominations from the edge of the building as I was running alongside it. I shook the Malleus Maleficarum in the air and chanted as I watched the monster try to push directly through the tower, sending its glowing blood dripping down the metal trusses. “You want my love? Well, I like to play hard to get!”
In the glowing light of the burning city, the wasteland looked so damn proud as it never did before.

The beast swaggered aggressively forwards on its awkward limbs, pulverizing the garden as it launched towards us.

It slammed into the wall as we leaped down to the A-top cottage on the side. Dancing cross the inclined slope, we raced up as the bloody talons lanced out against the thatched roof.

The building shook as the claw hit with explosive aggression, punching a hole in the roof. Calypto lost his balance as he wavered over the crest. The wrenching of the monster threw him back down the side of the roof.

You will watch your friends die.
To hell with that! I slid down the edge of rooftop to catch Calypto's hoof as he dangled by the gutter. We grinned at each other as the monster thrashed, unable to free its claws from the rooftop. I pulled Calypto up, as the goliath raised a gnarly mass of serrated tentacles. We dashed up the side, narrowly avoiding the frenzied assault of the wrapping tendrils. I could feel the tips slash and slip over my back, but as the creature leaned across from the MAS facility, its claws receded down the surface of the cottage when it crashed into the gap between.
“Whoo!” We cheered as we cheated death. With wind at our backs we glided down one cottage on to the next. The symphonic sounds of howling reminded us of our pursuers as we were putting more and more distance between us and them.

We crossed another roof top when the beast caught up, swiping madly as I dove down to a balcony below. It smashed the balcony in single swipe, but not before I dove through the window, back into house. I rolled out on some kids’ bedroom.

I rushed to debarricade the small pile of tiny chairs and toys in front of the door. The gargantuan claw burst through and probed inside as it ripped a giant teddy bear from the clutches of a foal's skeleton. Tough break, kid.

I ran through the hallways of the derelict flat. Checking doors, everything on my left opened to the street. I needed an alley-side window, but I was cut off from it by the hulk’s probing limbs. The right side was dominated by the stairwell. As I charged forward, the walls shook as the fist of the beast thrust the ceiling inward. The fist writhed as blood rushed over the splintering bones protruding from it.

“Ascend with us.”

“Maybe I will!” I grinned as I jumped onto the pulsing arm. A web of new boney knives swiped a little too slowly as I climbed up the arm of the monster.

Before I could reach the rooftop, the violent convulsion of the giant ripping its arm free of the house sent me flying through the sky in a splendid fashion. The earth accepted me. I nearly twisted my whole shoulder against the fridge as I spun out into a split roof house across the street.

The creature looked down at me with a thousand empty eyes as Calypto threw two Mallethoof cocktails of some sort, coating the mutant's head in flames... not that it did much. It turned to Calypto as he took a chain wrapped in some cloth and hooked it over a clothes line. With a jump, he glided across the street on a zipline. Midway, his tail flung a tightly packed sphere that burst in contact with the flames, releasing incense everywhere.

The huge nightmare wrenched blindly as it clawed through the zipline, sending him crashing into a cart that was luckily filled with soft, plush radigators to break his fall.

Cascading down onto the streets, I rushed through the grasses to get to Calypto as he was shooting holes through the gators as they investigated his intrusion.

“Let’s bounce!” I shouted as the goliath charged wide of my position, slamming into the wall.

Calypto ducked under the incoming strike, as the thorny appendage raked the stones up from the pavement.

“Too slow!” I chided as we turned the corner. Together we were invincible. I boosted Calypto up a wall, climbing up into the open framework of another house. The bloody claw with a hundred bladed hooves gripped the open crevasse as it crawled after us.

It wanted to chase, and it was coming in. We took to the free-hanging stairs as it welcomed itself into the rent-open living room. When we were only half way up, it smashed the stairway way apart and left the upper levels collapsing into the next building.
Calypto and I looked at each other from across the shattered stairs. He was on the upper deck, which was good. He'd be safer. I won't die from any of this.

Reckless, I charged down the stairs expecting a miracle, only to be knocked flat against the floorboards as the creature pinned me with its palm. I kicked and fought, but I wasn't exactly in my weight class. “Partytime!” Nothing happened. Shit.... still wasn't working.

The tendrils didn't tear through me, it seemed Hexerai wanted me alive. They coiled over the fridge as they yanked at the cables on my neck. They weren't going to break, so at this rate, it didn't matter if they wanted me alive, they were going to kill me in my harness. It lifted me up by the fridge, trying to shake it off of me. It smashed me into the floor a few times before it dedicated its efforts to prying the case open.


Calypto jumped down from the second story as he dove towards the inside of the abomination’s arm. With the horn cask full of venom, he aimed for a thick pulsing artery on the gargantuan arm. He slashed through it, although it didn't seem to stop the monster. “Not enough?” Calypto broke the vessel of venom inside the arm.

The flesh all over the arm swelled as the blood thickened. The aberration howled as it braced its arm against the flooring. It tried to cut the flow with its other arm. Calypto took a bouquet of grenades shoved them into the opening in the mangled vein.

Glowing viscera splattered as the grenades erupted. The giant tried to lift its own arm, but the sinews and muscle tore apart under the strain of gravity.

I scrambled out from the swollen limb. We needed to go. A new path between the houses opened up from the sundered walls. We climbed the fallen wall, out of breath to get to the roof of the next house.

“I'm realizing I don't have any way of fighting this thing,” I grimaced.


“Well, we better find something, because my magic bag of tricks is spent,” Calypto said looking back at flailing monster.

“Shit!”

By the time I turned to look at what Calypto was cursing about, there was nothing there.

It had jumped.

The flat top crumpled as the one-armed nightmare crashed down on top of it. I was knocked off my hooves as the building quaked. Out from my jacket pocket, the strange conch shell I got as a gift from the water spirit rolled down into sundered building below.


“What was that?” Calypto demanded in an aggressive tone.

“It's nothing, we got to get out!” I shouted as I made my way for the far edge of the roof.

Jumping to the other side, I carved a sizable gap between myself and the beast.

Thinking, I grit my teeth. “I have two balefire eggs left, although, I'm not sure how I'd launch them... do you have any ideas?” I asked as I turned to see nobody there behind me.

Back up on the opposite roof, I saw the zebra running towards the ravine in the house. The goliath stomped down..

There was only a stain.

“Calypto!” I froze as Calypto’s hat soared through the air, clattering against the ground behind me while I watched the aberration slam down relentlessly with every part of its body. In moments the entire building was nothing rubble.

We have a phrase in the wasteland... one you got very used to...
“It only hurts if you let yourself get attached”, and after so much practice letting go, I think I had forgotten the feeling.
The wasteland demands sacrifices...

I pushed back the emotion slammed a hoof into ground and roared. First Killjoy, now Calypto. Guess you're looking really hot for your damn prophesy. I slammed my head against ground to breed the anger. Physical pain was easier to deal with than loss.

The beast turned to me. Come at me, son of a bitch. Even if you strip away my friends, I won't die. I'm invincible, and you just pissed me off. I climbed to the crest of the building and pulled the balefire egg from my fridge as I beckoned the devouring beast.


It brandished its tendrils from every part of its body as it rose to its hind legs, towering tall above.
It reaped down on the building, pulverizing everything where I was, but a vehement red light slammed into me and sent me sliding down the backside of the rooftop.

Scapegrace stood over top of me, gritting her teeth in furious rage as she emanated a fiery red aura. “I... AM NOT... USELESS!”
I was speechless as I gawked at the teary-eyed mare above me.

“And I don't believe any of that crap you said before. When we're out of this I want answers,” she said as she threw her grappling hook to a high-up post. She grabbed hold of me tight as she swung us to a distant ledge before the creature could scramble over the building.

“Calypto...” I cursed as I was laid out on the ground.
“You can't save him. Worry about yourself!” Scapegrace growled with authority.

“You could have gotten out of here alive!” I shouted at Scapegrace as I looked over the burning city.

“I don't care about that anymore,” Scapegrace said with more resolution than I've ever seen from her as she pushed me to the ground. “I told you, you don't get to save me.” She glared at me.

I couldn't look her in the eyes, so I just pulled her close to me. Holding her tight against my chest I shuddered a bit. “You could have run.”

“I've spent too much of my life doing that.”
Somehow, she was so much stronger than I was. I admired that, and that's why I had to push her away. “You should just shoot me in the head and get out of here. Trust me, you'll want to.”

Scapegrace chuckled. “With all the crazy chaos you've made me suffer tonight, that sounds satisfying. I would, but that junky beam pistol was torn to scrap and all I have left are some spare spark cells.”

I rocked up as I looked at Scapegrace aghast. “Spark cells! That's it!” I raved. “You're brilliant!” I said with a grin as Scapegrace's colors swelled into a blush. I dove into her saddlebags, searching relentlessly.
“What are you...”

“It’s not that the Party Hoof isn't broken, it’s MAS design. It uses spark cells! Duh! I'm an idiot!” I cheered as I snatched the bundle of sparkle cells.

Scapegrace's colors faded as she tensed up and grabbed onto me. “Shit... Tumbleweed. This isn't the time for this...” She panicked as she struggled to maintain her grasp on me.

“Yeah, it is!” I grinned feeling the passionate bloodlust radiating off of the goliath behind us. I flipped open the chamber on the party hoof and kicked my hoof down, ejecting the drained batteries. Arming the chamber and locking the chassis, I grabbed hold of Scapegrace as the beast swiped. “It's party time!”

The full-charged burst of arcane fire launched us out of the swath of destruction laid by the giant amalgam of death. “Why do you resist?”

“I like being me too much.”


The beast wrapped its claw against its head as it swayed in its drunken bliss. It began to lunge. “Your individuality can not stand up against our--”

“Party time!” I growled as the force of the party hoof fired the balefire egg. Suddenly, the abomination splattered apart by an explosion of bright green hellfire. Bio-gunk dropped out of the sky and the ground beneath the goliath crumbled under the impact. Our bodies shook as the shockwave rippled through the air. The shambling husk of the undead beast tried to hold itself together, but it seized up in trauma from the blast as glowing green balefire danced across its body, devouring it insatiably. A red rain pattered down from above, and we saw the scattered pieces vainly clawing at the ground, trying to reunite.

A flock of balefire phoenixes cawed in the sky as they flew down to pick at the undead nightmare as it writhed in agony.

Were they actually screaming? In pain?

As I picked myself up, wind picked up as the howling echoed. A long sliver of blood shot through the air, forming a whipping tendril that tore the phoenixes out of the air.
I felt Calypto's bloody stripes crawl over me. I could feel it in the ground, she wasn't dead... not yet. The sound of ash and fire stilled my heart and I turned to Scapegrace.

She looked to the burning wreckage, then back at me. I could feel her aggravation carried in her eyes. The apathy I was contemplating fell away as I saw her battling for words she couldn't say.

“You were right. I was lying. You're amazing and brave, I'm an idiot.” I looked deep into her blue eyes as they softened up. “And I'm sorry for saying all that. I didn't mean it. So, I need you to do something for me.”

Scapegrace's coat blushed red, only to fluctuate with a blueish tint. “Don't go... You can't win. Please... Come with me. We can get out of here.”

I smiled as I wrapped my hooves around her. “You're the bravest pony here. So forgive me for taking a bit of inspiration, because I'm gonna go be the most idiotic pony in this town, so I need you to listen.” I removed the straps from my fridge and pushed it towards her. “I need you to live through this. Take this and keep running.”

Scapegrace teared up as she shook her head. She choked on words as she wavered. Anger, hope, despair could be seen cycling on her face. “...No. P-please. Don't... you don't have to.”

I wrapped my hooves around her and held her close. Damn it, I was doing stupid things. I was getting soft. “She is a threat to everything I care about. I don't know what this thing does, but it seems she needs it bad, so I need you to run while I buy time. You're the only pony I can trust with this.”

Scapegrace tensed up, but even her strength faded from her embrace. Her lips reached out faintly as her coat swelled pink and her eyelids fluttered. I really didn't deserve the worry I was getting out of this. I think I realized, I loved a lot of things I didn't deserve.
Damn, if there was ever a moment for the hero to just shut up and kiss the girl, this would be it. I didn't have time for this, but her eyes had a magnetism I couldn't turn away from. I stepped forward. Scapegrace leaned in as her lips moved so lonely, hanging gently open.

“Grrraaahhhhhhhh!” I growled, shocking Scapegrace's eyes open. I tapped her right on the tip of her muzzle, breaking the spell as she gawked in befuddlement. There! I broke free, galloping off towards the burning corpses as the crystal mare fell back to her hinds.

“Am I just supposed to run and never see you again?” she cried.

“Oh, I forgot!” I turned about in a skip. “I'll see you at sunrise!” I cheered as I crossed the makeshift breezeway made from the charred bone of the creature’s arm. As the mist parted over the graveyard, I saw a red glint of light reflect off of Hexerai's eyes from within the red mist. Inside the cindered carcass of the goliath, I stepped beyond a threshold where the windswept dust gave way for a mix of viscera, blood, and ash.

The arm quaked, its remaining muscle sinew snapping apart, as I descended into the descended into the blood soaked den. The creature's alien skull twitched as it fell from its perch above.

The place smelled of death and ash. The moon hung close as rain cleared, just as it did in my dream. Different city, but the similarities both terrified and amused me. In the smoldering skeleton, I spotted a bloody chrysalis pulsing at the heart of the cadaver.

A whirling three-digited claw, sliced a phoenix out of the air as a red-cloaked Hexerai cleared the web of skin and tissue, before falling to the floor. “That bitch...” she cursed in a suppressed growl. Her face was scarred with balefire burns. “Throwing away the souls of her subjects in balefire! How far Celestia's fallen... no matter…” she cursed as she gradually returned to her calm resolve.

As she pulled up to her hooves, pulling the thick tethers connected from her back, my hoof was there to reintroduce her to the ground. She crashed through fractured plywood into what must have been a cabinet. I didn't give her time to react as I skidded across the blood-slicked floors to punt her head across the ground. “You losing your cool, Hexerai?”

Her form shifted beneath her bloody cloak as she grasped at the ground. “Angry over your friend’s death? After a single day?” She smiled. “That will fade. They never were your friends, never could be. You're a casualty of a sick world, unable to overcome a dysfunction you don't even understand.”

My seething hoof crashed down on top of her, again and again, as I knocked her about the ground. Something burned inside of me, and she only fanned the flames. “Sick world? You've never lived there.”

Hexerai kicked free of her tethers as she took to her hooves. “You don't get it, do you? You can't outrun fate. It's what brought you here. Every step of the way. It is inevitable,” she said as she braced herself against the cindered vertebrate.

I didn't falter. As I approached, a grasping claw thrust out from her robes, but I saw it coming before it ever moved. Without my fridge, I was light on my hooves, and I felt faster and smarter than I had in a long time. I ducked low, sliding beneath as I preempted the morphing joints, dipping back to dodge the first unraveling limb, slipping through the momentary gap before the second sliced through, and letting the third chase around its own arm as I vaulted over her. I shivered with fury as I slipped through the attack and punched her through the weakened spinal column. “Let me show you inevitability, H]exerai! I'm gonna kick your ass.”
Hexerai glared at me as she pulled up to her hooves again. I'd have to teach her to stay dead. “Fight all you like, but it will change nothing,” she said as her face became placid. “Enough games, out of my way.”

I grinned as I stepped out in front of her. Hexerai's serenity twisting into stern disgust. I didn't care if it changed nothing. Pissing her off was more than enough. I had never been much of a defender in my life, certainly never thought about it before I had the fridge. “You already said it’s inevitable. You'll win, but I'll never die. I'm invincible, so what happens when an unstoppable force meets an unmovable object?” I raised up to my hooves and sank into my stance. From the ground up, I could feel the wasteland world behind me. I was the gatekeeper to the wild. Fate would have to get through me. I'll dash her fate against the teeth of the wasteland.

“Don't act as if you're in control, I could kill you here, and bring you back from the dead.”

I grimaced. Hadn't thought about that... whatever, doesn't matter, ain't that right Calypto? “Go ahead. Bring me back, and I'll still kick your ass. If you could have had a drone do my job you would have done it earlier.” That was what we called 'job security'.

Hexerai grit her teeth as she furrowed her brow. “Tch,” she clicked as new claws formed, whipping out, bursting with teeth as they thrashed through the debris of the house.

I think I’ve finally pissed her off. Good. Even with my heightened senses, I couldn't get close as her furious limbs denied me any chance of getting close. I rolled and faded back, dancing away from the bundles of spikes that scraped the edges of my coat. I could feel the echoes shaking through the building and where the structure began to slip. It was enough to stay alive, in and among the chaos. Fate was on my side, and I bet that pissed her off. “Who's fighting the pointless now?” I said as I retreated back up and over the skeletal arms of the beast as she chased up edges. She had the range, and the further she was from it, the weaker she was. That was basics.

A moment’s hesitation would given the wall an extra coat of paint, but I parried the blow across my metal bracers as I lost balance and stumbled along the split bones. Dodging a wave of blades, I fell. I grasped my hoof around the radial bone of the goliath, hanging on for dear life. Hexerai dashed in to take advantage of my misfortune, but her axe-bladed tendrils swept clear of me as I switched over to the tibia. Bulbs of glowing flesh swelled up on the ends of the twin tendrils that spiraled out from her cloak, bursting into two fanning arrays of spikes. Life and death were a matter of inches: the spines glanced against my body on the next attack, but I was only spared getting sliced into ribbons due to a clever shift of my weight.

Hanging for my life wasn't the way an earth pony liked to go, but I could feel the cracks and imperfections around me, reaching up through the bones in the ground up to the teetering spire of debris above like an open claw. Hexerai's hungry flesh bristled, eager to burst, but with a gutsy tackle, I tipped the balance, as I jumped onto the boney brambles. The thought in my head was “flex”, but the words that came out were: “Party Time!”
In a surge of brilliant force, Hexerai's body snapped tight as her plummeting arm sent her crashing into the bones, offsetting her attack. My ascending hooves struck Hexerai through gravity. I felt every satisfying crack echo through her skull, though I didn't suppose it did much of anything. Wonder if I wouldn't have gone through, but I hit the arm bones like a grate. This battle wasn't being fought for victory, but I'd be damned if I didn't appreciate the little things. The seismic force shuddered through the foundations, and the tower of debris clenched up like a wave about to come crashing down. This time with just a simple kick, the disjointed bones of the beast split and swayed apart, carrying me away from Hexerai.. The beast, barely alive, howled as the arm shook and the snapped. Tumbling to the bloody ground, I thought the words, “Rend! Crush!”

And the wasteland obeyed. Like a tidal wave, the upper levels of the house caved inward. The cascading wasteland claw crashed through Hexerai, sweeping her in with its current as it shambled to the deck of the house. The sweeping cloud of dust and debris wiped away the scent of blood, replacing it with wasteland flavor.

I collapsed against the ground, shaking the daze from my eyes as pain stretched through my body. Wrenching my body around, I grasped at my hooves, my eyes widening at the glowing, azure roots growing over them. A whispering laugh crept into my mind as I thought of that tree. I saw my reflection in a murky puddle of blood. The veins were trellising up my neck and framing around my eyes. What was it doing to me? Whatever, the plans of Pharoah and that tree would have to wait. I had history to write. I grit my teeth and stumbled on my hooves, falling over the piled up detritus as I made my way to the half-buried Hexerai.

I stood over her, her white coat stained red and her mane drenched in primordial fluid. She almost seemed equine, relatable, as I stomped my hooves down across her head. I was vicious as I aimed for eyes and fractures of bone. I picked up her head and slammed it back against the ground. “You want to talk about fate!? You think I am ever gonna help you? Fat chance. YOU! DON'T!! KNOW! WHO YOU’RE MESSING WITH!” I growled as I pounded Hexerai's skull repeatedly, caving it in and grinding bones into dust. The nostalgia of the brutality made me sick. “You can't be stopped, huh?” I spat down. “Prove it.”

“Shut up,” gargled the brainless husk.
I didn't see the twisting horns that grew out from her shoulders. An erupting a wave of red glowing light unfurled from her horn. The cascading flames knocked me into the air, suspending me in place as the grotesque revenant ripped its flesh free from cindering wreckage. “That bitch tampered again. You were supposed to be the the perfect destroyer. You had something nopony else could compare with. That's why I chose you. Perspective,” Hexerai spoke. The torn apart flesh atrophied and peeled away loosely as the glowing blood surged replacing all the things she had lost. The missing pieces of Hexerai's head manifested as she spoke with gravel in her voice. She spread her wings and took to the sky as she carried me up above the town. “You've seen the world for exactly the kind of twisted nightmare it is. From the castle highs to shackled slaves, and all the vice and bloodshed between. The you I chose to be my champion understood it better than anypony. But something changed.... turned that fate rotten.” Hexerai glared at me she looked me over.

I grinned. “Perspective? I don't want hear that from the likes of you.”

Hexerai sliced a talon across my face. “Something changed. You never fell into the pits of despair. Never learned a damn thing. So, this is the last defense of that damn Ministry Mare, it has her saccharine scent all over it. Turned you into an ignorant fool clinging to the shadow of a world.”

I shook my head at pain from the strike. I spit the blood building up in my mouth. “Pits? Nah, I've been there already. I saw it all. Brooding gave me a headache. The world moves on, always does.”

Hexerai seemed to take offense to my cheer, like every smile was a threat. She grew horns along her hooves as an arc of light channeled down her hoofs. Her glowing talons reached... inside me, disappearing in a shimmering pool. Her glowing red hoof pulled a web of constellations from my body. It was such an alien sensation, I wanted to puke and swallow at the same time. Why couldn't she just try to rip my heart out like everypony else? “The world is poisoned--”

“It's better than it ever was!” I interrupted.

“Grr... The soul is shaped by the world it was born into,” se pontificated as she extracted the strings from my body.

“We're stronger, tougher, and way more magical than anything you could know.”

“Every single soul passing through this twisted reality becomes more afflicted than the last.”

“We like our jackets straight, our markets black, and our destinies are ours, something you don't understand.”

“It's a cesspool of unrestrained vice spiraling inevitably towards misery and despair.”

“So what?” I grinned as Hexerai boiled beneath her mangled skin. It had been a long-ass time since anypony interrupted her.

Hexerai growled as she threw me down against a building below. Fate still on my side, I landed rolling downhill of the rooftop. Still alive? Was I breaking your concentration, Hexerai? She quickly rushed over to rip me off the ground as she strained her magic again. “Your facade of joy is an empty vessel for you to escape into from your destiny as you placate your anger at this worthless, scum-ridden wasteland.”
“What the hell do you know about the wasteland? There is more heart and freedom here than there has ever been!” I said as I strained heavily against my magical restraints, managing to gesture to my heart before snapping back into position. I grit my teeth into a fierce grin “The wasteland is a living hell, alright, but it's hell of a place to live... and that terrifies the hell out of you. Everypony in the wasteland has earned the right to complain, but I don't want to hear any of that crap about a broken world from some prewar bitch who's never been there!” I laughed as the Hexerai focused on the thread of fate spindling out of my body.

“You're not worthy of your destiny,” she said as she isolated a single stellar node from my internal star chart and crushed it in her talons. I felt something inside me sputter and die, something that had been watching me for as long as I could remember, but which I could never feel. I could feel a vulnerability crawl over me as I began to tremble, unable to free myself. As the winding webs of stars funneled back into my body, Hexerai's flesh reeled back, priming a twisting javelin ready to lash out. I shivered as my eye fixated on the serrated spear tip looked as if it was tailored for a special level of hate. I struggled furiously in the restraints, but Hexerai doubled down with magic to keep me in place. “A christening in blood to commemorate your beloved freedom. Now, perish in the abyss between.” Hexerai's javelin exploded forwards at lightning speed, striking me in the heart as its piercing force launched me back into wall. I hit the wall heavy and fell limp against shattered brick as pain was wracking my body.


Hexerai saw my broken body and turned away. “You have died. The so-called Chosen One. You shall be forgotten along with this miserable wasteland as it gives way to a new world.”

In a daze, I heard a laugh before a pony made of thorny azure roots stepped up to me. The phantom had a wooden tribal mask with two tusks that trailed down from the sides. One tooth broken. A symbol of my tribe. The bone-adorned mask was cracked with a bloodshot eye staring back at me. Blood was thickly soaking through the pony's matted mane. I'd never seen them, but they felt familiar. The sharp teeth beneath the mask flared. It said, “You and I, free at last.” Kingthorn... just felt like a name for him.
When I’d shaken my head there was nothing there. I thought about not getting up, but it was too exciting. I was gonna win tonight. Damn the odds, if everything else was just an orchestrated play, I was going off script. It was all in my hooves now. I gripped at my chest, and suddenly something caught my eye. There was a message on the inside of the broken interior of the chimney. In Case Of Ball Emergency

I smiled. As Hexerai climbed to the edge of the rooftop, I pegged her with the harmless prewar ball. Here I was, trying to play catch with an incarnated ghost craving the destruction of the world, and she had the gall to drop the ball.

“You!” she growled as her eyes widened in disbelief. Rows of jagged spikes pierced her shoulders as she trembled. “I pierced you through! There was no way you could have dodged!” She clenched the gnarly claws that burst from her hoof. “How?”

Chapter 5 Finale: Gatekeeper of Hell

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Hexerai had made one big mistake in her plan - she pissed me off, and I was way better at it than she was. I gripped my gut as I laughed at her. “Hahaha, whoever thought this dumb thing would be useful,” I said, inflating a half-truth as I pulled the statuette from my half-pierced jacket pocket. Her talon had gotten caught in the nook under the figure’s head and hair.

Hexerai fell forward, catching herself with a claw. The sight of that figure was more infuriating to her as she wailed and howled, slamming her mutated claws into the ground until they were mangled and broken. “Your fate was severed, how can she have any influence here?!” She surged as glowing veins stretched across her body.

“I don't really understand, but I'll put it like this: you're predictable.” I whipped with my tail as I sank back onto my hind hooves. I felt light, as if I could fly. I could explain to her the psychology of spores, how I baited her attack on my heart, or how I knew she was the only one I could count on to change my fate, but it was too satisfying to destroy her confidence. “You gave me everything I needed, and it was all part of my plan. In the wasteland, your fate’s good as trash, like everything else.”

The burning of her blood shaped her limbs into a tighter, more controlled state. She grit her teeth as she turned to me. “I've been careless with you. Forget the heroes, a renegade agent is more a threat to my plans. Your feeble rebellion will end as soon as it begins. You can't kill me.”

Kingthorn's glowing brambles crawled across my body as I cracked my hoof joints. “Good. I'm gonna kick your ass ‘till the sun rises.”


And deep within the facility, a timer counted down as the tension mounted between us.

3...

2...

1...

The ground shook as the MAS facility not far in the distance shattered apart as a green tower of balefire reached up into the sky. Tephra and concrete shot up into the sky as a cloud of black dust and ash billowed out from the point of impact. Hexerai braced as the shockwave ripped planks free from the ancient roofing. I only charged through it unwavering, the ground under my hooves holding fast in the middle of the storm of debris, loyal to the hero in the face of a terror. Hexerai swiped with a glowing claw, but I jumped high above it; no longer tied down by fridge, I could soar. I arched down in my dive as I cried out, “Party Time!”

Riding the burst of arcane force, I tackled Hexerai straight through the ceiling of the house. Hitting the ground I rolled to my hooves in the tight attic space. My hooves were bloody. I saw Hexerai's coat bristle with hooks and barbs. I couldn't get close to her.

Hexerai lunged towards me. I hooked a dusty telescope with my back leg, jutting it into her neck with a kick as she charged. It offered some resistance, but I had parried away the strike with a swipe of my bracers. I even kicked off of her, only for it to send me back onto a table behind me. I danced over the table as I dodged a snapping jawlike hoof. I knocked the nearby stack of boxes over, burying Hexerai only for a moment as she pierced through them.

Left! Right! It was duck and weave. Swinging around like a hurricane, a dodge turned into a whirling roundhouse. The only thing keeping me alive was being unpredictable and the speed of my kicks hardening my hooves. I slipped to the side of one strike before pulling a large dust cloth over Hexerai, blinding her. It was the moment I needed to dive through a weak floorboard to the level below. I didn't have to keep pressure on her. She'd chase me.

The hallway was packed with antiques and tools of all sizes, but I didn't have time to appreciate it. I looked for a place to hide as the voice of Hexerai called out. “Saving your friends? Is that what this is all about?” I was hiding ducking around doorframe as she scanned the area. “You remind me so much of somepony from before the war.”

I might have taken that as an insult, but I was getting tired enough that it didn't matter to me. Hexerai slashed through the wall, nicking my face as I pulled away, but as she sauntered through the portal I slammed the door on her. Her reinforced body was able the cleave the door in half as the transmutating blood came spraying through it.

“A juvenile pink mare, blind to the realities of the world and the fate it was destined for. Always preaching about friendship and how it would save the world,” Hexerai said as rugged horns lined up on her shoulders. “You know what happened to that fool?”

Given the nature of prewar ponies, it was probably 'she died,' 'she went crazy,' or 'she blew something up and then cried about it.' My personal bet was on contender number one.

As the boney spears fired out of Hexerai's body like ballista bolts, I kicked a table onto its side, catching the projectiles’ teeth. “She watched as every one of her friends ignored her.”

I grabbed a bone javelin in my mouth and kicked the table in toward Hexerai. She climbed over it and cut it down with a sword-like limb.

I hooked a chair with my hoof and spun it around to entangle the blade in its protruding legs. My hooves skidded back along the ground as Hexerai barrelled forward. “She died still believing that her precious friendships still meant something. You're the same way. Unable to see that you are beyond redemption, infatuated with a world that tries to kill you. You'll die alone just as she did.”

“Some of my best friends have tried to kill me. Doesn't matter to me,” I smirked as the roots along my body guided my hooves. I twisted the chair, torquing Hexerai's bladed arm until I could stab it into the ground. Hexerai defended with her opposite claw, but I impaled it through the palm with the bone spear. I stabbed that into the ground as well. I had to be careful not to look her in the eyes as I smirked.

“Party Time!”

The burst was strong enough that it knocked me back into a roundoff. The arcane force nearly tore Hexerai's limbs off her body as she crashed through a workbench. I had a nasty claw scar against my face from that close encounter. It stung. “Get up,” I demanded as I walked towards the undead witch. Hexy ripped her body free of the mangled limbs as she glared at me. “Good. Grow back more limbs, so I can break those too.” I said as I kicked up to my hind legs again. Lacerations on my forehooves, the grenade I took to my hind leg, countless concussions and abrasions, all were catching up to me.

But as Hexerai charged with new forming horns and shadows dancing on her hooves, I felt a strange sensation wash over me. Today had been a hectic one. Crazy robot bartenders and zebras who act like superheroes, color-changing mares, and meeting wasteland talk show hosts... So many crazy things I can't even recount them all. Even with the pain of these wounds, I have been smiling and laughing all day long. That was something Hexerai could never understand. This was a terrifying yet wonderful world, and I'd never give it up, even for a moment.

She charged, but my roots reached out and predicted every step of her trajectory. Twisting in my leap, my whirling back hoof diverted Hexerai into the wall. I fell to the ground as I gripped my bleeding leg. Fuck. I can't keep hitting her like that. Hexerai shook herself out of the daze, checking that the shelf above wouldn't fall. I tossed a chair into a line of shelves, as they crashed down on top of Hexerai, burying her in pots and pans. I was laughing until Hexerai spewed a trail of fire from her jaws, catching me in the thick of it.

Fuck it, that's when I'm out. I fell back into a roll as I tried to put out the embers. I was lucky, the water spirit's blessing might have helped me out. My flesh wasn't melting off, that was good. I had to dodge as Hexerai didn't let up. As I was rolling, she struck me on the side with a
barbed axe hoof.

“You can't run away.” Hexerai grinned.

“Do you even know who you're talking to?” I asked rhetorically as I made a break for the door. Hexerai was in hot pursuit. She ripped up the flooring as she charged. I jumped through weak wall to catch onto a lower building.

I nearly didn't make the jump with my injuries. Scrambled along the edges, trying to keep a grip until I hit window. I dove inside as Hexerai watched from the other building. As I scrambled through, the longer apartment hallways, I saw the words scrawled out on walls in blood: “You can't run, Tumbleweed.”

The nightmare drones came pouring out from the halls.

“You can't escape this, Tumbleweed. The White Lady is coming for you. Through our infinite warmth she sees.”

I was pushed to the roof top, limping as I gasped for breath. My body sagged closer to the ground then ever, I was really feeling the gravity. Like it was accepting me. I didn't want to give up.

“You could have been great, Tumbleweed,” another message read on the floor.

Ugh, I'm getting their opinion pieces, too. Kill me -- sure, whatever! --but don't grade me while you’re at it. I saw a knocked over ladder bridging to a torn open building. Looked like a way out of here. I scrambled for it as a horde of dorks chased after.


As I began my crossing, I felt my balance waver. The dorks were twisting the ladder. I grit my teeth as I focused hard on my feet. Even as it turned, I adapted, keeping on whatever was the topside. I was beginning to understand this strange power I had attained.

I moved into the next building, and gave some payback to the nightmares that now tried to cross the bridge. Shaking them free I pulled the ladder back to me, retracting the steps until the protruding part halved in size.

This building was spacious. Some kind of auditorium, but with stars. I think they called it a planetarium.

I stumbled my way through, easing up on my focus with the parasitic seed on my body. I was getting dizzy. I had a feeling it drank my blood. Maybe not... I might have died by now if it did. What did I know, though?

Hexerai crashed through behind me, launching me rolling against the grooved seating. “I don't dislike that rebellious spirit, you know. Back then, all I craved was freedom.”

I spat blood as I picked myself off the ground. “Bleh- ahgh... thats... the biggest sack of brahmin shit... I... I ever heard. Fuck. You hate wasteland, and everything it represents, so stop trying to win me over.”

“I don't hate your wasteland, but rather the direction of the ponies souls.” Hexerai grinned as she walked forward. “You're tired, broken. Just give up already.”

I waited until she stepped forward into the rungs of the ladder on the ground, and pulled it out from under her. “We are the future, bitch. We are nothing like the past. What worked for them won't work for us. It’s a whole new world!” I chanted as I picked myself up and braced the ladder across my back.

Hexerai spat fire as she fell to the ground in aggravation. “That's where you are wrong. Your broken violent world and the utopian dream from beyond the balefire veil are more alike than you could ever imagine.”

“What?” I wanted to shut her down. The wasteland was rough, but we had our pride.

“The wasteland is the true, disgusting nature of ponies,” she proclaimed as she lashed out with an erupting tendril.

I batted the tendril away as I spun the huge ladder on my back. She couldn't cross the distance. Yes. This was a better weapon than I could have ever hoped for. But my swings were slow and she was fast. She struck in with a lancing arm, and I had to roll the ladder over my neck to catch the attack in front of me in the rungs.

The tendril twisted around the ladder, moving to snap at me as it serrated itself, but I slid my hooves a few steps down on the ladder, pushing the attack away. Hexerai wouldn't wait for first limb to finish tangling, and a second, third, and fourth limb swung in at me. Pivoting with the ladder, I dragged Hexerai around in a circle, throwing off all her attacks.

She snuck another limb through the rungs of my impromptu weapon, trying to seize control of it. Good. I was roughed up, but still an earth pony. I pressed my front hooves tight to the ladder as I dove my body over it. Rolling in the air, the twisting ladder joints became a bone grinder as it snapped the witch’s limbs like they were twigs.

Hexerai howled at the assault. Good, I'm doing something. The infuriated ancient turned to spit fire at me, but I wrestled the ladder over her neck slamming it down on her. She pressed against it, accentuating the angle of the ladder.

“Party Time!” I shouted as I kicked the sliding extension of the ladder. The second set of steps telescoped out as far as its design allowed it, the burst of pink force transforming the simple ladder into a portable guillotine. The force decapitated Hexerai as the end of the ladder pierced the ceiling of the planetarium. Pulling back from the ceiling, the claw of the wasteland came tumbling down on Hexerai. “This is my world. You don't get to say what it 'is' and what it 'isn't”.


Gasping I dropped the ladder as I fell back. Was it over? Fuck... I didn't know if I could keep going.

“The greatest fallacy of the Equestrian age was that peace was a natural tendency.” The voice came from the caved in debris. Fuck. Why couldn't you stay dead?

I hobbled up the caved roof as I saw Hexerai putting herself back together. Frantic and panicking I lost my balance on the roof top. My wavering hooves fell out from under me and I hit the ground. I rolled down the slope of the roof onto a lower building.

By the time I stopped tumbling, I couldn't tell which way was up.

“So here is where the rebellion ends. You’ve had a good run, but this was inevitable.”

I didn't want to get up, but I didn't want to lose. Celestia knew I deserved whatever was coming to me... I just didn't like to lose. As I teetered on the edge of despair, I heard a voice call out to me.

“Get the hell up!”

It wasn't one voice. It was several.

“Come on! Kick her ass!”

“Come on, Yellow Guy!”

There were cheers from all around. I had to look around to see what the hell was going on. There were ponies on the roof tops. Lots of them. Raiders, and non-raiders alike, lined up on the sides looking with binoculars and with small TV sets. As I moved, they whooped and cheered. It was surreal.

“What in the wild wasteland is going on?” I muttered as I struggled vainly to get to my hooves.

A voice came on over an old intercom system. The gravelly voice I recognized as Audacity came on. “Seems like there’s some sort of mass broadcast going on. It’s on everything with a screen in the wasteland. Looks like you’re famous, kiddo. And don't look at me, I'm all audio. I'm awesome, but this is way above my production value.”

Pharoah... that sly bastard. Agh... “The whole wasteland is gonna watch me die. Great.”

“My professional advice, kiddo? Try not to die,” Audacity said over the intercom.

“Thanks. I'll try to keep that in mind.”

Hexerai looked down from above. “You see, Tumbleweed, two hundred years ago, I discovered a sin. A conspiracy of fate, binding Equestria into shape. Wanted free will so badly.” I rolled to look at her as I struggled to get up from the ground. “The peaceful utopia of Equestria was nothing more than an orchestrated choreography of destiny, authored by the scrutinizing gaze of the grand Princess Oracle of the Sun. The one some of you look on to as an old goddess, and how she acted, she might not have been far from one.” Hexerai laughed as she smoothed out the mutations on her skin and felt up her face, making sure everything was as it should be. “Needless to say, I was outraged. How could the Princess rob away the fate of so many?” Hexerai glided down the slope towards me. “All I wanted to do was something simple. Free Equestria to decide its own fate.” Hexerai laughed as she grit her teeth in a sour grimace.


I could barely pick myself off of the ground. My eyesight was fading.

A bolt fired out from Hexerai's body and my instincts lit up, as I flung myself barely out of the way, only letting it graze me.

“Don't run away from me!” Hexerai growled. She picked me up off the ground. “That was the day when I learned that history did not matter.”

Suddenly a streak of light tackled Hexerai as it shouted, “History! Matters!”

Scapegrace had swung in on her her grappling hook and kicked Hexerai away. With a burst of gunfire, Scapegrace's legs kicked with a bright muzzle flash. Her legs spat out spent shotgun shells. She tore into Hexerai with whirring blade that spun like a saw blade in her forehoof. She was hot fiery red. “We make mistakes, we learn, we grow stronger. That's how it is. We aren't to blame for our ancestors but we can learn from them.”

“How can you learn from those who were ignorant of their own history? For a thousand years, there had not lived a pony who knew exactly how little control they had.” Even she was being hacked and shot, Hexerai pierced Scapegrace through, lifting her up as she screamed, kicking free with her legs.

I kicked up to my hooves in anger. The earth would give me strength. I rushed in with furious forehooves and struck in at Hexerai's gut. Scapegrace grew long crystal talons and hacked herself free from Hexerai's attack. Scapegrace fell to the ground gripping her gut as she mended the wound and hobbled over to me.


“Damn it, what did I tell you?” I reprimanded her. “Get the hell out! Leave me!”

“No, we're doing this together. I'm not going to let you die,” she said as she readied herself for striking. “Besides, if that journal you found is correct, she's the one who stole the Crystal Heart.” Scapegrace swelled with a vibrant orange and red aura. “She's the one who ruined everything for the Crystal Empire.”

“Who do you think you are? The thieving crystal ponies. Angry for vengeance are you? The Crystal Empire needed to fall.”

“You bitch!” Scapegrace shouted with tears streaming down her face. I crawled over to Scapegrace to grab myself an extra pack of spark cells.

“Don't let her get to you, Gracie,” I grunted. I took a look in my fridge. Nothing there except Crystal Hearts and Hex's hammers. Nothing edible. Life is rough sometimes. “Give me my fridge. I'm done getting beat up today.”


Scapegrace handed it over, and I grit my teeth to accept the new weight. Even as empty as I felt, with Scapegrace at my side, I felt like I could push on for a little longer.


“Out of my way! This scum of a pony needs to die, for the sake of all who have suffered at his hooves, and all who will ever live,” Hexerai said as she stepped forward to swipe. Hexerai's slash was intercepted by Scapegrace who grit her teeth as the strike cleaved into her torso. Her coat began to crack as she held it up. “You are so angry, yet your fate is an empty one. You will never ever accomplish greatness. Even if you steal my magic, you can not wield it like I can.”

“Can't I?” Scapegrace grimaced as she locked eyes with Hexerai and deep holes dug in from her eyes. Glowing orange veins crawled over Hexerai's barrel before bursting open in a flood of blood. Scapegrace kicked off Hexerai.


I circled right as Scapegrace circled left. We'd flank her. We could do this. Hexerai was chasing after me, so I led her in. She struck with a whipping hoof that lapped against my shield. As Hexerai charged, she was hooked with the grappling hook as Scapegrace reeled the necrophile back in with her reengineered anatomy.

Hexerai swiveled on an unnatural spine, with several sickle-like limbs slashing in half-moon arcs. As she turned away, I rushed up. Fully locked and loaded, I kicked my leg at her hip. “Party Time!”

Hexerai rolled across the rooftop as the ground began to give way. The bloodied, misshapen white mare clawed at the edge to hold on when Scapegrace tossed a grenade towards the scrambling nightmare. Hexerai disappeared below the edge of the building only to take to the sky. She flew overhead, breathing a wave of fire.

I ran to shield Scapegrace from the attack with the fridge.

Hexerai flew up to another building where some raiders were watching the fight. We watched as Hexerai gripped one of them in her claw by the head, and in an instant, thorny tendrils ripped raider to pieces. She chanted something strange, but I couldn't hear it well enough. Something glowing jumped from the raider's body into Hexerai's talons. She flew back faster than ever. Was she some kind of soul eating vampire?

Hexerai swooped back through, this time firing a barrage of spears. The power of the Tree helped me dodge and block them all, but Scapegrace found herself pinned down by the one that pierced her through. Hexerai perched herself upon a weathervane above, with the moonlight shining hungrily down on her.

In her hooves was a rifle. What?! A simple gun.

“A disgusting tool of war, the very core of the pony's soul. A perfect tool to end you with.” Hexerai brandished the gun, the barrel resting intently on me. I moved to raise my shield only to see Hexerai shift her aim to the pinned Scapegrace.

I wasn't quick enough. She would die. I'd lose both of them. Even as Scapegrace struggled, she couldn't break free.

KRI-TANG! A bullet sounded in and my heart dropped.

… But it never reached her.

Hexerai wailed as the fragments of a shattered gun fell from her magic grip.

“What did I tell ya? Don't worry about the prophesies.” A striped ghost groaned as he holstered his shimmering revolver. Sweet Celestia, the cat in the hat came back... He was bloody and limping again, but alive, and I was never happier to see that dumb bastard.

“Calypto!” Scapegrace called out as I joined in, “Asshole!”

“Your fate was sealed! My behemoth crushed you underhoof, I felt it. I saw your corpse. That was the destiny I sowed myself. I was sure of it! How is that puppet of Celestia still alive?” Hexerai scowled as she thrashed at the rooftops.

“I remember dying. Felt as bad as I thought it would be, but I thought something like that might happen, given the prophecy...” Calypto grinned as he galloped over. “I remember Scapegrace talking about this thing, I thought it might be useful.” Calypto produced from his jacket a fragment of a broken statue. It was the statue of Discord from the facility!

I jumped to my hooves; it was like my strength had never left me. I ran to pull the spike from Scapegrace's body then turned to Calypto. “Alright, now it’s really...” I caught myself. “Err- let’s get this party started.” I looked back to Hexerai. “Look here, Hexerai! Look at your prophecy now! My friends never left, and now you’re gonna get the ass-kicking of a century, let me tell ya!”

Hexerai's horns glowed as she fired her projectile spears at Calypto. I dove in front of him with the shield. “You might need this thing more than I do.”

“Tumbleweed. This is important. Do you have any water?” Calypto said as he crouched behind me.

“Now is not the time to worry about dry throats!” I barked.

“Not that! From a spirit. Did you get water from a spirit? Like, as an offering?”

My canteen! “Yeah! I did!” I said as I pulled out the canteen. “What do you need it for?”

“I can end this whole night of mayhem early.” Calypto grinned as he stole the canteen.

Hexerai swooped in to tackle, but I partytimed into the middle of the writhing bladed limbs, interrupting her dive.

Calypto clapped his spurs together with a ring as he held up the conch shell I had received earlier from the spirit. He threw some kind of powder into the air and hummed. With the canteen in his mouth, he splashed the water around in a circle as he chanted words. “In the name of the cardinal four and the great spirits above, I call upon a child of the ocean’s love! Come hither, before the contract bells wither!”

I wrestled with Hexerai as Calypto worked. She gripped at the fridge and dug her claws into the grooves of the casing. Thrashing about, she tore the fridge away from me. Fires bellowed in her gullet as she towered over me.

Calypto flipped off his hat, splashed some water in, and taking the hat in his mouth, he spun it around his body. On the inside of the hat were the engravings of some kind of magical origin. From the center to the hat, Calypto revealed the body of the subterranean water spirit, in all its barnacle-laden glory. Calytpo shouted out the final words of the incantation rapidly as he looked back at my situation, “Terms! Til the sun returns! The offering, a favor absolving. What say you?”

The spirit nodded, and blasted Hexerai back with an intense geyser of water. Hexerai was hurled free of the rooftop. The spirit looked around at burning town and shrieked. The spirit seethed, and a thick curtain of steam rose from it. The spirit launched itself at Calypto and enveloped the zebra, setting his stripes shimmering with blue light. Calypto lifted up with the spirit’s essence. Hexerai howled as she danced back. For the first time she was on the run.

We chased her to the edge. “How's the water, bitch?” I cheered from the edge.

Pointing out his hooves the same way he does with his guns, Calypto smiled as boiling streams of water jetted forth.

Hexerai's horns flashed as she produced a black barrier that parted the water. The moment the barrier opened, the spirit began to panic, trying to wrench Calypto back.

Hexerai jettisoned a layer of boiled flesh as she took to the sky. “I could feed you to the Jormundgandr, don't trifle with me!”


I ran to retrieve my fridge. I could dodge Hexerai's attacks better without it. “You'll need this more than I will!” I shouted, and I tossed the fridge vaguely in Calypto's direction. The spirit reached out to catch it with curious confusion.

“No, not for eating! Not an offering!” Calypto started panicking.

I leaped over the edge as I chased Hexerai. It felt like earth caught my fall. As I ran, I saw a spot on the ground that lit up and with a strange message: “Twitchy tail.” I almost ignored it, but my instincts kicked in as I saw from the corner of my eye something fast flying down at me. A talisman-laden dousing spear embedded itself right on the message. I looked up to find Crossfire.

I acknowledged his entrance with a nod, not backing down despite the rifle he held pointed at me, “I don't have time to play, Crossfire.”

Crossfire lifted the aim on his rifle. “Now that’s the look of a king,” he smirked. “I'll see you in the finals,” he said as he held up a pulsing lavender gemstone in his hoof. It had azure roots growing all over his hoof. With that he stepped away from the roof and disappeared into the town.

I looked back towards Hexerai. Hopefully I didn't lose her. Scapegrace ran along a higher building top and pointed to a creature flying in the sky.

Taking the spear, I followed after the winged witch.

The morphing abominations were crawling out onto the streets. Hobbling with their puss-ridden bodies, they charged. Even as alien as they were, they felt predictable. Every movement, every step on the earth showed me a bit about their personalities, who the were before the war. I plunged my spear into the first whelp and a jet of glowing blood siphoned out from the creature. It shriveled up like a raisin in moments. With a single kick, the creature turned to dust. After three more demonstrations, their approach halted to a standstill, opening a road to Hexerai.

Calypto was taking his time, hosing down dorks and raiders alike with boiling water as he rode the flowing current of the water spirit.

“How did this fall apart? A ripple? An echo? Did I misread the signs?” Hexerai cursed as she ripped some poor pony apart on a high roof top. She glanced back and smirked at how low I was on the ground from her. She ripped the tapestry of fate out of the innards of the poor pony and began jabbering again, “A wild agent, or perhaps two. Two jokers, ruining a perfect hoof.”

“Mi Amore Cadenza... Not again!” Scapegrace called out from above; as best as could tell her coat’s color from down below, she turned pale.

The ground shook as a choir of voices called out. Raiders and wastelanders scrambled off of the rooftops and into the streets shrieking as the giant hoof of a second goliath came crashing down.

“Join our warm embrace, and be safe from the emptiness. Begin anew!” it called out as it stomped onto a nearby building.


Fuck... I needed that other balefire bomb, after all. I couldn't turn back, though... I charged forward. It would be somepony else’s problem. So long as it wasn't around by the time my boss's people showed up, I'd be looking pretty good.

“Do not resist this grand design!”

A morphing orb of scalding water soared through the air at the giant, bursting into a brief cyclone as Calypto glided down from the rooftops. The behemoth winced as its flesh was seared in the heavy steam. A claw slammed down. Calypto rode the water spirit's wave, dodging to the side as the claw split apart into a wave of tendrils and fanged jaws.


The creature dragged its massive carcass out into the street in front of me, blocking my path. It reared up and I had to be ready to make miracles.


“You think you're so tough? Guess there’s just more of you to break. Lucky for me!” an angry voice called out from above. It was a pony wearing a skull over the top of his head... or maybe it was melded with his coat, I couldn't tell. The shape looked oddly familiar, particularly the metal pole jutting out of his chest and the stone club slung over his shoulder. He frowned and suddenly I knew exactly who it was. It was Killjoy. He was mad as hell and he wasn't gonna take it anymore. He tensed up as azure veins flashed over him, only for them to be replaced with plates of spiky bones. What was more... he had six... no... eight, eight Celestia-damned hooves. I watched him rip the pole out of his chest before descending on the beast like a howling arachnoid wolverine thing. In an unrelenting volley of pistoning force, Killjoy whaled into the beast, tearing thick chunks out of it with every swing. Killjoy was already a terrifying pony, but now he was legitimately a nightmare. The creature tried to cut at him with slicing talons, but it was to no avail. Killjoy just thrashed through the creature without mercy or restraint, laughing the entire time. “I'm gonna carve my name into your bones! Hail to the new kings!” A hail of exploding bullets from Marina's minigun up above splattered away chunks of the beast’s torso.

The beast cried out as it was reduced into a puddle. Midnyte uncloaked herself next to me. “Don't worry, we've got it covered here!” she said.

Even as she said that, the monster turned towards us. Two snake-like limbs spurted from the creature’s shoulders, the ends unraveling into a number of smaller tendrils, each ending in a toothy maw, like a pit of hydras.

The heads speared through the ground, digging furrows in the dirt as they eagerly sought us out. I meagerly dodged and wove between the tendrils, saving my strength as I predicted the first few strikes. Suddenly a crashing wave of water interrupted the trajectory of the tunneling serpents. Calypto grabbed hold of Midnyte as he sent a cutting jet of water, slicing through the muscle and bones of the hydra.

“Calypto...” Midnyte blushed.

“Shut up,” Calypto muttered as the spirit spiraled around to face the beast.



“Hey, hate to break up a touching moment,” I said as I braced my body on the spear, “but could you draw me a chain up to that building?” I pointed up to Hexerai's perch.

“It's too far to for a whole bridge. I'm spent.”

“Did I ask for a bridge?”

“Just one chain?”

“Uhhh... yeah?”

Midnyte shook her head in disbelief, but sure enough, in the light of her horn, she fastened a long chain up to the rooftops.

I focused. On the world, the wasteland, what I've been and who I'd become. Kingthorn's roots crawled over me, I put one hoof in front of the other. This was personal. Nopony could mess with the wasteland’s fate. Even beyond my own belief, I scaled a single chain all the way to the top. I've never had this level of balance or focus in my life.


As I reached the rooftop, I found Scapegrace wrestling against the witch. She was losing ground as she mutated again and again, trying to rip chunks of flesh and blood from Hexerai. She had a spring in her step now that her legs had grown tight jaws of interlocking crystal teeth.

The teeth only managed to put dents into Hexerai's outstretched hoof as the witch's body hardened into a thicker armored carapace. Scapegrace struck in with a buzzsaw-like blade on her hoof, only stripping its teeth in sparks when it met with Hexerai's neck. Long, segmented tails that curled over Hexerai's back lashed out against Scapegrace, piercing her through the side as cracks formed over the left side of her torso.

“I broke this world... saw it for the monster it was,” Hexerai said as Scapegrace scrambled away. “I set out to kill it, but I didn't do a good enough job, it seems.”

I called out from behind her, “No, you didn't! You never will, either. You can't stop life.”

“And I don't intend to stop life itself. What kind of fool do you take me for?” she said as she turned to me, her new armored carapace reflecting the light from the moon, as if a Steel Ranger’s armor.

I smiled. Scapegrace lept from the ground, and latched onto Hexerai's back. With a vice-like grip, her morphing hooves formed heavy bladed shears to sever off three of Hexerai's five tails.

“Insignificant whelp!” Hexerai stumbled back as she swiped at Scapegrace, but I came tackling into her from the front. It gave Scapegrace time enough to back away.

“We are in this together. When you picked this fight, you didn't just start a fight with me, you picked a fight with the whole damn wasteland!” I cheered as I dodged away from the Hexerai's boney claws.

“Fools who are married to a broken world. Open your eyes.”

“I don't like it, but it’s the only world I have. And as scary as it is, it is fascinating,” Scapegrace added. “We can learn from their mistakes and grow. I really believe that.”

“Who the hell do you think you are, trying to choose the fate of the entire world? You piss me off!” I said as I braced back onto my hind hooves, taunting with the spear stretched across my back.


“I thought the same once, too. I gave the world back the control of its destiny, and saw my gift getting utterly wasted!!” Hexerai stormed forward in a ridiculous burst of speed. I only barely managed to roll to the side. I angled the spear as I rolled to slash across Hexerai's side, but it only managed to produce sparks. I could feel how tough her exterior was through the blade. “Pitiful. You won't pierce my shell/armor/skin, and I will end you.”

“Peacetime had made Equestria naive. Intoxicated by an island oasis in a dream, they thought they were above war.” Hexerai twisted her taloned arms around her body and lunged forward, swinging diagonally downward, then horizontally, as she unravelled the wound up arms. “Ignorant of the past and estranged from destiny, they became a plague.”

“Partytime!” I shouted, leaning forward. The angle generated a fierce torque, sending me spinning viciously over Hexerai's head. The spearhead whipped against Hexerai's body in a tornado of strikes, sparking against her body. My legs buckled as I landed on the ground.

Scapegrace rushed in to bat away Hexerai's serrated arm. “Equestria was naive, but we aren't them! We've learned, and we're better for it.”

“Are you better? The living are incapable of learning from the dead. The first wastelanders weren't the fools that climbed out of the Stables, but the first fools that began the pointless war that would destroy the world.” Hexerai's claws began to glow with a shimmering light. “Equestria and all in this world lost its right to live the moment it showed its true face. They are evil. Selfish and insincere. I am here to clean up the problem that I started.”

“Stop talking about this world like it needs saving!” I shouted as I picked myself up. Power surged through me, in a way I hadn't really felt before. “Good? Evil? I don't give a damn. This is my wasteland, my home. And you're sure as hell not taking it away from me!”

As I charged in towards Hexerai, the foundations of the building shook as the gargantuan necromass was knocked back on the building. Hexerai balked, her strikes swung through empty air as I dodged between, riding the impact of the crash. Sliding underneath of her, I shouted “Party Time!”

Hexerai fell down an alleyway, two stories down. She growled as she picked her body up from ground, only for her to fall back to her hind legs as she looked around. “No... h-h-how can this... this isn't possible! She can't! I know she can't?!”

The walls of the street were lined with posters from top to bottom. They were layered on top of one another, without a single uncovered inch of wall showing. In what must have been over a thousand posters, there was only one design. The poster had a pink mare with a gray mane and a red candy cane stripe running through it. The wall of eyes seemed to stare back into Hexerai's soul as the posters read the words:


Pinkie Pie is Watching You Forever

“HEXERAI!!!!!” I shouted with the moon at my back, catching her in my shadow as I glared down at her. The three buildings on each side ached and howled as they swayed precariously above.

“What the hell are you?!” Hexerai trembled.

I smirked. “I've had a lot of names.” I stomped my hoof as I brandished my spear. It was as if I was reaching through the structure of the building, the wasteland answering to my command. The buildings shifted, arching like the crest of a tidal wave with me riding on top of it. The three buildings crashed down on top of Hexerai with the gravity of the wasteland, as an ocean of debris and wreckage flooded the avenue.



As the dust filled the air, Hexerai's crushed and mangled body clawed itself to surface. She found herself with a hoof stomping on her face.

“I'm a humble Trailblazer of the Glory Road Caravan Company.” After a whole day of having my head stepped on, it felt good to turn the tables. “We do deliveries,” I said, smirking as I stabbed the spear into Hexerai's rent open carapace.

As the spear siphoned away blood, Hexerai stabbed a glowing claw into my torso. I didn't bleed, but I felt stretched out. In a moment, a sea of stars gathered into me, and I felt as if I had been shackled in some way. “I underestimated you. Your fate is bound again.”

“Lots of folks underestimate me. I'm an earth pony!” I spat back as beat the witch's claw out of my body.

As Hexerai dried up into a dry husk she grinned. In her last words, she choked. “The long night isn't over. You've stopped nothing.”

The long night isn't over? I didn't like these games that she played with me, but I was falling apart. I felt like I would die. Was it worth it? Did I win?

My train of thought was derailed when I felt a drop of rain coming down from above. It was warm. I looked up to see that there was no sight of the moon. Was it over?

I fell to my back. I could feel the adrenaline fading. The stampede had really worked its way out of my system, and I was suddenly heavy.

“Calypto did it! We did it! Looks like blowing all that hot steam really worked out!” Scapegrace said as she had tears flowing down her cheeks. She hobbled over my body, looking down on me. “Calypto patched the tear in the sky. Those necro... zombie--”

“The dorks,” I corrected.

“Whatever you want to call them, they stopped moving.” Scapegrace smiled as she wiped away her tears. “We did it. I feel so insane, like my brain stopped working hours ago.”

My body wasn't really cooperating with me. I sighed. “Help me up, would ya.”

“Yeah. It started raining, so I was worried you'd hold your mouth open and drown like that if I left you on your own.”

“What am I, a turkey?”

Scapegrace smiled and shrugged, making me painfully aware that she didn't say I wasn't.

I looked out to the horizon. The curtain of darkness was fading away. “Still up for watching the sunrise? We'll need to get moving if we want to catch it.”

Scapegrace blushed with a pink lining as she smiled. She hoisted me up onto her shoulder and together we stumbled out from the wreckage.

“Thank you, Tumbleweed.”

“Huh?”

“I needed this.” The mare looked around with soft, tired eyes. “I've never been so scared in my entire life, I thought I might die...” Scapegrace's face turned red. “I thought... you would die.”

I caught myself smiling a little, even though I shouldn't have. I looked to Scapegrace. Her lips. No! Stop it! There was a gravity, and I couldn't ignore it. “You really shouldn't be thanking me for anything...”

Scapegrace stopped in place. “You're crazy. Insane, really... so yeah, you're right, but I... I don't care.” Scapegrace leaned into me. Her tongue licked her lips a bit. I could feel her trembling as she spoke, the nervousness in her eyes, the way she locked her hoof around me rigidly.

“HOT DAYUM! LOOK AT YOU TWO!” The ghoulish voice of Audacity broke the tension between us as we fell away from each other. Scapegrace sighed and rolled her eyes, and I wiped the sweat away from my forehead. “You really did it! I watched the whole thing. You were like 'swoosh!' and 'wham-bam-shazam!' Undeniably certifiably amazing is what that was!” the ghoul said as he climbed out from an open window. “You and everypony else involved in this whole shindig deserves a cookie, y'hear me?”

“A cookie?” Scapegrace asked, cocking an eyebrow.

“It’s what she would have wanted,” Audacity said. He put his hooves in the air. “Hey, I don't make the rules.”

“What kind of rules are those?” I queried.

“Look, don't worry about!” Audacity said as he uncorked a flask and took a swig. “You guys kept it really chill, even when Doom-and-Gloom over here was trying to destroy everything. There were two of those nasty sons of bitches, and you guys thwomped them too! You guys really were awesome out there. Heroes even!” the ghoul cheered. “You got that tiger’s blood running through ya, I can feel it. So, I'm gonna ask you a question: how do you feel about having the wasteland hear more about this story?”

A story? Yikes, I didn't want any of that. I already had too many folks who wanted my head. I waved my hooves and shook my head, “NO! Nononononono....”

“Rhetorical question, bucko! I dig the hell out of this stuff. Couldn't keep a lid on it if I tried.” Pulling up part of his tropical shirt, the ghoul revealed a bullet hole. “I tried to talk to Calypto about doing another segment with him, and he was less than enthusiastic. So pressures on you, kid.”

Scapegrace and I both widened our eyes at the wound. “Audacity, you're gonna die.”

Audacity scoffed. “Please. I'll be fine. Look at yourselves. This is like... lukewarm to me. Take this.” Audacity flipped his shirt back down and floated over two cans of what looked like soda, but they had butterflies with lightning bolts on them. It was hard to imagine that they were anything but energy drinks. It had the words 'AwesomeSauce' on the side. “Anyway, like I was saying, pressure's on you, kid. You get to be the hero. I'll keep it anonymous... well, sorta, but you need like a codename. A pseudonym. You feel me? What do you got for me?”

I fiddled with the tab of the can for a little bit, eventually cracking it open. “In my tribe they sometimes called me 'The Chosen One’.”

Audacity's face swelled up until he burst into laughter. “Hahaha, really? Really? They drop you on your head, too? Kek!” the ghoul said as he fell to the ground.

“It was a name they called me... you asked for a nickname, I gave you one,” I groaned as I took a sip of the drink. It was a mix of strange and spicy flavors, but I could detect the aftertaste of xander root. It was a healing drink. Go figure.

“You could call him ‘The Idiot’!” Scapegrace chimed in with a smile.

“Don't help him!” I groaned.

Audacity shook his head. “Nah, it’s gotta be cool.”

“But Tumbleweed isn't cool at all!” Scapegrace said with a smile.

I squinted at the mare as I sipped my drink. She snickered as she turned her nose up at me.

Audacity picked himself off the ground and dusted himself off. “Anyway, dumb name, kid. You're funny. Think I'll call you 'Wasteland Joker'. Yeah, I like that.”

I sighed. “We should go find Calypto. I think I need to tell him to work on his aim,” I said as I glanced to the bullet wound on Audacity's torso.

“Cheer up, Joker!” Audacity said as he put a hoof around my neck. “Anyway, my boss was really impressed with your work, so we got a special gift for you,” the ghoul said as his horn floated a stack of tickets and put them in my hooves.

It read: ADMIT ONE: POSEIDON'S GROTTO DELUXE WATER PARK

I shook my head at the weird stack of tickets. “Who the hell is your boss?”

“You'll meet them if you go. Check us out if you’re in the area. It will be awesome, promise.”

Scapegrace walked over to pick me up after I stared at her long enough, motioning with my head. “Let's go find Calypto. I have to strangle that zebra. I can't believe he's still alive.” In a burst of emotion, I hugged Scapegrace. “You're alive. Everybody's alive.”

Scapegrace stuck her tongue out at me bashfully.

“Hell yeah, fuck those destinies! Wasteland prevails.”

I leaned a little too hard, and sent Scapegrace and myself stumbling to the side.

We caught ourselves and laughed at each other. We climbed up the steps and looked around the rooftops. It was a matter of following landmarks. Putrid boiled monster flesh, giant puddles everywhere, that sort of thing.

“If I remember correctly, I saw Calypto around this are--” As I spoke, Scapegrace put a hoof over my mouth as she pushed me against a wall.

She put a hoof to her mouth to shush me before she pointed around the corner.

Calypto had his hooves wrapped around the three-legged Midnyte. Rain was soaking through their manes as they kissed.

Scapegrace looked to me with a really giddy enthusiasm. She didn’t have words, only highpitched marish noises squealing out of her as she fidgeted about in the flood of emotions.

“Wait, what?!” I said as one eyebrow exalted itself upward in gross confusion. “Isn't she like a raider or something? Should we stop them?”

Scapegrace dug a hoof into my gut to communicate a point. “It's fine, just let it play out. It will stop on its own.”

The mare tossed her hair from side to side as she bobbed her head playfully with the kiss. She fiddled with the nicknacks on the inside of his sarape as she pressed deeper into the kiss. Her tail was fluffing back and forth as she wiggled her rump. It was downright passionate, and I felt dirty for watching it. More than that... It kept going.

“...I think it will stop on its own...” Scapegrace said as her colors matted ever so slightly. The kiss kept going. There were tongues! Wandering hooves abound! “They are going to stop, right?”

I just watched the bizarre phenomenon unfold. “I think he's trying to strangle her.”

“This is really intense,” Scapegrace said as her breathing deepened.

We watched as Calypto's hooves traced down Midnyte’s back, carefully keeping his spurs from driving into her. “He's stealing second base. Should we go?”

Scapegrace put a hoof over my mouth and pressed me up against a wall. She was warm. I was gonna lose my mind. “Quiet!” she said.

Yes, mam.

Midnyte smiled as she nuzzled into Calypto. “I knew you'd save me.”

“No, you didn't.” Calypto turned away.

“You came back.”

“I should have just shot you,” Calypto said with a furrowed brow.

Midnyte smiled, as if she was impervious to the threat. “You don't remember, do you?”


“Remember what?” Calypto said, taking advantage of his height to tower over her.

“Maybe it’s better that way.” Midnyte put her head against his chest.

“I'm done with this,” Calypto said pushing her away as he saw Killjoy rounding the corner. “You and I can't mix.” He looked at her with conflicted eyes. “Don't look at me like that!” he said as he walked away. Holy Celestia, he was halfway to paradise and he just left! Left her high and dry, as well...Well, as dry as you could be in the rain... “This didn't happen.”


“Will I ever see you again?”

“Pray that you don't,” Calypto growled.


I poked my head out to wave to Calypto. “What was all that about, stud?”

“I don't want to talk about it,” he said with antipathy.

“You seemed like you were having a good time,” Scapegrace said.

“I wasn't.” He glared. “I was fulfilling a request from the water spirit. My hooves were tied,” he said as he hid his face with the brim of his hat.

“Well, enough about that, how’s that victory! You're alive! We won! We rule, Hexy drools!” I said as I punched Calypto in the arm.

Calypto's mood picked up as he laughed. “Hehehe, Shoo bee doo.”

“Alright, loser. Where's my fridge?”

*** *** ***

Sitting on the rooftops, we could see everything in the twilight of the dawn. From the far mountains, even far enough to see the ocean way off. The sun had still yet to break the horizon. I walked over with a tray of drinks for my two companions. I sat myself between Calypto and Scapegrace as we hung our legs off the edge. We were watching the strange cloud structures up above as little winged horses flew around trying to assess what exactly happened.

“There's a word for them... but I can't remember what it is...” I muttered.

“Wingerponies,” Calypto suggested.

“Nah, it was more magical than that,” I said.

“Cloudsnugglers?” Calypto added.

“How about sky fuckers?” I bantered.

“Wait... I remembered what they're called!” Calypto said with a grin. “Feather dusters!”

Scapegrace looked at the two of us like we were the idiots we actually were.

“Well, brainiac, do you have any better names?” I asked cocking my head to the side.

“Come on, guys! It’s really not that hard,” Scapegrace said as we rolled our eyes. “They're horseflies!”

Calypto and I cheered as Scapegrace invited herself to the wasteland banter party.

“How the hell did we miss horseflies? That's like the best one.”

“You two must be slacking.”


“Alright guys, Holy Toledos, and without much time to spare!” I said as I offered the mugs. The two took their drinks and smiled.

“So, Tumbleweed, how's it feel to be a hero?” Calypto said with a satisfied grin.

I grimaced. “Itchy. Being a hero makes me chaff.”

“You get used to that.”

“Let's never do this ever again!” I laughed.

Calypto shot me a squinty-eyed look like I said something impossible.

“You seem pretty happy with yourself.”

“We saved a town. We tangled with fate, and came out on top.” Calypto grinned. “This is adventure and heroics.”

“Yeah, and I'll have to go to a doctor to get all the heroics out of me, I'm thinking,” Scapegrace snuck in.

Calypto laughed. “Let’s have a toast!” He held up his mug, “To justice!”

Scapegrace and I looked at each other. “How about ‘to crazy friends’... and possibly ‘breathing’?” I suggested.

“To breathing!” Calypto cheered.

“To breathing!” It was unanimous. We clinked our mugs together.

Calypto chugged as I nursed my own mug. Scapegrace winced as she regretted taking her first sip.

“I think something's wrong with mine.”

I leaned over to sip some of it while she was still holding it, causing her to blush.

“Tastes fine to me.”

“It's gotta really weird aftertaste, then...”

I shrugged. “You're probably tasting the kerosene.”

“AHH!” Scapegrace cried out as she daintily tossed the mug off the rooftop, drink splashing everywhere below.

Calypto's eyes followed the mug all the way down as a frown stretched across his face.

I took a swig of my drink as I held it close. “It is an acquired taste.”

Scapegrace was about to complain to me when the sun broke over the horizon. Even in the rain, golden light shimmered across the landscape. The sunshine illuminated all the cracks and shapes in the cloud cover above in a stunning display. The rain divided the light into scattered rainbows, washing the sky in a wave of colors. It took my breath away just looking at it. Not just the sun, but the way it reflected off the world.

“Beautiful...”

Across the town, we saw the stalks of several plants climb and reach up above the buildings. The plants turns towards the sun, soaking up all the energy it had to give them. They looked happy in the rain, too. They blossomed into vibrant flowers in the sun’s glow.

“This is what the wasteland is like for me,” I said as I was so captivated by the sights. “It’s tough and bleak, but there are moments more amazing than you could imagine without it. I live for these moments.”

“It’s gorgeous.” Scapegrace smiled as she leaned onto me. She was fighting just to stay awake. We all were. If she wanted to sleep on my shoulder, I couldn't really stop her.

“Hey, partner.” Calypto looked over at me.

“Yeah?”

“We should be dead.”

“Yup.”

“So, I heard that there is a Stable in this region. Stable 2. Nopony's come out of it they say. Want to check it out?” Calypto said as he sipped the dregs of his drink.

I looked out on the glittering horizon and furrowed my brow. “Calypto...” I said putting a hoof around Calypto's neck as I pointed to a Stable-Tec billboard. “Look at the Stable-Tec logo for me. You got good eyes, what do you see?” I asked in a patronizing voice.

Calypto raised an eyebrow. “...It’s a cogwheel.,” he said, unimpressed.

I clicked my tongue and shook my head. I looked him in the eyes with a serious squint, then motioned off to the billboard again. “No, look deeper.”

Calypto looked for a moment then tilted his head to the side as he sighed. He gave a strained grin as he shrugged. “I don't know what I'm supposed to be looking at.”

I stretched my hoof off towards the logo as I furiously looked at Calypto. “It's an anus! A genuine asshole.”

Calypto snickered. “What are you on about?”

“They are the butts of the wasteland. Nothing but the hundred and fifty years old technological assholes of the old world, ready to shit all over everything,” I heckled. I took another swig of my Toledo.

“Now that you mention it... it kinda is shaped like a butthole.” Calypto laughed. “I take it you don't like Stables then....”

“Nothing good ever comes from Stables. Mark my words.”

Scapegrace fidgeted as she leaned into me. “Statistically speaking... I'm willing to bet....awwww that your ancestors probably came from a... Stable,” she mumbled sleepily.

“Like my dad, ugh!” I groaned. “All the more reason why Stables are awful.”

Calypto looked over at Scapegrace and myself and smiled. “Well, I think I'm going to go on a walk.”

“Yeah, sure,” I said, not even thinking too hard about it. I waved a hoof at him. “Try not to die.”

I heard Calypto's spurs jingle as he went to the door to the roof. I heard the door shut behind him with a click. That click made me realize exactly what had just happened.

I raced to the door and jostled at the locked doorknob. “Calypto!” I shouted as laughter came from behind the door. I rattled the door even more vigorously. “CALYPTO!”

“This is for your own good, Tumbleweed. You'll thank me later.”

“Open this door, damn it!”

“Besides, this is payback. I'll let you know, you're not very good at hiding. Try to be more like the missy at that.”

“I'm sorry I caught you snogging the raider chick. It was cute. Please open the door now,” I begged Calypto.

“Just get in there. Act natural. She'll be all over you.”

I sighed; that was what I was afraid of. I was locked on the roof with a stunning mare I wouldn't be able to keep my hooves off of.

While I was fretting I felt Scapegrace glomp onto me. I was flushed red as I tried to assess what was going on.

Scapegrace looked at me with half-opened eyes. She frowned. “You moved.”

I was a pillow. I laughed as I brushed a hoof through her mane. She really was defenseless. In this little cove, we had cover from the rain, so that was alright. She crawled up on me and cuddled against me.

I didn't have any willpower left to resist it.

“Hey, sleepyhead.”

“mhmmm, yeah?”

I trembled as I was about to ask. “Calypto and I are going to venture off to do work on the I-95 for the Glory Road company.” I swallowed. “If you wanted to tag along, you'd be welcome to join us,” I said as I turned away for a moment and scratched at my ear. “I could get you a job, and payment and all that. It would be a nice gig.”

When I looked back, she was blushing hot red. It was only for a moment - she faded back to her normal colors, and then into a soft blue tint. “I'd love to really. It’s sweet, but this is the start of my biggest struggle, and I really can't spare time. I have things I need to do.”

“What exactly do you have to do?”

Scapegrace rolled over with a frown. “It's really complicated, and I really don't want to talk about it,” she said sheepishly.

I scratched behind her ear and grinned. That was fine. She was allowed her secrets.

“I'll be in the area though, so maybe we'll cross paths,” Scapegrace said with closed eyes as she smiled. She snuggled closer to me. “Hey, Tumbleweed? Can I make a weird request?”

I ruffled her mane a little bit. “Yeah, what do you want?”

“Sing me a song.”

“A song?You want me to do what?” I blinked at the curled up mare at my side.

“Y'know, the things with tunes and sounds--”

“I was afraid that was the kind you meant...”

Scapegrace hugged me tighter. “Come on. I don't care if you sing badly.”

I sat there looking over the town and the sunrise, and I think I realized that I was really happy. I laid my head down on top of Scapegrace as she snoozed. I didn't know where the words came from, but I just started to sing. After everything we had been through today, it felt appropriate.

“Morning in Ponyville shimmer~ Morning in ponyville Shine~, and I kno