Well, I'd like to say that I had been captured and tortured by the NCR for information regarding the whereabouts of a certain Mr. Fox, but that would be a lie. One piece of shit life episode after the other and here I am - what? - about a year and a half later. Longest period of time without an update ever I do believe. I'm sorry doesn't cut it, but I'm back now. I wish I had time to answer all of your reviews since my last chapter, but I don't think I can, so I want to thank all of you who continue to enjoy this story and welcome the new readers. Much love to all of you.
i am the stig: You're right. Nobody ever talks about Searchlight. I was actually going to originally have Searchlight be the focus of Vulpes mission away, but decided that timeline wise it probably already happened. I love what Vulpes did at Searchlight because it really shows his strategic ability to destroy something valuable to the enemy. I think Nipton shows his personality and his strong ideological beliefs where Searchlight showcases what makes him an important member of Caesar's Legion. He's not the head of the Frumentarii for nothing. Searchlight's massacre was awful and terrible in the terms of the loss of human life, but it was damned brilliant. I love to watch that man work. I wish they had showed even more examples of Vulpes' slyness, but alas.
The Rope to Hang Yourself With
There had been an attack up the road heading to Searchlight. It had been a month ago, but rumors traveled in a somewhat sporadic manner out here in the Mojave and they also tended to get repeated. Private Jed Fischer couldn't get the thought of an entire caravan, protected by a large number of mercenaries with high-end weapons, and so very close to Charlie Station, out of his head. He lit another cigarette, the flare of his match settling an eerie orange glow over his and his partner's faces. "Did you hear about the caravan near the over pass?"
His partner was a slightly older man, but not by much. Despite only a few years separating them Meyers treated him like a child, a straight from the west rookie, when he began to talk like this. He couldn't understand that talking about these things was just another form of men whistling as they walked passed graveyards. Fischer needed to talk about these things. "Yeah, I heard." He clipped his words as he shoved Fischer's cigarette hand away with a glare. "You know, for all your talk about the horrible Legion you tempt their wrath an awful lot. You know they don't like shit like that." He meant cigarettes and all manner of similar substance, which anyone who knew the private well enough would know just how much he indulged in when he got leave to go to the strip.
Fischer dropped his match and ground it into the dirt with his heel. He would just opt to ignore Meyers' bitter mood tonight.
Meyers didn't seem interested in letting the subject rest as they walked along their normal patrol route. He quirked his face into a dark smile, and with his usual snarky flair told the other man, "well, I know that if we ever run into any of those skirt-wearing assholes they'll take you first. So what the hell, go ahead and smoke that thing."
Private Fischer flicked the build-up of ash from the tip of his cigarette and scanned the area around them, pretending to not hear Meyers' assertion. Unfortunately, he was probably right. After the tale passed along from the scorched town of Nipton, Fischer had no doubt just how serious these Legion guys were about their version of morality.
"They could be watching us right now," Meyers continued his condescending rant, lifting his arms up like he was holding something he was about to launch, "just waiting until they have you in their sights, perfect angle, and boom! One minute you're sucking ash and the next you have a spear in your side."
"Just sayin'—" Meyer stopped and peered into the distance. "Look."
Ahead of them, approaching with a measured, leisurely pace was a small group of men. Meyer slung his rifle off his back and followed them as they grew closer. "Oi!"
One of the men lifted a hand in a small wave and Fischer put a hand on Meyers' shoulder. "NCR."
Meyer breathed with relief and replaced his rifle on his back.
"Scared?" Fischer prodded.
"Where are you headed?" Meyer asked of the men.
"Up the road." The man in the front explained.
"I see. You need to be careful along this road. Course I don't need to tell you that." Meyers laughed.
"No. This is a rather dangerous stretch."
Fischer listened as Meyers spoke with the traveling NCR soldiers. Something seemed off somehow, but he couldn't put his finger on it. One of the men in particular kept studying them, as if he was waiting. "I think we should move on. We shouldn't stick in one place for too long. And you know how they get when we take too long to patrol."
Meyer sighed. "Yeah, I suppose. Good luck, men."
One of the soldiers smirked as if some humorous joke had been told.
Meyers didn't see the machete that ran him through.
The reptilian death machine lumbered out of the darkness and Scarlet barely had time to duck down into hiding, pulling Rex along with her. A lot of dogs she had encountered in her lifetime would have been unable to fight that instinctual urge to charge upon the other animal, barking up a storm all the while, but Rex was a good dog. He was a smart dog. Sometimes she forgot just how much until moments like this when they were in the clutch. He always came through. However, she was certain that the creature's path was going to take it right by their hiding spot and even in the nightly dim it would surely see the two crouched there. Easy prey, especially with Scarlet's leg still on the mend.
She was starting to regret taking the short route to Black Mountain instead of going the long way around, but that would have taken much longer, and under the circumstances needed to get there as quickly as she could. From Jacobstown the fastest route was to swing around to the south end of Vegas and then take the railroad tracks passed Junction 15. There she had expected the pack of deathclaws that roamed the hills and had planned her course carefully. Sneaking passed them had been a matter of timing, proper usage or light and shadow, and staying downwind. Once clear of the danger zone she figured the worse she would have to worry about would be radscorpions or coyotes, maybe even a rogue gang of bandits. What she didn't count on was the sporadic deathclaws that seemed to pop out of nowhere.
And that's what I get for assuming. As quietly as she could she began to ease the shotgun she had brought off her back. It wasn't the most ideal weapon for taking out a deathclaw in her opinion; too much spread and a slow reload time would spell death. If she was lucky she and Rex might be able to skirt around the beast as it moved and avoid it altogether. She was never that lucky.
Behind her in the brush she heard a familiar scuttling sound and felt every cell in her body tense with anxiety. She chanced to take her eyes off the deathclaw to see the tail tip of a scorpion coming at her and judging by the speed it was aware of her presence. She shifted her shotgun to her left hand and reached for the knife she kept on her at all times. Usually she wouldn't have even worried about a radscorpion at all and would have just picked it off with a few well-aimed shots. Even her favored .357 would have made short work of it. However, with the deathclaw so close she didn't have the luxury of making noise.
She turned her frame just enough so that she would be able to have a quick view of both enemies in her vicinity and hoped that the bark scorpion (she recognized the coloring) wouldn't be able to get in a sting. The scorpion burst through the brush, snapping at both her and Rex. She shoved the dog back so that he wouldn't be injured and jabbed at the gigantic bug with her blade, being careful to avoid the claws. It was only a few seconds, but it seemed much longer, until she was finally able to get a good position to slam the blade up through its thick exoskeleton. Goo oozed from the wound as she withdrew and stabbed again and again, the muscles in her legs aching from her attempts to dodge the flailing stinger while remaining crouched and out of view of the deathclaw.
A last shuddering and feeble attack was its final act and it collapsed on the ground next to her. Yet she didn't have time to enjoy her victory for no matter how hard she had tried to keep the limited battle silent the deathclaw must have heard or sensed something because it was now taking great interest in her direction. She caught the familiar signs of its muscles tensing before it launched itself forward into a run on her position and she dropped her knife on the ground and grasped her shotgun firmly in both hands.
A loud blast echoed through the night and she caught the deathclaws collarbone area. It jerked momentarily before continuing its approach with a rageful cry. Fuck me. Its razor sharp claws drew back as it neared and headed straight at her. Before she had a chance to lunge out of the way another great shape exploding out of the dark and slammed the beast a few steps before she heard a crunch of bone. She watched in surprise as a super mutant mangled the deathclaw until it stilled and breathed no more.
The shotgun remained up and aimed, Scarlet being prepared to go on the offensive once more if need be. She had more confidence in going up against a super mutant, especially since this was what she had come to this part of the Mojave for anyway. Instead of attack the super mutant just looked down at her. "You should be more careful. Don't you know there's a lot of deathclaw around here?"
Scarlet lifted one eyebrow and dropped her gun at her side. "I do now." She allowed her gaze to sweep over the dead deathclaw a few times before speaking again. "Thanks for the assist." She reached out her free hand, which the super mutant looked at dubiously for a moment. Humans didn't usually offer greeting and thanks to his kind. "You wouldn't be Neil would you?"
The brief expression, a mix of suspicion and curiosity, in his eyes told her he probably was.
She elaborated. "If you are then Marcus sent me to talk to you. I'm a friend of his. My name's Scarlet. Others call me Courier."
"Hn. I've heard of you. The Courier, I mean. I haven't talked to Marcus in a while since I've been over here. Keeping an eye on Black Mountain."
"I know. That's the reason I'm here." She explained Crocker's request of her taking care of the mutant problem on Black Mountain and her fears for the safety of Jacobstown and other peaceful mutants. "I don't really like the idea of having to come up here and 'get rid of the problem' but it looks like Tabitha and her people aren't giving us much choice, and I would rather take out a handful of problem children then see Marcus' home destroyed because a bunch of NCR dicks don't like the way they look, y'know?"
Neil regarded her for a few seconds in silence before nodding. "Its not going to be easy. Did you come here with just a dog?" He seemed incredulous that one little human woman was going to get rid of an irradiated mountain bunker full of mutants and nightkin, but he supposed if Marcus had sent her this way he must have had some kind of faith in her survivability.
"Yeah. Just us. I didn't have a lot of time to plan and my partner is away on other business."
"I wasn't aware the Courier had a partner."
"I usually don't. It's a new thing, probably temporary, but its been working out for the both of us." It was best to keep the particulars to herself. The last thing she wasn't to do was let a super mutant know she was paling around with a member of the Legion. A lot of them didn't give two shits about the different factions, but the intelligent ones like Marcus and probably Neil would know the difference and the dangers of what the Legion represented. Vulpes had said it himself that the Legion didn't care for 'abnormalities.'
Neil and Scarlet made their way back to a makeshift shack at the bottom of Black Mountain where Neil had made his home. Scarlet pushed herself up on a table and sat down, happy to finally be at her destination and able to rest up a little while before heading up to take care of business. She discussed possible plans with Neil who seemed to know the area extremely well. He also knew a lot of the goings-on of Tabitha and her not-so-merry band of mutants and nightkin.
"Listen, I know that Marcus said that Tabitha can be pretty unreasonable, but is there any way at all you think I could try to come to a peaceful end to this?"
"Doubtful, human, but Tabitha has her days. I wouldn't recommend it."
Despite the advice she replied, "I think I'm going to try anyway. What's the harm? If I can sneak up there and find her alone maybe I can talk some sense into her. If not then I would have had to kill her anyway and at least I would be somewhere where I could maybe get a tactical advantage on the others as they attack. Think you could give me a little time to try. Maybe head up and wait near where she would be in case shit goes bad."
"It probably will, but not everything is set in stone. There is one thing you may be able to use."
Neil explained Tabitha's insanity, her obsession with a currently defunct Mr. Handy robot, and the ghoul that she kept prisoner until he fixed it. That was troublesome. She'd have to make sure if things did go south that this ghoul, whoever he was, wouldn't be hurt in the rabble. She didn't like having to hurt a bunch of mutants that didn't know any better under the rule of a crazy nightkin, much less having the death of an innocent person on her conscience.
"Ok, find this ghoul. He might be able to tell me something I can use to get Tabitha to listen to me. Sound like a plan?"
Scarlet nodded and once more adorned her equipment. "I guess this is the start. If I have any chance of sneaking up there I need to do it in the dark." Neil agreed to head up to the top about thirty minutes after she left his shack, which would give her plenty of time to get around the mutants and nightkin guarding the place. Thankfully, she had brought a few stealth boys with her and if it looked necessary she would use them to gain entry to the main area near the top. The hardest part would be getting to the ghoul and talking to Tabitha. Fighting, not so much. If that was one thing she was sure of it was that she could outsmart whatever was up there. It was kind of sad, really, but a truth none-the-less. "See you up top."
"The human's here."
Word had traveled quickly up to the summit of Black Mountain. The Nightkin known as Keene sneered as the news reached him. Unlike the Courier, he had not needed to use stealth to make it and had arrived quite a bit ahead of her. It had given him enough time to warn Tabitha that there would be a minor incursion upon her kingdom and give some pointers on how to handle it. Tabitha had been incensed, the audacity of the little creature coming to usurp the glorious State of Utobitha. Keene couldn't care less about Tabitha's kingdom, but he did care about the demise of a certain Courier and what it would mean for Jacobstown if she was gone. Since she had arrived and made friends with Marcus they had had more and more trouble. He was sick of being oogled by outsiders; Scarlet would bring more. It had to stop.
"Remember," Keene said to his fellow nightkin, "let her get here. We'll do the rest."
This would be the last time she would underestimate them.
According to Neil, the building that Tabitha was using as a prison complex (population: 1) was going to be one of the first buildings to her left upon entering the original compound of the Black Mountain Facility by road. She managed to get behind it and creep her way towards the front undetected. It was a fairly quiet night, and while she saw plenty of mutants and nightkin milling about here and there they didn't seem at all aware of her presence and made no move to intercept or impede her. That gave her a bit of hope she might just pull this whole thing off without bloodshed (Tabitha willing).
The nightkin sniper that Neil told her was usually on guard at the tower across from the line of buildings seemed to be absent this night and when she saw no one else in the area she quickly left the safety of the space between buildings and headed inside. The first room was empty, but the second was locked. Upon inspection she found a few working computer terminals and began to look for clues. She read with slight amusement the entries made by who she guessed was the ghoul prisoner. From the tone in his words she had a feeling she was going to like him. Using the passcode she uncovered from the latest entry she went to the door and hoped it worked.
The door unlocked and slid open. Sitting at a table halfway across the room with his back somewhat turned toward her was the ghoul. He was wearing an old jumpsuit and could smell the subtle aroma of dust and grease throughout. It wasn't exactly unpleasant.
"Well, that nightkin had you pinned pretty damned perfect." The ghoul didn't turn to look at her, and kept tinkering with whatever he had on the table in front of him. He had a fairly strong, but not hard to understand accent. Spanish. It had been a while since she'd heard someone with that strong of a Spanish accent.
"This is a trap." He informed her. "I give them about thirty seconds before they burst through those doors and bash your head in – unless of course that nasty friend of yours has other plans."
"What the hell are you talking about?" The last thing Scarlet expected was to find that this ghoul seemed to know more about the situation than they did. "There's almost nobody out there."
"Yeah, that's what they wanted you to think." Now he looked at her. "I'm real sorry, kiddo. You look like a nice girl. I'm a little sad that nightkin was right."
"What nightkin? Tabitha?" Scarlet tried to keep as calm as she could. If this was a trap, which she had no reason to believe it wasn't, then she had sprung it and running around like a moron, even trying to escape back out the way she came would be pointless. Standing her ground was the better option. At least she could defend herself fairly easy from this vantage point. Anyone who came in the door behind her would have to funnel through the room to get to her and she would have her shotgun ready.
"No. Another one. Haven't ever seen him before. Heard something about Jacobstown. Said—"
"Keene." That was the only nightkin she could think of that would have come from Jacobstown that had a problem with her. "That rat bastard!"
The ghoul lifted one ruined eyebrow as she figured out the situation. "I take it that you do know who set you up then."
Scarlet nodded. "And I'm going to—" At her side, Rex began to whine, his head turning to look back at the door. She pulled her gun off her back and spun around. "I'd get back. This is going to be messy."
The door to the 'prison building' opened and revealed a gaggle of mutants and nightkin. A few nightkin came first. She could make out the shimmering edges of where the stealth boys they were using bended around their bulky forms. One shot rang out, slammed into the first oncoming nightkin. A second shot accompanied a scream of pain and fury as it barreled down on her. She wasn't intimidated. She faced down a deathclaw earlier and whatever fright she had in her had fled for the night. For a few minutes she felt like she might be able to hold the position. A few of Tabitha's cannon fodder had fallen. I mean, how many can she fucking have? Scarlet thought to herself.
And then her gun jammed. It wasn't like she had expected it to be the most reliable gun on the planet, but she felt betrayed by the piece of metal in her hands. "Fuck!" She supposed that was what she got for never using it though. Her .357 and the varmint rifle Sunny had given her were the only two weapons she really used an awful lot. Everything else was stored away or sold. As she fiddled with it, the room in front of her spawned more mutants, and her plan to funnel them was becoming as defunct as she was going to be if something didn't change ricky-tick. She shoved her hand in her pocket and withdrew a grenade and pulled back her hand to throw.
"No! Don't do that!" The ghoul warned, but it was too late.
The grenade soared into the minute mutant horde and exploded. Scarlet used the wall as cover and when she looked once more dust floated throughout the room so thick she couldn't see a damned thing. "Oh."
"Yeah, oh." The ghoul didn't sound necessarily angry with her as much as wearily annoyed with her action.
Quick, heavy footsteps crossing the concrete floor prompted the ghoul to grab Scarlet by the arm and pull her backwards toward the other side of the room. Keene appeared out of the dust, a club in his hands. Scarlet was surprised when she was forced behind the ghoul before Keene could even raise his weapon.
"Get out of the way." Keene growled. "I have no business with you, only her."
"You son of a bitch," Scarlet thrust an angry finger in Keene's direction, expression contorting with hate, "What the hell do you think you're doing?"
"You haven't figured that part out, human? I thought you were smart." Keene was smug. Scarlet knew that he almost had a right to be. It wasn't very often someone managed to completely fuck her like this. "I'm going to kill you. But first I'm going to make you wish you were dead."
"That's so original." Scarlet rolled her eyes.
"That's right, boss, piss him off even more. I can see why the two of you don't get along." The ghoul shot her a glance that told her she needed to shut her mouth.
"One more chance to move or I take your rotten head off." Keene told him. Scarlet knew with as strong as he was he could have just pushed him out of the way, but he was likely looking for any excuse to do more violence.
Scarlet did the only thing she could and put a hand on the ghoul's shoulder and nudged him to the side. "Its fine. I can take care of this asshole."
Keene snorted a quick laugh. "Arrogant piss-ant."
"Bring it big, tall, and ugly, because I don't have time for you right now."
Keene took a step toward her and she lunged forward, grabbing an oil can off the table and throwing it at his face.
"Run, Rex! Go home!"
The timing was perfect and the can smacked Keene in the face just as the cyber dog bolted passed him and the other mutants guarding the door.
As he disappeared into the night Keene roared, "get that fucking dog!"
A few of the mutants turned and ran after him, but Rex would be too fast and would outmaneuver them with no problem. A smirk of victory twisted Scarlet's mouth. It was short-lived as Keene grabbed her by the back of the neck and started to haul her outside. She dug her nails into the skin of his hand, but he didn't seem to feel it. Once outside he tossed her into the dirt.
"Bring that ghoul out here, too!" Keene ordered, and a few of the mutants went back inside. A moment later he was being led out and thrown onto the ground next to Scarlet.
Tabitha, who had apparently been watching this from somewhere, came marching across the compound. "What's the meaning of this, Keene?"
"That bastard pet ghoul of yours stepped in between me and my quarry!"
"I don't care. I need him to—"
Scarlet let the two nightkin's argument drift away as she looked at the ghoul beside her. "Sorry."
The ghoul shrugged, as if he expected something like this to happen at some point.
"Raul." The ghoul replied, "I'd say it's nice to meet you, but it's really not."
Scarlet sighed and put her forehead to the ground. "I really ballsed this one up."
"I won't disagree with you on that point."
Keene was finished arguing and strode up to Scarlet again, this time grasping her leg and yanking her across the ground. Although it was mostly healed it was still sore enough to cause a reaction and she cried out and tried to kick him away, but she couldn't get the right leverage. Her fingers drew eight long lines in the dust as he dragged her, which disappeared as soon as he lifted her in the air. Scarlet twisted in the nightkin's hold and saw that he had set up some kind of rope and pulley.
He's going to hang me in the air. What the fuck?
Keene secured her leg into the rope system and pulled it to that she was dangling a few feet off the ground. Her hair, broken loose from its ties dragged the dirt below. From her upside down view she watched as Tabitha ordered Raul back inside the prison building. He gave her one last long look before complying. Well, they'd both tried, Scarlet supposed. At least Rex got out, and as long as she was hanging here the extra blood rushing to her head might give her an idea. Well, until it started giving her a headache, and then started to cause her brain to swell. That's if Keene let her live that long.
"I knew you'd be drawn to save that wretched old man, Courier." Keene gloated. "I didn't have to do much, you made my plan for me. You are so predictable. Little," he swung a fist and it crashed straight into her abdomen. He hadn't put his full power behind it, likely wanting to draw out her beating as long as possible. "Miss." He struck her again. "Hero." And once more.
"What's Marcus going to say when he finds out you killed me and put every mutant and nightkin at risk?"
"He's not going to find out."
"Keene, you don't know what you're doing." Scarlet couldn't believe the words coming out of her own mouth, but the only thing she could think to do at the moment was reason with him, like she'd come to do with Tabitha. But that was out of the picture since Keene had likely poisoned the other nightkin against her already so Keene was her only chance.
"I know exactly what I'm doing. You think I don't know about the NCR sending you up here to exterminate Tabitha's people?"
"It's not like that! I came up here to talk, Keene, I did."
"Lies, human. All that ever comes out of your mouth are lies. That's the last one you're ever going to tell." Keene hit her again. This time it was so hard that she swung dangerously. When she came back he aimed a precise hit at her head and everything went black.
The night blurred around him as he loped across the rocky ground. Down the side of the mountain and across a dusty landscape filled with big giant bugs with mean-looking pinchers. Ants, his two-legged lady friend had called them. He wanted to stop and harass them, but Lady-Friend had said to go home and she had sounded upset when she did it. Had he done something wrong? Rex didn't know what had happened but he listened to her and raced into the night.
His paws sent up tufts of dust through the air and he was panting as he reached the dark, hard dirt humans called 'road.' His pace slowed just a little as he continued on towards Home. But before he got too far a familiar scent wafted up from the ground. It was a day or so old, but he knew it as well as he knew his own. Lady's man-friend. The one that gave him snacks from Lady's bag when they had camped and scratched along his fur where the metal met flesh. So nice, because sometimes those places itched like a hundred fleas.
Lady's man-friend would take him home.
Rex shifted his path and turned to follow the man friend's scent. Passed a band of gang members camped out near a road sign, passed a small city home to a giant reptile and passed a graveyard of buildings that smelt of fresh blood and gunpowder. He topped a small hill to see the waving glint of a fire and a group of men in those red uniforms Lady-friend sometimes talked to. The closer he got the stronger the man friends smell was until he could see him amongst the uniformed men. He was laughing and talking with another man, but that laughing stopped when he spotted Rex bounding toward him, tongue lolling and tail wagging happily.
It was late by the time that they had finished with Ranger Station Charlie. The NCR soldiers had put up a fight, but with their minor numbers it wasn't a long one. Vulpes' men were too well-trained and had planned for this for weeks. They knew every possible trap and every soldier stationed in there. Across the fire, bound and gagged were the last two survivors. They'd taken them for questioning and when Vulpes' team of Frumentarii back at the Fort were done with them they'd likely have more intel on the NCR's movements in the area surrounding Novac. They had been coming awfully close to Nelson and they needed to know what the NCR had planned.
Vulpes finished his small plate of dinner and set it aside while he spoke to one of the newest recruits about being out in the field. He was in the middle of giving the man some pointers about getting the optimum damage with a machete when he spotted a dark shape sprinting out of the night. He squinted his eyes to see more clearly through the dim and was shocked to see the Courier's dog coming right at them. What was perplexing was that Scarlet was nowhere to be seen.
He stood and whistled, calling the animal over to him. The other Legionaries stopped talking and looked at the pair in confusion. "Where's Scarlet?"
Rex whined and looked behind him from the direction he'd come. He pawed Vulpes' knee and sat down.
Vulpes pointed at one of the scouts. "You, with me."
"What is it?" The head of the raid camp asked.
"This is the Courier's dog. She never lets him run off by himself. I think something's happened."
One of the NCR soldiers eyes widened at the mention of the Courier.
Vulpes sneered at the man. "Oh, don't think salvation has come. Scarlet's a close friend of mine. That's right," he purred, pushing the man over with his boot and holding him down, "the Courier is working with me and soon she'll be with us. But that's ok, because you're not going to tell anyone, are you?" The barb might have been unnecessary, but a sharp and sudden need for violence had risen in him.
Some of the other men laughed behind him, but Vulpes wasn't in a good mood anymore. He turned his back on the prisoners and walked back over to where his pack was and grabbed it off the ground. You're supposed to be on the Strip. Why is Rex out here? Because she left that Strip, that's why. He was torn between concern and anger at Scarlet. His anger would have to wait until he was sure she was safe though. However, if she had sent Rex away then that meant she was in serious danger and he wouldn't have much time to find her before there wasn't anything left to find.
Next Chapter: Never Could Have Been Worse - With Scarlet a little tied up, Vulpes may be her only chance at getting out alive. And Keene's vendetta with Scarlet comes to a final and bloody head.
Hope to see you all soon! R&R!