July 1, 2278
The Lone Wanderer was drawn from his conversation with his two companions by the approach of Harden Simms. The young boy looked nervous, a combination of the awe in which he held the Wanderer and nervousness in the face of his companions.
"Mr. John, my dad says he has a message for you," the boy said, drawing a smile from the Wanderer. The boy's father, Lucas, was the town sheriff and mayor, in addition to being the Wanderer's friend and ally. He was raising Harden alone, and was determined that his son would be respectful and well-mannered; leading to him referring to every adult as Mr. or Ms. Personally, the Wanderer didn't mind. He found being called by his birth name preferable to being called any of the titles that had been affixed to him over the 11 months that he had been out of the Vault. Paragon, the Last, Best Hope, the Urban Legend, the Messiah…all were embarrassing to him, and the last offended him on a visceral level; though he knew it was not meant as an insult. The Wanderer had met no one else outside of the Vault that could be called a Christian; being called Messiah when he knew he was an ordinary man of flesh and blood struck him as wrong on a personal level.
"Thank you, Harden," he replied, before turning to his companions. "Guess we better see what's up," he said, moving to leave their seats at the Brass Lantern and walk to Sheriff Simms's house. Lucy West, working behind the counter, bid them farewell, eyes lingering on the Wanderer as he left. He knew that she was interested in him; he suspected she had been since he resolved a messy situation with her brother. And he couldn't deny that, as far as the Wasteland went, Lucy was stunning. She couldn't hold a candle to Amata, but…stop that. Stop thinking of her, he told himself. He still felt the crushing sadness at the loss of his first love, eight months before, in the aftermath of his father's death. The dual blows had left him in a disconnected, numb state. It was around that time that Jericho, seeing the young man's distress, introduced him to the numbing power of alcohol. He had cut back on his drinking while he was consumed with fighting the Enclave; and over the course of the campaign Sarah Lyons had begun to fill the hole Amata had left when she ejected him from the Vault. It was a huge hole to fill, though. He had last seen her two weeks prior, after destroying the Enclave's land crawler and dealing what he hoped was a mortal blow to them. He had been surprised to find in the aftermath that achieving his ultimate vengeance had done nothing to ease the ache his father's death had left in his heart. Dad was still dead, the Capital Wasteland was still beset by raiders and super-mutants, life continued the same as it always had. As he and his companions came to the top of the hill, he saw Lucas Simms waiting. The big man spotted them, nodding in greeting as he extended his hand.
"John, thanks for coming. Fawkes, Charon, good to see you two," he said, acknowledging the Wanderer's companions. Most people were too intimidated by the super-mutant and the imposing ghoul to say anything. Lucas had come to trust the young man, though, and by extension his companions. If even half of what Three-Dog says on the radio is true, the kid is almost perfect, Lucas thought.
"Harden said you have a message, Sheriff?" the Wanderer replied, releasing his grip on Lucas' hand. He was clad in the same style of duster as Lucas, the kind worn by all Regulators. Beneath it was reinforced leather armor, the best mix of comfort and protection he had when he didn't plan to leave Megaton. If the Wanderer had learned one thing in his travels, it was the value of always being prepared for a fight.
"Yeah. Got a call across the radio today from the Brotherhood. They're requesting you report in at the Citadel immediately," he replied. The Wanderer raised his eyebrows at that.
"Oh?" he asked, drawing a knowing smile from Lucas. The rumors had swept the Wasteland like wildfire in the two weeks since the Wanderer had infiltrated Adams AFB and destroyed the land-crawler; spread by water merchants and couriers. They said the kid and the Brotherhood's Sentinel were keen on each other. No one seemed to know where the story had originated, but everyone who told it swore they had heard from someone who knew first hand. Lucas knew the kid, though; he had known him ever since he first escaped the Vault, a scared young man. Ever since he had gone back down into that Vault, last December, he had seemed like a man with nothing to lose, throwing himself into situations that were beyond dangerous, as if he was looking for a way out. The fact that he had survived it all had only added to the legend that Three-Dog, the Capital Wasteland's resident DJ, had promoted about the kid. Now, though…now Lucas saw something else in the kid. Like he had something to live for again.
"Sure enough," the Sheriff replied. "They didn't say what it was about, but it sounded urgent," he continued. The Wanderer nodded in acknowledgement.
"Sounds good. Guess I'll be heading to the Citadel to see what's up. Thanks, Sheriff," he said, before turning back toward the stairs that led to his house, companions in tow. He turned over what Lucas had relayed in his head as they made the short walk, coming to the only conclusion he could think of. It the message wasn't from Sarah, then it had to be about the next step for the Wasteland. He had been contemplating the problem in his head during the two weeks that had elapsed, a reprieve following ten months of near constant fighting. Even though the Enclave was gone, the super-mutants and raiders still menaced the Wasteland. And the conclusion the Wanderer had come to was that they had to be destroyed. The super-mutants would never stop, never be convinced to lay down their arms; they would threaten the Wasteland until they ceased to exist as a cohesive group. The raiders and slavers, on the other hand, he hoped could be cowed into some sort of ceasefire. The super-mutants were the more pressing problem, but also one that he thought could be resolved more easily. They had to be taking their captives somewhere to turn them, and he suspected it was Vault 87. It wouldn't be enough to simply go through and kill all the mutants in the Vault, though. If the Vault was left intact, and with its store of FEV still in place, they'd simply repopulate it. To destroy them, the Wanderer had realized, he'd have to destroy the Vault or take control of the FED; with both being the ideal scenario. Operating alone, with only Fawkes and Charon to aid him, he had figured that fully pacifying the Wasteland could take years. To get the job done in a timely manner would require Brotherhood help. Not to fight with him-most Brotherhood knights would just get in the way-but for transport and supplied. The Brotherhood's squadron of captured Vertibirds would be invaluable to move quickly across the Wasteland, to strike hard and relentlessly, before the enemy knew they were coming. For that reason the Wanderer hoped that Elder Lyons and Scribe Rothchild had come to the same conclusion as him.
The Wanderer's entry into his house woke his sleeping dog, who padded over to greet him as Charon and Fawkes ducked through the doorway. He crouched down, scratching the former junkyard dog behind the ears as his companions took seats at the table. Between the three travelers, the dog, and the Wanderer's robotic butler, the room had become crowded. It was rare that the Wanderer found himself outsized; but both Fawkes and Charon had quite a few inches and pounds on him. Fawkes was far and away the strongest, his enhanced musculature bulging with power. Charon was leaner, but closer to 7' than to the Wanderer's own 6'1. He made his way across to his storage room as the ghoul called after him.
"Will you want us to wait here?" he rasped out, as the Wanderer began to strip off his leather armor. For leaving town, and especially for the trek to the Citadel, he never wore less than combat armor.
"Why would I want that?" he replied as he pulled on the armored black pants. They had been salvaged off a Talon Company hit-team that had come after him, following his disarming of the atomic bomb in the middle of town.
"The Brotherhood doesn't really seem to like us," Charon replied, Fawkes nodding his agreement. The Wanderer turned to face them, pulling a black t-shirt on as he did, before beginning to affix the armor over his torso. He spoke as he fitted the armor to his frame.
"That's their problem. You're my friends, and if they want my help, they'll accept your presence. I didn't see any of them taking out the Enclave. And maybe they'll learn something about tolerance," he replied, before grabbing his duster from where he'd shed it and putting it back on. "Now let's get out of here. There's someone I want to see," he went on, grabbing an old Chinese assault rifle out of a locker as he made his way to the door.
"That someone have blonde hair and wear power armor?" Charon asked sarcastically, as they exited the house and made their way toward the town's entrance.
"She does," the Wanderer replied, laughing. "And no offense, Charon, but she's a prettier sight than you." The ghoul snickered in response.
"Can't argue that," he replied, as they stepped out of the gate, exposed fully to the merciless sun. Charon pulled back the bolt on his shotgun, seating a shell as the Wanderer racked his own weapon, prepared to face whatever the Wasteland could throw at them. Secretly, he hoped there would be a fight somewhere along the way. The past two weeks had made him restless; an adrenaline rush would be a welcome change of pace.
The trip to the Citadel was disappointingly quiet. No raiders, no super-mutants; not even a Radscorpion to shoot at. In the distance the Wanderer could see Paladin Bael standing post at the entrance, his minigun carried against his side. The man shifted slightly at the sight of Fawkes and Charon, obviously uncomfortable at their presence. In some ways the Wanderer understood it-Bael had spent most of his adult life fighting the super-mutants; the idea of a friendly one was obviously causing some cognitive dissonance. On the other hand, even after years of fighting, the Wanderer saw no reason for intolerance. He had met two intelligent super-mutants on his travels; if he had shot first, as the Brotherhood did, he'd be out two friends. Bael spoke first as the trio approached.
"Greetings, Wanderer. Are you here in response to the Elder's summons?"
"I am," the Wanderer replied, stopping in front of the Paladin. "Want to open the gate?"
"I had not been told your…companions would be with you," Bael replied, his distaste obvious. The Wanderer felt annoyance at his tone. He really wanted to get inside and see Sarah, not play 20 questions with Bael.
"Well, they are with me. And I've been summoned. So are you going to keep jerking me around, or are you going to let me in?" he replied, somewhat harshly. The anger in Bael's eyes was obvious.
"Of course, brother," he said, his tone dripping with sarcasm as the gate slid open. The Wanderer walked through without so much as a backward glance, the eyes of the initiates locked on him as the group crossed the courtyard to Paladin Gunny, voicing his displeasure at a group of initiates on the firing line. The trio's approach drew his attention, the Wanderer addressing him as they closed the distance.
"The Elder called for me. Do you know where I can find him?"
"The Great Hall. Simms radioed ahead when you left Megaton, they've been expecting you," Gunny replied.
"Excellent," the Wanderer said, glancing quickly at the initiates, all of whom had stopped shooting to stare at the three outsiders. "Don't go too hard on the kids," he continued as he turned to make his way to the Hall.
"Right. Damn initiates…" Gunny trailed off as he turned back to his charges. His voice berating them followed the Wanderer inside the Citadel.
A knock on Sarah's door drew her attention from the book she was reading. She looked up to see Colvin poking his head through the door, awaiting her acknowledgement.
"What's up, Colvin?" she asked, setting her book down.
"The Lone Wanderer just arrived, Sentinel. The briefing is going to start in five minutes," he replied.
"He's here?" she asked, her tone rising slightly too far. Colvin suppressed a smile at her reaction. He had heard from Kodiak that something had happened between her and the Wanderer in the control room of Project Purity. At this point, everyone in the Brotherhood had heard that rumor. Her reaction to what he said, though, was enough to confirm it for Colvin.
"Yeah. He and two of his crew. You better get to the Great Hall, you're going to be late," he said, smiling as she grabbed something from her desk and strode to the door. Sarah made her way to the Great Hall alone, memories of those last moments in Project Purity going through her mind. The kiss, watching him enter the radiation filled chamber, the dreams she had while she was unconscious. She hadn't let herself contemplate what came next over the two weeks she had been back awake, throwing herself into her work to distract her from her feelings. The nervous anticipation she felt whenever she had been around the Wanderer in recent months had returned to her stomach as she entered the Great Hall to find people quietly talking, the Wanderer standing across the room in a set of black combat armor, flanked by two of his companions. Her heart jumped slightly at the sight of Fawkes, the super-mutant in their midst giving her a momentary shock. She looked to the Wanderer, whose bright green eyes had turned to her when she entered. Sarah felt her cheeks begin to burn slightly as she smiled at him, brushing her hair back over her ear as she took a seat. With her arrival, the most senior Brotherhood leadership was assembled; and Elder Lyons rose to address the assembly, his blue robes flowing as he made his way across the room.
"Brothers. Now that we are all assembled, I call this council to order," he began, arms spread in greeting. Sarah noticed that the Wanderer had opted not to sit, standing against a wall along the side of the room, arms crossed as he dispassionately observed the proceedings. "With the Enclave defeated, we turn our attention to the remaining challenges facing the Wasteland. Scribe Rothchild and I have spoken with our friend," he continued, gesturing at the Wanderer, "and we are of one mind. The super-mutants and raiders must be confronted and defeated. We gather today to discuss the strategy for this campaign. To begin, I will recognize our young friend, who can provide intelligence and insight into both these threats." The Elder nodded at the Wanderer in recognition, before taking his seat. All eyes focused on the Wanderer as he strode to the head of the semi-circular table.
"In my travels I have discovered several locations I believe are vital to our enemies. Vault 87, Evergreen Mills, and Paradise Falls. Vault 87 is the base of operations for the super-mutants in the area. I suspect it is where captives are taken to be exposed to the FEV and converted. It is also extremely difficult to access, and the internal layout is confused and does not favor the movement of a large group assaulting. Paradise Falls is the most accessible; but also poses a risk of civilian casualties, should we assault in force. I believe that, with the assistance of my friends," he said, gesturing to Fawkes and Charon," we can destroy these threats. I request the use of the Vertibirds captured from the Enclave to transport my team. While the Brotherhood holds the line in the Wasteland, we can infiltrate and destroy the enemy where they live." There was a moment of silence after the Wanderer finished speaking. Scribe Rothchild voiced his thoughts first.
"You say we're to hold the line while you go off on these missions. I'm afraid I must object to this. To use our equipment and then act like our knights are not good enough, to have them sit by and do nothing…it's not a good long term strategy. We want to win the support of the locals so we can establish some semblance of the rule of law here. Your way seems apt to simply create an even greater cult of personality around yourself," the Scribe replied. The Wanderer was visible offended, speaking before the Elder could move to calm them.
"Do you think I like the legend Three-Dog created? That I like being the person everyone looks to? I don't. I do it because I can. The reason I said nothing about Brotherhood support on the ground is because I'm better suited for operations like this. I can move quieter, I have advantages most knights don't. Your men would be best used in populated areas, where they can interact with locals and be seen protecting them. They can fight better in open terrain where they can maneuver, as well; not the tunnels of a Vault," he explained, calming as he did. The Elder inserted himself before the argument could go further.
"You both present valid points. But Reginald is right-there must be some sort of Brotherhood presence. After years of war, my men will want to finish this. You have your pick of my chapter, young man. Which of my knights could work best with you?" The Wanderer pondered for a second, biting his lip as he did. Sarah watched him, secretly hoping he'd say her.
"For what I have in mind? Colvin or Gallows," he replied to the Elder, Sarah's heart dropping slightly.
"And what do you have in mind?" Rothchild asked.
"Evergreen Mills. I stumbled on it when I was searching for my father, got shot in the process. I never properly reconnoitered the place, which is what I intend to do first. It's in a canyon, I know that much. Colvin and Gallows could set up on the high ground and pick off anyone that tries to escape when we go in."
"And how do you plan to recon it?" Sarah asked, finally speaking up. The Wanderer looked surprised, glancing down before speaking.
"Carefully," he replied, smiling that boyish smile he had that Sarah found irresistible. She laughed slightly, drawing a curious glance from Rothchild. He shook his head, as if trying to clear a thought, before turning back to the Wanderer.
"Do you have a real plan?" he asked, sounding vaguely annoyed. The Wanderer sighed.
"Yes, Scribe. You don't survive what I have without one. Tonight I'll insert via Vertibird, overwatch the facility and get a lay of the land. Exfil before first light, report back in, and go in with force tomorrow night. Destroy the place, make an example of it. Hopefully enough to give other raiders pause, give us some breathing room to go after the mutants." There was silence as he finished speaking.
"Do you require any equipment from us?" the Elder finally asked. The Wanderer shook his head.
"No. I left a trunk of supplies in the armory. I just need access to that." The Elder nodded at him.
"Very well. We'll call for a Vertibird, have it arrive at dusk. It will touchdown in the courtyard. By all means, help yourself to food from the mess hall if you wish." The Wanderer nodded back at the Elder.
"And my friends?" he asked.
"They are welcome to remain here, if they so desire," the Elder responded, receiving a smile in return.
"Much appreciated, Elder. If there's nothing else, I should prepare myself," he replied. The Elder looked around, and seeing no hands, spoke.
"So be it. This meeting is concluded. Steel be with you all."
"And with you," the council intoned as one. People began to file past where Sarah sat as she waited, trying to get the Wanderer's attention. There was a pat on her shoulder and, glancing back, saw Rothchild, the shadow of a smile on his face. She blushed slightly, wondering if she was that obvious. Fawkes and Charon finally turned from the Wanderer and left, leaving them alone.
"Mind if I walk with you to the armory?" she asked, rising from her seat as he approached.
"Not at all," he replied as she fell in beside him in the hallway. "How are you feeling?" he asked as they began walking toward the armory.
"Better. Been a little disorienting catching up with everything that happened while I was out. All this new tech from Adams and everything…" she trailed off, getting a grunt in reply. Sarah glanced over, taking in the man's features. His hair was certainly longer, and he looked like he hadn't shaved in the past two weeks, but the most shocking feature was his eyes. Bright green, greener than anything she'd seen. Like the green they said forests were, before the war.
"I don't suppose now is…" she began.
"No," he interjected, cutting her off. "Let me finish this mission, and then we can talk," he finished.
"Well, I have something for you," she continued as they reached the armory. He stopped, turning to her and raising his eyebrows curiously. She reached into a pocket and pulled out a breakable chain with two metal tags attached to it.
"What is it?" he asked, taking them from her.
"Holotags. I used the information you gave us after Project Purity. I figured since you're one of us now, you should have them," she replied, nodding down, as if encouraging him to read them. He looked down at his palm, where the tags lay. Sarah knew exactly what they said, she had looked at them enough since they'd been made.
He smiled as he looked at them, before putting the tags around his neck and tucking them under his shirt.
"Thank you," he said earnestly, smiling at her.
"Don't mention it. Yours are only the second pair in the chapter I've seen that say Christian," she replied.
"Who's the other?" he asked, eyebrow raised.
"Colvin," she said, before looking at the door to the armory. "You better go get ready. I'll see you outside," she continued, before heading off toward the Den, leaving him to prepare alone.
The Wanderer looked at his kit, laid out on the bed in the private quarters the Elder had spared for him. It occurred to him, looking at his gear, that none of it was provided by the Brotherhood. On the contrary, it had all come from the Outcasts, gifts after he helped them breach the VSS bunker and then saved McGraw's life. The Chinese-made stealth suit, one of the pinnacles of pre-war technology, was spread out; a Gauss rifle and the shocksword of the late General Jingwei, PLA, neatly laid next to it. The Wanderer shed his combat armor and began to slide into the extremely tight stealth suit; as far as he had been able to tell, it was a one size fits all design. The polymers it was composed of seemed to expand or contract to fit the user. Over his vital organs, hardened ceramic had been woven into the suit, offering protection from smaller caliber small-arms fire and shrapnel. The jet-black suit, combined with his densely muscled frame, presented an imposing sight. Leaving the hood draped over the back of his neck, he sheathed the sword across his back and slung the Gauss rifle, before making his way out of the room and toward the courtyard. He had timed his exit with dinner, and the halls were mostly empty; but the stares he received confirmed that no one in the Citadel had seen anything like what he was wearing.
The evening air was still smolderingly hot as he stepped into the courtyard, heat radiating from the concrete. Sitting on a bench, near the landing pad, was Sarah. She glanced over, not recognizing him at first, before doing a double take, eyes widening as he approached.
"What is that? Where'd you get it?" she asked as he took a seat next to her, wiping sweat from his brow. The suit had a built in liquid cooling system, but to activate it, his hood had to be on and the onboard CPU running.
"It's a stealth suit. And you probably wouldn't believe where I got it," he replied.
"Don't do that," Sarah said, a touch sharply. Confusion crossed his face.
"Shut me out like that. I'm as confused as you about what's going on with us, John, but I want us to at least be friends. We've been through too much to not be," she replied.
"You sure you want to know?" he asked, looking into her crystal-blue eyes.
"Yes," she said, intensely meeting his stare.
"I got it from the Outcasts," he answered, waiting for the disapproval to hit.
"What? Who?!" she demanded, looking at him in disbelief.
"McGraw. I helped him and his men out of a running firefight with some mutants, and got this in return," he explained, opting to not attempt to explain the Anchorage simulation.
"They took help from an outsider? Oh, that's rich," she said, bursting into laughter. He smiled at her laughter, relieved that she didn't become as angry as he feared. Her temper seemed…fiery. Their fun was interrupted by the distinct thump of Vertibird rotors approaching as the last traces of blue disappeared from the sky. The bird appeared over the walls of the Citadel, rotors tilting up as it came to land. The wash from the rotors blasted down on them, blowing Sarah's hair wild as it landed. The wash died as the rotors began idling, the ramp at the back lowering as the crew chief came out to inspect the aircraft. The Wanderer turned to Sarah and spoke.
"My ride's here," he said, pulling the hood up and the golden faceplate into position. A Heads Up Display appeared on the inside, the writing all in Chinese and incomprehensible to him. The only things that made sense were a display of his heart rate and what appeared to be his blood pressure. Nodding at her, he walked toward the Vertibird, before being stopped by Sarah's voice.
"Hey," she called out over the sound of the rotors. He turned to face her. "Be careful out there." Muffled by the suit came the sound of laughter.
"Where's the fun in that?" he replied, before striding toward the Vertibird and disappearing into the cargo hold. The crew chief clambered on after him, and in what seemed like a second the ramp closed and the aircraft took off, Sarah watching until it disappeared into the night sky.
The Wanderer sat in silence in the hold of the Vertibird, the dim red light of the night-lights casting an otherworldly glow over everything. Against the bulkhead separating the hold from the cockpit the crew chief silently sat. The Wanderer had not spoken to whoever the person was for the duration of the flight. The crew chief broke the silence first, his voice ringing through the hold.
"Five minutes," he said, holding up his hand to signal five. The Wanderer nodded and gave him a thumbs up in acknowledgement; before unslinging his Gauss rifle and performing one last check. He had brought the weapon primarily for its scope, which had the ability to switch into the infrared spectrum; if all went according to plan he wouldn't need to fire it. In what seemed like too soon, the crew chief spoke again.
"One minute!" he said. The Wanderer lowered his head and began to recite Psalm 144 to himself, a tradition he had developed before going into a dangerous situation. Feeling the forward motion of the aircraft slowing he stood up, the ramp lowering as he did. The crew chief had rose from his seat and was standing next to him, waiting to give the command to go.
"We're coming in to hover five feet off the deck. You're good to go," he said to the Wanderer, who nodded in response. He walked forward, onto the lowered ramp, before turning back to the crew chief.
"Don't forget breakfast," he said, before jumping off the ramp and to the ground. He felt the rotor wash as the Vertibird gained altitude, before converting to standard flight and heading back to the Citadel. Alone now, the Wanderer activated the stealth field on his suit and let the night envelope him; before setting off at a jog towards Evergreen Mills, half a mile distant.
He reached Evergreen mills in just over three minutes; the HUD on his suit telling him that his heart rate hadn't even broken 100bpm. He was at the height of his powers; supremely conditioned and extremely strong, fast and agile in equal measure. His life outside the Vault had required him to either adapt or die; and he had grown up playing sports in the Vault, the athleticism serving him well on the outside. He remembered his father explaining to him, when he was a teenager, that he wouldn't actually reach his physical peak until his mid-20s; with his 21st birthday two weeks away, he was eagerly anticipating what other changes would occur over the next several years. The canyon that the Evergreen Mills facility was in lay several yards in front of him, and he ducked into a crouch as he approached, inching his way towards the edge. Reaching it, he raised the Gauss rifle and scanned the facility below him. It was silent, and he spotted only one raider, pacing the roof of a large building. The Wanderer laid flat on his stomach, watching the facility from this position, committing it to memory. It had a view of several small building and the large foundry that was the central point of the entire facility; if either Colvin or Gallows set up here they would be able to cover his team once they entered the foundry, making sure no raiders from elsewhere got in behind them. Once he felt confident that he knew the lay of the land surrounding Evergreen Mills, he stood again, moving to a new position to view the rear area of the canyon. He moved silently, dropping to a crouch again as he approached his chosen overwatch position. What he saw as he looked over the edge made his heart skip a beat. Below were two pens. One was a series of cages; inside of which were several Wastelanders. Slave pens. In all likelihood these people would be sold to Paradise Falls. The other pen was much larger and electrified, and inside stood the sight that had made the Wanderer's heart skip a beat. It was a super-mutant Behemoth, an absolutely massive creature. The Wanderer raised the scope to his faceplate to get a better view, taking in the full size of the creature. He scanned the area methodically, looking for some sort of control mechanism that would cut power to the fence. He assumed it was electrified; as the Behemoth was more than large enough to simply smash his way out of the chain link enclosure. This changed things. Raiders were simple enough to kill; but a Behemoth…he remembered his first encounter with one, outside the GNR Building, just moments after he had met Sarah for the first time. It had taken a direct hit from a Fat Man to drop the thing, and even then it had been a closely run affair. The Wanderer scanned the area below him, seeing no Raiders to speak of. Ideally they would be asleep or in an alcohol or chem induced stupor by nightfall, making his job the next night much easier. It may not be particularly fair; but he had no interest in giving his enemies a chance to oppose him. He had learned in his travels that while an honorable confrontation might be a noble idea; it was also a fast way to get killed. He stood from his position, moving in a crouch back toward the foundry. The place had remained silent; and he observed a rail line leading into the area, from the mouth of the canyon. Moving at a deliberate pace, he made his way toward the entrance of the canyon. It was something of a bottleneck, with the walls of the canyon encroaching on the rails that seemed to be the only path in. Below, on the foundry side of the bottleneck, he noticed a wagon with a painted sign on it. Free Water, it read. The Wanderer found something…off about it. Something wasn't right. Looking for a way down to examine more closely, he was met by the sight of a fairly sheer drop of at least 20 feet. Preferring to not spend the rest of the night with a broken leg, he opted to make his way further back, until he could leap down from a safe distance. As he moved away from Evergreen Mills proper, a sound reached him from below; voices moving along the railroad tracks. He dropped into a crouch again and looked over the edge, seeing a trio of raiders moving nonchalantly towards Evergreen Mills. The Wanderer ran through his options in his mind. This was supposed to be a recon mission, and he had hoped to avoid any sort of contact at all; especially if killing these three would put the raiders in Evergreen Mills on alert the next night once they failed to show up. On the other hand, killing them now meant less to fight tomorrow; and it had been two weeks since he'd been in a good fight. In the end, his desire to mix it up won out. He waited for the raiders to pass under his position, before dropping the 8 feet to the ground silently, landing behind them. They were too caught up in their conversation about a whore in Paradise Falls, someone named Clover, to hear anything else. He silently unsheathed the shocksword from his back, stalking closer to his prey. They were in a single file line, talking back and forth. The Wanderer raised the sword, swinging it in a downward motion, lopping the raiders head off and spraying blood from the stump that once supported his head. The raider's body crumpled to the ground, a pool of crimson forming where it fell as the other raiders turned around in shock; the noise and the feel of blood on their backs enough to distract from their conversation. The Wanderer grabbed the rifle of the next one by the barrel and jerked it aside, thrusting in with his sword as he did and impaling the raider, a girl with pigtails. Before she could fall he was spinning away, a dervish of motion that blended with the darkness. Before the remaining raider could fire his weapon, the Wanderer's shocksword cleaved through his neck; passing through so smoothly that the Wanderer at first feared he had missed his mark. That fear was assuaged as blood from the raider's carotid artery sprayed across the front of his stealth suit, a diagonal line of it tracking across his faceplate. The Wanderer paused for a moment to survey the carnage. The entire encounter had probably lasted less than five seconds; each strike of his sword proving to be a death blow to his foes. It occurred to him that he would be best served to hide the bodies; and seeing the dead female seemed to have the least amount of blood pouring from her, opted to start there. He threw her over his shoulder, moving back down the rail line and away from Evergreen Mills, until the ground leveled out. Doubling back on his tracks, he walked along the rim of the canyon, finding an outcropping of rocks to hide her body in, slightly further down the rim from where the Wanderer had descended upon her. He repeated the process with the next two raiders, most of the blood having spilled from their bodies by the time he reached them. Moving the bodies consumed him for the next half hour, and it was well past midnight by the time he finished the task. Returning to his position overwatching the slave pens and Behemoth, he settled onto his stomach and got comfortable, prepared to spend the next hours committing the area to memory. Through careful observation he finally spotted what appeared to be a switch, controlling the flow of electricity to the Behemoth cage. The hours dragged by, the Wanderer keeping himself awake by rotating between overwatch positions; doing as much as he could to commit the place to his memory. It was in the last hour of his reconnaissance that he spotted a raider, exiting the foundry and making his way to the slave pens. The Wanderer watched through his scope as the man fished a key out of his pocket and unlocked the pen, making his way to where one of the slaves slept on the floor. He grabbed the slave, a woman, and kicked her awake, before dragging her away from her bed and the other slaves and throwing her on the ground. The Wanderer realized immediately where this was going as the woman desperately struggled to fend him off. Shit. Shit! You have to do something! He screamed at himself. Simultaneously, another voice began speaking. Do nothing. Going in there now could blow our entire mission tomorrow night. If they find any of the slaves missing or the asshole dead, they'll know someone was here. His internal fight ended quickly as he watched the struggle. Mission or not, he couldn't sit by and watch an innocent person be raped while he had the means to do something about it. The Wanderer looked left, seeing a building no more than 10 feet beneath the edge of the rim. He ran over and leapt onto the roof, rolling forward to lessen the impact of his landing, before jumping the next 10 feet to the ground of Evergreen Mills. He immediately felt like a fish in a barrel, surrounded on all sides by buildings and high ground. Every instinct in him screamed at his willingly ceding the high ground. Spotting the slave pens, he began running over, stealth field activated; drawing his sword as he ran. The woman received a vicious backhand slap from the raider as the Wanderer approached, knocking her back, dazed, onto the ground. Receiving no more resistance from the woman, the raider began unbuttoning his pants. It was the last thing he ever did; the Wanderer's sword severing his spine and punching through his heart, his free hand wrapping around the raider's mouth to prevent any noises from escaping. The man died quickly, and the Wanderer let the body drop as the woman sat, frantically searching for her savior. He shook the blood off his sword before sheathing it and deactivating his stealth field, making the woman jump back. The Wanderer brought a finger up to his face, the universal sign to be quiet, before crouching down and approaching her.
"Are you alright?" he asked. Stupid question. She's been captured by raiders and nearly raped. Of course she's not alright.
"No," she choked out, sitting upright. "We got taken today, they brought us back here. They said they were going to sell us to Paradise Falls. Please, help us," she pleaded.
"I will. But I can't tonight. I promise, I'll be returning with some friends tomorrow night and we'll free you all. But if I get you out now, they'll know we're coming," he explained.
"Please, please, don't leave me here," she said, more frantically. He held his finger up in an attempt to shush her as her voice continued to rise.
"I told you, I can't. Trust me," he said, helping the woman to her feet. She looked down in disgust at the dead raider before looking back at him.
"Are you…are you him? The Lone Wanderer?" Behind his faceplate, a smile crossed the Wanderer's face.
"Yeah. Last time I checked, at least," he replied. For the first time, something like hope appeared in the woman's eyes.
"I had begun to think you'd never come. Please, just don't leave us here. Please come back for us," she continued, as he led her back into the pen. He felt sick to his stomach leaving the slaves in this position; but he knew there was no other option. He still had to hide the dead raider, and it was coming dangerously close to his extraction time.
"I will come back for all of you. Tomorrow night, be sure to just stay on the ground when we come in. Do as much as you can to lay low tomorrow. If you don't draw attention the raiders will leave you alone. They can't kill or severely injure you if they want to sell you to Paradise Falls," he said. She nodded, before throwing herself against him and wrapping her arms around his chest. He was taken aback momentarily, before lightly embracing the woman. When the hug lasted too long for comfort, he gently pried her away, holding her by the shoulders. She looked into his faceplate, as if looking for his eyes.
"We all hoped you would come. But as the day went on, we began to wonder why you would let this place exist, if you were everything that Three-Dog says," she said.
"It won't exist, after tomorrow night," he replied. A smile crossed her face.
"Good. When you come back, I want to watch this place burn." He nodded at her, admiring her spirit, before shutting the pen. Using a key off the dead raider's body, he relocked it, before tucking the key away in his suit for future use. Reactivating his stealth field, the Wanderer threw the raider into a fireman's carry; quietly relieved that he had been a smallish man. He walked as quickly as he could back toward the canyon entrance, desperately hoping that no raider would look outside to see a floating body moving towards the exit. His hope was rewarded as he made it out of the canyon and, with little ceremony, deposited the body with the other dead raiders. He shuddered to think what sort of stench there would be by the next night, after the bodies had a day to rot in the sun. The Wanderer looked at his Pip-Boy, seeing that the time was 0420. Satisfied that he had obtained all the intelligence he could, he began to make his way to the extraction site; the same place that he had inserted. Even walking at a leisurely pace, he had time to sit and think while waiting for the Vertibird. Evergreen Mills was a huge facility; containing any number of raiders inside the buildings. He began turning over the options for destroying the place in his mind. The first one that came to mind was sneaking in, freeing the slaves, and then deactivating the flow of electricity to the Behemoth's pen; allowing it to run roughshod over the entire area before bringing it down with Fat Men from the high ground. Even that was no guarantee, though. Raiders could simply wait inside the buildings, riding out the Behemoth's rampage until it was either dead or disappeared into the Wastes. And if they had added on to the buildings; perhaps building a tunnel network beneath them all, the situation would be more complicated still. The only conclusion the Wanderer had was that he and his team; Fawkes and Charon, would have to actively storm the facility and clear it, room by room if necessary. The distant sound of Vertibird rotors drew him from his planning, scanning the sky to spot the bird. He finally picked it out in the faint grey light of early morning, approaching from the East. Standing up, he deactivated his Stealth field and waited for the bird to land; which it did upon spotting him. The ramp lowered, the now helmetless crew chief's face showing shock at the Wanderer's appearance. He assumed it was from the amount of blood he was now covered in. He silently took a seat as the bird took off again, heading East and home.
The first hints of blue were in the sky when they touched down in the Citadel. The first thing the Wanderer saw when the ramp landed was Sarah Lyons, accompanied by several members of the Pride. Her jaw dropped when he stepped into sight.
"Is it really that bad?" he asked, pulling the hood of his suit back and exposing his face to them.
"You said this was supposed to be a recon! What the fuck happened?!" Sarah asked, her voice a mixture of anger and concern.
"Shit happened," he replied sardonically. Paladin Glade snickered at the response, while Sarah's face showed only more outrage.
"You weren't supposed to do any fighting! That's not how a recon works, John!" she yelled.
"But where's the fun in that?" he asked, laughing as he turned away from the Pride and made his way toward the Citadel.
So welcome to my new story, those of you reading it. This is basically a tie-in that I'd been considering for a little while; filling in some background and gaps between the end of the main Fallout 3 story and the beginning of my main work right now, An Ember in the Dark (shameless plug). So this first chapter was originally going to be much longer, but then I saw how long this was so far and decided to break it into two parts. Next one should come relatively soon; although I'm going to try and knock out the next chapter for An Ember in the Dark first. Also, for those curious, the title for this story comes from the Carbon Leaf song of the same name. A friend of mine played it for me when I came home and I felt it kind of encapsulated some of my own experiences. Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoy!