Reversal of Fortune

by Lucien Chance

Chapter 1: Prologue: Guess Whose Luck Keeps on Rolling?

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The elevator dinged as it reached the floor. Penthouse. The Lucky 38 really was the best in New Vegas. Everything clean and operational, except for that one bloodstain on the casino floor. He had been meaning to reprogram a Securitron to act as a maid. Maybe give it a frilly Pre-War outfit, if he ever found one.

The image made him crack a smile.

The day had gone as usual. He had checked in on the Families of the Strip, made sure they weren't stepping out of line. Those White-Gloves needed attention especially, he wasn't going to allow another slip like the cannibalism debacle. Afterward, he had headed out to Freeside to make sure everyone was getting along. Luckily, he arrived just in the nick of time to stop a fight from breaking out between some Locals and the NCR. Feelings of hatred had calmed down greatly between the two groups, but some people still held onto old grudges.

He took out a bottle and a glass from a cupboard in the kitchen. A shot of whiskey, even though he didn't drink.

Next was the usual border patrol. He had gone out with a few Kings to check some of the areas around the gates to Freeside. They had recently been persuaded to lend more of a hand with the upkeep of the city. Now they were a bit more reliable in a fight. Who would have thought that impersonating "The King," as they called it, would carry over abilities in combat.

He grimaced as the whiskey burned a trail down his throat.

They had run into a group of Fiends, this time even further from the gate and fewer in numbers. A few Kings lured them out of the dilapidated building they called a camp, and he managed to take them all out at once, lucky shot from Annabelle, his missile launcher. Fortunately, the Kings were unharmed from the blast, even though they were close to the explosion.

The shot glass touched the counter with a soft clink. Moments later it was washed in the sink, and returned to its previous position. The glass, even when empty, always contained something: a story. One about his first time meeting a woman by the name of Rose of Sharon Cassidy, Cass for short. It had held the first shot of whiskey he had in her company, back at the Mojave Outpost. Right before he passed out, drunk from losing the contest to Cass, he slipped it in his bag. Lucky enough, nobody saw him stealing it.

He always liked to collect mementos like the glass. The past, after all, couldn't be changed, and he found it nice to have some sort of item to aid his memory.

Whether it was Pre-War or Post-War, he would grab it. He understood Mr. House's obsession with snow globes, Father Elijah's obsession with Old World tech, and even Ulysses' obsession with the Old World itself. The past held lessons; that he was taught the hard way. So he had crafted reminders of the past. House's snow globe collection was the first thing he finished, followed by incorporating large amounts of Old World tech from The Big Empty into New Vegas' infrastructure, and the American flag hung as a banner in the Penthouse. Each a testament to the past, and why it should be taken seriously.

'Who are you not to know your history,' he thought. Ulysses was a brilliant man, but he had had his run. Sometimes the past should be left alone, forgotten. Sometimes that was for the best. But Ulysses, he never let go. He let the past cut into him and leave scars in the shapes of claws and bites. It tore into his mind, and never released its grip.

He had learned a lesson from that. He mulled it over in his mind for a bit, recalling Ulysses and his lessons, the Divide, and ED-E. Perhaps it wasn't for the best that an Old World flag stood in his home. Thoughts passed through his mind like that for a few more moments before he was snapped out of them by a voice.

"Ryan, you're doing it again," a robotic voice with a cheery undertone echoed throughout the Penthouse.

"Yes, thank you for reminding me, Yes Man," he responded.

"Of course, sir, any time..." Silence came over the speakers for a few moments until they crackled to life once again with Yes Man's voice. "If it's not too far out of my place, sir, why do you keep all these things around if they bother you so much?"

A smile crept up Ryan's face, but it never reached his eyes. "Because the past is a teacher, Yes Man. She is harsh and stern, but she does her job, and she does it well. By remembering the past, we can know our future."

There was silence again over the speakers. Then, "Sir, I'm not sure if that made sense."

Upon hearing those words, Ryan's smile broke into a full-out grin. "Yeah, I know. I'm just messing with ya." He stepped out from behind the kitchen counter and walked up the stairs. He passed through some curtains into his bedroom area. The bed sat in the center, flanked by two bookshelves filled up with Pre-War books. The filled snow globe stand stood off to the side. He fell onto his bed and called out, "What's the status in the wastes today Yes Man?"

"My sensors are reading that radioactivity is unchanged from yesterday, sir. The NCR has reported a decrease in Legion numbers, and Camp Link is now under our control-"

"Camp Link?" Ryan interrupted.

"Camp Link is a relatively small Legion encampment just outside the eastern borders of the Mojave. The NCR is looking to annex more room and add it to New Vegas' acreage. They have yet to send you a copy of their formal request for expansion, but that should be due within a few days."

"Right, thank you. Anything else?"

"I received an invoice from the Followers of the Apocalypse. It seems that they have made progress in redesigning extremely long-distance radio towers, so communication with California and even the East may be possible in the next few years!" Yes Man's excited voice chirped over the speakers. "They also included a personal 'thank you' to you for giving them the Old World tech that made it possible for them to conduct the experiments in the first place. Boy, are they nice!"

Ryan chuckled at the machine's always-chipper tone. "Any word from... the others?" he asked tentatively, already knowing the answer.

Yes Man let out a sigh. "Don't worry sir, I'm sure that when one of them returns to the Mojave they'll head straight for the Lucky 38. I'll be sure to message you right away when it happens."

"Of course, Yes Man. Any other matters of interest?" Ryan asked, trying not to sound too crestfallen. His closest friends, Cass, ED-E, Boone, Gannon, Lily, Raul, Veronica, and even Rex left the Mojave for their own reasons. He didn't know when they'd return, and he grew more worried with every passing day.

"A courier from The Hub arrived in the Mojave today sir. He's currently staying in the Atomic Wrangler. When questioned by the Securitrons, he said that his matters were urgent."

"Geez, Yes Man!" Ryan exclaimed, jumping up from his bed. "Why didn't you say that earlier? A courier from The Hub? We haven't heard from them since I got sent to... I should get going."

He threw open drawers on the sides of the rooms and opened and closed wardrobes, trying to pick out what best to wear. "Might I suggest your Courier's uniform, sir. That might be the best to receive him in," Yes Man commented helpfully.

"Excellent idea!" Ryan exclaimed, while he ran to a wardrobe at the other side of the room and pulled out his outfit. It was a sleeveless tattered duster with the number 21 over a spade painted on the back. Leather straps with pouches were buckled on the chest of the torn shirt that he wore underneath, and metal knee pads were on the legs of his pants. The matching Rebreather was left in the wardrobe, he instead decided to go with his authority glasses and lucky gambler hat.

He pulled on his clothes quickly and strapped his pistol holster back on, making sure that his favorite gun, Lucky, would stay firmly attached to his hip.

He had acquired Lucky fairly easily. When he was exploring the half-dead town of Primm, he had gotten lucky while trying to break into a safe in the Bison Steve Hotel. Ever since then, he had never separated with the gun, as it had gotten him through some extremely rough situations when he was just starting out in the Mojave Wasteland.

He ran his fingers nervously over the club-shaped groove in the gun's handle. He didn't really enjoy shootouts, so he would try to avoid them in general. Sure, when it came down to it, he could handle himself, mostly because the universe would usually dispatch his enemies without him doing too much. Grenades would bounce mysteriously away from him, guns would jam, people would trip over unseen rocks. He had once won a fist fight when a man somehow managed to knock himself out by charging into a wall head first. He never truly understood how the man mistook him for the potted plant he had tried to tackle.

The elevator hummed as he took it down to Casino floor.

Lucky had been either on his hip or in his hand for almost every encounter that he'd experienced since he acquired it. Bullets that came from Lucky's muzzle never seemed to miss a vital point. Every shot was guided, almost, by an invisible hand, making sure that some form of target was hit. He once cleaned out an entire encampment of the Jackal gang with two bullets, one for the leader's head, and one to destroy some support beams that happened to be weakened by time. Luckily enough, he escaped before the entire building went down.

The elevator dinged and the doors opened.

The doors to the Atomic Wrangler swung open. He had never particularly enjoyed the place. It was one of the more seedy casinos in the Mojave, next to the Sierra Madre, of course. He respected the owners, James and Francine Garrett, due to their drive to contribute to Vegas' welfare, but they didn't do the greatest job of maintaining their own casino.

The air had a permanent stench of booze, smoke, and vomit. A sleazy performer was on stage singing Ain't That a Kick in the Head. The calls of gamblers, be it of anger or glee, could be heard from the adjoining room. What also could be heard were the constant banging noises coming through the ceiling. Undoubtedly some men were having fun with their "escorts."

He removed his sunglasses and shot a look to James Garrett, in his usual spot behind the main counter. A smile broke out on his face when he saw Ryan, but it disappeared when he remembered why he was visiting. "James! How about a pint? Put it on my tab," he called out while walking over.

James chuckled for a moment before filling up a glass from the tap. "You know our rule, Ryan, no tabs. And since when did you drink? I don't think you've ever ordered anything but water!" he exclaimed, but set the beer on the table anyway.

"I'll drink when there's something to drink to," Ryan answered, his smile relaxing as he picked up the glass. "So," he started before taking a small sip, "where is he?"

James' face paled slightly. He leaned in close and half whispered, "What's this all about, Ryan? You know I tolerate everything you do around here and help out any way I can, but this is much closer to home than I think I'm comfortable with. Is something big about to go down?"

"I can't be too sure about anything until I talk to him, James. The fact that The Hub is just now starting to re-establish communications with the Mojave is strange enough, but sending a Courier? Something's up, I know that much."

"That's good enough for now, I suppose. While you're here with him though, same rules still apply, alright? That means-"

"-No gambling, no fistfights, and no 'bringing the house down like that one time,'" they said in unison, each miming the quotation marks at the same time.

Ryan flashed the man a smile. "Ah, come on, James. You know I'll follow the rules. And that was just one time, let it go," he said good-naturedly.

"Alright, alright. He's in the other room, playing slots the last I saw. Francine should be hovering near him, wanted to make sure he had everything he needed. We're no suck-ups, but when we get a VIP, we take good care of him."

"Thanks James," Ryan said, producing a few caps for payment of his drink.

He started walking to the other room, lost in thought already. All the way from California? I've only made that trip myself a couple of times. This guy must be pretty serious about talking with me if he went all the way by himself.

He turned the corner and noticed the man quickly. As James had said, he was playing on a slot machine against the wall, his back turned to Ryan. As he expected, the man was wearing another form of the Courier outfit. This version seemed to be a redesign of Combat Armor, but the color scheme, instead of gray and green, was a dirty red like Ryan's. On his head sat a desperado cowboy hat, smudged with a substance that looked like ash. The ensemble was made complete by the large 22 painted on his back. Francine was a few feet away, looking on in discomfort, like she was eager to be somewhere else.

Ryan approached and nodded at Francine wordlessly. She received the unspoken message and took off at a fast pace. As he got closer to the man, the ambient noise of the gamblers in the room seemed to fade out slowly, going down to a gentle roar instead of an all-out assault on the ears.

"This place is fantastic, you know that?" the man said without turning around. He had a deep, gravely voice, even lower than Ulysses' was. "I mean, I've been all over the place. The Boneyard, Vault City, New Reno, hell, even San Francisco. None of 'em even come close to the drinks and gambling here." He tugged on the arm of the slot machine, sending the slots into a spin. "Not to mention that it's a helluva lot more dangerous here than anywhere else I've been to in the West." The slots stopped. He got a cherry and two lemons, only doubling his gamble. Some chips spilled out and he stacked them neatly to the left of the machine.

"That's not too many chips. How long have you been here?" Ryan asked.

"About an hour or so, why?"

"Let me help you with that." Before the man could spin the slots again, Ryan grabbed 20 of the 25 or so chips the man had stacked and fed them into the machine. He pulled the arm down with a little force. Shortly afterward, three 7's flashed onto the slots, causing lights to flash and a brief, happy song to play. Chips began pouring out the machine, but Ryan had played enough slots to know that it totaled up to 600.

"Whoa, someone has the golden touch, eh?" the man said, trying to gather up his chips.

James' head poked around the corner of the room. "Ryan! What did I say about gambling in here!?" he called out.

"Sorry James, won't happen again!" The man's head disappeared back around the corner.

"What was that all about?" The Courier asked, still without turning around.

"I've been banned from gambling here. And just about everywhere else," he sighed.

"Really? What for? Fistfights? Gunfights? Did you stab someone?"

"They said I win too much. I remember the Ultra-Luxe's floor manager actually told me that they were tired of paying me to play there." Ryan chuckled.

"Guess you really do have the golden touch." The man hit the slots again as a moment of silence passed between them.

"Those Securitrons are beefy bastards, huh? I'd love to get in a scrap with one of those machines. I watched a guy try to run into the Strip when I first got here. He was in pieces before taking five steps." He laughed. "Whose idea was it to give those tin cans missile launchers, grenade launchers, a machine gun, and a gatling laser?"

"That was me. The Securitrons are mine."

Ryan noticed the slight sudden intake of breath the man made. "Well, then, uh, I suppose you have the city under your control?" he asked in a slightly more wary tone.

"Yeah, I keep order around here. The Families of the Strip throw me some caps, and I keep the factions in check. Not like I need to anymore, anyway. Things are finally starting to calm down, now that I don't have the NCR and the Brotherhood constantly breathing down my neck about things."

"So do you live in Freeside, or on the Strip?" the man asked.

The question gave Ryan pause, then an idea. "You know what, let's go. I'll show you my place, and we can talk there. It isn't every day that we receive someone all the way from California."

"Alright, if you insist." The man gathered his chips, then stood up to face Ryan. His complexion was rough, wrinkles from the sun criss-crossing their way across his face. His skin was tanned a darker brown, and the only facial hair he had to speak of was a small outlining of stubble on his chin. If Ryan had to guess, the man was in his late 30's or early 40's. The voice matched the face exactly.

They walked out of the Atomic Wrangler next to each other, Ryan slightly ahead of the man. As they passed through the stage area, a hush fell over the small crowd. Even they, the drunks, gamblers, and drunken gamblers, could sense that something was stirring in the Mojave. They knew that the presence of two Couriers meant something, they just didn't know what, and neither did Ryan.

They opened the door and exited. The air outside was clearer and much more crisp than the booze-laden air of the casino they had just left. The sun was just beginning its descent in the sky, casting a light orange over the city of New Vegas. Of course, the effect was ruined slightly by all the lights, but Ryan appreciated it nonetheless. "I don't think I got your name?"

"Wayland. Joseph Wayland," he said, continuing his stride.

"So you have this entire casino, a fucking casino, all to yourself!" Wayland exclaimed as he looked about the interior of the Lucky 38's casino floor in wonder.

"Place is all mine. The slots aren't usually on, nobody's here to play them. I had a Securitron deal for Blackjack once, but I got bored of it quickly. Kept dealing me perfect hands." He stopped before the elevator and laughed. "I cleaned myself out!"

Wayland quickly caught up to Ryan and the two took the elevator up. "And all the electronics here run perfectly! I didn't think that a place like this existed in the Wasteland!"

"Well, most of the stuff you've seen around Vegas; most of the lights, new streets, drinking fountains, the upgraded walls, et cetera, are all made using Pre-War tech that I salvaged from Big Mountain. There was this abandoned research facility filled to the brim with electronic junk, and I managed to jury rig a teleporter to bring most of it back here with me."

Wayland looked thoughtful for a moment, his hand to his chin. "I gotta hand it to ya' that's pretty damn impressive. Even I couldn't pull off something like that," he admitted. "Not like I'd want to anyway. Things in California are going pretty smoothly."

The elevator dinged Penthouse Floor. The two exiting, with Ryan leading them to the bar. He picked up the conversation quickly. "Glad to hear it. Been some serious radio silence from Cali ever since The Divide went down." His expression darkened slightly upon thinking of the accident he had caused.

Wayland put a hand on his shoulder, a sympathetic look on his face. "That was a real shame, what happened there. I remember hearing reports about Courier involvement, is that true?"

Ryan nodded sadly, then pointed to the wall behind and above Wayland. The man followed his finger and noticed the giant flag hanging over the room. Ryan spoke, "I'm the one who caused it," he related. "Another Courier, Ulysses, was there too. Kinda swore revenge on me because of what I did. Went back a few years ago and ended it, and him." Ryan's expression made it clear to Wayland that he didn't want to talk about it any more.

He opened the fridge and pulled out a bottle of beer. "Drink?" he asked, holding up the bottle.

"Lay it on me," came Wayland's reply. Ryan handed it over and Wayland cracked it open on the bar. He held up the cap questioningly.

Ryan shook his head and Wayland pocketed it. He sipped his beer in silence for a few moments. When he was done, Ryan started the conversation back up. "So are you new to the business? I don't remember hearing about you back when I still worked in The Hub."

A strange look passed across his face upon hearing the question, but it cleared quickly and he answered. "I joined up a few months ago. You were probably out here by that time."

Ryan caught the look he had before it disappeared. It raised a question in his mind, but he decided not to press it. Still, something seemed off about his reaction to such a simple question. "Yeah, I probably was. Time kinda loses its meaning here. Especially since I took over, everything has been happening so quickly. If I didn't have Yes Man helping, I probably would have split under the pressure by now."

Wayland raised an eyebrow mid-sip. "Who's Yes Man?" he asked after he set his beer down.

Ryan pointed a finger up. "Yes Man, could you say hi to our guest?" he called to the ceiling.

Before Wayland could accuse him of being insane, the PA system crackled to life. "Pleasure to meet you, sir!" a chipper voice said.

Wayland chuckled. "That's something, all right. Hi, Yes Man."

"Yes Man, could you send a few Securitrons to the Presidential Suite and have them clean up a bit? I made a bit of a mess the last time I used the workbench."

"Of course, sir. It'll be ready for Mr. Wayland here in just a few minutes."

Wayland raised a hand. "Hold on, hold on! That won't be necessary."

Ryan looked at him questioningly. "Really? You'd rather stay at the Atomic Wrangler? Is it because of the hookers? I bet it's because of the hookers. Yes Man, can we get hookers? People probably wouldn't be afraid of the Lucky 38 if we had hooker-"

"I'm not staying in the Mojave," Wayland cut him off.

"What?" Ryan stopped his tirade and looked at the Courier.

"I'm not staying in the Mojave," he repeated. "And neither are you, not after I tell you why I'm here."

"...I'm listening," Ryan said in a careful tone.

"The Hub. They want you back," he said.

"Explain." Ryan walked out from behind the bar and motioned to some couches that sat nearby.

"The Hub. They heard about what you did here, and they decided they needed you to rejoin the Couriers. So they grabbed me and told me to track you down."

Ryan sat still for a moment, contemplating what to do. "What if I say no?" he asked quietly.

Wayland drew a 9mm pistol and aimed it at Ryan's face. "No is not an acceptable answer," he said forcefully.

Ryan stared at the barrel of the gun like it was a gnat bothering him. "Go ahead, pull the trigger," he said simply.

"What? This is me threatening your life, why won't you just come with me?" questioned a baffled Wayland.

"I said shoot. Pull the trigger. Send me on my way," Ryan continued nonchalantly, leaning back into the couch.

"Will you just stand up and go with me? Painless, I promise."

"I said shoot, dammit!" Ryan suddenly yelled and feinted toward the gun.

Wayland jerked in surprise and mistakenly pulled the trigger on the pistol while falling backward into the couch. But, to his further surprise, it didn't fire.

Ryan had his head directly in front of the gun's muzzle, breathing slightly harder than before. He snatched it out of Wayland's hand in disgust. The man watched as he pulled off the slide and revealed what had happened. The bullet had gotten lodged just outside of where the magazine loaded in. "But I just cleaned it when I got here-" Wayland started but Ryan cut him off.

"This is why you don't fuck with me!" He stood up in anger, throwing the parts of the pistol at Wayland. He recoiled and they clattered to the ground. "I have survived the impossible! This is my town, and this is my city! Hell, the entire Mojave Wasteland is mine!" He spread his arms out wide, red in the face. "The odds are always in my favor, don't you get it!? I cannot die!" he proclaimed wildly before sitting back on the couch.

He adopted a calm expression quickly, putting his palms together in front of his mouth. "Do you want to hear a story?" he asked suddenly.

He took Wayland's half horrified expression for an affirmative and continued. "When I first showed up in the Mojave, carrying a package that changed everything here forever," to emphasize the point he pulled out the Platinum Chip and slammed it down on the end-table in front of them, "I was shot in the head, twice. Just boop, boop," he mimed a gun to his forehead, "right into my noggin." He sat still for another moment before continuing.

In a lower-pitched voice that sounded eerily similar to Wayland's, he said, "But then how are you still alive?" Then, in his normal voice, "I'm glad you asked!" He broke out into a manic grin. "I guess I am just so God-damn lucky that nothing bad ever happens to me! The bullet lodged itself in my brain, luckily just missing a few major parts. Luckily enough, a Securitron saw it all happen and dug me out of my own grave. And I guess that you could chalk it up to good luck that a doctor that was proficient in brain-surgery just happened to live nearby, and luckily he dug it out without too much damage!" He paused, breathing hard.

Wayland slowly settled back into his former position on the couch and attempted to calm down. "Ryan, you have to come with me."

Ryan snorted in disgust and fell back into his seat, casting his gaze to the floor-to-ceiling windows. "You're not running. People are supposed to run when I say things like that. Actually, you're the first person that hasn't run away screaming when I do that." he said softly.

"You only convinced me that you are the one that I- we need."

"And I suppose nothing I can do short of killing you will get you off my ass about this?" Ryan sighed, already seeing how their encounter will turn out.

"Nope. You've gotta come with me."

There was silence for a few moments as Ryan stood up to get a better look of the Mojave. "How long will it take?" he asked quietly.

"Few weeks, tops. We need you for one job in particular, that's it. If you don't want to stay after that, then fine. You can walk away." Wayland stood up to go join him by the window. "We're getting as many Couriers as we can. This is a top-priority mission, and we need your help; especially if everything you just told me is true," he said sincerely.

Ryan mulled it over in his thoughts for another few moments before responding. "When do we leave?"

"As soon as possible," he said, an equal parts victorious and relieved tone working its way into his voice.

"Give me a few minutes. I need to get some stuff from my room. Help yourself to the fridge, I won't be taking anything from there for a while." He turned around and walked up the stairs, speedily heading to his room. His footsteps echoed off the solid floors, the only sound present in the room.

He brushed past the curtain that stood in for a door and headed straight for his weapon trunk. He threw the top open and rustled in the space, looking for something in particular. His hand brushed against a round metal object, slightly warm to the touch. Carefully, he grabbed it and withdrew it from the trunk. It was a hand grenade with a white cross drawn on it. Holy Frag Grenades, he thought, turning it over in reverence.

He had used the other two already, one for Caesar, one for Legate Lanius. The grenade made things all too easy, in his opinion. Who would have thought that such a small thing would pack an explosion even larger than the Fat Man's Mini-Nukes? He was just lucky he made it of the explosion alive.

He carefully placed the grenade in one of his pouches. He pulled out a Marksman Carbine from near the bottom of the chest. He tugged out the mag to make sure it was full, then he grabbed three more extra. He slung it over his back using a strap he made from duct tape, then looked back down at the chest. With slight hesitation, he grabbed two lever-action shotguns and put them in makeshift holsters crossed on his back. He kicked the chest shut then walked over to a wardrobe and quickly grabbed Ulysses' rebreather. Some places between Nevada and California were still irradiated pretty badly. He didn't want to be caught unprepared for something like that.

He checked that he had a good supply of Stimpacks and a few Sunset Sarsaparillas for good measure. He had a surplus of 20 gauge shotgun shells and a seemingly endless amount of .357 magnum bullets. The amount of ammo he was bringing would last for weeks, months even, due to the fact that he hardly ever needs to shoot. Not to mention that he would find ammo almost everywhere he looked across the Wasteland, even places where it didn't make sense. One of the questions that plagued his mind constantly was Who just throws out .50 caliber bullets?

He made sure his straps were all straight and did a final weapons check. With everything good, he walked back to rejoin Wayland.

"Remind me again why I decided to go with you?" Ryan asked. The two were sitting across from each other at a camp fire. They had left the Mojave two days ago, taking the Long 15 through The Divide and out to the surrounding countryside, or what was left of it. Just dry, dusty wastes as far as the eye could see. Night had fallen a few hours back, and they decided to stop to rest. His Pipboy told him it was around midnight, and radiation clouds covered up any light the moon could give off.

Wayland chuckled. The man was a tough nut, that was for sure. He had held his own extremely well through The Divide. Ryan recalled watching Marked Men flee in terror when the man tore apart Deathclaws with his Power Fist like they were made of tissue paper. He certainly had a lot of life in him. "I told you, we need you to help us. And by judging how good you are with that pistol there, you're a sorely needed member of our posse."

Ryan took the compliment in stride, dishing one back himself. "Really. I would have thought that they'd be fine with you and your Power Fist."

He held up his gloved hand, flexing his fingers. "Yeah, Bessie and I have been through a lot. I remember every dismembered limb like it was yesterday." He sighed nostalgically.

A brief silence followed. "So can you crack mutfruit with that?" Ryan then asked, pointing to the glove.

Wayland glared at him for a moment, but it dissolved into a smile, and soon the two of them were laughing uproariously. But just then, the sound of a rock tumbling over from behind them got Ryan's attention and he spun around, drawing Lucky in the motion. He aimed it directly into the darkness surrounding them and fired.

A wail issued forth from the black, and the sound of something heavy hitting the ground reached their ears. Ryan rose slowly, keeping Lucky aimed at the spot. He put his other hand to its hilt and listened as Wayland jumped up and turned a knob on the side of his power fist, causing the front to retract slowly, steam issuing forth. He swiftly picked up a burning plank of wood from the fire and tossed it where Ryan shot at.

The improvised torch rolled over, sparks flying wildly. It settled and illuminated the lifeless body of a feral ghoul. Ryan's body tensed and he saw Wayland do the same. It seemed they shared the common knowledge that ghouls hunt in packs. Wayland turned around and shot a look to Ryan.

He nodded and reloaded Lucky hastily. After doing it so many times, it was all just second nature to him. He holstered the weapon and withdrew the two lever-action shotguns strapped to his back. He pointed them out into the darkness, ready to fire at any moment. Ghouls by themselves weren't much of a threat, but when there's a few... bad things could happen.

Wayland took a few measured steps backward, moving closer to the fire. He had his hands up in a fighting stance. The two were back-to-back, standing almost over the campfire. It wasn't giving off too much light but Ryan knew that they would hear them before they saw them.

A groan and a hiss made itself known in Ryan's ears. His head snapped to the right and he stared steadily into the dark. He sheathed his left shotgun quickly and grabbed another burning plank. Luckily, his hand was far enough from the flame that it didn't burn him. He tossed it into the distance in front of him like Wayland had.

A moment of quiet followed, upset only by the crackling of the flame. He redrew his gun and scanned his surroundings again. Nothing, not him or Wayland, moved. But then something out the corner of his eye caught the firelight. Two reflective eyes caught the glow of the flames. An emaciated ghoul walked into the light, his hands held in front of him and mouth open slightly, showing off the crooked, bloodstained teeth.

Ryan ran forward a few steps and fired his right shotgun. The bullets flashed out and suddenly the ghoul's head was just bits and pieces, flying backward with great force. Several more moans echoed out from the darkness, and he felt Wayland rush forward. Ryan turned to see the man scoop up a torch with his free hand and run with it.

Ryan sheathed his shotguns and withdrew the carbine around his shoulder. He would need the extra range while Wayland was out removing some of the ghouls with his power fist. He watched down the sights as the man launched a ghoul backward with more force than bullets could give, killing it instantly.

Ryan noticed a ghoul approaching from Wayland's turned back, and a bullet was quickly put in its head. Lucky shot, he thought as the ghoul crumpled instantly.

Suddenly a hiss came from directly behind him. He spun quickly to see a ghoul sprinting at him at full speed. Thinking quickly, Ryan grabbed his gun by the barrel and swung it like a baseball bat at the irradiated nightmare. There was a sickening crunch as the stock connected with its shoulder. It stumbled, and Ryan had Lucky out and two bullets in the thing before it had a chance to recover.

He turned around just in time to duck the body of a ghoul sent flying by Wayland's power fist. The man had fared well in the fight. Not a scratch on him, just flecks of dark-red blood. He was walking back to the fire with a cautious gait, eyes flicking back and forth. "I think that's the last of 'em," he said to Ryan when he was back in front of the fire.

Ryan just nodded, scanning the surroundings one more time. No sounds gave away the presence of more ghouls, and his eyes didn't catch any movement. He set the marksman rifle down on the ground slowly. With great caution, he walked to the ghoul whose brains he had blown out. He checked the various folds of his tattered clothing and something metal clinked inside.

He grabbed the cylindrical objects and withdrew his hand. Opening it up, he saw that the ghoul had a few bullets and a cap. He immediately recognized the bullets as being 5.56mm, the same type that his carbine used. How fortunate, he stifled a laugh.

He counted four bullets and pocketed the cap. He went and sat back down and put three of the bullets in a spare pouch on his chest. He pulled the magazine off his gun and quickly loaded the round where one was missing. Out the corner of his eye, he noticed Wayland crossing his arms and raising an eyebrow at his fortunate find, but he said nothing.

The magazine went back into the gun and he slung the weapon over his shoulder. He pulled out two .357 bullets and reloaded Lucky, then put a 20 gauge round into the shotgun he had fired.

When he finished, Wayland spoke. "That's why I don't use guns, normally. Too much hassle to keep them clean and loaded constantly. Prefer just using my fists. They never jam, at least."

"I like having the extra range. I'm most comfortable when my enemies are at least a few feet away. Helps that I almost never miss," he chuckled, letting off the extra adrenaline.

"Yeah," Wayland yawned. "Why don't I take first shift? You get some shut-eye and we'll swap in a few hours, alright?"

"Sounds good." Ryan immediately stretched out on the ground and closed his eyes. As normal, he fell asleep instantly.

"So when do we get there?" Ryan asked. The two had been trudging along the Long 15 for a few hours. He had spent enough time talking with Wayland to know that something was wrong. Whenever he had asked anything remotely personal, the man would dodge the question, or take longer than necessary to respond, like he was making up the answer as he went along. Whatever his problem was, Ryan couldn't figure it out.

Wayland sighed. "Soon enough, Ryan. Soon enough." He kept walking, his cowboy hat blocking most of the sun's rays. He must be baking in that armor, Ryan thought. I'm glad this thing has the sleeves torn off, otherwise I'd be burning up. But Ryan could pick out no signs of discomfort on the stoic man. It seemed that the closer they got to their destination, the more distant he became.

They continued walking. After a few minutes, Ryan began to notice something in the distance. Several old homes, it seemed. They were walking into a dead town. As they kept on, clouds starting to roll in from the edges of the sky. "Where are we?" he questioned when they got closer.

"Calico, but that doesn't matter now." Wayland responded without turning around. There was a certain bite in his tone, to Ryan it sounded forced, like he was making a conscious effort to speak.

They walked into the center of the town, having encountered nothing but the skeletons of houses and, occasionally, people. The clouds had closed up the sky by that point, leaving the sunlight dimmed greatly. Wayland sped up his pace suddenly, walking towards the center of what Ryan assumed used to be a park.

"Hey, wait, hold up," Ryan said, increasing his pace.

"No." Wayland stopped suddenly. He was looking down at his feet. There was a lot of dust on the ground, but Ryan could just make out the edges of something made of stone set into the ground.

He stopped in his tracks, his hand moving unconsciously to his hip. "Wayland, what are you doing?"

The man kicked out with his boot, causing the dust in front of him to fly forward. A stone tablet was partially revealed. It appeared to have some markings inscribed on the surface, but he couldn't make any of them out from where he stood.

Something was definitely up, he thought. His fingers began to slowly close over Lucky's hilt in trepidation. "Wayland?" He took a step forward and drew Lucky, setting the sights on the man's head.

He began to slowly raise his arms up above his head.

"Wayland! Whatever it is you're doing, stop!" Ryan shouted, then fired a warning shot up in the air to try to scare him.

Wayland flinched, then turned around to face Ryan. He was wearing a toothy grin, something that had never been present on his face ever before. "Why would I stop now, Ryan? When we've come this far?" he laughed, somehow finding the situation amusing.

"What do you mean?" Ryan demanded, still pointing the gun at him.

"Look around you! This is ground zero! And I've finally found you!" he waved his arms around, gesturing to the ruined town and then to Ryan.

"Huh?" Ryan couldn't make sense of what he was saying.

"Let me explain. This is ground zero, as in where I entered. And after searching for quite some time now, I've found you. So why don't you tell me: who's your mother, or who's your father. Whichever one isn't human."

Ryan's jaw hung open in shock. He had absolutely no clue as to what Wayland was saying whatsoever. "I- I don't understand," he managed to stammer out.

Wayland's arms crossed. "Oh come now 'Ryan,' we both know you're just playing at this. Who's your mother? Fortuna? Tyche? Or is it your father? Fukurokuju? No, I bet it's Bishamonten, that would be so typical of him."

Those names sparked a memory in him. One of the first Pre-War books he had read was an account for many of the Old World's religions. The names he had thrown out were gods and goddesses, all related to luck. His eyes widened in realization of what Wayland was asking about. "You think I'm a demigod?! Are you fucking insane?!" he yelled, lowering Lucky in exasperation. "I've met some lunatics in my time in the wastes, but this is ridiculous!" he exclaimed.

Wayland flashed a false smile, one that spoke of shortening patience. "Drop the act kid. Tell me who your parent is and I'll be sure that they get a good explanation as to why you vanished."

He talks about them like he knows who they are... Ryan connected the dots and took a look around. He remembered how quickly the weather had changed when they entered the town, and he began to notice other smaller things about the area. Some of the scorch marks were fresh, and the amount of dust gathered was only enough to account for a few days. The explosion that totaled the town happened recently. This is where he 'entered.' "You're a god?" he questioned incredulously.

"Wait, you seriously didn't know? Pffffff-ha!" Wayland threw his head back with the laugh. "But it would be like you to assume that I'm a god. Didn't your mother ever teach you not to read a book by its cover?" Before Ryan could respond, his form began to shimmer. A veil of something that looked like heat waves covered his form for a moment. When they dissipated, Wayland was no longer a man, but a woman! He still wore his Courier's uniform, but it had become tailored to his new body.

"Oh, it feels good to be back in my more natural form!" She shot a hand to the left and a bolt of lightning struck down from the dark clouds that hovered above. "I was never that good with flat out power, but it's still fun to flash around." She fixed her gaze on Ryan. "So, Mr. Vegas, do you know who I am?"

Ryan thought for a moment. "No," he answered decidedly.

She sighed. "No recognition these days," she mumbled before a shimmer appeared in the air behind her. When it disappeared, she held up two more arms and two new legs stuck out to the side awkwardly. "How about now?"

Despite what he had read about the various mythologies and pantheons of gods in past civilizations, he was unable to recognize the apparent goddess before him. He maintained a scowling face. "I'm afraid you weren't important enough to remember.

Her frown deepened. "Humans these days, so out of contact with their roots." As she spoke, a faint image overlaid her form, making it appear as if she were wearing elaborate white cloths and jewelry. He was able to identify the style as Greek, but otherwise didn't recognize anything else. "I am Atë, the goddess of misfortune and mischief. Now, can we just skip to the part where you tell me who your parents are?" she growled the question.

The goddess of misfortune. Ryan's blood chilled as he began to realize just how screwed he might be. "I don't know who my parents are, okay? Can you just shove off and leave this place alone?" Ryan asked, despite knowing he was treading on thin ice. Even so, he felt a bit emboldened by the fact that he was evidently somewhat powerful as well. Powerful enough to cause Atë to go through this many hoops to get him to Calico instead of just smiting him back in the Lucky 38.

"Ooh, trying to be brave, are we? Well, if you don't know who your parents are, then I guess we'll have to do this differently," she put a hand to her chin in mock disappointment. "Looks like I'll take your Luck and then remove you from this world! Then your parent won't know where to look for you!"

Ryan's blood chilled at the words. "Remove me from the world?" he managed.

Atë had stepped backward, across the stone in the ground. Her hands had begun to glow an ominous deep purple and she looked down with her eyes narrowed in concentration. "Yes. A necessary step now, all because you wouldn't comply. Such a shame, really. I would have loved to see you try to manage in the Wasteland without your precious Luck. Too bad." She raised her hands, all four of them, and a pillar of purple light erupted from the stone and shone continuously into the sky.

"Like hell!" Ryan managed to squeak out. He swung his carbine over his shoulder and began pouring lead into the area where he knew she was. The bullets whizzed through the purple light, where they met his target, with any luck. He hit the end of the magazine quickly and threw down the gun.

He withdrew the shotguns from his back and fired each one once into the pillar. Then he paused, wanting to make sure he hit something. He circled around to the other side of the light, guns held forward the whole time. When he looked around he emitted a sound of surprise; nothing was there. He spun the guns around vertically, holding them by their levers to re-chamber a shell.

He backed up slowly, eyes darting around and checking everywhere Atë could be. Suddenly she phased into existence to his left and shouted "Boo!"

He swung his gun at her, but she disappeared too quickly for him to make contact. She appeared again to his right and he fired off a shot, but it missed. He rapidly spun the gun again.

They cycled around like that for a few minutes, and Ryan could tell something was terribly wrong. She would appear and Ryan would fire, only he could never hit her due to some strange circumstance. He would stumble on a rock, back into a building, or just plain miss as the buckshot would spread in a way that excluded making contact with her form. Eventually, his left shotgun jammed, and he quickly got down to his final shell in his right shotgun, and he knew that he couldn't spare the time to reload. She was just toying with him at this point, so he had to do something to surprise her.

The next time she appeared, he fired his shotgun at her, threw his jammed one, and dropped the other to on the ground. He ran toward the pillar of light rapidly, stopping directly in front of it. He spun around to try to locate her.

She materialized a few feet in front of him, too far away to do anything, but still too close for his comfort. He leveled Lucky at her head, finger on the trigger. "You really are quite the shot, Mr. Vegas," she laughed. "Some of that buckshot actually made contact! I had to raise a shield to block it, how bothersome." She put her hands on her hips. "Of course, I have to account most of that fancy gun-work to your insane Luck, so I suppose it wasn't really that great."

"Not a step closer," Ryan threatened with a wavering voice and unsteady nerve. What he planned next was close to suicidal, even for him.

"Oh?" She raised an eyebrow. "And just what do you think you're doing?" she asked.

With a shaky hand, Ryan withdrew his Holy Frag Grenade. Despite all his fear, he still smiled. "Come any closer, and I pull the pin and count way past three. My Luck, as you said, will probably see me through the explosion. But can the same be said for you, Goddess of Misfortune?" His smile slowly morphed into a smirk as her face fell into a rage-filled expression. "You mad?" he taunted cockily.

She began to mutter something under her breath, too quiet for Ryan to hear. Her eyes sparked into a deep purple and her hands glowed the same color. She began twitching her fingers, manipulating them in awkward, painful-looking ways. Ryan quickly realized that spelled bad news. A glow spread around his body, tinged dark green. As she continued her work, it faded grayer and grayer.

He pulled the pin on the grenade, counted to three, then tossed it at her. "Catch ya later!" he called, then turned and jumped into the purple pillar of light behind him.

And in a flash he was back laying on the ground. But it wasn't the ground from before. This ground was white and freezing cold. He sprang up from his prone position and recoiled from the offending substance. Bits of it stuck to his clothing and his short-cropped brown hair. He brushed it off quickly while beginning to shiver from the cold. He took quick stock of his limbs, finding none damaged, and took a look around.

He was standing in a sloped field of snow. He recalled seeing the white stuff when he went snowboarding with some super mutants up in Jacobstown once. Not the most fun he ever had, and he grew to hate the white powder that continually met his face. It was too cold for him, in his mind. That's where he assumed he was now.

The sky was clear and he could see that the peak, along with the sun, was far above him. Before doing anything else, he brought up his Pip-Boy to check his body condition. His Inventory accounted for Lucky, his Courier uniform, and a fair deal of bullets. He apparently lost some on the way over. He browsed to the Data screen and checked his notes. No changes there. He checked for radio signals and was surprised to find that there were none.

That happened sometimes in the Mojave. Losing radio signals could happen quite frequently in the mountains, so it didn't alarm him too much, but something about it still felt wrong. He forwent checking the maps and skipped to his status. His limbs were each at 95% or so, nothing but a few scrapes and bruises. He had around 25 rads, not too serious; and no degrading effects.

He was going to go back to the Data tab, but something stopped him. His finger paused an inch above the button. Then, on an impulse, he hit the button to go to his S.P.E.C.I.A.L statistics. Everything was where it should be, fives and sixes across the board, and a 10 for Luck.

But wait... He looked more closely at Luck. Where there was once a little '+' sign, there was nothing. Some of his Luck was gone.

He dropped his arm and stood staring into the distance. Then, in disbelief, he checked the Pip-Boy again. Same thing. He flicked the screen once to make sure it wasn't incorrect. Nothing happened. Son of a bitch, she actually did it, he thought.

Welp, nothing else to do now but get back to the Lucky 38 and arm up with a Fat Man and every Mini Nuke I can find. She's so going down. He pulled his wrist back up and tabbed to the Data screen. He opened up his map and went to set a destination at his casino. But what he saw bewildered him.

Instead of his familiar Mojave map, he saw a completely strange one, different from any he had ever seen. In the center was a mountain range, with a strange formation on the western side. To its north-west were some oddly shaped clouds, all surrounded by wide areas of trees. To the east of the tall mountains was a smaller, wider range that he was marked as standing on. To the east were a few plains and what looked like a few towns. The southern border was comprised of desert-like lands, and the northern border appeared to be just a frozen wasteland. Train tracks crossed all over the land.

There was one place marked on the map. It hovered over a small village just to the south of the tall mountains and to the south-west of his position. It had the marker for not-traveled-to, and, upon closer examination, revealed the name to be "Ponyville."

In confusion, he checked his quest log. Almost unsurprisingly at that point, all of his completed quests had disappeared, leaving only a single objective for him.

"New World Blues"

-Rediscover civilization.

With a shrug, he set a waypoint and began trudging off through the snow.

Princess Celestia was in the middle of the Day Court when she felt it. A sudden shift in the distribution of power across Equestria. A frayed politician was in the middle of proposing an alternate currency to bits when she stood up. The pony stopped in the middle of a sentence and the grand hall fell silent. Celestia flapped her wings a few times and glided over to a wide window set in the wall. She looked out to the east to see a light, tinged slightly purple, fading into the sky like the aftermath of a sonic rainboom. It appeared to be centered somewhere over the Foal Mountains.

Something was off, she knew. And she knew that Luna must have felt the same thing too. Right on cue, the mare of the moon teleported next to her sister, eliciting a surprised gasp from the ponies gathered in the room. She nudged Celestia's side and whispered almost inaudibly. "You felt that also, correct?"

"I did, Luna. And I fear that our world is once again being meddled with. This time by something far more powerful than Discord." She clopped her hooves on the marble floor, causing the noise to echo throughout the silent hall. "Day Court is adjourned for today, my little ponies, I apologize for the inconvenience, but this is a matter that requires my immediate attention."

She and Luna walked off through a door next to the thrones with the usual guard escorts, their minds aflutter with unease at the events beginning to unfold.

Author's Notes:

Thanks to everyone who read this chapter and encouraged me to continue the story!

Next Chapter: Chapter 1: New World "Blues" Estimated time remaining: 3 Hours, 42 Minutes
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