“Do you like my new tag?” Red Turnip asked.
Ironhoof gazed tiredly from where he was sharpening his horseshoes. “What?”
“My tag,” Red Turnip remarked with a grin. He sat alongside the wooden railings of Windthrow's platforms. After polishing a shiny brass namepiece in the center of his leather armor, he proudly uttered, “It's an alternative to the one I wore during our last trek. I think it'll bring us good luck.”
Ironhoof snorted. “I think it sucks.”
“You think everything sucks. That's why you don't get paid as much as Fulltrot.”
“Red, YOU don't get paid as much as Fulltrot either!”
“Yeah, but at least I don't have a wife who hates my guts!”
“You don't have a wife, period!”
“Yeah... well... uhm...” Red Turnip fidgeted, frowned, and kicked a few flakes of wood out into the misty air of the mountainside. “Nice job becoming bat fodder last night.”
“Hey, I held my own. Besides, I was half-awake.”
“Yeah, more like half-dead. I heard the pegasus had to save your sorry flank again.”
“So what if she did?” Ironhoof murmured, gazing quietly at the metal shoes he was scraping to a sturdy edge. “As least she knew what she was doing. I think we jumped on her mane a little too quickly. If she was around town more often, heck, maybe those creatures would finally let us be.”
“Did you come to this assessment before or after she pulled you out of hydra's throat?”
“Knock it off, dude,” Ironhoof groaned. “I'm not the only one who's been off his game as of late. The way I see it, all of us could use some help. It just stinks having to admit it.”
“One pegasus isn't enough to drive away those freaky monsters. If that was the case, I'm sure a little bit of colorful flame and pyrotechnics would have sent them packing years ago.”
“It's just that they keep coming!” Ironhoof exclaimed with a frown. A gust of air blew at his mane as he and Red Turnip sat outside the hustle and bustle of Windthrow. “It's like wherever they hail from, it's gotta be some sort of bottomless pit! And don't tell me that this dang farm is something natural, cuz it ain't!” He gazed up at the mists just a spit's length from the glowing crystals. “I don't think all of the unicorn stones in the world will be enough to clear the air back to the way it used to be.”
“Say, Ironhoof...” Red Turnip shuffled closer towards him and whispered in a low breath. “You remember that village that we keep stopping by to the northwest.”
“You gotta be a lot more specific than that, Red.”
“You know the one! With the windmill and the creek and the wheat fields—”
“Oh yes. 'Sparkill Havens' or some nonsense...”
“It's got a remarkable cluster of mineral deposits along the hilltops to the west, don't you think?”
“Maybe...” Ironhoof murmured. In the ensuing silence, he paused, then squinted curiously at his companion. “Wait, are you thinking what I think you're thinking...?”
“All it would take is one expeditition to dig in there, determine the quality of the rock, and then see if the land has any claim to it,” Red Turnip remarked. “You don't think I'd make that horrible of a neighbor, do you?”
“It depends on how much you open your mouth, quite frankly.” Ironhoof sighed and leaned back. “Red... I don't like what I'm hearing...”
“Don't tell me you haven't thought of it...”
“My great-great-great-grandfather one tried leaving the village. He nearly died from malaria in the southern swamps where he set up a new home. I've always thought about that story that's been hoofed down to me. Moving out of Windthrow is just too troublesome, Red. I've got a household—a family to take care of. You know I can't be thinking all about my own well-being, and neither can you!”
“My mom and siblings are sick and tired of every other night turning into a battle!” Red Turnip uttered hoarsely. He frowned as he continued, “I'd rather brave malaria than these dang creatures again and again and again. I know it must be tough setting up a new place, but have you ever thought of what's keeping us here? I mean... what's really keeping us?”
“I try not to...”
“It helps to have an open mind, Ironhoof, even if it's an empty one.”
“Open your own brain and let's see what spills out,” Ironhoof said with an angry grunt. After a few seconds, he inhaled deeply and muttered, “But Hushtail hasn't been all too reasonable lately. If he could at least... I dunno... give us an assessment of how terribly this village has actually fallen, I might at least be able to make a better career choice. If all of Fulltrot's expeditions are failing to put an end to the creatures, then maybe I should be going back to the mines. Heck, I should bring my wife down there with me. It's probaly safer there than on the surface.”
“All I know is that something's gotta change,” Red Turnip said, and his expression was a painful one. “Because I really don't know what I'll do if one of my little brothers or sisters bites the dust. This town has cost enough as it is. I'm almost afraid to imagine what it could claim from us in the future.”
“Well, it's nice to see that Sladesteed isn't completely full of it, at least,” said the voice of Rainbow Dash.
Both stallions bolted in their seats. They turned to see the blue pegasus marching up and removing a hard hat from her skull.
“Hey. Where's... uhm... Gold Plate?”
“What, you hungry?” Red Turnip remarked, then chuckled. “Oh, that's right! You don't meat. Heheheh!”
“Go toss yourself off the side, Red,” Ironhoof grumbled. He gazed up at Rainbow Dash. “The little squirt's off doing goddess-knows-what in the town market. Why? Something the matter?”
“I'm beginning to think that asking that sort of question in this town is kind of beating a dead... well... you know...” Rainbow Dash trotted past them. “Sniff you two marsupials later.”
“Pffft...” Red Turnip rolled his eyes once she was gone. “Friggin' pegasi. I swear, they think with their feathers.”
“She heard that,” Ironhoof muttered.
“No she didn't.”
“I heard that!” Rainbow Dash called from beyond.
“No you didn't!” Red Turnip barked.
Ironhoof smirked for the first time that day.