• Published 27th Feb 2013
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Fallout: Equestria - The Hooves of Fate - Sprocket Doggingsworth



A young filly in present day Ponyville is cursed with nightmares of post-apocalyptic Equestria. She finds herself influencing the course of future history in ways that she cannot understand.

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An Outsider

CHAPTER THIRTY-ONE - AN OUTSIDER
“The woods are just trees. The trees are just wood.” -Stephen Sondheim




I galloped down the Old South Road toward the edge of town. I ran, and I ran, and I ran, and I ran, and I ran. But it didn't matter. No matter how hard I pushed myself, I kept seeing her in my head. Kettle Corn. The way she’d cringed. The way she’d thrown up her hooves to protect her face. The way she’d looked at me piteously, and begged for mercy with her eyes. Every time I closed my eyes, even to blink, I saw that face.

But the worst part - the thing that terrified me most as I ran sobbing and bawling down the road to the Everfree Forest - was more than just Kettle Corn and her look of fear - more than the horrified expressions on the faces of everypony in town.

It was the fact that I actually could have hurt her. Like really, really, really hurt her. If I had freaked out for just half a second longer - I would've followed through with my hoof. Stomped down as hard as I could, and broken that poor little filly’s face.

Everypony was right to be horrified. They were right to fear me.

Hell, even I feared me. I was spiraling out of control

* * *

I barreled down the road, running into the wind. Cheeks cold and wet with tears. But I kept charging southward. ‘Cause I needed to get to Zecora. If there was anyone in the whole world who might understand what the hell was going on with the shadows, and the blizzard, and the dreams, and the duckies, it was her.

So I ran past the fancy fashion boutique on the South side of town. Past the stone pegasus statue. Past the frozen fountain. Past the last cottage, and the last garden, and the last stretch of road. ‘Till at last, it was in my sight: the Everfree Forest.

Its dark foreboding branches arched over the road like some sorta crooked entrance way to a goathic castle. Its underbrush rustled with life as eyes peered out from below. Even the wind that blew from deep inside the forest was weird. It smelled like rotting leaves and musty eucalyptus.

Absolutely everything about the Everfree was wrong. It felt like running toward a painting of a forest rather than the real thing. But it wasn’t ‘till I got about a stone’s kick away that I finally realized what was so very backwards bout it.

The woods were bone dry. Not a flake of snow on the ground. Not a speck of frost on the leaves. Nothing. The big evil blizzard hadn’t touched the Everfree at all. That could only mean that the shadow-majigs hadn't been there!

The realization was like a kick to the face. It shocked me so bad that I slipped and skidded on the icy road. Flailed around like a moron, tumbled forward, and crunch - fell face first into an embankment of snow on the side of the road.

“Ugh.” I said.

Just ugh.

* * *

I lay there motionless and caught my breath - let the thundering sound of my own heart slow down a little. The air from my mouth felt oddly warm as it bounced off the snow, and smothered my face. It was a cold-yet-warm-but-mostly-really-really-numb sorta feeling. But something about it was oddly comforting.

"Let's not move for a while," one of my Rose Voices said.

“Yeah.” Said another in agreement. “Let's just live here.”

“Maybe if we're lucky,” said a third voice. “We’ll fall asleep, and go right back to the Wasteland. Where we belong. Where everything makes sense. Where we’ve got enemies to fight. Good gals to save. Objectives. Missions. Brain hornets keeping us from doing more harm than good.“

It was a happy thought - a warm thought. To run away from the hurt I’d caused. To go back to a place where I could actually make a difference. Be one of the good ones again.

“Nope.” Whispered a little tiny voice of reason inside my head.

“What?” I groaned aloud.

“You’ll die.” She replied.

“Nuh-uh.” I grumbled.

“Haven't you ever heard of hypothermia, you dummy?”

“Huh?”

“For Luna’s sake!” My own brain lost patience with me. “Pinkbeard and the Buccaneers of the North? Chapter seven?”

“Um…” I mumbled aloud again. "Which one was that again?”

“Helloooo. The Mountain of Frozen Sorrows.”

"Oh, fuck.” I said aloud. “That.”

My brain was right. Hypothermia was, in fact, a thing.

I struggled to my knees. Wiped the slush off my face. If I let myself fall asleep face down in the snow, I wouldn't be helping anypony. Not in the Wasteland. Not in Ponyville. Not in the hospital, or the shadow castle. Not anywhere.

I’d just turn into a Rosecicle and die, and then my sister would blame herself forever, and ever, and ever, and ever, and ever. Roseluck didn't deserve that, even if she did throw away the family tea.

I sighed. Puffed out a groan, picked myself up off my knees, and dusted the snow off my coat. Once I was good and sturdy, I ambled over to the edge of the forest, and stared down its path.




You’re actually going to do this? I thought to myself.

“Yup,” One of My Rose Voices replied. "What choice do you have?"

I sucked in a deep breath and took my first step off the snow and onto the crunchy, leaf-covered path. I couldn’t quite pin down the whys of it, but even the ground felt wrong somehow.

I crept in a little further. Inch by hesitant inch. With each step, the woods got ever so slightly darker, and the air got ever so slightly noisier. Wind in the trees. Rustling on the ground. Winter or no winter, the forest was alive. And with the great big blanket of snow gone, the ground no longer absorbed every teensy little sound. I heard crackles and pops. Random twigs snapping all around me. Swishing up above as some critter or another leaped from branch to branch, raining tree stuff down on me.

“Ahhh!”

I jumped aside. Shielded my head. Spun frantically around. Looked up to the angry, flailing tree ceiling. But there were no monsters up there, nor shadows, nor lightning-breathing tree sloths raining evil down from above.

“Get it together, Rose.” I said with a sigh. “Nothing’s gonna get you.”

“Hey!” Cried the gravelly voice of someone who was, in fact, out to get me.

Fuck. I got moving again.

“Hey,” the townspony shouted, as he pursued me. “Get back here!”

“I’m sorry.” I called back over my shoulder. “It was an accident, okay? Just...just...Leave me alone.”

I didn’t stop. Didn’t turn to face the guy. I couldn’t. If I had to actually look anypony in the eye, I might lose my nerve. So I kept moving. Pushed myself forward as best I could. Tripped around over the rocky, jutting-root-ridden terrain. Followed it as it curved inward and downward, leading me deeper into the woods. I eventually had to slow down just to get my bearings. Little by little, the path got harder, and harder. ‘Till Bam!

Just like that, the guy was standing right in front of me. A gruff old donkey with blonde locks from a bad toupee sticking sideways out of a wool hat. I recognized him. He’d moved to Ponyville a few months before to settle down with Old Lady Matilda. But I didn’t really know him that well, or Old Lady Matilda. Not personally anyway.

“What in the hay do you think you’re doing out here, kid?” He said. “You could get hurt.”

By the way he looked at me, I could tell that the donkey had no idea what’d happened back in town.

“I, uh..I’m fine.” I said, a little taken aback. “I’ve just got some, uhh...stuff to attend to. And it’s urgent.“

“And what’s your plan, kid? You gonna go through these woods alone?“

“I’m not afraid.“ I replied, head held high, despite the fact that I was obviously super nervous.

The donkey looked at me. Sighed. “And how exactly are you gonna do this urgent stuff of yours when you can’t even find the road?”

“I’m on the road.” I said, and stomped my hoof.

But the ground beneath me just sounded like twigs, and leaves, and underbrush. I wasn’t on the road. As a matter of fact, I couldn’t even see the road! I was standing in the middle of the forest floor.

“Sidetrack roots,” said the donkey. “They roll around. Bundle together. Form a shoddy little path.”

He kicked the ground a little. Pretended to head deeper into the woods. The roots rolled and spread themselves out before him giving the vague appearance of a path.

“And they steal you off the real road.” He continued, while the roots subtlety folded behind him 'till they looked like plain old forest floor.

“But, but, but, but, why?” I gulped. “Where were they trying to lead me?”

The donkey came back my way. Patted me on the shoulder.

“Kid, you don’t wanna know.”




The donkey gestured at me with his head. Indicated the direction that the real road was in, and led me there.
I followed, of course. But I felt like a damn fool. Hung my head, and slunk far, far behind him, eyes cast downward in embarrassment. With my gaze focused on the forest floor, I noticed that those weird roots were still down there. Acting funny. Twitching beside my hooves, rolling around subtly, almost as though the air was blowing them. Except that they moved against the wind.

“Ewww.”

The sight made my skin crawl.

“Eww, eww, eww, ew, ew, ew, ew.”

I sped up. Followed hurriedly on tippy hooves 'till my boots finally touched cobble stone, dirt, and gravel. The Everfree Path. The actual Everfree Path. Then I stopped and got my bearings. The donkey was pretty far ahead of me now. I could see him silhouetted against the light at the end of the branch-tunnel. In the other direction, was the road, now clear as day. It stretched deeper into the forest. Into the savage wilds.

I don't know what I’m doing. I thought. Where to go. What dangers to look out for. How to get to the hut. Whether or not Zecora will even be home when I get there.

But what choice did I have? I needed to try. Anything beat facing Ponyville again.

“Hey kid!” The donkey called after me. “Come on.”

I froze. Shook my head ‘no.’

“Oh, for the love of…” He groaned. Ambled toward me with a heavy sigh.

“Listen,” I said. “Thanks for, um, you know, saving me from those root things. But like I said, I got really urgent business, you know? And it’s kinda that way.”

I pointed up Everfree Path.

“Kid.”

“I’ve made up my mind.” I replied.

“I don’t care what you've done.” Said the gruff old donkey.

“What?“ I said, seriously taken aback. “I didn’t—;”

“You shouted over your shoulder,” he replied with an impatient grumble. “'It was an accident.’

Damn. He was right. I had let on.

“I don’t know what you did.” He repeated. “Don’t know why you’re not stomping around town with everypony else. And I don't have to know. To be honest, I don’t even want to know.

“But this.“ He pointed at the woods all around us. “What you’re doing right here – this is stupid. Whatever you’re trying for kid, you won’t solve anything by running into the forest blind.”

He was right. And the fact that he was right just made it that much harder to face him. To tell him ‘no.’ To make him understand that I didn’t really have any choice at all. So I just stared at the ground, letting his words rattle around inside my head. That was when a great big realization hit me like a tidal wave.




“Wait a minute." I shouted. "Did you just say stomping?”

“Huh?”

“You said you don't know why I'm not stomping around town with everypony else. You didn't say singing. Rejoicing. Plowing. You said stomping.”

“Whatever, kid.”

“But did you hear them?” I pressed in closer. “Did you hear the music? Did you feel it? Or was it all just stomping sounds to you?”

“Kid, I’m way too old for songs about shoveling.“ He replied.

This time he was the one to hide his eyes from me.

“You were!“ I said. “You were outside of the song. How did it happen? Is it a getting old thing?” I scratched my head. Took to muttering to myself. “No. It can’t be, I…That doesn’t explain…”

I scrambled to come up with the right words, but my thoughts kept bouncing around faster than I could keep up with them.

“You fell out of the song too.” The donkey whispered. "Didn't'ja?"

“Yes.”

“And you’re trying to get that zebra witch to fix whatever’s wrong with you.”

Yes. Yes! I shouted on the inside. But only nodded enthusiastically on the outside. Like, super enthusiastically.

Nod nod nod nod nod nod nod nod nod nod nod nod nod nod.

“Hmm.” Said the donkey in reply.

He shook his head. Gazed down the long path leading deeper into the Everfree. Got all silent and contemplatey again, before finally facing me.

* * *

“I met my sweet Matilda at the Grand Galloping Gala some fifty years back,” he said. “When I first saw her, I tell ya, I could hear choirs singing.”

The donkey’s cheeks warmed into a blushy smile.

“We danced. Talked. In just a few hours, I felt like I had known Matilda my entire life.” The donkey’s smile slowly faded. “But when the night was over, she disappeared. Gone without a trace.”

He lowered his head. Kicked a hunk of gravel. The sound echoed through the trees.

“Matilda took a piece of my soul with her.” He said. “Come sunrise, I got moving - set out for nowhere in particular, and vowed never to call anyplace my home ‘til I found dear Matilda again.

“A few moons later, I stopped off in Fillydelphia. It was around Hearth’s Warming time, and I was feeling hopeful. I was so sure I’d find her there. I even had a Hearth’s Warming present picked out for her just in case.

“Why Fillydelphia?”

“I don’t know if you ever noticed, kid, but there ain’t too many donkeys around Equestria. At that point, I hadn’t been on the road very long. Fillydelphia was one of my first major cities. I figured how long could it possibly take?”

He rolled his eyes at himself.

“Anyway, I stumbled into a song - a Hearth’s Warming carol - but there was no music to be heard. At first, I just thought everypony was acting like idiots. But once I figured out what was going on, I reacted just like you did.”

He leaned in closer, looked me square in the eye.

“I ran.” He said. “And I didn’t stop running for fifty years.”

“Fifty years?” I squeaked.

“Calm down. It don’t have to take that long, kid. That’s what I’m getting at.”

He started walking, and gestured with his head that I was to follow. This time, I obliged him. He had my attention.




“From that point on, I had two missions." He continued. "Wherever I went looking for Matilda, I also stopped to look for answers. Libraries. unicorns, bayou healers, zebra witch doctors, you name it. None of them helped.”

“So what do I do?”

“Find the piece of you that went missing.”

“Oh.” I whispered as my heart slowly broke all over again.

'Cause there was no way. I wasn’t ever going to be the same again. Not after what I’d seen - what I knew. Twinkle Eyes had been in charge of the part of my soul that went missing. She had comforted it when we were in the cages. She was the one who'd brought it back to life when I saw that vision of her in the trenches, and again when I fought my way out of the shadow castle’s grasp.

I nuzzled my chest with my head. I knew that twig of hers was still under my coat. I stood there for a minute in silence, until I realized that something the donkey had said wasn’t quite right.

“Wait a second.“ I said suddenly. “Just a minute ago, you said you still couldn’t hear the song. You called it stomping.”

“Not that song, no.” He replied. “I’m too old for plowing. But I did start hearing the music again once I found Matilda.”

“Choirs?” I said.

“Among other things.” He snorted out a tiny chuckle. “But listen up, kid, here’s what I’m getting at. I knew all along I’d be an outsider ‘til I found her - separated from the music like a needle without a record. But over the years, I went ahead and wasted a lot of time on shortcuts anyway.”

I bit my lip and looked away. Because that's exactly what I was doing.

“It makes a certain kind of sense, you know.“ The donkey looked down on me, reassured me that my desire to consult Zecora was not entirely irrational. “In my gut, I knew what was happening. No use denying that Matilda was the answer. But I still felt this need. To understand why. How it all worked. The mechanics of it. I think I just kept looking 'cause I needed the Universe to make some kinda sense.”

I nodded. It was like he’d put my own thoughts to words, only better than I could. It made me feel a little less hopeless. A little tiny bit braver.

“Did you learn anything from them?“ I said. “Anything at all?”

* * *

The donkey stopped. We had come upon that first bit of snow on the border of Ponyville. He didn’t answer my question. Instead he just stood there and pointed.

The town looked like a portrait, all framed by branches and dried up vines. It felt weird to see things that were so familiar from a whole new angle like that. To observe ponies going about their daily business of plowing, and shoveling, and carting. To see those pastoral hills and cottages. But all the way back from a distance. From the outside. Like looking at a nice warm hearth through a locked window while standing in the freezing rain.

“Well, kid,” the donkey answered me at last. “I learned enough to know that sooner or later, you’re gonna have to face what you’ve been running from.“

I stared up the road I had galloped down. I could still see the spot I had fallen in the snow when I’d panicked like an idiot.

I sighed. The donkey was right. I really, really, really, really, really didn’t want him to be right, but he was. With hesitant hooves, I stepped out of the woods. Off of the gravel, and onto the snow. Creeping timidly into Ponyville with a strange new ally by my side.

* * *

We made it about twenty yards out of the Everfree before the cold really hit me. Without my heart pumping in terror and excitement, without the trees to shield me from the worst of the freezing breeze, without my crazy thoughts distracting me from all of the snow still trapped under my coat from when I’d fallen - it was cold as Tartarus. But none of that compared to the iciness of my reception.

The very first pony we came across – a blue unicorn whose name I couldn’t even remember - was walking on by, talking with one of her friends, laughing, and smiling. Until she laid eyes on me. Then they both just sorta stopped. Looked away from me. Pretended I wasn’t there. Muttered to one another.

The donkey raised an eyebrow. Whispered to me, “So, are they the ones you gotta make amends with, kid?”

He pointed at their backs as they turned around and headed in the opposite direction.

I chuckled awkwardly. “I kiiiiiiinda have to make amends with the whole town.”

I sniffled. Shivered as a gust of snowy breeze blew our way.

"I see." Replied the donkey.

As we spoke, another pair of ponies stopped dead in their tracks upon the mere sight of me. A mother and child. The little one hid behind her mother’s legs. The mother puffed out her chest and stood there defiantly, as though she were some kinda hero from a comic book facing down a dragon.

The donkey grumbled at the sight. Mirrored the action, (but without all the drama), and stepped around in front of me, so that I would not quite so easily be seen. Then he shook his hat off and slid it over my head with his teeth.

“Geez. What’d’ja do, kid?” He whispered in my ear.

I didn’t answer. Just looked away while the donkey wrapped his long, scratchy gray scarf around me. It covered my face and half my jacket, but I guess that was the point. But it didn’t stop the mom from glowering at us. Like I was some kinda monster, fixing to wail on any filly I could find.

“Can I help you, lady?” The donkey snapped.

Judgy Momface scurried off, and we got moving again.

“How far away is home?” Said the donkey as he straightened his toupee.

“F-F-Flower shop n-n-n-north of here.” I said through chattering teeth. The cold was really getting to me.

The donkey tsk’ed. “Matilda and Me live right over there.”

He pointed to a small wooded alcove just up the road. I could see the thatched roof from where we stood, and not much else.

“Come inside.“ He said. “There’ll be plenty of time for problem-facin’ once you’ve sat in front of a fire and got some soup in you.”

Normally, I would do the polite thing, and ask if he was sure, and all that. But I was freezing and exhausted. And scared even to think about facing anypony else in town.

So I nodded. Acted like it wasn’t a big deal, or at least tried to. When he put his hoof on my shoulder, I lost it completely. Started quaking. Leaned up against him, and buried my head in his chest.

I would have cried, but my eyes were tired, and had run out of tears. When he hugged me back though, it felt as warm as any hearth fire. For the first time since I got back from the Wasteland, I actually felt safe, even if only for a moment.

Author's Note:

SPECIAL THANKS: First of all, I would like to thank Seraphem as always for his tireless assistance providing feedback during the editing process, and Kkat for writing the original Fallout: Equestria story that inspired me to write Hooves of Fate in the first place.

SUPPORT: Hooves of Fate is a labor of love. However, I also have mouths to feed. If this story, or my Heart Full of Pony essays have touched you in any way, and you can manage to spare a few bits, I'd very much appreciate your support on Patreon.
https://www.patreon.com/sprocketwriting

If you can't, no pressure. For those of you who already are pledging, seriously, and for real, thank you. Your support makes a difference, and it means a great deal to me. /]*[\

COMMENT: Have a happy and healthy New Year, everypony. I'm very excited for the next few chapters, and can't wait to share them with you. Of course, I've got to write them first.

Seriously, though, having Rose Petal finally back in Ponyville has allowed me to start focusing on ideas I've been sitting on since I first started this story five years ago. Let me know what you think.