• Published 27th Feb 2013
  • 7,242 Views, 765 Comments

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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Ominous Scribbles

CHAPTER THIRTY-THREE - OMINOUS SCRIBBLES
“The Universe loves a drama, you know.
And Ladies and a Gentlemen, this is the show.” - Paul Simon


Roseluck picked me up from Cranky’s. It was all hugs and kisses and stuff, peppered with the cacophony of grown-up chit-chat between my sister and the two old donkeys. I’m not gonna get into the details ‘cause it was all mega boring.

But once Roseluck and I finally did head out, something strange happened. We grew silent. Awkward. At the weirdest possible time. There were a hundred billion things we shoulda said to one another, but neither one of us said them. We just sorta trudged home quietly instead. Glad to be reunited. Too tired to poke one another's hornets nests.

When we finally got home, Roseluck and I didn't talk much then either. I went straight to bed and spent the evening exploring freaky weird tumultuous dreams. There was no future in them, thank Luna. No bomb. No mega spells. No shadows. Just pudding, and these pirates who had to sail through the Pudding Sea, except that they couldn’t ‘cause it was made outta pudding, so they needed me to eat my way through it, but when I got down there, there was an evil kraken monster I had to fight, which, for no reason that I could decipher, was made entirely out of books.

* * *

I woke up to a dark, dark room. Peered out my window at a moonless night sky. The New Moon. I couldn’t tell if it was really, really late, or really, really early. Probably that weird limbo in between.

That's what you get for going to sleep before the sun even has a chance to go down.

I wiped the eyeball crust from off my face, and rolled out of bed. Went straight for a satchel in the corner - stuff Cranky had leant me. Books. Old blues records. Covers of Daisy Belle’s “shadow music” as performed by ponies with bizarre names like Blind Lemon Meringue, and Smoky Oats Hooveson.

It was so fucking weird to see these grizzled ponies posing by their farms and broken old street corners. They seemed a thousand duckyverses away from the big lights and flashy costumes I was accustomed to seeing on the covers of Sapphire Shores records.

I was tempted to give the blues a listen right then and there - to explore Cranky’s world - to hear the music that legendarily turned shadow lemons into not-shadow-lemonade! But my stomach wouldn’t have it.

‘Bitch, get your flank down to the kitchen and feed me.’ It blurbled.

“Okay, okay, okay,” I whispered as I stacked the records neatly on my desk, and hurried to the door.

Creeeeeeeeaaak.

The hinges groaned so hard I could feel the vibrations in the wood.

Dammit!

I stopped. Cringed. Listened. But the hallway was silent. I hadn’t woken my sister.

Good.

I sighed. I did not wanna get lassoed into having ‘the talk’ in the middle of the fucking night. I just needed to duck downstairs for some bread or jam or something.




I stepped out into the hallway, and crept over moaning floorboards all the way to the stairs. Then I set myself to the superboring task of tip-hooving down them. One. At. A. Time. I had never really thought about it before, ‘cause I’m usually the first one asleep and the last one awake. But now that I was trying to sneak around, the passage to the kitchen suddenly seemed like a gauntlet of noisy planks.

They moaned like ghosts.

Croooak. Croooak.

Ghosts of what exactly? I couldn't be sure. Trees maybe? It didn't matter. The important thing was that they were out to get me. Brooding and conspiring to mess up my plans, and wake my sister. Plotting to keep me from eating bread.

“Shhh.” I snapped in frustration as the bottom stair screamed under my weight. “Fucking tree ghosts!”




Finally, I reached the bottom, and my hoof felt carpeting. Sweet, silent carpeting. It was such a huge relief, that I spun around that very second, and stuck my tongue out defiantly at the stairs.

But it didn't help. I still felt like a fool.

‘Cause: a) they’re stairs; taunting them is stupid; and b) it hadn’t resolved the thing between me and my sister, which is what had actually bothered me in the first place.

I still had so many questions shaking around the inside of my head.

What was Roseluck gonna say when I told her what I had done? The musical number? The freak out? The little girl cowering for sweet mercy?

Did Roseluck already know? I couldn't tell! And which scenario was worse? Having to explain it all from scratch? Or the fact that my sister might’ve been sitting quietly on a mountain of disappointment all evening.


I opened the pantry door. Stuck my head in, grabbed a jar of boysenberry jam with my teeth. And suddenly found myself face to face with an empty shelf. The empty shelf. Where Mom’s tea used to be.

I shut my eyes. Tried not to look. But that turned out to be a bad idea.

‘Cause Wham! I clocked my head against something or other and found myself on the floor. Teeth aching. Jaw aching too. Mouth full of jar.

“Owwww,” I groaned as I slid myself across the floor and out of the pantry. Crawled all the way to the kitchen table and climbed up a wicker chair. And that's when I saw it. The folder.

Ever since I started school, whenever I got in trouble, I'd always come home to an empty kitchen table with an envelope on it, (or a stack of papers, or a teacher's note, or a folder, or whatever). It was Roseluck’s way of letting me know that she was on to me.

And here it was now. A folder from Ponyville General Hospital. She must have readied it after I’d stormed out of the house. I twisted the dial on a nearby oil lamp ‘till the kitchen was just bright enough to read, then plunged my face into the folder. It held a small stack of forms. The bottom was just a bunch of charts stapled together, but right on top - the papers that Roseluck super-obviously wanted me to see - were sheets labeled Patient Aftercare, and Conditions of Discharge.

The paragraphs of printed words up top were gobbledegook, (‘cause forms and documents and stuff never make any sense). And I swear whoever’d filled out the rest of it had quillmanship worse than mine! It looked like the kind of homework assignment Miss Cheerilee would turn away, and make you start from scratch.

But the important stuff still managed to leap out at me. Terms like: substance abuse; self harm; suicidal tendencies; and the ever terrifying, released upon condition of observation.

“Shut up!” I snapped out loud at the paperwork as my hooves began to tremble.

But of course the paperwork didn't answer.

So I just growled at it and turned the page. Read up on the psych ward where Screw Loose was being kept. Where I might end up someday if they couldn't figure out what else to do with me! The brochure made it look like a spa retreat for crazies. There were photos of the facility in its heyday, with super happy fake nurses helping super happy fake inmates learn to draw and to play checkers. Everypony involved looked like a professional model, minus the duck face.

It occurred to me then that Nurse Redheart might’ve had her own reasons for letting me visit with Screw Loose. But why exactly? Had she been hoping to acquaint the staff with me, a future lunatic? That couldn’t be it. I hadn't actually met with anypony. Had she been hoping to scare me straight by showing me the real nut hatch? That didn't seem very professional.

Maybe she just had a soft spot? Maybe she was keeping two sad sack, crazy ass friends together? Maybe she cared? I couldn't tell! So I turned the page. Kept reading.

The back of the brochure was all about “Outpatient Services.” Whatever that meant. I could tell that it was important ‘cause the whole page was circled.

It had a photo of a businesspony lying on a couch with her suit wide open, and her tie undone. Another, showed a bunch of ponies sitting in a circle, talking about their problems or whatever. A third photo depicted a mustached therapist extending a hoof full of tissues. That sort of thing.

Below it all was a space for notes. And the words “Psych Intake Recommended” were written there, and underlined, right next to a signature and some numbers.

“Sweet Celestia!” I whispered. They were gonna take me in!

With trembling hooves, I read on. Studied the whole folder to try to get a clue. To maybe get some answers to my seven million questions. One page at a time. I even pored over the charts and hospital scribblings I had no hope of understanding.

I read it all. And every page made me more and more nauseous. The outrage, the betrayal, the fear, and the confusion all twisted my insides into a pretzel. But most of all, it made me feel alone.

I had turned my back on my sister for doing what she’d had to. Because of trouble that I had brought down on our family. Worse yet, I’d fucked any chance we might ever have had of going back to normal! Of letting this all blow over.

I'd had a gigantic break down in front of the whole damn town. Everypony knew that I was violent and unstable. A lunatic. A basket case. Or as the stupid paperwork said again, and again, and again, "a danger to herself."

There was no coming back from that.

My hooves trembled as I read, but when I got to the end of the stack, I looked it over once more. Wondered who the fuck had even evaluated me in the first place, and who had made these ridiculous notes! Nurse Redheart? The Purple Professional? Miss Cheerilee? Nopony had invited me onto a couch or asked me about my mom or any of that therapist junk. So where did any of these ponies get the nerve to write up charts and stuff about my mind-brain?

It made no sense! So I read through the whole thing yet again. Studied every microscopic detail several times over - ran it all through my mind until I was just plain staring at the paper blankly. Unable to read the words at all.

It was only then that I finally noticed something new. Something weird about the packet itself that I'd overlooked while obsessing over the content. There was a tiny tear on the corner. A little speck of paper clinging to the inside of the staple.

A page had been torn out. There was more somewhere. Something so bad, Roseluck didn't want me to see it!

Okay, I know that sounds paranoid, but you gotta understand. Whenever my sister left teacher’s notes on the table, or report cards, or letters from neighbors about broken windows, she always hid the worst from me. I’d seen her tuck correspondence and stuff away when she thought I wasn’t looking.

So there was no doubt about it. Roseluck was hiding something from me. Something undoubtedly worse than what I had already seen. But I had no idea what. (I just knew that none of the loose pages in the folder had torn corners to match).

With a thundering heart, I slid the chair out from under me. Turned around and glowered at the kitchen drawer as though it were a bitter enemy.

Roseluck had probably left in a hurry when Old Lady Matilda came for her. And even before that, she’d been flustered and angry. Ranting about how ungrateful I was, I’m sure. Whenever my sister was in a rush, she always put her super secret things in the same old junk drawer by the window.

I crept toward it with shaking knees.

What was I gonna find in there that was worse than what I saw in the hospital folder? What if I found nothing? What if it was empty? What if my sister had actually had a chance to hide the secret page real good, and I never found out what it was?!

Worse yet, what if there was no secret page at all, and I was being stupid, and I ended up worrying about this forever and ever and ever, unable to ask Roseluck about it directly?!




I made it to the drawer. Swallowed hard. Sucked in a deep breath. Opened my teeth, closed my eyes, and reached for the little brass handle.

“Hey.“ Came a soft voice from behind.

“Ahh!“ I spun around, pressed my back against the drawer.

Roseluck ambled out of the dark and into the kitchen. She was rubbing her eyes.

“What are you doing up?“ I said, as I maneuvered myself away from the junk drawer so as not to arouse suspicion.

“It sounded like you went bowling in the pantry.“ Roseluck groaned. “I couldn't get back to sleep after that.”

“Oh,” I said softly. “Sorry about that.”

Roseluck grunted in reply, waved a hoof at me, all dismissive-like, as if to say, don’t even worry about it. Then she plopped herself down in front of the table, and without a lot of fanfare, set herself to the task of straightening out all of the hospital papers, and stacking them neatly.

She wasn’t trying to draw attention to them or drop a hint or anything. Roseluck just liked a tidy stack.

“I should have told you.” She said, sliding the neat and orderly folder to the side. “You’re old enough to know. I’m sorry.”

It shook me upside down, and flipped my brain inside out. To hear those words. You’re old enough. I had been braced for just about anything - a lecture, a rant, a suitcase packed with all my worldly belongings, as she sent me out into the world, and locked the door behind me. I wasn’t expecting a trust bomb.

I wondered again if she knew about the musical number. About Kettle Corn. About the fact that I had screwed up so colossally that everypony at the nut hatch was bound to find out about it, and come after me with a giant net.

“I’m sorry, too.” I replied. “Uh, about, you know...” I laughed. “Everything.”

Roseluck nodded. Yawned. “Ooowrr.”

Her jaw spread wide open as she threw her forehooves apart and streeeeetched. But she didn’t respond. Not really. Not to what I'd actually said. It left me worried.

“Speaking of things I’m sorry for,“ I cringed. Cast my eyeballs downward in shame and stared at my hooves. “Did you hear? About, uh...what, um...happened this morning?”

Roseluck sighed. “Yeah,” she said. “I heard.”

I grit my teeth. Squeezed my eyes shut so tightly that my whole face crinkled up like a paper bag. And then I waited for Roseluck to say something. Anything. But she didn’t.

So I peeked. And to my surprise she wasn’t even staring at me, judgey-like.

Roseluck just looked exhausted. Used up. Like a dish towel that had been rung out to dry too many times, and tossed aside.

“I didn’t mean to hurt her.“ I whispered.

“I know.“ She said dryly, rubbing her temples.

That was the best that Roseluck had to offer: “I know.”

“So what do we do?” I squeaked.

“I have no idea, Rose Petal.” She buried her head in her hooves. “None.”

It scared me. The utter lack of reassurances. The uncertainty. Roseluck had always been the anxious type - the kinda pony who freaks out at the first sign of trouble - but I’d never seen her so resigned before. So hopeless. So bare.

“I’m gonna make this right.” I said.

Roseluck didn't reply. I may have as well have been shouting it in an empty cave, and listening to my own echo.

“I’m gonna apologize.” I squeaked. “I’m gonna explain. I don’t know what to say yet that doesn’t involve, you know, like, shadows, and trips to the future in my brain, and stuff.”

“Rose Petal." My sister said, head still buried in her hooves.

“There’s got to be something.” I kept on rambling. “Some way.”

“Rose.” She grumbled my name a second time.

“There has to be.” My voice kept cracking - no, not just cracking - shattering into a thousand tiny shrill little pieces as my brains scrambled like crazy for a solution. “Maybe if I give everyone in town a giant cake! I mean, I’ll have to learn how to bake cakes first. But it can’t be that hard. Can it? What if I—;”

“Rose.“ My sister said my name a third time. Softly, but sternly. There was so much iron her voice that she didn’t even need to raise it.

“Wuh?”

I stopped mid sentence, and pricked up my ears.

“I need you to listen, and listen closely.“ She said. “Can you do that for me?”

I nodded.

“I get that you wanna make amends. I’m all for it.” She said slowly, softly. “In time, the town will come around. ‘Cause Ponies? Well, at the end of the day, we forgive. It’s who we are.”

I smiled faintly.

“But that doesn’t mean they’ll forget. Or that they’ll trust you. Baking a cake and saying you’re sorry? That just isn’t enough this time, Rose.

“The folks at the hospital. The kids at school. Your doctors, your teacher - it isn’t enough for them to believe that you’re sorry, they need to believe that you are, um…” Roseluck looked to the ceiling. Struggled for the right word. “Um...How do I put this?”

“Normal.” I whispered.

My sister bit her lip and nodded. “Yeah. I know you’re going through a lot of…Not normal stuff right now.”

I broke out laughing. ‘Cause yeah, I was going through some seriously not normal shit.

“Hahahahah.” I laughed so hard, I fell on the floor. Even though there was nothing funny about it. I laughed because it was too much. Because of all the stuff I’d been put through since the whole thing started – this was both the dumbest fucking thing I was gonna have to do, and the hardest.

'Cause there was no adventure. No cosmic voice. No rhyme or reason. No urgent call of right and wrong. And mostly, 'cause it crossed a line that I hadn’t even realized was there.

See, I had been prepared to be a background pony in my travels to the future. In places, and times, and worlds far from home. But to be a background pony here? In my own life? To have to prioritize pretending. Hiding?!

It was too much.

“Rose Petal?” My sister leaned over me, concernitty. Trying to get me to stop laughing.

“I have a hoof…” I heaved, struggling for breath as I giggled and wailed. “... That is scientifically confirmed…to be made…out of evil.“

And it was going to eat my heart one day too, though I'd never tell my sister that. It was gonna kill me slowly like Daisy Belle. As I rolled on the floor, laughing, I had this image of myself getting dragged into the abyss, drowning in darkness, slowly fading from the world, and all the while pretending to smile, using my dying breath to say to the world, “I’m fine. I’m fine. I swear, I'm fine. I’m normal.”

My sister didn’t say a word. Just watched, stunned and paralyzed, as I coughed and I laughed. Gasped for air. Squirmed around on the floor like a filly at the end of a good old fashion game of let’s see who can get the dizziest. And the next thing I knew. I wasn’t laughing anymore. I was sobbing. Bawling. My face buried in my sister’s lap as she stroked my mane.

* * *

About an hour later, I found myself lying in bed staring at the ceiling, wishing I could sleep. I wasn’t tired, just desperate - thirsty for an opportunity to forget for a while - to not have to think about anything. I lay there and begged Princess Luna, and the hornets, and the voices, and everything else that I could think of to help me hide - to disappear into my dreams for just a few hours.

Even Wasteland sleep would have been preferable.

But it didn’t come. And when I finally gave up trying, I found myself out of bed, standing by the window. Looking out at the night sky.

There was still no moon of course. No sun neither. Just a thousand stars and that pale gray light that seems to hide behind the horizon when twilight is on its way, but hasn't quite announced itself yet.

On a whim, I flung the window open, and right away, the cold clopped me in the face. Woke me right up. But even more jarring was the strange quiet that came with it.

The air was sooooooo still - motionless in that special way that only a snow draped night can be. In an instant, all my troubles slid away like a cold draft under the door. And I was left alone, just me and the stars.

I couldn’t let that feeling stop. I wouldn’t! It was simply too sublime.

In desperation and excitement, I hurried downstairs as quietly as I could, threw on my coat and hat and boots and scarf, and left a note for Roseluck in case she woke.




When I finally stepped out onto that pastoral scene, right away I felt like I’d become a part of it. It had been a long, long time since I’d gotten to enjoy one of Princess Luna’s beautiful nights, and now, almost like a belated Hearth’s Warming gift, I had one all to myself!

I got walking. The quiet was so heavy that the crunch of snow under my boots seemed loud enough to wake the dead. I almost feared that ponies were gonna poke their heads out their windows and yell at me to keep it down.

But they kept sleeping. And I kept moving.

Ponyville finally felt like home again. Every inch of it was something I recognized. Every cottage, every tree! But I had some quiet now. I didn’t have to worry about being judged, or being sorry, or being normal. I was just sorta being. And it felt good. It felt peaceful.

At least ‘till swooshle swooshle! A rustling sound came up from behind me. I stopped. Turned. Looked, but there was nothing. That quiet that I had loved so much now filled me with dread.

“Hello?” I said softly.

Scanning every shadow and nook for signs of danger.

“Hi.” Came a voice from behind me.

“Ah!” I spun, and flailed, and fell.

When I looked up, there was Pinkie Pie, masked by silly eyeglasses with fake eyebrows and a funny nose attached. There was a frown behind it all. Deflated hair, and sad, desperate eyes. Everything about Pinkie looked just plain wrong, and, well, un-Pinkie.

“We need to talk,” she said. “About yesterday.”

“Oh.” I shut my eyes. Winced as if she were about to hit me. But Pinkie put her hoof on mine.

“Rose Petal,“ she said softly. “I am sooooo sorry.”

“You’re sorry?!” I squeaked.

“I only wanted to lift everypony’s spirits,” She rambled back at me. Her lips moved so fast they looked like hummingbird wings. “And I wanted to make them smile so badly even though we all had so much work to do and the snow just seemed like so much fun but then everything got too big too fast and I forgot all about you. Even though I knew this was gonna happen.”

Crunch. Pinkie plunged her face into the snow.

“You...knew?”

The shock of it was dizzying. Not like, oh sweet mercy, how could you do this to me kind of shock. More like a what the fuck are you talking about kind of shock.

Pinkie Pie sat up. Brushed the snow and the silly glasses off her face.

“Well, not exactly, but I should have known.” She said.

Before I could even ask why or how, a lock of Pinkie’s mane stretched itself out and passed me an index card. It was a scribble drawing. Two fillies, (clearly Kettle Corn and me judging by the color scheme), falling from a citadel made of ice as lightning struck the top and the whole structure crumbled to pieces.

The bottom of the card read “The Tower.”

“I drew it the night of the blizzard.” Pinkie said, all sad and deflated still. Not Pinkie-like at all.

“That’s me!” I said.

“Yeah.” She answered somberly.

“And Kettle Corn!”

“Mhm.”

“H-How?” I said.

“With crayons.” Pinkie answered, mopingly.

“No,” I said, still unsure of what I was looking at. “How did you know?”

I flipped the card over, looked at it left and right and upside down, like I was gonna find some kinda trap door on it somewhere.

Even though I’d seen weirder things. Even though I’d done weirder things. It really shouldn’t have come as such a shock to me. But in all my dealings with fate, I’d always been the wildcard. I had always been the Background Pony. The secret agent. The outsider who swept in and made sure everything went down the way it was supposed to.

This?! This was different. This was me!

“I dunno.” Sad Pinkie shrugged. “It’s a tarot card. I was gonna make a deck just for you. It was supposed to be for your birthday.”

She said that word with so much anguish. Birthday. Like a ruined birthday surprise was the worst thing that could possibly happen to anypony.

“But that’s...”

“167 days away.“ She sighed. “I know. But it would’ve been soooo perfect.”

“Uh...That’s okay.” I said, patting her shoulder with my snow-crusted boot. Though inside, all of my Rose Voices were screaming at me, for once in unison: What’s on the other cards?!

“Hey!” Pinkie Pie exclaimed, cheerful all of a sudden-like. “Wanna see what’s on the other car—;?”

“YES!” I exploded before she could even finish her sentence.

Then I shoved my hooves in my mouth. 'Cause the whole town was still sleeping.

Pinkie’s face made a squeaky sound and burst into an enormous smile. “Great.“ She said.

Faster than I could blink, Pinkie Pie yanked me aside into a tent that hadn’t been there a moment before; and sat me in front of a crystal ball that also had not been there a moment before; and straightened a great big poofy hat that had definitely not been on her head a moment before.

“I can’t give you an actual reading until your birthday when the whole deck is done,” she said. “Buuut it just so happens that nine days ago was your half birthday, so it’s the perfect time to show off the first half of your deck!” She giggled.

“Please do.” I whispered.

“Okie dokie, Loki.” Pinkie produced a small stack of index cards from under her hat. “Now how much do you know about The MyStEriEs Of ThE TaaAaRoT?”

Pinkie warbled her voice, all sing-songitty. Strangely enough, it echoed somehow.

“Only what I read in Pinkbeard and the Soothsayer’s Curse.” I replied.

“Oooh!” Pinkie exclaimed. “That's a good one.”

“I know.” I said, though I didn't really feel up to talking about pirates at the moment.

Pinkie slid an index card across the table, face down. I took it, eyed it suspiciously, afraid of what I might see on the other side. Would there be answers? Would there be nonsense? Was I working myself up over nothing? A silly card game? A coincidence?

The whole thing just seemed so weird and out of the blue.

“Go ahead,” Pinkie said. “Turn it over!”

I nodded grimly and flipped the card.

It was a drawing of me, wearing some kind of silly jester hat, cheerfully marching off a cliff, as dogs snapped at my heel. Far off in the corner was a little black triangle and a cluster of wild orange scribbles - a house burning in the background.

As I ran my hoof over the paper, musing on its meaning, I thought of the dogs I’d heard on my first night in the Wasteland, when I’d followed the cloak-o’s. They’d gone totally berserk with howling and barking as I fell off of that hill overlooking the village that the cloak-o’s had burned. And I’d heard them again when I fell off that platform inside the mines of Trottica, and grabbed onto Misty’s tail, and got his hair caught in my teeth!

Maybe I was looking too deep into it. Maybe I was scrambling for meaning where there were really only scribbles, but even without the tarot card, it was still a big damn question that had been bugging me ever since the whole thing started.

“Why cliffs?“ I said. “Why dogs?”

“The cards are like a story.” Pinkie replied. “The Foal card is the very, very, very beginning, when you’re not so smart and don’t know what’s going on.“

Pinkie Pie leaned across the table, tapped the card.

“Dogs like to protect us. Warn us when there’s danger.”

“So...you’re saying I’ve been hearing brain dogs barking at me across time and space...because of some weird symbolism in a fortune telling game?”

“No, silly. The brain dogs are on the card because that’s how it works in real life! At least when you’re about to fall off a brain cliff.”

“Yeah, but what if it’s not a brain cliff?” I asked. “What if it’s, like, a cliff made out of time and space and duckies and stuff?”

I couldn't believe how stupid it all sounded when I said it out loud.

“Weeeell, in that case, you’re definitely going to hear brain dogs, silly.” Pinkie giggled. “That’s what brain dogs are for!“

“I see.” I said, and marveled to myself just how much, and how little I’d managed to learn at the same time.

“The next card in the deck is called The Magician.“ Pinkie continued. She made her voice echo again too. Magician. Magician. Magician.

She slid me the card. I flipped it over. And there was Misty Mountain, a pony that Pinkie Pie couldn’t possibly have ever have seen or met. But it was still undeniably him. A blue colt with tight purple hair. A douchey smile. A cutie mark of the mist and the mountains, (a triangle and a squiggle).

Misty’s hooves were outstretched, one pointing to the sky, one pointing below, and there was super cool lightning and stuff all around his horn. At least it looked like lightning.

“It’s Misty,“ I babbled.

“No it isn’t,” Pinkie replied. “It’s snowy out.”

She pulled open the tent flap to show me the wintery landscape outside.

“No,“ I gestured frantically at the card. “That’s my friend, Misty Mountain!”

“Oh. That’s strange,“ Pinkie Pie said. “I’m friends with everypony, but I’ve never even heard the name Misty Mountain before.”

“Not here,” I said. “On the other side of my ducky cliff.”

“Ah, gotcha.” She tapped her noggin conspiratorially. It was a little alarming how easy it was for her to understand my Rose talk.

“The Magician is a good friend for The Foal to have,” she continued. “Instead of frolicking off of ducky cliffs, he has control, ‘cause he’s got two hooves in each world.”

I nodded ’cause I didn't know what else to say. And before I could even begin to formulate a thought, Pinkie slapped down a third card, and slid it across the table.

This one came to me upside down. It was called “The High Priestess,” and you can probably guess who was on it. That Trottica bitch, draped in crimson robes speckled with daisies. Just like the cloaks they all wore in her crazy whackadoo town. She sat there, all calm and serene on her throne, cradling little curly-q’s (that I gathered were supposed to be her sacred scrolls). She was flanked by two pillars, one black, one white.

“Ahhhhh!” I said when I laid eyes on her. “What’s this card mean? Is it the jerk card? For jerks?”

“What? No.“ Pinkie replied. “The High Priestess is wise and fair.”

She stopped to scratch her head. “That is unleeeeeess...” She sang out that word like an opera singer holding a super high note. “...You get the card upside down. Which you did! Then it’s a jerk card for jerks who aren’t in touch with their feelings.”

“That sounds about right.”




We went through the rest of the unfinished deck carefully. And it all lined up. I didn't have a clue what any of the cards meant. I just knew that Pinkie Pie had drawn my life. And it was really fucking weird. Even for Pinkie Pie. Even for me.

Wormwood was there. The Empress. A symbol of benign authority - of leadership, and power. At least that's how Pinkie explained it.

Princess Luna was The Moon card. Of course. But the drawing didn't show just her. It showed the door I’d found in the middle of her dream meadow. The passageway to No Mare’s Land. And right there next to her was Screw Loose, the Wanderer, in her weird giant dog form, howling upwards at the night sky.

There was even a card for the bomb. Judgment, whatever that means. I shot up out of my seat when that one slid across the table.

“Yeah, this worried me too.” Pinkie said when she saw the shock on my face.

She pointed to the card. The cloud shaped like a mushroom. The green mist. The scratchy texture and frantic crayon strokes that reminded me of the chaos, and the pain, and the screams I had heard on my way to the future.

“You know what this is?“ Pinkie asked, sounding actually surprised for the first time.

“Who? Me?” I said, remembering my friends and our secrecy pact. “No! I’ve never seen that explosion before in my life!”

“Hmm.” Pinkie scratched her chin and examined the card, but only for a second. When that concernitty moment was gone, she burst into a smile, totally out of the blue. “Maybe it’s just a brain explosion, not like...an explosion explosion.”

“Maybe,“ I said, averting my eyes.

“Don’t worry,“ she put her hoof on my shoulder. “It’s gotta be! We have the Elements of Harmony! Nothing like that could ever happen. Not, like, an explosion explosion.”

I nodded grimly. Tried not to give away what I knew.

“...And if it is just a brain explosion, that’s a good thing! Judgement is one of the last of the picture cards. And after that, we start the story all over again.“ Pinkie Pie made circles over the table with her hooves, and pointed back at The Foal card. “New Foal. New challenges. New brain cliff. New dogs. New adventures!”

“What does that even mean?” I said, as I sat back down, and looked over the cards on the table, trying to make sense of it all.

“It means that everything starts over eventually. That’s part of why life so exciting. Like birthday parties! You get to have one birthday party every year. Just one. And each year, even if you have the same eclairs, and the same hay and green apple sandwiches, and —;”

“Omigosh!” I said, suddenly remembering all the awesome snacks I only ever had on my birthday. “I love those.”

“I know!” Pinkie giggled. “And even though you eat the same foods every year, and play a lot of the same games, every birthday is still different in its own special way. And every anniversary. And half birthday. And summer break. You never get ‘em back. That’s what makes them all so amazingly extra special!”

I smiled at her exuberance. I couldn’t help it, even if I had no idea how any of it connected to the tarot, and the future, and all the crazy life-and-death, light-and-shadow stuff that was going on.

“Granny Pie once told me the world’s the same way. It’s like a little kid that loves to tell the same story again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again.”

“Wuh?”

“Like me!” Pinkie Pie continued. “I’m the Element of Laughter. I’m not the first Element of Laughter. I won’t be the last. I’m probably not even the best, but I’m definitely the me-est. And you?” Pinkie started flipping through the cards I’d looked at already. The Magician. The Empress. The High Priestess. “You’re saying aaaaall of this actually happened to you?”

“Yeah.” I nodded somberly.

“Ooh!” She shrieked. “Then you’re probably living the story of The Foal!”

“I don’t know the story of the foal.” I said.

“That's such a The Foal thing to say.” PInkie giggled.

“Please tell me! What am I supposed to do? How is the story supposed to end?!“

“And ruin the surprise?!” Pinkie gasped. One of those gigantic Pinkie Pie gasps that lasts a solid ten or eleven seconds.

“I’m sorry.” I cringed. “I’m just kinda, wel...scared.”

“Aww,” Pinkie replied. “I know it’s hard, especially after those last couple of cards, but you’re here now. You won! You can handle whatever the future throws at you. You just have to remember to laugh.“

“Laugh?”

“Yeah! Beating your fears is easy once you learn how to laugh at them. And I know you. You have a great sense of humor.”

“Thanks.“ I said, wondering if she would think the same if she knew what I knew. If she could really giggle away a massive war full of hate and bombs and real explosions. Explosion explosions.

I let that question run through my head over and over again, ‘till suddenly, I realized what she had actually said.

“Wait!” I whisper-shouted. “Last couple of cards?!”

The other cards she had shown me weren’t scary at all. Only the one. Judgment.

“Ooops.” Pinkie blushed and let out an awkward little laugh. “Yeah, I guess I should finish showing you these, huh?”

Pinkie rummaged through the deck, muttering to herself. “Blank card, blank card, High Priestess, Foal, Judgment, blank card, blank card, here we go!”

She straightened out her big poofy hat, and with great pomp and ceremony, waved her hooves in the air, laid the next card on the table, and slid it to me.

I turned it over, and right away, everything about the picture gave me an uneasy feeling.

The name of the card was The Emperor, and it was an earth pony. Blood red. Sitting on a throne. An iron crown topped his long black mane. And a big chunk of his face had metal on it too. A glowing red eye was built right into the steel plate that covered his socket.

It was a cold eye. Almost mechanical. Somehow.

And while the card itself may only have been crayon scratches like all the others, when my hooves stroked the oak tag, a chill ran up my leg, and tingles shot across my spine. And for a brief tiny thunderous moment, I saw something in my head. A sharper image of that same pony. So close I could almost touch him.

In that instant I knew that the only thing colder or crueler than the look in his fake glowy red eye, was the look in his real one.

I pulled away. Leapt out of my chair. Gasped for air.

“You know him too?” Pinkie said sadly.

I shook my head no.

“Oh.” Pinkie said. And for a while there was an uneasy quiet as we both got contemplatey over the implications of that. The scary pony I’d still have to face somewhere down the line.

“Well,” Pinkie Pie broke the silence. “At least he’s not upside down.”

The sentiment was hardly soothing, but it did leave me wondering what the hay was going on.

“Of course, upside down doesn’t necessarily mean evil.” Pinkie took to rambling. “And right side up doesn’t necessarily mean good. It just means that it isn’t Opposite Day.”

“Well, what does The Emperor card mean?” I said. “...When it isn't Opposite Day?”

“Power.” Pinkie replied. “Determination. Personal responsibility.”

“I see.” I replied. “Hardly reassuring coming from that guy.”

“Yeah.” Pinkie said. “And that’s not even the scary card."

“It’s not?”

A lock of Pinkie’s mane stretched out and slid another index card across the table. I recoiled. I didn’t wanna touch it. Not after what The Emperor card had done to me.

Pinkie Pie reached across the table and turned it over for me. The card was called The Evil.* And it was a filly. Just a little yellow filly. Smiling.

I couldn’t put my hoof on it at first. But there was something wrong about her. Something, well…Evil. Like the card said. Even though the girl looked pretty normal. (No sinister eyebrows slanted down, or crooked grin, or lightning bolts shooting out of her eye sockets or any of the things you might expect to see on an evil tarot card). But then I noticed the background.

The little girl was standing in front of an ugly stone wall. No crayon came in that particular shade of dismal gray, but the blotchy speckled mixture of crayon stabs that Pinkie had made - they somehow came together to give the impression of stone. Walls I had seen before. In my vision of the castle’s past.

And when I looked at it hard enough, the speckles started turning into one of those eyeball games, and I could suddenly perceive a smudge on the wall – the little girl’s shadow. It’d been easy to miss at first, but once I saw it, there was no way I could ever unsee.

The shadow was long and sinister, not like the girl’s shape at all. It had thin inky tendrils and dark smoky claws. It seemed to loom from behind her. And look straight at me. Right through the card. I didn’t know who that girl was, but there was a whole lot more to her than met the eye.

I thought back to what Bananas Foster had said about the shadows. How they systematically made sadists out of children. Gave them the choice of becoming torturers, or remaining the tortured.

Was this little filly one of those? The Inquisitor? The one let loose upon the world that Bananas Foster was destined to hunt and bring back to the castle? Was this the evil one that Foster wanted to kill so badly.

The one she wanted to friendship to death?

“What does The Evil card mean?“ I whispered. My throat had suddenly gone dry and scratchy.

“It means evil. Duh!” Pinkie replied. “Evil, and Temptation. But I don’t get this one at all.”

“Yeah,“ I said, trying not to let on. “Me neither.”

I stared blankly at the table. Let my eyes go out of focus. Tried not to think about that card. But still, I couldn't help but wonder if Pinkie had even noticed the shadow that she’d drawn.




“I’m supposed to be acting normal.“ I said, out-of-the-bluishly. I know it was the least of my problems, but it just sorta spilled out. “I’m supposed to be blending in.“

“What?! Why would you want to do a silly thing like that?“ Pinkie said.

“Because.” I replied. “I hurt somepony yesterday. And the whole town is gonna wanna know what’s wrong with me. And I have to find a way to pretend that nothing’s wrong with me. And I don't know how.”

“But that’s not possible.” Pinkie protested. “There’s already nothing wrong with you.”

“Thanks.” I smiled faintly.

“And if you’re worried about what everypony thinks, you can make it up to them by just giving everyone in town a huge giant cake!”

“Baking a cake and saying I’m sorry isn’t gonna be enough this time, Pinkie. The problem isn’t getting everypony to forgive me. It’s getting them to believe that I’m not crazy.”

“Then we’ll make donuts too. A huuuuge pile of them with sprinkles, and cream on the inside, and some of them...“ She leaned in real super-close like she was telling me some kinda state secret from the vaults of the Canterlot Archives. “Will eeeeven have cream on the inside, aaand sprinkles.”

“Pinkie,” I tried to plead with her, but she wouldn’t let me get a word in.

“Listen,“ she said forcefully. “Everypony in town thinks I’m crazy. Nopony cares! Do you know why?“

I shook my head no.

“Because I make them smile, silly.”

“But that’s your talent. I’m uh...” I laughed. “Going through a lot of not-normal stuff right now. And I don’t think I can just smile my way through it.”

“Then I’ll do it for you!” She exclaimed. “You make things right with Kettle Corn, and leave the town up to me.”

“Really?”

Pinkie nodded. “Cross my heart and hope to fly. Stick a cupcake in my eye.”

I smiled. Knowing what oaths meant to her. But I worried still. Pinkie Pie could put a positive spin on just about anything, but this was a promise she might not be able to keep.

“Thank you.“ I said. “Really, thank you. But you know, it’s more than just the town. It’s the hospital. They think I’m destructive. They think I’m crazy. Not like Pinkie Pie crazy.” I gestured right at her. “You know, like...crazy crazy.”

“Hmm. That is a doozy.” She picked a lock of her mane out of that big puffy hat of hers, and twirled it with her hoof as she thought on it. “Ooh! I know!”

Her face brightened.

“What?” I leaned forward over the table, all eager and excited-like.

“Forget all about them.”

“But they’re gonna take me away from Roseluck and lock me up!” I squeaked. “I can’t just forget about them.“

“Sure you can!“ Said Pinkie Pie. “‘Cause the more you think about them, the crazier you’ll get. And the crazier you get, the crazier they’ll think you are!”

“But I...huh? What?”

I scratched my head, and let her Pinkie logic gallop around my brain in circles.

“I can’t just...”

“Rose Petal.”

“It’s not as simple as...” I waved my forelegs wildly in the air.

“Rose Petal.” Pinkie repeated.

“Look, I got a lotta not normal stuff going on right now.“ I repeated as I pointed at all the super prophetic cards on the table.

“RoSe PetAL!” Pinkie Pie shrieked the way only Pinkie Pie could.

I quit my babbling.

“Breathe.” She said, as she laid her hooves on mine. “Look at me.”

I did. I sucked a massive breath into my panicky lungs and stared right into Pinkie’s gentle cerulean eyes.

“You fell into some duckies, didn’t you?” She said. "Bad duckies."

I froze. Unsure of what to say. Afraid that if I opened my mouth at all, information might start pouring out like floodwater, jeopardizing the future, destroying the apocalypse pact I’d made with my friends.

I nodded silently. As all the desperate Rose Voices played tug of war with all the cautious Rose Voices inside my brain.

“...And you still have a whoooole lot of duckywork to do, don’t you?” She sang out her words.

I nodded again.

“Rose Petal, when’s the last time you hung out with your friends?”

I opened my mouth to answer, but Pinkie interjectified.

“...And didn’t spend it worrying, or wondering, or planning? Or like a combo of that? You know, like worrying about wondering, or wondering about planning.” Pinkie started counting on her hooves. More hooves than a natural pony ought to have. “Or planning to wonder, or wondering if...well, you get the idea.”

“Uh, I dunno.” I had to think about it. Not just ‘cause Pinkie Pie was being Pinkie Pie, and confusing the fuck out of me. But ‘cause I honestly didn’t know.

“Geez!" She shrieked. "No wonder you flipped out and tumbled down that hill and ruined the song for everypony in the whole town and almost killed Kettle Corn!”

I flinched to hear it put that way, but couldn’t deny it.

“Rose,“ she said. “If you’re not careful, you’re gonna go crazy for real!”

She swept my tarot deck into a stack, and tucked it into her hat. Wrapped her crystal ball up in a blanket. While I thought about how nice it would be to just chill. To eat sandwiches. To have tea. To talk about pirate books. The idea kinda scared me though, to be honest. What if I’d forgotten how to relax? What then? I had all this stuff to do, and so much brain momentum.

How was I supposed to rein all that in?

Plus, Cranky and I were gonna see Zecora tomorrow! We were gonna talk about shadow stuff. We just were! And Bananas Foster! She had more baggage than I did. And Cliff! Don’t even get me started on Cliff!

He actually liked helping. He liked theorizing. All he was gonna wanna do was talk about this crazy time travel stuff.

But still, I knew in my heart that Pinkie Pie was right. I needed to put time aside to think about other things. Not to worry about the fate of all Equestria, or the evil that had followed me home to Ponyville.





“Rose Petal.” Pinkie laid a hoof on my shoulder. Regular Pinkie, not Psychic Hat Pinkie.

The tent was down too. The table gone. To where? I could only guess.

I had been thinkifying so hard, I hadn’t even noticed her taking it all down. But when I finally stopped and looked around me, and climbed outside of my own head for a minute, I saw the sun. Barely starting to peek over the horizon to say ‘hello.’ The sky around it was turning a thousand shades of orange and pink and yellow.

“Of all the duckies out there,” She said. “This one’s totally the best.”

She bit into a cupcake she’d pulled out of nowhere. Passed me one too.

“Yeah.” I said. “Probably.” Chomp. I inhaled my mystery pastry.

“Don’t forget what makes it worth fighting for.”

Pinkie left me slack-jawed, staring at the dawn. And she headed on down the road. As I stood there, a warm sensation welled up in my chest. Slowly. Something like hope.

“Woohoo!” I heard Pinkie holler, even though she was already a hundred feet away. Easily. “Made ya smile! Happy half birthday, Rose Petal!”

“You too,” I called back to her, almost reflexively. Though it didn’t make a lick of sense ‘cause it wasn’t her half birthday at all.

Author's Note:

FOOTNOTE: *The Evil card - All of the cards that Pinkie drew are based upon traditional tarot cards. Their meanings as depicted in this chapter generally try to be accurate, but I took some interpretative liberties. "The Evil" card is known as "The Devil" in traditional tarot, but they have no such concept in Equestria, so I changed it.

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