• Published 27th Feb 2013
  • 7,244 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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Death Yodeling

CHAPTER THIRTY-FOUR - DEATH YODELING
Being in a hurry does not slow down time.” - Mokokoma Mokhonoana




By the time I got home, dawn was hitting full blast, and everything felt like it had changed. Even the family cottage looked different. Not just ‘cause of the way the wood and the stone and the paint caught all the morning colors, but also because of the colt in the big orange winter jacket standing outside of it, whisper-shouting at an upstairs window.

“Rose,” the figure spun around to buck snow upward at the window. But he wasn’t good at it, so it just sorta made a small explosion of powder and ice-dust. “Rooooose!”

“Cliff?” I said.

“Ahh!” He turned left, turned right, and all-around in circles until he found me. “Why didn’t you tell me you were coming down?!” He gestured at the window.

“‘Cause that’s an empty room you're shouting at.” I said. “And I was out walking.”

“Oh.” Cliff forced a mirthless laugh. Nervously straightened his mane with a snow-covered sleeve.

Something was eating at him.

“It’s good to see you.” I said quickly, hoping to put him at ease - silently begging any spirit or hornet or brain voice who might listen that my friendship with Cliff still be in tact. That it hadn't gotten ruined by what he’d seen yesterday.

“Are you okay?!” He trotted toward me.

“Yeah.“ I said. “I’m fine. But...uh, are we okay?”

Cliff looked at me blankly.

“You know,” I muttered. “...’Cause of yesterday.”

Again, he didn't respond. Just vegetated. ‘Till suddenly his eyeballs seemed to come to life.

“Oh!” He exclaimed. “No no no no no no no no no no. Don't think that. Please.” He placed his snow-crusted forehooves on my shoulders. "Yes, of course we're okay.”

I closed my eyes. “Thanks.”

For a moment, I thought he was gonna hug me. But he didn't. He kept me at leg’s length. “There's something I need to talk to you about though." He said, all whispery and conspiratorial-like. “Can we go inside?"

Cliff cast nervous glances over each shoulder. As though a bunch of spies and shadow-majigs and bandits and stuff were gonna leap out from behind my bushes and tackle him to the ground.

“Uh, my sister’s kinda sleeping.” I said.

“Oh.”

Cliff’s already massive shoulders bunched up and bundled themselves into two great big giant knots that I could actually see. Even through the bulk of his winter coat and scarf.

Something really heavy was clearly on his mind, and he didn’t know how to hold it in.

Over those gigantic shoulder knots, I could see the sun, still in its full glory. The explosion of oranges and yellows were getting bolder and bolder and bolder. Blaring out from behind the hills that tried to hide her. The feeling that I'd just experienced with Pinkie Pie where I kinda sorta felt like everything might actually be a little bit okay for a change? It was fragile.

I didn't wanna let it go. In fact, I reeeeally wanted to share it with Cliff. Put him at ease like Pinkie had done for me.

“This, uh, urgent business you need to talk about." I said. "Is it, you know...shadow stuff?"

"No." He replied. "Well, yeah." He amended himself. "… Sort of.”

“Is anypony in super immediate danger this instant?”

“No.” He replied.

“Then please can it wait?” I said. “I had a long night."

"But…" Cliff tried to bargain with me.

"Pleeeease." I said again. Softly but firmly.

Cliff threw a glance at my cottage. Probably wondering when the hell we were gonna get to go inside and talk privately. But ultimately, he nodded and agreed.

“But…” He hesitated for a moment. “Can you at least tell me what happened yesterday? I've been so worried!”

“Okay,” I sighed. “Quick recap. Then I got something to show you. Deal?"

I looked to the sun again. It could wait a few minutes. There’d still be plenty of time to get back into the sunrise groove. Share all that beauty with Cliff.

“Deal.” He agreed.

“Well, the reason I panicked during the song was ‘cause I couldn’t hear the music.”

“Like…”

“Yeah. I was totally cut off.”

“Weird.”

“It happens sometimes.” I shrugged. “To other ponies too.” I added hastily. “Not just me.”

“What other ponies?”

“Travelers mostly.”

The second those words came out of my mouth, I realized how weird they sounded. How random. How confusing.

“Travelers?” Cliff furrowed his brow and looked at me like I was speaking another language.

“Yeah. They’re like, these outcast ponies who wander Equestria, playing music, sleeping in campsites and stuff.”

“So yoooou...went, umm...camping?”

“No. I slept in my bed. But I met somepony who used to be a Traveler. He slept in campsites. And he told me about shadows, and this magical kinda music or whatever that the Travelers sing to chase the shadows away, and then I came home and found out that I‘m, like, this character from a fortune-telling game, and my story keeps telling itself over and over again or whatever. ‘Cause the universe is a little kid who’s really into repetition, and it does stuff like that.”

Cliff didn’t respond. He just stood there like a statue. Except that nopony ever carves a statue of someone with a gawking slack-jawed expression.

Finally, he raised his hoof like he was about to say something. But stopped and shook his head instead.

“Look,” I said. “It doesn’t make sense to me either, but don’t fret about it, okay? The point is: I’m fine.”

“Okay.” He nodded firmly.

“Now lemme show you something!” I bit down on his jacket and dragged him across the lawn. Plopped him down on this log that I sometimes use as a bench, and I sat beside him.

“Can you believe that?“

I pointed to the sunrise. Waved wildly at it.

“Can. You. Believe. That?” I repeated. “I mean, look at it! Really look at it.”

“Yeah,” he nodded. “It’s pretty.”

I sighed. The sun was more than just pretty. It was amazing! How could I get Cliff to see that? How could I share that feeling with him? My newly discovered love of the totally amazing ducky that we lived in.

How could I get him to appreciate the sun?!

“What do you think it’s made of?” Cliff asked, totally out of nowhere.

“Huh?”

“The sun.” He said.

“Wuh? I dunno.” I stopped to consider it for the first time, but my brain didn’t have any bright ideas. “Celestia-ish...stuff?” I postulated.

“Nah.” Cliff shook his head and gazed at the horizon.

He was as mesmerized by the sight of the sunrise as I was, but he wasn’t thinking about life and death and duckies and stuff. He was thinking crazy shit that never woulda occurred to me. “The Sun is older than Princess Celestia.” He reasoned.

“Fire, then?” I shrugged and gave the Sun a c’mon, help me out here look. It, of course, did not respond.

Not even in that talk to you through your feelings way that the Moon speaks sometimes.

“But what’s on fire?” Cliff pressed. “Fire doesn’t just hang out by itself. Something has to be burning.”

“I dunno.” I said. “There’s magic fire. Like...from, you know...unicorns and stuff.”

Who cast it then?” He said. “How is it still burning after thousands of years?”

I shook my head. I had no idea.

Cliff sighed. Tightened his lips. Got all woolgathery all of a sudden.

“I hope we find out someday.” He said, looking to the horizon, face painted marigold by the morning light. But there wasn’t any hope in his eyes. Not like usual. They were tight. Worried. Sad even.

I rested a hoof on his shoulder. “I hope so too.” I said, not just to reassure Cliff Diver, but also to try to figure out what the fuck was going on.

“There’s not much time left.” He replied softly. “Is there?“

Then suddenly, I found myself reeling. Dizzy from that smack-in-the-face feeling you get when you do a giant belly flop off the high dive.

“No, I guess not.” I replied.

And as the two of us sat there, I got to wondering about all of the mysteries that were destined to go unsolved because of the ridiculous war looming over us.

But worse than that, I realized that I’d never really stopped to ask Cliff how he felt about any of this apocalypse stuff. He may not have been in the thick of it the way I was, running through war zones and fighting shadows and stuff, but the apocalypse had still taken its toll.

I’d been so busy trying to pull myself back together, that I’d taken him for granted.

I reached out and put my hoof on his. Even if it was just boot-on-boot. He cocked his head sideways in reply, and smiled back at me faintly.

“Glad you’re okay.” He said as he leaned the side of his head against the top of mine.

And the two of us sat there admiring the sunrise, even as the majesty of the colors started to dull. And turn into mundane daylight.




Then suddenly, totally outta nowhere, shunk. The window slid open. And there was Roseluck. Rubbing her eyes.

Grumble grumble. She grumbled.

“Rose Petal? What’re you doing out here so early?” She held a hoof up to shield her eyes from the glare of the snow. “Cliff?” She startled. “Uh, good morning. Hi. I wasn’t expecting company.”

She chuckled awkwardly.

“Oh.” Cliff froze. He looked as if bolts had been driven through his legs. “I’m soooo sorry, Ms. Luck.” He pleaded nervously. “I didn’t mean to intrude.”

He turned to me in blind fear. Like he’d suddenly been asked to walk a tightrope over a pit full of lava with fire-breathing squids in it.

“I’m really sorry,” Cliff turned to Roseluck and repeated. “Really. Really. Sorry.” His voice squeaked like a balloon animal.

“Uh, is everything okay?” Roseluck replied. Groggy as she was, it woulda been pretty hard not to pick up on the desperation rays emanating off of Cliff Diver.

“Yeah,” he said. “Ohhh, yeah. Yeah. Totally. Yeah. Great. Yeah. How are you?”

Roseluck sighed, smacked her lips and wiped the crust from her eyes.

“Just come in.“ She said. “I’ll fire up the tea kettle.”

Shunk. The window slid shut again. And Cliff sighed in relief.

But that false sense of security just made him jump all the higher when the window reopened a moment later.

Shunk.

“GaAaaAaAAh!” He leapt straight up in the air like a startled cat.

“Cliff?” Roseluck stuck her head out the window again. This time the crust was free from her eyes.

“Yeah?” Cliff clutched his chest.

“You're welcome here anytime. If you ever need to, you know, get away for a while.”

A warm smile lifted Cliff Diver's cheeks.

* * *

We went straight to my room. Got settled.

Roseluck let us be. There would, of course, be morning tea later, which was like a meal unto itself (and totally non-negotiable), but it was mega obvious that Cliff and I needed to talk. And Roseluck was barely awake anyways. So there was no rush.

At least, I thought so. Cliff, on the other hoof, was freaking out.

“I know!” He whispered frantically at me the second the two of us were alone together.

“You know...what?

Cliff whipped the bedroom door open, poked his head out into the hallway to make sure we couldn’t be heard. Then shut it behind him again. Pressed his back against the door like he was afraid an avalanche was coming on the other side.

Foster.” He whisper-shouted. “I know. About. Bananas. Foster.

My heart skipped a beat. He knew about Bananas Foster!

“Oh.” I whispered back. “You mean...”

“Yeah.“ Cliff nodded. “She told me yesterday.”

“And?” I stood on my tippy hooves in anticipation. So eager was I to get another pony’s perspective.

“Aaand, she’s a...” Cliff crept up closer to me. Eyeballing the door the whole time. Still afraid we might be overheard. “C-H-A-N-G-E-L...”

“Changeling.“ I said aloud.

Cliff’s legs locked up again. And his back stiffened. He looked like the world’s doofiest table.

“She’s a changeling.” I said bluntly. “Now come on, let’s talk about this! Lemme hear your thoughts.”

He sucked in a deep breath, held up a forehoof like he was about to give a great big lecture. But didn’t say a word. It was super annoying. Cliff had been soooo eager to get the conversation rolling, and now that it was time to actually have an opinion - to figure out how he felt - he had nothing to say!

It made me just wanna shake him!

That is...until I realized something.

Bananas Foster and I were still friends. I’d taken the news hard at first but we’d managed to work it out. What if Cliff and Foster hadn’t worked it out? What if they weren’t friends anymore?

They’d never gotten along all that well with to begin with.

As I watched Cliff Diver fidget, and shuffle, and chuckle anxiously to himself, I grew worried.

“Cliff?” I said. “Come on.”

“Okay,” he replied with a long sigh. “I’m gonna be honest. I don’t know if this makes me a bad pony or something, buuut…”

He ran his hoof through his mane, stalling while he worked up the nerve to spit out what he had to say... “I like her better this way.”

“Huh?”

“I know. I know!” He hastily replied. “They’re our enemies. They tried to take over Canterlot. But really, they were only trying to eat! And Bananas doesn’t pose any danger to us now, and...well,” Cliff reared up on two hooves, and flailed all around.

“Everything just makes sense now. Everything that used to drive me crazy about her...Makes. Sense. Now!”

He stopped. Caught his breath. Then looked up at me, and let loose that nervous little laugh again. “Heh heh heh. I’m not a traitor...am I?”

“Um...No.”

Cliff’s shoulders dropped like cinder blocks. He slouched in relief.

And I was just like, “Huh? What?”

It seemed like such an odd concern. Treason! It hadn’t even occurred to me. I mean, yeah, I worried what everypony would think if they found out, but how could befriending someone possibly be a betrayal of Equestria?

“It’s fine,” I said to Cliff. “Like...how much did Foster really have to do with all that anyway?”

I chuckled.

“All of what?“ Cliff looked at me suspiciously. It made me more than a little uneasy.

“You know,“ I said. “Raiding Canterlot.”

“She didn’t tell you?”

I shook my head. Swallowed my throat apple so hard it seemed to plunge straight into my belly.

“She planned it.“ Cliff said.

“Bananas Foster planned the attack on Canterlot?” I said dryly. Skeptically.

“Well, part of it.” Cliff replied. “She did the research that made the raid possible. She found out about the crystal caves under the Castle of Canterlot. She found the maps, and discovered things not even Twilight Sparkle knew.” Cliff stopped, and looked at me all quizzical-like. “Wait, so Foster didn’t tell you any of that?

I shook my head. “She mentioned that she was a researcher - that she wanted to convince her Mom-Queen that what she was doing was important - that she could, you know, contribute to their family...or hive or...whatever. But we didn’t talk much about...you know, what exactly she was researching.“

Cliff looked at me in disbelief. Clearly that had been the cornerstone of his conversation with Foster. “If you didn’t talk about research, what did you talk about?“

“Shadows.” I said. “The Evil Castle. The red desert, the dust, the nothingness. The ruins of civilizations. How she lost her family.“

“Okay.” Cliff chuckled. “Not what we talked about at all.”

It occurred to me then that each of our conversations had been tailored to us. Foster knew that science was Cliff’s thing. That, if our fight against the shadows were an O&O campaign, Cliff’s job would be the research. Nerd class.

She also knew that I, on the other hoof, missed my mother. And that I had a burning fear of that castle.

A creaky cynical little Rose Voice crept up to me from someplace deep inside my head. She’s manipulating you. It said. That’s what changelings do.

I didn’t like the feeling that came with it. All creepy-crawly. So I pushed the voice down. Told it to shut the fuck up.

Took control.

“Foster’s got a lot going on.“ I said aloud. “It’s not like she could tell us everything there is to know about her in one sitting.”

I was reassuring myself as much as I was reassuring Cliff.

“Yeah, I know.“ He replied. “She even told me straight up that it was okay to talk with you about all the stuff she’d told me. So I kinda figured you didn’t get the whole picture. I guess I just thought that I knew more about her story than I actually did.”

I nodded.

“Ruined civilizations?” He said.

“Yeah,” I answered somberly. “It sucks.”

“Sounds like it.” I sighed. Plopped down on the bed. Stared at the floor. “So what do we do now?”

Cliff shrugged. “Be her friend.”

“Well, yeah, I know that. But…” I stopped. Wondered if Bananas had shared with him the story of her escape. Whether he knew that the shadows were expecting Foster to deliver a century-old master-torturer to them.

“Um…uh…” I stammered. Struggled to think of what I could say.

“Don’t worry so much.” Cliff, of all ponies advised me. “We’ll find out more later today.”

“Huh?”

“It’s Thursday.” He said.

I shook my head and shrugged. I didn’t know what the fuck he was talking about.

“A visitation day.”

I gasped. Fuck. Visitation!

I’d made a promise – a solemn promise - to Bananas Foster that I would visit her every. Single. Day. And there I was, the day after I fucking got discharged from the hospital, and already, I’d forgotten.

“I’m meeting with Zecora today.” I said.

“Zecora?!” Cliff exclaimed.

I leapt off the bed and plunged my hoof deep into his big fat mouth.

“Shhh!” I whisper-growled. “Roseluck doesn’t know.”

“Mm mm mmee mm meesh.” He mumbled.

I rolled my eyes. Removed my hoof from his mouth.

“The Everfree Forest?” He squeaked.

“Don’t worry,“ I said. “I’m not gonna try to go in there alone again.“

“Again?”

“I have a guide.”

“Again?!” His voice cracked.

“But Foster.“ I squeezed my eyes shut. “Foster, Foster, Foster, Foster, Foster!” I clopped myself in the head.

“You forgot?” Cliff said. “...How could you forget?”

“Yesterday was a little crazy, okay?!” I snapped. Turned away from him. Started pacing all around the room. Thinking. Clop-clop clop-clop clop-clop clop-clop.

“What if we go now?!“ I spun around and said.

“What?”

If we left early, I reckoned I could apologize to Kettle Corn, catch up with Bananas Foster, hang out with her too, and still have time to meet Cranky for our journey.

So much for Pinkie Pie’s super friendship sanity time.

I went to my dresser. Opened up my little box, and pulled out my trinket arsenal. The pocket watch chain. Misty’s tail hair. Twink’s twig. Screw Loose’s old sock.

I wasn’t sure what exactly was gonna happen in that zebra hut, but I needed as many lucky charms as I could get.

“Rose?”

“Yeah.” I mumbled, mouth full of pocket watch chain.

“Visiting hours haven’t even started yet. I don’t think they’ll let us in this early. And I’m a little freaked out right now.”

I stopped what I was doing. Looked at Cliff through the mirror. Examined myself in the mirror too. My mane was all over the place. Like a pile of hay with chunks of wood and rusty nails sticking out of it.

I looked like a lunatic.

“I’m sorry.” I told him. “I don’t wanna freak you out. It’s just that I got so much to do.“

I plopped down on the floor.

“Ahem. We’ve got so much to do.” Cliff corrected me, sounding mega grown up all-of-a-sudden like. “After tea with your sister.”

I swiveled around to look at him properly. His shyness, his anxiety - all the fear that normally radiated off his body with every fidgety gesture and hesitant motion - it was gone now.

“Okay.” I said. “After tea.”

Then I fiddled with the pink pocket watch hanging from my neck. Got lost in the moment. Thinking about everything we had to do. About how little time we had to do it all.

Worrying. Worrying. Worrying.

I got so distractified, I almost clicked it open without thinking! The Most Accurate Watch in the Whole Wide World. Only to be opened when I was at my most helpless - when all sense of time was lost! I almost broke a fucking Pinkie Promise and opened it for nothing!

“Ahh!” I shrieked as my hoof depressed the button ever so slightly.

What the fuck was I doing? What was wrong with me?! How could I be so stupid?!

“What?!“ Cliff leapt to my side.

“Nothing.“ I laughed. “I just almost opened the magic watch.“

“Oh.” He replied dryly. “Well...don’t do that!”

“Obviously.” I grumbled. Blushed a little. “It’s full of, like, Pinkie magic or whatever.“

I propped the watch up with my hoof and stared at it again.

Pinkie Pie was right. I thought. I need to slow down. I need to get a grip. I need to do friend stuff or I might just go crazy for real.

“So, uh, Cliff?” I said.

He pricked his ears up

“Y’wanna do, uh, friend...stuff?”

“Huh?” He replied, utterly confused and rightfully so.

“You know,“ I said. “Like, hanging out or whatever.”

I could hear my voice coming out of my mouth. And I knew it sounded fucking stupid. But I couldn’t stop myself.

“Isn’t that what we’re doing right now?” Cliff squinted at me in confusion.

“I need to do something that’s not about the stupid apocalypse.“ I said, getting my thoughts out at last. “I feel like it’s running my life.”

“Oh,“ Cliff said. “Rose, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to…“

I waved my hoof at him. A don’t worry about it gesture. The same one Roseluck had given me.

“Let’s just forget about it.” I said. “Let’s do something…” For a moment I almost said the word normal. “Fun. We should do something fun.“

“I like fun.“ Cliff replied.

“Good.” I nodded.

He nodded back at me. Then I nodded back at him nodding back at me. Then he nodded back at me nodding back at him nodding back at me.

“Whatcha wanna do?“ Cliff broke the silence.

“Dunno.” I shrugged. “Wanna...play checkers?“

I blurted out the first idea to come into my head.

“Sweet Celestia, no.” Cliff Diver’s face crinkled in disgust.

“Um, okay...” I said what-the-fuck-ishly.

‘Cause seriously, who hates checkers?

“Chess?” I said, figuring maybe he might like chess better, because it requires more math, and brains and stuff.

“No.” He said. “No. Games. Please.”

“You don’t like games?“

Cliff shook his head so hard his mane whipped around all over the place.

“Why not?“

He answered with a mumble and a shrug. “Just don’t like ‘em.”

“Oookay.” I said.

And then the room fell silent again. I turned the idea around and around and around in my head. But I couldn’t make sense of it. It was just so fucking weird.

“You don’t like any board games, at all?”

Cliff closed his eyes.

“I don’t care that you don’t wanna play.” I jumped in to reassure him. “Honestly, I’m not in the mood for any of that stuff right now either. I just…I dunno…”

I stopped. Struggled for the right words. I really didn’t wanna give him a hard time. But he had me worried. And I had to ask.

“Cliff, are you okay?”

“Yeah,” He said. “It’s just…” He looked all over my room. At my desk. At the door. At his own hooves. Everything but me. “Promise not to laugh?” He sighed.

“Of course.”

“Well,” he sighed. “The thing with checkers and chess is: there’s always gonna be one winner and one loser. And I know it sounds dumb, but I can’t stand it! Like, why should one pony have to feel bad just so somepony else can feel good?

“I dunno.” I mumbled. “It’s just supposed to be fun.”

“I’m sorry.” Cliff answered firmly. “It’s not fun for me.”

“Okay.“ I said. “That’s cool. “So...like what do you do for fun?”

Cliff bunched up his shoulders into mounds again. Shuffled his hooves.

“Read and stuff.”

“Yeah, that’s not really something we can do together.“ I said.

He shrugged in reply. And we were back to square fucking one.




“You wanna listen to music?“ I said, eyeing the box of records Cranky had leant me.

Cliff leaned up to me real close, and whispered, “I thought you can’t hear music.”

“Pfft.” I snorted. “Of course I can hear music.”

Cliff blushed. “It’s just the big ensemble numbers, then?”

“Yeah.” I pulled the record sleeves out. Balanced them on the ledge of the box. Flipped through all the cover photos of street corners, and swamps, and smoky rooms.

Where was I supposed to begin? I had no idea which one to pick. None of those albums were recorded by Blackhoof herself - the mare who’d shared my shadow curse. So, to me, one bluespony was much like another.

“Stop.” Cliff gasped and stared.

It stunned me. The shock on Cliff’s giant eyeballs.

“What’s wrong?” I asked letting the record sleeves drop back into their box.

“Don’t do that!” Cliff said as he plunged his face into the box and started hoofing through them. “Where’s the one you were just holding?”

“Sorry!” I said. “You startled me. What’s going on? You okay, or what?”

Cliff popped up mumbling, mouth full of record sleeve. “Mmmm mmm.” He said as he laid it down gently on the carpet.

“What?” I couldn’t understand a word he was saying.

“I’m fine.” Cliff rolled his eyes. “But check it out! Look at this.”

Flip! His hoof whapped the sleeve gently and pointed at the album cover.

It was a black and white picture of a pegasus. One of her wings was out, and it was aaaall bent out of shape, twisting and turning in directions that no wing should. It stuck out and around, and wrapped across the body of a wooden guitar sitting in the pony’s lap.

The mare was grinning a wicked little smile. The album title was just her signature.

Badwing Jubilee.

Cliff Diver studied it carefully before turning it over, and reading the back.

“Where did you get these?” He said, eyes fixed on the track list.

I opened my mouth to answer, but suddenly, it hit me: I wasn’t sure what I was allowed to say. Would Cranky mind if I told Cliff Diver about him? Was all that Traveler stuff he told me some great big giant secret? Cranky didn’t strike me as the sort of donkey who liked to hide, but he wasn’t exactly a tell-the-whole-world-your-personal-details kinda guy either.

“A friend.” I said.

Cliff didn’t push the issue any further. ‘Cause he was already down on his knees, hunched over my record player. Gingerly, he slid the self-titled Badwing Jubilee disc onto the turntable, and readied the needle with his grinning teeth.

“Sooo, uh, all this excitement is ‘cause of her wing?” I said.

Before the words even finished spilling out my mouth, I cringed. I wasn’t trying to dismiss him. Really, I wasn’t! It just sorta came out wrong.

Cliff set the needle down. “You don’t understand.“ He pleaded. “You never see anypony like this at all! Not on a magazine. Not in comics. Not on album covers. All the pop stars - they’re like, like, like...“

Cliff flailed his forehooves around trying to figure out the right word. While my eyes drifted to my Sapphire Shores poster. Elegant. Glamorous.

“Perfect.” I said. Trying to complete his thoughts.

But Cliff had other ideas.

“They’re all...like you.” He said.

“Me?!”

The comparison came out of nowhere. I wasn’t sure whether I should feel complimented or offended.

“You know!“ Cliff replied. “Complete.“

Before I could reply, he was already leaning over the turntable again, and...

PsHhHhhht. The record crackled to life.

Real super loud too. I still had it turned all the way up from when I’d danced to Sapphire Shores the day before.

“Ahh!” I lunged in and slid the volume dial down before the song could kick in.

But it didn’t kick in. Not right away. Just a looooonng looooong drawn out stretch of that sizzling-frying-pan sorta sound that old records make.

I leaned in over the turntable. Right alongside Cliff. All super eager-like. Waiting for the song to play.

It wasn’t just that Cranky had built up this blues stuff as the cure-all tonic to all things shadow-majig. Cliff was so excited about it. Like a Foal on Hearth’s Warming morning! It was kinda contagious.

I flashed him a smile. It was hard not to.

Then finally, the empty hiss came to an end, the record hummed to life, and a lone voice started to sing.

WoooAooOOoooOooOOaooOoOooooaOoOooOAooOOOohhh!

I winced. It sounded like Badwing had a throat full of hot coals and broken glass.

It almost hurt just to listen to it. But when I turned to Cliff Diver to throw him a what-the-hell-is-this-shit look, he didn’t return it. He leaned in further, entranced by Badwing’s weird ass death yodel.

I can’t reach your cloud, baby
I got a bad bad wing.
Whoooaa.
I can’t reach your cloud, baby
I got a bad bad wing.
Ain’t ashamed, ain’t ashamed, ain’t ashamed.
I just cry and I sing.

A smile lit up Cliff’s face. His hoof began to stomp as Badwing repeated the verse. I understood Cliff’s feelings. His connections to the lyrics being obvious and all. I even tried to share in his enthusiasm, smiling encouragingly and stomping (on all the wrong beats). But I had to struggle hard to find the caterwauling even a little bit palatable. Then the bluespony took a guitar solo. Bending the strings like they owed her money, as Cranky had put it.

It was the sort of sound that rusty nails would make if they knew how to scream.

I turned away. Gritted my teeth. And occupied my time by studying the record sleeve while Cliff did his thing.

I got to wondering. Was I fucking missing something? Was there some part of the equine soul that I simply didn’t have? A spark in your heart that inspires you to enjoy this crap?

I felt left out. I guess cause I’d gotten my hopes up. Allowed myself to imagine that this outcast music might, you know, not make me feel like even more of a fucking outcast.

The song faded and crackled away into nothing. Finally.

Cliff grinned at me.

I smiled back. And tried to think of a polite way to ask if maybe we could switch albums or something. Find a bluespony that both of us could enjoy.

I just couldn’t figure out how to put it.

I mean really. What the fuck could I say? ‘Hey Cliff, I know this singer is, like, the only musician you’ve ever truly related to you in your whole life, but can we put on something that I like instead?’

I agonized. But it was all moot.

Cliff switched the turntable off before I had a chance to ask.

Then he sat there, staring at the floor. Nodding intently. “I wanna show you something.“ He said.

“Uh, okay.” I replied.

Cliff closed his eyes real tight. “I never...” He started to explain, but couldn’t bear to finish the thought.

“What’s wrong?” I said.

“Nothing.” He answered. “For once.”

He smiled faintly to himself, and after a long, deep breath, he spread his wings out. A twisted mass of feathers that reminded me of bent up wire hangers after a kid had warped them out of shape for fun.

“Hold on, wait a minute.“ He grunted. Bit his lip in pain as the great unfold-en-ing happened. Flap by flap, his wings opened up, like pieces of origami coming undone, bending in directions they had no business bending, twisting in directions they had no business twisting.

Until, at last, they were spread all the way out.

“Hi.” Cliff said through gritted teeth. As if introducing himself for the first time.

He stood up tall and proud. For a shining moment. Even though he was obviously in a lot of pain.

Then his wings collapsed. And he was left gasping for breath, cheeks shining with tears. At last, he looked up, and smiled at me warmly. “That didn’t bother you, did it?” He said. Suddenly his old self again.

I shook my head no.

“I’m just sick of hiding, y’know?” He said with a sigh. “I mean, I know they’re not pretty, they—;”

“They’re beautiful.” I interrupted.

“What?” Cliff’s eyes grew gigantic and wide.

“Your wings.” I cleared my throat, as I quickly grew aware of what I’d just blurted out. “They’re beautiful.”

He blushed. Smiled the kinda smile that could light up Las Pegasus.

And next thing I knew, I was squished up against him. He hugged me so tight I thought I would suffocate. Encased in a big gray wall o’ Cliff. I let myself get all limp. Like my limbs were made outta wet spaghetti. Eventually, he let me go. And I found myself on the floor. Cliff leaned over me all eager and excited-like.

“C’mon.” He said. “Let’s listen to some more Badwing Jubilee!”

Author's Note:

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. /]*[\

As a special thank you to all of my patrons, I'm starting a Patreon exclusive blog, Behind the Hooves of Fate, where I share stories about the development of HoF, the inspiration, talk about writing, and share some real life anecdotes that inspired events in HoF.

SOME COMMENTS AND STUFF: Today is the equinox, and I worked very diligently to make sure that I could release this chapter on time for it. The Sun is so very integral to this chapter, that I really wanted to honor our glorious princess by releasing this chapter on an occasion that is special to her.

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.