• 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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War Buddies

CHAPTER THIRTY-SEVEN - WAR BUDDIES
"Ethics is knowing the difference between what you have a right to do and what is right to do." - Potter Stewart



Letter from Smart Cookie to Clover the Clever. Date: Unknown

Dearest Clover,

I'm hoping this finds you well. The Great Equestrian Society we set out to build together has proven more successful than either of us could possibly have imagined. Chancellor Puddnghead's ambitions have transformed Fillydelphia unrecognizably since last you visited. Her spiritual leadership, and her vigorous program of festivities and culinary wonderments have inspired a sort of fever amongst the populace. Her skills as a motivator are unmatched. Simply put, she has become a better leader than I ever thought possible.

However, even though I still see Puddinghead often, when I have a crisis in the governance of my own province, yours is the council I crave the most.

You actually remember what it was like to serve.

It was us - the advisors - who worked for the greater good of our tribes, not by decree, but by steering our rulers true.

As abysmal as those days may have seemed - as catastrophic as Puddinghead’s ridiculous impulses may have been for the earth pony tribe - her recklessness, by contrast, instilled in me a purpose, and hardened my moral resolve.

It's been different now that I have a province of my own to rule. My path is no longer clear.

It was your guidance and your indispensable advice that inspired me to gather the greatest thinkers of our time. It was your knowledge that helped us all come together, and found a new kind of city, built on the principles of Hay-to's Republic. (I still have the copy you sent me so many moons ago, resting on my dresser!)

Do you remember the excitement? Our bold New Democratic Experiment! The flourishing of ideas! The passion for public service.

It was unprecedented.

Ponies from all walks of life came together in friendship to construct innovative new policies - to build a society founded on the idea of a common good. Out of that common good, and that common interest came tremendous prosperity.

I write you now as that good, and that prosperity comes under attack for the first time in any meaningful way. When Mayor Honeysuckle retired earlier this year, an unsavory traveling salespony by the name of Snake Oil appeared, seemingly out of nowhere.

He charmed the good ponies of our fair city and appealed to their worst natures. Awoke a volcano of discontent that I hadn't even known was there. Before any of us could even begin to process what he might be up to, Snake Oil actually won the election.

Now, with the inauguration a mere month away, I look around and find all eyes suddenly fixed upon me. There are thousands of ponies who see Snake Oil for the charlatan that he is, and all of them are rightly terrified of his coming administration.

Everywhere I go, ponies turn to me for answers. They turn to me for leadership. They turn to me for action.

I don't know what to do.

The terrifying thing - the thought that keeps me up at night - is that I could nullify the election. Nopony would question me, not even Snake Oil himself!

With one stroke of a quill, I could undo everything. I could issue edicts, and write policies myself, or appoint a proxy delegate.

With that power, I could help tens of thousands of struggling ponies - make their lives easier, spare them hardship, and give their children the chance for a brighter future.

But what then would I become? A princess? A queen?

Worse yet, what would we become - as a society, and as a race?

I find myself sitting by the fire every night clutching the book that you gave me one Hearth's Warming so very long ago - the anthology of the great ethicist, Aristrotle. I think back to those long conversations you and I used to have once upon a time - those strolls we took through your garden on cold, moonlit nights - those wild and passionate debates we had over the kind of world that we wanted to build - back when we were young - back when our friendship was all we had, and all we thought we'd ever need.

It's been so long since I've talked to anypony like that - as an equal.

I desperately need to figure out how to do the right thing, now that it's no longer a mere abstract - now that it's gotten so complicated. I need you.

Nopony has heard from you in ages.

I respect that you've become engrossed in your secret studies. I've grown accustomed to your long disappearances and secret missions.

But as I hoof through these brittle old pages, I desperately need to know: What does it mean to do the right thing?

Is it whatever benefits the most ponies? A question of pure pragmatism? Or are there higher ideals at stake? Justice? Fairness? Honesty? Truth? Even if it means that ponies get hurt?

I am tired. Everywhere I go, desperate ponies plead with me to think of the future. How can I explain to them that I am thinking of the future?

If I save our city now, it's an admission that we are beyond hope - that we cannot recover from bad decisions - that we cannot learn from them.

And if I should become a despot now, even if by some miracle I succeeded in staying honest, what would become of our realm after I am gone, and somepony else sits on my throne?

It's hard to look all of these ponies in the eyes and tell them that I refuse to help because of an idea - because of words - because of a highfalutin abstract that won't relieve their suffering in the here-and-now.

But in the end, those values are all we have. They're all we are.

I hope this letter finds you well, old friend. I fear we are drifting irreparably apart, and frankly, I cannot bear it. Please respond, if only to let me know that you're okay.

Yours in Friendship,
Smart Cookie

* * *

By the time we left the hospital, the sun was high and burning hot. Well, for winter anyway. The snow on the tippy tops of the hills was finally melting a little bit. And it blinded my eyeballs with all of its stupid shiny, shimmery dew as the road to the Everfree curved near to the sparkley outskirts of Sweet Apple Acres.

Cliff walked right beside me. Soaking in the scenery. Content to enjoy our silence together. As friends.

While a bunch of stupid thoughts not so contentedly squished around the inside of my brain. Thoughts about ethics and stuff. Thoughts about the good thing - the course of action that helps the most ponies. And the justicey thing. You know, fairness and junk.

How they oppose each other sometimes. And how much that sucks.

The thought ate at me. ‘Till I had no choice but to break Cliff’s peaceful little silence.

“I've been thinking,” I said.

Cliff rubbed his eyes, and squinted at me.

“About Foster.” I added.

“Ah.” He said. “Yeah, I kinda figured.”

Crunch crunch crackley crunch. Our boots gnashed the gravel into the thawing dirt as I gathered my thoughts some more.

“Foster’s doing some good stuff.” I said.

“Sure.”

“And she could do a lot more! Especially for Screw Loose, who needs all the help she can get, you know?”

“Yeah.” Cliff nodded solemnly. “Sorry you didn't get to see her.”

The hospital hadn't let us see Screw Loose. Foster's magical brain suggestions only go so far. Especially when stupid doctors shuffle the therapy schedule around, unexpected-like.

“Do you think Screw Loose knows I tried?” I said.

The thought of her sitting there, waiting for me. Crying. Wondering why. It ripped my heart up into a million tiny pieces of cardiovascular confetti.

“I don't know.” Cliff replied honestly. “I hope so.”

I lowered my head. Sighed. Kept my eyes on my boots. Crunch crunch crackley crunch.

“What do you think we should do?” I said to Cliff.

“About what?”

“About Foster.” I said, still staring downwards. “All that hypnotizing and stuff. She can do a lot of good with it. But it's still wrong, you know? Like really wrong, no matter how you slice it.”

“Oh.” Cliff shuffled his hooves as he walked, kicking up loose pebbles and tiny chunks of ice. I don't know what the rest of him was doing. I didn't look up to try and see.

“Well,” he answered. “We don't really get to do anything.”

“I know,” I said. “But still…” I trailed off. Unsure of what to say.

Instead, I let my attention drift. I gazed out at the pretty scenery again. A dirt road, neatly plowed. A patch of pasture land, neatly cleared - speckled with sheep. And rows upon rows of rolling white hills. Completely untouched.

It made me uneasy. I didn't even know why. It just made me really fucking uneasy.

That's what happens when there’s stuff on your mind. I reckoned. Even the sight of sheep makes you crazy anxious.

“Rose?” Cliff spoke up.

“Yeah?”

“Are you and Foster still friends?”

“Yeah,” I said, finally prying my gaze from the stupid field. “I mean, like, we're gonna really need each other.” I added. “There's lotsa shadow stuff going on right now. You know?”

“But are you friends?”

I sighed. “I wanna be.”

Cliff looked to me with giant, sad, puppy-dog eyes. That crushing disappointment of his reminded me why I'd been staring at the ground for so long. Instead of at him.

“I'm sorry.” I said. “It's the mines. Ever since…I can't stand to see anypony, you know, not free.”

Cliff nodded somberly.

We walked in silence a bit more. While the last of Sweet Apple Acres dwindled and gave way to untamed fields and hills.

“Rose?” Cliff said. A touch of anxiety in his voice.

I looked over to him. Answered without saying a word. “I know you had it real hard, and like, um, I know I can't imagine what that must have been like for you.”

“No, you really can't.” I said bluntly.

Cliff's cheeks stretched out awkwardly into a nervous little smile. “But...I just wanna point out that Foster - she’s like… been through a lot too. And she never had the benefit of a lifetime growing up with, like, you know, pony morals.’

‘I'm not telling you how to feel or anything.” Cliff added hurriedly. “But I actually think it's pretty amazing that she's even trying. To have a conscience, I mean. Y’ know, about all that parasitic mind control bug stuff that…” Cliff paused to look over his shoulder. Leaned in close, conspiratorial-like, and whispered. “...That her kind does.”

“Hmph.” I grunted. Cliff had a point. And I hated that.

“And, uh...isn't it kinda cool?” He added hesitantly. “How it all works?”

“How what works?”

“The way their mom - I mean queen - feeds ev-er-y-one. How their minds are connected?” Cliff squeaked excitedly. “It's like what Professor Science wrote. Y’know, about thought itself being the Fifth Dimension? This proves it!”

“Uh...fifth dimension?” I asked dryly.

“Yeah!” Cliff answered with colossal gusto. “We have the three dimensions of physical space. The fourth is time. And the fifth is one of ideas. Concepts. Constructs. So a stream of consciousness is, like literally travelling down a stream. And when you form ideas, you're going all over the Universe. Moving along the plane oooooofffff…” Cliff took a great big melodramatic pause. “Dimension X!”

He said it so boldly that his voice seemed to echo.

“Well,” I said. “Um, okay, I have to admit that does sound pretty cool.”

...If it made any sense. I thought to myself.

Cliff smiled. “Yeah, I know, right? And this changeling hive mind stuff proves it. All of Professor Science’s theories! Just think about it! Now we have proof - proof that psychic powers are real.

I blinked at him in reply. Real super loudly. Blink bloink. Blink bloink.

‘Till Cliff remembered who he was talking to.

“Oh yeah.” Cliff blushed a little.

I grinned back at him. But I couldn't help but wonder if he was being a little too forgiving of Foster's lack of morals simply because he thought she was cool.

Then one of my Rose Voices spoke up from inside of my skull. The one that always says dumb stuff that I hate. What does that say about you? The voice posited to me in a whisper. Cliff is always so forgiving. So understanding. What if aaaall this time, he’s just been overlooking your flaws because he thought you were cool? That your powers were cool?

What if you don't deserve forgiveness? What if you don't deserve friends?

Then wham! The memory of Twink came down on my Rose Voice with that giant 2x4 o’ Friendship. Nobody. Pow! Speaks. Crunch! That. Thwack! Way. Thwack! About. Thwack! My. Thwack! Friends.

I stumbled and swayed. The inside of my head was like thunder. Earthquakes. And the sound of two cats fighting in the garbage can behind the Hayburger.

“You okay?” Cliff said.

And suddenly poof! The brain drama went dead silent.

“Uh, yeah.” I said. “I'm fine.”

* * *

Up ahead was the main road that ran straight up to Northern Ponyville one way, and down South into the Everfree the other way. There in the crossroads stood Cranky. Looking, well...kinda...cranky.

“Who in the hay is this?” He said once I was close enough to grump at without shouting.

Cliff shrank back. Pulled the hood on his winter coat down over his face.

“This is Cliff Diver.” I answered. “He's a friend of mine.”

Cranky made a sour face. Sour-er than usual.

“It's okay.” I said. “He knows all about my trouble with…”

Cranky threw his hooves up. Waved them around. Begged me silently not to talk of the shadows out in the open.

Traveler superstition. I thought. So I mimed it instead with my most ghoulish booga-wooga-wooga face.

“Look, Rose.” Cranky groaned. “I offered to guide you where you need to go, not to lead a field trip.”

“It's okay. I just came to see her off.” Said Cliff, though judging by the way his tail sagged in disappointment, he had, in fact, hoped to tag along.

“I'm sorry, kid.” Cranky said. “But I'm taking a big enough risk with Rose Petal as it is. The last thing I need is a bunch of angry parents banging on my door.”

“It's okay!” Cliff’s ears perked up, all hopeful-like. “My parents don't care. They really don't! They don't care if I live or die.”

Cranky furrowed his brow. Straightened his wig. Looked Cliff up and down all over again, super thoughtful-like. Cliff wasn't making a play for sympathy. If anything, he was totally fucking oblivious. Nonchalant about the fact that his folks hated his Cliff-guts.

“Guess we ought to get going then.” Cranky said to Cliff without a word of condolence. “Time's a-wastin’.”

And just like that, the old donkey turned around and lead the way. While Cliff and I followed. Southward toward the Everfree.




Cliff bounced with excitement the whole way. Grinning a mile wide. At least whenever Cranky's head was turned the other way. Cliff looked to me and mouthed the words “Everfree!” Giddy as a South Equestrian laughing snail.

And I was happy for him. This was his idea of a big adventure. A journey into the great unknown. But I couldn't get into the spirit of it. ‘Cause I just thought of those creepy side track roots and shivered.

* * *

We were just over the bridge and almost to the edge of town when suddenly, I heard my name. Saw motion out of the corner of my eye.

“Rose Petal!” A mare galloped up to us.

But before I could figure out what was going on, Cliff had already quit his jubilant bouncing, and wedged himself right in front of me. Sternly blocking off the mystery mare. Just in case she meant me harm.

Cranky glanced at Cliff out of the corner of his eye. Hid his smirk of approval at Cliff's protectyness.

“Oh, hi!” Said the voice, all bubbly with good intent. “I just wanted to tell you great job!”

Cliff and I turned to one another with raised eyebrows.

And once he got out of the way, I recognized the mare instantly. It was the lady who'd given Cranky and me a hard time just the day before. The same mare who’d shielded her foal from having to look at me, like I was some kinda dragon and she was some kinda hero.

“You too, Cliff. Buh-bye now.” She giggled before prancing off, humming some tune or another to herself.

“What was that all about?” Cliff stammered.

Pinkie Pie.". Cranky and I answered in unison.

Then, with a casual shrug, the three of us made our way down the final stretch of road.

* * *

It wasn't long before we reached the entrance to the Everfree - an archway of tangled branches, and twisted wooden claws reaching out over Ponyville's edge. The sight of it inspired a somber sorta reverence in Cliff Diver, Cranky, and me. But as we got closer, and the furthest tendrils of those outstretching twigs actually started looming directly over us, the old donkey stopped. Threw up a hoof telling us to do the same.

"Hey...uh, kid," he said without taking his eyes off the forest.

“Yeah?”

"Listen, before we go in there, I don't want you getting your hopes too high about this zebra witch."

"Why not?"

"Well," he straightened his toupee. "It's complicated. There ain't no quick fix to what you got going on. You understand what I'm saying?"

I nodded in reply.

But I didn't understand. Not really. ‘Cause what was I hoping to accomplish out there anyway? Could Zecora hook me up with a cure for my shadow hoof? A way to hear musical numbers again? A plan to keep the evil shadow castle from… doing…you know, evil shadow castle stuff? I had no idea.

When I had bolted in there the day before, I'd been fleeing - running away in fear and guilt and desperation. But everything had changed since then! I actually had options now. I wasn't being rejected by my sister anymore - wasn't being rejected by the town.

In fact, things were finally starting to look up, thanks to a really hard apology on my part, and a whole lotta Pinkie magic.

A stampede of thoughts-and-stuff stormed around the inside of my skull as I stared down the forest path. ‘Till at last, I realized that I didn't actually have to run anymore. The reality of it? I was betraying my sister's trust in me. Just by thinking about sneaking off to Zecora's.

But still, I couldn't let it go, even if I tried. I had to go into the Everfree. To learn what I could. I just had to.




"I want answers." I told Cranky. Super serious-like.

"Me too, kid.” The old donkey answered in a raspy voice.

“What do you need answers for?” Cliff chimed in and asked.

Cranky looked up-and-down and all around. Allowed himself to just sorta gaze. For the first time since we’d met up. "I wanna know what was happening in there while the blizzard was raging back here." He gestured first at the woods, then at the Ponyville ground beneath our hooves.

Cliff blinked. Pried his eyes from the spooky branches above us, and peered deep into the forest. “There's no snow.” He marveled. Stretching his neck outward, he examined the ground and the trees and the forest ceiling. To see if maybe the Everfree was hiding a whole blizzard’s worth of snow somewhere.

It wasn't.

“Where’s all the snow?” Cliff's voice cracked. It was finally dawning on him how incredibly off the Everfree Forest was.

“I just told ya, kid. I don't know. But I'm hoping the zebra does. Now, are you two ready?”

Cliff and I nodded.

“Good.” Said Cranky. “Let's get moving.”

* * *

The Everfree path bent and climbed and fell in mysterious ways. After only a few minutes of walking, you could look back over your flank and see nothing but trees. Everywhere.

Up ahead was no better.

Every step we took made the air get just a little bit darker. It got darker. And darker. And darker. And darker. And darker. After a while, it started to feel like the forest was swallowing us up.

Then there were the eyes. The further into the Everfree we got, the stronger I sensed them. Sometimes they look right at you - shiny orbs that seem to float on darkness as they reflect what strangled remains of sunlight reach the underbrush. And sometimes they look down from above. Watch curiously on as their owners rustle about in the trees.

But there were other eyes too. The kind you can't see. It's like that feeling you get when the teacher’s stare drills through the back of your head. There's no way you could logically know that she's behind you. No sight or sound or touch or smell. But still, you sense her. Looking disapprovingly at your pirate doodles.

The Everfree Forest was full of eyes like that. The kind that you feel looking at you, but can't ever see.

“You been all over the place, haven't you?” Cliff spoke up out of the blue.

And suddenly fwoom! All the invisible eyes were pointed at Cliff. He didn't seem to notice.

“I reckon.” The old donkey answered bluntly.

“Well?” Cliff continued. “You seem to know the Everfree Forest pretty well. How? Why? Like, what made you wanna come...in here?

Cliff flailed his forehooves around. He may not have noticed the spying eyes, but he still sensed that the forest was not an inviting place.

“Haven't been to the Everfree much.” Cranky answered. “Not for a long, long time. But when I do visit, it's to drop in on an old friend.”

“You and Zecora go back?” I asked.

“Not exactly. We're acquainted. Wouldn't call her a friend, though.” Cranky chuckled lightly to himself. Awkward-like.

I didn't like the sound of it. Made me nervous. The last thing I wanted was to go on this great big journey; to attract the attention of all the spooky things in the whole damn forest; to get a monster headache on top of it (thanks to those stupid invisible eyes drilling into my brain); and then, at the end of it all, to find out that Zecora hated Cranky, or something, and get sent away in anger.

“Is, uh...that gonna be a problem?” I said. “Like what if she--;”

“She'll help you.” Cranky said firmly. “Don't fret it, kid.”

“Okay.” I said, forced to take Cranky at his word. He hadn't let me down so far.

“Who is your friend then?” Cliff brushed a vine out of his mane. Threw the forest a who the fuck would wanna live here look.

“Sea serpent.” Cranky replied. “Goes by the name of Magnet.”

“Sea serpent?!” Cliff and I said at once.

“Yeah.” Cranky answered. But he didn't elaborate. Just kept on moving.

Meanwhile, all those fucking eyeballs in the darkness started setting off my brain hornets. There was some kinda mojo all the fuck over the forest. Not shadows. Not light. Something primal, and crazy, and deadly that didn't give a fuck about any of that.

My brain went completely bonkers just being near it. The stinging. The headache. The sense of urgency. But when I listened to the hornets, there was no message. When I looked, there were no visions.

I focused really super hard. Squinted my eyes shut. Forced the stinging outward with all of my brain-might. ‘Till I was left with a single thought. Cranky and his monster friend. And how they made it work.. Don't ask me why. It just sorta happened.

“Cranky?” I said as my head finally started to clear. “Mind if I ask you a question?"

“Go ahead, kid.”

“Well, you've got, like, a lot of friends in a lotta different places.” I said.

“Yup.”

“How do you, like, maintain friendships with folks who are, you know, unscrupulous?”

Cranky scrunched his nose up at me.

“Like, say that you have a friend who does stuff that you're not totally comfortable with.” I added hurriedly. “Like sea monsters doing, you know...sea monster stuff.”

“Serpent.”

“Yeah, that too.” I said. “Like, say you and him are friends. And you're super close. And you have each other's loyalty and stuff. Laughter too...and generosity, and kindness, and honesty! Honesty especially! Since your serpent friend hasn't told anyone about his true identity except for you and Cliff.”

Cranky looked at me like I was crazy, while Cliff just sighed super loudly. But I kept going.

“...The thing is, like...what about when they do bad stuff? You know, like monster stuff. To other ponies? And their code of ethics is super messed up. How do you live with that?”

Cranky turned away from me. Kept his eyes on the woods. “Well, kid. Not everyone's the same. Sometimes you need a friend to help decorate your living room, and sometimes, you need a war buddy." Cranky stopped briefly to kick a stone. “It's easy to keep your war buddies from ruining your grandmother's brunch party once you start setting boundaries in your life. The real question is this.” Cranky craned his neck. Turned to me gravely. “Does this unscrupulous friend of yours have your back?”

“Yeah.” I answered bashfully. “She's got my back.” I didn't even have to think about it.

“You sure?”

Cliff and I nodded to each other.

“Really sure.” I said softly.

“Good.” Cranky answered. “Then all you really need to do is figure out what that's worth to you.”

“Worth?” I asked nervously.

“Well, kid, what's your line in the sand? How much unscrupulousness does it take to warrant throwing a friend like that away?”

I thought about it. Long and hard. And Cranky was right. I couldn't just throw Bananas Foster away. Not lightly. But that didn't make coping with all the hypnosis-slavery-lack-of-free-will stuff easy.

“Just think on it, kid.”

“Okay.” I said.

And walked a while in silence. Ignoring the stinging brain hornets. Just thinking. Really really really hard. About morals. About Foster. About friendship.

“Cranky?” I said once some of my mind dust had settled.

“Whatcha want, kiddo?”

“Uh…After you figure out that line in the sand, how do you...like...cope with it?”

That I couldn't tell you.” Cranky said. “You'd have to ask Magnet.”

“The sea monster?” Cliff cocked his head sideways, all confuzzled.

“Serpent.” I corrected him.

Cranky nodded firmly at me.

“Yeah, Magnet.” He said. “I'm the unscrupulous one.”

* * *

Mere moments later, the trees suddenly started to part, and the brain hornets simmered down. Even the wild starey eyeballs scattered and faded.

A single beam of sunlight struck down through the branches overhead. Like an orange blade stabbing the ground from above. Everything around us felt clean and clear.

We soon came upon a tree with colorful glass bottles hanging from every branch. And slowed down when we reached it. Watched in silent reverence as it shone like a rustic kaleidoscope. Just beyond its sparkley light show, on the other side of a tiny clearing stood a another tree, this one with a big wooden door at the bottom. Like the Golden Oak Library. But waaaaay cooler. The outside was covered with artifacts. Bottles and masks. Strange and foreign.

I couldn't believe it. It was breathtaking

“Well,” Cranky said at long last. “Here we are.”

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.

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. /]*[\

NOTE: It's the final hours of the final day of the Full Moon, but I finished it in time! Here's to Princess Luna! May she forever reign over the dream realms!

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.