• 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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The Blood Curse

CHAPTER FORTY-ONE - THE BLOOD CURSE
"Like a bird on a wire - like a drunk in a midnight choir - I have tried in my way to be free." - Leonard Cohen





For the rest of the walk home, I didn't think about Cliff, or Cranky, or my impending conversation with Roseluck. I didn't reflect on the nature of time, or space, or fate or dreams. As I crossed the square, bustling with cart ponies and shopkeepers (all packing up and heading home for the evening), my brain fixated instead on a teeny tiny stupid little detail from my lesson with Zecora.

The fact that she had called me a mare. It bugged me! 'Cause I wasn't. I wasn't a fucking mare!

Mares do taxes and stuff like that. A little voice inside my head spoke out as I ambled my way past Town Hall. Mares have boring conversations about dumb stuff that doesn't matter. They tell jokes that aren't funny. Mares' idea of a good time is to go to the spa, and lie around doing nothing at all!

But even as those thoughts sloshed around my consciousness, I knew they weren't true.

'Cause Zecora wasn't boring. Pinkie Pie wasn't boring. Cranky was almost as old as the princesses themselves, and he wasn't boring. Even Roseluck wasn't boring (so long as she wasn't hanging out with her flower friends).

Adults are every bit as exciting as anyfilly else. I knew that. So why did it bother me so much to be called one?

With Zecora's words hanging around my neck like a weight, I scoured my memories for clues - some fucking way to make sense of it.

I remembered the shock on Princess Luna's face when I'd looked around my own dreamscape and given her a detailed risk-assessment, rather than enjoying the moment. I'd noticed every rock where an enemy might be hiding, and every path for potential retreat, but hadn't paid any attention at all to my own Crystal Empire sparkle, still shining bright from my trip to No Mare's Land.

Then I thought back to all the horrible things I'd seen. In the trenches. In the mines. In visions.

There was no question that I had lost my innocence. But I still didn't feel like a mare. I had overcome those challenges by thinking like a filly. By maintaining that purity. That sense that the world was supposed to be better. That it actually could be better.

As I reached the end of the square and headed up the North Road, the words for a zillion retorts rushed into my brain. Played themselves out in countless satisfying ways.

But I couldn't say any of it. Zecora was loooong behind me, and the appropriate moment, even further gone.

So my throat grew tight. And I took to muttering angrily to myself instead. That's what happens when you hold your tongue for practicality's sake. When you tell yourself 'it doesn't matter' - that you don't mind at all - that you feel totally fine about dodging a meaningless semantic argument. Eventually, a little time passes, and your brain takes its vengeance - stages a mind-riot inside your skull.

I rambled furiously all the way to my front door. Until I found myself actually standing there on the stoop, staring blankly at the fading rose vines painted along the edges of our doorframe.

You did it. One of my Rose Voices exclaimed. You made it home on time!

There wasn't gonna be a what-took-you-so-long, or a where-the-hay-have-you-been. I was in the clear!

But it didn't matter. As soon as I lifted a hoof to push the door open, terror gripped me anyway. Like one of those blood pressure cuffs your doctor uses on your leg. Except it tightened around my entire body, squeeeezed all my internal organs into moosh, and left me trembling.

'Cause I was definitely gonna get asked how my day went, and no matter what my answer was, I was gonna have to lie to Roseluck. Not like, what happened to the last cookie lying,. Real lies. The kind of lies that Cranky refused to tell Matilda. The kind of lies that no family should ever, ever, ever tell.

Fuck.

I had betrayed my sister's trust. Promised her that I wouldn't go seeking zebra wisdom, and then gone and done it anyway. The implications of that decision were just now finally hitting me - stampeding all over my heart like a panic-stricken marching band wearing spiky boots that ground all of my heart-meat into sludge.

What if she found out? What would she do? How would she feel?

I could see it all in my head.




How could you? Roseluck'd say to me when she found out. How could you?!

Then crash! She'd dive out the second floor bedroom window without warning. And fall, slow-motion-like, whinnying in anguish all the way down.

I could see myself rushing to the windowsill and Roseluck would look up at me with haunted eyes, and cough out 20,000 gallons of blood.

How could you? She'd gargle to me one last time. Then her eyes would turn to x's, and she'd become Roseluck-no-more.




"Oh, Luna. Oh, Luna. Oh, Luna!"

I paced around my tiny little front stoop in teeny little circles like an anxiety-ridden pug chasing its itsybitsy little tail. 'Till another Rose Voice spoke up. A sinister voice.

Of course you can lie to Roseluck. It said. After all, she's been lying to you.

"No, she hasn't." I snapped.

Oh? The dark voice said sarcastically. Then why did she hide your medical papers from you?

"That's not fair." I parried. "Knowing Roseluck, she did it to protect me...I guess."

And why did you hide your intentions today?

"To protect her." I whispered.

The voice went silent. Just to be a total jerk, and let it all sink in on its own.

"To protect her." I mouthed the words again without making a sound.

See? The voice replied. Now you're even.

And it made sense. Perfect sense. But I didn't want to be even with my sister. I wanted to be open with her.

I quit my pacing, and stared down the front door.

"What am I doing?" I said aloud. "I can't live like this."

I rested my hoof against the door, ran its tip along the little roses that had been painted there, connecting the flowers to the vines painted along the door frame. And made up my mind. I was gonna fess up to my sister. I had to.

So after a long, deep breath, and a great big sigh, I pushed the door open and stepped inside.

* * *

The house seemed quiet at first. The lamps were burning oil real low. And the living room was lit almost entirely by the fireplace. It didn't even look like anypony was home.

Part of me was worried at first. 'Cause it's super weird for my house to be so still so early in the evening. But it wasn't shadow trouble. I could tell. So I didn't call out for Roseluck.

Instead, I took the quiet as a sort of blessing. If anything, it gave me more time to sort myself out. My coat, my hat, my scarf, the growing impulse to dash out the door from whence I came, and book a train ride all the way to the End of Equestria rather than confess to Roseluck.

I kicked off my boots. Cla dunk dunk. Cla dunk dunk. Cla dunk dunk. Cla dunk dunk.

"Rose?" My sister called out to me from somewhere upstairs. She was probably in her little office doing paperwork - flower inventory and stuff.

"Yeah?" I answered.

"There's oat burgers in the kitchen!" She shouted. "I'll be down in a little while."

"Okay." I hollered back. Feeling somewhat relieved that I didn't have to lie. But also kinda nervous 'cause I wanted it out of the way.

I approached the fireplace. The logs flickered a faint little flame that hadn't been tended to in quite a while. So I gripped the poker with my teeth, and prodded it just to watch the embers fly.

Across the den and through the doorway to the kitchen I could see a bag of burgers sitting there on the counter. Take out. Roseluck must have been very, very busy.

This was my chance.

I stole a quick glance at the staircase. The coast was still clear (of course) so I dashed to the wall and made for the book that Roseluck hid her secret papers in sometimes. A Brief History of Paint, by Crusty Palette.

The shelf where Roseluck kept it had traces in the dust. Like the book had been slid out recently. But when I grabbed the beat up old tome with my teeth, and opened it up, there was nothing inside. Just diagrams and formulas for mixing paint.

I sighed. Put A Brief History of Paint back exactly the way I had found it. And sprawled out over the floor to watch the fire again.

I hated sneaking around. Prying for whatever it was that my sister might have been hiding. I hated even more that I had to hide from her. Wondered how long I could keep it up.

Crackle crackle hiss. The fire grew hungry. As I turned to throw another log on, I suddenly found myself face-to-face with my mother's old chair. The one that none of us ever sat in.

It seemed to stare into my soul. As if waiting for me to do something.

"What?" I said.

But of course it didn't reply.

"What should I do?"

Again there was silence.

Just go upstairs and talk to her. My conscience spoke up. Cut through the nonsense.

"And say what?" I asked out loud.

The truth.

"Ugh. Don't wanna." I grumbled. Knowing full well what I had to do. Even if my timing sucked. Even if Roseluck was busy. Even if it was dead last on my list of Things I Wanted to Do. "What do you think?" I turned to the chair and asked.

Of course it didn't answer. Not with direct advice anyway. It just sorta looked at me. Let me know that things couldn't go on the way they were.

"Fiiiiine," I said. "...But I'm eating first."

* * *

Half a burger later, I was at the top of the stairs. Working up the nerve to approach Roseluck's office.

The part of the oat patty I hadn't eaten was tucked in its wrapper and resting on top of my back. In case I needed a prop to bury my face into.

The office door was half open, and I could see my sister really going to town with the pencil in her teeth. She also had one of those green visors on. Why grown ups need them to do paperwork was, to me, a great mystery. All I knew was that Roseluck was super busy.

So I paced around a bit, hoping she'd say something first. Clop-clop, clop-clop, clop-clop, clop-clop, clop-clop.

But it grew really painfully obvious that she wasn't gonna notice me. So I cleared my throat. Scraped my forehoof against the floor. And rapped upon the door.

"Yeah," Roseluck replied without looking up. "Little busy right now, sweetie. What is it?"

"Never mind." I said and spun around to walk away.

But I didn't take a single step. I just sort of hovered there. While half of my Rose Voices yelled at me to stop being such a nuisance. And the other half yelled at me to charge in there and fucking talk to her already. "Um...it can wait." I added with a whine, and headed back down again.

I only made it about halfway to the living room. 'Cause Mom's arm chair was in there. Looking at me. Chair-ishly. Disapproving-like.

"Okay, okay, okay." I marched back up the stairs and knocked on the door to my sister's office again. This time without hesitation.

"Hey, Roseluck, I'm really, really sorry, but...um...it can't wait. Can we talk?"

I turned and looked away from her in embarrassment before I'd even finished asking. At the floor, at the ceiling, at the oat burger as I shook it off my back and fiddled with the wrapper. Anywhere but my sister's eyes.

Roseluck dropped her pencil on the desk. "What's going on?"

"Well, I'm confused." I said. "About something you said yesterday...You know, about, um...zebras."

I crinkled the burger wrapper nervously.

"Zebras?"

"Yeah. You said you don't trust them because of all the weird herbs they use and stuff. But, like, we use herbs all the time. At least we did before the stupid hospital made you throw them all away."

"I'm still sorry about that," she replied. And in that moment, I realized that Roseluck had never really apologized for tossing the herbs before. "But..." She continued. "Zebra herbs are not like pony herbs. They aren't safe. They do things to your mind. Weird things."

"Like what?"

My sister rubbed her temples with her hooves. It knocked her visor all around like a boat on rough waters. "Rose Petal," she sighed and said. "I'm very busy right now. I've got designs for this wedding that need to be ready by tomorrow so that I can get the approval and finally place the order for the supplies. You know how much work that is."

"I know." I said. "And I'm sorry. I wouldn't ask you if it wasn't urgent."

"Rose Petal," She said with an unusual coldness to her voice. Exasperation. "Are you thinking about this Zecora nonsense again?"

"No," I replied. And crinkled that burger wrapper some more with my hooves, all nervous-like, as my heart raced in anticipation of what I knew I had to say next. "I already went."

"You what?"

"There are things only she can teach me."

"I told you not to." She rose up out of her chair.

"I'm sorry. I'm sorry, I am!" My throat twisted itself like a rung-out towel, and the words started twisting too - strangling themselves into raspy whispers. "But I have to." I coughed. "I don't have a choice."

It was only in that moment - when I was forced to defend my decision - that I actually admitted to myself how much I totally needed Zecora's help.

"Did you take any herbs?" Roseluck lunged at me, started grabbing my shoulders, smelling my breath, examining my eyeballs."

"No." I said in disgust. "Jeez."

"Rose Petal, some herbs are dangerous."

"So is having shadow monsters after you all the time, and not knowing how to do anything about it!" I dropped the burger wrapper, and flailed my hooves in the air.

"So you did have herbs." Roseluck said, not even angry anymore. Just plain terrified.

"Arggg! No! I didn't say that." My voice cracked in anger. "But so what if I did? You think the hospital's gonna come and lock me away? Pinkie Pie got the whole town singing about me. Princess Luna knows I'm not crazy. And even inside the hospital, Bananas Foster can…" My voice trailed off before I could finish that thought.

"You think this is about the hospital?! Other ponies' opinions of you? "

"I don't know." I shouted. "I don't know what's going on, 'cause you. Won't. Tell. Me. You show me this stack of papers that's supposed to scare me, and make me forgive you for tossing all of our herbs. All of Mom's herbs."

"Don't you dare bring Mom into this."

"And you tear a page out the back like I'm not supposed to notice, and then you act all paranoid about zebras. Like they're a bunch of evil enchantresses or whatever. And I hate it. 'Cause we're gonna go to war over that stuff. Stupid judgey stuff between ponies and zebras that's dumb, and doesn't make any sense. Meanwhile, I've got doctor-certified evil after me and everypony I love because our fates and our timelines are all tangled up with each other. And Zecora. Can. Help me. Actually help me. In ways you can't."

Roseluck sat down. Raised her trembling hooves to her head, slid the visor off. And started to cry.

Not like, reading-a-sad-book crying. Her whole damn face turned red. She buried it in her forehooves, and sobbed. But only for a moment. With a frustrated stomp of her hoof, she summoned her composure, rubbed her sorrowful eyes, and looked to the ceiling, whispering words I could not hear.

Part of me wanted to reach out and put a hoof on her shoulder. But I was too afraid that she would shrug it away. Since I was the one causing her so much grief.

I plopped my flank down on the floor. And for a few silent minutes, the two of us were totally still. My eyes stapled to the floor. Hers fixed on the ceiling.

“I’m sorry.” Roseluck whispered one last time to somepony unseen, and opened one of her desk drawers. Produced the missing hospital page.

Two words stood out in bold letters on top: FAMILY HISTORY.

* * *

There was a lot to take in, so I'm just gonna start at the beginning.

Great Aunt Roseroot had been plagued with visions. Just like me. They used to yank her all over the place. Past, future, duckies beyond imagining. They showed her beautiful things. Terrible things. Exhilarating things. And sometimes, the brain hornets showed her stuff that made no damn sense at all.

The paperwork didn't mention this, of course. It only showed discharge dates, and diagnoses, and treatments, and notes etched in some secret scribbly nurse alphabet. But Roseluck took me downstairs. Into the greenhouse on the back porch. So we could be with all of the roses that had descended from the oldest bushes in our family gardens. Dating back long before there was a Ponyville.

It felt right somehow.

My sister lit some oil lamps. Dragged out a bunch of photo albums, and filled in the blanks based on what Mom had told her long, long ago. About Roseroot. About my cousin Vine Snipper. About some other aunt I didn't even know I had.All of them, dream travelers. All of them, regulars down at the mental ward once upon a time.

"Wait, so they just lock up anypony who has visions?" I squeaked when first I heard. Leapt to my hooves in righteous indignation.

"No." Roseluck let out a faint, sad little chuckle. Shook her head. Gestured for me to sit back down.

And slowly, cautiously, I lowered my flank back onto the embroidered cushion I'd brought from the living room. My sister scooted up to me on hers. Real close. Her nose practically brushed against mine.

"Okay," she said. "Have you ever heard of rehab?"

I shook my head 'no.'

"Well," she sighed. "Let's see." Roseluck licked her teeth and puffed out her cheeks. She did that whenever she had trouble trying to explainify something. It took her a while, but eventually, her face lit up, and quit its fidgeting as quick as a book slamming shut. "Ahh!" She exclaimed out of the blue. "Do you know how some families produce more mares with red hair, or...more pegasi, or maybe share a cutie mark in common - or at least some kind of theme in their cutie marks?"

I thought about it for a minute. "Yeah," I replied. "I guess so."

"Our family is like that, but we share a common problem. It runs in our blood, you could say."

"Travelling through time in our dreams?"

"Okay, two problems." Roseluck answered. "We are more likely than most to look for answers in, um...substances outside of ourselves. It's kind of natural when you think about it since we all tend to deal with plants so much, and 'cause so many of us have this sort of…" She stopped to look up at the glass ceiling - visibly struggled to find the right word. As if picking the wrong one would somehow prove dire. "...Gift." She said at last. "But our bloodline, I guess, also sorta predisposes us to grow, um...attached to substances. And that's what you're seeing there in the medical chart."

She pointed to the missing page of the discharge paperwork she'd showed me. It was resting on a bin full of gardening supplies. I'd only had a chance to glance at it upstairs before Roseluck had dragged me down to the greenhouse for a proper 'Family Meeting.'

Surrounded by the flowers of Rose Family matriarchs long passed.

"Sometimes we check into 'rehab'," Roseluck continued. "Because it all gets too overwhelming. Or sometimes there's a drought, or a shortage, or some weird phenomenon that makes a certain herb hard to come by. And then, um...we come apart like Great Aunt Roseroot did."

"Oh," I said.

I didn't have much to add, what with all the new information flooding my brain. It seemed too damn weird to be true, honestly. I mean, it's bad enough that some kinda fate-a-majig tosses us all around like ships against rocky shores. Sending us through time just to tinker with the little things that they probably messed up to begin with, and smashing our brains to smithereens in the process.

The idea that our personal fates? Our personal lives? Our basic patterns of behavior? Our very personalities were also somehow predestined? Curses written in our blood?! It was a lot to swallow.

"What happened exactly?" I asked.

"Our aunt did a lot of research. Teas, incenses, potions, concoctions. It's anypony's guess what Great Aunt Roseroot actually went through. By the time I was born, she wouldn't talk about it. Not in a way that made sense anyhow. But, as I understand it, whatever happened in her dream travels left her pretty shook up. And somewhere along the line, Great Aunt Roseroot turned to plant-magic to ease her suffering. To look for answers. She had teas to help her remember. Incenses to help her forget. Brews to enhance performance in the realm of dreams."

"Dream brews?" I interrupted.

"Yeah," Roseluck replied. "Apparently, if you're already, um...gifted...they give you visions that pack quite a punch. But then, of course, the next morning, Aunt Roseroot'd end up countering them with herbs to help her focus in 'The Waking World.'" Roseluck made quotation marks with her hooves. "Aunt Roseroot took it all. To give her strength. She said it was so she could continue to pursue her 'life's quest'."

Again my sister made the hoof quotation marks.

"What quest?" I asked

"She thought she could get ahead of the visions. And the voices. Aunt Roseroot tried to figure out a pattern. Unravel everything. What they wanted from her. What their plan was. She couldn't handle simply being a background pony.

"For a while, the teas helped her function better. And she even claimed she was having more powerful visions. Discovering 'deep truths.' (Whatever that meant). But the more she claimed she knew, the less sense she made to anypony else." Roseluck sighed. "Honestly, whatever benefit or comfort she may have gotten from them in the beginning didn't really show. By the time I knew her as an adult, Great Aunt Roseroot was taking every tea and herb imaginable just to get through the day."

"Wasn't there anything the hospital could do?" I asked.

"They treated her substance dependency. Gave her the tools to help her cope and function without them. But the core obsession never went away. Even when she wasn't using."

"Oh." I said. And thought of my own obsessions.

It seemed like such a natural thing! I mean, who wouldn't need answers? What were us Rose-dreamers supposed to do? Just float around through time, and run whatever errand was demanded of us, and then just go back to our lives, and pretend like none of it had ever happened?!

"Did she learn anything at all?" I said. "I mean, I know she didn't make much sense by the time you talked to her, but are there, like...any answers she had to show for her quest for knowledge or whatever?"

"Not really." Roseluck plunged her face into the box that she'd brought down from the attic, and produced a manilla envelope,

Schooont. With a careful jiggle, an old journal spilled out onto the floor. I leaned over and examined the cheap wooden covers, the crumbling pages, the binding cords that were stretching and thinning, and coming loose. Then suddenly the smell hit me. Aging paste from under the covers.

"The notebook room." I whispered.

"You remember the notebooks?!"

"Yeah." I replied, somewhat in shock. 'Cause even I had forgotten about them until that very moment.

Deep in the clutter of Great Aunt Roseroot's house. Passed the rotting furniture. There was a whole room filled with massive piles of what seemed to be garbage. But it was organized all meticulous-like. In a schema that couldn't possibly make sense to anypony of right mind.

The Notebook Room. Stacks and stacks of notebooks. Homemade. Shoddily made. Everywhere. They formed a maze so high that its walls loomed right over my head like Manehattan skyscrapers, and they ran soooo deep! The notebook corridors musta stretched out for miles. And every single journal stank of homemade book paste.

"I got lost in the book labyrinth." I said aloud, half expecting a gasp of horror from my sister. But I didn't get one.

"The book labyrinth?" Roseluck said dryly.

"Yeah." I replied. "It kinda freaked me out. Like, I wandered in and lost my way. I never told you this, but I totally freaked when I couldn't figure how to get back out again."

There had been towers of decrepit old pages that'd seemed to ooze out dust, and they'd all closed in on me so suddenly! At the time, I thought that I might end up trapped in there forever. Surrounded by stinky, stinky pages.

"Labyrinth," she repeated.

"Yeah," I squeaked. "There were, like, these huuuuge citadels of books, and journals, and tied up stacks of paper. And they all moved. And…

"Citadels."

"Yeah."

"Rose Petal, they were two feet tall." Roseluck interrupted.

"What?"

She smiled and held up her hoof just a few feet off the ground. About up to my belly.

"How old were you at the time?" She snickered.

I thought about it for a moment. And clop. Brought my hoof to my face in embarrassment. Realizing they hadn't been mountainous towers after all. But once my hoof was out of the way, my eyes landed on the journal on the floor.

"Wait a minute. What did all those notebooks say?" I actually thought to ask for the first time since it had happened.

Suddenly, I was horrified, not by the size of the stacks, or the smell of the paste, but by the realization that my great aunt had actually spent hundreds of hours writing in them. I drew the journal closer to me as Roseluck shook her head.

"Jibberish." She replied. "Thousands, and thousands, and thousands of pages of jibberish."

"Wait, the entire Notebook Citadel was jibberish?!"

"Yeah," My sister answered gravely. "I went through a lot of it. Trying to make sense of her life. Wishing I could have done more for her when I'd had the chance."

I looked up from the journal. "You didn't do anything wrong." I assured her.

Roseluck waved her forehoof at me dismissively. "It's okay." She said. "I'm fine. It just...sucks that Aunt Roseroot was so lonely in her final years."

I nodded solemnly. The journal stacks might not have been great looming towers, or a maze with impenetrable notebook-walls. But the idea that they were all nonsense? That my Great Aunt Roseroot had spent decades and decades and decades making frantic notes about nothing at all?! It hurt just to think about it. And it must have been so much worse for my sister who actually remembered it all.

"Have a look," she said, gesturing at the floor notebook. "That one at least makes sense...in fragments. Little sentences, as opposed to random words and scribblings."

I nodded. And opened it up.

The inside of Aunt Roseroot's journal looked like random quill and pencil strokes to me. With words floating on them, and occasional letters of the alphabet completely detached and devoid of context. But I turned the pages. One by one.

And though it's hard to quantify exactly what I saw, the quillmanship alone had an angry feel to it. Every stroke told a story of its own. As I ran my hoof over the pages, I could see Aunt Roseroot working on them late into the night. Chiseling hard grooves into the paper.

With every page I turned, I felt her mounting frustration. Her rage. Her desire to lash out at the universe, (even if I couldn't make heads or tails of what the words or symbols actually meant). Until at last, I stumbled across an actual coherent phrase. Right near the end of the book. A single lucid sentence. Framed by a collage of aggressive pencil scrapings.

'Who guides the hooves of fate?' It read.

I turned the page over. But it posed no answer. So I turned the next page. And the next one. And the one after that. scanned through the whole damn book over and over again. Start to finish.

Not a single clue, or articulate idea.

But then again, how weird must my art class picture of Strawberry Lemonade must have looked out of context? Just a whole bunch of frenzied jagged lines, and an eye in the middle.




* * *




There were other Rose folks on the medical chart that I had never heard of - ponies that even my sister had barely known. And others still that were not listed at all, but Roseluck had their whole life stories in her scrapbook.

Like our Great Great Grandmother, Roseseed. The oldest Rose in memory to have suffered the family curse. Legend has it that she had gone to happy places in her dreams - places that had made Equestria look like the Wasteland.

Worlds so bright, and so fanciful, that when the visions suddenly stopped, she didn't know how to cope. She spent the rest of her life trying to make it come back. To get "home."

Roseseed, like the others, eventually turned to herbs. To heighten sleep experiences. To attempt to induce visions. To open up her mind to brand new realities. But no matter what she did, she still couldn't get back to where she wanted to go. Couldn't get herself sent on another mission.

It was more than just a trip to a happy fantasyland for her. Her journeys had embodied her life with cosmic purpose.

But the brain hornets had chewed her up and spit her out again. Without so much as a parting gift. Or a goodbye letter explaining why she was no longer useful to them.

The thought terrified me, to be honest. I'd fucked up my life pretty bad over the course of just a couple of weeks. And even though the hornets had brought me so much trouble - so much loss - I couldn't imagine it just...stopping out of the blue. And having to pretend like none of it had ever happened.

Trottica was a part of me. No Mare's Land was a part of me. Twink, and Misty, and Colonel Wormwood, and that little boy I saw the first night of my awakening - the one who I'll never know if I saved. Sub Mine F. The Crystal Door. They were all a part of me too. The good, the bad, and the weird.

As odd as it may sound, after hearing all of those family horror stories, I was actually a lot scared-er of losing touch with the duckyverse than i was of turning into Great Aunt Roseroot.

'Cause I had ponies counting on me!

Princess Luna herself had told me it was my job to teach my friends how to protect themselves. What if I let her down? What if I let them down?

Oh, Luna. Oh, Luna. Oh, Luna. Oh, Luna. Oh, Luna.

My stomach started tossing that hayburger all around. Gurgling nervously. 'Till it dawned on me. Out of the blue.

Princess Luna!

She hadn't been protecting the dream realm back in the old days when my whole family had gone cuckoo. And there hadn't been any zebra contact either, at least none that I knew about. So things were different now.




"They didn't have teachers." I said aloud. "Did they?" I lifted my eyes from the notebook, and turned to Roseluck.

She gave me a quizzical look.

"Our relatives." I said. "They all tried to do it alone. No teachers. No time-battling friends. No Princess Luna to guide them and guard the dream."

"Princess what?"

That's right! Roseluck didn't know. Nobody did. I hadn't told a soul.

"Yeah," I answered timidly. It was clear that I needed to tell my sister about what'd happened with Luna. But I still felt kinda shy about spilling the beans. "The princess." I added. "Now that she's back, she patrols the realm of dreams."

"She does what now?" Roseluck blinkitty bloinked her eyelids.

"I met her." I attempted to explain.

"You met Princess Luna."

"Yeah."

"The Princess Luna?"

"Yeah."

"You sure you didn't just…like...have a dream about her." Roseluck stammered.

"No," I said. "It was her."

"How did you know?"

"I know." I answered dryly.

Roseluck nodded to herself. Got all quiet and super mega pensive. I could practically hear the gears in her brain turning. Then, outta nowhere her whole face started to glow.

"What was she like?" Roseluck bounced up and down in excitement. Like a foal.

"Sad." I replied without thinking.

"Oh."

"...But regal." I added quickly. Hoping I hadn't given my sister a bad impression of the princess.
"It was kinda cosmic actually." I explained, or at least tried to. "And totally serious. But she was also really caring. Um...in a...you know, stern, cosmic, serious kinda way."

Roseluck looked at me, all confuseitty.

"Arg!" I exclaimed. "You had to be there."

"I understand." She put her hoof on my shoulder.

I nodded back at her. Caught my breath. And once we had both calmed down a little, my sister took my hoof gently and asked, "What did she say?"

I thought back to my stroll with Princess Luna along my dream shores. How she'd warned me that all of my friends would be tested that night.

The shadows will use your conscience against you. She'd said. If they cannot drag you into their castle, they'll make you desperate enough to try to storm it all by yourself, and trick you into thinking that you can.

But I couldn't tell Roseluck any of that. She was smiling eagerly. She literally had her hooves crossed for luck, in anticipation of my answer. So I searched my memory for a softer version of the truth that my sister could handle.

"Princess Luna told me it was my job to teach my friends to protect themselves. You know, against…"

I held up my shadow hoof. And smiled ironically.

"I see," she replied. And nodded to herself.

She looked up at the spire of roses entwining around the wooden beam at the center of the greenhouse. As if they could guide her. She sat, and she thought about what I had said very, very carefully. Until at last, she turned to me and said. "The choice is yours, Rose Petal. If you want to go train with this zebra, I won't stop you."

"Really?" I asked meekly. I would have gotten more excited, but she looked so damn upset that it was actually kind of contagious.

"Yes, really." She nodded. "You're grown enough to make that decision for yourself now."

"Okay." I nodded seriously.

"But first there is one last thing I think you need to see." Roseluck spoke in a whisper.

"Okay."

My sister produced a piece of paper. Another medical chart. From that same packet that had gotten me all suspicious to begin with.

FAMILY HISTORY CONT'D

I snatched up the page. And as soon as I laid eyes upon it, my heart started racing. And my stomach turned itself inside out.

The whole thing was all about Mom.

Her erratic behavior. Her time in the mental ward. Her stays at rehab. Three weeks. Three moons. Two days. Eleven moons. Seemed like her whole life was in and out, and in and out, and in again.

Madly, frantically, I panted as I turned the sheet of paper around. Right side up. Upside down. Sideways. I read it again, and again, and again, and again, and again. To be sure I understood it correctly.

But no matter how I looked at it, the answer was always plain as day. My mother had been all different kinds of fucked up.

"Why didn't you tell me?" I whispered.

But my sister wouldn't answer.

"Rose?" I pled. "Why. Didn't. You. Tell me?"

"She made me promise." Roseluck said softly. "Not to tell you the bad stuff."

"To lie!" I shouted as tears welled up in my eyes.

Roseluck shook her head. "To give you a role model )." My sister slid off her cushion, and knelt down low to the floor so she could look into my eyes on my own level. "Rose Petal, listen carefully. Mom loved you so much. The day you were born was the happiest I had ever seen her. And that's the truth. I swear." Roseluck raised her hoof to her heart. "When Mom got the diagnosis, she told me to protect you. To tell you stories of the best of her - all of which were true.

"But she didn't want you to grow up the way she had - under the weight of what our family had been through. She didn't want you to know about her failings because of how insecure it would make you feel. She didn't want you to suffer because she knew how hard it would be without her there to explain it all, and help you though. She made me swear to keep the bad stuff from you as long as I possibly could. Because she said that you were the one thing in the whole world that she loved, that she hadn't managed to mess up."

"Well," I lashed out in bitterness and confusion. "So much for that plan."

But as much as I wanted to stay angry. To feel righteous in my feelings of betrayal, to hate my mom even, a tidal wave of every other emotion imaginable clobbered me - sadness, guilt, abandonment, homesickness, pity for Mom, pity for myself, loss, fear of becoming yet another Rose Family Maniac - it all crashed into me. Hard. And I just plain broke down and cried.

Roseluck dropped to her knees. And I hurled myself at her. Buried my face in her chest, as she cried too.

We held each other for a long, long time. Sister and sister. The last of a bloodline of lunatics and sob stories. And when it was all over, I pulled my face away.

"What was Mom like?" I asked. "I mean really like?"

"She was..." Roseluck looked up to the ceiling. A dim smile propped up her sorrow-heavy cheeks as she searched her memories of Mom for a word that could aptly describe her.

"Fun." She said. "Mom was a lot of fun. She let me have pie for breakfast...well, when Dad wasn't looking anyway." Roseluck snorted out a little laugh. "And she would take me out of school with no notice at all just to go on nature hikes. Or to let me draw all day long. She loved to watch me draw.

"Hmm, what else? She'd sing little songs about whatever it was she was doing. Even in the middle of the night."

"Ooh, and she taught me to howl at the Moon!"

"Like wolves?!" I squealed.

If there are any city folks reading this, you gotta understand that timberwolves are not whimsical creatures. Wolves'll straight up eat you. And everypony in Ponyville knows that. They linger right on our borders, waiting for the opportunity.

"When I was really little, I was scared of wolves." Roseluck said.

"Uh, everypony is scared of wolves." I said.

"Not like this." Roseluck retorted. "I wouldn't step into a room until a grown up had checked it for me, and declared it wolf-free."

"Oh."

"I don't know why." She blushed. "It might have been a book I read, or that somepony had read to me. Anyway, one night, Mom took me outside and taught me to howl. 'Wolves respect a good howl.' She told me. 'You ever heard of a wolf gobbling up a pony who howled?'

"And, of course, I hadn't. So she nudged me with a chuckle, and got howling. It freaked me out at first, 'cause that's just one of those things you're not supposed to do. But she cheered me on, so I copied her. And we howled together. It felt like nothing in the world could touch us! Even the neighbors who yelled at us to quiet down." Roseluck giggled. "We even made this timber wolf out of popsicle sticks together. 'An ally on the inside,'Mom said. It was pink and purple and orange and had googly eyes.

"Yeah, our mother was fun." Roseluck repeated with a sigh. "When she was there."

"What do you mean?"

"Well, sometimes she would just up and disappear for a few days."

"At the hospital?"

"Yeeess, but sometimes she'd also just...wander back into the house after having been missing, brush some pinecones out of her mane and collapse on the couch. And the next day pretend like nothing had happened. I kinda thought it was normal. 'Till my Kindergarten graduation. For weeks it was all she could talk about. How proud she was of me. How she couldn't wait to see me up there. How I'd have nothing to fear from being on stage 'cause she would cheer me on."

"She didn't come?"

Roseluck shook her head.

"Hours later, I found her under the bed. Terrified. Crying. Dad sent me to my room. Yelled at me not to come out."

"Jeez." I said. "I'm sorry."

"Mom did her best." Roseluck replied. "It wasn't her fault. It wasn't anypony's fault. None of this was."

She waved a hoof at our box of family mess-upped-ness.

"Not every Rose goes crazy, you know." She added hastily. "Not every Rose dances with herbs, either. But we gotta be careful of the warning signs, you know?"

"I will." I said firmly.

"So you're, um, still gonna keep seeing Zecora, then, aren't you?"

"I dunno." I answered. "To be perfectly honest, I probably will, yeah. But I don't wanna think about that right now."

"Okay." Roseluck said. Wearing her bravest face for me.

"Can you tell me more?" I said softly. "You know, about Mom?"

Roseluck closed her eyes and conjured a faint little smile. "Of course." She replied. "But can you do me a favor?"

"Yeah, sure."

"Lemme make some tea for us first. I think it's gonna be a long night."




* * *




Hours later, I lay awake in bed. Tired, but unable to sleep. Head flooded with brain-thoughts, but still unable to think.

My heart was like an oven baking me an emotion-brownie made out of terror, and betrayal, and joy, and love, and dread, - with sprinkles made out of pure bewilderment scattered on top.

"Ugh!" I threw my blanket off of me and sat straight up.

The air was bitter cold. But I didn't retreat back under the covers like I should have. 'Cause I suddenly found myself locked in a staring contest with my own Sapphire Shores poster. She was looking right at me from the other side of the room. Wearing an outfit of pure gold. It was raining glitter everywhere. And she was framed by a chorus line of background dancers.

She seemed to be mocking me somehow. Because all that glamor that used to inspire me. To dance. To giggle. To strike a pose. It just seemed so...empty now.

With a sigh, I flung my legs over the side of the bed, and ambled over to the mirror. I don't know why. I just sorta ended up staring at myself instead of Sapphire. I looked deep, deep, deep, deep into my own eyes, and searched for traces of the Roses who had come before me. Tried to make sense of everything I had gotten from my ancestors. Gifts and curses. Good and bad.

But all I saw was the same Rose-face I'd always known, and a scraggly tumbleweed of a mane.

I slid open my jewelry cabinet drawer, and pulled out Screw Loose's beloved sock. Tucked it away into my mojo bag so it would be easier for her to reach me. Maybe even for me to reach her!

As my hooves rubbed the chewed up old wool, I thought of Great Aunt Roseroot. How she had quested for knowledge. Wisdom. Answers. So fucking intensely. But nothing she said or did made a damn lick of sense to anypony else.

Had Screw Loose started out like Aunt Roseroot?

What if they both had actually found their answers? Was there such thing as a knowledge so powerful that it could break your fucking brain into a million trillion pieces if you ever managed to figure it out?

Had Roseroot or Screw Loose really gone insane? Or were they just acting according to some weird higher truth they'd found? What if we were really the ones living delusions?

It seemed possible. In a world where Mom isn't Mom, and your blood makes you drink tea and go crazy, anything's possible.




Thunk! A great big heavy noise startled me out of my thinkitty trance. It came from the hallway just outside my door.

"Roseluck?" I asked.

"Sorry. Did I wake you?" She whispered. As if speaking softly would undo the noise she'd just made.

I poked my head out the door. Roseluck was nudging that big heavy box across the hallway. The one with all the family memorabilia.

"No." I answered. "What are you doing with that?"

"Putting it back in the attic."

"Don't!" I exclaimed. And actually kind of surprised myself with how viscerally I'd protested.

"Why not?"

But I didn't know why not. I just knew it felt wrong.

"Because," I said. "That's our family."

"Rose, sweetie, I'm just putting them in storage. They'll be fine."

She stole a sideways glance at her office across the hall. She still had all that green visor work to do before she could call it a night.

"No, they won't." I said. "We can't just hide them away like dirty little secrets."

"What? It's not like that. It's…" Roseluck struggled to explain, but cut herself off before she could finish. Sighed, and said, "Tell you what. You want some of it?"

I nodded back to her.

"Okay. Go through it. Whatever you don't want, just leave in the box, and I'll hoist it into the attic tomorrow morning." She said. And ambled back to her office.

"That's it?" I asked.

Roseluck stopped in the doorway, and craned her neck to face me.

"What's what?" Her nose wrinkled in confusion.

"You're not gonna tell me what I can and can't have, or, like, warn me about how to take care of brittle old paper or anything?"

"I trust you." She came over, rubbed my mane. Noogie style. Helped nudge the box into my room. "And I'm proud of you for taking charge of it."

"Thanks," I said.

Roseluck nodded, and smiled, and yawned, and shut the door behind her.

Once alone, I dropped to my knees and eagerly rummaged through the box. Pulled out an old pencil sketch of my great great grandma. The one who'd gotten kicked out of her duckyverse. The drawing wasn't very good, but it was the closest thing we had to a likeness.

I grabbed Great Aunt Roseroot's journal. And another old book beside it, along with a few pieces of jewelry, (nothing fancy), a photograph or two, and a funeral card for a distant cousin of mine - little Garden Breeze - a foal who'd died tragically in her sleep a long, long time ago at age 11.

I had no idea what I was gonna do with any of those things. I had this image in my head of what it would be like to try to stuff it all into my mojo bag - the one tied around my neck. Can you imagine lugging it around school? Or the Wasteland? Or the Everfree Forest? Dragging it around like a boulder?!

I chuckled lightly to myself.

Then my eyes caught that Sapphire Shores poster again, and the laughter faded. I rose steadily to my hooves. Looked at all the glitz and the gold once more. Suddenly, I knew what to do.

I grabbed a table from the corner of my room, swept all the books, and schoolwork, and random toys off of it, and slid the whole thing over to Sapphire. Then I scrambled up on top. Scraped the corners of the poster off with my teeth.

I wasn't looking to tear her down in anger or anything - you know, like kids sometimes do in books where like they're, like, super upset and disillusioned, and suddenly hate their heroes or whatever because they've gotten all whiny.

It wasn't that. Sapphire simply couldn't stay.

In her place, I piled all the Rose Family artifacts. Propped them up. Arranged them. Rearranged them. Re-rearranged them. Re-re-rearranged them. Again. And again. And again. And again. And again.

But no matter what I did, it wasn't quite right. It wasn't enough.

So back into the box I went. Pulled out an old chess board that belonged to Luna-knows-who. And an unidentified childhood drawing from Celestia-knows-when. I integrated them into the organized chaos. Stacked, and displayed. Even ran outside into the hall to steal a whole other picture frame.

Crash! Bang! Roseluck didn't even notice.

I opened up the back if the frame, took the boring old sailboat picture out, slid it into the family box, and started fumbling through scrapbooks to find something else to put in its place.

I came upon an old sepia photo of Great Aunt Roseroot - one I hadn't even noticed when my sister had first flipped through the photo albums. The picture dated back to when Roseroot was young. Her mane was like a great, big bird's nest. Her eyes, fiery and confident. She was at some kinda traveling fair judging by the background. That was the only way folks could get their pictures taken back then. She wore a tight, fearless little smile. Like she'd just bullied the camera into submission.

There was something haunting about her. Maybe it was 'cause, unlike my other ancestors, I had actually met Roseroot. I knew what she would eventually become. Or maybe it was just the intensity of her stare - a kind of bravado bought by pain.

I framed the photo of Young Roseroot and placed it on top of Old Roseroot's notebook o' lunatic scribblings. And then sat on my flank and focused on it. Wondered how she'd gotten from Point A to Point B.

What had she seen in her dreams? Where had she gone? What mysteries had she uncovered? What friends had she made? What friends had she lost?

Roseroot had been a warrior once. I could tell by the way she held herself. Her smirk reminded me of Sterry, the young onion-thief back in No Mare's Land. And her eyes were sharp like Wormwood's

I lost myself in the photo, and tumbled these thoughts around the inside of my skull, 'til an idea finally hit me.

"No Mare's Land." I whispered to myself. "Omigosh, No Mare's Land!" I exclaimed again in an ecstasy of sorts.

I bolted downstairs. Past the den, and into the kitchen. I slid on my knees across the floor like a dancer, and scrambled for the very last cabinet in the corner. Inside there were platters, and table cloths, and big serving spoons we only used when entertaining company, and - a ha! Candles.

I pulled out a bunch. First the fancy kind - the type that fits in candelabras, but then I found some that were even better - the kind that come in little glass jars that stand up by themselves. I could light candles for everypony in the Rose Family! Just like I had done for Twink in the trenches of No Mare's Land. And I could have one of those one-on-one braintalks with the flame. Just like the gryphon had taught me.

I rolled all the candles up in a dish towel for easy carrying, and ran into the den to fetch some matchsticks.

They were on top of the mantle, so I kicked a hoofstool over to the fireplace, and leaped up on to my hind legs to grab them. So eager was I to light my candles! To initiate a flame talk! To reach out to the misfit Rose's, all but forgotten except in medical charts, the dimmest of memories, and a few musty old scrapbooks that hadn't seen the light of day in about a decade.

But when I stepped off of the stool, my legs froze completely. 'Cause once again I found myself face-to-face with Mom's old reclining chair. The one we kept sacred in her memory.

Stunned, I dropped the sticks on the floor. Fell to my flank. Forgot to breathe.

Every time I had looked to that chair before, it had been a sort of earthly manifestation of a sublime being - an impossibly perfect pony that I had imagined my mother to be. And even though I had just spent hours learning about Real Mom - flawed Mom - the smell of her perfume was still in the upholstery. And it sent me back. Summoned all those old feelings of foalhood safety.

I knew my memories were distorted. But it didn't matter. I couldn't help it. All I could think was how unfair the whole thing was to my real mother. The one who'd tried so hard to be a better pony for me despite all the demons she'd had to wrestle inside of her own brain. Her dying wish had been for me to grow up without inheriting her pain. But that plan was in ruins now. 'Cause of the fight Roseluck and I had just had.

"Hi," I said meekly. That was all I could think of to say. Just, Hi.

The reclining chair, of course, did not reply.

"Um, listen…I know this isn't what you wanted." I said. "But it's fine. Really. Don't be mad at Roseluck, okay? She's doing her best."

Again, silence from the chair. It occurred to me then that I had never truly known my mother. Roseluck could pass down as many anecdotes as I asked for, but no matter what, the mare who had once sat in that chair would always, on some level, be a stranger.

I started to cry again. I babbled to her about Trottica. The escape from the mines. How we had all hustled through the dark to escape the cloak-o's; how a shadowmajig had gotten its claws on me in the chaos of the stampede that followed; how it was my love for her that had gotten me out alive! My righteous defense of the memory that they'd tried to invade. And even though my heart was aching and I still felt so very alone, one thing became clear to me.

"You made a good call." I said as I threw my head on the cushion of the chair. Imagined it was her lap. "You did. You really did. I'm sorry I flipped out at Roseluck about the lie. It saved me." I sobbed. "You saved me. I wish I could tell you that face to face, but it did."

Perfect Mom had given me the strength I'd needed to survive.

I broke down. Heaved a bit. Clutched at the cushion, and bawled into it. 'Till a fiery pop from the fireplace snapped, and jolted me to attention.

With a quivering sigh, I sat up. Sniffled. Wiped my face clean. And chuckled faintly as one of Roseluck's stories randomly sprung to mind. About how she and Mom had both won a pie eating contest together.

It must have been mega-difficult for Mom. Loving us, but not knowing when she was gonna be there to win her daughter the blue ribbon, and when she was gonna run off into the woods screaming. She'd tried so hard to hold it together. And she'd succeeded in so many ways! But Mom had still called me the one thing she loved that she hadn't messed up.

The guilt that she'd felt about letting Roseluck down must have been like dragging an anchor through gravel.

"I'm glad you did what you did," I said softly. "But you know what?" I chuckled again as salty tears spilled from my cheeks into my mouth. "I like the real you better."

The room fell silent. Peaceful. Whatever weird invisible tension had existed between me and the Momchair was now gone.

I smiled meekly to myself. "Um, goodnight," I said.

And bent down to the floor to scoop up all the matchsticks I'd dropped. Rolled them all carefully to me, aware of both the fire hazard of leaving one behind, and of the need to get upstairs, and light those family candles so I could finally get to sleep!

I pressed my cheek all the way to the ground. To make sure none of the matchsticks were hiding. Even did a feel test by lifting the sham of Mom's chair, and probing around with my hoof.

There were no matches, but I discovered something else hiding back there. A little tiny piece of wood. My heart skipped a beat 'cause, at first, I thought it was piece of the chair that had broken off when I'd collapsed on it moments before. But it wasn't. The frame of the recliner felt rock solid underneath, and the little scrap I'd found was small and light and loose. I squirmed, and stretched my hoof. 'Till at last, I managed to sweep it out from under Mom's recliner.

When I held it up to the light the fire, I saw the wooden thing, at last, for what it was. A popsicle stick wolf. White and yellow and red and pink. Like the streaks in my mane. Written in tiny letters on its belly were the words: Rose Petal.

End Book Four
The Sound of Silence

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. I could really use the assistance.
:pinkiehappy:

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. /]*[\

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.

THOUGHTS and REFLECTIONS
This chapter is very much about respect for the dead, and one's ancestry, so I have chosen to release it on All Souls' Day , aka. Day of the Dead aka. the final day of the Dias de los Muertos.

It's also the last chapter in Book Four, as I'm sure you noticed from the little announcement on the bottom. For those of you who have been reading since the beginning, this is probably new to you, but over the last few months, I've gone back and divided this fic up into books, so as to help contextualize what's going on, and make the pacing feel as natural as possible.

The first ten chapters are Book One: The Great Escape
Then comes, Book Two: No Mare's Land
Book Three: After the Storm is the shortest in the series, and it encompasses everything that happens after Rose's adventure in No Mare's Land, but before she gets released from the hospital.
Book Four: The Sound of Silence makes up everything that happened from the moment she set hoof outside of the hospital until now. This is Rose's readjustment period.

Anyway, thank you all for reading. Time to start Book Five! (Title to be announced when it's complete).

It's amazing to me that the story has come this far, and that so many of you have been following it for so long. Thank you all!