• 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 Low Priestess

CHAPTER SEVEN - THE LOW PRIESTESS
"Mankind can keep alive thanks to its brilliance in keeping its humanity repressed." - Berthold Brecht



Fake heads. Dressmaker’s mannequins. Buckets of paint long-dried. Decaying pieces of plywood cut out to look like trees. Trottica had once been home to a legitimate community theater. We found ourselves directly beneath it. The old stage.

Above us, the Priestess stomped emphatically. She was giving her speech. The old Innocence is Sin spiel. Not exactly the uplifting experience of attending Yokelahoma! or The Princess and I, like the performance space had been intended for so many years ago.

The herd came to a halt. Us kids in the back weren’t sure why. Twinkle Eyes just looked to me and shrugged. Even she was in the dark about what the hell was going on, and she had helped draft the escape plan in the first place.

I craned my neck and tried to get a peek over the crowd, but everypony in front of me was standing on their tippy-hooves, trying to do the same damn thing. All I could make out was a staircase at the far end of the room. Misty and Strawberry, who headed our little party, were hesitant to go up it. That left the rest of us standing around, getting nervous.

I looked around for living shadows and cloak-o’s and dragons and things. All I saw, apart from rotting props and set pieces, was this weird hole in the center of the room – a shaft that ran from floor-to-ceiling. It was surrounded by a fence - also floor-to-ceiling. When the bright stage lights poured down from above, it cast a hundred jagged shadows all over the place like something out of The Stable of Dr. Caligari or one of those fun house rooms that isn’t so much “fun” as it is a clumsy odyssey into the heart of madness and personal injury.

I hoped we were too dark to be seen from above. At just the right angle, when she paced back and forth for dramatic effect, I could catch tiny glimpses of the Priestess. The last pony on earth I wanted to notice us. It made my heart skip a beat every time.

“Suffering is truth, and it’s a truth we face every day.” Said Her Holiness. “But innocence – it’s an ignorance that makes all of ponykind suffer, for ‘Tyranny and War are beasts that prey hardest on the weak and the innocent and the blind.’ So sayeth Baal.”

I liked her better when she was a distorted warble of inarticulate noise.




Eventually a wave of whispers swept the crowd, and we finally got some news about our little delay. By the time it reached us, though, its reliability had gotten kinda questionable.

“There’s a hundred thousand cloak-o’s standing right at the top of the staircase.” Whispered one kid.

“There’s a dragon up there.” Whispered another.

“The door to escape has caught fire and it’s made out of snakes!”

You get the point.

Whatever else may have gone wrong, I could tell by the faint green glow at the front of the line that we had reached another console. Strawberry Lemonade was probably just screwing with it.

“Today is a beautiful day, my little ponies.” The Priestess yammered above us. “Today, Baal purifies our offerings – frees them of their terrible innocence, and blesses our humble township with prosperity. With life!”

Thomp, thomp, thomp, thomp, thomp.

Above us, a set of hooves trotted away in a hurry. As soon as they were gone, the herd stood and listened in terrified silence. For a split second, it had sounded like they were coming for us. But that feeling passed as soon as it came, and we all started moving again.

Strawberry Lemonade had figured out how to use those glowy boxes to re-direct the cloak-o’s like chess pieces. It was a miracle. Another wave of rumors swept the crowd.

“Strawberry Lemonade made all the daisy cape guys explode!”

“The dragon’s on our side now!”

“Princess Celestia is back from the dead, and she’s fighting the whole town!”

The entire herd was teeming with quiet excitement. But I had to bite back a scream. The princess was dead. Not in hiding. Not banished. Not turned to stone. Not off fighting evil somewhere, waiting for the right moment to come back and set things right. Dead.

I tried to digest that as we tip-hooved up the stairs, single file. But each step - each moment - felt like I was getting stabbed in the heart.

“You ok?” Asked Twinkle Eyes.

“Princess Celestia is dead.”

“Don’t tell me you buy into all ‘dem princess stories?”

I threw a look at her that was so nasty it could have curdled milk. Stories?!

“Sorry. Of course you do.” Said Twinkle.

“Luna? What about Luna?”

“Ssssh!”

Twinkle was right to shush me this time. We were reaching the final stretch. The top of the stairs. Cloaktown, EQ.




* * *



We made it as far as the wings before we finally got ourselves spotted. Strawberry Lemonade had reported a fake gas leak, (whatever that is), and that, for some reason or another, had made all the cloak-o’s gallop on over to the other side of the stage in an awful hurry. The tactic gave us enough time to get everypony up the stairs, and got us all at least pointed in the right direction. I only hoped that a bunch of cloaky guys didn’t end up rushing down that old eel hallway to help. They’d find a room full of dead cloak-o’s, empty cages, and a battered, locked up nurse. Twinkle Eyes had wanted to kill him, but I just couldn't bear it.

Not that it mattered.

Either way, we were totally bucked. With forty-some-odd kids just a few yards away from the Priestess herself, (not to mention her entire entourage), it really was only a matter of time before one of them spotted us and said “Hmmm, how peculiar.”

We crept along, slowly making for the door, trying desperately to be quiet. The problem was: we kept on stumbling into one another. Each of us had to stop and stare at the Priestess as we passed. When you’re behind a bunch of rubberneckers, you want to smack them till they get a move on. But when I finally took that step forward and saw it with my own two eyes, I understood.

The Priestess was standing over a small platform. She looked taller in person. On the platform was a white sheet covering what was really obviously a pile of unconscious children.

I mean, they were right there! Twenty feet away! Kids whose only crime was getting caged one or two rooms over from where we’d been. Kids who never got the chance to revolt. And they were gonna get fed to Baal or Living Shadows (or whatever the buck was down there) because of it.

We had to just walk on by. Like it wasn’t happening. Like it wasn’t our problem.

I felt nauseous again.

I stopped and stared like the others, maybe even for a little bit longer. Part of me actually almost made a run for the stage even. But in the end, I didn’t. That would be stupid. That would get everypony killed.

We have a plan.

We were gonna send a team of the nimblest colts and fillies to come back for them. But first we had to get the other refugees to safety, and find Strawberry Lemonade a console she could play with without getting noticed.

My eyes were drawn to a bronze-colored hoof dangling out from under the sheet. I wondered who it belonged to. What his name was. How’d he’d gotten there. Whether he had his cutie mark or not, and if so, how he’d gotten it. For all I knew, it was the hoof of that same kid I’d turned my back on during my last trip to the Wasteland. The one nopony cared about.

As far as I was concerned, every last body on that pile was him. I mean, one of them had to be, right?

“Psst!” Whispered Twinkle.

It was time to move on. To walk away from that poor kid in his hour of need. Again.

“We’ll be back.” I whispered at the drugged up children on stage. “I promise.”




“How do you do it?” Asked Twink as we tip-hooved away.

Now I was confused.

“Keep from running out there and killing the fucking Priestess?”

I shrugged. “How do you?”

I was feeling pretty sickened with myself, actually. I honestly didn’t know how I did it – kept myself from running out there like an idiot. If Twink had the answer – if there was some magic button I could push to make myself feel good about turning my back on those kids, I wanted to know about it.

Looking at her, she was taking it even worse than me. She who was used to the Wasteland and its stupid injustices. Twink, who didn’t have any love in her life, or even parents.

“I dunno.” She whispered, desperate not to cry.

I stopped and I grabbed her.

“We’re coming back.” I whispered.

“It’s like drowning.” She quaked, sobbing in silence. “Fucking drowning.”

I held her firmly.

“Then fucking swim.”

She looked at me, and nodded. Puffed out her chest. She could make it through this. So could I.

Cause I knew I would be back for those kids.




A quick glance over Twinkle’s shoulder told me that the cloak-o across the way was staring at us. Eyes flung open, gigantic and wide. We’d been spotted.

“Run.” I said out loud.

Murmurs washed over the crowd. Kids jerked their necks around looking for the direction of the danger.

“Run!” I yelled.

We stampeded like cows. Out of control. We just took off and ran.

Had this been an open space, there would have been no way at all that we could have stuck together. We would have scattered, and we would have died, come to think of it. But this was a theater. There was only direction that didn’t lead to the stage itself, and we all charged there in unison. There was only one door at the end of that stampede, and we made for it with purpose.

The good thing about being a massive cluster of stomping hooves is that grown-ups or not - armed-to-the-teeth or naked-as-newborns, there ain’t nopony fool enough to get in your way. All the cloak-o’s scattered, or at least tried to. One of them didn’t quite make it. By the time his body reached us kids in the back, it had been mashed into some kinda gak.

The doorway up ahead was covered with jewels and fancy paint and stuff. That had to be the super special room where the Priestess went to hang out. Knock back a cold pint of foal’s blood after a long hard day of giving speeches that made no bucking sense.

Her door would have a lock. I was certain of it.




Some of the herd was already inside. But there were a lot of us, and the cloaky troops were re-grouping, and charging from both directions, strange-looking weapons in tow. We ran and we ran and we ran, but no matter how I played it out in my head, the rear was gonna get cut off. We just were.

The unicorn cloak-o’s used their levitation powers to throw barriers in our way, and the unicorn kids parried them off. It looked like a tornado of old theater junk. Just a few feet ahead of me, a cloak-o was smacked in the face by a fake brick wall. The kid he’d been trying to grab stumbled and almost took a bunch of us with him.

“Come on!” I shouted as I caught him with my face. As if he didn’t already know that he ought to pick himself up in a hurry.

The plan was shot to Tartarus.

We could maybe possibly hopefully just about make it past the door, but what then? Buy ourselves 120 seconds while they dug around for the keys? It wasn’t enough. Even if we did make it in, there was no way we could make it all the way home.

It felt like watching the lightning water sneak up on those cages all over again, only this time, I was right in the middle of it. There was no dry spot to leap to - no smartass unicorns to unplug the box. We were thoroughly and completely screwed. All of us.

I turned to Twinkle as I ran.

“Twink?” I panted.

But she was gone! Totally gone! Skidding to a halt, I looked around all frantic-like. She turned out to be way behind - just inches from the cloak-o guard riding her tail. A seasoned Wastelander Twinkle Eyes might well have been, but her legs were just too damn tiny.

I ran toward them. They ran toward me. The cloak-o’s teeth chomped at Twinkle’s tail. She shrieked. He was so close to nabbing her! And so focused on that tail. The bastard didn’t see it coming when I leapt up in the air and threw myself at his face (with the opposite of expert precision).

We both went down pretty hard. But I was the only one who got back up. Twinkle leant a helping hoof in that, and steered my face in the general direction of the gilded door as I stumbled to my hooves.

The two of us darted for it with everything we had. The levitation whirlwind had bought us a little bit of time, but we were way behind the rest of the group. With them waiting for us - door wide open, the best we could hope for was a 30-second head start once we slammed the lock shut. I wasn’t even sure they would even be able to close it in time to keep the cloak-o’s out at all.

The plan wasn’t just shot to Tartarus. It was fucked. We were fucked. Yes, I actually said ‘fucked.’

That’s how completely and totally fucked we all were.




As we neared the door, I could see Misty Mountain standing behind the frame. It suddenly dawned on me what I had to do.

“Sorry,” I said.

Before Twinkle could respond, I reached around, grabbed her mane without any warning, and spun with all of my weight. I ended up tumbling and flinging her like a discus at the same time.

BAM!

I slammed the door shut with Twinkle on the other end. A cloak-o ran right into it face first, and fell on me from above - all busted up and unconscious-like.

“Eep!” I eeped.

I listened hard. Come on, come on, come on! I thought.

Click.

Yes! Misty’d bolted the door shut. I was locked out. And Twinkle Eyes was locked in.

“Rose!” She screamed and cried and banged on the door.

“I’ll be fine!” I shouted back at the thumping door and ran off.

BFF Death Pacts are one thing, but I had a shot at getting us all out of there alive, and I was gonna take it.

“Whatever you do, just keep going!” I hollered back.





* * *




We had a chance to get through this. I had to do something so crazy, and so stupid – something so catastrophically ginormous – so in your face – that the guards would think that I was more important than the exodus of forty some-odd child sacrifices rummaging through the Priestess’ junk and slipping out the back door.

In books, when you wanna distract a guard, you usually have to yell something stupid like “Over here!” or “This way!”

But that’s just dumb. It turns a clever plan into an obvious plan.

So I made straight for the Priestess and let the cloak-o’s make up their own minds to follow.




I ran. Of course, I tripped. I found myself face-to-face with a discarded box-cutter that had been slung around all over the unicornado. Grabbing it in my teeth, I scrambled to my hooves again, and ran some more. As hard as I could.

The second I turned and looked back to see if I was being followed, though, I stumbled like a great big ball of moron right into a curtain. Cloth everywhere! I shook myself free of it, and came up facing an army of panicked cloak-o’s. They charged straight for me.

Some of them came straight from the direction of the Priestess’ super special room where my friends made their escape. The plan was working. Working too well apparently! They ditched that door so hard and bolted for me so fast, that I wasn’t sure I could even get away before they caught up with me.

“Eeeeeeeeeek!” I said as best as I could with a mouth full of box cutter.

Shaking my hoof free of the last entanglement of the curtain, I took off. Next thing I know, it all comes flopping down, and the whole squad of cloak-o’s is buried in curtain like a giant fishing net.

There I was, right off stage, staring at the Priestess. She stared back, clearly shocked, but doing a decent job of keeping her cool, acting all princess-y and regal.

“A ha!” I mumbled.

I knew just what to do!

I opened that box cutter and started hacking at one of the ropes. It was attached to a sandbag directly above the Priestess’ head. One slash, and I could make it fall on her, and knock her out. Then the stage would be mine! I could run on up there, and, in all the confusion, buy some more time for my friends! Maybe even convince the townsponies that what they were doing was wrong.

And then, after that, um…rescue the druggy ones somehow!

…Except that theater ropes are thicker than they are in stories. I sawed and sawed and sawed and sawed and sawed. I got it to fray pretty close to the center, but no matter what, there was still no getting it to snap.

Meanwhile, the Priestess stood right there on stage, watching my every move.

“Arg!” I growled in frustration.

The element of surprise – totally ruined.

The guards squirmed looked like a basket of confused puppies with a blanket thrown over it. I looked back at the gilded door where I’d last seen my friends. No matter what, I couldn’t run back there. Hell, some of the cloak-o’s were already jiggling the knob and fussing with keys, trying to get inside.

I had nowhere left to run.

“This is it.” I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and bolted.

Stomping on the great big old pile of cloaky thugs under the curtain, I made for the one place left I hadn’t gone to yet. On stage.




The entire town gasped when I stepped into the spotlight. Then there was like this awkward silence. A really, really, really, really awkward silence. Tension hung on the air so thick you’d need to hack through it like the vines in one of them Daring Do jungles just to be able to breathe a little.

There I was. I was a child. Awake. Unchained. Not some deep secret de-ponified anonymous sacrifice prettied up to look like something holy. Not an enemy. Not an ideal to be fought and conquered, but a pony – a living breathing pony. With feelings and stuff.

I got the impression that that wasn’t a reality they had to face every day.

“Hi.” I said, waving to the crowd.

Unsure of what else to do, some of them actually waved back.

A whole mess of guards stood on the edge of the stage, haunting the wings, unsure of whether or not they should charge on out there, and make even more of a scene than I already had.

The High Priestess held up a hoof. They didn’t move.

Even the cloak-o’s who had been messing with the gilded door had dropped what they were doing, and charged up there to see what the commotion was. They stumbled into their fellow cloak-o’s’ flanks and froze in place when they saw the Priestess.

Well, I’ve got their attention. I thought.

I only hoped my friends could get away fast enough. If Strawberry Lemonade could just get to safety, this whole hornets-in-the-brain super-important-secret-mission thing would be over and done with. Then I could finally wake up. If not, then everything was about to get a whole lot worse.

“This, my little ponies.” Said the Priestess smugly, as though she’d planned my whole on stage cameo. “Is what you all used to be.”

Oh, great. An object lesson. I thought.

“Nervous. Weak. Vulnerable.”

“Hey!” I said.

The Priestess cocked an eyebrow at me but didn’t actually deign to respond.

“This is what we will never be again.” She continued.

I wanted to kill her. For what she had done to my friends – to countless other kids, I felt she deserved it. More importantly, I wanted to get off that damn stage, even if it meant running right into the hooves of those big mean guards waiting for me off in the wings.

But I was there to buy time, so that’s what I did. Or at least tried to do.

“Buy time, buy time, buy time, buy time, buy time.” I whispered to myself.

The crowd stared. The Priestess was already dragging it out all by her lonesome, making an example of me, so I decided to button my lip and let her do what she did best – yap.

“Blah blah blah blah blah innocence.” Said the Priestess.

My eyes drifted toward the drugged up kids under the sheet. That bronze hoof was still hanging out. I swear it was taunting me for not doing anything to save them.

“I’m trying!” I whispered as though the hoof could hear me.

“Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah horrors of war.” The Priestess continued.

Maybe if I tugged on the sheet a little. I thought. Maybe if the town was actually forced to look at what they were sacrificing, they’ll change.

“Yadda yadda yadda yadda yadda.” The pontiff continued.

“Maybe if I --;” I stopped when I realized I could suddenly hear myself loud and clear.

I looked up. The stage was silent. She’d finished making her big dumb elaborate point.

Wake up, wake up, wake up. I said to myself.

So far, no good.

The cloak-o guards started inching on to the stage from both sides. They no longer cared about being seen. They just stood there, as orderly as possible, waiting to snatch me up. None of them wanted to make the initial pounce, because it was kind of an undignified thing to do in front of the entire town. Scrambling around all-slapstick-like after some kid. Judging by the stern, but stage-frighty expressions on their big dumb faces, those cloak-o goons would probably never live it down.

I could see it so clearly. Some old mare mocking the cloak-o’s in my head. “Remember when Cloak-O Sergeant Stupidpants made an ass of himself on stage chasing that little one around.”

“But that was 20 years ago!” The poor cloak-o would reply.

“Funniest thing to happen in 20 years.” She’ll say.

Yeah, I wasn’t about to go quietly

Some things never change about small towns.

Whoever catches me is never gonna live it down.




I inched closer and closer toward the center. They inched closer and closer toward me. The Priestess stood firm as a statue – the very picture of regality, or Priestess-ality, or whatever you call some holier-than-thou despot.

Stage-left. Stage right. This time there was literally was nowhere to run.

The Priestess broke her pose for a firm nod, and just like that, a great white light came from below. That same fun house pattern of shadows that I’d seen from underneath the stage was shining upward now.

The big platform full of kids shook and rumbled.

“No.” I whispered.

I made for the platform. I had to do something to stop whatever it was that was happening!

I reached for the ceremonial sheet when I got there, but found an angry hoof stomping down right in front of my face. It was the Priestess. She’d lost her cool. Her patience. She was done toying around, playing teacher.

I stumbled backward and fell flat on my flank. From where I lied on the floor she seemed to stand a-hundred-thousand miles tall. With the mask of cordial dignity gone, all that was left was a demon’s eyes. No fury like a pontiff scorned.

She raised her hoof, and the floor made a terrible whirring noise. The Priestess may have been all “look at this innocenty thing” and cute rhetorical arguments and stuff when I was acting quiet and confused. But I’d made for her tray o’ Baal Meat. She was not gonna be trifled with on the subject of her sacrifices.

She bore down on me. I scrambled backward. Scary as she was, all I could focus on was that tray. It vibrated. It jittered. It lowered itself down. Under the stage. My heart sank with it. The kids were gone.

Gone!

All those children. That boy I saw in the Wasteland. The pony with the bronze hoof.

I’d made a promise to them five minutes before, and already, they were gone.

I wanted to throw myself at that stupid Priestess. To find the magic lever that would make the kids come back. To rescue them from Whatever Was Down There with a snap of a hoof and a bit of the old Rose Family Luck that had served me so well so far. But no matter how I sliced it, there was no stopping them. Even if I had a magic button, right in front of me was this big stupid mare ready to bite my throat out. It was crazy!

Over twenty kids were going deep down into that terrible Great Below and there wasn’t nothing in the whole world I could do to stop it! My lungs felt like they were full of concrete. I was just too damn horrified to remember how to breathe.

We lost.

The good guys lost.




I scrambled further backward. About two dozen of the Priestess’ closest and meanest friends were closing in on me from behind.

Meanwhile, Her Holiness watched me, and I her. A contest to see who could hate the other pony more using just their eyeballs. That bitch had just fed a bunch of kids to Baal, or whatever the hell was actually down there. The shadow that had followed us in the basement and interrogated my soul could have been the tip of the iceberg! What kind of dark creatures was this maniac keeping?

I shook with anger. Stupid. So fucking stupid. What had she done?!

The thugs gathered round like wolves, making a great big old semi-circle. Not quite ready to spring. They waited for The Word.

The kids? They were on their way down to Luna-only-knows-where.

The audience did what audiences do – they watched the fucking tragedy in silence. Twenty kids had just dipped down into some Hell, never to be seen again, and these jerks just sat there and watched.

For a long and terrible moment we all stood there, ready to spring, ready to run, ready to kill.

Then the sandbag fell. And all Hell broke loose.

I’d done a better job of cutting that rope than I thought.




The Priestess startled, and stumbled backward like a unicyclist who doesn’t know what she’s doing.

“Fuck it.” I said and charged her.

My only chance to make any kind of move at all.

The cloak-o’s gritty hooves were already reaching for me, but I’d broken into a gallop first. I leapt up as high as I could, using the fallen sandbag as an extra step. Flew at the Priestess, screaming and flailing wildly.

“Arrrrararararaghhhrrrr!” I said.

When I finally came down, I grabbed her by the face - clung to it, and dragged her even more off balance than she already was. Next thing I know, I’m flung across the stage, all the way over to the other side of the hole in the ground where the kids were still sinking. They hadn’t gotten far. The platform was slow.

I looked up. Right in front of me was a whole fresh troupe of cloak-o’s.

“Yipe!” I said, and I ran back the other way. Back toward center stage. Back toward the Priestess. Back toward the hole, stumbling around like Berry Punch as I went.

In all the confusion, I tripped on my own ankles and fell. With a desperate hoof, I caught one of the Priestess’ sprite bots. I’m not sure what exactly had gone down, but I was already a few feet into the hole, dangling over the platform full of kids. It sank deeper and deeper and deeper till it disappeared into that dark vertical tunnel below. I clung to that cheerful floaty metal sprite bot thingy for dear life, but it just kept drifting further and further down under my weight.

The damn thing wanted to get back to the Priestess so bad, it was pushing as hard as it could to go back upward, but I weighed too much. Meanwhile, that bitch Priestess was kneeling over the edge, rubbing her own head, trying to figure out which way was up. She just barely avoided stumbling into the hole herself.

“In the Name of The Great De-Innocentizer of Souls.” Said the Priestess with a tremble in her voice. “Let this sacrifice be consecrated.”

Even as she faltered, she had not forgotten her audience, or her purpose. A true showpony to the end.

And then, just like that, as if she had cast some kind of magic spell of really apt timing, the last of my grip slipped off the smooth metal surface, and the sprite bot went flying eagerly upward like a little kid rushing to greet his Mommy after work.

The last thing I heard was a thud and a giant twang. The sprite bot had hit its beloved Priestess in the face.

And me? I just dropped off into the Great Below.




* * *




I landed and I landed hard. I found myself flat on my back, head ringing. The cold metal floor jerked and hummed and made my chest feel hollow as it sank and sank and sank deeper down into the black.

We passed the area under the stage full of century-old set pieces, passed the hole in its floor, passed the weird lighting and jagged shadows through the fence, and kept going down into a dark rocky chute. Beside me was the ceremonial sheet. Underneath it were twenty of the luckiest kids I knew.

The trap door entrance above me was now nothing more than a bright light that shrank further and further away into the great big old blackness. Oh, and something was spiraling toward me violently from above.

I barely had a chance to blink, but when I realized that that shadow was actually gigantic, flailing around, and about to fall on me, I snapped wide awake and scurried away like a maniac. Right into the metal fence that lined the walls of the sinking box I was stuck in.

Twang!

Like an idiot maniac.

I didn’t even have a moment to get my bearing. WHAM! The Priestess’ big ugly head landed right there next to me.

“Ahhhhhh!” I said, a portrait of poise and grace, clinging to the fence behind me.





But she didn’t say anything. Didn’t even move. There was nothing at all going on but a sinking feeling, the grindy whirring sound of the machinery, and the pale light from the screen on the Priestess’ bracelet. It made all sorts of crazy green shadows on the rocky walls as they moved up and up and up and up and up.

In its light, the blood on the Priestess’ face looked gray.

After a long sinking silence, her big ugly head groaned. I climbed onto to the pile o’ kids, (careful not to hurt anypony), and put as much distance between myself and the Priestess as I could.

A seasoned Wastelandy traveler-type pony would probably have taken the opportunity to kill her or hold her hostage or something, but I didn’t think of that. I just waited. Whatever else was at the bottom of that terrible deep down below, every cloak-o in town was gonna come looking for us now that their beloved leader was injured, and stuck here with me.

It was a race, really.

All Strawberry had to do was get away.

I closed my eyes. Begged. Pleaded. Waited.

“Come on,” I whispered to myself. “Wake up.”

But nothing happened. Nothing at all! I just kept on getting lower and lower.

“Roseluck!” I yelled.

In desperation, I hoped that I could make myself talk in my sleep. That she could wake me up.

“Roseluck!” I shouted again, tears in my eyes.

But I was all alone.




We passed a tunnel – a hole in the walls that kept drifting upward.

Shovels. Boxes. Great big old holes that used to be Trottica’s mines. Abandoned.

It was hard to see much of anything. Eventually it rose above us and disappeared.




A dim light rose up to greet us from below. We were nearing the bottom.

Behind me: the groaning sound of pained laughter. The Priestess.

“You little bitch.” She croaked.

I turned away from my tear soaked hooves and stared at her in shock. It may sound stupid, considering all that was going on down there, but nopony had ever talked to me like that. Not even Diamond Tiara.

“Your virgin ears?” She snorted at me.

I slid against the floor and pressed my back against the grating as hard as I could. I didn’t like this conversation one bit. Had there been a cliff to jump off of with gators and spikes at the bottom, I would have taken the plunge just to get away from the Priestess.

“You thought you could make a foal out of me.” She said. “Thought you were clever.”

She grimaced as she tried to lift her head. It was clear her body wasn’t all it could be. Pity her mouth still worked.

“Now look at you. Cowering like a child.”

“I am a child!” I snapped at her.

She just watched me. Expressionless. We stared at each other in silence.

“Why do you hate us so much?” I shouted.

More contempt-y silence.

The light from below was getting brighter.

“Because.” She said at long last. “You waste away your lives on frivolity. On play.”

That last word was a bitter one for her. Judging by her face, it tasted bad just to say it out loud.

“While you’re busy frolicking about like blissful idiots, the world goes to shit.” She added. “Innocence – your innocence destroyed it.”

“Did not!” I shouted.

“Did too.” She replied.

“Did not.” I said again.

“Did too.” Said the Priestess.

“Did. Not!” I stomped on the metal beneath my hooves.

“Ugh.” The Priestess rolled her eyes. Too dignified to respond.

I didn’t know what universe she was from, but I’d seen Wasteland kids. They weren’t exactly a lollipops-and-sunshine crowd. But this Priestess was totally bonkers, so I doubted it would be a point worth debating.

Had any of them ever even seen a lollipop?!

As if to emphasize my point, we sunk further down – so far down my ears popped – and came upon the source of the light. Another tunnel. Like the one I’d seen just a few moments before, only this one wasn’t at all bare. Instead of great big old empty hallways, it was full of wormholes. I couldn’t quite figure them out at first, but a small avalanche poured from one, and out from the mound of rocks came a squirmy little dirt creature, wriggling to the surface. It gasped for breath with terrifying desperation. The hacking sound was so awful, it made me feel like I was drowning just to have to listen to it.

One of the cloak-o’s reached in and yanked the poor thing halfway out. It was a colt, buried up to his neck in dirt. The cloak-o mare held him by his mane until he spat out a gem.

She let go of his hair and he tumbled out on to the floor, erupting into a fit of heaving and wheezing.

“Hay!” Shouted the cloak-o mare.

She kicked him till he hobbled to his hooves and scurried meekly back into the hole.

The last thing I saw before going deeper down into the great below was a filly shackled to a cart of dirt more than twice her size. She looked right at me. It was like having a staring contest with the dead.

I just pressed my hoof against the metal gate as she and I passed one another. I was desperate to say something. Anything. But I couldn’t find the words.

I continued staring, even as we sunk down some more and my view of the tunnel was gone. I never saw that girl again. I was left watching the stone walls rise.

Lord Baal. The cloak-o’s. The daisies. Their whole way of life. It was all just an elaborate front for a jewel mine.

“How?” I said to myself.

How could nopony not notice what was going on? Nopony even questioned the Priestess’ lies.

And the cloaky nurse! He’d spent his whole life regretting that he was too big to get sacrificed. That he had to join the thug corps. Truth was, he was just too damn bulky to fit in those tiny tunnels.

Not a single pony seemed to have a clue. The whole damn town! They sent their own children to be beaten and broken and worked to death. Then when they ran out of kids, they stole other fillies and colts. In the name of goodness! In the name of preventing the war that had already happened.

And in all that, not one of them had stopped to think that maybe what they were doing was wrong. That maybe Baal was a jerk. Nopony had stopped to say “Hey, guess what! I’m on to you! And I have a problem with this.”

It didn’t seem possible. Even in a wasteland – even in a world where folks like Twinkle’s parents sold their own kids into slavery – the village of Trottica didn’t make any sense. The Baal lie. The invisible war against innocence itself. It was all too fucking stupid.

“How?” I said again.

The rocky walls kept rising and rising as our platform sank and sank further into the pit.

“Survival first.” Said the Priestess.

I turned to face her.

“Morals follow on.” She flashed me a smug little grin.

Enough cowering. I stomped my hoof down. Yelled till my voice cracked and broke and squeaked under the strain of my anger.

“You made them kill their own children!”

“It’s always black and white with you kids.” She quipped with a cough. “The big mean eeeeeevil villain swooped in and forced a village full of decent hard-working ponies to kill their kids, all so she could be fabulous and cover herself in jewels.”

“Well, aren’t you?” I said.

“I am fabulous, I admit, and I do look good in rubies.” She said. “But no.”

Now I was really confused. Was she actually going to try to convince me that they weren’t killing these kids?!

“I didn’t force anypony to do anything.” Said the Priestess.

She struggled hard to lift her head, but didn’t quite have the strength to crane her neck, (at least not for more than a few seconds).

“They were feeding their sons and daughters to the mines before I even got here. The only thing I made anypony do was feel good about it.”

We passed another tunnel. In the middle of the hustle and bustle of the mine was a filly lying on the floor. She was barely breathing. One of the “drivers” tried beating her to her hooves. When it didn’t work, off she went. Dragged off and hucked onto a mining car like an old sack of potatoes.

Everypony else in that mine was staring at us. Like they’d heard us coming and knew the score.

“Ponies do what they have to.” She continued. “Trottica is way up in the mountains. Easily defended from raiders. Wealthy in jewels, but too far South to be of any interest to the Hellhounds. We’ve always enjoyed a certain prosperity here that other townships don’t share.”

If those prettied up shanties and leaky floors were what passed for prosperity in this dump of a future, I would hate to see what poverty looked like.

“It’s the only way.” The Priestess’ shoulders gave out a faint spasm. The closest thing to a shrug she could muster.

“Abandon the mines, and everypony is as good as dead. Not just the precious children. Everypony. Do you have any idea how many of these ponies are refugees? Trottica did what it had to. But before I came along, the townsponies had a bad habit of killing themselves afterwards.” The Priestess rolled her eyes. “So tacky.”

I looked back at her blankly. I was not amused.

“So I made up a story,” She continued. “And told them that it wasn’t their fault. That we had no choice, (which just so happened to be the truth). And, well, the cameras have always loved me, so really, the rest is all just razzle-dazzle.”




I was still trying to make sense of what I’d seen. The colt choking on dirt. That poor girl flung carelessly into the mining car to die. Like so many others.

How many others?! I wondered.

Did anypony ever even stop to ask their names?

I was struck with the urge to leap up like a Pegasus, fly into that tunnel and take that kid in my hooves. Hold her. Ask her name. Just so somepony would know it.

Beside me was the Priestess – monologue-y, but motionless – possibly even dying herself. She didn’t unlock her cold yellow eyes from mine. Not even to blink. She just stared me down, beaming with pride. The Priestess. The hero.

She’d come along and hid the worst kind of Hell right there in plain sight, and given fake comfort and phony-ass solace to ponies who damn well deserved to feel ashamed.

And there she was now, spending what could be her last moments on Equestria blah blah blah’ing to me – like she expected me to thank her or something.

“Why are you telling me this?” I growled.

“Cause I fucking hate children!” The Priestess snapped. “And I want to watch you discover.”

She said that like it was a bad thing. Like the only stuff there was to discover in the whole wide world was her sick, messed up version of the truth, and discovery itself could only be synonymous with pain.

“So that’s your plan?” I said. “That’s your big finale. You wanna spend your last moments convincing some totally random filly that ponies everywhere are all a bunch of jerks.”

She grinned a sarcastic grin. Under the faint glow of her braceletty thing, I could just barely make out a row of clean white teeth.

Nopony else in the entire Wasteland had teeth like that.

“You’re a stable girl. Aren’t you?” I said totally out of the blue.

Long deadpan silence.

Finally, she rolled her eyes and gestured to her glowy bracelet thing.

“What was your first clue, Sherclop?”

So that must have been one of those Pip Ducks the other kids were on about.




Ok, so I’m not good at thinking like a Wasteland kid. But I know an outsider when I see one. I know exactly what it feels like to be thrust into this apocalyptic junk like a catapult into a brick wall.

Then it dawned on me. Just like that.

I know why the Priestess is such a bitch!

“You loved your childhood.” I said calmly.

“Childhood is ignorance.” She said. “Ignorance is sin.”

I snorted. She thought I could by parried off by citing a little bit of scripture from the belief system that she had made up her own damn self.

“You laughed.” I said. “And played.”

She blinked in surprise. Clearly the last thing she expected me to say.

“You had friends. You were so bucking happy.”

I stood up and stretched my legs and inched on closer to her. “Then you came here. That’s what this is all about, isn’t it? Your life didn’t turn out like you wanted, so you built a…”

I stuttered a bit. There wasn’t a single word I knew of that could describe what she’d done here. “A…a…I don’t know even what to call what you’ve built…And then you murdered a buncha children. Why? Cause you couldn’t take a little disappointment?!”

She didn’t have a smart answer for that one. All she could do was babble. She knew I was on to her. Not just her scam, which she freely confessed, but her. I saw the Priestess for who she really was.

“The-the-the truth is always disappointing!” She said with feigned confidence.

“You killed hundreds of kids. Because you. Didn’t. Get. Your. Way.”

All her suave villain talk went right out the window. The Priestess was fuming. Bright red all over. Even in the pale green Pip Duck light.

I just shook my head at her. “Grow up!”




Her horn flickered faintly, but she was too weak to magic at me. She just grunted and howled in frustration.

She couldn’t bear the thought of anypony being on to her.

It got me wondering. What else was the Priestess hiding? I’d had enough nonsense. She was a Filly-Come-Lately to all this. What the hell was her actual destiny? I had to know.

I reached over and grabbed the cloak right off of her. The battered old thing looked like it had seen better days.

“Hey!” She said.

“What’s your cutie mark anyway?” I said. “A jerk skull?”

“Fuck off.” She said.

I yanked up her frock. It was all entangled in jewels and stuff, but eventually, I got to her flank. All I had to do is ignore her curses and insults long enough to dig around and excavate a good solid view of it.

After about seventy-million ropes and dangly-bits of cloth, I finally caught a glimpse of her cutie mark.

Two masks. One laughing. One crying.

The crazy lady was an actress.

“Give that back!” She said.

An actress!

There was real panic in her voice. I cocked an eyebrow. Give what back. The only thing I’d actually taken off of her was that run down old cloak. I shook it around. There weren’t even any keys or money or anything hidden in it.

“Give it back.” She growled, more out of desperation than anger.

“Huh?” I said to myself.

The Priestess was practically crying for the thing.

Weird. I thought.

I didn’t have a use for it. And I may have hated the Priestess guts, but withholding it just seemed stupid and petty. So I folded that raggedy piece of cloth up nice and neat, with every intention of giving it back to her. But then she snapped at me, all nasty-like.

“You’ve made your point, now gimme my fucking cloak you motherless cunt!” She snapped

Motherless.

I stopped. Looked into her cold, hateful yellow eyes.

Motherless.

I grinned at her defiantly. I put that fucking thing on myself. Even did a little dance. That’s right, all that compassion and preachy crap flew right out the window, and I danced a cloaky dance right in the Priestess’ face. 'Cause fuck her, that’s why. Fuck her, fuck her, fuck her, fuck her, fuck her. She brought my Mom into it.

Funny thing is, big as she was, the cloak still fit pretty good. It was even surprisingly warm.




I stopped dancing when I noticed the light rising up from underneath us. More than just a beam or a patch from one of those tunnels like before. There was a warmer, brighter glow spilling our way. We were nearing bottom.

“You’re very sharp.” The Priestess said coolly.

She glanced toward the floor and smirked at me. What she actually meant to say didn’t need saying. Once that platform stopped sinking, it would all be over. In just under a minute, I would be at the mercy of the very same drivers I’d seen beat young fillies half to death without a second thought.

The Priestess looked me over with hard sunken eyes. Mean eyes. The kind of eyes that stare at you and dream about how awesome your insides would look splattered on the outside.

“Do you have any friends?” I asked her at last.

“What?” She blinked.

“I mean, you’ve got all these townsponies who worship you cause you tricked ‘em.” I said. “And all these cloak-o meanies who are really just in it cause you give ‘em a chance to be mean. But does anypony actually like you? Without all the razzle-dazzle?”

They don’t, do they? They just want comfort or protection or a chance to be a great big jerk.”

Her silence answered for her.

“That’s sad.” I said shielding my eyes from the light below. Too damn bright.

We were so close that I could actually see a bunch of figures waiting for us at the bottom. Guard ponies. Drivers. About half of them were looking up. The others huddled around one of those console thingies that Strawberry Lemonade was so obsessed with.

“You underestimate me.” Said the Priestess dryly. “I’ll manage.”

“No, you won’t!” I said. “Cause you’re the underestimater of things. And you won’t manage, cause you’re a great big stupid jerkface!”

Not the most badass of things to say to somepony before you put your cards on the table, but hay, I’m being honest. It’s what came to mind. Think it’s lame? You do better the next time you’re a mile underground and telling off a priestess who sacrifices kids in the High Holy Name of a Bunch of Stuff That She Made Up Off The Top Of Her Head.




One of the walls of metal grating swung upwards like a giant doggie door when we landed. And there was the Priestess. Her big stupid head all over the massive screen of the great big old super-console.

Everything she’d said about the townsponies. About the cloak-o’s. About Baal. Put on screen all over town.

I could see the Priestess chomping at the bit. She clenched her teeth, straining to look upward. The stringy bits in her neck were all tense and bulgey-like. Then suddenly her pupils shrank into two sharp terrified little dots, and all the color ran from her face. She’d finally caught a glimpse of what lurked above.

A pair of sprite bots trained to follow her and film her every motion floated down. Cheerful. Eager. Ready to please.

You’re right, Priestess. I thought to myself. The cameras have always loved you.

You always come up with the best one-liners when it’s too late to say them out loud.




* * *




First thing I did was scramble right into the pile of children and tuck that ceremonial sheet back over us. Whatever was gonna happen, the last thing I wanted was to be noticed while it was all going down.

Cachung. We’d reached the bottom.

At first there was only the sound of the metal gates being flung open. Then the whole tray of drugged up kids got jerked around, wheeled out, jostled along, and hitched on to some kinda automated carriage device. The weight of the Priestess was smooshing us all the way, tugging on that stupid ceremonial sheet as we bounced around. I wasn’t sure what was happening out there, but it wasn’t long before the weight of the Priestess was gone. Poof.

She’d fallen off the pile. Or got dragged off, judging by the begging and pleading that followed, (not to mention the clumsy attempts at commanding their loyalty).

“In the name of Baal, I command you t--;"

Then there came a bang-ka-pow sound. Brief, matter-of-fact, and just like that, the Priestess spoke no more.




The carriage-a-majig didn’t make it very far. Neither did the guy driving it. In fact, the whole area erupted into a giant clusterbuck of banging, screaming, and sulfur smoke.

I buried myself under that thin cloth as best I possibly could. It was impossible to tell what was going down: who was winning, who was losing, or even who was fighting. But the hell that rained down out there – it was nopony’s friend. That stupid sheet was the only thing standing between me and the fire, (even if it only helped in my imagination). So I huddled under it and waited.





I have no bucking clue how long the battle lasted. Each ka-pow felt like a great big eternity of worry. Would it hit me? Would I die? And yet, at the same time, the whole thing zoomed by so fast that the details got blurry even as they were happening.

But the worst part, hooves down, was when the smoke started to actually clear, and I thought, “Hay, maybe this fight might finally be over.” Sure, I thanked my lucky stars that I’d survived, but after that, I was just left there, huddled in the dark. There was absolutely no way to be sure that I was actually in the clear.

I lied in that pile forever, afraid to even breathe. It wasn’t even safe for the cloak-o’s, let alone a kid. One overconfident thug got up, brushed himself off, and actually started yammering. He thought all was clear, and it didn’t work out too well for him.

“The heretic has been slain.” Said the voice on the other end of the sheet, presumably addressing the Priestess’ cameras. “Remain calm and return to your homes. As your new High Priest-;’

Bang. Splat. Thud.

Shortest reign ever.

No, sir, I wouldn’t be repeating his mistake.




A few bangs and screams later there was total silence again, except of course for the hum of the machinery and that obnoxious ringing in my ears. I huddled there stuffed all up into a pile of my peers, and waited. Then waited. And then, when I was done waiting, I waited some more.

The problem was this: if I took too long, the cloak-o’s would come for us; if I jumped out too soon, I’d be dead on the spot. So I listened hard. Desperate for a clue. But no matter what I did, I couldn’t tell for sure if there was anypony still out there. The kids under the sheet breathed deep. Some even snored. The whole pile got all knobbed and undulate-y and loud. So I sitting there for Luna-only-knows how long, all I could do was guess at what might be going on.

Eventually I poked myself to go out there and check.

“Come on, Rose Petal. Come on.” I said, but no matter what, I just couldn’t work up the nerve.

It was like standing over a cold lake, swearing to Celestia that you’ll jump in on the count of three. You want to. You mean to, but when the time comes, your body just plain refuses to budge. It was a lot like that, only about a billion times worse.

Come on, Rose. You can do it. Come on! I hit myself in the head, frustrated with my own cowardice. But the rest of my body still wouldn’t move.

“Rose Petal,” Came a voice that, at first, I didn’t recognize as being anything other than my own.

“Come on, come on, come on.” It sounded like a newspaper crumbling inside of a tin can.

I perked my head up – another lump under the sheet.

“Rose Petal, come in. Rose Petal, are you there?” The tin can said at last, loud and clear.

I flung the sheet up and scrambled off of the kid-pile, (careful not to knee anypony in the process).

“Strawberry Lemonade?!” I whispered frantically.

What the Hell was The One I’m Meant to Save doing down there?

“She’s alive!” Said Twinkle Eye’s voice, all crackly and distorted.

It was coming from that great big old console. The one with the giant movie screen displaying the Priestess’ big ugly head. The one sprite bot that survived the fight just floated there gleefully, fulfilling its purpose.

Suddenly a whole choir of kids were laughing and calling my name from inside of the box. I was able to surmise by their numbers that they weren’t hiding in the console. Nor were they physically down there with me at all. It had to be some of Strawberry Lemonade’s weird machine magic.

I bolted for the glowy box, scrambling over dead cloak-o after dead cloak-o as I went. The damn idiots had annihilated themselves.

“Rose, are you alright?” Asked Strawberry Lemonade.

“What are you doing?!” I said. “Get outta here!”

They may not have been down there with me in the Great Below, but they weren’t exactly safe either. And neither was I! Those beautiful friends of mine were gonna get us all killed. Couldn’t they see that I was stuck there? That I couldn’t wake up till Strawberry Lemonade was good and saved?

No, of course not.

Twinkle’s voice squeaked from inside the can.

Uh-oh. I thought.

“What the fuck do you think you’re doing?” She was laughing and sobbing at the same time.

“Saving your flank.” I said.

“I’m so sorry.” She wept. “I’m so sorry.”

She was referring to our fight earlier. We’d already good and made up, but those words still ripped right into me like a spear. I’m so sorry. It seemed like everypony I ever cared about was destined to worry like crazy over me. It made me feel like the Worst Friend Ever.

I’m the one who’s sorry. I said to myself. The same words I’d repeated again and again as I cried myself to sleep my first night in Trottica prison.

“You guys have to get outta here.” I repeated firmly. “I’ll be fine, I swear.”

I was deep in a Hell Mine. No time for weepy piratetry.

“Fuck you, Rose Petal. Don’t you do this to me.” She blubbered unexpectedly. “We’re not leaving without you.”

Misty Mountain jumped right on in there. “I try, Rose Petal. I try! Dee feelies are crazy. I tell dem you be safer if we leave you down there to die. Do they listen to reason? No.”

The bucking bastard was on to my plan. That could only mean that he was a dreamer too. Displaced in time. I knew it! I knew it! I knew it!

“What does Meesty know?” He added. “Dey just hit me.”

“Shut up,” Grumbled Strawberry Lemonade.

“Meesty only done dees sort of thing fifty times before in Old Country.”

“He’s right,” I pleaded. “Get outta there. Go! Please!”

“No!” Shouted Twinkle Eyes with the kind of spunk and fire that simply couldn’t be reasoned with.

Strawberry Lemonade took control of whatever it was that they had that allowed them to talk to me through that console.

“Rose, listen.” She said. “You can’t come back the way you came. There’s too much fighting up there on the stage.”

The adults are revolting. I thought with a smile. Was the whole town collapsing on itself? I hoped so.

“I can get you outta there.” She added. “Pull up the map on the central console.”

I looked at the big metal box. Blinks and bleeps and dials and a screen. “Um…um...”

Strawberry let out a heavy sigh. I could hear it, even through the tin can effect that the console seemed to have on ponies’ voices.

“Fine. Hit Horseshoe, Apple, 6 on the keyboard.” She said in the bubbly condescending tone of a kindergarten teacher talking to a kid who doesn’t even speak Equestrian. “Hold it down for the count of three.”

“Great idea!” I said and nervously poked my way around the machine.

Hoping I could scam my way through it enough to pass for a Wastelander.

“Wait, Strawberry?”

“Horseshoe, Apple, 6.” She growled. “Come on, Rose! We don’t have time.”

“Yeah, I got that part.” I said.

“Great.” Staring blankly at the console for another moment, I just had to ask. “What’s a keyboard?”

“Arrrrgg!”

On the other end, I could make out a harsh banging sound. It was not the sort that came from those cloak-o weapons that spit fire and death.

No. Strawberry Lemonade was whacking her own head against the console in frustration.




* * *




Misty gave me directions I could actually understand, but they only took me as far as the next console. The mines were too much of a maze to explain all at once. Besides, the cloak-o’s were listening.

So there I stood. Shaking. Fidgeting. Picking the pebbles out from under my hooves.

We still had one big problem. A giant hole in our plan.

“Rose? Come in. Do you understand?”

“Yeah.” I said, rustling my ratty old mane as I tried to think on what the hell it was that I was gonna do.

“Why haven’t you left?” Screamed Twinkle Eyes. “Get the fuck. Out. Of there!”

But I just stood there some more. Thinkiness.

“No.” I said at long last.

“What now?!” They all said in unison.

“Strawberry, can you make it so the whole mine can see and hear me? All the consoles. You know, the cameras on the sprite bots?”

“Yeaaaah,” She said hesitantly. “But the cloak-o’s--;”

“Do it.” I said. “Do it now.”

I galloped over to the Priestess’ corpse, and peeked my face in front of the sprite bots. My dork head popped up on the big screen all upside down like. It was the coolest thing I’d ever seen! I bobbed my head either way, and watched backwards-me do it on the screen! I waved at the cameras.

I look terrible. I thought.

Come on, this is serious! Another part of my brain thought.

It was starting to get crowded up in my brain, what with all the arguing, so I figured I’d best say what I came to say.

“Hi. Children of Trottica, um…I know you’re tired. I know you’re afraid, but look.”

I stepped aside. “That stupid priestessy lady is dead. Dead!”

A lot of them had probably seen the whole thing live, but you never knew which consoles would be tuning in for the first time thanks to Strawberry Lemonade’s doo-hickey magic.

I grabbed the sprite bot and put my face right up to the camera. “We did it! The mines are ours!”

A bald lie.

“Um…I know you’re tired. I know you’re afraid.”

“You said that already, dipshit.” Said Twinkle Eyes from inside the console.

“Shut up!” I whispered and snapped at her at the same time.

Then I turned back to face my intended audience with a nervous laugh. I didn’t know what to say next – how to give them hope. Or even how to share our plan with them! The cloak-o’s would be listening too. Not that it mattered. We didn’t even have a plan anymore!

So I thought of their faces – the kids I’d seen on the way down. I remembered what it was like to stand behind that yellow line, waiting my turn to die. Hoping. Praying for the tiniest sliver of a chance to break free.

Their hope was even fainter than mine. They’d been living in this hole for Luna only knows how long. And big mean cloak-o’s were standing over every last one of them, itching for an excuse to whip out the whomping stick. I couldn’t afford to babble.

“Now’s our chance!” I shouted suddenly. “The cloak-o’s don’t have a leader. You can take ‘em! I know they’re big and mean and evil and it doesn’t seem possible, but it is, it is! It is! I swear it is. Because there are more of us than there are of them. Because they’re a bunch of jerkfaces, and we don’t deserve this shit!”

“Do it for every time they ever kicked you cause they wanted you to dig for jewels and stuff! For every one of us they ever fucking killed! Do it for, for--;”

I needed to think! What else would make me pick myself up off the floor if I was in their horseshoes? I needed to make them see that they could do this! It would work if everypony acted at once! If they didn’t cringe or hesitate. They could all have their freedom if they just took it. But as I stood there, strategizing, I started to stammer. I didn’t have time to stammer.

Oh, Luna, I’m losing them. I thought.

It was then that I realized what I feared the most. I thought of Roseluck, and Twinkle. They deserved to see me again. Alive.

“Do it for your friends!” I said at long last.

I was crying now. “Do it for each other.”

I’m coming, Roseluck. I’m coming.

“It’s now or never, Trottica. Now or fucking never!” I squeaked and growled. “Cause living in a mine totally sucks, and we’re. Not. Gonna. Take it. Anymore!”

I panted. A lot to say in one breath. But it wasn’t enough. They needed direction. Coordination. Or they would just rise up, only to be smacked back down a gazillion times worse than before.

“All you gotta do is get to a console. Any console. There are a whole bunch of helpful console-mine-labyrinth-expert ponies waiting to guide you out.” I added.

Strawberry Lemonade snapped. “What?!”

She thought she was gonna have to steer a rescue team out, not a whole mine full of kids answering her from Luna only knew how many different places.

I turned to face the console and shrugged, as though she were right there looking at me.

“Oh, and you can find a map by Horseshoe-Apple-6…ing on the um…the…Keyboard right?” I whispered to the console.

“Yeah, that’s it.” I confirmed

Then there was this weird silence. I wasn’t sure if there was anything else I should say. A few moments later, Strawberry Lemonade chimed in.

“Rose, um, Sub-Mine W just checked in.”

“Already?”

I couldn’t believe it. The kids had actually made it to the console! If they could do it, so could I! That meant that, in all this craziness, I might actually have just saved a hooffull of lives. My heart lifted. It was an incredible feeling.

“Uh…yeah. They haven’t um…got everything quite under control yet, but you might want to listen to this.”

That crumbly paper noise came up on the console again and suddenly I could hear what Strawberry was hearing.

Too many voices to count. If I didn’t know better, I would have guessed a hundred thousand billion. All chanting in unison. “Trottica! Trottica! Trottica!”

Shivers ran all down my spine. There was fire in those cries. Not just for freedom. For vengeance.

“Guys?”

They all responded with some variation of “yes?” or “what’s up?”

“Um…” I stuttered in disbelief. “Did I just, like, you know…Start a war?”

“Yeah.” Said Twinkle Eyes. This is so fucking boss!”

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. /]*[\

Cover Art: http://shadesofeverfree.deviantart.com/art/The-Rose-Queen-334850063