• 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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Legacies of the Dead

CHAPTER SIXTEEN - LEGACIES OF THE DEAD

"They're sharing a drink they call loneliness. Well, it's better than drinking alone." - Billy Joel



The thought of the stranger's fallen friend stuck with me.

I stumbled awestruck through the trenches, passing out blankets, forcing myself to be practical. To be helpful. But still, I couldn't stop thinking about him. I got hung up on the little things - the kinds of details you don't stop to ask the storyteller about when they're sitting there, on the verge of coming apart before your eyes.
What happened to him? Was he one of the guys who got tangled in the razor wire? Was he one of the lucky ones who just got shot? Was it some combination of both? Neither?

Every single time the Over the Top order came down from on high, hundreds died. Hundreds like Tulip. When something awful like that happens in a book, or a story, or even in real life, if it's on a totally grandiose scale, it's easy to just picture it as an elaborate dramatic painting, or worse, see the ponies as a bunch of numbers. But Tulip haunted me. Because he had a friend. And a name. And there were so many more just like him.

They weren't numbers.

For every one of those ponies who died, there was a family broken, a potato soldier left behind in the trenches, trembling and stuttering, and weeping over their memory.

* * *

If fate decided that I was only supposed to save one little pony - if I was just there to readjust some itty bitty nit-pickitty detail of future history, and let hundreds get blown to smithereens in the meantime - then I just plain wasn't gonna.

I had my own plan. A solid plan. I mulled it over in my head as I stomped down that trench, back the way I came.

-Phase One: Blanket the living shit out of every last pony I could find.

-Phase Two: Find out what the fuck was going on without giving away the fact that I didn't actually belong there.

-Phase Three: Save everypony somehow.

The beauty of my plan was its simplicity.

* * *

I made my way to the cellar, staring up at the pale moon as I lugged that wagon. Waiting for a whisper. A clue. Instead I just got distracted walking the gauntlet of concernitty ponies. They crowded me all over again.

Rumor had spread that "Blanket Girl" had gotten Rainbow Glimmer to talk - to open up. Apparently that poor bastard back there was named Rainbow Glimmer, and he hardly ever said a word to anyone but himself. Either as he lied around, or roamed the trenches, pretending to patrol them.

The point is, the potato soldiers crowded me - those same concernitty pricks as before, happy to see me all of a sudden. Mr. Gryphon tried to stammer his way through a flank-kissing apology, but he only made it worse. 'Cause I was standing in a graveyard. And every last one of those ponies was someone else's Sub Mine F waiting to happen.

I stared down the trench – those long rows of soldiers. I got dizzy.

"Here," I said as I tossed a blanket to somepony or other, and stumbled on.

My whiny pirate was on the verge of coming out, but this wasn't the time or place.

* * *

Eventually, I made it out of the gauntlet. All jittery and messed up. I reached one of the lonelier corners of the trench maze, and when I finally got a moment to myself, I used it to turn to the Moon for guidance. Yet again.

It was still up there. Haunting the sky in broad daylight. Watching me.

"Come on, show me the way, already," I snapped. "Show me the fucking way."

But the Moon, as always, was silent.




When I looked down, there she was. Princess Luna herself. Right there in the trenches with us. Just like that.

She was dressed as a soldier.

I stopped and stared. The Princess was alive. There on earth, beneath her own weird daytime

moon. Alive!

"You need to get to the door," whispered Princess Luna.

"The door." I muttered to myself.

Her voice was like magic. It resounded not only in the open air, but on the inside of my skull, almost like one of the brain hornets.

My flank plopped onto the cold, hard ground.

So that was it. Another door. The way out. The way to get the answers I needed. To get the strength I needed. To beat the shadow things.

I sat there mystified. It all made perfect sense somehow. I needed to get to the door.

“Princess,” I said with what little breath I'd had left after the shock of seeing her.

This time I remembered to bow. Though it was tough to contain my awe and my glee.

Luna cleared her throat. "Hay!" She said in a thick Bucklyn accent. "Ya need to get to the door, kid?"

"Huh? What?"

Luna shuffled over a little bit. She was big and tall, and had to hunch down further than the average pony. But she shimmied and was able to make a little room for me. Behind her was that metal door that led back into the storage cellar.

"Helloooo?" She said impatiently, Thoroughly un-princess-like. "Anypony ho-oome?"

I gawked up at her eyes. They were the wrong color. Looked at her coat and her horn up close. The wrong blue.

"Luna?" Was all I could bring myself to say.

But It wasn't the princess. It wasn’t her at all!

"What?"

I poked my head over to the left, then the right. I could see for sure that under her ill-fitting coat was a pair of wings. I even double checked the front and did a little forehead inventory. Yup. She had a horn, alright.

"You're an alicorn." I said.

"Yeah I know. And?"

"Um, well, um um..."

"Take a pitcha, " she said. "It'll last longer."

"I'm sorry, I. I. I...just.."
Don't cry, Rose. Don't cry.

I looked up at the Moon again, then just hung my head.

"I thought you were somepony else."

"Hey.” Said Not-Luna, extending a hoof. “My friends call me Big Blue."

“I can’t." I bumped her hoof shyly. "I already know a Blue back home.”

She just nodded.

"Betcha don't know a Big Blue." A great big hearty guffaw ripped out of her throat. “So you want in or what?”

Big Blue scrunched and shimmied and swerved. Contorted herself into a ball.

“Um, thank you." I replied. "Yes, please.”

She took up more than half the trench, but somehow, she managed to make room. And in I went. Back into the cellar to restock.

That lady may not have been Luna, and she may not have done it on purpose, but her words burrowed deep into my brain and staked their territory.

“You need to get to the door.” The alicorn had said.

You need to get to the door.

* * *

I took a moment to freak out when I was sure I was alone. Did race matter so little to us in the future, that alicorns were right there in the trenches with the rest of us? From the look of her plain brown trenchcoat, Big Blue wasn't even an officer, let alone a princess! It seemed so enlightened, and yet, so stupid.

* * *

When I got out, I loaded the wagon full of blankets, buckled my pile down one last time. And looked out over a whole other row of potato ponies I hadn't gotten to yet.

There was so much to do. What with the door, and the blankets, and the impending doom, and stuff. But there was also an alicorn sitting there right by the cellar door. And a fucked up crescent moon running around unsupervised across the reddening sky. I'd kick myself forever if I didn't stop for a second and at least try to get some answers. Even if it was a longshot.

"Hey, Blue?" I said.

"Yeah?"

"This may sound stupid, but uh, do you mind if I ask you a question," I looked away, all nervous and bashful-like. "An alicorn question."

"Shoot."

"Well, how do I put this? Everyone knows that mortality isn't exactly the same with you."

"Uh-huh..."

"Do you think maybe it's possible that somehow Princess Luna is still alive?"

I looked up at her, eager for any sign of hope. Anything at all. But Blue just turned away from me, and scratched her head.

"Gee, kid. Nothin's more dead than a skeleton, know what I'm saying?"

I felt a little whimper escape my throat. They'd found a skeleton.

Big Blue watched me and cringed. Made a face like someone had just rubbed lemons all up and down a paper cut of hers.

"But hey, you know, anything is possible." She said, quick to apologize. "Luna could still be around. In spirit, you know? There's uh...the Moon right there."

The alicorn pointed at the sky.

"Yeah." I said. "I guess so."

I wandered off. My heart was breaking all over again.

"Hey kid," Big Blue followed me. "C'mon. What's really eating atcha?"

I shrugged. Tried to ignore her, but she kept on following me.

"We all need a princess every now and again." She pleaded. "We all wish that some great magical pony could come along and fix everything."

I didn't have much to say in response.

"Hey," she snapped. "Luna is a hero of mine too, you know?"

"I just spoke to her." I said to myself.

"What?"

"Princess Luna." I looked up into Big Blue's big blue eyes. "She hugged me. In my dreams."

I could almost see the gears turning in her brain. She was thinking real hard.

"Well," she said at last. "Anything's possible in your dreams."

It sounds like the kind of thing you write in crayon for a homemade motivational poster, but I could tell Big Blue actually believed it. With all of her heart. Somehow, that made a difference.

She put a hoof on my shoulder, and I threw myself at her. She may not have been a Princess, but Big Blue gave good hug.

* * *

I met an awful lot of ponies before the Sun went down. Gave out an awful lot of blankets. Asked a fuck ton of questions.

"So uh, some war, huh?" I asked one stallion.

"How about those jerkface corns?" I said to another.

“See any doors around here?”

None of it worked. Sherclop Pones, I am not.

But still, I had to try to find out. It was only a matter of time before every last one of us was sent over the top. And besides, these guys Knew. The fucking. Future.

After so many desperate, desperate attempts to coax, and pry, and squeeze answers out of folks using surgical subtlety, I took a look at that sky again. Got the same impression I'd had during my school yard dream. That my time would be up once the lights went out.

Finally, I just went right up to the next pony I saw, and said, "You wouldn't happen to know how the zebra war started, would you?"

She lifted her head. It was Golden Delicious.

Her eyes locked with mine. She stiffened. Like she was afraid of me.

“Um...uh...about before, Ah'm awful sorry. I didn't know.”

"Neither did I," I said as I scuffed my hooves idly against the dirt.

I kinda hoped a stray kaboom would come along and blow us all to smithereens. It would punctuate that cringey, bury-your-face-in-your-overcoat silence.

"What are you, uh, aren't you usually over there?" I spun around.

Had I lost my way already?

"Naw, just movin' fer to keep warm. Plus they cycle us 'round a bit."

I looked around. Spotted a familiar face or two. And a couple of blankets I had already given away.

The once outgoing Golden Delicious hid half behind her blanket. Like it could shield her from the great big awkward mess she and I had made.

"So...uh, you don't know the zebrer war history, huh?" She said, reaching for that life preserver.

"Nope,"

"Well, uh." She said. "I could instruct ya some if'n ya want, B.G.?"

She was really, really, really trying to make amends.

"Ok." I smirked. "But it's Rose Petal, not Blanket Girl."

I still fucking hated that name.

"Sure thing, RP." Golden leaned in to tell the story. Looking like she was ready to burst confetti.

"On the one hoof, that's the zebrers. A meteor destroyed 'em. Whole damn homeland - snuffed right out thousands a years ago. So they moved. And they hated the stars ever since. Hated 'em something fierce. I mean woooooo-eee, did they ever--"

She reigned in her enthusiasm, cleared her throat and moved on.

"Anywho, stars is Evil. And the Stripes thought Nightmare Moon hadn't never changed. And that we was all evil too just for following Her."

"Why does everypony have to blame Luna for everything?!"

I couldn't shake the thought of her haunted expression. The way she looked out over the shadow castle in my dreams. Her grim resolution, even about her own death. "I know."

And now it turned out that Luna was the whole reason the zebras hated us in the first place.

Why couldn't everypony leave her alone? And what was up with those stripey fucking assholes? Seriously, guys?

I had long been looking for the root of ponies' hatred for zebras. It never even occurred to me that the zebras themselves might be as big a pack of jerks as us.

I shook with anger.

"You alright, kid?"

"What happened on the pony end?"

I drew myself so close I almost stabbed myself in the eye with her chin.

"Where did we go wrong?"

"On the pony end?” She stumbled back a bit. “Whelp, thar's all sorts a things what happened."

"Gimme the cheat sheet."

"Quick answer? It was our innocence what got us into this."

"Our what?"

"Innocence. Ever-pony knows we had it too good for too long.” Golden Delicious, shook her head. “We just wasn't ready when the other horseshoe dropped. You hear?."

"Innocence." I whispered, and nodded to myself. “Thank you.”

I staggered away in shock.

“Anytime, kiddo. You okay?” She called after me.

I nodded. Told her thanks. Made some lame excuse or other, and moved on.

* * *

No matter where I went, no matter what future, I couldn't escape the notion that innocence was sin. That the love and peace and harmony we all shared - the wonders we all took for granted back home - would be paid for in blood by future generations.

I pulled the wagon. Passed out blankets, dazed as I felt. At the end of the day, it didn't matter how fucked up the news was, stewing in it wasn't going to make these ponies any warmer.

I found a colt shivering. About 19 years old. He was hunched over an old photograph. I sighed. The sun was getting lower in the sky, and I could feel the pressure building up. To get answers. To get to the door. But I didn't have the heart to interrogate this guy. He looked kind of sad. Kinda lonely.

So instead of doing the practical thing, I draped a blanket over him all gentle-like.

"Family?" I asked.

He nodded.

The bitter wind whistled down the trenches.

"It's my first Hearth's Warming away from home too," I said.

The photo was a goofy group shot of him, a younger brother, a younger sister, plus a mom and a dad.

"Who's the one with the spiky green mane?" I asked.

"My brother." He said. "Kiwi. He's almost nine now."

He didn't take his eyes off the picture in his hooves. "Mom says he's trying to learn the drums - making all kinds of noise, and she's ready to kill him."

The cracks in his chapped lips broke as he smiled.

"He's really good, though!" He rolled up his floppity sleeve with his teeth.

Showed off the Pip Buck on his wrist. It was my first good look at one up close. As worn by someone not trying to kill me.

He pressed some buttons, and a bunch of crazy crap flashed on the screen. The sort of stuff that Strawberry Lemonade had been good at. The next thing I knew, the sound of a drum set was coming from inside the thing.

"Whoa," I said.

"He's good, right?"

"That's...so useful.” I marveled at the tech.

Sure I’d seen a little bit of future machine stuff here and there in Trottica, but I’d been running for my life at the time, and mostly didn't have a clue what I was looking at. This was like having a home phonograph recorder and player right there on your leg.

I blinked. The guy was looking at me like I was some kinda moron.

“I mean, yeah.” I added quickly. “He's got a, um...future in…drumming?"

But it didn’t work. I was doing a shit job of blending in. Why did I have to open up my big fat mouth?

The guy cocked his eyebrow at me. I threw him a smile. Skimmed every bit of information I’d ever picked up in my entire brain, looking, searching, digging for something useful to help me blend in.

"Did you um...get that fitted in your stable?"

Pip Bucks come from stables. Clever, Rose Petal. Clever.

The guy just snorted.

"Very funny."

Or not.

"This is model 6.1." He bragged. "Standard issue. Well, they say standard issue, but what they really mean is you get bumped up the waiting list if your family can afford to front the expedition some cash. They don't issue you shit."

"Ah," I said, all disconnected and uncertain-like.

He must have thought I had some kind of rich kid jealousy or something, cause he was lightning fast to back pedal.

"We’re not rich or anything. But, you see, Kiwi sold his piano. The old family piano. I told'm not to, but one day, this package just sort of showed up. An early Hearth’s Warming present. The officers in the big metal suits helped me get fitted."

“That's awesome.”

“The drums are homemade,” the guy added. “He's a fucking regular Bee-hoof-en, that kid.”

“I miss my sister too,” I told him.

I didn't give away anything specific - didn't really have to. He understood pretty much right away. He draped his foreleg around me, and didn't say a word.

It was nice. I actually got kind of choked up. To the point where I was on the verge of spilling my guts. But I was a stranger in a strange land. I had to focus on the chattering of my teeth just to keep from spilling the beans. I might ramble something that would give me away. It might fuck up my plan to save the potatoes.

Hold it together, Rose Petal. Hold it together.

“This isn't how it's supposed to be,” was all I had the nerve to say.

He nodded.

"You know, Kiwi sent me a message. The whole family did. When I got the Pip Buck."

I craned my neck upwards to look him in the eye.

"They called me their little Lightbringer." He laughed to himself.

I smiled back.

"We used to play Saviors of the Wasteland together," he whispered. "Kiwi was always Calamity. I was the Lightbringer, that little squirt right there- she was Velvet or Steelhooves depending."

He let out a joyless laugh. Stared at the photo some more.

"You know what the message said?"

I shook my head “no.”

"'Be better.' You know, like the book said. ‘We're all so proud.’"

The guy was snarling. Angry now.

"Isn't that a good thing?" I asked.

He just shook his head.

"I signed up to make a difference. Came all the way out here cause I figured, 'Hey, look, the Crystal Fucking Empire showed up out of the blue. For the first time in centuries. Here's my chance to explore. Save the world! Just like in the stories.'"

"The Crystal Fucking Empire?!" I exclaimed.

I swear, that thing is following me. What the hell?

"What do we do when we get here?" He said.

I shrugged.

"Fight over it." The guy ranted. "Over a door we can't even open! You've got the world's best magicians on one side, and the world's most advanced techies on the other. Standing on the fucking threshold of the worlds biggest treasure trove of ancient wisdom. And what do we do? Kill each other.”

He sucked in a deep breath. "Fuck. The only reason I'm still alive is cause I've spent most of the war trying to hack that stupid door."

"From here?"

"The ruined town on the hill. It's about a mile from here. You have to have seen it on your way in.”

"Oh, yeah. That."
Note to self: Get to that town.

"The Colonel sent me down here." There was acid on his tongue now. "I was no longer necessary."

"Colonel Wormwood?"

"Yeah," He spat. "Kicked me outta the town. Sent me down here when I started asking questions. Section 14. Skill No longer Relevant."

He grumbled bitterly and shrugged.

"Is it true what they say about the Colonel?" I used my hoof to make the universal gesture for cuckoo.

"Who can even tell? If you ask me, you'd have to be out of your fucking mind to stay sane during a war like this."

* * *

He went back to gazing at that photograph. Watched it a long, long time. His hooves trembled. It wasn't just from the cold. At last, he sucked in a great big deep breath. Turned to me, and he said, "So what's your name, kid? "

"Rose Petal." I answered.

I never was good at rants and raves. Never knew what to say. So I just asked him his name in return.

"Dazzle Shine," he replied.

He didn't seem very shiny to me, but who was I to judge?

"Can I ask you something, Rose Petal?"

"Sure."

"What do you think Little Pip would make of all this?" Dazzle gestured at the trenches, threw an obscene gesture at No Mare's Land.

"Is she the other one?" I pointed at the photo with my hoof. "The one in the yellow hat?"

“Huh?”

I could only presume that this Littlepip he was talking about was the other kid in the picture.

And I had no clue what she might think. This was unlike any kind of war I had ever heard of before. Wars of necessity. Wars of passion. That's what I'd read about. That's what I'd seen in Trottica.

Nopony actually wanted to be there. Which honestly made me wonder why any of them were still there at all.

I looked past Dazzle - out over the rows and rows of soldiers. Spending their Hearth’s Warming in a trench. Shivering. Cold. Homesick. I had no way of knowing for sure what this Littlepip might think. But I knew what I saw in Dazzle Shine. It was the same thing that Twinkle Eyes had seen in me. That Nurse Redheart had seen.

"Honestly," I told him. “I don't know what she would think, but if I had to guess, Littlepip would probably just tell you that you have a good heart."

He took his hoof off of my shoulder. Looked at me from a leg's distance away. Like he wanted to hug me. Like he was on the verge of real tears.

But he sucked it up. Laughed a little laugh. And smiled a little smile.

Honestly, I didn't understand why what I’d said had meant anything to him at all. But it did.

"Thanks for the blanket, kid." He said.

* * *

I suppose I should've been concerned or puzzled by the way the Crystal Empire seemed to keep following me. And wonder about the war. Try to piece together all that crazy stuff. But instead, I thought of Pinkie Pie’s words. It's always worth a try.

When I turned to part ways with Dazzle Shine and get to passing out more blankets, I found that the way was blocked. We were surrounded by other potato folks. At some point they had gravitated toward us, and were eager to join in.

"Hey, I played Heroes of the Wasteland too!"

"I heard you say something about LittlePip?" Said the mummy unicorn from before all swaddled in scarves.

"Yeah, bro." Said Dazzle Shine.

"Tell it," said Big Blue, also popping up from out of nowhere.

"You tell it. I suck at storytelling."

"But it's on your wrist."

They all bickered back and forth for quite a bit over who should read from this Littlepip book, and which part they should listen to today. It turned into an odd sort of story in and of itself - these grown ponies geeking out over random chapters of a future book I'd never heard of. I listened very carefully, and as disjointed as it was, I was able to figure out a few things.

Littlepip was apparently an actual historical figure. A hero who'd saved the Wasteland from itself. She'd crossed that hard yellow line time and time again, and one day, found the whole world was watching. It gave me hope, just hearing about it. The Wasteland was actually overcome. Just cause a bunch of regular folks - background ponies - woke up and realized that they could. Because one mare gave them something to believe in.

I got to figuring: if a lowly toaster repair pony had managed to change the world, then maybe I could too.

* * *

They talked, and talked, and talked till the Sun was damn near setting. It made me nervous, 'cause it reminded me of my dream. And whatever it was that I was supposed to accomplish in the trenches, I was running out of time to do it. Still, there wasn't much to do but just sit there. And listen.

So I did.

I'm not going to relate to every Littlepip story I heard, especially since I picked them up out of order – out of context. But the big blue alicorn nudged me when it was her turn, and her take on it was especially important.

"Blanket Girl here got me thinkin'." She said. "About my favorite story."

She pulled herself closer to me. It snapped me out of my thinkiness. Right back into the moment.

"Canterlot." Big Blue looked at the rest of the gang. All expectantly and such. They just blink-bloinked at her. None of them knew what the fuck she meant.

"Which part?" Mummy rolled her eyes. "That chapter is like 200 pages long."

Everypony laughed.

"190, and what part do ya think, dumb shit? Princess Luna."

I perked up. Leaned forward. These guys knew more about their own history than I thought. They didn't just find a skeleton, they actually knew what happened!

"Yuk it up." Said Big Blue. "'Dis is alicoyn bidness. You's guys has years a-history. My mom? She was made in a friggin' lab."

That shut most of them up pretty good. You'd have to be a special kind of stupid to insult an alicorn's mother.

"The way I sees it, its the very best and very woist of what an alicoyn can be. You've got this monster, right? A fuckin' disgrace. Struttin' around toxic Canterlot like she's the bee's fuckin' knees. Wearin' the Moon Princess' bones like a fuckin' necklace."

What?! I ground my hoof into the ground so fucking hard I thought the ditch itself might break. No. No. No. No. No. No. No!

"Now Littlepip's as fucked as she's ever been. None of her usual tricks gonna work 'gainst a alicoyn. Not mono-a-mono like dat. But Luna..." She pointed at the Moon. "Luna was so friggin' awesome, that Littlepip worshipped her even after she knew damn well the Princess was dead. So when Littlepip saw dat skeleton, she wasn't tinkin' bout strategies or fightin' or nuttin'. Just rage."

I kept watching the Moon.

"What did she do?" I asked urgently.

"Whattaya mean 'what'd she do?' She telekenetically stabbed that bitch with Luna's own horn. BAM!"

Big Blue stabbed the air with her head and laughed.

"Yes!" I cheered.
Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes!

The Gryphon raised a bushy feathery eyebrow at me.

"So?" Mumbled the unicorn scarf Mummy.

"So how does Littlepip's act of self-preservation make Luna the very best of what an alicorn can be?" Asked Dazzle. "She was dead at the time. Besides, Celestia-;."

"Celestia skipped town. Luna stayed. Don't ever forget that. Secondly, Littlepip didn't do it for self-preservation."

"Of course she did," Mr. Gryphon quit eyeballing me long enough to get in on the action. "Don't be stupid."

"Shaddup! Ya don't know whatcha talkin' about."

"Well, why else then, genius?"

"Littlepip killed that bitch 'cause her love for Princess Luna - who was Pip's fucking goddess, you mook, so show a little respect - was so friggin' strong - so friggin' pure - that Littlepip forgot about everything else. Just went nuts and wasted the bitch."

I could see the wonder in Big Blue's big blue eyes. She wanted to be Luna so bad. Like Dazzle wanted to be Littlepip. And it made its own kind of sense, really. What other role model could an alicorn hope to have?

We all had heroes growing up. Pirates and wizards and sports superstars, but for someone like big blue, there was only Luna and of course The Big C.

"I think that's a very good pick for a favorite story." I said.

"Thanks, kid."

She rustled my mane. I hate it when ponies do that, but I appreciated the sentiment.

"You're gonna be just like Luna someday," I said, trying to be reassuring.

"Nah." She sighed. "That's a lost cause. But still, the story's a reminder."

"Of what?" Said Mummy, who had gone all concernitty for once.

Blue clutched at her own neck, as though she was afraid that a necklace of bones might magically appear there all by themselves.

"Not to take home too many war trophies."

* * *

I went back to watching the Moon.

Poor Blue. I thought to myself. Growing up in the shadow of so much evil. And unable to live up to the legacy of such phenomenal good.
It made me stop and wonder. If Princess Luna was...

"Hey, Rosie, how aboutchoo?" Big Blue broke my train of thought.

All of a sudden, all the potatoes were looking at me expectantly.

"You're the guest," Blue continued. "You pick the next story."

"Umm...ummm."

Not good. Not good. Not good. Not good.

"Actually, um..."

Think, Rose Petal, think!

"I was getting...contemplatey...uhhh, and contemplating...if Littlepip were right here in the trenches with us right now, what would she say?"

"Happy Hearth's Warming." Dazzle laughed. So did all the others.

"No, I mean how would you explain this war?"

Dazzle scratched his head. Big Blue averted her eyes. Mr. Gryphon held up a talon, and opened his mouth as though he had something to say, but it was obvious he had nothing.

Meanwhile, more of those random gunshots rang out over the air. A bitter wind whipped through the trenches. And nopony said a word.

"...You know," I said. "Because she's uh...from the past and wouldn't get it?"

"Mmmph." Said the mummy unicorn, all bundled up all over again. "Mmm mmm mfffurrrmmm. Mmmph mmmurf."

Finally, she got frustrated and tore the scarf from her face. Again.

"The corns are fucking evil."

"And who are the corns?" I pressed eagerly. "Um...Littlepip would probably ask."

"Those evil pricks." Mummy gestured in the direction of the enemy line.

That earned a laugh.

"I know that. Duh! But what's a corn?" I leaned in, desperate to find out. "What makes them so evil in the first place?"

"You-nuh-corns," said Big Blue.

“But you're a unicorn," I said to the Mummy dryly.

"Not all unicorns," she replied. "Just those corns."

She made a rude gesture at the air. “You know, them Twilight Sparkle Society snobs."

"Twilight Sparkle, the librarian?!"

They all looked at me like I was nutso. I couldn't help but give myself away on that one. Yeah, back home she was tight with the Royals. Elements of Harmony and all that. But to me, she was still the spazzy lady who leant out books. The idea that 300 years later, she'd have followers. Murderous douchebag followers. It was too much.

"But why?" I sounded like a whiny little kid. "What do they want? What's with the door?"

"Kid, relax." Dazzle put a hoof on my shoulder.

"I'm...I'm...Just asking what, you know, Littlepip would ask...Being from the past and all.... Which, by the way, I'm not....In case you were wondering."

Smiles and laughter.

"I got this one." Big Blue scooted next to me.

"We was doing good. All of us getting along, you see? 'Cause we had a goal. Cleaning up the Wasteland, like you said, Pip. But once they was clean, we didn't have quite so much in common. Ya get me?"

I nodded.

"So we all gots these armies lying around, you see? When we rebuilt our civilization, we had to liberate every single compound in Equestria by force. And after the fight was done, we used 'em to explore. New lands. New resources. New jobs. You see?

"And all the nations of Equestria got along just fine, Littlepip. We really did. Till BAM! Crystal Empire. Shows up outta nowhere's after a hundred years. Just, ya know, reappears!"

"It's got ancient secrets in there. Missing pieces of our history. Tech. Magic. Paintings. All that fancy stuff. You name it.

“But we can't get the door open. Some security spell that some pretty pink princess we ain't never heard of put up towards the end of the war. A whole bubble to protect it.

"Somethin' bout a heart.

“And then when we was finally close to hacking into it, those corns came along. Said it was theirs. Their secrets to keep. Or some bullshit.

"And you wanted for yourselves.” I said.

"No." Said the Mummy, genuinely horrified. "For all pony kind. But those fucking corns..."




"I would tell Littlepip I'm sorry." Dazzle interrupted all of a sudden like, his eyes fixed on his own hooves.

The other soldiers looked at him like he'd lost his mind.

"We didn't mean to." Dazzle hung his head in silence. "We didn't want any of this."

Mr. Gryphon smacked it.

"Ow."

"Sure we did. Those maniacs killed Root Beer Float."

"And Lily Leaf!" Said Mummy.

"And Dew Drop," Big Blue said softly.

All lost friends and comrades.

"Twinkle." I said to myself.

Silence again. I probably shouldn't have said anything. But I couldn't help it.

"Who's that?" Said Dazzle.

"The best friend a filly could ever ask for." I told them.

"'Corns got her?" The gryphon asked.

I shook my head. "Not exactly. But war still did."

A gust of wind whipped thru the trench. Whistley, whistley wind. Like an idiot, I'd given away my last blanket.

"I'm sorry." Dazzle stammered.

"War? What war if not this one?" Said Mummy.

"We were slaves." I told the truth. "Twinkle and me. It was an uprising kinda war."

I didn't dare to look any of them in the concernitty eyes. "I made it. She didn't."

The Mummy laughed for a minute. No one else did. I didn't take it personal. The moment I glanced in her direction, and she saw just how serious I was, the color ran from her face.

"Luna fuck me with moon rocks," she said. "I'm sorry."

"It's ok," I said.

"But-but...How?"

I found myself surrounded by concerned ponies again. But it wasn't that condescending concernitty kinda worry. They looked at me the way they looked at Rainbow Glimmer. With awe. These guys had it way rougher if you asked me. But the idea of slavery was just so shocking to them.

They treated me like a relic.

"I met Twink in a cage." I told them. "Hers was right next to mine. She had been a slave her whole life. I'd just been captured that day. She stroked my hair through the bars. Told me I was one of the good ones. Gave me hope and stuff.

"Eventually, we escaped. Took the whole compound with us. Ponies looked to me like I was some kinda Littlepip 'cause I sorta started the whole thing," I blushed.

Especially when I realized how eagerly the soldiers were hanging on my words.

"It was an accident!" I threw in there. "Twink deserves all the credit. It was her friendship that got me through it in the first place."

I told them about the hard yellow line. The lightning puddle. The mines. The rest of the story. I left out all the stupid psychic stuff about Strawberry Lemonade, of course, and played down the priestess.

But the point is, I told them all about Twink. And how wonderful she was. And what we had gone through together.

It was a story that needed to be told. Not just for me, but for her memory's sake. When I was done, and I had said every thing that needed to be said, they understood.

Actually understood. They didn't need to imagine how I might feel. Everyone of them had lost a friend, or two, or seven.





I stared at the ground for a long, long time. 'Till I found a talon resting on my shoulder. Mr. Gryphon was looking down on me.

"Can I give you something?" He said.

"Um, ok?" I sniffled a little.

Mr. Gryphon held up a stick. I took it from him with my teeth, and wedged it between my knees.

I looked down at the stick. Then back up at him. Then down at the thing again. Then back at him.

"It's a stick." I said.

"Twinkle's not really dead, you know?"

"Sooo...She's a stick." I said dryly.

"When I was eight, my dog died. Calamity."

The others smirked at the mention of the name.

"Fucked me up, you know? For weeks, and weeks, and weeks. Well, one weekend we visited my Bobbi. She sat me down and said, 'Hey Sam, guess what? Calamity ain't really dead, you know?'

"And I'm all like 'What? Do you think I'm stupid?'

"And she's all like, 'No, I'm just stating facts,'

"And I'm like, 'Facts? Whattaya mean, facts?'

"What kinda fact says a dead dog isn't dead?'

"Well normally that sort of talk woulda got me into big trouble with her, but she just waited for me to shut the Hell up, and it didn't help that Ma was yelling at me, 'Sam! Have you finished your homework yet?!'

"And I'm all, "No, cause Bobbi thinks my dog's a zombie or something, I dunno!'

"And Ma was all.."

Clonk! Big Blue smacked him in the head.

"Yeah, anyway," Sam Gryphon rubbed his eagley head and continued. "She said Life, love, friendship, it all starts with a spark. And it becomes like this flame we pass on. And Calamity wasn't really dead. Not if I kept a candle lit for him. And she passed me a candle."

Sam broke off another root jutting out from the trench dirt. Sprinkled a little flask juice on the tip.

"She said Calamity was gone, but the only way he could really die was if I let my heart burn out. Turn into smoke."

He stared at his makeshift candle. Flicked a little button on a pocket doo hickey and lit it on fire. Watched it burn, thoughtfully.

"Don't let Twinkle's death destroy you, kid."

He got all stern for a second, and turned away from his candle to look me square in the eyes.

"I don't know much about your friend Twinkle Eyes," he said. "But she wouldn't want that."




* * *




The wind died down. And we were left with a moment of real quiet. I stared at my stick.

Sam Gryphon held up his "candle" again – lost himself in the flame.

"To Root Beer Float." He said.

Then he whispered something under his breath. Some language I had never heard before.

"This ones for you, buddy." He held up his flask, and took a swig.

Silence again. None of us were sure of what to say. I just stared at my stick.

It was Mummy who broke the silence. She snapped a root out of the wall o' dirt for herself. Soaked it, lit it, and levitated it before her.

"Lily Leaf." She said.

Another swig.

"Dew drop." Said Big Blue, lighting her own "candle" with magic.

I stared at my stick. And up at the reddening sky. The pale moon.

"Twinkle Eyes," I said at last.

And the alicorn lit me up.

I stared at the flame. Watched it dance blue around the tip of the stick.

"Twink." I whispered.

* * *

As it burned, I watched. I mean really looked deep into it. And slowly, I started to feel warm again. The kind of warm that comes from the inside. I lost myself in the fire. Watched it burn and burn till everything else around me just sort of dropped away. And I was left with this feeling. It was a lot like that moment of joy that Twink and I had shared when I'd first burst out of the tunnels and found her standing over me. Only it kept building. The sensation just kept getting closer. 'Till finally, I heard an actual whisper.

"Kick those shadowy clitweasels." It said.

And I was left in silent awe.

"I will," I whispered back. "I promise."




Out of nowhere, Big Blue started singing a carol. A deep rich voice. "Deck This Barn."

I was so startled, I almost dropped the candle. I looked up at her in disbelief.

After all that had been forgotten, "Deck This Barn," of all things, had survived. Totally intact. Every note. Every lyric. Exactly as I remembered it. Exactly as Great Aunt Roseroot had sung it. As ponies everywhere had sung it on Hearth's Warming Eve's since long before Celestia, or Luna, or even Discord.

Sam the Gryphon closed his eyes, and listened to the alicorn's robust voice. He puffed smoke from one of those fire sticks. A little bit leaked out the weird little nostril holes in his beak. It dispersed over the air. In that moment, I realized precisely what we were missing.

What I had to do.

"Wait!" I shouted.

They all stopped and looked at me.

"Something's not right," I tried to stand up with my candle still between my legs, but it jerked and jostled, and threatened to burn out. So, I wedged it good and firm between some planks of wood on the ground.

"Twink," I knelt. Stared into the flickering light. "Wait right here."

I rose to my hooves, and turned to Sam.

"Keep Twink burning. I'll be back in a sec. Promise."

Before any of them could protest, or stop me, I snatched a spare stick and galloped off.




* * *




I had to find him. Rainbow Glimmer was around somewhere, either lying around feeling sorry for himself, or patrolling, like some of the other ponies had reported. I dashed down that catacomb of ditches. But he wasn't where I'd left him.

I doubled back and found him not too far from where I started, actually. Huddled up on the floor again, alone.

"Maimbow Glimmer?" I mumbled.

He turned to face me. I offered him the stick in my mouth, but he wouldn’t take it.

"We are lighting them," I mumbled some more. "To um...Honor the dead."

He flinched like I was going to hit him.

I spit it out into my hoof.

“A bunch of us are doing it.” I said. “An old Gryphon tradition, sorta, and, I thought, well, you might wanna, you know...light a candle for Tulip."

The wind whipped through the trenches yet again. I shivered. The frosty breeze thing was getting real fucking old. Rainbow Glimmer stared at the stick I offered him, but didn’t take it.

"It should have been me." He said all over again.

That old familiar song. The sound of it made my stomach turn.

"But it wasn't." I told him.

He looked up at me.

"It wasn't you." I repeated. "Tulip bought you a second chance!"

Rainbow looked worried. "B-but, a second chance at what?"

I thought about the kind of life Twink wanted for herself. The kind of life she'd want for me. The kind of stuff she herself believed in - what she stood for. What she fought for.

“I dunno." I said.

His eyes flittered left, and right, and all the fuck over the place. In his head, Rainbow Glimmer was playing his own game of desolation BINGO. A tug of war between desperation, and hope - sorrow, and fear splashed all over his face like a flickering film strip.

"It's up to you." I said.

He stopped, and looked up at me fearfully. Took the stick. Examined it carefully.

“How does it work?” He asked with a shaky voice.

* * *

I brought him back to the rest of the gang. Explained along the way. They all fell silent the moment we rounded the corner, and they could see us coming.

Clip. Clop. Clip. Clop. Clip. Clop. Clip. Clop.

As we drew nearer, Rainbow grew visibly twitchy. More than usual.

“It’s fine.” I said. “They won’t hurt you.”

“It’s not them I’m worried about.” He started rambling. “The corns. The corns are gonna see the fire.”

“Not while the Sun’s still up.” I thought quickly. Hoped I was right.

Rainbow Glimmer watched the darkening sky as anxiously as I had.

“But the wall up there in No Mare’s Land. It’s g-guarding the door! That’s fire they have there."

Rainbow pointed a trembling hoof.

"Blue fire. Magic fire. The alicorn used her magic, d-didn't she? The defense systems don’t like magic. The turrets. The canons. They’ll fire if...”

"It will be fine." I said as I chomped on his coat.

Grabbed it, and tugged him along. All the way back to the rest of the gang. A little filly dragging this grown stallion with all her might. The sight must have been absurd.

"Hey, maybe you should--;" One of them shouted.

"Mmph. Mmph." I mumbled.

That shut them up.


It was a little awkward at first, but eventually they all started singing again. Circle of Pony Friends. It seemed to loosen Rainbow up. At least loose enough that I felt comfortable he wasn't going to freak out and gallop away. He plopped himself down and sat just a teeny tiny little bit on the outskirts of our little herd. And minded his business.

"Hold up your stick," I told him.

I yanked my twink "candle" out from between the floor planks with my teeth. Brought it to his. I caught Big Blue lighting up her horn - helping the fire catch. Rainbow Glimmer didn't notice. He just gazed into the flame like it was a crystal ball.

"For Tulip," I said.

"For Tulip," he muttered to himself.

* * *

The gang erupted into another hearth's warming Carol. They all knew the words. It was totally spontaneous-like. When it was done, they sang another carol. Then Another. And another. Glim didn't have much to say, but his eyes lit up with traces of wonder as he watched Tulip in the flame, and I could even see the lyrics to the carols moving along his lips, as he sang them softly to himself.

When they finished The Twelve Days of Hearth's Warming, I couldn't hold back anymore. I had to fucking ask.

"Isn't it amazing how all these ancient songs survived?"

I tried to be slick about it.

"Oh yeah," said Dazzle Shine. "I've got the whole album right here."

He fiddled with his Pip Buck till music started coming out of it. It was a little tinny and thin, but the song was clear. We Wish You a Merry Hearth's Warming. Sung by the most amazing voice I had ever heard. Even after it crackled to a finish, the soldiers just sort of sat in silence and drifted.

* * *

"I'm so glad these old recordings survived the war." Said Dazzle Shine at last.

"Me too," whispered Mr. Griffin.

I scooted over a little closer to get a good look at the device that'd granted us access to such beautiful music. And saw the album's original cover art on display.

A white unicorn. Pink and purple mane. Her cutie Mark was an old-fashioned microphone adorned with flowers. She sat by a fireplace and a piano. Above her, were big red and green letters: "It's a Sweetie Belle Hearth's Warming: Vol. 4."

My brain exploded. I babbled gibberish. Pointed at the screen of Dazzle Shine's Pip Buck.

The girl in my class. The crusader. The squeaky one. A grownup. A legend. One of the only windows to our past. Centuries in the future.

I started to gather my thoughts on it, but my brain just went and exploded all over again.

"Wha? How? Huh?"

"These oldies are great." Said Dazzle. "Even if the lyrics of the Hearth's Warming ones are, you know, a little different."

They all just sort of nodded along. As though it were a mystery. The sight of them all scratching at their heads and staring at their hooves, snapped me out of my brain explodey fugue state. 'Cause none of them brought up the obvious argument. That the lyrics were antiquated. Even in our time, they'd come off Old Fashioned.

That was when it really hit me. They didn't know. They didn't know the history behind any of the pre-war stuff. They weren’t like the Priestess, who’d had access to ancient texts for some reason. These ponies were piecing together a past, just like I was piecing together a future.

“I have a favorite story.” I said with a wicked smile. “But it’s not about Littlepip.”

The potatoes all looked at one another and shrugged.

“Shoot, Blanket Girl,” said Big Blue.

“The first ever Hearth’s Warming Eve.”

* * *

None of them had ever heard it before. None of them had known that there was an Equestria before the princesses. That there had been an exodus. A war. That unicorns and pegasi and earth ponies once hated each other as strongly as they all later hated zebras. As we Rangers now hated 'corns. Nopony had ever told them that our very nation was founded not by our royalty – not by our leaders, not by our generals, but by ourselves.

In telling that story out loud as though it were brand-new, I realized what it was that had led ponykind to the bomb. What we ponies had lost.

It wasn't innocence. No matter how many priestesses or wasteland saviors claimed otherwise. Everyone loses their innocence eventually. What matters is what you do afterwards – that you keep that special spark - that little bit of magic and wonder that makes you somehow able to not turn into a total fucking asshole once your innocence is gone.

Back in Trottica I'd called it purity. For the ancient settlers, it boiled down to one thing. The ability to say "no," to something when they knew it was fucking wrong.

* * *

When the story was over, the gang was totally awestruck, Rainbow Glimmer most of all. A smile crept across his face. He had actually survived an order to go over the fucking top, and saw first hoof what happens to those who go willingly.

The fact that the founders of All That We Hold Dear defeated evil not with obedience, but with the rebellion – with singing and celebration - with friendship? I could only imagine what that revelation might mean to him.

Rainbow Glimmer clutched his candle between his hooves and huddled over it. Full of holiday cheer.

Tulip loved Hearth's Warming so much.

"How do you even know this?" Asked Dazzle Shine, fiddling with his Pip Buck as though the answer would be inside of it.

"An old book," I said.

"Great story, kid." Mr. Griffin slapped my back.

I let out one of those laughs of pride, where you blush a little and try not to let on that you're proud, but everyone can still tell, and that just makes it all the more embarrassing.

Sam struck up another carol to cover for me. We sang. And sang. And sang. And sang. And sang. And crazy as it sounds, after a while, it didn't feel so cold out anymore. When we were done with round twenty-seven-or-so, Mr. Gryphon pointed a talon at Rainbow Glimmer.

"What about you?" He said. "What's your favorite story?"

He panicked. Shook his head.

"C'mon," said Big Blue. "You don't even gotta tell it. Dazzle gots the whole book, just pick a story."

"He doesn't have to," said Mr. Gryphon. He turned to Rainbow and apologized for Blue. "Sorry, brother."

"It's okay." Said Rainbow Glimmer, slightly terrified of the request.

"C'mon," said Big Blue, who just wouldn't let it go. "We all told ours. Tag. You're it."

In the moment that followed, everything else fell silent. Even the gunshots. Even the wind.

Rainbow Glimmer looked like his heart had been smashed. And only I knew why.

Then, out of the blue, something truly incredible happened. As he sat, mulling over those last words coming back to haunt him all over again, there came the sound of music. Rest Ye Merry Gentlecolts. Tulip's favorite carol.

Coming from the enemy trench.

* * *

Rainbow Glimmer lowered his candle and wedged it firmly between tree roots. It continued to burn thanks to Blue's magic.
And then he was off. Stripping off his coat like a mad horse.

I ran after him. The others followed not too far behind.

I found him tearing the lining out from under his coat. Back pressed against the wall.

"Rainbow," I said. "What are you doing?"

"Tag," he smiled. "You're it."

And laughed. Time to do something totally fucking stupid.

He stood up tall, way above the lip of the trench, and waved the lining in the air. A big white flag.

And sang.

"Rest ye Merry gentlecolts let none of you dismay. "

"Rainbow, no!"

But it was too late. He was already climbing over my abandoned wagon, and had gotten halfway over the top all by himself.

For a moment they all fell quiet over there on the enemy trench. But Rainbow kept on singing.

It was the most terrifying silence ever. But they didn't shoot him. Even as he stood up, on the surface ground, right there for the world to see - right out in the open. Right there in No Mare's Land.

Mr. Gryphon clutched at his ankle but Rainbow would have none of it. He kicked the talon away.

"Remember the friendships that were forged upon this day

And saved us all from icy power

When we'd gone astray."

He paraded full on, dragging the white flag behind him. Singing Rest Ye Merry Gentlecolts for Tulip. Out into the unknown. Bringing tidings of comfort and joy.

We all freaked out in silent horror. Waited the gunshot. Some of us even scrambled to peek thru the little chinks between the sandbags, Big Blue chief among them.

"Holy fuck." She said.

"What? What? What is it?!" I said, the only one too short to see.

The alicorn craned her neck down and squatted - let me climb onto her back. When we popped back up, I could finally make out Rainbow Glimmer marching across those horrifying wastes. Still Singing.

And out there way on the other end, was a corn. All decked out in a gray uniform.

She had to be as crazy as Rainbow. Because she was doing the same.

* * *

One by one, we all made our way over the top in stunned silence, as only the two lunatics had held it together enough to keep singing. We got to the center, amazed and confused. But Rainbow got there first. He stood by the razor wire. Waited for the corn to come. The one who was as crazy as him.

Then the song ended, and they were face-to-face. A tangled nest of wire between them. A crowd on either side.

Rainbow waved. The enemy waved right back.

I couldn't tell what else went on between them; they were too far ahead of us.

But eventually, the enemy mare lit her horn up. Encased the posts of the razor wire fence in magic and grunted as she concentrated. It shook but did not move. Rainbow rammed into the post of the fence. A giant wooden X. He bucked it again, and again. Threw his back into it.

Horns from both sides started lighting up. We earth ponies rushed forward to help, but by the time we got there, the fence was already down. Dragged and dumped to the side like used wrapping paper on Hearth's Warming morning.

The corns were every bit as confused and astounded as we were. Except their coats gray instead of brown.

The shortest of the bunch came straight up to me. A teen like Sterry.

I smiled because It reminded me of every other holiday party in history. No matter what, the first thing you do is gravitate toward the kids your age.

"Happy Hearth's Warming," said the corn girl.

"To you too," I replied, still sort of stunned.

"Sprinkles." She extended a hoof bump.

"Rose Petal." I obliged.

For a moment, we both just stood there in each other's company, and soaked in the scene. The grownups were giving each other stuff. Fire sticks. Contraband snacks. Swigs from each other's flasks. Any gift that they could find or think of.

And on the far, far, far end of No Mare's Land was a great and terrible wall, built-in cannons - the kind that didn't need ponies to staff them - and a force field coming out of the top, arcing into a giant dome. I could see the tip of the Crystal Spire over that wall, rising high above the rest of the city.

And a giant door under the wall o' cannons. Sealed shut.

Me and the corn kid sat on a burnt tree stump, and just sorta marveled at it.

"I need to get that door open," I said at last, shivering in the open air.

The sun was almost down.

The other girl fiddled with her saddle bag. I could see it out of the corner of my eye. And as good as it was to have the company, I was pretty fixated on the door.

Next thing I know her hoof is around me. And I felt that last little bit of coldness leave for good.

I huddled up. Toasty and warm.

"It isn't much," she said. "But Happy Hearth's Warming."

I looked down. The girl had wrapped me in a nice warm blanket.

Gray instead of brown.

Author's Note:

On Christmas Eve of 1914, the soldiers of WWI held spontaneous Christmas Truces all over the fronts without permission from their commanding officers. They flooded No Man's Land at great personal risk to express joy and faith in mankind. My ponification of these events could never begin to do the actual events justice. It was, simply put, one of the most beautiful moments in human history.

I wrote about the actual events here, and if you're unfamiliar with the story, I strongly suggest you read up on it.

http://mlp.derpynews.com/help-my-heart-is-full-of-pony-a-truce-heard-round-the-world/

For some hard history, go here: http://www.christmastruce.co.uk/article.html

Seriously, if friendship ever did become actual magic here on earth, it was on December 24, 1914.

Special Thanks to: Longbottle, Pony Joe, and Seraphem for your feedback and criticism and proofreading and stuff.