• Published 27th Feb 2013
  • 7,823 Views, 779 Comments

Fallout: Equestria - The Hooves of Fate - Sprocket Doggingsworth

A young filly in present day Ponyville is cursed with nightmares of post-apocalyptic Equestria. She finds herself influencing the course of future history in ways that she cannot understand.

  • ...

Where We Went Wrong


“You can beat us with wires, you can beat us with chains, you can run out your rules.

But you know you can't outrun the history train.” -Paul Simon

Since I got to No Mare's Land, all those crazy voices and stuff had only given me three messages: get to the door; get it - the folder - to No Mare's Land; and once there, get it to the door.

That's all.

The truce wasn't destined. It wasn't supposed to happen. It wasn't even something we tried to make happen. It just sorta, you know, happened.

And Wormwood. What if I had told everyone about Attack Plan R back there when the wall drew its guns on Colonel Wormwood? The voices had never told me to keep that to myself. But I'd choked. And look what happened!

There we were - the colonel and I, going downhill - down into the candlelit valley - down to try to carve out a peace for all of Equestria.

Because we had made friends.

* * *

"How are we gonna find Sprinkles?" I asked.

There were an awful lot of ponies down below in the clearings - thousands of them. Even as we made our way down that tiny secluded little pass, I could see at least a hundred more pouring down the hill. The valley bustled with hopeful ponies, eager for a truce. And the candlelit forest was already too damn big to find Sprinkles in.

Wormwood blinked. Ignored my question. Like she was trying to drive me crazy on purpose.

"What?" I said.

The colonel turned to me, mischief in her eyes. Smugness blasting off of her like pollen from a dandelion being dangled out the window of a moving train.

"Fucking what?" I snapped.

She held up her wrist and showed off her Pip Buck. "I dropped a tracking device in the folder."

Sweet Celestia! The folder.

That missing medal of honor wasn't inside – still wasn't accounted for.

I got dizzy. Terrified. Nauseous.

What if I had fucked everything up? Lost her son's irreplaceable medal of honor?

Fuck! I had spent so much time and energy trying to figure out if I could trust Colonel Wormwood. What if I was the one unworthy of her trust?

I gulped.

"So you have a pretty good idea what's in there, then?" My throat was so dry, my tongue tasted like ash.

"Yup." The colonel kept her eyes on the valley. Studied it. Interrogated it in her mind.

"What about me?" I asked. "The, uh...tracking device - is that how you found me when I came out of –;"

"No. You caught me by surprise," said Wormwood. "Did I mention you're a real pain in the ass?"

I smiled faintly. I knew I was. But the knowledge didn't give me any joy.

Not anymore.

The colonel stopped. Quit scanning the landscape altogether, and turned to me studiously. She wasn't stupid. She knew I was keeping something from her. Knew that I wished I didn't have to.

"We should go down there soon to meet up with Sprinkles," she said suspiciously, never prying those stareitty eyes from me.

I nodded silently.

* * *

On the way down, I actually learned a little bit of Wormwood's plan. Not the part of it that I wasn't supposed to know. A peek into the Colonel's mind - what she was actually up to when she went about keeping the rest of us in the dark.

"Colonel! Colonel!"

Sam the Gryphon landed in front of us, obstructing our path.

"Colonel, a moment please?"

Wormwood looked him up and down, and raised an eyebrow.

Snap. A look of terror stretched over the gryphon's face. He suddenly remembered himself. Stood upright, saluted, and stepped aside.

Wormwood kept walking. I followed.

"At ease." She called out over her shoulder.

"Permission to speak freely, ma'am."


Sam took to hovering, treading air beside us.

"I have concerns about your choice of meeting spot for the negotiations." He said.

"Do you?"

"If the corns decide to attack, they'll have the high ground. If we gather in the valley, they can sweep in and take that hill, and we'll all be sitting ducks."

Wormwood didn't react. Didn't respond. Left Sam in a sort of awkward silence where he was forced to finish what he had to say.

"Uh...You see, Colonel Candyheart is a hard mare. And General Sun Sparkle won't get the message until it's too late. They won't want to negotiate a truce in front of their troops. Puts them on the spot, since the soldiers want peace, and they want war. I think Candyheart might just be willing to take a few losses and fire artillery into the crowd. She's just that kind of bloodthirsty, you know what I'm saying?" Sam laughed nervously. "With your permission, ma'am, I would like to discreetly position a few well armed steel ponies up top, just in case."



"Your objections have been noted, and permission denied. This is a peace negotiation. I will not have my troops visibly readying for battle"

"We can be discreet."

"I picked the valley for a reason, corporal. And we are all to be in it. You. Me. The well-armed steel ponies, the infantry. Everyone. Do I make myself clear?"

"Crystal, ma'am."

"Good." She said. "I'm placing you personally in charge. See to it that they all make it down there."

Sam frowned. His top beak and bottom beak scraped against one another. But he nodded. Perched on the ledge. Stood at attention. Saluted.

Wormwood stopped. Looked him up and down.

"One more thing," she said.

"Yes, ma'am."

She reached out and placed a steel hoof on his shoulder

"Make some friends out there, soldier."

The gryphon cocked his head like some kind of confused parrot.

"That's an order."

* * *

After Sam was gone, I meditated on it a bit. Got worried.


"Yes?" She answered dryly.

"Is what he said true?"

"Corporal Sam is a brilliant battlefield tactician. Yes, it's true."

She waited for me to ask the obvious question: Why didn't you listen to him, then?

But I waited longer. 'Till she was forced to finish that thought on her own.

"Sam doesn't know ponies," said Wormwood. "Colonel Candyheart has a reputation for being cold, calculating, and brutal. But I have studied her career carefully, and her tactics are always heartless in their pragmatism.

"Firing into the crowd would not further her bottom line. She would view the peace as a stepping stone. A means to getting inside the Crystal Empire. Her second in command is who we have to worry about. Colonel Candyheart is sick, if my intel is accurate, and Major Pickle Barrel is young and anxious to prove himself. He is the sort who would, in fact, fire into the crowd, simply because it's what he believes Colonel Candyheart would want him to do."


"Why not follow Corporal Sam's advice?"

I nodded.

Wormwood gave me inscrutable-face.

"If the corns do go that route, and I'm not saying that they necessarily will, everyone is going to scatter when they fire. Rush for safety. If anyone is left up on top of that hill, the Twilight Society soldiers will make for their own trenches in the chaos."

She walked three-legged for a moment to extend a hoof and point at the landscape below.

"Down in the valley, those trees will block the way, leaving only one path of retreat: our trenches. Having been betrayed by their own leadership, the disenfranchised corns will turn to us. I just called openly for a truce. They will view me as a leader in the fight for peace, which is what they want. Our numbers will double. We will gain the advantage without having to take a single shot."

"So your plan is to turn the potatoes, uh...into corns?"

"Oh, dear Celestia, no." She said. "But If we make enough friends, we might just win a few rogue officers. Which is all we'll need."

I looked down into the valley. Looked hard. Tried to picture it in my mind. I was no tactician, but her plan seemed like it would work. I could picture the masses of ponies stampeding - see it all going down in my head exactly as the colonel said it would. And then a sickening thought hit me.

I was just like one of them.

Even the simple act of trying to imagine how thousands of ponies might respond to a crisis had made me, just for a moment, start to think of those masses like checker pieces to be moved around on a great big board. I had only been looking down from a hill for about fifteen minutes, but it was already super easy to forget what it's like to be on the bottom.

What hope did any of us have at all if the ones in charge were, by default, always destined to be so fucking far away?

I felt like throwing up.

My stomach was too empty to try.

"I pray it doesn't come to that," said the Colonel.

"Me too." I said solemnly.

* * *

We were near the bottom now. Ponies everywhere. Packed into the clearing. Candlelit trees walled everyone off from retreat into the corns' trenches.

I used our last few minutes of privacy to press the Colonel. Something that had been eating at my me.

"Why didn't you tell all of this to Sam?"

"Because he'd doubt me. He would follow his orders of course, but his mind would be scrambled the whole time with every possible scenario under which my plan could go wrong. If he knows nothing of my reasoning, he is forced to trust me."

"To believe that your reason must be a good one." I muttered to myself in shock and awe.

Bananas Foster's words.

"Yes." Wormwood smiled. "If things go south tonight, and the corns start firing, Sam will see exactly why I made the decision, and he will lead the retreat to our trenches with newfound gusto and enthusiasm."

Wormwood saw me furrowing my brow, contemplatizing real hard.

"Here's the best part." The colonel talked like Miss Cheerilee does when explaining a difficult math lesson. "Sam will realize that I had thought of scenarios that he hadn't, and presume that I know more than I actually do - that there are far more machinations at play than there actually are.

"He will get everypony safely into our trenches, and he will do a better job of it because he'll believe in what he's doing. And believe that my reasons must be, as you say, good ones."

She let that sink in a minute.

It made perfect logical totally symmetrical sense. But I couldn't help but feel sorry for Sam. I knew what it felt like to get jerked around by forces outside of my control.

"Do you understand now how important it is to know ponies?"

Again with that teacherly attitude. It was weird.

"Why are you telling me all of this?" I asked.

"Because," she replied, "You're a natural leader."

Clip clop

Clip clop

Clip clop.

"You're kidding."

She looked at me with a sort of benevolent scorn. Wormwood did not kid. Ever.

"A good tactician," she said. "Plans with her head. A good officer leads with her heart, or no one will follow her plans in the first place, no matter how many stars or bars are on their shoulders. You're going to go far, Rose Petal. I can tell. But you've got to work on the planning with your head part." She looked out over the valley. Her turn to get all gaze-y. "It could save your life someday."

My thoughts went straight to Sub Mine F.

To the lies I had told Strawberry Lemonade that had almost gotten her killed because she refused to leave her console.

To the time I almost lead everypony down the wrong tunnel. "Seventh? Second? What's the difference? I'm Rose Petal. I can smell the future. Everything will be fine!" It felt wrong.

"Can I ask you a question?" I said.

Wormwood looked at me impatiently. Everyone knows the answer to that is always yes.

I took a deep breath. Shrunk back a bit. I didn't have the nerve to look Wormwood in the eye. Not for what was on my mind.

"Um...When you are, you know, leading, did you ever make mistakes? Like really bad ones?"

Even as the words tumbled from my mouth, I realized I was being an insensitive jackass.

"No, I mean... Cause I did." I added hastily. "I...tried leading, and it went badly. And I was just wondering how you, um..."

"It never stops hurting."


Wormwood was a statue again. Her voice. Her posture. Cold as ice. "All you can do is look for a light. And fight like hell to get to it."

"I see."

The two of us were silent the rest of the way down.

* * *

Sprinkles met me with a hug. Just wham. Blind-sided me out of nowhere. Again.

Before I could so much as oof, she had a bunched up old blanket grinding against my mane. "Noogies."


I wrestled free, grabbed that blanket with my teeth, and tossed it onto the floor with a whipping motion of my head.


I squirmed out from under Sprinkles, leapt up to fend her off. Ready to tell her I wasn't in the mood. But she turned away from me.

Lunged right at Wormwood. Just sort of wrapped herself around the colonel's chest.

By the time I stretched out, brushed myself off, and swiped my disheveled mane out of my face, Sprinkles was already way ahead, tugging at the colonel's uniform, leading her through the forest of candlelit Hearth's Warming trees.

"Come on!" She shouted. "We're almost there."

And then they both disappeared into the "forest."

* * *

I followed. Slowly. They had found some sort of path because Sprinkles knew the way. But I had no clue what I was doing. I was lost. I had to weave my way through just to keep from knocking into any of the branches.

"Hello?" I called out, but nopony answered.

I kept wriggling around and tip-hooving. 'Till, at last, the trees got too close together. Up close, I could see each "candle" burning. Twigs tied to pine branches with twine and wire, kept alight with magic flames.

"Sprinkles?" I called out. "Wormwood?"

"He he hee!" Echoey laughter coming from out of nowhere.

I spun around. Found myself face-to-face with one of the candles.

I could swear It was looking right at me.


I leaned in closer, and stared into its blue fire.

There was a whispering voice behind it, but I couldn't make out any of the words. Its message was not for me.

"Hey there." I said.

"Shut the fuck up, Rose." A voice snapped at me from below.

I looked down, and kneeling there on the other side of the very same tree, was Sprinkles, right next to Colonel Wormwood.

"Oh, I uh--;"


Colonel Wormwood gripped a stick between her hooves. It wasn't even lit yet. But she wrinkled her forehead and focused on the tip intensely. Like she was trying to stare it down or something.

I realized then that everypony else – every single one of us – had had some chance to celebrate our loved ones. To celebrate Hearth's Warming. To sing. To play. To mourn.

But Wormwood was all alone.

She had to orchestrate a lasting peace. She had to worry about keeping order. About leading others. Inspiring others. About moving those social chess pieces around.

The world was on her saddle.

Seeing her down there on the ground. Fixated on the tip of the stick. It broke my heart.

After all that she'd done for us that Hearth’s Warming - after all she had done to save Hearth’s Warming - Colonel Wormwood still hadn't had the chance to get into the spirit of it for herself.

She sat there, still as a statue. Focused on her stick. But her breath was soft and shallow. Her eyes big as crystal balls. For a good long time she just stared at the thing. Working up the nerve.

When, finally she was ready, Colonel Wormwood looked up at Sprinkles and gave a nod.

The corn girl bent one of the branches down and used the tip of one of the other "candles" that had been tied there to light Wormwood's stick. The flame was magic so it took pretty easily.

She looked deep into her candlelight. Stoic and still. The wind whipped the flame around. Blew so hard that all the candles swung around on their branches. But the colonel didn't so much as shiver.

She was like a rock with an entire ocean frothing around her. She just sat there. Watching the fire.

Then, out of the blue, she just plain collapsed. Slammed her own head into the ground. And huddled there. Sobbing. Wailing. She pounded her giant steel hooves on the frozen dirt.

And shrieked so loud and so shrill, it sent shivers across my spine.

I started crying. Sprinkles too.

It was awful. Just too fucking awful.

I reached out to put a hoof on Wormwood's shoulder, but just sorta stood there trembling. Wormwood heaved and pressed her head against the ground, huddling there, shaking like pudding. I wanted so bad to do something. To reach out. To comfort her. To touch her shoulder. Anything. I looked to Sprinkles. But she was terrified.

"Why couldn't it have been me?" Wormwood whimpered. "It should have been me."

“No.” I said to myself.

Staggered backwards into a tree.

The shadow things. The ones who’d come to me as victims of Sub Mine F. That was what they had said.

"It should have been you, Rose Petal. It should have been you."

Wormwood let it all out. Her cries trailed off into a gentle heaving, and when she was finally done, she looked up. And froze. Something in the candle had caught her eye.

She leaned in closer. Stared at it in amazement. Looked at that flickering light with the eyes of a foal seeing a firefly for the first time.

Then, she just nodded in silence. Looked up at Sprinkles. Desperate.

"Can I have the folder please?" She said meekly.

Sprinkles nodded hurriedly and thrust it at her. Wormwood grabbed the folder. Untied the ribbon with her teeth, and prodded it open with her face. Then she pulled out the wooden box with her teeth. The empty wooden box.

Oh, no. Oh fuck. Oh, fucking no.

"Luna help her." I whispered.

"Um...I, I--;"

I tried to find the words to explain, but she opened the lid before I could figure out what to say.

"No." She whispered.

"I--; I didn't mean to--;"

Wormwood plunged her face into the folder. Sifted through it.

"No. No. No! No, no, no."

She dug, and dug, and dug, and dug, and dug. 'Till suddenly she jerked her head upward, having realized what I had just said.



"Didn't mean to what?"

"It's, you see, I --;"

"Rose," she said weakly. "What did you do?"

The whole walk back from the door, I'd dreaded that Wormwood would find out that that medal was missing, and go fucking berserk at me. Get real mad and just annihilate me. But when I heard that voice crack - saw that frailty in her - I wished that she would get angry. Yearned for her to go berserk at me instead.

"I-- the medal, I don't know what happened it...I--;"

"Medal? Geez, I'm soooooo sorry." Sprinkles interrupted.

"You're sorry?" This was starting to get confusing.

"I didn't mean to upset you," said Sprinkles. "Honest, I didn't. I just sorta found it on the ground when you dropped your folder up there on the top of the hill."

"You found it?" Wormwood and I exclaimed at the same time.

"It spilled out, and I picked it up and I took it, and I got an idea and--;"

"Where is it now?" Said Wormwood.

Sprinkles pointed up. "I'm really, really, really, really sorry." She said. "It was supposed to be a surprise. I shoulda asked."

I followed the direction of her hoof. Wormwood did too.

And there it was: a yellow and red crystal star attached to a ribbon. Crowning the top of the Hearth's Warming tree. Shining with the light of all the candles.

The colonel brought her hooves to her mouth. A smile stretched itself across her face.

She got up off the ground. Fresh tears ran down her cheeks.

I drew closer to get a better look. It was so small - that star. It seemed quaint on top of that big old pine tree. But when it caught the candlelight, it seemed to sing.


The colonel put a hoof on my shoulder.

"Happy Hearth's Warming." She said softly.

"Happy Hearth's Warming." I got all choked up. Even as the words left my mouth. I leaned against her chest. "Happy Hearth's Warming." I blubbered again like a fool.

She put a hoof over my mane. Drew me closer. Her overcoat was itchy as hell. But I didn't want to pull away. So the two of us just sorta stood there for a good long while.

Up 'till that moment, there were only two ponies in all of Equestria who could hug me like that and make me feel safe – actually safe. Roseluck, and Mom. Colonel Wormwood made three.

"Does this mean I'm not in trouble?" Sprinkles butted in.

Wormwood and I stopped. Finally withdrew from our hug. Looked at one another. Then looked at Sprinkles. Then looked at one another yet again.

This strange surreal silence hung over the three of us.

Then, boom. We all broke into a fit of hysterical laughter. Even Wormwood.

* * *

We hung out there for a good long while admiring the medal. Wormwood, Sprinkles, and me.

I wanted to tell her that her son had been lucky to have her as a mother. But she would have withdrawn into her guilt. I wanted to tell her that he would have wanted her to move on, but I had never even met the kid. And even in my head it sounded so generic. I must have played a hundred different condolences in my head, but each time, it came out wrong. So I shut up. And admired the star.

"What was he like?" Sprinkles blurted out.

"Stubborn." Wormwood looked down at her candle. "First, he didn't want to enlist in the corps. His passion was mathematics. Pre-war academia. He was working on a dissertation on something called Moondancer's Constant when the war broke out. Then, the Crystal Empire showed up and the corns did their thing. And all of a sudden, he was gung ho, passionate for 'the cause.'

'All those books. All that ancient wisdom. He couldn't bear the thought of it rotting in some Twilight Society vault."

The colonel stopped to admire the star.

"He even offered to conduct an interdisciplinary study with the brains over at the University of Manehattan. Their magic, our tech, his math. It was a good idea."

"Why didn't it work?" Sprinkles asked.

"They turned him down." Wormwood shook her head. "He enlisted the next day."

Wormwood closed her eyes. Turned away from the tree. I put my hoof on hers. She patted me in thanks.

"What about your friend, Butterscotch?" Wormwood said out of the blue, changing the subject completely. "What was Butterscotch like?"

"Oh, she was a total bitch." Said Sprinkles with a smile.

Wormwood flung her eyes open. She had not been expecting to hear that.

"But she was a bitch to the right ponies." Sprinkles continued. “She once saw this stallion make fun of Orange Peel...Orange Peel is this guy who stutters a lot, by the way. And Butterscotch waited till the jerk was asleep. She stole his blanket just to watch him shiver."

Sprinkles shook her head and sighed. "She was the whole reason I got the idea later on to really start staying on top of the blanket situation. She uh...gave me the evidence to stash that night, you know the stolen blanket, and I went way, way, way, way further down the trenches, and gave it to someone who was shivering bad because they had torn their coat."

"You're a good kid." Said Wormwood.


"One of the good ones." I muttered to myself.

"What?" Sprinkles asked me.

"Nothing." I smiled faintly. "Twinkle Eyes would have liked you."

* * *

"Come on, girls." Said Wormwood at last, ever the practical one. "It's time to go."

She rose to her hooves, and straightened her lapels. Picked her "candle" up between her hooves, and tied it to one of the branches with some kind of wire.

"Be seeing you," she whispered, and kissed it good night.

Colonel Wormwood gathered both her wits and belongings while Sprinkles levitated the medal of honor off the top of the tree. It glided gently down into Wormwood's hooves.

She grabbed it, held it tight. Nurtured it.

"For all of our fights, I still think he just wanted to know I was proud of him."

"Are you?" I asked.

Wormwood nodded.

"He was very brave." I said.

"I know. Brave for refusing to enlist when I pushed him to. Braver still for chasing that stupid math dream. And most of all, for coming back to the corps. Even though I know it cost him pride. But he believed in the cause. Everything that boy did, he did for the right reasons." She said. "If only they gave out medals for integrity."

"What's that one for?"

"Dying." She said bluntly, as she tucked it into her breast pocket.

Colonel Wormwood made her way through the "forest," back toward the clearing. Sprinkles and I followed.

* * *

When at last, we came to the end of the trees, and stood facing the clearing, we saw ponies hustling and bustling everywhere. An irate greycoat corn officer stood in the center of it all.

He was yelling at somepony or another to straighten up their posture. Looking daggers at another. Barking orders at one of the stumbling, hiccupy Berry Punch types in his regiment. Every corn within a quarter mile radius tensed up around the stallion.

“Major Pickle Barrel? They sent him to negotiate?" Sprinkles cried.

"Is that the young, eager to prove himself guy?" I tried to ask, but got interrupted.

"He's a fucking douche," said Sprinkles.

Wormwood furrowed her brow.

"The good news is: he's not firing into the crowd. The bad news is: he's the only one here, which means he was sent with very specific instructions," She turned to me. "Scripted responses to projected scenarios. He can't authorize the kind of truce we need,"

"The bad news is, he's a fucking douche." said Sprinkles.

It was a side of the girl I’d never seen before.

"Watch him carefully, Rose. You see how his infantrymares scurry? It's because they are eager to appear busy, and get as far away from him as possible."

She was getting all teacher-y at me again.

"Because he is a Luna-damn douche," said Sprinkles.

Wormwood watched Major Pickle Barrel grimly. Didn't so much as blink. Just watched and studied. Then her eyes went suddenly wide for reasons I couldn't begin to guess.

She fidgeted first with the pocket her son's service medal was in. Dug around in there. Got it safe and secure. Then pulled her head out, stared straight ahead into nothing, and spoke up as if in a trance.

"Sprinkles, I have a job for you," she said, almost zombie-like.


Wormwood fixed her eyes on the corn major at the center of the distant clearing. "In my saddlebag is a hard drive. It has vital information."

The colonel plunged her face into her bag, and pulled out a small black rectangle on a string. She draped it lovingly over Sprinkles' head. Like it were a ribbon in one of those awards ceremonies at the end of the Equestria Games.

"There's an alicorn on the far end of this field. Answers to 'Big Blue.' Looks like Luna. Can't miss her. It is very, very important that you get this to her. Can you do that?"

"Yeah, but--;"

Wormwood kissed the top of Sprinkles' forehead.


Sprinkles saluted. For real. It no longer mattered that she was a corn, and Wormwood was a potato. She saluted like a true soldier, and disappeared into the crowd.

"Luna," she called out. "Big Bluuuue."

Once Sprinkles was gone, Wormwood turned to me. She was back to being the hard lady. As grim as a gravestone.

"Follow me." She said.

* * *

We made our way through the crowd. There were so many ponies everywhere that Wormwood and I hardly stood out, but folks got out of our way once they saw us up close.

"It's her." One of them whispered.

"Hurry. Move!" Said another.

The colonel carried herself like a princess. Held her head high and kept looking straight ahead, eye always on the prize.

Me, I just got all nervous and paranoid. Every eyeball that stared at me made me just want to slip back in those trenches, and bury myself in a pile of blankets. But I couldn't. I had given them all away.

* * *

Finally, we came to a clearing. A great big circle of ponies gathered around Major Pickle Barrel - infamous douche. Everypony watching kept their distance.

We made it to the very edge of the circle. The final pony cleared out of our way, mouth full of apologies.

Wormwood looked all around. Studied everything.

"What's the plan?" I asked.

She looked me square in the eye. Irises like pin drops.

"You're one of the good ones." She said.


"Plan with your head, lead with your heart."


Then Wormwood stepped out into the clearing for all to see. A wave of whispers and murmurs moved its way through the crowd from front to back.

"What?" I said again. "That's it?!"

I tried to follow her into the clearing. She threw a hoof up to block me.

"No!" She snapped.

I would have asked a bunch more questions – pressed the issue further, but Wormwood and Pickle Barrel were in a staring contest now - one I dared not interrupt.

The colonel crossed the clearing with dignity, one rigid step at a time.

What had she meant? Plan with your head, Lead with your heart?

I had no practice at all planning with my head! I couldn't do that!

Was she expecting me to come up with some kinda idea? Was this one of those mind games, like she had done with Sam the Gryphon, where I'm supposed to realize something at just the right moment? And know what to do when that moment came? What if I didn't realize? What if I couldn't? What if I screwed it all up?

By the time Colonel Wormwood was one quarter the way across the clearing, the crowd had hushed.

She was rigid – the colonel - even more than usual. Marching proud, but marching slow.

Pickle Barrel stood at attention. Looked down his nose at Wormwood. The ghost of a smile crinkled at his lips. Dealing with Colonel Wormwood had taught me to notice little things like that. And it didn't add up. Pickle Barrel had been forced to be there. Ordered to be there. And like Wormwood had said, there was no way he was authorized to make real decisions. All Pickle Barrel had done in the short time I had observed him was bark orders and yell a lot.

But now that Wormwood was approaching, the fucking douche was calm. Smug even.

Something wasn't right.

I looked around. At the trees. At the crowd. At the top of the hill.


I watched Colonel Wormwood carefully. Waited for some sign. Some gesture. Like she was gonna spin around any second and call out to me, "Now, Rose! Now! Do it now!"

But there was nothing like that. Nothing at all.

So I watched. And waited.

When I looked closely, I could see a cluster of little red dots of light. They followed Colonel Wormwood and hovered around her mane as she crossed the clearing.

I didn't like them - those little red things. I didn't know exactly what they meant, but I was sure it was nothing good. My stomach turned at the sight of them. They were bad dots.

Wormwood carried on, her regular calm, stoic self. Calmer even. Stoicer.

I couldn't figure it out.

She knew. She had to know. There were bad dots all the fuck over her. But she kept on going. Like nothing was happening at all.

What the hell was her plan?

I watched. And waited. And chewed my filthy mane.

‘Till suddenly, it hit me like a lightning strike to the brain. Colonel Wormwood had sent Sprinkles away to go find Big Blue. But the two of them had never even met. It made absolutely no sense whatsoever! Wormwood knew that something terrible was going to happen. She knew it the second she saw Pickle Barrel out there on the clearing.

She knew. And she didn't want Sprinkles to have to see.

"Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck."

Plan with your head. Lead with your heart.

Dammit! That wasn't a battle plan, it was a piece of parting advice.

She was halfway across the clearing now. Evil red dots eager to strike.

"Stop! Stop!" I wanted to cry. But if I ran to her. If I yelled, if I flinched, the evil red dots might just strike early.

She was gonna die. In front of everyone.

No, no, no, no, no.

"What do red dots mean?" I turned to the corn next to me.

He was useless. He just leaned forward. Mouth agape. They all did. Thirsty for peace. I hadn't seen anyone that eager since those cider sales ponies had come by and whipped the whole town into a state of excitement. We had all gotten so damn thirsty and so damn excited we'd burst into song.

Wait! That's it! I thought. A song

Twelve Days of Hearth's Warming? Too annoying.

Rest Ye Merry Gentlecolts? Too sombre.
Jingle Bells? Too jingly.

Fuck. My brain went blank. De-brainified.

Then a voice came out of nowhere and beat me to it.

"Deck this barn with boughs of holly." A stranger sang softly.

And No Mare's Land was quiet.

Wormwood stopped. For just a fraction of a second. Her ear twitched with excitement.

"Tis the Season to be jolly," she sang out out in a bold, if somewhat atonal voice.

Unlike the stranger in the crowd, Wormwood's singing carried all the way across the valley. I could even hear the echo.

"Don we now our gay apparel." She continued.

And left an empty space in the song.

But the crowd was too stunned to sing along. There was this weird space between the lyrics. It wasn't right. We needed more than that. Wormwood had kept me along rather than sending me off like Sprinkles. She was counting on me. I needed, for the sake of my friends, and for the good of all pony kind, to be a gigantic pain in the ass.

"Fa la-la, fa la-la, la la la!" I answered as loudly as I could.

Downright shouted it.

A smirk made its way across the colonel's face.

"Toll the ancient Hearth's Tide Carol," she sang.

"Fa la la la la, la la la la." A few more of us replied.

"Come on, everypony!" I yelled. "Louder!"

The smile faded from Pickle Barrel's face. He looked to the highground eagerly. Impatient-like. But nothing happened.

The singing just grew stronger, and stronger, and stronger. Even the little red dots shook and wavered. Major Pickle Barrel stood there. Dumbstruck while the crowd thundered with Fa's and La's. This was not a part of his script.

He muttered something panicky into his Pip Buck. Freaked the fuck out at it in whispers. 'Till suddenly, the dots quietly went away.

"Sing we joyous all together..."

We took to stomping in rhythm. All of us. I don't know who started that one either, but it caught on, and caught on fast.

Boom boom boom boom. Three thousand hoofstomps shaking the very earth. You could feel it. From the look on his face, Major Pickle Barrel could feel it too.

His twitchy eyes watched the highground.

Even I was starting to get a little nervous. With every stomp, the impact pounded deep in my chest.

Boom boom boom boom boom!

Then Wormwood got to the middle of the circle, and the song came to an end. We all joined in a great big old rally of, “Fa la la la la la la la la,” and cheered. But the stomping kept on going.

Stomps of joy. Hope. Anticipation. With the singing gone, it had an edge to it too.

Boom! Anger in our hooves.

Pickle Barrel was so startled by the raw power of it, that he jumped backward.

Doom doom doom doom doom doom doom doom doom.

We continued.

Yeah! I thought.



Leap. You. Cockwaffle.

Stomp stomp stomp.

That's. What. You. Get. For. Fucking. With. Our. Hearth's. Tide. Cheer.

Colonel Wormwood held up her hoof. With a single gesture, she hushed the entire crowd.

Utter silence.

Pickle Barrel straightened himself up, looked around, put on his best dignified officer mask, and stood perfectly still like he was posing for a photo.

"Happy Hearth's Warming, Major," said Wormwood. "I'm glad you could join us."

"Happy Hearth’s Warming to you too." Pickle Barrel said stiffly. "General Sun Sparkle requests your presence back at headquarters.”

He was anxious to get the fuck out of there.

Wormwood, at first, didn't say a word. Didn't make a motion. Just stood there, making Major Pickle Barrel all the more uncomfortable.

"My son died." She replied at last. "Not two hundred feet from this spot. This is where I stand. This is where I negotiate.”

A reverent silence hung over the air. Potatoes and corns alike.

Pickle Barrel again defaulted to military formality. Got all upright and statue-y.

"I don't have the authority to sign a truce or negotiate terms. If you're serious about peace talks, you are going to have to talk to the general." He held so still he might as well have been made out of marble. "I have orders."

“And I have a gift for you, Major."


"A token of friendship. Between the good folks at the Twilight Society and us Applejackoffs."

The crowd busted out laughing. That insult - that word that the Twilight Society had used to deponify the Rangers - in a mere instant, Wormwood had robbed it of all its power. Like magic.

Major Pickle Barrel looked scornfully at the crowd. Potatoes and corns alike. All of us laughing in the face of hate. The major wasn't happy.

Colonel Wormwood buried her face in her coat. Mumbled back at Pickle Barrel with a mouthful of something or other.

"Tell your snipers to ease off so I can get it." She said. "You can disable that force field too, Major. I won't hurt you."

Everyone laughed again.

Pickle Barrel stopped. Blinked. Snuck a few more peaks at the high ground above the valley, then hit some buttons on his Pip Buck as discreetly as he could.

Despite his best efforts, Pickle Barrel was shaking. With anger. Or maybe fear? I couldn't tell. But it all went out the window once Wormwood whipped out that gift.

"This...is the Strawberry Lemonade Medal of Honor," said Colonel Wormwood, clutching the medal with her teeth. "Awarded to my son. He made the ultimate sacrifice, and won the highest honor a Ranger can receive. Now I want you to have it, major."

Pickle Barrel froze. No one dared make a sound. Just the rustling of hundreds of manes. Those in the crowd who had been wearing hats took them off and held them to their chests.

Me? My brain broke. I stood there babbling like a foal.

"S-Straw...Strawberry Lemonade? How? What? Strawberry..."

“Shh.” Said the corn standing next to me.

"Please accept it.” Said Wormwood. “As a symbol of friendship between the Rangers and the Twilight Society, or at least the potential for one.”

The colonel placed the medal into her hoof and held it out for the taking.

Pickle Barrel looked down at it. Eyes like saucers. He was stuck. He couldn’t publicly refuse the medal.


He lifted a hoof. Looked left, looked right. Over his shoulder. All around. As though something might swoop in, and relieve him of the responsibility.

But It didn’t. Wormwood was still standing there. Hoof extended. And everyone was still watching. Waiting for him to step up and, for once in his life, not be a total fucking douche.

“I…" He stammered again, but couldn’t muster up a single other word.

Finally, he reached out. Not even with telekinesis, but with his bare hooves. And took it.

“S-Strawberry Lemonade?” I babbled to myself some more.

Turned to the ponies around me to try to get an explanation. The corn to my right was busy watching Pickle Barrel accept the medal.

“Psst, who is Strawberry Lemonade?” I asked the stranger. "Why is she famous?"

But tears flooded the stranger's eyes as the peace unfolded. He didn't say a word.

Fucking useless.

I spun left. One of the potatoes next to me.

“You,” I whisper-shouted. “Strawberry Lemonade! You’ve got to tell me--;”

“Shh!” Said the brown coat mare.


I turned and watched what she was watching. An extremely awkward scene between Wormwood and Major Pickle Barrel.

“It’s an honor-;” Said the major in his boldest public-speaking-type voice.

He looked down at the medal in his hoof, and levitated it into his pocket.

“I accept.”

Everyone cheered. The corn to my right, out of nowhere, gripped me in a crushing bear hug. I coughed. No sooner than when he dropped me, did I get glomped by the potato to my left. It was utter jubilation.

“My son believed in the cause." Wormwood turned away from Pickle Barrel.

She was speaking to us now. We hushed down to listen.

"He wanted what everyone here wants - to see that door open. The ancient magic. The ancient tech. The ancient wonders."

Wormwood called out. "But we can't get the door open without cooperation. We can't! Not without sharing each other’s expertise. Magic and tech."

There were some general murmurs and nods of approval.

"And what then?" The major spoke up at last. “How do we protect deadly information from falling into the wrong hooves?”

Silence. We had all gotten so wrapped up in that desire for peace - that thirst - that we had forgotten about the actual core disagreement between the potatoes and corns. PIckle Barrel cut through all the lovey-dovey stuff. And he was right. There was no easy answer. We all wanted peace so very, very, very badly. But none of us could even begin to imagine how.

"I'm all for friendship. Who isn't? I'm touched by your gesture. Sorry for your loss. Honestly." He said, as wooden and rigid as an actor in a kindergarten play. "But we're talking about the fate of the world here. That has to take precedent over friendship and wishful thinking."

Corns and potatoes all looked to one another. Mournfully. My throat dropped like a bowling ball into my stomach. That hope. That pivotyness. It was slipping.

"No." Wormwood replied.

She shook her head. "That's where the Ministry Mares went wrong."

Three-thousand heads lifted. Six-thousand eyes widened.

Even Pickle Barrel's. I didn't get the reference, but I could tell it was some kind of checkmate.

"That's where we went wrong." Wormwood shook her head.

A sombre silence hung there over all of us.

"What would you have us do?! Huh?" Snapped the major at last.

He wasn't even angry anymore. He was just plain frustrated. Trying with all his might to get through to us. To be the voice of reason.

Wormwood turned away from Pickle Barrel and looked me in the eye. Just for a second.

“We’re going to have to try.” She said.

She was using my words. Pinkie Pie’s words. It’s worth a try.

"Oh, Luna." I moaned to myself.

Shrunk back. Hid under my collar. No one knew that Wormwood was referencing our conversation, but I still felt like everypony was suddenly watching me.

“It’s what the Lightbringer wanted." Said Wormwood. "It’s what Private Mugwort, my son, would have wanted.”

The colonel took a deep breath.

"Maybe the true test of whether or not we are ready for the responsibility of wielding the relics of the past...is whether or not we have learned from the past." She let that one sink in.

Pickle Barrel was a fool to get sucked into a debate. And he knew it. He'd lost. And he knew it.

"If you won't come to meet with General Sun Sparkle, a moment alone, then?” He said through gritted teeth. "If you would be so kind?"

“Of course.” Wormwood obliged.

Pickle Barrel lifted his head up, spun around, and did that weird canter thing that fancy rich ponies do - you know - where they pick their knees up really high. The two huddled together. Wormwood and Pickle Barrel. They huddled together for a good solid minute, which, in Trying To Find Out If The Lives of Everyone You Know and Love are About to Be Spared time, translates to about a thousand years.

I had no idea how the colonel was going to pull this off. Neither did anyone. Sure, Wormwood could mop the floor with him in a debate. It wouldn't add up to a lasting peace. We could stomp our hooves in unison. Wouldn’t resolve the crisis.

How could it?

Still, we watched them convene in silence. And waited.

“Come on, come on.” I whispered to myself. To the sky. To Luna.

But the huddle just seemed to go on, and on, and on, and on, and on. After a certain point, I don't even think Colonel Wormwood was saying anything. All I could tell was that the major was tense. Nopony can hide that tail swish, no matter how good a liar.

All around me, everyone was the same. Terrified. Thirsty for peace. Desperate. The potato and the corn on either side of me actually huddled together for support. The pivotyness got so damn thick I couldn't breathe. The tides of history were like one great big coin. Spinning and spinning. Teasing whether it was going to come up heads or tails.

Finally, the two officers turned away from one another, and faced us.

Pickle Barrel, with noticeable effort, carried himself with pride. Wormwood just radiated it casually.

The major approached the center of the circle. And found himself standing in his own hoofprints. His head was lifted higher than ever. But he swallowed hard. Licked his lips. Took a deep breath. Kept stealing glances at Wormwood. Major Pickle Barrel was nervous as hell. At last, he turned and addressed the rest of us.

"Fellow Twilight Society soldiers." He said. "Oh, and Applejackoffs too, of course."

He laughed.

No one laughed with him. The wind whipped and whistled through the trenches.

"Eh...There are of course, fine points to be negotiated." Pickle Barrel snuck another glance in Wormwood's direction.

The colonel didn't say a word.

"However, in the common interest of getting that um…door open, we have negotiated a temporary armistice – a cease-fire.” Pickle Barrel looked over his shoulder. Then back at Wormwood again.

“The war is over." He sighed.

And we replied with silence. There had to be a catch. It couldn't be that simple. We all stood there waiting. Surely, the other horseshoe was gonna drop. Any second.

“It’s happening,” said Colonel Wormwood at last. “The peace is won.”

All eyes turned to Pickle Barrel. It was too un-fucking-believable to fucking believe.

“There’s no catch,” said the major. “I’ll take the word to General Sun Sparkle. The peace is happening. I swear it. By Twilight’s honor.”

Pickle Barrel held up her hoof. Wormwood held up hers. They bumped.

And just like that, the war was over.

All of No Mare’s Land erupted. Like a valve that had burst.

Tears. Laughter. Songs. All at once, we just sort of tripped over one another in joyous chaos. We shouted. We stomped. Some random pony grabbed me and hugged me. I don’t even know if they were a potato or a corn. It didn’t matter anymore. When he put me down, I flung myself at the corn beside me and hugged him.

And in the middle of all that celebration, a great white light swept over No Mare’s Land.

Whoosh. A gust of wind. A blue miasma. The next thing any of us knew, we were sparkley. Like glitter. Or rutilated crystal. I didn’t even see it at first. My bad hoof was black, and the rest of me was draped in oversized coats. But I felt it.

All of us did. A sort of warmth that seemed to come up at you from the inside. Like a cup of hot cocoa. It felt wonderful.

Even Pickle Barrel, who, moments before, had seemed to be conceding to peace out of sheer fucking terror, was looking at his own green fur, and ogling its shimmer.

Then Colonel Wormwood’s Pip Buck lit up. Pickle Barrel’s too. Strange bleeping sounds came from machinery scattered loosely amongst the crowd. Pickle Barrel looked to Wormwood. But she just shrugged. Neither of them had a clue what was going on. 'Till Big Blue came barrel rolling in from out of nowhere, Sprinkles clinging to her back, yelling, “Yeeeeeeehaaaaa.”

“Da door! It’s open!" Blue shouted. "The Crystal Empire! It’s fucking open!”

Pickle Barrel looked up. Totally stunned.

“How?” He said.

Wormwood just examined her Pip Buck carefully. Pounded on buttons and said at last, “A message….the door. We just intercepted a signal from the Crystal Wall's maneframe.”

We all stopped. Hung on her words.

“It said, ‘Crystal Heart activated.”

* * *

Judging by the excitement and confusion that followed, no one had a damn clue what the Crystal Heart even was. But the corns and potatoes rejoiced just the same.

“What does it mean?”

“I don’t know.”

“Me neither.”

“What the--;”

“I know.” I said to myself. And was surprised at how many eyes turned to me and how quickly.

Silence. More whistley wind.

"Rose?" said Colonel Wormwood "You know something about this?"

I looked around. Suddenly the whole fucking army was watching.

Wormwood summoned me forward with a head gesture. I laughed nervously and crept up to her. All shy like. As if slinking toward center stage instead of trotting there would keep me from getting noticed.

I stopped when I reached the colonel.

Looked up. She was getting all stareitty at me again.

"Well, uh, you know how the Crystal Empire is like a prism?" I said. "And when everything is…Good, it spreads love and light to all of Equestria? But if it goes bad, then the entire world, you know...starts to suck?"

I looked to the crowd. Blank faces. All of them. They knew nothing.

"Well, uh… they manage to keep everything happyish over there by holding a street fair. And they have this big magic heart thing made out of crystal. It’s called the Crystal Heart, because it’s crystal, and it’s uh…It’s uh...well, it's shaped like a heart.”

I laughed nervously.

No one laughed with me. Even Wormwood was losing patience.

Quick, Rose. I told myself. You’re losing them. Pull yourself together! Think of the basics. The empire! The heart! What it all does. What it all means. That’s what they need to know.

I took a deep breath. But folks were already wandering away - inching toward that walkway. Shoving on up the hill to see the open door for themselves.

"Atten hut!" Wormwood shouted, and the whole army froze. “There will be no stampeding here tonight, do I make myself clear?"

The stragglers stopped.

"We go in together. In formation!" Shouted Pickle Barrel.

The crowd responded with a mixture of sir, yes sir and ma'am, yes ma'am, depending on who they were answering to.

Wormwood turned to me. Make it quick. Make it good. She said to me without having to utter a single word.

There were thousands of confused, hopeful faces. Waiting. This was a lead with the heart sort of moment, and I was overthinking it with my stupid old head.

“Fuck the Crystal Faire." I said. "We just fixed a war. We made enough love and light and stuff to get the Crystal Heart going anyway. From all the way out here. Without the Crystal Faire. Because, you know, like, that happiness that you feel at a street fair? It's, like funnel cake and petting zoo and flugelhorn joy. But there are thousands of us, and we just created like, a holy shit, we just saved the world, and aren't going to die...Kind of joy. And the Crystal Heart felt us. All the way over here! It felt us. And it knew! It knew we were good ponies. Like ponies used to be. Before the war. Before Littlepip. Before the bomb and Wasteland and all that stupid stuff. We had the kind of love and light that the Crystal Empire needed. And the Crystal Heart knew it.”

I stopped to catch my breath. I had been panting like I'd just run a mareathon.

It did know, didn’t it? The Crystal Heart. How the fuck did it know? I wondered.

I looked up to that same sea of faces. All smiling. I remembered where I was.

“The Crystal Heart, it...uh, well, it opened the door." I sighed. “Because it knew.”

For a moment all you could hear was murmuring. As folks tried to make sense of all that I had rambled.

"Just like the elements of mayonnaise taste terrible without a sandwich to put it in!" I exclaimed, finally having gotten my confidence back.

More blank faces.

"Um...I mean..."


I buried my whole head back in my oversized coat.

“There you have it,” said Colonel Wormwood with authority. “The Crystal Heart knew.”

They all cheered. Wormwood to the rescue. I closed my eyes. Sighed. Turned to the colonel and mouthed two words, “thank you.”

She didn’t smile or nod back. Just used the roaring crowd as a chance to cut to the chase and talk serious.

"How do you know all this?”

"I don't." I said. "At least I don't know about the last part. That flugelhorn joy vs. saving-the-world joy is, like, my theory."

She looked at me sternly.

"B-but the part about the Crystal Empire – I swear that's real. I read that in an interview with Twilight Sparkle in the Foal Free Press."

That of all things made Wormwood's jaw drop. The first time I’d ever seen her caught off guard.

I smiled.

"So you know it's true,” I added. “Because the Foal Free Press doesn't do namby-pamby stories anymore. Not since Namby Pamby left as editor-in-chief.”

“I see.” Wormwood replied.

Dammit. This was going to take a lot of explaining. I racked my brain trying to think of the right words. Turned away from Wormwood. And there he was. Major Pickle Barrel. Eyeballing us suspiciously. Nervously.

I didn't like it.

"Hey, Colonel,"


"Now that we have the door open, and the treasure inside is actually a real concern, how do we know we can trust The Douche?"

"The spirit of Hearth's Warming." Wormwood dismissed me. Gave me poker-face. It didn't work.

"I'm serious. He keeps looking at us like he's afraid we might try something. Like, make a run for the Crystal Empire without him, or I don't know, make off with one of those end of the world megaspell superbomb things."

Wormwood glanced over her shoulder at Major Pickle Barrel. Pickle Barrel forced a fake nervous little smile in reply.

"What did you say to him anyway?"

Colonel Wormwood turned back to me. Did that thing where she measured me in her mind. Calculated at me. It was unnerving. Even when she was my friend. Getting looked at like that was fucking unnerving.

"You're not good at keeping secrets." She said.


"I trust you, Rose. You would never betray anyone's trust, but you're still a terrible liar."

"Fair point." I grumbled.

"But you’re also going to be a pain in the ass about this," she continued. "I can tell. And I don't want you fucking it up by asking the wrong questions of the wrong ponies, so I am going to share a secret with you. Take it as another lesson in leadership."


I perked up. Not just because I was gonna find out. But because she trusted me. Cared about me. Wanted me to learn.

"I offered to surrender."


"It wouldn't have gone well with the crowd to do so publicly, but I offered to turn all of my resources, soldiers and all, over to the corns, and to answer to General Sun Sparkle directly so that we could put our heads together and figure out how to hack the door. It's a union we were going to need to form anyway. It could buy us some protection from the inevitable backlash from Ranger Headquarters, and most importantly, it gave The Douche, as you call him, an out. He could save face. He could go back to Sun Sparkle. He could take credit."

"That's really diplomatic." I said.

Wormwood smiled at me.

"What if he said 'no'? And why is he acting--;"

"Major Pickle Barrel asked me that very same question. 'What if I say no?' So I told him the other half of my plan."

She held her head up. Looked over at Pickle Barrel. Wormwood's face was a stone mask as always, but I knew her well enough to know that there was a smirk hiding under there somewhere.

"That my son's Medal of Honor was laced with a slow-acting neurotoxin." She turned to look at me directly. Let that smirk really break loose. "And that only I have the antidote."

Sweet, merciful Celestia.

I wasn't sure whether to hug her or run away screaming

"But it wasn't actually, right?" I said. "I mean, you didn't actually…Do that? With a nouveaux toxin or whatever you call it."

Wormwood did not reply.

"Your plan would work just as well if you had lied about it."


"Maybe what? Maybe it would work, or maybe you lied?"

Wormwood rested a hoof on my shoulder.

"Rose, I'm sorry. Some things a lady never tells."

* * *

We headed up the hill. Wormwood, Pickle Barrel, three-thousand soldiers, and me. Light pouring over that ridge above us.

The commanding officers were all busy. Keeping the peace. Making sure Nopony trampled one another. We were all so excited. So eager. It took a whole lot of atten-huts and stuff just to keep everypony from stepping on one another.

They let me stay up front because I was small, but it still took forever.

By the time we actually started climbing up the hill, I was so excited to finally see it. The door. The empire. Actually fucking open. But as I neared the top, I started getting a really strange feeling. Light was spilling down over the top of the ridge. Like mist from a waterfall.

And the moment that I felt the real power of that warm delightful glow, my evil hoof started to hurt. And every step up that hill after that - every inch closer to the door of the Crystal Empire made it hurt just a little bit more.

Fuck damnit. Stupid shadowy clitweasels.

Author's Note:

Special Thanks to Seraphem, and FireclawDrake - two all around swell dudes who actually care enough about Rose Petal to put up with my obsessing over every little sentence like a madpony.

Happy fifth anniversary to the show, and congrats to the CMC's.