Fallout: Equestria - The Hooves of Fate

by Sprocket Doggingsworth

Shadow Country

"The world is still a weird place, despite my efforts to make clear and perfect sense of it." - Hunter S. Thompson

The Bananas Foster sitting cross-legged on the edge of her bed, telling her story - she was a different pony than the one I had seen before – the one I thought I knew. But that's the point of façades, isn't it?
To protect yourself. To hide.
The Bananas Foster in front of me - the real Foster - was gravityish. Intense.
Listening to her open up about her mom, about the the desert, about the shadows - it was a lot like watching her tear her own skin off. But even as she laid herself bare, I stil got the feeling that there was more. Something Foster wasn't telling me. Something she couldn't tell me.
It drove me crazy. Trying to connect Point A to Point B - struggling to figure out what it could be. Until she got to the part of the story where her mom flew her over that giant doom chasm. Tapped her bubble when she freaked out, and said “eyes forward, soldier.”
The look on Bananas’ face - that glow she emitted - that pride at being treated just like everypony else - it told me that Bananas Foster was not only being genuine, but that she was actually trusting me with one of her most intimate memories.
When I’d told my friends of my experiences, I‘d been far less open. The shadows. The tunnels. I’d skipped over all the details. None of my friends knew about Sub Mine F. Or my memories of mom. I hadn't talked about the way that she'd cradled me. The way she'd said, "I'm so sorry.” The way I’d yearned to tell her that I was the one who was sorry, but couldn't articulate the words
That memory was mine. Mine alone. Even after the shadows had intruded upon it, it still wasn't something I wanted to share. Especially with Roseluck in the room. She’d always prided herself on having shielded me from the worst of Mom's illness.
Bananas Foster, for all that she kept to herself, still told me more than I’d told her. Foster, at least, was sharing the story of what’d happened to her mother.

* * *

"When we got to the other side," Bananas said. "Mother wasted no time. We got moving right away. Everypony was exhausted - especially my pegasus brothers after their long flight across the chasm - but we hauled flank. And once we made some distance from the chasm, my family and I even started to feel a faint glimmer of optimism. We'd made it after all."
Foster laughed a little. A snort that sounded like her throat was full of gravel and nails.
“We got pretty close to the camp that Mother had spotted from across the canyon,” Foster said. “The sheet that hung there seemed almost like a beacon - a great white hope.
“But it didn't take long for us to realize that that presence - that evil force - it hadn't simply gone away after we’d crossed the canyon.
“Shadow Country." I whispered.
The implications of the idea tumbled around the inside of my head, even as the words spilled from my mouth.
“You said the chasm warped your vision...And sound!” I added excitedly. “The chasm warped what you could hear from the other side, yes?”
“Yeah.” Foster whipped out a book and pencil, eager to jot down notes on what I had to say.
“Well, here's what I'm thinking. If you had brain silence on one end of the canyon, and you felt a shadow presence on the other, then like, what if the chasm was some kinda border? You know, to, um...Shadowville or something?”
Bananas sighed. Rolled her eyes.
“Okay,” I said. “So maybe it's not actually called Shadowville...uh, Shadownia?” I added awkwardly. “Shadowstan?”
Foster spat out her pencil, and slammed her book shut altogether.
“What? Why not?” I pleaded, even more sure of my theory once Bananas Foster appeared to reject it. “Think about it! If that chasm was a border--;”
“Of course it's a border." Bananas retorted dryly.
“But it wasn't Shadownia. As you call it.”
“Oh," I replied, feeling kind of stupid.
I’d thought that my border theory would be a big revelation.
“You're sure?” I said.
Bananas nodded.
“The shadows had reach on the other side of the canyon.” Foster brushed her book aside and leaned over the edge of the bed.. “They followed us. Gave us chills, taunted us in whispers, disappeared on us, just to make us paranoid about when they'd be coming back.”
Bananas shook her head. “But Shadow Country is a different thing altogether.”
“How do you know?” I said.
“That's um...where they took me afterwards.”
Bananas spun back around. Pretended to flip the pages on that book of hers. She couldn't bear to look me in the eye.
Took you?!” I said.
“Yes,” she said crisply, sounding all bright, and sing-songitty, and fake.
Her hooves shook as she rummaged through the pages.
“The shadows took you?" I repeated in astonishment.
“Isn't that what I just said?!” She snapped. Whisper-shouted at me with venom on her tongue.
And I was left befuddled.
Had they actually taken her prisoner? If that were true, how the fuck did she get free?
‘Till then, I had kinda presumed that Bananas’d evaded capture. Just like I had.
Love. Light. Friendship. That sort of thing.
Part of me had even thought that maybe they couldn't take her ‘cause of her bubble or something.

* * *

The two of us sat there alone in the dark and quiet, not speaking a word. Foster stared at the floor. Fidgeted with the white bedsheet underneath her flank. Studied it.
“The big white ‘sheet’ we’d seen from so far away,” Bananas Foster made quotation marks with her hooves. “Turned out to be an old deflated parachute, hung up as a beacon of sorts, waiting to be noticed.
“When we got close to it, Mother stopped, held up a hoof, and ordered us to stay put while she trotted off to investigate the small forest of pointy red boulders surrounding it at the base of the mountain.”
Bananas looked up at the ceiling. Sighed.
"Well, Mother was gone for a long time." She said. “Some of us even started to wonder if something had happened - if we should maybe send Sugarplum in after her - if we’d been wise to come anywhere near that spot in the first place.
“My dome was propped right on the backsides of three of my brothers, so I overheard a lot of whispering.” She added all conspiratorial-like.
“But I kept my eye on the rocks, and waited for her to emerge, faithful that whatever happened next was going to result in a plan.”
Bananas Foster drew her blanket tight around her.
“Mother always had a plan.” She said softly.

“Well, eventually, Mother came back grim-faced, determined, and ready to move on. She didn't even want to let us see the camp that we’d struggled so hard to get to.”
Foster held up a hoof to silence my outrage.
“I felt the same way, Rose. When Mother disappeared for sooo long, only to come back in a hurry, it freaked all of us out.
“We pressed her for answers - insisted upon knowing more about what she'd found.”
Bananas laughed meekly to herself. Her cheeks flushed red with embarrassment. She was ashamed of having been assertive toward her mom, even after the fact.
“Ordinarily, we were good kids. Didn't backtalk. Didn't ask a lot of questions. So when we all came together to express our fears, and concerns, Mother actually took it seriously.
“But her reply was still blunt, and to the point.
“‘A dead pegasus.’ She said. ‘I found her body beside a series of notes scribbled into the sand.’”
“Notes?” I interrupted.
Foster nodded.
“The pegasus had left writings about the desert.” She said. “Mother told my brothers and I the barest minimum about it, but before we could ask any questions, she spun away from us, scanned the horizon, and stopped to squint, focusing on something far off in the distance.
‘That,’ Mother pointed. ‘Is the way.’ But, the thing is: I couldn't see anything at all. None of us could.”
“Wait a minute.” I interrupted. “What does a pegasus need with parachute?"
“That's what I thought!” Foster said enthusiastically. Leapt up out of bed and everything.
“I knew something wasn't right. You see, Mother would never, ever, ever, ever lie to us, but I thought she might've been...um...optimistically interpreting what she'd found...as a way to keep us focused.” Bananas said, pressing herself up against the inside of the dome. “Some of the others suspected too, but we didn't say anything. Because we had to believe her.”
“Why'd you have to?” I said, fighting the urge to roll my eyes. “And what does any of that have to do with the parachute?”
Foster held up yet another, I’m getting to that hoof.
“My family had a pact. Our shared profession kept us lying all the time. We fibbed to every living soul we ever met, so it was vital that we never, never, ever lie to one another. It's what made us a family.”
“You read pirate novels," Bananas added. “Surely you're familiar with the concept of honor amongst thieves.”
I nodded.
Bananas Foster threw me a well, there you go look, and continued.
“Naturally, we took Mother at her word. We knew she wasn't lying, but that didn't stop us from suspecting her of, um...downplaying the hopelessness of the situation. I could smell the doubt on my brothers. But no one dared question her out loud.”
Bananas chuckled lightly. A spark of mischief and excitement lit her eyes.
“Except for me.” She said. “I knew something Mother didn't. Otherwise, I would never have questioned her, especially in a time of crisis.”
Bananas darted over to her trunk. Got to rummaging.
“But the parachute!” She said, face deep in trunk stuff. “It drove me crazy, ‘cause like you said, why would a pegasus need one?! So I ruminated on it, turned the scenario upside down, and inside out, like a puzzle cube in my head. Even as my brothers were getting ready to leave – as Mother studied the horizon - I pounced on that one detail in my mind - tore it apart ‘till finally everything clicked.”
Foster clapped her hooves together.

“I called out loud to Mother. And I nagged her.”
Bananas ranted with her back to me, face still buried in her trunk like an ostrich.
“Yes, Mother scowled at me at first. My brothers looked upon me with disgust. As though I had been disloyal - as though I actually had accused her of lying.”
Foster looked back over her shoulder at me.
“But I needed to know one thing. I needed to, Rose. So I pleaded with her.
“‘The pegasus,’ I shouted to Mother over a sea of flanks and necks. ‘Was there a name anywhere? On her goggles. Or her jacket? Or maybe the notes she left behind in the sand? An initial? Anything?’
“Mother didn't answer, only hushed me scornfully from a distance.
“‘Shut up.’ Sugarplum snapped at me.
"But I wasn't being disrespectful, Rose, I wasn't!" Bananas Foster pleaded with me - desperate for me to understand that she wasn't some kind of Mother-questioning brat. "It's just that I knew what was going on. So as Mother turned her back, and got ready to lead us all deeper into the vast emptiness of the desert, I got scared of where we were headed, of never finding out whether or not my theory – my first real clue as to what might be happening to all of us – was true. So I called out to her.
“‘Mareheart.’ I shouted. ‘Mareheart!’
“Mother turned around when she heard me, made her way to the back of our little formation. I could see her head, towering above all my brothers’, like a ship cutting across the surface of the sea.
“But by the time she got to me, the scowl had fallen from her face. She looked to me with only amazement, and wonder.
“‘Please,’ I said. ‘The goggles. Did the name inscribed on them say, Amelia Mareheart?’
“‘Yes,’ she answered in a whisper. ‘How did you know?’”

Bananas grabbed a book with her mouth, and dragged it out of the trunk.
“Mmm mmph mm,” She mumbled at first.
But then she realized that she couldn't talk and hold the book at the same time. So she brought it to the foot of her bed, and dropped it before continuing with her story.
“‘Come with me.’ Mother said.
“She hitched the immunofiltration unit to herself, dragged me away from the rest of the family, and parked us both somewhere private. We ended up behind one of those big jagged rocks jutting out of the ground.
“Once we were settled, she knelt down, eye level with me, and spoke in secrecy.
“‘How did you know?' Mother whispered, even though we were far enough away that no one would've been able to hear.

“I told her!” Bananas broke her narrative to speak to me directly. “See, about a hundred years ago, daredevil exploration was all the craze. Pegasi were in fierce competition to outdo one another, so it was not uncommon for young upstarters to embark on overly ambitious expeditions.
"After several pegasi pushed themselves to the point of literal exhaustion, and crashed, Princess Celestia ordered several mandatory safety measures to keep the craze from getting out of control. So any Pegasus to carry an emergency parachute would have to have come from that era.”
Foster shared her logic with me.
“One particularly crazy pegasus by the name of Amelia Mareheart attempted to fly across the ocean. She gathered on the docks of Manehattan to wave goodbye - to sign autographs, to take off in a flamboyant spectacle of stuntsmareship the world was sure to hear about. But after she flew east over the sea, no one ever saw or heard from her again.
“Yeah!” I said, the old urban legends coming back to me like dim memories. “I think I heard about that. She crashed into the ocean.”
“No.” Foster said, a touch of crazy fire in her eyes. “That's just what everypony presumed. She disappeared. And turned up in that desert.”
My brain twisted and turned around the idea. Chased its implications over, under around, and through, like a wiener dog pursuing its tail until it turned into a dog-pretzel.
“I told Mother all of this.” Foster said. “How Mareheart went missing over the ocean. How her body had never been found. How the only way for Mareheart to have ended up there of all places - in the desert with us - would have been for the sky to have literally opened up and swallowed her.
“And then, in a rare spark of intuition, I told her what I thought that the desert really was.”
Bananas Foster inched forward toward the edge of the dome. Forgot all about the book on aviators she'd spent so much time and effort fishing out.
“It's a limbo of sorts,” she said. “A place for lost souls - ponies who fell out of their own worlds - their own universes.”
“A space between duckies.” I interrupted as my brain struggled to digest all of the strange new ideas running around inside of it.
“Yes! And when I explained all of this to Mother, she didn't interrupt once. She stood there, listening, and furrowing her brow. When I finished, she pressed her hooves to her lips and stared grimly at nothing - sat motionless for a good long while, until, at last, her head slowly began to nod.
"‘Yes,’ she whispered in silent awe. ‘That would seem likely.’"

“It was good to hear.” Bananas’ face lit up with girlish glee. “To be taken seriously!
"Mother shared with me everything she knew after that. We even took the time to go have a look at Amelia Mareheart's campsite. Just Mother and I, and the remains of a legend!”
Bananas looked to me with nerdish enthusiasm. “You know what's amazing?”
I shook my head no.
“Mareheart was defiant, even to the end. When I finally saw the body, it was shriveled, but it still held this weird posture, even as it lay there on the ground. One leg was pointing forward, as if to accuse the ground.
"'Go ahead and say I lost. Tell me I'm dead. I dare you!'"
“One tough lady.” Foster added.
I nodded in agreement. Though I found her fascination with Mareheart’s body a little weird.

“It was great to spend time with Mother again,” she continued. “To be useful! But after we had our look around, we still weren't any better off. Nothing that we learned about the desert was of much practical use."
“What about the notes on the ground?” I pressed. “What did they say?"
"All sorts of things. She gave directions, drew maps. But we couldn't use them. Mareheart had been dead a long time, and the desert had since changed, if her descriptions were anything to go by.”
“What? Changed?” I asked. “How?"
That land had been so stagnant that even hundred-year-old scribblings in the sand had remained undisturbed. It was hard to imagine that anything about it could have changed so drastically so as to alter a map.
"The chasm." Foster replied. “Mareheart said nothing about it in any of her writings or doodles. I don't think it existed yet.”
“But how is that possible? Where did it even come from?”
“I don't know. The Lost Lands are anything but normal. (That's what Mareheart called them)." She said to me in a whisper, as though Mareheart's direct words were some kind of sacred secret to be kept. " All I can tell you is that the notes that we discovered contradicted the landscape we’d found ourselves in.”
I nodded. Scratched at my chin, all thinkitty-like.
“When we rummaged through Mareheart’s supplies,” Foster added with a whisper. “We found a compass. The needle was bent out of shape, and spinning so fast that it was dangerous to touch.”
“For real?”
Foster nodded.
“Tell me about it! Anyway, we got out of there after seeing that.” Foster continued with her story. “Mother and I may have gotten creeped out a little, but once we emerged from the campsite, the whole family rushed over. Greeted us with enthusiasm. Hope!
“My brothers had taken our absence as a sign that there really was something at the campsite worth seeing – that Mother really did have something resembling a plan, and that I was part of it.”
Foster shook her head. Smiled faintly. Sighed.
“It wasn't much of a plan. Water was still a pressing concern, and I couldn't ignore the fact that I was almost out of argonite crystal, but Mother had extrapolated a location for a potential oasis, and that, at least, was something to shoot for.”
Foster drifted off. Glanced down at that same book on aviators that she still hadn't opened.
“Mother was a lot like Mareheart, you know?” She tapped the book thoughtfully. “Not the type to take life lying down. Better to head for something, than to lie around and wait to die.”
“But how did she know where an oasis was going to be?” I asked eagerly.
“Mother and I had studied what little relevant information Mareheart had left behind. We couldn't be sure, but we made our best guess and hoped that the oasis was still out there somewhere.”
“Was it?” I interrupted.
“I don't know." Bananas Foster said grimly. "We never made it that far.”
“You, um...they…” I stammered in shock.
“Yeah.” Bananas replied dryly. “They followed us. Stalked us - played head games for a couple of hours. And then, when our spirits were lowest, and half of us had already passed out from dehydration, the shadows swept in.”
Foster pursed her lips. Tightened up her posture like an invisible plank had just gotten hitched to her back. At the clip of a hoof, she became a totally different pony. I would have expected her to tear up or something, but instead the fear fell right off her face. Her eyes stared off, all oblivious-like. As though she wasn't even awake - like her mind was off somewhere a gazillion miles away.

“They killed Mother.” Bananas Foster said dryly. “And all of my brothers too. But they didn't try with me.”
“‘'Cause of the bubble?” I asked.
“‘Because they wanted me for something else.”
I cast my eyes downward at my evil hoof. Turned it over. Studied it closely. The shadows had plans for me too.
“Uh, wanted you for what?" I asked nervously.
“That's a whole other story.” Foster replied.

* * *

It took Bananas Foster a really, really long time to work up the nerve to talk about the rest. First she paused for some water. Then to put away her aviator book. Then to fix her bed, before finally plopping a pillow down on the ground by the edge of the dome, and sitting on it.
But I didn't press her. Even though my stomach was doing nervous somersaults in anticipation. This was hard on Bananas, and she already knew that she couldn't put it off forever. What was to follow - the truth about Shadownia - that was the entire point of our conversation. The whole reason she was putting herself through this. We needed to learn as much as we could about those bastards.
I let her sit and mourn a while in peace. ‘Till I noticed that what she was doing wasn't mourning at all, but some kind of weird mental exercise. Her eyes were closed, but even in the dark, I could see her eyeballs rolling around underneath their lids. She was concentrating really, really, reeeally hard on something.
I was just about to ask if she was okay, when, floimp! Her eyes shot open, all-of a-sudden-like.
“Ahhhh!” I startled.
“Okay,” she said, perfectly calm and matter-of-fact-ishly. “Here's the thing: Shadow Country - it's not like our world, or even like the deserts of the Lost Lands. It's a realm of dreams. So when they took me without my bubble, it didn't kill me.”
“Wait, you mean, you--;”
“I don't dream about being inside of bubbles.” Bananas replied. “Not all the time anyway. So there, in their realm, I didn't need the IFU.”
“But how?” I said.
Foster shrugged. “How were you able to run around the trenches outside of the future Crystal Empire? Your body back here in Ponyville could barely get out of bed.”
I shrugged back at her. She raised a good point.
Was the body that I used to travel into the future really mine? Or was it a projection? An idea? Like Screw Loose pouncing around my mind-beaches, looking like a giant dog?
“Okay,” I said. “But if you were dreaming, where was your real body?”
“There was none.” She replied. “I don't know how to explain it, but I got this feeling, and, uh..."
She ran her hoof through her mane. Her stiff sense of formality - that calm, eerie distance she was keeping between her memories and herself - it crumbled. Foster turned away from me. She started to shake.
"I’m not sure.” She concluded with a sigh. “I just sort of...knew."
"You just knew?” I asked.
Foster nodded. Braced herself for an onslaught of questions. I could even see her physically cringe a little. But I just nodded right back at her again, all non-judgemental like. I may not have had any idea what it was like to lose yourself in a dream that much - to know for certain that there was no body back home sleeping. But I understood the feeling that Foster had. That spark of intuition.
Sometimes you just know.

“It's sorta hard to nail down." Foster added. "Or even to talk about.”
"I understand.” I said, offering my sympathies.
"No. Not like that."
“Really, I--;”
“No.” Foster snapped, and pressed herself against the inside of the dome. Got as close to me as she possibly could.
"If I'm not careful,” she whispered. “They’ll hear me."
"They'll what?!”
My heart skipped a beat. I looked around. As if some monster was gonna crawl out from behind the end table, or from under Roseluck’s chair. In my panic, I even threw a pillow over my big evil hoof. You know, just in case it might be listening.
Foster shook her head.
“Not like that.” She said. “When they captured me, the shadows...did things. Up here."
Foster pointed to her own head.
"But I know how to shut them out!” She exclaimed, before I could even begin to respond.
“They can't find me, Rose.” She flashed a lunatic grin. “So long as I keep it together. So long as I don't think about the castle too hard.”
“The castle?! The one that I saw?"
“Yeah." Bananas nodded. "Forgive me if I don't get into too much detail about it. For now. But it's hard, and what I saw on the journey there may actually be more useful, anyway.”
“Of course.” I whispered to myself, but all I could think about was the castle - the sense of doom I’d felt when the shadowy clitweasels had tried to drag me in there. All the kicking, and the screaming. I remembered what it was like to fight through an ocean of Sub Mine F kids. To hear them chanting, “it should have been you, it should have been you, it should have been you.”

“The shadows swept me away in a wave of smoke.” Foster continued.
Her voice snapped me out of my little trance.
“They dragged me deep down into one of the chasms,” she said. “And suddenly, I wasn't in the desert anymore. The next thing I know, they're taking me across whole other landscapes, moving at speeds I can't describe.”
Bananas stopped and shuddered.
“I'm not going to get into what it felt like to be in their grasp.” She said. “You already know.”
I winced at the suggestion. And nodded back at her in appreciation for her restraint.
“But the way they moved across Shadow Country? It was weird. I was on a black cloud, and there were these long tendrils of freezing cold smoke that reached out in front of me, and formed a rail of sorts.”
“Like a Doom Train?” I said.
“Sorta, I guess. But faster. Over not just one landscape, but countless ones. I passed through whole worlds, Rose. Every one of them in ruins.”
“Like the Wasteland?” I said. “Our future?”
I ground my hooves together in anger. The idea of the ruins of Equestria woven into Clitweasel Country - it made my blood boil.
“No.” She replied. “Your future still has hope. These places - they were different. Shadow Country was nothing but miles, and miles, and miles of broken dreams."
"This wasn't like our world. I saw scorched fields of tree stumps that had once been enchanted forests. And there was this place with pillars of marble, rising up out of the ocean, going nowhere at all! Whatever they’d once supported had long ago fallen into the water.”
“Okay...” I nodded, straining to follow her train of thought.
“Every single one of those landscapes had once been a dreamland. A world where folks went to escape."
I raised an eyebrow. It seemed like an awfully big conclusion to leap to.
“Rose, these were fantasy worlds," she said firmly. “I know them when I see them.”
“But how?”
“Well, uh, I…” Foster turned away from me, ashamed again to look me in the eye. “Look, I know it sounds a little crazy, but...I'm kind of a professional patient. I've had a lot of really unpleasant procedures. And I, um, know how...to...escape. Up here.”
She tapped her noggin.
“Oh,” I said.

In the quiet that followed, I was forced to confront the fact that what Foster had done with her mental exercises - with her fantasy worlds - it was a method for coping with torture. I'd read about stuff like that in pirate books. I had always thought it was super awesome in The Adventures of Pinkbeard. It suddenly didn't seem all that cool anymore now that the reality of it was huddled there in front of me.
“Gingerbread." Said Bananas Foster, finally breaking the silence. “If there's any doubt in your mind that the ruins I saw had once been escape places - then explain the gingerbread castle I saw.”
I found myself suddenly at a loss for words.
“I could see the old crusty frosting,” Foster continued. “Even from a distance. And the walls! They hadn't collapsed like wood or stone. That fortress had broken like a cookie. I know it sounds weird, but I was passing through the ruins of some kinda storybook land. From old mare’s tales! Please, please, please believe me.”
“I do, but…” My voice trailed off as I tried to wrap my brain around what she was telling me. “...But how?”
“I don't know exactly. The Doom Train took me so fast that nothing made sense. Whole worlds flickered by at times. Of all of the things that I saw - all the places - there was only one real detail that I managed to catch."
I leaned forward in anticipation.
"It was a sign on a pole above a dusty old crossroads." She said. “I don't know why, but the sight of it hit me like a brick to the face, and burned its way into my memory.”
“What did it say?”
"This Way to the Hall of the Brittle King.”
I scratched my head. Furrowed my brow.
“Brittle King?”
Bananas shrugged. Let out a meek little laugh.
“I don't know,” she said. “It doesn't make any sense to me either.”
“Nothing made any sense whatsoever until after the shadows took me prisoner in their shadow castle."
I jolted upright.
“Inside?! So they did--;” I squeaked.
“Shhh!” Foster snapped.
She looked around the room all conspiratorial-like, checking Cliff, and Roseluck. To make sure nopony had woken up. To make sure we wouldn't get interrupted. Then she threw me a look that said, Do you fucking mind?
I cringed. Mouthed the words, I'm sorry. I hadn't been able to help it. I was in shock. Princess Luna had called the doorway to that castle the point of no return. So even when she mentioned it, I’d still assumed that Bananas Foster had managed to escape the shadows like I had. Before they got her to their HQ.
“They actually took you...inside?" I whispered.
Bananas nodded grimly.

"Once they had me," she said. “I saw things - got lost in my own mind. Like a nightmare. I have no idea how long it went on. Time isn't normal over there. I won't get into specifics because, uh…like I said, it's...hard.”
Foster paused to suck in a deep breath, and to calm herself. She was getting concentratey again. To keep the shadows out of her mind.
“Eventually,” she said. “I figured them out. I know what the shadow things are up to.”
Foster got up on her hooves.
“It's more than just random terror in there, Rose. They weren't just feeding off my pain, or my fear. On some level, I was being interrogated. The shadows actually wanted something from me.
“Doesn't that strike you as weird? That these things have so many demolished worlds to play with, and all of this unthinkable power, and still, they want me. Just like they want you."
I swallowed hard. What Bananas Foster said was an obvious fact, but I didn't like to think about it.
“Why, though?" Foster pressed me. “Why kids? Why us?"
She looked to me all excited-like, as though I might figure out the answer on my own. But all I could do was shrug. I had no fucking idea.
“They’re weak, Rose!" She giggled in a whisper. "Shadow Country stretched thousands of miles across countless worlds. And there wasn't a single thing anywhere that they had actually built. Nothing that they had created themselves. Because shadows can’t create. They can't build anything at all. They can only corrupt.”

Foster stopped. Watched me as I tossed her ideas around the inside of my head some more. I wanted to add something constructive o the conversation – to compare notes. But I was speechless. It wasn't just that every single experience that I’d ever had with the shadows – every encounter – all fit her theory. It was deeper than that. More sinister. When you tie all of that stuff to the big questions: what the shadowmajigs are - what they’re up to - why they want us - everything suddenly makes a whole lot more sense.
I thought of the gingerbread castle that Foster'd described, laid waste like the spires of Canterlot in the Wasteland. And, like a splash of cold water to the face, it hit me - the reason why all of this crazy stuff seemed to center around us. Children. The one thing that we had and they needed.

"Imagination." I whispered.