Embers Fall

by CrimsonWave

18 - Art of the Mess

Train Spot had a tendency to make things more complicated than they needed to be; this morning in the hotel lobby, she had only just started printing out directions from here to Duskgem Basin, meticulously engineered to pass by as many gas stations as possible just in case. They had been using their phones' GPS beforehand, until Eight Track pointed out that cellular reception is next to none in the badlands they were about to travel into.

"It doesn't seem as complicated as I thought it would be, even by their standards." observed Eight Track, reading the two-page document being printed in quadruplicate. "Though, the weather reports in northwest Neighvada are calling for high winds and dust storms!"

"Oh, nice." Wave Rider responded, with a sarcastic deadpan. "This is what we signed up for. This is what we signed up for..." he mumbled to himself in panic as Obscurus walked towards them.

"Just checked out; the mare at the front desk said to not worry about the beds that 'broke before we got here'." Obscurus reported, verbally putting air quotes around her bold-faced lie. "They literally just got new owners a week ago, and they're starting renovations very soon."

"Should we hold off on those 2-star reviews, then?" asked Train Spot.

"If they do the right improvements, and we have an excuse to come back, they might be able to get at least a 3." said Wave Rider.

"There was a curious spike in traffic from users in Oatergon on the Clausula Records website this morning." noted Eight Track. "If we have legitimate fans here giving us 5-star reviews, I don't see why not."

"Well, it's a relief that this last-minute gig worked out good for us. But we have bigger gigs just down the road, let's go!" Obscurus announced, leading them on their way out of the hotel.

Train Spot's route went south out of Oatergon into Californeigh, then began to veer east to head towards Neighvada. The drive into Californeigh was relatively uneventful, but Obscurus insisted on stopping in a fairly large (by nearing-the-middle-of-nowhere standards) city along the route for lunch, and to buy some additional food and water from a grocery store before they ran out. Unlike those along the routes from Reino to Duskgem, these stores weren't being scalped up by those travelling to a certain arts event in the desert that we, must once again insist, is not a music festival, but there was still quite a bit of traffic that seemed to be heading the same way.

"This forest we're winding through is nice." Train Spot observed.

"Once again, I am shocked that you are able to wind through this without tipping the truck over.." noted Wave Rider.

"Driving a semi is a lot like driving a train. You just have to know what your vehicle can do, and drive attentively." explained Train Spot. "For example, trains can only travel down tracks. Oh, and I practised."

The Tanta-bus closely followed the Electro Express as they crossed the state line into Neighvada, where the driving conditions were starting to worsen. At the same time, the route was increasingly dotted with other vans and campers making the same journey they were.

"Welcome back to Neighvada, Nocty." announced Eight Track. Obscurus was in the back seat, lounging and sipping at some bottled lemonade.

"There wasn't a fancy sign or anything. It just, happened." observed Obscurus. "It's nice that there are parts of Neighvada where it's not about excessive glitz and glamor, but you were right about how barren it is."

"Yeah. It's very underpopulated, for sure." replied Eight Track. "You begin to wonder if anypony legitimately uses this road often, outside of the Gathering obviously."

Obscurus could hear and feel the wind starting to pick up.

"It's so barren that you can't see much in front of you." Obscurus warned, teasing the duststorm brewing in front of them.

"Just as they said it would..." Eight Track calmly admitted. "Nocty, fetch me my goggles. Wave retrofitted them all with amber lenses; if they work for snowstorms, they might just work well here."

Speaking of Wave Rider, the pegasus had taken the drivers' seat of the Electro Express following their final pit stop before exiting Californeigh, but was beginning to regret it given the environmental circumstances. His driving style was a tiny bit more erratic than Train Spot, given that they are a unicorn and can obviously use their magic for finer control of the steering. Wave Rider, however, only had hooves and pegasus wings to work with.

"Train Spot, I think this is the sandstorm Eight Track was warning us about!" Wave Rider acknowledged in agony.

"Just stay calm... Try to look as far ahead as you can. Keep it slow, there's a lot of other drivers on this road, it seems." advised Train Spot. "I guess we could think of it as the Gathering's tutorial level."

"Good advice." replied Wave Rider. "Speaking of video game analogies, this visibility is like I'm playing with short draw distance on my Ponetium 4 Dual-Core."

"And speaking of visibility, I think maybe we should turn on some extra lights so others can see us in the dust cloud." continued Wave Rider. "Better to be safe than sorry."

"You want lights? I got 'em!" announced Train Spot. They got a little tablet-like device out of the dashboard that Wave Rider had programmed, and started pressing various buttons on it. "Activating Electro Express lighting program /lightcues/slowSubtleRainbow/default.lua in 3 ... 2 .... 1!"

Suddenly, a slew of LED lights along the edges of the trailer turned on, with a slow-moving pastel rainbow effect. It wasn't bright, especially in the overcast sky and dust storm, but it was somewhat noticeable from behind.

"Wait, why is that truck in front of us lit up in rainbows?" Obscurus asked in disbelief, noticing the vehicle in front of them.

"That's Train Spot's truck. I think they're trying to let us know where they are." noted Eight Track.

"Oh, right " Obscurus cuddled back up, continuing to munch on snacks in the back seat. "Hopefully this lets up soon, but in the meantime..."

"By my calculations, I think we're only an hour away from Exmoor, and that's only about 20 minutes from Duskgem ... assuming a lack of traffic, of course." briefed Eight Track.

Both Eight Track and Wave Rider made it through the sandstorm in one piece, and the road to Exmoor was relatively smooth sailing from there.

Except that Train Spot may or may not have miscalculated the amount of fuel they had left, and were running very low just before Exmoor. Once again, Wave Rider was becoming stressed by the ordeal.

"Don't panic, Wavey. This is by no means comparable to a dust storm." advised Train Spot. "There's a Scael station right when you enter Exmoor, you can't miss it."

No matter which direction you drove from, Exmoor was the last major point of interest on the way to the Gathering; it was a small, outpost-like town that, right now, was populated mainly by those en route to this mysterious event. As promised, the Electro Express didn't miss the Scael station, it just fell very, very, very, very, very short of it: the truck slowed to a stand-still near the diesel pump, but not close enough to actually use it.

"If only we put just one more coal in the fire..." admitted Train Spot, as the two ponies got out of the truck.

"This is going to be awkward." realized Wave Rider, "Can the fuel nozzle even reach that far?"

"If the hose is long enough; I might as well give it a try." Train Spot tried to levitate the nozzle to get it in the tank. It got close, but not close enough to actually get it into the fill cap. "GOSH DARN IT!"

Wave Rider facehoofed. "If only the truck was just a single foot closer... wait, Train Spot, would it be possible to move the truck closer with your magic?"

"Sorry, no can do. The standard Unicorn object manipulation spells actually have a weight limit. Probably to prevent abuse by those not specialized in the field." confessed Train Spot. "Such as me, for example."

Wave Rider flew to the top of the trailer. "Uhh, we need a little help here?!" he announced, trying to attract some assistance. "We just need somepony ... or some ponies ... who can push a semi-truck about a foot or so. We're on our way to the Gathering of Embers, and our truck literally ran out of gas before we could reach the pumps!!"

The Tanta-bus was approaching the town as well.

"We just made it to Exmoor, Nocty" said Eight Track. "It's the last town before Duskgem, so I think this would be a good time to stretch our hooves, refuel, and meet up with ... huh?"

Obscurus and Eight Track arrived to the sight of Train Spot, Wave Rider, and a group of other ponies trying to push the Electro Express toward the diesel pump.

"I don't think I want to know what they've gotten themselves into..." said Eight Track, staring in disbelief at the scene.

"Was this what they meant when it said that the Followers of the Embers share their strength with others?" queried Obscurus.

"Maybe?" answered Eight Track.