The sound of the train moving along the tracks was surprisingly soothing, considering the fact that Hex had never been on a train before. At least, not that he could remember. He sipped at his coffee as he used his magic to flip open his book of shadows to the map he’d drawn out for himself. It wasn’t the best map by any means, but he could read it and that was all that really mattered in the long run. His route had been planned out before he’d even left. His first stop would be in Canterlot, mostly just to rest and maybe do a little bit of exploring. Next he’d take the train all the way down, through Ponyville to Appleoosa where he’d stop again to rest as it would take a full day to get all the way down there on the quick moving train. From Appleoosa, he’d take another train over to Dodge City, and from there he would continue by hoof into the Hayseed Swamp.
Perhaps by some incredibly break of luck, he might find his mother’s original cottage there in the swampland. She’d mentioned it multiple times in one of her earliest journals she’d left behind. For the most part though, he’d be looking for the creatures and plants in the swamp to try and gather ingredients from them for a particular healing potion she had. It was one of his possible options for healing his eye. One of his other options was on his route home. From Hayseed, he’d be heading back to Dodge City, and then to Ponyville to seek out a zebra named Zecora. There wasn’t much on her in his mother’s journals, but she was mentioned to be very powerful with magic. Plus, the Everfree forest itself was known to have other creatures and plants that could prove to be just as helpful as things from the swamp.
Los Pegasus was next on his list. Sure it was just a place for flashy ponies, bright lights, shows and gambling, but there was also the possibility that if other options failed that he could get some sort of magical surgery to at the very least make his eye look normal again, even if he still couldn’t see out of it. From there, he could travel through the Smokey Mountains to Tall Tale, to Vanhoover, and finally back home to Seaddle. All of it was quite daunting for a pony that had never traveled before. The more he looked at the list and routes, the more nervous Hex felt about it. However, in his mind this was just something that needed to be done. If none of the options worked, he could always rest at home for a while before setting out to explore the other side of Equestria as well. All of this was too much to hit all in one trip, after all.
A sudden bump shocked him out of his thoughts. The train wasn’t supposed to do things like that, was it? As Hex went to look out the window, another bump rocked the train around him. A loud screeching noise reached his ears, making him tense up before he was thrown out of his seat as the train came to a startling halt. Cries from all of the other cars around him were overwhelming. Other ponies started venturing out of their cars to see what had happened as one of the train workers came rushing through to try and reach the engine.
“Excuse me!” The pegasus shouted, making her way past everypony as fast as she could. “Pardon me! Everyone okay?”
Despite asking if the others were alright, she didn’t stop to see. Curious to find out what happened, Hex began to follow her; taking a bit more time to check and see if everyone was alright in the process. For the most part, everypony seemed to be okay. The stop was a shock, but there seemed to be no injuries. The Pegasus made her way out of the front car, taking flight to circle the engine. The problem, unfortunately, wasn’t with the engine itself. The tracks before them had been badly damaged.
“Excuse me,” Hex called up to her as he stepped out of the train. “What’s happened?”
“The rail’s broken,” she called back as she made her way back down to the ground. “It’s a good thing the engineer spotted the damage in time. If he hadn’t, the whole train would have derailed.”
“Was that what the bumps were as well?” He asked curiously.
“No,” she replied, giving out an exasperated sigh. “Looks like some punk was putting stuff on the tracks so that the train would run over it. Problem is, depending on what the stuff on the tracks is, it can cause cracks in the tracks which can lead to eventual breaks like we’ve got up here. Looks like the train can’t go any further.”
Well, it looked like he was going to be walking a heck of a lot sooner than he realized he would be. Oh well. Hex probably needed the exercise if he was going to be traveling as much as he wanted to be.
“How far away is Canterlot if one wanted to walk the rest of the way?”
The Pegasus had to pause to think about that. She was used to flying everywhere, so she had to try and translate the distance into walking instead. She fussed with her golden hair as she thought, violet eyes shifting to the side.
“Flying there would probably take me about an hour or so, sooo… Walking would probably take half a day, give or take an hour or two. It all really depends on how fast you walk and how good you are at climbing,” she finally answered.
As she spoke, her wing pointed up at the mountain that held the city of Canterlot. By now, most of the other ponies had started to filter out of the train as well. Those who listened seemed to have mixed feelings about the rest of the trip. The Earth ponies really didn’t seem to look like they minded the trip. Most of them were already gathering their bags and trying to figure out how to carry them along. The Pegasi looked like they could care less. There were only a few of them and it seemed like flying the rest of the way wasn’t an issue. It was the Unicorns, however, that seemed to be quite unhappy about the possibility of the journey.
“You mean we really have to walk the rest of the way?” A huffy, fancy looking stallion asked.
“Can’t another train come and pick us up?” Another asked, this one a mare who very much looked like she’d had some kind of stick shoved up her butt for the last few years.
“I just had a hooficure!” A third shouted. “I’m not walking!”
Hex had heard stories of some of the entitled behavior displayed by those from Canterlot, but he’d never experienced it first hoof. Sure Unicorns could sometimes be more emotional due to their magic, but he’d never seen this many snobby ponies all in one place before. The way they were treating the train staff was downright ungrateful. He could see one of them even trying to corner the engineer demanding to ‘speak to his manager.’ How could they even ask for someone when they were trapped out here like this?
“I mean… I suppose I could fly up there and see if the station can send another train backwards on the rails to pick everypony up,” the Pegasus said, trying to hide behind one of her sandy colored wings. “It’d take a while though. Much longer than walking.”
“And why is that?” The stick-in-butt mare demanded.
“W-well… The train has to go backwards to get here so that it can go forward bringing you all to Canterlot. But going backwards means they need to move really slowly to keep the train from derailing. Especially while it’s going down the mountain. Plus, we’ll need to wait for an available train to pull in from another location. Canterlot’s station doesn’t have enough space to store an extra train.”
Stick-in-butt didn’t look satisfied with that answer. She was about to open her mouth to speak again, but Hex stepped in front of her before she could.
“So what you’re saying, uhm… what was your name, Miss?” He asked politely.
“M-me? Oh uh, I’m Steam Surge,” the Pegasus replied, a tad surprised by just how differently he was acting from the others.
“Miss Steam,” he started once more. “What you’re saying is, if we just follow these tracks, we’ll be there in about half a day. Yes?”
“Perfect! Thank you so much for your help. I really appreciate it.”
It was interesting how one little “Thank you” could make all of the difference in a situation. Stick-in-butt huffed unhappily, but finally shut her mouth. Steam Surge seemed to feel much more appreciated and confident in her role. With a smile, she trotted off to chat with the engineer before it was decided that she would fly to Canterlot and inform them that they needed another train. The others would stay and take care of those who didn’t want to walk. For the most part, the other ponies all seemed like they’d made their decisions. One, however, was torn. Another Unicorn with three foals looked as though she was about to have a panic attack.
“I really don’t mind walking, but I don’t think I can handle my bag and all three of these little ones at once,” she protested softly, unsure of what to do. “But if I stay here, I’ll run out of formula for the youngest, and she’ll go hungry until we can make it home.”
As it was, she was balancing one foal with one hoof, the baby was strapped to her chest, and she was using her magic to keep the third who looked to be about 4 or so from running off into the wild blue yonder. Hex could already feel her pain. Bitter alone had been a handful growing up. He couldn’t comprehend just how tiresome three little ones could be. This poor mother looked exhausted and the journey had barely even started. Her pink hair was in a messy bun that looked like it would fall out at any moment, and Hex could see bags under her pretty blue eyes. Her ice blue coat looked like it hadn’t been taken care of in ages, and she looked like there was no way she could make it to Canterlot all on her own.
“Well, you should have thought of that before you had so many children!” Stick-in-butt shouted rudely.
Now that rubbed Hex the wrong way. Seeing the poor mother hang her head as though she legitimately felt guilty was the absolute last straw. He moved right past the horrid unicorn, flicking his tail to slap her right in the face with it as he made his way over to the mother in need.
“If you need some help getting home, I’d be more than happy to assist,” Hex offered. “I grew up helping my father raise my little sister, so I like to think that I’m pretty good with foals.”
The mother before him wasn’t sure how to feel about things. She knew she needed the help, but how could she ask a complete and total stranger?
“O-Oh, no. I couldn’t ask you to trouble yourself like that,” she protested nervously, nudging her bag back and forth with her back hoof.
“Nonsense! It’s no trouble at all. I’m going the same way you are, aren’t I?”
Using his magic, Hex levitated her bag up to put it on his back alongside his own packs. Without hesitation, he offered up a hoof to hold the small foal she already had in her grasp. Despite her hesitation just moments before, the mare lit up with happiness at his offer. She handed over the little one, using her own magic to pick up the 4 year old to set him on her back.
“I don’t think I caught your name, sir,” she said with a smile.
“Hex Breaker. It’s a pleasure to meet you. And you are?” He asked with a slight bow of his head.
“I’m Lily Dream, and trust me, the pleasure’s all mine.”
As the two made their way down the tracks, all Stick-in-butt could do was stare. Was she judging? Absolutely. Did she have the right to? Absolutely not.