• Published 20th Nov 2013
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FoE: Snippet Story - Windrunner

Set at various points in the Fallout: Equestria universe. Each chapter is intended to be a unique story unto itself. So many references, both ludicrously obscure and blatantly obvious. Even the title. No, not that. You will never figure them all out.

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Strangled Forest


Hopeful wandering hearts once traversed this great country end to end, top to bottom. Above the very sky itself the great pony races asserted control over all and hoped to bring camaraderie, friendship, with them to every other given time. Even that which is below ground became their domain. Each hoofstep forward, every leap in magical learning and increasing skill propelled them like some unstoppable juggernaut of old legend. Nearly coming to hold a reputation themselves of legend during their own lifetimes. Almost. Not quite. One nugget, a single grain of doubt remained somewhere, just enough to send them toppling given the right push. Pushed they were, right to the brink and over. Then it all went sideways.

One could traverse this whole country in relative safety even during the war years, for a while at least. Knowing your enemy is said to be tantamount to victory. The ponies, did not know the zebra. Before it came to war, they barely asked. Then in want of knowing, they could learn little. Certainly not enough to know them, not in truth. Absolutely not enough to understand how far they would go. Not even the ministry mares themselves had a grip on this type of understanding. This lack of understanding would grow worse as war raged on and on, further out of control with every passing year. Yet, for the longest time it was nearly an unseen war. Battles were always fought by somepony else. Until it was your turn.

When it finally began to be something which the public could palpably feel, the losses stung deeply. The most positive images of imminent victory were projected everywhere, the truth lost, except on those who knew it. Keep your head down and your eyes open, it will all be over soon. Suspicion was rife in this atmosphere, and it was not always wrong. This pall of sadness and life not feeling quite right hung over the whole of the world. Equestria is but a single albeit large country, to have this magnified across it all was impressive in its own right. They held nearly all the power, and it was mighty hard to hold onto that. Imagining what seemed a minor squabble would be amplified in magnitude time and again was unthinkable to any.

They weren't wrong. It would be over soon. Very soon. Missing families, indeed entire communities failing to be there any longer was a pain too far. That was something that could not be hidden from the public view no matter how many misleading or outright false statements were issued or information control exerted. Our army cannot lose. We are winning. It is hard right now, but wait for tomorrow! Brimming with opportunity and happiness for all when we can put this all behind us. A brighter, better future awaits! How unfortunate much of this was simply not true from the get-go. The country fell sullen, tired and weak from warfare and diminished population. Nearing the wars end, things somehow got worse.

Believing victory was truly just around the corner and about to be well in-hoof, such information control was exerted more than ever. This strict tightening was nearly too much on its own. Together with all the errors society in general was committing to and the mistakes made in putting a lid on it all, the erosion of goodwill towards the royalty was becoming an issue all its own. Half expecting an open revolt should not have been something real. How could that possibly be a thing now? They were about to win, victory was right there. Everything would be just fine if the war would end already. Get there, and all this would be over. Sometimes harsh reality comes flooding in against the will of all. It never waits forever.

Sometimes the foundations of things starts with a very small step. An inestimable gamble on how it will all turn out taken up in hope, and hope is exactly what everypony was lacking. Some feeling of perverse dread was slowly consuming the entire country. Something just was not quite right. Maybe they felt some dim cry of warning from within, or perhaps it was nothing. Just a silly feeling felt by those doing everything in their power to put a stop to this. All things start somewhere, somehow. All things terrible and horrible, or great and wonderful. They all start with that single motion, word, action. Something to spur what will be the future into action. Sometimes it goes nowhere whatsoever. Plans still get made.

Scootaloo made many such plans. Many of which were enacted towards wars end. Many plans for many possibilities, and many more that never were. Many plans to help, plans to hinder and many more. Day after day spent setting up, planning. Most or all of which she would never know how or if they ever began or ended. She cared more than others knew. Cared more about the actions being taken. Cared more about what might happen, what could happen if things went the wrong way. Out of all others, she knew for certain just how far things could go. How far things already went. Just how much farther it was possible to go screaming into the dark that may lay ahead. Years before, she started something else:

They were late but that was to be expected when engaging in subterfuge. Sometimes things needed to be conveyed in secret, personally. There were those willing to do things that were not seen to be in the best interests of all others. They could could cause serious trouble if they ever discovered what this was all about. Finally, they arrived. Her dear friends. The ones who actually started this particular endeavor whether they quite knew it or not. Sometimes it was like this whole business had swallowed them whole and gave precious little opportunity for time together that wouldn't be viewed with suspicion. Paranoia was rampant nowadays. It might not be wrong to feel that way, and she had reason to think so as well.

"Are you certain about this, Scootaloo? This whole thing sounds mighty dangerous. Ya'll think maybe Dash could h.." The look on her face as Apple Bloom said this stopped her sentence. She looked nearly angry towards them both. Sweetie Belle just had a sad expression on her face, just standing there. It felt hurtful just to see her that way.

"Please don't look at us like that, please?" Sweetie Belle said quite shyly. The expression Scootaloo held softened.

"Yes yes, I know what I'm doing. It will be right here." She waved at a map she'd brought along.

"She cannot help me with this, and she doesn't know I'm doing this. Almost no one does." She explained.

"Is this really that important to ya? Think about what yer doing, if they ever.." Apple Bloom spoke up.

"And what about what you're doing, you think I don't know?" Scootaloo said coarsely, almost bristling at them.

"Whoa now, hold it hooold it!" Bloom admonished. Time to slow things down.

"We're your friends. I know we should support this, specially if it might help or even if it is meaningless in the end, al'right?' She'd slipped into drawling speech a bit in frustration then finished by stamping a hoof on the floor of their secretive meeting place. At least it was safe to speak openly to each other in this choice location they'd scouted out.

"Meaningless, what do you mean meaningless!?" Scootaloo looked hurt.

"No no no. Not like that. I just..hope we don't need it, okay?" Bloom looked terribly sad now, along with Belle.

"Oh you two stop looking like that. You are both doing the same thing I am, okay? Really. So I'm going to do this. Will you help me, please help me?" Scootaloo almost sounded to be begging her friends for help now, nearly tearing up.

"Yes, yes I will. Ya know it's gonna be hard. I can't just give ya all of that stuff you know, Scoots." Hearing her name said that friendly and familiar way perked her ears up and she almost looked like she was going to cry in a happy way.

"Hay..now. Okay. This will be really hard to keep a secret. Ya'll will need a lot of materials and you really can't tell anypony at all? No one to help?" She asked Scootaloo directly. Shaking her head in response.

"I know a way." Sweetie Belle chimed in and leaned over to whisper something to Bloom. An almost evil gleam hinted in her eyes at hearing whatever she said. This should be good.

"What, what is it?" Scootaloo was intrigued now.

"Don't ya worry. I think we got something that will help you out." She whispered in her ear in turn.

"Yes!" Scootaloo jumped.

"Ow ma ear." Bloom said.

"Oh, heh..sorry about that." Scootaloo said, sounding a whole bunch happier at least for the moment.

"We don't get together enough anymore. This cloak and dagger stuff isn't for me. Why did things get like this?" Sweetie Bell demurely informed and asked genuinely. Each knew things were truly bad out there, worse than most realized.

"It's alright. We're doing our best you know." Scootaloo sounded much more at ease at last.

"It's going to take years, a lot of them. Is there even a point trying to do this?" Bloom asked her long-time friends.

"Of course! If it works out it will be a great thing, right?" She said, much more upbeat than during this whole meeting.

"How are you going to keep this one secret? It's kinda..big." Sweetie inquired. Hiding something this big was hard.

"That place is way out there. I will just quietly have some friendly pegasi leave random cloud cover in that area and nopony will even know the difference unless they were right up against it." That was all she would say about her plans.

"Well okay. Since we're all here anyway, want to grab some dinner? Makes good cover, and I'm hungry." Sweetie asked.

"Yeah, it's been too long. Let's talk about some normal stuff for a change, okay? Just normal." Scootaloo asked of them.

"Yeah normal stuff. Haha. Where ya wanna eat?" Bloom suggested a few places and they picked a quiet restaurant, not out of sight enough to invite suspicion, but enough to discourage prying eyes getting too curious. It was a nice time rarely had where they could simply relax and be the friends they were. There were plenty of normal and even silly things to talk about. How someone pranked one of the engineers working under Bloom with liquid soap hidden in an electrical outlet. How Sweetie was actually managing to have some fun as head of P.R.. Normal things. Not enough of them going around.

Normal, everyday, things. The sort of things everyone takes for granted most of the time. A cup of orange juice is nothing significant to someone who has plenty of orange juice available on a daily basis. How sometimes they could still sneak in a day to be lazy despite it all. When things were..better. Far better. The sort of things no one dwells on in anything more than a passing way. Why the conversation turned to such mundane things as what tasted good was a symbol of times seemingly out of reach any longer. Times were tough, everything was so hard now. It really was. Too much work to do and not enough time to do it in. Work that was not always in line with apparent goals. Goals that were wide-ranging and difficult to accomplish.

Other work went on for years. Hidden work. Quiet work. Unseen work. Performed by subterfuge and simplicity. Simple by moving a small bit of cargo here and there. Manipulating a manifest once in a rare while. On the whole it lead to something big. Larger than anypony would think possible. A project so large it hid in plain sight without a soul chancing to notice it. It was still unfinished four years later. Plain sight is often the best place to hide things. It invites no second looks, conveys nothing to be out of the ordinary. Something is simply there for all to see, but no one sees it because who would be silly enough to do that? Put something they wish to hide right out in the open? Nonsense. Work continued on and on.

They met once in a long while, when it was even possible to do without arousing more than cursory suspicion.

"Hows..the thing going?" Sweetie Belle was genuinely curious all these years later. Four years she thought, maybe more.

"The..thing is still not done. It's going..okay, though." Scootaloo said, looking a little out of sorts and winced slightly.

"Training that hard?" Apple Bloom interrupted as she stepped out of a dark alley, sort of creepy looking in shadow.

"Sheesh, quite an entrance there. Yes, it is a challenge after all." Scootaloo explained and then pointed towards a couple fillies and a colt approaching her.

"Looking at them makes me feel..sad." Scootaloo waved a hoof at the three young ones nearly swirling about her. Young Crusader members. Special ones. Picked for very specific reasons by her.

"They're just like us..like we were. I mean.." Scootaloo trailed off a bit sadly.

"It's alright. We all miss how things were, right Bloom?" Sweetie Belle said demurely. She was wearing some kind of attention grabbing dress that rode quite low on her flanks, sweeping back and then down her tail to accent.

"Thats quite an outfit you've got on, business related?" Scootaloo asked, squinting a bit at the terribly bright coloring.

"Yes, well I am head of public relations after all.." She was quite modest about it.

"Ya sure are, and for good reason. You're also one of the best singers there is!.." Bloom halted a second.

"We all got into this thing together, remember? This is still what we want to do, right? It is still our business to go in the direction we want." Apple Bloom wanted to punctuate a certain issue. A slight rift had grown between them all despite their best efforts. Some things going on were not all well agreed upon by all three. The other trio here were playing amongst themselves, waiting on them. It was a reminder that things were not always so grim and times really were good once.

"Ahem, these three, huh? Gotta be more than that?" Bloom genuinely wanted to know what was up with this.

"They're the only ones right here anyway. Maybe a few others elsewhere. We will see. I feel bad for them, really bad. They're all alone.." She looked at the young ones running about, playing a game as they waited for her.

"Alright you three, come here." They zipped over in front of them and stood practically at attention cutely.

"You know where to go, and what to do if it happens?" Scootaloo said in a tone of seriousness. All three nodded.

"We know!" They all said at once. It reminded of younger days, carefree days with her friends.

"Are..are you three sure? You don't have to do this for us." Scootaloo, Sweetie Belle, and Apple Bloom all looked at their young charges. It was a rare occasion for them to be together at all anymore, but this was of utmost importance now.

"You created the Crusaders! Of course we will do what you ask." One of the little ones stated enthusiastically. An energetic colt and two fillies circled about them, all wearing trailing crusader capes. One wore a wide-brimmed hat with a long red feather in it, her greenish ears poking up through the slip-slots. The other younger filly looked a little bit concerned about this, bordering on scared. The Crusaders, this was not what the group was supposed to be for. So young. Too young.

"Were we ever this young, and adorable?" Sweetie asked, a little forlornly. The others just smiled a little. This was a bad idea. A terrible one in fact. A horribly bad idea. This was the kind of thing no one ever thought to do or should do.

"What little my contacts can tell me say it might already be too late. What choice is there? None of us can get away long enough without too much suspicion, and there is nopony else we can really trust with it." Scootaloo said, sounding sad. They just nodded in response. She motioned for the machine accompanying them to step forth. A very dull bronze-colored pony-like thing it was. Not really menacing at all like most of the other robots in use. It looked..nice. It wore a feather crest helmet.

"This is Ticky, an old royal guard marcher escort machine. I..borrowed him from storage. Nopony will miss it anyway. He will be ready and waiting, you know where right?" She asked, the three little ones said yes together. It was cute.

"We get to have that!?" They were very excited by it. If only things weren't becoming so dire. They were so young.

"I know this must seem amazing, but listen. This is very important. This machine is not a toy, it will do whatever it can to protect you from harm and get you where you will be heading. If you ever get the signal, you go get him and then run fast as you can, okay?" She did not like asking this of children, but they were war orphans and knew pain already. They agreed.

"We should not be asking this of'em, it ain't right." Apple Bloom said as they prepared to part once more.

"They keep saying children are our future. Maybe they are." Scootaloo tersely said. It didn't sound right either.

"It's been really nice seeing you again. We have all been so busy, but I have to get back to practice." It almost sounded like she didn't want to bother with it anymore. Tired and almost weak sounding.

"Yah aren't giving up, are ya?" Bloom decided to just ask. She looked between her two best friends.

"No, of course not. I'm just sorry things have got like this. Maybe it will be okay." She ran off hurriedly after goodbyes.

"We better go, too. Meeting in secret like this could be taken the wrong way and used against us if anypony found out." She and Sweetie Belle hugged and went their separate ways, none able to know at this moment that they would never see each other again. Sweetie turned and spoke to the young ones once more. she had to make sure.

"This is super secret Crusader business, alright? Tell no one about it, okay?" She was concerned for them. They were so young she was afraid they might not understand how serious this really was, but was taken a little aback by their response.

"We are Crusaders. We have to try!" The little reddish colt in the cape said boldly. The other two slid up beside him.

"Miss Belle? This is for daddy. This..this will help, right? Help others keep their daddy?" She almost burst into tears as the youngest of the two fillies said this to her. It was heartbreaking. A rending pain inside, added to others.

"Y..yes! Maybe. Do your best. Go on for now, don't worry about it unless the time comes." She hated just leaving them like this, but had work to do. Work that kept her from pretty much everything else. It was impossible to protect everyone. It could only be hoped the decisions that were made would lead to a peaceful outcome. As distant a thing as that seemed for so many years now. Soon she would be many miles away from these three. Hopefully they wouldn't need to do anything.

Sweetie swept them all up in a big hug for a long moment, the kind kids are quite embarrassed by, then said her goodbyes and was soon gone from sight as the children looked on.

"We have to get back anyway. Let's go!" The colt struck something approaching a heroic pose, pointing a hoof back down the street.

"Uh, it's just an orphanage." One of the fillies said, deflating his efforts to appear heroic rather quickly.

"Oh, let's just go." The other said and trotted off. He looked back at his cape then took off as well.

Some months later events took a rapid turn for the worse. Whatever drove decisions on their enemies side finally came to an irreversible one. Missiles, bombs and other weapons of ludicrous destructive power were unbelievably actually being used. What insanity was this? Where did the enemy come up with such power so suddenly? It didn't matter, it was happening. All that mattered in this moment is that the war reached its peak and this was the result. Not resounding victory, but defeat for everyone on both sides. A sickening defeat bought at too high a cost. An incalculable cost in which lives were lost instantly, or slowly and much too painfully. The true horrors of war brought right to their very doorsteps. It was over.

The signal to go came quite suddenly. They knew what to do, and no one would bother them anyway. They were just three young ponies running off after an alarm was sounded. Many took it as another false one. It was turning out not to be a drill. Others were frantically galloping about the city as they all headed to their meeting spot. They'd been told to hurry for their packs and gear then go straight for Ticky and leave the city immediately if it happened. It was a tall order, especially hard with ponies and all manner of other sorts panicking in the streets at the slowly dawning realization this was no drill, but death. This was terrible, horrifying. Death and destruction was heading straight for their grand city. A city about to fall.

They met at the location told to them, with full packs of canned food and canteens of water as instructed. Everything they might need for long travel. Ticky was left hidden here. Nearly in plain sight in an alleyway, a very old trick employed to hide things. Tarped over it was ignored and mostly left alone, save for one thing. At some point somepony must have randomly decided to actually look and tried to pry out it's large wind key, likely for the metal and caused some damage before giving up. Hopefully it would not be a serious problem. The colt wore a blue tunic and a hat as if a scarecrow.

"Hehee, you look silly!" The greenish filly wearing the wide-brim red hat said as they ran along a secret route.

A route given to them by their cohorts to aid more easily getting out of the city confines and escape detection by anypony else. Ticky was not exactly inconspicuous, and carried full locked saddlebags as well. They were well-prepared.

"I just got out of a school play when this happened!" He retorted. The other filly running alongside them wearing a nearly blazing white cape bordered in red was starting to huff heavily. They would have to slow down soon. At least one of them could ride atop Ticky at a time, this made travel a little easier. Surprisingly soon they were out of the city proper and heading along the outskirts, soon to be in wilderness. They'd been told what to, and what not to do, but this was scary.

It was just short of exhausting for ponies of this age to carry so much heavy gear and supplies, but they did know what to expect. They'd been working hard to become stronger, fitter at their groups founders request. Even so, they weren't quite as quick as they could've been on their hooves but it was just manageable.

"We follow that path over there." They were practically scurrying along, trying to make distance away from the city. It was very important to get away. She'd said so. Keep moving no matter what for as long as possible away from the city before stopping. It was so hard, but they kept moving.

Then..the distant booms came, and didn't stop seem to stop. Never ever look in their direction and keep moving. These Crusaders had a mission, given to them by their groups very founders. They were still children, despite tough lives there was nothing that could change that fact and they were now wandering towards a very distant destination. They were not the sort to be given places in the stables, not even Apple Bloom herself could do that for them as much as she may have wanted to. All three knew where to go, which direction to head. They'd been taught survival skills by Scoots herself when she could manage to slip away. Things like how to read a compass, and a map. Ticky was set to head towards their destination anyway.

"I'm scared.." The youngest of the three said to the other two.

"I don't blame ya. Don't think about it, alright? We are going somewhere safe, they promised. Just think about that instead, okay?" The colt felt he had to say something to her and that sounded right, he hoped.

"Okay.." She kind of squeaked out and her voice cracked. That was kind of..cute.

"We're together. That's good, right?" The other filly nuzzled at her comfortingly and smiled reassuringly. That seemed to be enough for now. An exceedingly long road lay ahead of them. Not even a road, but a given direction to follow.

"Think about happy things and keep walking. That's what Miss Scootaloo said." The colt said. All three were now quite tired after keeping going so long.

"I think we can stop for now." He said and they all practically dropped their gear. Packs and draped saddlebags alike. It was like feeling a ton lighter. They all wheezed and huffed raggedly. It was a rough start, but they were here and alive.

The distant rumbling banging stopped a while ago. It seemed like it had gone on forever. The real test lay ahead. Would they make it?

Main roads were something they'd been told to avoid, leaving only barely traversed paths and little used hiking trails to allow much free movement. Otherwise they were walking through forest and hill. They didn't encounter anypony else as they walked though they'd been told there may be some doing the exact same as them. This was not something those so young would generally be attempting to do. A lengthy walking trek like this was just not going to be easy on any of the trio even though they'd been preparing for a long while. They'd done everything, exercised to be in better shape, worked hard to learn how to forage, anything useful. Everything they might need, but they were still children tasked to do this. A difficult task.

The sort of task one would never wish upon those who should be growing up, leading untroubled lives unconcerned with any notions of pain, loss, war and all it brings. Instead, these three knew all that and more. At least one of them was young enough, perhaps, to not fully understand the implications of these things. The one they surely all knew, at least one of their parents was taken away by that very war. For these sorts, the other parent was generally lost to some other reason, leaving them with neither. Orphanages were not so common a thing before the outset of this conflict. Whatever was in store for these three would be rough from this moment on, and rough it was. It was so far away.

"I like Ticky." the filly with the wide-brimmed hat said, each huffing a little as they marched along. They were indeed still children despite preparing as much as possible for this.

"I think something's wrong with him. The key doesn't work quite right." The colt said. It was his turn go wind it back up this time. It just was not turning properly.

"I hope he's okay! He's fun to ride on." The other filly kind of chirped.

"I guess it's alright." The colt finished turning the key and they moved on.

Every three days Ticky required rewinding. The faster it moved, the quicker this time came up. Whoever tried to pry the key from the slot definitely caused something to grind inside, this was worrying but for now it was still working well enough. Out from the city they'd walked, having been told it would be dangerous or impossible to return to after leaving. They were a responsible trio, determined to do what they could. The one thing they were not told is that they might die if the world fell apart, exactly as happened. Their teacher just couldn't bring herself to tell them. What good would it do anyway? Is what she told herself before giving them this one direction, this mission. That's what she called it, a mission. They were proud to do it.

A Crusader mission. A real mission, given to them. Even a royal guard escort, sort of. Ticky seemed fine for now despite the key being worrying. The machines very presence emboldened them quite a bit, he was their protector after all.

"How come there aren't any other ponies out here? Or anything?" One of the fillies asked, more just thinking out loud.

"You saw what it was like back there. Maybe none of them knew to come this way?" The colt replied, but it was a bit worrying. Shouldn't somepony else have come out this way? There were supposed to be others they might meet, but so far there was no one. No one at all. It was quite lonely and disconcerting, especially for three lone children.

There was so much canned goods and water in the machines packs, and in their own. All the weight slowed them down a lot, especially being children as they were. A lone colt and two fillies left to fend for themselves as the world crumbled.

"Do we have to carry all this stuff? It's so heavy!" The yellowish filly wearing the now slightly less white cape complained.

"Remember what she said? Never abandon cans of food or clean water, never never never!" The colt reminded her. The group was drinking far more than eating anyway so food wouldn't become a problem for a while. Even at that, supplies dwindled day after day and on. To the point they could shift some of their own carried goods into Ticky's packs.

For a long time they walked, talked, played. Children always take time to play. It was better that they did. It broke up the monotony of walking. Even marveling at sights along the way soon became just a routine thing to pass by. They were young, but even their energetic nature was being diminished. Too much might have been asked of them, and even they were beginning to realize at some point there would be no food and water left. Maybe before they got to the place they were told to reach. Their mission might be in jeopardy, something they did not want to fail. Going back was not an option, and Ticky's key was throwing out ground bits of metal each time it needed rewinding now. This was not looking good.

"I don't like it. This like..gunk comes out every time we turn Ticky's rewinding key. It sounds bad like something is breaking inside. That has to be bad, right?" The tired colt said as they wandered not quite aimlessly forward, barely understanding where they were trying to reach. A safe place for them. That was what she said. Where it would be nice and comfy, and have lots of food and water just for them, and some others like them. If they could get there, friends should be waiting. That now felt like a big if. Ticky being damaged this way was not in the plan, definitely not.

"What's to like? We just keep going." One of the fillies said. Another day passed. Another. A problem arose.

"We've been walking forever! Absolutely forever. Are you sure we're reading the map right? I thought for certain we'd be a lot further along by now. We can't really only have made it that far, right!?" The filly with the hat asked the colt. He seemed confident about it though as he looked down, concerned. The worry was real. Somehow they were running out of water.

"Y..yeah. I think we are right here. We need to be.." He moved his hoof to point much further down across the map than felt possible. He was feeling upset, almost visibly showing it but trying to keep it in. He was supposed to be tough after all.

"It can't be! We have to be closer than that don't we?" She sounded extremely worried now. Long days passed.

Each day felt longer than the one before, and spirits slowly wound down.

"Can't we have just a little more?" The fillies both complained about their rationing.

"You know we can't. If we do there won't be enough. I..you can have mine. I'm not hungry anyway." The colt divided between them both what was left of his food and water ration for tonight. He was tough, he could take it.

"Are you sure? You don't have to.." The one in the white cape said but the other wolfed down the food and gulped the water. She very clearly needed it badly this time. Hopefully that would suffice. He knew he couldn't do that again.

There would only be enough if they were careful. The constant walking was beginning to hurt their hooves. This made for quite slow progress some days. The sorts of pains that come and go from overexertion. They'd never been taxed quite like this before despite trying to be ready for it. At the end of each day they found a spot to camp, make a fire and rest. Not making enough headway. They had an important mission to fulfill and truly wanted to succeed in doing so. There was something special to do in a special place when they finally got there. Important instructions to carry out if they could, they truly didn't want to disappoint. This meant something, they could do something really useful.

It'd been a long while ago now since the sky was closed. They were ignored during all of that, or never even seen by another pony or creature. Not a single pony nor anything else living was encountered since that frightening moment when it sounded like the world was being ripped apart behind them. Not even a bird. So quiet and still. A note of dull distant terror they tried their best to push out of mind, to ignore as if it were not a real thing happening. It was exciting when they started out. Now it was starting to become painful, clearly dangerous as they headed on and their supplies slowly seemed to disappear more and more by the day. Even following the strict teachings they'd been given, they were really running out now.

One day just seemed to blur into the next as each did their best to continue this harsh march to..whatever it was they supposed to be heading towards. It was a big place, that much was told but not much more except their instructions.

"It's too quiet. There's nothing in the sky, or on the ground. Nothing. No insects, nobody. Is that bad?" The youngest filly inquired. She even sounded so small and weak, he found himself feeling really bad for her.

"I don't know. Probably not. Don't worry about it, alright?" The colt tried to keep up a brave face in spite of it all. That's what being tough meant, right? Keep them going, get everypony there safely.

The packs were becoming disturbingly less heavy. By now, weeks had passed. Being so young they perhaps did not fully comprehend what really happened far behind them. Something big, something bad. One erupted into tears suddenly.

"Are you alright?" The other two didn't quite know what to do, having little experience with this kind of thing. The usually upbeat filly wearing the brimmed hat was near bawling for a bit, and finally quieted just a little to slightly settle down.

"We've been walking so long and my legs hurt and my back..and...I miss daddy!" She shook and cried as the other two huddled around her trying to be supportive, not knowing what to do or say. Ticky oddly moved in closely. Huh?

She looked at it's odd face as it lowered it's head to look directly in her eyes a little too closely and it's own began spinning in counter-clockwise circles. She couldn't help but giggle at the sight while sniffling. Up that close like that it looked terrifically silly. That helped. A lot. A mirthful moment to raise spirits. The three weren't aware the original intent of this machine was to escort dignitaries and provide some element of status at high society gatherings, as such it was designed to entertain as well as provide non-threatening security. A marvel of machinery in its own right, the outward appearance was fully intended to be unassuming, even disarming. The heavy winding mechanism was getting worse each time it was used.

"Miss Scootaloo said we should try not to, but I think we have to.. look for food and water. She did tell us how, but everything sort of feels wrong. You think we should?" The one wearing the hat said. The feather looked positively wilted by now. The color of all their belongings was dirtied and dulled by now. Each very carefully only used a very little bit of water each day as instructed for cleaning themselves up. Just enough to keep cleanly for avoiding problems that might pose. Washing clothes was out of the question. Now worn more as items of familiarity and comfort than out of necessity.

"I guess we better. There isn't much left is there?" The other said demurely, quietly. None felt like talking much.

Hours later as they searched a terrible further realization crept in upon them. There was nothing to find, eat or drink. The eldest filly suggested maybe tree leaves, tasted one and spit it out while making a bleck sound. The others laughed, then stopped.

"No, not from these trees. They're poison to equines like us, remember?" The colt stated, he almost felt like weeping but wouldn't show such a thing in front of them. That wasn't being tough. He'd been paying attention when they were taught and knew these were no good to eat. This was terrible.

"It's no good, there's nothing here. No grass, and the river is gone somehow? How can a whole river be gone? It's just gone!" The older filly sounded tired as she said that and her stomach growled, rumbling deeply.

"We have to keep moving until we find something. There has to be something." The colt almost blurted it in worry but stopped himself, trying to be calm. The fillies were becoming more and more despondent as their plight became worse. What supplies they did have left did not amount to much anymore. Someday soon, they would be utterly depleted. In their own way, each of them knew this was getting closer and rapidly. They'd taken to using tricks to stave off hunger and thirst.

Sucking on a button or pebble to keep the mouth hydrated by saliva. Biting down on a stick or other object to keep the mind thinking it's getting something more than it really is. These things wouldn't keep them going forever, especially lacking water. Food can be skipped for a fairly significant amount of time but water is needed in surprisingly large quantities even for the young. It almost seemed as if the water went faster and faster until very little remained. It was becoming disturbing to them all.

"I think the key is getting..harder to turn." The colt wheezed a bit after finishing this time.

By now, chunks of material were falling out each time the large key upon Ticky was turned, and harder to move. Though young they could tell eventually it would not move any longer and none of them knew how to fix what they'd come to feel as their protector and silent companion. They'd been walking a very long time. Physically strong was one thing, but they were indeed children, painful history or not. The mental strain of such a journey was not something they were prepared for. All three were becoming weary and more exhausted by the day. Even able to take turns riding Ticky was becoming such a routine it did not lift spirits. Once fun, it was now just another fact of life after disaster struck.

"There's nothing! All the plants are dying and nothing is edible anyway. There is no water anywhere. Nothing. I thought we were heading for a swamp! Aren't swamp's full of water!?" The cape wearing filly sounded angry about it all. They were all starting to notice Ticky was moving more slowly even when fully wound. Something was very wrong with the wonderful machine and they could do nothing about it. It being slower meant they were as well. The thought never crossed their minds to abandon it. If they even could abandon it. It might be the only thing that knew the right way to go now. The compass was proving unreliable. The colt didn't tell them about that yet. He didn't want to make them upset or worry even more.

"I want to go back, I want to go baaack!" It was the other filly crying this time. This trek was not fun anymore. Knowing where they were heading was not much of a comfort to three lost souls. So much crying, nearly screaming for a long time. Finally, he could take it no more and snapped. They were each a little too young for this, but what choice was there?

"Stop it. STOP IT!" He yelled at her which made her eyes go wide and back away from him. He felt bad immediately.

"I..I'm sorry..but..there's nothing to go back to, and you know it." He swallowed and turned away from her, tearing up himself. He didn't want to look silly in that way in front of them. He was the guy, supposed to be tough. It didn't help.

"Miss Scootaloo.." He went to say.

"Is gone! Like everyone else, she's gone you understand? Gone!" The other one rambled a bit and stopped suddenly.

"What are we doing? We're fighting. Why are we fighting?" The filly in the now far less than white cape said. They all knew a harsh thing now. A hard lesson fell in on them. They were completely alone and just a little less than helpless.

"We should keep moving. She said it will be safe there." He said quietly. After their outbursts at each other things just felt much more dangerous. There was really nothing out here but themselves. It was so far away still. Too far. Much too far.

"They all promised. They would not break a promise to us. We have to keep going. We are..here now, I think." He waved to the map then stuffed it in with the few remaining supplies. They really had gone a very long way, and it still wasn't enough to arrive at their destination.

"You think!?" The other two said in unison. He was upset now, too.

"Well..we might have a problem. Maybe." He said, a bit alarmingly to them.

"What do you mean a problem? Everything is a problem!" One of them sort of blurted out. He felt bad. Time to tell.

"No, look.." He put down the compass and it never settled, rotating perpetually. He felt better, telling them about it.

"What?" Both fillies looked shocked, disturbed by this revelation. Could they be going in circles as well?

"I think Ticky is still going the right way. Without this working all we can do is go the way he's going, right?" The colt was far less sure than he'd been this entire time. This was a disturbing change of events. Unsettling to all of them. What if Ticky wasn't going the right way either? Even if he was, they were still nowhere near their goal. They should have made much more distance, but several factors were conspiring against them since they set out. Not being able to follow a straight path or real road slowed them greatly, the initial weight of their packs and other problems during the trip added up heavily.

They'd had to sit still for three days when one of the fillies stumbled over an unseen obstacle late one day, hurting herself enough to require the rest. Losing that much time also meant using even more supplies that would otherwise have served the purpose of furthering them along in their travels. Another two days were wasted backtracking due to finding themselves facing impassable terrain. In total they'd lost nearly an entire weeks worth of travel time on those things alone. More time was lost on varying problems, deciding which route to take was surprisingly one of the most time consuming. Since that mistake they were being much more cautious. That really cost them badly in terms of time and supplies.

"I'm really worried. There's like nothing left in Ticky's packs. What will we do?" The elder filly was sounding more ragged than before, worn out. So much time was lost in futile efforts to make headway and now they were running out of everything. All that was left in the saddlebags was a medical kit they'd only needed to make use of once or twice, and for nothing too serious. A few minor scrapes and bruises were to be expected on such a long trip, but there was nothing edible in there and right now that was more important. None of the vegetation proved edible or of any variety they knew to be safe to consume.

It wasn't possible to keep to a straight line in their path to a far off destination. One they didn't even really know what it was. They only knew that somepony they trusted said it was there. A place that very few knew of. It was not possible to send them there before the end of the war came or they would have been. Three hapless children far from anything they might call home, wandering through a dimmed land. On the very first day they'd seen pegasi rushing across the skies frantically in every which way, not one bothering to look down to note them. They still hadn't seen anypony at all since then. No one, alone. A situation three now very frightened children should never have had to face, especially alone.

The machine sent along with them was the only gesture that could be granted them, an attempt to help. A small chance. It was not going to last as long as hoped. One colt and two fillies made their way forward, slow mile after mile passing. Keeping track was not something bothered with. All that mattered, was getting there and doing what was asked of them. If that was even possible. After each winding Ticky was marching more slowly. Not noticeably at first. Rivers did not seem to be where they should be. Nothing was there. The waters path interrupted further up. Even if it had still wound by them, it would be undrinkable. Their supplies dwindled yet more by the day despite following all the advice given them to ration.

Something did not look correct about what they were seeing. The map they had was definitely not wrong about their position though. The colt was not feeling so energetic whatsoever anymore. Seeing the trees and plants wilting or just plain otherwise looking wrong did not help the mood. He felt sick, but said nothing. It was probably not important anyway. Just tired from going and going. They slept quite easily at night, and kept moving during the day. If it really was day anymore. Lighter than night time, but it did not seem right either. At least the gloom of day was better than total darkness which they had no means of continuing to move through during anyway. Now, their supplies were all but gone.

Day after day of lonely walking with only themselves for company was becoming extremely tiresome and wearing on all three. Friends though they were, the continual time spent together was proving to be a steep strain on all three. They'd never walked this much or spent quite so much time together before. The tiring days and not wholly restful nights were not helping matters any. Inexorably, the wear and tear of it would get to one or the other of them and need a lot of coaxing from the others to continue onward. Spirits were getting lower after spending weeks walking. It seemed like they covered less ground each and every day. That was worrying. The filly wearing the wide-brim hat stopped and went totally silent a moment.

"What..what's wrong?" The young colt asked of the filly wearing it.

"I..I think my manes falling out." She was looking ragged, but they all kind of were. It didn't seem right in any way.

"I'm sure it's alright, you're still pretty!" The other filly encouraged. Just barely enough for now. The colt didn't say he felt really ill himself. Not just physically, but a bad feeling was overtaking him that maybe they wouldn't get there after all. They did vaguely know what dying was, but someone so young shouldn't have to face it. Definitely not alone. Not like this. There was nopony around to help or comfort. Only themselves. Travel was slowing. Each day was less progress forward.

Less and less. All too soon they were making far too little headway towards their distant destination. They were not even told what was really there. Just that it would be safe if they could make it. Whatever hope of that was waning between the three. Even the seeming boundless energy of youth was wearing thin amongst each, and the concern grew worse with time as did the feelings of being truly ill. He tried his best not to show it, wanting to keep his friends happy and moving as much as possible. He could tell something was very wrong and getting worse inside himself, but feared to tell them. He didn't want them to worry, not about him. He was..what did being tough matter now? Did it matter? Did anything?

"I don't feel..right." The filly in the cape said, and choked very heavily to a concerning degree, shaking hard for a few moments before it subsided. The other two looked to each other, but could say nothing. What could be said?

"I can't eat. It makes me feel sick. You have it." The one in the now very raggy looking hat said and slid her tiny portion on a little plate over to the colt. The once luxurious long pegasus feather nearly destroyed by now. That sounded really bad.

"You have to eat.. you will get sick if you don't eat." He said meekly, looking down at his hooves.

"I can't swallow it. Have my share, please go ahead." She said raspily. None of them looked too well anymore.

"You two, I don't think we can make it." The other wheezed. Her mane really was falling out in tufts now. She was feeling so bad now that Ticky was mostly carrying her along. this was getting worse and worse. The colt was not in quite as bad condition as either of them. He felt so bad inside not being able to do anything for either of them. Ticky came to a slow stop. It was time to wind the marching machine once more. So far the escort machine held up exceedingly well. That unfortunately changed at this moment, as he finished winding the large key snapped out of the socket and fell off to the ground with a loud thunk. He could not fit the key back in or find a way to make it work. This would be the last walk it would make with them.

"I think Ticky broke." He said dejectedly, thoroughly disheartened at this turn of events. He felt so weak and tired, forcing himself to keep moving with the other filly. By now the food was completely gone, the water might as well be. At least there was nothing they needed to carry any longer, having ditched their totally empty packs and saddlebags miles and miles ago.

"Ticky, I'm sorry. I don't know what to do." They walked on for as long as it would carry her. It turned out to not be enough. They'd stopped between a stand of trees on all sides, more for comfort than from any real threat. The trees themselves weren't looking very healthy either. Almost looking as tired as he felt. Ticky was so slow now. He felt so ill.

They helped the once exuberant filly off gently and to lay back against a tree. She didn't look too good. None of them did. Ticky panned it's head to each of them then remained still, perhaps with just enough power left to watch for some amount of time. The young colt sat and looked at his friends, both barely able to keep their eyes open from that moment on. He tried to offer them what tiny bit remained of water that Ticky carried, but they refused and could not stomach it anyway. They were dying, and so was he, he was certain. He took the last sip, it was just enough to wet the mouth and wish for more.

"Why did she send us out here? She must have..known we...couldn't make it." He panted, looking over to the others.

He made a fire. It made sense to do so. Just as he was taught and been doing. The crackling wood sounded comforting. A hollow comfort for young hearts. The filly in the cape rasped weakly, so tired and strained as she lay there almost unmoving.

"No, she wouldn't do that. I think..she wanted us to see the world, and there really is a place. It's okay. It was just too far..for us." She coughed and yelped in pain then shuddered there. There was nothing he could do for either of them. He took a deep breath and internally wanted to scream, but refused to give in and do so. His friends were dying in front of him and he could do absolutely nothing to help. He knew it, he was too. Soon. Be strong for them. He must be tough.

He did what very little could be done for her, tried to make her comfortable. Her breathing was uneven and occasionally rapid. It didn't sound right at all. This was wrong. The other filly was laying down looking half dazed as well. There was nothing in the medical kit that could help with this, and they weren't taught what to do if this kind of thing happened. Was there something to do? None of them knew. He quietly spoke to the other one.

"I think..she's sick. I think we all are. I don't know." The colt was wobbly and weak, but still doing his best for the others. It was down to him. He had to take care of them. That was just what you did wasn't it? For hours he watched over them.

At some point she simply stopped breathing. He cried for real after finally realizing she was really gone. Sobbing hard he scraped at the ground in anguish. It hurt so much to watch them die. More pain than he ever imagined. This wasn't tough.

"Don't go..please dont go.." He begged his dying friend, but she was already long gone. That felt pathetic. He was asking her to do the impossible. That was unfair of him. He would not let that stand of himself and corrected it immediately.

"No, it.. I don't mean that. You're my friend. I love my friends. Goodbye.." He looked at her for a few minutes and despite himself gave a childish kiss on her cheek before turning away, sobbing for a moment. He couldn't help it anymore.

"What do I do? What do I do?" He was huffing heavily and so tired and hurting all over. It hurt so much in every way inside and out. He was out of ideas and couldn't do this anymore.

"NO NO NO." He mumbled and muttered to himself, hating feeling so weak and useless like this. What was the point of him being here if he couldn't even help his friends?

"I can't..I can't...There's nothing. Nothing." The colt was nearly shaking from crying and being so upset. He finally worked up the courage to say it.

He looked to the other filly. She was almost gone as well, but still here for the moment at least. He was crying hard.

"I can't..I can't save you. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry!" He told her, shivering. He felt so powerless about this.

"Shhh." She uttered and moaned a bit then turned her head towards him, just sounding kind.

"Huh?" He couldn't possibly stop crying right now. It wouldn't stop. Tears just flowed, he shouldn't cry like this.

"Shh..shh shhh... It's okay. You did..so much for us. Mom used to give me raspberry ice cream when I was upset. I don't have any ice cream to give you.. shh...I miss ice cream.." In a few too many hours she went silent as well. He was alone.

Moving to lay back against a tree himself he almost collapsed. He'd stayed alongside her for those long hours. Saying things they'd liked back and forth occasionally, joking until when waiting for her to respond she finally said nothing at all.

Hardly able to move himself from a great lack of food and water or remaining strength, he stared at Ticky.

"I'm sorry..Miss Scootaloo. We didn't..make it. We tried so hard.." He wheezed and groaned in pain. It hurt in so many ways. What did it matter now anyway? His friends were gone and he would likely join them soon. An odd sort of calmness settled over him. What was this? He must be imagining things, but could have sworn he heard a voice saying it was alright.

Whatever was that? So strange. The pain seemed to be subsiding as his eyes flicked to and fro, but there was no one there. Managing to look to his friends one last time, he finally gave in as he gazed at the escort machine and took off his hat.

"You did real good, Ticky.." There was one last thing to say, something he needed to know badly, he just had to know.

"Ohh..Ticky, did..did I do good, too?" It may have just been the haze of pained tears and youthful emotions, but he thought he saw the machine nod it's head very slowly. What a relief. Glad to think so, a smile crossed his muzzle as his eyes slowly closed, content to die beside his friends. Peaceful at last, the pain ended. Quiet settled over the little grove.

Ticky stood over the charges put in its care thereafter, having been unable to fulfill the given mission to escort them somewhere safe. A silent sentinel left to stand in tribute and memorial of three lost souls tossed aside by a dying world, as many were. Three young wanderers left to their final rest together. Unfair perhaps, but at least they had each other. Many at the time of the wars ending were not nearly fortunate enough to have the benefit of friends or comfort of any kind. Left to die alone in the blasted remnants of the world. To have survived even this long after it all started falling apart was a tremendous accomplishment. If trophies were given for simple survival after all that, these three would have several.

187 years would slowly inch past in the dead quiet that sprang upon all things here and elsewhere, endless decades before this quiet spot would be intruded upon by a couple of other lost souls whose intrusion would be short and reverent. It was obvious to these intruders upon this hidden spot that they were quite young when they died and likely deserved so much better from life than to have it ended so short. A painful reminder of what was missing from the world.


Painful indeed. We all know just a bit of it. These three felt the most possible, and just why would I tell you something so horrible? Perhaps you'll figure it out, or not. The cards fall which way they may, but this roll of the dice didn't quite work out now did it?

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