• Published 25th Jun 2012
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Fallout Equestria x Wild Arms: Trigger to Tomorrow - thatguyvex



A young tribal pony tries to keep his moral center and ensure the survival of his friends while facing the many dangers of the Detrot Wasteland and beyond.

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Chapter 2: Into the Wilderness

Chieftain Hard Tack’s hoof smashed into my jaw with enough force to rattle teeth and plant me firmly on my backside, ears ringing and brain quite convinced it was going to be enjoying a minor concussion for the rest of the day. While I sat there feeling the warmth of a trail of blood trickling from my nostrils and soaking the front of my muzzle the Chieftain stood over me glowering with her amber eyes practically glowing with rage.

“Ten seconds flat. That’s how long you have to explain to me why I shouldn’t banish you from this village.”

To my credit it didn’t take me more than one of my allotted ten seconds to get my legs under me and face my tribe’s Chieftain with something resembling pride; or at least as much pride as someone with blood still dribbling from their nose and possibly a cocked eye from being dazed can manage. I don’t think my voice quavered at all; though don’t quote me on that.

“Banishment only has ever happened if the crime was really, really bad. Like, murder bad. And far as I know I haven’t murdered anypony. Seriously Chief, hit me all you want, I deserve it for getting Trailblaze mixed up in all this, but you’d need most the tribe howling for my blood to justify banishment. Far as I know only about half the ponies around here don’t like me enough to throw a party if I got kicked out.”

Hard Tack was scowling, “That was more than ten seconds. Damned the ancestors themselves if you sure as shit aren’t making me wish you had done something bad enough to warrant banishment. You’re nearly a full grown stallion Longwalk! You can’t be doing this kind of thing anymore! It was cute the first dozen times you wandered where you shouldn’t or questioned one of our laws, but it’s gotten well past due that you grow up! I may not banish you, buck, but you’re going to be paying for this stunt nonetheless.”

“Mother, you shouldn’t forget me, I broke the law too,” Trailblaze said. She’d been standing next to me, though up until now she’d had trouble getting a word in edgewise.

We were inside the Chieftain’s tent, the large circular affair made of interlaced patches of gecko hide, the top open to let both pale daylight in and let smoke from the fire pit in the center out. Most of the tribe had gathered outside, having witnessed the spectacle of me, Trailblaze, and Arcaidia being escorted into the village. My mother, Sand Storm, had led the procession. It had been her search party that found us as we’d crossed back over Ghost Ridge. She hadn’t spoken more words to me than were needed to confirm that I was alright and to get the gist of the story of what had happened. My mother had kept her peace and not asked any questions about Arcadia. I think she understood just by observation that me and Trailblaze didn’t really know much and that, in the end, it wouldn’t matter anyway. She didn’t yell at me or anything, but had had that faint look of disappointment I’d gotten used to by now and found far more painful any of the hitting or yelling I was getting from the Chieftain. She’d returned to our tent after delivering me and Trailblaze to the Chieftain, telling me that we’d ‘have a talk’ once Hard Tack had decided my punishment. In cases of tribal law being breached only the Chieftain was given right to decree punishment, so my mother was stuck waiting until this was over with.

Arcaidia, far as I knew, was still outside the tent, being watched closely by a circle of spear armed hunters. The unicorn, last I’d seen her, had been giving the village an openly fascinated examination, ignoring the pointy spears and unfriendly gazes leveled at her from my tribesmates as she tried to chat with them in her own language. I just hoped she didn’t cause any kind of ruckus until I could think of a way to convince the Chieftain to let her stay for a little while. I didn’t like the thought of her being kicked out of the village and into the vast wasteland on her own one bit.

Hard Tack had fixed her daughter with a stare sharp enough to break skin, “Oh don’t think I’ve forgotten your part in this! You’re even worse than he is sometimes! At least when Longwalk does something stupid we can attest it to bad blood, but you’re blood of the Chieftain! You cannot afford to act so foalishly.”

The Chieftain likely didn’t notice it or if she did she didn’t care, but my blue mane bristled a bit at her words. ‘Bad blood’ she said. It’s not like I had any choice in who my father was. There have been very few incidents of our tribe having any dealings with outsiders. Those few incidents usually resulted in violence. Outsiders were not allowed near the village; an ironclad rule, and one enforced in blood. I don’t know how my mother managed to spend any time at all with an outsider or how their time together resulted in me. I never had the courage to ask her about the details and my mother had never offered them. I usually tried very, very hard not to think about it. It made my blood boil whenever it was brought up though and it was even worse when my tribesmates tried to use my ‘bad blood’ as the excuse for my behavior, like it was somehow expected of me to cause trouble.

“It isn’t her fault,” I said heatedly, “She was just trying to do her…her duty as blood of the Chieftain! Is it not the task of the Chieftain to protect all under the tribe? Even when they do something stupid? Trailblaze was only doing what she had to in order to protect a fellow tribesmate. It is not her fault that tribesmate just happened to be doing something so dangerous.”

The Chieftain rounded on me, her ire towards Trailblaze momentary forgotten, which was what I wanted. As she took a menacing step towards me I couldn’t help but remind myself this pony’s cutie mark happened to be a hoof making a punching motion. She really did have a mean right hoof, and I did like having all my teeth firmly in my mouth. Perhaps keeping her attention on me wasn’t the brightest of ideas, but again, not the brightest colt in my tribe.

At around forty years the Chieftain was a mare of stone hard lean muscle. She shared her daughter’s light chocolate brown coat and black mane, though it was shot through with long streaks of white and was decorated with an assortment of gecko claws and teeth. Though not particularly tall that didn’t put the slightest damper on the menace and raw presence she could exude with a look and I felt myself feeling like a colt barely having learned how to walk under the harsh gaze she threw my way.

“Don’t even try to confuse this issue, buck! Point is Trailblaze should’ve dragged you back to the village the second she heard what you were planning to do. She didn’t.”

She looked away darkly, muttering “…She’s too fond of you by half…”

As if she hadn’t even realized she’d said that she was back to glaring at me and Trailblaze both.

“The two of you have caused this tribe far too much headache for me to just let this go with a slap on the hoof. Every time Longwalk gets into trouble you’re there right next to him Trailblaze!”

“Because somepony has to keep an eye on him,” Trailblaze said, though I could tell from the slight tremble in her legs she was terrified talking back to her mother, “Nopony else here seems to care if something happens to him. I do.”

“Trail-“I began, wanting to cut this off before it got worse. No such luck there.

“That’s the problem!” roared Hard Tack, cutting my words off “You care too much and it makes you blind to your actual duty; ensuring the tribe’s laws are adhered to! These laws exist to protect us, and have for over two centuries! If you care so much for this idiot colt then keep him out of trouble instead of following him into it! But you’ve made it clear again and again that you can’t keep a proper head around him.”

She snorted, air huffing in and out through her nostrils in anger. I’d seen the Chieftain get angry plenty of times before, but I‘d never quite seen her eyes get quite that…bloodshot. And were those veins throbbing on her forehead and neck? How long had Hard Tack been keeping this bottled in?

“This cannot continue and as Chieftain it is within my right and power to ensure it doesn’t. Trailblaze, you are henceforth forbidden from associating with this buck.”

I stared at the Chieftain with my jaw slightly gaping, I heard Trailblaze draw in a sharp breath.

“Waitwhat?”

“Mother! You can’t do that! I can ‘associate’ with whomever I damned well want!”

Hard Tack stomped a hoof on the ground, kicking up a small cloud of dirt, “I’m Chieftain. Kind of gives me leeway to make such decrees, and since Longwalk’s antics have earned him few friends among us besides you I doubt many in the tribe will object to this.”

“But, how?” I stammered “I mean we see each other every day. The village isn’t big enough for us to just not see each other!”

“Hmph, you do not have to speak to each other to live in the same village. You will not hunt together, spend time together, eat together, or do anything other than merely pass each other by and speak to one another only when absolutely needed to perform some task you’ve been given.”

“For how long?” I asked, feeling like I was slipping down a slope towards a cliff with nothing to grab onto to stop myself.

“For as long as I damned well deem it necessary!”

That’s not fair, I wanted to say but didn’t bother. I knew exactly how much the Chieftain was likely to care about that particular line of argument. I wracked my brain trying to think of something to turn this around. The idea of not even being able to talk to Trailblaze on a regular basis was causing a numbing chill in my chest. This was going far worse than I’d hoped and we hadn’t even gotten to the part about Arcaidia.

“Fine,” I said firmly, getting a blink from the Chieftain and a look of wide eyed shock from Trailblaze.

“Long, no, you can’t just accept this!”

I lowered my head a bit, feeling a hot burst of shame at the tone of desperation in Trailblaze’s voice. I didn’t want this to get any worse though and if we kept arguing with the Chieftain like this it would be even harder to talk calmly to her about Arcaidia. I just had to rest my hopes on the notion that this ‘decree’ was something that Hard Tact would be willing to reconsider when in a simmered down and better mood. Maybe give it a few months, behave and don’t break any more tribe laws and she’d be willing to let me and Trailblaze...be friends again.

“The Chieftain knows what’s best,” I choked out the words, blinking rapidly to keep the tears back, “I’m…I’m really sorry Trailblaze, for all this. I should have listened to you, back there in the forest.”

Trailblaze just shook her head, “No you shouldn’t have. We found Arcaidia because you pushed forward.”

I blinked, hearing the gratitude in her voice and realizing it was directed at the blue unicorn. I knew I was grateful to Arcaidia for saving Trailblaze’s life and always would owe her a debt for that. I hadn’t occurred to me until then that Trailblaze was feeling the same thing. It made me smile and want to hug her, but I had to smother that feeling. I would have to smother any feelings like that for a long time. I wanted to scream; instead I focused my attention back on Hard Tact as the Chieftain’s face became a hard mask.

“Arcaidia?” the Chieftain asked, “Is that the name of that…unicorn? I am still having trouble believing the story you two have told me of her. Emerging from some strange silver object embedded in a cave? Powerful magic? Longwalk you say she even gave you this spear?”

She gestured with her head at the spear in question, which was laying propped up against one of the support poles for the tent. I’d been asked to hand it over before going into the Chieftain’s tent and she’d given it a few curious looks but otherwise had not asked much about it until now. It had actually been rather hard for me to give it up when asked and now I felt an odd tingling in my mouth when I looked at the spear and urge to go over and pick it up. I pushed the feeling aside.

“Yes,” I said, nodding, and a little glad for the change of subject, my mind now bent on how to convince the Chieftain to allow Arcaidia to either remain in the village as a guest or at least receive some supplies and an escort to the next nearest village, “Without that spear I couldn’t have helped Trailblaze. I don’t really know what it is though.”

“It sounds like you don’t know anything at all about this unicorn or the items she carries,” Hard Tact said with not a small hint of sarcasm, “I am wondering if there is any reason at all not to cast her out of our tribe’s village as soon as we’re done with this conversation.

“Perhaps as a show of gratitude for saving the lives of two of your tribe, including your daughter?” I offered, regaining some of my fire. I’d gone into this knowing I was going to be punished for breaking the law. I hadn’t known how personal that punishment was going to be, but I knew it’d been coming. As for Arcaidia, I was damned if I was going to let her be treated as just another outsider! Not a chance. I owed her.

For a change of pace it seemed like my words had been chosen right and I saw the Chieftain’s steel expression softly slightly, “I am grateful for my daughter’s life, though it should not have been put in such danger in the first place. But as I have told you before Longwalk, so many times I’m getting quite tired of trying to count; our laws exist for a reason. Outsiders bring nothing but pain to our tribe. The world outside this valley is one of terror, suffering, and death. For us to survive as we have we must remain apart from the wasteland beyond. Part of that means not allowing any outsider entry to our land. This Arcaidia is even more unusual than what is normal for an outsider; her origin, her powers, her very language are all foreign to us! What if she has enemies seeking her? What if she carries dark intentions we do not know of, hiding behind an exterior of innocence? You told me yourself that she destroyed those large golden gekos with nothing but ice conjured from her horn! Do you expect me to trust somepony with such power to remain among my people when at any moment she may decide to turn such power upon us?”

“If she was going to do that don’t you think she’d already be doing it instead of trying to talk off our hunter’s ears,” I replied, “I may not be able to speak her tongue by I’ve seen her ‘intentions’ clearly enough. She could have killed those gekos and just left me and Trailblaze to die and you and the tribe would have been none the wiser for it. Instead she gave me a weapon to save Trailblaze, and then healed her of what would have been fatal wounds.”

“Mother,” Trailblaze added, “I can’t think of anything she’d want with our tribe. I don’t think she even knows where she is, let alone have any bad intentions towards us.”

Hard Tack’s eyes were narrow slits but she was at least listening, and her voice wasn’t nearly as shouty, “I will…consent to her remaining with us for one night. However on the morrow she will be sent away,” her voice raised as I opened my mouth to protest, “I will hear no more of this! Our provisions are dangerously low, but she may have enough to last her a day or so. I will not risk more than that.”

Her voice lowered to a whisper and I’m not sure either me or Trailblaze were meant to hear her say, “I will not risk it.”

I didn’t like this, but at least Arcaidia would be allowed a night to rest and would be given some food and water. Honestly I wasn’t sure the unicorn wanted to stay here exactly, or if she wanted to go, or what at all Arcaidia was after. I just felt a need to ensure she was treated well. Not being immediately cast out into the wasteland with no provisions at all seemed to be the best I was going to argue out the Chieftain. It wasn’t much, but it’d have to be enough. With a look at Trailblaze I wondered just what I should do. On any normal morning like this was around the time when me and her would be going out to hunt, or taking care of some daily chores after breakfast. Now…

Hard Tack was looking at us and sighed, “Trailblaze, Whetstone’s hunting party shall be leaving soon for the south forest. You should join them. I’m sure they’ll appreciate the extra pair of eyes. Longwalk, I’m certain your mother wants to talk to you now. The unicorn can stay with the two of you for the night.”

“Mother,” Trailblaze began, “Perhaps for just one more day Longwalk and I can-“

“No. This is ended. I may, in time, if he can show he knows how to behave like an adult member of the tribe, consent to the two of you being…together…at some time in the future. For now my decree remains. Now go, both of you.”

As we both hung our heads, turning to leave the tent, I paused and glanced back at the silver spear, Gramzanber, and wondered what the Chieftain planned to do with it. One look at her though showed that asking wasn’t a very good idea at all and I tried to hide the strange stab of loss that crept around me as I thought about leaving the spear behind as me and Trailblaze left the tent.

Outside we found Arcaidia right where we left her; making the hunters guarding her very nervous as she chattered at them in her odd language. I recognized that one of the hunters, a gray mare with a thickly braided black mane, was actually trying to not smile at the cheerful blue unicorn. Whetstone was probably one of the nicer ponies in the tribe, or at least she was one of the ones that never brought up my ‘bad blood’ and treated me like I was normal. I think she was more bemused by Arcaidia than nervous about her. Unlike the other hunters she didn’t have her spear drawn in her mouth, ready to strike.

“Hey Whetstone,” I called “Is the great outsider menace threatening all these big tough hunters with cheerful smiles? Quick, somepony stop her before she does something crazy, like continue acting friendly!”

I imagined my words were not the most wisely chosen ones ever as I got plenty of glares from most of the hunters. Whetstone just shook her head, looking silly as she tried very hard to appear serious and failed at it by crackling a small smirk.

“Woah there Longwalk, first let me see how many teeth you still have.”

I blinked, exchanged a look with Trailblaze, who rolled her shoulders in a shrug, and I smiled wide as I could at Whetstone. Another hunter, a big burly brown buck with his mane tied in a tight top knot, joined Whetstone in peering at my teeth. The buck sighed in disappointment and Whetstone nudged him with her hoof.

“Ha! Told ya Cliff. All still there. Knew the Chieftain would go easy on him. C’mon, cough up the powder!”

The buck, Cliffscale, grumbled as he duck into a pouch on his gecko hide barding and handed over a small bag of healing powder over to Whestone, who accepted it with a grin.

“Glad to see you both care so much for his well being,” Trailblaze muttered, her ears flat against the back of her head and her tail twitching. Whetstone gave her a small apologetic look. Somewhere in the background I saw Arcaidia pause in her poking at one of the hunter’s cutie marks, much to the chagrin of said hunter, to look up over at our talking and I saw the unicorn filly’s eyes practically light up.

“Longwalk ren Trailblaze! Tu dol holshala vi gala!”

Arcaidia trotted up, right past the leveled spears of hunters as if the sharp deadly instruments weren’t even registering to her as a threat. Which they probably weren’t, I imagined. She looked between the two of us, smiling her bright smile, and excitedly started chirping words that I couldn’t even begin to follow. I really, really needed to figure out some way to communicate with her. She was gesturing around the village, then raised her hoof with the Pip-Buck (really do need to figure out where I heard that term before) and shook it excitedly at my face.

“Okay, okay! I get that you’re really happy about…something. Look Arcaidia can you focus for a sec? I need to try to explain something to you and that won’t be easy given I’m going to have to either pantomime this or draw you some pictures in the dirt.”

As I tried to calm Arcaidia down by placing a hoof calmly on her shoulder and making patting gesture, and pointing at the ground as I sat back on my haunches, rather hoping she get the idea to do the same, I heard Whetstone and Trailblaze talking off to the side.

“Mother says I should go hunt with you and your party today.”

“Hm? Sounds good, it’s been awhile since you and I were together on a hunt. You’re usually off keeping watch on our resident troublebuck,” Whetstone’s tone suddenly changed, lowering and becoming tinged with concern, “Trail, what is it? What did your mother do for punishment…?”

I didn’t hear what Trailblaze said but it’s not like I didn’t know. Whetstone took in a sharp breath and I heard her say something sharply under her breath but I didn’t catch what it was. Then the gray mare said loudly, I think intentionally so I’d hear it easily.

“Right then, morning light is wasting bucks and fillies! Village is in dire need of food so we’re going to hit up the southwest dunes to see what we can rustle up! Trail’s comin’ with us today. No, no need to keep an eye on our new guest, Longwalk looks like he’s got her covered. Right Long?”

“Eeyup,” I said over my shoulder, “I’ll make sure she doesn’t unleash too much friendliness upon our unsuspecting village while you all are out doing hunt-like stuff.”

“See? So let’s get those spears pointed elsewhere and move out.”

Some of the hunters grumbled, giving me and Arcadia dark looks as they went by. Cliffscale just gave a confused shake of his head at me as he trotted by. Trailblaze and Whetstone followed walking side by side. Whetstone cast a look at me that contained equal measure apology and worry. I figure she’ d get the whole story out of Trailblaze during the hunt. I appreciated that she was concerned though I think it was more for Trailblaze than me; which I was fine with. I knew I could trust Whetstone would be there as a friend for Trailblaze while we waited for Hard Tack to cool her head on this whole damned ‘no associating ‘ thing.

Trailblaze looked back at me just once before the hunting party vanished among the village tents.

Now it was just me, Arcaidia, and a half dozen village onlookers who would have rather gawked at the oddity of the unicorn in their midst rather than go about their daily business. Fine, they could watch while I awkwardly went about trying to communicate with Arcaidia that she’d be leaving tomorrow morning, like it or not, and that she was staying we me and my mother at our tent tonight.

That took…awhile.

Arcaidia was certainly a smart pony; I was just a slow and clumsy one. It took quite a bit of utterly failed attempts at pantomime and about a dozen tries at scraping appropriate pictures in the dirt to get the basic idea across to her that I wanted her to follow me to my tent. From the look she gave me I was half certain I’d just accidentally propositioned her.

“Right then, so just follow me then and I’ll take you to my tent, er, but just so you can sleep there and meet my mom,” I said while pointing at her with one hoof while canting me head in the rough direction of where me and my mother’s tent was, off by the edge of the south end of the village.

Arcaidia was still giving me a look that suggested a fair portion of my meaning was very much lost in translation but she nodded and began trotting after me as I began walking. I watched her as she came up alongside me, my eyes sliding almost against my will towards her flanks. It wasn’t like I was interested, I just realized that me and her had something interesting in common. I hadn’t noticed earlier due to the dress she wore, but as she walked the short cut fabric would shift, occasionally revealing the bare azure flank beneath.

She didn’t have a cutie mark either.

“And here I thought I was the only one at my age who couldn’t figure out what he was good at,” I commented, smiling softly.

Her eyes blinked, and then followed to where my own gaze had landed. I saw momentary confusion on her regal features that was rapidly replaced by dawning wide-eyed realization. I watched as she shook her head and planted a hoof to her face, muttering under her breath. The words were of course nothing I could understand but the tone sounded…frustrated.

She recovered quickly though and next thing I knew she was speaking rapidly while making a waving gesture with one hoof. I would have found it odd that she kept talking as if I understood what she said if not for the fact that I’d been doing the same thing myself. Sometimes it just helped to talk, no matter that you couldn’t be understood. I certainly didn’t mind; she had an energetic chiming voice that was easy to listen to.

It didn’t take long for us to get to my tent, the village wasn’t exactly large. The tribe’s tents varied in size, often getting expanded as family’s grew with additional ‘rooms’ being added onto one another. The silver gecko hide was stripped and faded to gray under years of wind and sand but the small tent me and my mother shared was sturdy and well patched. I saw my mother’s spear planted in the ground just outside the entrance flap alongside another that I recognized due to the pair of white feathers tied to the end of it.

What’s Hawker doing here? I wondered as I paused just outside, my ears flicking as I tilted my head towards the entrance to listen. Arcaidia, frowning, came up beside me. I heard my mother’s voice, her tone oddly low and quiet. Why was she speaking as if she didn’t want anypony hearing?

“…to do with them. She isn’t even a pegasus…”

Hawker’s voice was louder and my ears pricked up as I noticed the sound of fear undercutting the words of the stallion who was the tribe’s self-proclaimed ‘facilitator of trade’. Considering the tribe didn’t have anypony to trade with besides themselves that wouldn’t have seemed all that impressive but Hawker had a knack for getting his hooves on items one villager wanted in exchange for items another villager wanted.

“It won’t matter Sand Storm! Ancestors, did you think you’d have your fun with one of them and that’d be that? Because of you, they know where we live, and because of that, they watch. Our new visitor isn’t going to go unnoticed.”

Now I heard my mother’s voice rise, the harsh roil of anger entering her voice akin to the coming of the same kind of storm that was her namesake.

“Fun? You know damned well that it was more than that Hawker. You were his friend too! You can’t believe he’d break his word to us now can you?”

“We don’t even know if he’s still alive. His word only matters as long as he’s around to make it stick. If, in the, what, twelve years since you last saw him, that he died, or lost his authority? What then? They’d have no reason not to come in and take what they want.”

I kept leaning in closer and closer to the entrance flap to the tent, straining to hear, practically willing my ears to spontaneously grow in size so I could get more of the conversation. I didn’t even notice Arcaidia moving until she was already brushing past me and into the tent. I got out half a “Waitasec!” trying to stop her before I stumbled in behind Arcaidia and was left standing next to her and looking at the very surprised pair of ponies looking back at us.

My mother shared my light tan coat but her long straight mane was a dark shade of violet, the long bangs held back by a red bandanna that was, as far as I knew, the only one of its kind in the village. Her amber eyes went from surprised to that hard ‘mother disapproves’ look I’d gotten quite used to over the years.

Next to her tall and athletic form Hawker’s compact build made him look almost chubby, though I knew the gray earthy pony with the shorted braided mane of black was solid muscle. His trading skill aside Hawker had taught me the finer points of hoof fighting when I was little. For the small fee of doing chores for him and acting as his eyes and ears in figuring out who needed what around the village.

“Longwalk,” my mother said with that tone only a mother revving up for a scolding could pull off. I smiled at her sheepishly, putting on my most friendly and innocent face.

“Hi mom. Look, I brought a guest!”

“I noticed,” she said dryly, only sparing Arcaidia a slight glance before turning to face Hawker.

“We’ll finish our talk in the morning Hawk. I need to speak with my son now.”

“Ah, of course. We’ll catch up later Sand Storm. Longwalk I hope the Chief wasn’t too hard on you. Nothing wrong with a little healthy curiosity I always say, as long as you can make it pay off.”

The gray stallion paused only once in leaving the tent to bow his head to Arcaidia, a gesture she returned with a smile. When he was gone we were left with a very awkward silence that dragged out for almost a minute as the three of us, myself, my mother, and Arcaidia, were left starting at each other. My mother broke the silence with a heavy sigh as she went over to one of the piles of matting made from the tasteless clumps of dry grass that still grew all over the region. Not the height of comfort but hey, you work with what you got, right?

“Sit down Long, you might as well tell me what happened with Hard Tack.”

I did so, sitting down opposite my mother as Arcaidia sat next to me. My mother’s expression only went from dark to worse as I told her what had transpired, first the way me and Trailblaze found Arcaidia, adding details I’d kept out before, and then of the conversation with the Chieftain. My mother spat and stomped her hoof on the ground, making me start and Arcaidia blink.

“That hard headed idiot! Does she really think keeping you and Trailblaze apart is going to fix anything? She doesn’t get that ponies don’t just stop feeling things because they’re inconvenient. Then or now.”

“I-its not that bad mom,” I lied, “I almost got Trailblaze killed yesterday. Without Arcaidia, I would have. Maybe she shouldn’t be around me so much anymore.”

“Horseapples! The two of you have been together since you were foals. Hard Tack herself was the one who thought you needed somepony to play with, since so many of the other foals kept their distance from you because of…”

“Because of my father,” I said, letting that hang in the air.

My father the ‘outsider’, whose blood marked me as different. It wasn’t like I was brutalized or horribly mistreated, it was just like my mother said; many of my tribe just kept a certain distance between myself and them. Emotionally if not physically. Only a few exceptions like Hawker, Trailblaze, and Whetstone had gotten to know me, taken the time to see past the heritage. My mother looked at me and I saw an all too familiar expression, one of remembrance. She’d never actually said it straight to my face but I suspected I looked a lot like my father. I knew from the way she looked at me that she remembered him fondly, but it just left me feeling uncomfortable. Honestly though I was surprised to hear it was the Chieftain who’d come up with the idea of Trailblaze and I playing together all those years ago.

“Yes, your father. I think Hard Tack at the time was trying to make up for…well, it doesn’t matter now. Whatever she felt then certainly doesn’t seem to count now,” my mother said heatedly, “I’ll talk with her tomorrow. You ought to be punished for breaking the law, but keeping you from your friend is ridiculous.”

“Mom, please don’t. I’m grateful you’d be willing to try, but I’d rather the Chieftain just be given the chance to simmer down on her own. Arguing with her now will just make things worse for both me and Trailblaze.”

A part of me, well honestly more than just a part, wanted nothing more than for my mother to not just convince the Chieftain that this idea of me and Trailblaze staying apart was wrong but to give Hard Tack a few knocks upside the head besides. But I had the distinct feeling that the Chieftain was right; while my mother might make a scene there just weren’t enough other folk in the tribe who would back her on this. Most of the tribe thought I was a troublemaker, which let’s face it, I was, and that the Chieftain’s daughter shouldn’t have been spending so much time around me anyway. The best thing to do here was to quietly endure this until the situation cooled off.

Besides I needed to tell my mother about Arcaidia, who was being very patient as she sat watching me and mom talk, her silver eyes filled with curiosity. Probably wondering what we were talking about, perhaps trying to pick apart our language and figure it out?

My mother had a firm set to her jaw as if she’d swallowed something that wasn’t particularly appealing, “I still don’t like this. What were you even thinking going beyond Ghost Ridge anyway? Last month it was north beyond the canyon, now this. Why do you always feel this need to go where you know you should not Longwalk?”

I shifted uncomfortably, rolling my shoulders in a shrug, “I don’t know. I just do. You know this mom. I get an itch in my hooves when I know there’s someplace I haven’t been and I don’t know I just can’t help it, I want to check it out. I usually can think of a good reason to compliment the curiosity though; like today, I wanted to see what was beyond Ghost Ridge just for the hay of it, yeah, but there was also the chance of finding new game to hunt. Village is on hard times, so I figured a new source of food would make everypony happier.”

“It would, and dangerous as these golden geckos you ran across are there’s a strong chance Stone Crack will convince Hard Tack that hunting in the forest beyond Ghost Ridge might be worthwhile. We could use the meat.”

At the mention of food my stomach decided to make its own opinion on our current activities known, gurgling out the stomachese equivalent of ‘less talking now, breakfast please’. It was actually getting onto late morning and I hadn’t eaten since the previous evening. My mother huffed out a laugh.

“I suppose it’s no surprise the two of you are hungry,” she said as she got up and went to go get a fire going in the cooking pit, “So about Arcaidia what did the Chieftain decide about her?”

I hung my head, still not at all happy about that particular matter, “She’s to be sent away tomorrow. She’ll stay with us today, be allowed to rest, and be given some provisions when she leaves. But that’s it. Heh, who knew that the lives of two of our tribe comes at the cheap price of some food and barely a thank you besides that?”

As my mother set up three spits over the pit dug in the center of the cent below where a hole in the roof could be opened to let smoke out she used some flint and dry grass to get some old brush and logs burning. Arcaidia seemed fascinated by the proceedings, watching the fire get lit with a curious expression. Her expression changed when my mother got out some stripes of cured gecko meat and put them on the spits to cook; a look of horrified disgust. I cocked an eyebrow at her.

“What’s the matter Arcaidia?”

“Estu ren boro? Boro!? Dol vi sevisril.”

I glanced at my mother who was cracking a small grin. Catching my look my mother said, “I don’t think she likes meat.”

“Doesn’t like meat? Why? Meat is food.” Already the cooking gecko meat was filling the tent with a pleasant aroma that was making my mouth water. Sure we didn’t just eat gecko meat; we had some small fruits and roots we could grow near the river bank. But gecko meat was the staple of the diet.

Arcaidia was looking at the cooking meat with a look that suggested she had very different thoughts on the matter than me. I watched as her horn glowed and from her saddled bags one of those odd silver discs emerged. My eyes widened as the silver ripped with unseen force with an odd crackling sound and I realized the object wasn’t solid silver but instead was merely wrapped in a thin silver material. Inside the wrapping was an odd beige…thing? It looked roughly the consistency of dry mud and about as appetizing. I just watched in horrified disgust of my own as Arcaidia bit into the weird mud-like thing and started chewing with obvious relish. To my horror I saw white…goopy stuff was inside the thing she was eating. It looked absolutely awful. Arcaidia grinned at me and the thing floated towards me, a clear offer.

“Ugh! No, get your weird white goopy filled mud thing away from me! I’ll stick to meat, an actual food, thank you very much.”

Arcaidia ‘humphed’ at me and turned her nose up, looking away from the cook pit pointedly while taking another bite of her horrible looking meal. I heard my mother chuckling and I gave her a plaintive look.

“What? Whatever that is it isn’t food!”

“Oh Longwalk, that’s just a snack cake. Crème filled,” she sighed, “Your father used to share his with…me…”

Yay, welcome back awkward silence, we missed you!

By the time we were done eating it was well past noon. Normally I’d be neck deep in chores by now, and my mother knew it. She wasted no time in putting me to work sharpening spear heads and curing a batch of gecko hide from the previous day’s hunting efforts. Arcaidia watched me with half an eye as I worked, focusing most of her attention on fiddling with the Pip-Buck she wore. I was deathly curious about the device. I suddenly remembered my intent to ask around the village about where I’d heard the term before, and since my mother was at hoof, cleaning up after the meal, I decided to start with her.

“Mom, question,” I said and she glanced over her shoulder at me, “Do you know what a Pip-Buck is?”

I saw a guarded look cross her face as she turned her gaze towards where Arcaidia was sitting, oblivious to our conversation for the moment.

“I do. So you’ve taken a closer look at what your unicorn friend there is wearing.”

“Yeah, I just don’t know what it is. I thought I’d heard the name before I just couldn’t remember where from.”

“Me, most likely,” my mother admitted, coming over to sit next to me as I finished up the last of the spearheads, “Aside from Hawker I’m the only one in the tribe who knows much about technology from before the Great Fire.”

I mulled that over for a second. I knew vaguely of the notion of ‘technology’, of fantastic machines built through combinations of earth pony ingenuity and unicorn magic from the civilization that existed before the coming of the wasteland. The tribe of Shady Stream didn’t use any such devices. We lived simply. Part of the tribe’s creed of keeping outsiders at bay also resulted in next to no technology from the past coming into our lives. So how did my mother, or Hawker for that matter, know anything about it?

“You learned about technology from my father,” I concluded, thinking back to the conversation I’d overheard between my mother and Hawker “Somehow you and Hawker both made friends with an outsider without the rest of the tribe getting in the way…”

“Do you want to know what happened?” my mother ventured after an uncomfortable silence.

For sixteen years I’d never asked about my father. I hadn’t wanted to know. What good would knowing the details do me? I wouldn’t change the fact that most of the tribe treated me and my mother like shadows. It was easier to not know. I was, sad to admit, afraid to know. If I knew the details then…well…I might actually find out that he and my mother had good reason to come together, that they actually loved each other, and that my tribe were a bunch of ignorant and judgmental asses for insisting on keeping outsiders at bay, for preventing my mother from being happy. If I learned the truth I couldn’t just let things be, I knew I’d be too angry at my own tribe and I’d probably do something stupid again, this time worse enough to get both me and my mother actually banished. It was just simpler to not know then, to just let my father be a formless image in my head I could ignore.

My mother was still looking at me, and I couldn’t hold her earnest gaze, instead looking away as I said softly, “You don’t have to tell me mom. I…it doesn’t matter. Besides, you’ve never offered to tell me before, why start now?”

It was just meant to be a deflecting question, to get her off the topic, but my mother’s eyes didn’t leave me and if anything her voice gained a tone of seriousness to it I hadn’t heard before.

“I’m sorry I never have, Longwalk. There is a lot about your father you deserve to know and I feel the coward for not telling you earlier in your life. Now? Now with what you and Trailblaze have discovered and brought to our tribe it may be more important than ever that you know.”

I blinked, my gaze pulled over to the blue unicorn who was still fiddling with her Pip-Buck.

“Arcaidia? What does she have to do with my father?”

“I don’t think she specifically has anything to do with him,” my mother said, “But when he was here, he was searching for something for his people. Something they were willing to kill everypony in our tribe to get if they’d found it here. Only your father’s influence among his tribe was enough to convince them to leave our home in peace…that and the fact that what they were looking for wasn’t here. But it is possible that Arcaidia might be seen as a sign that what they sought is actually here. You claim you found her in a ‘pod’ that may have fallen into that cave from the sky. Your father mentioned several times to me that what he sought was something that fell from the stars. I hadn’t taken the notion seriously until today.”

“Hawker said something about our tribe still being watched?” I asked, suddenly feeling very nervous. Arcaidia’s pod had certainly looked like something not of this world, “Our hunters are always out and about, how could anypony be watching us without us finding them?”

“Understand this, my son, our tribe’s lack of technology does not make us pure, it makes us vulnerable. For your father’s people remaining hidden from our hunters while maintaining watch upon us would be as easy as one of our hunters sneaking up on an old blind gecko. They have ways to make themselves invisible, when they are not simply flying too high for us to see them.”

“Flying?...wait…” my eyes widened, “Are you saying father was a pegasus!?”

“As it so happens, yes.”

I found myself craning my neck to look at my back, just to make sure there weren’t any wings there I’d somehow missed over the past sixteen years.

“Are you sure?” I asked my mother straight-faced.

My mother smiled wryly, her face gaining a faint tint of red, “I’m pretty sure I got a close enough look at his wings on several occasions to make sure they were real. “

“No details please,” I said.

“From what I understand,” my mother continued, “It was not uncommon for ponies of different breeds to have foals. The foals of such unions were purebreds of one of the parent breeds, or even from the breed of the grandparents generation. At least that is what your father told me when I learned I was pregnant and was wondering what our foal would be like.”

I shook my head, trying to process all of this. I’d assumed that whatever had happened between my mother and father had been some kind of fluke, a random fling, or even something worse, non-consensual. I’d had an easy time harboring resentment towards my father because it’d been easy to imagine that there had been nothing special between him and my mother; that it had been lust, not love, that had brought me into this world.

“It sounds like you two were together for awhile…”

“I left the tribe for a time to travel with him, me and Hawker both.”

Okay, that was new information. I had known my mother’s affair with an outsider had been a serious scandal in the tribe, but I hadn’t known she’d actually left the tribe back then! I was starting to reconsider my stance on not asking for details. This was starting to sound like there was a lot more to this story than I’d have guessed. But I had to understand just what had Hawker so worried first.

“Right, so, dad’s a pegasus, I don’t have wings; sucks to be me. But again, why was Hawker so upset over Arcaidia?”

“He’s worried that your father’s tribe will see her presence here as a sign that what they were seeking all those years ago may actually be here and that your father’s influence with them in the intervening time has waned enough that they will come back in force. If that were the case we would likely be exterminated.”

“But…why…? We’re not a threat are we?”

“Your father’s tribe could teach ours magnitudes about paranoia and intolerance of those outside their tribe. As much as we loath outsiders here his tribe’s view of us ‘dirt ponies’ put us on a similar level as vermin. Your father was a very rare exception. Luckily he also happened to have great rank among his tribe, enough that his affair with me and his friendship with Hawker were seen as,” she suddenly adopted an odd accent I couldn’t begin to imagine my father using “Ah’ceptable liberties ‘fer a’ rankin’ offisah.”

“…Did he actually talk like that?” I asked incredulously.

My mother flicked my ear with her hoof, “Don’t make fun. I thought his accent was cute.”

The moment of levity passed quickly as I thought about what my mother had said.

“So the Chieftain really is right after all,” I said sourly, “Arcaidia staying here would put the tribe in danger.”

My mother’s face was sympathetic as she looked over to Arcaidia, “Perhaps. I personally don’t think your father’s tribe will come. Their interest was in lost technology. From what I see of her she has nothing more advanced than what they already had. The Pip-Buck itself is uncommon technology in the wasteland, but among your father’s tribe it was a fairly common tool.”

“What is my father’s tribe exactly? Do they have a name?”

“They called themselves 'Odessa’. Don't think I ever actually asked your father what the word meant. They had no permanent home, but rather moved from place to place; a tribe of nomads. I never got the details but I think they were being hunted by others, some old enemy from a war fought a long time ago. Me and Hawker never saw the bulk of his tribe, we merely accompanied him on a journey to one of his ‘research stations’ up north to help excavate something called a ‘Stable’. That’s when me and him got close to each other.”

“What was his name?” I asked finally, deciding that, like it or not, I needed to know at least this much about the stallion that sired me.

“Winter Sun,” my mother said with a tone tinged with longing, “Colonel Winter Sun.”

“What’s a colonel?” I asked, but before my mother could respond Arcaidia made a loud noise that was something between a ‘squee’ and a cheer as she turned a knob on her Pip-Buck and suddenly the tent was filled with unfamiliar music. I’d heard my tribe’s own music in the form of drums and chants on special occasions like births and weddings, or just whenever some of the tribe felt like getting drunk and having fun, but this was something entirely different.

I had no idea what could make music like what I was hearing. The notes were like someone had solidified the wind and was making it sing for them, long chiming notes that echoed in mind and heart. The tune was a slow and sorrowful thing, each note speaking of a lonely soul seeking the warmth of others. I stood enraptured by it while Arcaidia bounced up to me and my mother, talking excitedly and waving the Pip-Buck at us.

“Estu vol vianna ren gival! Esru dol sevina dol ARM vi revial! Persephone vi gival!”

I shook my head out of the faint daze the music pouring from the PipBuck had put me in to notice that Arcaidia was trying to show something on the PipBuck’s screen to me. Curiously I peered at the pale blue screen, trying to focus past the small cascade of emotions the music was dredging up from inside me. On the screen was a series of shaded forms and lines, with a grid-like layer over it. The shapes made no sense at first until I noticed a square amid a valley shaped form that was marked ‘Aborigine Village’. A map? Not far from that square was another one that was labeled ‘Escape Pod Landing Site’. It didn’t take me long to judge from the corresponding topography that that marked the location me and Trailblaze had found Arcaidia. Escape pod? What the hay was an escape pod? A pod to escape from what?

Seemingly guessing that I had figured out what I was looking at Arcaidia fiddled with some of the knobs on the PipBuck with the magical glow of her horn and I watched fascinated as the map zoomed out, showing…a lot of black. Okay so only the area around the village and the land we’d passed through between here and the cave we’d found her in showed up on Arcaidia’s map. But now that it had zoomed out I couldn’t help but notice a long dotted line that originated from where we were in the village and zipped off to the south west. A very long distance to the south west. I was no topographic expert but judging from the extent to which Arcaidia had to zoom the map out the chevron looking marker the dotted line ended at had to be weeks worth of travel from where we were.

Arcaidia was tapping the screen with her hoof, right on top of the chevron, then flipped a switch and the music went away. I felt my ears droop in disappointment as that sad yet compelling tune went away. Then she flipped the switch and the tune came back, and she pointed at the chevron at the end of the dotted line again.

My mother peeked over my shoulder, “She must be trying to say the music is coming from that location. I’m surprised. Pip-Bucks normally can’t pick up transmissions from that kind of distance.”

“Transwhatnow?” I asked, brow furrowing in confusion.

“Think of it like sounds that we normally can’t hear that certain items can make and send into the sky that other items like the Pip-Buck can hear,” my mother said with a wave of her hoof, “That music is coming from far away, but that Pip-Buck can hear it and play it for us.”

I shook my head in wonderment, “Amazing.”

“That’s only a tiny part of what Pip-Bucks can do. I’d really like to know where Arcaidia got this one from.”

As we’d been speaking Arcaidia had gathered up her saddle bags and came over to me and gripped my mane with her teeth and started pulling me towards the exit of the tent.

“Waitwhat? Arcaidia what are you-?”

“Eval! Estu vi Arcaidia eval ren survitae!”

I felt something on my tail, halting my progress, and looked back to see my mother had put her hoof down on my tail and was giving Arcaidia a hard look as she cleared her throat loudly.

“Sorry young lady but you’re not just dragging my son off.”

Arcaidia met my mother’s stare with one of her own and for a second I thought the two mares were about to get into a tug-o-war with me. Arcaidia wasn’t letting go of my mane and my mother’s hoof was still firmly pressed down on my tail. I gulped and quickly started talking, trying to diffuse the situation before it got out of control.

“Okay no, mom, I’m not going anywhere quite yet. Arcaidia,” I waved my hoof in front of her eyes to get her to look at me instead of glaring at my mother, and then I pointed at her Pip-Buck, then at where she held my mane with her teeth and gave her a questioning shrug, “Why are you trying to drag me out of my tent?”

She met my gaze with her own, her expression softening as she slowly released my mane and brought her Pip-Buck up to my face, flipping a knob that switched what was on the screen. Instead of a map there was now a simple list labeled ‘Objectives’. There was only one.

‘Find Persephone.’

“Persephone? Who, or what is that?” I asked, wondering not for the first time why it was this Pip-Buck and the information it displayed was in my language but Arcaidia apparently had no knowledge of how to speak it. Arcaidia eyes went downcast, her voice going quiet as she pointed between my mother and me.

“Longwalk,” hoof at me, then at my mother “Longwalk dol sevina.”

Then she pointed at herself, “Arcaidia,” then her hoof went to the word ‘Persephone’ “Persephone vi Arcaidia dol sevina.”

It took me a moment to piece together what she was saying, but it was obvious enough that even my generally slow mind was able to get it. I put a hoof on Arcaidia’s shoulder, nodding my understanding and hoping I was giving her a reassuring look.

“I get it. Persephone is family. You have to go to her.”

I had still hadn’t the faintest clue who this filly really was or why she’d been in a pod that may or may not have fallen out of the sky, or why she’d have a family member sending out ‘transmissions’ of sad music from half a world away that she had to get to. The language barrier between us was keeping an entire army of questions from being asked, but two things were pretty clear.

Arcaidia was leaving to go find this Persephone, one way or another, and that she wanted me to come with her.

I’d have questioned why she seemed set on my coming along but really, if I was a stranger stuck in the middle of nowhere with a long journey across a hostile wasteland ahead of me I might be asking one of the only friendly ponies I’d met if they wanted to come along too. Okay so maybe Arcaidia wasn’t exactly asking but instead was trying to bodily drag me along, but I got the impression she wasn’t really…well…used to asking for anything. Her social skills seemed erratic at best.

And honestly I wasn’t that opposed to the notion.

I’d spent most of my life trying to explore places away from the village. Like I’d told my mother it was just an impulse I had to indulge sometimes otherwise I felt like I’d go just a little stir crazy. I won’t say the idea of leaving my home behind wasn’t something that made a nervous tingle crawl over my spine. Everypony I ever knew lived here, and while I could count the number of ponies in my tribe who I could call friends using just my limbs there was still a hard edge of fear that accompanied the idea of just…walking away from it all. But there was temptation too. I’d looked at the horizons beyond my village for most of my life with a sense of longing and curiosity. I’d just never had the courage or reason enough to start walking towards that horizon and not look back.

Now I had a reason staring me right in the face with two silver eyes that seemed to be begging me to come with her.

“Longwalk,” my mother’s voice was firm, not exactly angry, but I could hear the strain in it, “Are you serious about leaving…?”

I wanted to hit myself at the hurt in her voice, and the worry I saw in her eyes. I looked away, not able to look my mother in the eye, instead choosing to find a pebble on the ground to be of extreme interest.

“I-I don’t know. Arcaidia…I owe her. I owe her everything mom. If she hadn’t tossed me that spear then Trailblaze would have been killed by the geckos. Then she saved both of us from the rest of the geckos with her power. Then she healed Trailblaze’s wounds! Mom, I should have died out there. Trailblaze should have died out there. Because I was stupid, and curious, and didn’t listen to my friend when she said we should turn back. If not for Arcaidia…everything would be different right now. How can I turn my back on her now that she’s asking for my help? I couldn’t even convince the Chieftain to give her more than a day’s worth of food before she’s going to get sent out into the wasteland. She’s strong, sure, but who knows what she’ll run into out there! I can’t leave the pony who saved the life of my friend hanging!”

“I know more about what she’s likely to face out there than you do,” my mother said gravely, “Longwalk, you have no idea just how dangerous the world is outside our valley. Even your father’s people with all of their technology had to struggle to maintain even a small outpost. Starvation and monsters will be the least of the dangers you’d face. At least those threats are obvious and have simple solutions. Worse than those are the ponies you’ll meet out there…”

I didn’t understand what my mother was getting at. How could ponies be worse than monsters like the golden geckos? I could tell my mother was being serious though. Was I really willing to do this? Run off into the unknown wilderness alongside a mare I hardly knew and couldn’t even speak to on a journey to a vague location potentially hundreds of miles away for no reason better than I felt I owed her? Could I walk away from the only home I knew, my mother, and my dearest friend? Worse, what if Trailblaze wanted to come? She’s barely escaped death yesterday. On a journey like the one Arcaidia was about to embark on was there any way I could feel comfortable brining along Trailblaze? She was actually better suited to such a journey than I was. Trailblaze was the superior hunter, tracker, and was faster and tougher than I was. But I’d still worry about her safety and feel a lot less concerned if I knew she was back with the tribe. I’d miss her presence, but I was already facing not being able to talk to her even if I stayed.

I took a deep breath and slowly raised my head to meet my mother’s gaze.

“I understand. I’m not making this decision lightly mom. Honestly I’m scared,” I looked back at Arcaidia, who had silently watched me and my mother’s exchange anxiously, “But I’m going. It’s not like I’ll never be back. I’ll escort Arcaidia to find this Persephone pony and once that’s done I’ll come back. I promise. I just need to help her. I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t, after all she’s done for me already.”

I couldn’t bring myself to look back at my mother, afraid of what I might see; sadness or anger.

So when she wrapped her hooves around me and hugged me from behind, and I felt her muzzle nuzzling my head, I was frozen with surprise. Her voice was filled with both resignation and warmth at the same time.

“Guess you’re your mother’s son after all. I couldn’t let your father leave without me either.”

I felt my face burn and imagined there was some red there. It’d been awhile since my mother had hugged me like this.

“So you’re okay with this?” I asked hesitantly.

“Okay? No. But even if forbid you from going I know I’d just wake up the next morning with you gone anyway. I’d rather give you my blessing and help you prepare rather than waste time trying to stop you. Besides it isn’t me you should be worried about, it’s Trailblaze. You know she’s going to want to go with you two, right. Hard Tact will have every hunter in the tribe track you down and drag you back if you let her.”

“I know, I know. I’m not looking forward to telling her I’m leaving. She’s got a stronger hoof than her mother,” I said, rubbing my jaw where Hard Tact had hit me earlier. I’d have to figure out a way to break this to Trailblaze gently, or at the very least make it sound like a good idea instead of an impulsive and potentially suicidal one.

“I suggest sleeping on it,” my mother said, letting go of me, “It’ll take me at least the rest of the day to get a few things ready for you. I’m not letting my only son walk out into the wasteland without some preparation. I’ll need to talk to Hawker and get a few things from him anyway. You can spend the rest of the day figuring out what you’ll need to say to Trailblaze.”

“What about the Chieftain? She’ll need to know-“

“Not a good idea. Better you just quietly leave with Arcaidia early in the morning. I don’t think Hard Tack will do anything if you’re already long gone by the time she finds out, but if you come to her with this directly…I’m not sure how she’ll react. I’ll bring Trailblaze to the edge of the village in the morning so you can say goodbye to her.”

With that my mother left the tent, heading over to Hawker’s tent to have her talk with him. Arcaidia was still giving me an anxious look, waiting for some kind of indication from me on what my decision was. I smiled at her and approached, putting out my hoof like when I had offered to her back in the cave for a shake. Recognizing the gesture she put out her own hoof and I wrapped my arm with hers and shook it firmly, widening my smile and nodding at her Pip-Buck.

“I’m with you,” I said simply and even though she didn’t understand the words I figured the meaning got across by the way she made the cheerful ‘squee’ noise and hugged me.

I hugged her back, letting my nervousness at my decision fade away. I had no idea what lay ahead of me, but I was glad I wasn’t going to be alone on it. No matter what this mysterious filly’s past was or what her purpose in this journey turned out to be, I was going to help her on it. The simple rightness of the decision seeped into my heart and melted away the doubt I’d been feeling.

I just hoped Trailblaze would understand.

----------

The day went by and night fell. I had only seen Trailblaze once during the day, late in the evening at the tribe’s communal meal. Breakfast was usually had among families in their tents, but the tribe always shared dinner together around the large bonfire pits in the center of the village. She’d been with Whetstone and a few other hunters and our eyes had met as I’d passed by to get a slice of roasted gecko. We’d instinctively moved to say hello but Whetstone had put a hoof on Trailblaze’s shoulder, and while giving me an apologetic look and a tilt of her head towards where the Chieftain sat nearby, glaring at us, shook her head. I had sighed, nodding to Whetstone and with a heavy set to my shoulders and giving Trailblaze a small shake of my head.

It hurt, seeing her own pained expression which had quickly become frustrated anger as she kicked the dirt and sat to eat while giving her mother a spear filled glare of her own.

Dinner had gone by. Arcaidia had drifted in only to be given a barrage of cold stares from the majority of the tribe and my mother had to lead her away back to our tent. The tribe was over their awe of the unicorn and was in full stonewalling mode. The gecko I was eating lost its taste as I sat alone, getting my own share of unpleasant looks, save for Hawker who was giving me a knowing and measuring nod when I’d looked over at him.

Back at my tent my mother had given me a set of saddlebags to fit onto my gecko hide barding, filled with items she’d gotten from Hawker. They were mostly food and waterskins, enough for at least a week of travel. The rest of the supplies were simple things; some doses of healing powder, a gecko claw knife, a woven grass mat to keep myself warm with at night, and oddly a small bag filled with small metal clanking chip-like things.

“What’re these?” I’d asked, examining the faded metallic circular objects.

“They’re called caps,” my mother replied, “Don’t ask why but those little things are all over the wasteland and are used for trade. Me and Hawker didn’t have many left over by the time we got back to the tribe, and Hawker, selfish buck, didn’t want to part with even this many. Use them when you need them and keep an eye out for more.”

Her voice was cracking a bit and I could see her holding back tears. I think it was really only now sinking in with her that I was leaving the tribe and that it wasn’t exactly clear when I was coming back. I was the same, only just barely feeling the gravity of what I was about to do and trying to keep from crying in front of my mother. A buck just can’t be seen doing that. It’s not cool to cry in front of your mom. I was dangerously close to being very uncool when I hugged her before we both turned in for the night. Arcaidia was given her own grass mat to sleep on between me and my mother.

I hadn’t been able to sleep at all. My mind was roiling with scattered thoughts of what I was about to do and what I was going to say to Trailblaze.

So I was still half awake when the tent flap rustled loudly and I saw Trailblaze come in hurriedly, looking behind her. I raised my head, seeing the frantic look in her eyes.

“Trailblaze what-“ before I could get further she rushed up to me and put a hoof to my mouth.

“Shh! Wake up Arcaidia. You have to get her out of here. They’re going to kill her!”

Okay, fully awake now! I got up on unsteady hooves, suddenly realizing how much it sucked not being able to sleep when it was actually time to move and your body remembered it was supposed to be tired. Trailblaze’s tail was swishing erratically as she kept looking back at the tent entrance nervously while I went and quickly shook Arcaidia awake.

I froze as I found the end of that odd tube-like device she’d had sheathed on her fore hoof suddenly shoved into my face. Arcaidia’s silver eyes were stone cold lethal intent for a second in the darkness before she realized who she was pointing her tube-thingy (some kind of weapon?) at and quickly put it away, looking embarrassed as she stood. My mother stirred at all the commotion and raised her head.

“Longwalk, what’s happening?”

Trailblaze answered, not looking away from the entrance to our tent, “My mother is going to have Arcaidia killed. I overheard her talking with Stone Crack and a few other hunters outside our tent about it. I snuck out to warn you. You have to get Arcaidia away now. I don’t think we have more than a few minutes.”

“Why?” I asked in dumbfounded shock, “She agreed to let Arcaidia go!”

“It doesn’t matter now,” my mother said, quickly gathering up my barding and saddlebags and shoving them over to me before she went to the flap of the tent and reached out to grip her spear in her teeth, looking back at me.

“Get your things together and follow me. We need to put some distance between us and the village.”

Arcaidia nudged my side with her nose and gave me a grim look. Apparently she needed no prodding and was able to figure out enough of what was happening to not question it. She already had floated her saddlebags and dress on and helped me with mine while my mother and Trailblaze kept a lookout. I felt lightheaded. This was happening too fast! Why in the world would the Chieftain want to kill Arcaidia? My mother was right though, for now the reasons didn’t matter, what mattered was getting away and keeping Arcaidia safe.

The second I got my barding on we snuck out into the dark of early morning. The village was silent. I couldn’t see or hear anything beyond the ponies immediately around me. If Hard Tack and some hunters were coming this way they were being quiet enough about it for them to be all but invisible.

My mother started off one way but Arcaidia suddenly moved forward and tapped her flank. When my mother looked back Arcaidia raised her PipBuck and gestured her head to the south, whereas we’d been about to head west.

“What is she going on about?” Trailblaze asked in a quiet whisper and my mother shook her head, grinning ruefully.

“I forgot Pip-Bucks had that feature. Eyes Forward Sparkle. Arcaidia knows where danger is before we can see it. We should follow her.”

I had no idea what my mother was on about but since she knew more about Pip-Bucks than I did I just went along with it. So we stealthily made our way south, winding between the clusters of tents without making a sound. I kept looking behind us, expecting every shadow to resolve into a hunter, spear ready to bear down on Arcaidia’s back. I didn’t have a spear of my own, just the knife in my saddlebag. Even if I did draw it, could I use it? Could I bring myself to use a weapon on my own tribe to protect Arcaidia?

Somehow I felt a sudden stab of longing for the silver spear, Gramzanber. It wasn’t just some idle passing sensation but rather a almost palpable feeling of need to have the grip of that weapon in my mouth. The feeling felt…foreign. Strange, like it wasn’t even coming from me.

“Wait, is she leading us where I think she is?” Trailblaze said as I suddenly noticed Arcaidia had changed our route to swing to the east and then back north…right towards the Chieftain’s tent.

“She is,” my mother replied, “Now be quiet, I think I know what she’s doing.”

Well that was good because I certainly didn’t and me and Trailblaze exchanged nervous looks as Arcaidia, with seeming growing confidence led us in a wide circle that brought us right to the entrance to the Chieftain’s tent. The tent was dark and to my surprise it didn’t look like anypony was home. That probably meant that she and whatever hunters she’d gathered had already arrived at me and my mother’s tent, only to find it empty.

Arcaidia wasted no time, sticking her head in the tent and I both heard the faint chiming sound and frosty blue glow of her horn. In seconds the silver spear Gramzanber was levitated out of the tent and floated right over to me. Arcaidia was giving me a solemn look and to my shock actually bowed slightly as she floated the spear before me.

“Estu dol ARM, soval.”

Was she really risking all of us getting caught, risking her life, just to give me this spear!? Was she crazy!? We ought to be getting away from here as fast as possible! With any given moment possibly leading to us getting caught I quickly grabbed the spear in my mouth, and though I was feeling a stab of anger at Arcaidia for putting her life in danger for something so trivial as a weapon I couldn’t deny that I felt a flood of…not relief exactly, but relaxed familiarity as my teeth wrapped around the haft of the spear.

“Great, now that we’ve wasted minutes with that can we go now?” Trailblaze said.

Arcaidia took the lead again, only briefly shooting Trailblaze a cross look, and we began heading south, towards where the stream was. We got past the last of the tents and were almost to the wet banks of the stream when a commotion rose from the village. Voices were shouting and though I couldn’t make out the words I could hear the general tone of alarm and anger in them. The village was quickly waking up and above the din I think I could hear Chieftain Hard Tack rousing the tribe to arms. Apparently the time for a quiet kill in the night was over. Now she was just going to rouse the entire tribe to hunt us down.

“Fast time is now!” I said and my mother nodded, rushing up ahead of Arcaidia.

“Sorry filly, but E.F.S won’t help now. Follow!”

Arcaidia seemed a bit dejected but she didn’t complain as my mother broke out into a gallop, me and Trailblaze brining up the rear. We ran hard into the night, hitting the banks of the stream and crossing it. It wasn’t deep and I was worried for a moment the splashing would attract attention, but by now there was enough shouting among the villagers as many tried to figure out what was going on that I doubted anypony could hear us by now.

Across the stream my mother took us on a course to the west. The night was gradually getting lighter but I still could barely see anything in front of me. The dark walls of the valley began to slowly recede and after ten of fifteen minutes of straight galloping I realized that we were quickly reaching the end of the valley. East had been Ghost Ridge, but west I’d rarely explored towards, knowing only that within a mile or two the valley ended and became a vast and open desert. A desert we were now getting to the boundary of.

Ahead something loomed, a patch of spindly darkness that evoked at first images in my mind of some monster lined with jagged spines. But soon that shadow resolved into a tightly clustered copse of black dry, leafless trees. My mother slowed to a canter and then stopped before the trees; turning to us we all stopped next to her, catching our breath. I planted Gramzanber in the ground, sucking in sweet breaths of cool early morning air.

“Whew…been awhile since I’ve run like that,” my mother said, looking back towards the valley where our village was, “It won’t take them long to find our trail and catch up. Longwalk, if you and Arcaidia are going, this is where we part ways.”

“What? But mother, what if Hard Tack decides to hurt you!?”

“Hmph, I can handle Hard Tack, even if she tries to play a little rough. Besides, one of us needs to stay behind and stall to buy you time.”

“Wait,” Trailblaze said, trotted up between me and my mother, “Why are you talking like Longwalk is going with Arcaidia? I warned you so she could get away, but Longwalk is staying…” she looked over at me, “You’re staying right?”

“Trailblaze I…” I lowered my head, “I’m going with Arcaidia.”

Silence was the only thing that met my words. I nervously shuffled my hooves.

“I was going to tell you at dinner, but I couldn’t find a way to get you alone. Mom was going to then get you this morning so I could say goodbye before we left but then this happened and I’m really, really sorry but I have to help Arcaidia for saving your life and-“

A hoof met my jaw and I was looking up at the black sky. Yup, I was right, her hoof was stronger than her mother’s. I slowly pulled myself back onto my hooves as Trailblaze growled at me.

“You…you…idiot! You were just gonna say ‘goodbye’ and run off like that, like its nothing!? Do you really think I’d let you run off without me?”

“Trail, I have no idea where me and Arcaidia are really going except that it’s really far away and somewhere to the south! It’s going to be dangerous.”

“Like that’s every stopped you before. I don’t remember you complaining every other time I’ve followed you somewhere dangerous.”

“This is different! We’re not talking a short walk beyond next hill; we’re talking traveling over hundreds of miles of monster infested wasteland.”

“Which is exactly why you need me to come with you! You won’t make it without my help!”

“Look you two,” my mother interjected, “You don’t have time to argue about this. Trailblaze, what do you think your mother will do if you go with him?”

Trailblaze winced, her frame slumping as the wind got taken out of her argument.

“She…she’d never stop coming after us.” my closest friend admitted in a quiet, pained voice.

“That’s right. If you go with my son, Hard Tack will never stop hunting for you and there’d be no telling what she’d do to Longwalk when she caught up with you both,” my mother came up to Trailblaze and wrapped a hoof around her, pulling her close, and saying softly “I know you care for my son. I would’ve gladly fought with your mother to see that you two eventually got a chance to be together.”

“I-it’s not like that,” Trailblaze began.

“Heh, if you say so. But right now if you want to protect my son the best thing to do is help me keep your mother from trying to follow him and Arcaidia. Between the two of us we can probably convince her to abandon whatever madness has caused her to decide that killing Arcaidia was a good idea.”

“I don’t know about that. When I heard her talking to the hunters she was making it sound like Arcaidia’s death was the only way to protect the tribe. She sounded scared.”

“Even if we can’t convince her to stop,” my mother said with a hard look in her eye, “We can stall them for as long as we can.”

She sighed and looked between me and Trailblaze, “Trailblaze, Longwalk, say what you need to say to each other."

"Longwalk, I…” she hesitated, I could see her struggling for words, “I should have told you about your father a long time ago. There’s still a lot I want to say, but now there’s no time. Just know I love you. I’ll make sure that, when you get back, the tribe will accept you back. You have my word on that. Until that day, take care of yourself.”

My mother turned away from me then trotted a short distance away, facing the village. I wasn’t sure if that was because she wanted to give me and Trailblaze some space or if she didn’t want me to see the tears that had been swimming in her eyes. I was barely holding back my own as I looked at Trailblaze.

“I’m sorry Trail, I want to stay. But I owe Arcaidia so much for your life; I can’t let her do this alone.”

“I know. I like that about you. Stupidly loyal. Must have rubbed off on me. Uh, sorry about the face…”

I rubbed my cheek, which was swelling up, “Yeah, remind me when I get back to never make you angry again. I like my jawbones nice and intact.”

An awkward moment of silence passed between us. Suddenly Trailblaze moved up to me and brushed her neck up against mine. I leaned into the gesture, eyes closing.

“Don’t die out there, Longwalk. Please.”

“Not at the top of my to-do list. Promise.”

She pulled back from me and Trailblaze rubbed a hoof over her face, trying to hide her own tears. I wasn’t bothering, feeling the wetness on my own face. Trailblaze suddenly rounded on Arcaidia.

“You. You take care of him you hear me!? He’d better come back without a single hair of his mane harmed or I swear there isn’t a place in this world I won’t be able to find you.”

Arcaidia actually grinned at Trailblaze’s vehement tone and trotted up to her, the blue unicorn and brown earth pony just a few feet apart. Arcaidia bowed before Trailblaze in an elegant gesture and when she rose she pointed a hoof at her eye, then at me, and then at the eye cutie mark on Trailblaze’s flank. She then slammed her hoof to her chest and gave a solid nod. The meaning was clear; she’d be keeping an eye on me.

Traiblaze returned the nod, “Good…good…” she looked back towards the village, “Alright, get going you two. If we drag this out any longer I’m either going to start crying or my mother will show up. Either one would be bad. So go.”

She trotted up to join my mother, the two most important mares in my life standing side by side with their backs turned to me, ready to stall the rest of my tribe that was out for the blood of Arcaidia so that me and the unicorn filly could escape. There was a lot more I wanted to say to both of them, but I understood; our time was up. For a moment I just stood there, trying to burn the image of my mother and Trailblaze into my mind. I wanted to remember this. I didn’t know where things were going to go from here but I knew that chances were things were going to be hard. I’d need an image to remember to help me through those hard moments. I couldn’t think of anything better than this.

Finally with a final intake of breath I turned and fixed Arcaidia with as determined a gaze as I could muster. Her own silver eyes met mine and the biting early morning wind blew across us, sending her silver mane churning through the air. The horizon was lightening and somewhere in that seemingly eternal distance, perhaps through a minute break in the everlasting cloud cover of the wasteland, I thought there might have been a single glint of genuine sunlight.

I took up Gramzanber in my teeth and began to gallop away from that dark copse of trees, Arcaidia following behind me.

We ran into the light of morning, cold air burning in my lungs.

I didn’t look back.

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Footnote: Level up!

Perk Added -Travel Light : While wearing light or no armor you run 10% faster

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