• Published 29th Jun 2012
  • 3,205 Views, 375 Comments

Fallout: Equestria - Wasteland Bouquet - Cascadejackal

There's a lot of stories in the Equestrian Wasteland, and they all need to be told.

  • ...

Chapter 26: Mysteries

---CHAPTER 26: Mysteries ---

"From in the head to out in the world, every thought to action. Hold close this book and through its spell, you'll start a chain reaction. Projecting forth whatever beauty you see. Only when true words are spoken will you finally be set free"

Breathing hurt. Breathing hurt a lot. I didn't even want to try moving.

So, I just stayed still, too tired to even open my eyes, trying to ignore how my everything ached and work out just what the hell had happened and where I was.

There was... there was a bridge... it was raining... Slowly, the pieces started to fall into place. Those... those things, they attacked us... and...

Ignoring the pain I shot upright, my eyes snapping open in alarm. They got us! They- "Gurble..." Sitting up so fast was a stupid move. I got a glimpse of a dark, cluttered room before I passed out.

"Urgh..." I don't know how long I was out, but when I woke up again I felt better than I did the first time.

Still didn't mean I was gonna sit up again, though. Not until the world stopped spinning and I could actually move my legs, anyway.

I groaned again, slowly trying to wriggle some life into my legs and work out where I was. I remembered seeing a small, dark room, but I didn't want to open my eyes again to check. After a couple seconds of squirming, I realised there was something rough on me, like a blanket... which meant I was on a bed... but why could I hear... water? There was a muffled splashing sound coming from somewhere nearby... and I was really starting to need the loo.

Celestia... Luna... please, let Rose be alright... and Ibis too... I prayed silently. They'd be alright. They had to be. Ibis could fly, and Rose... well, Rose was Rose. There was no way those things could have taken them.

Groaning, telling myself everything would be okay, I tried to relax and just listen, swiveling my ears to try to get a clue about where I was and what was going on.

After a few minutes, with the only sounds the creaking of timber and the constant muffled splashing, I couldn't take it and forced myself to sit up. Slowly, though. I didn't wanna pass out again. Unfortunately, when I managed to get upright, I had a massive coughing fit, choking and gasping for air until I was lightheaded.

When the world had finished spinning, and my lungs felt like they'd been sandpapered, I cautiously opened my eyes and immediatly shut them again when I was blinded by a glaring, evil light.


I cracked one eye open, letting it adjust to the light, and gave the softly glowing jar of fireflies on the table a hate-filled glare for being so bright.

Eventually, I managed to get both eyes open and look around, turning my head slowly to keep the throbbing pain to a minimum.

I was in a small room, barely lit by the firefly lantern on the battered old desk pushed against the wall. Faded and tattered old maps covered the walls and desk, but I couldn't quite make them out in the dim light. Everything smelled damp, a sort of fishy undertone teasing my nose and making me scrunch up my muzzle.

When I noticed my gear piled in the corner, I froze, realising for the first time that I was naked and in some stranger's bed. I took a deep breath and tried to stay calm.

Okay... alright... nothing hurts... well, not like that, anyway... I don't think anything happened... oh, right, I've got my Pipbuck.

Quickly, I checked my Pipbuck, the old piece of tech still secure on my foreleg, along with the spotlight fastened to my hoof. They looked like the water hadn't damaged them at all, with just a couple of new scratches in the light's glass, and when I flicked the switches to try and find the medical thingy I was pleased that it still worked as reliably as ever.

But not as pleased as when I saw that all the little bars and numbers around the outline of a unicorn were full... well, almost full. At least it didn't look like I'd been taken advantage of or anything, just half-drowned.

Steadying my nerves (and trying to ignore how much everything ached), I slipped out from under the rough sheets on the cot, stumbling because I hadn't realised how weak my legs still were.

Trying to keep my breathing steady, I staggered the few steps across the room to my jacket and planted my Pipbuck-clad hoof on it, letting out a sigh of relief when the thing bleeped and inventoried all my stuff, listing it for me to check over. Nothing was missing, thankfully, and I found a packet of RadAway in one of my pockets. After checking my Pipbuck, and noticing that my rad count was lower than I would have expected, I ripped the packet open and downed it, smacking my lips at the bitter taste. Better safe than sorry.

That done, I geared up as quietly as possible, cringing when I tugged my jacket on. There was still river muck stuck in it, and I was glad I hadn't been wearing my saddlebags when I went into the river. Just my pouches... which were probably full of crap, too.

I gave myself a shake; there wasn't time to worry about my ruined snack cakes now! I had to find out what was going on and where I was!

Just before opening the door, I stopped and facehoofed. I had a Pipbuck. A quick, quiet stomp later and I had an eyefull of green crap again. I turned slowly, watching the little compass thing as I went and relaxing when I didn't see any red marks. Just two green ones next to each other.

Quietly as I could, I shoved the door open and stepped out of the room. I quickly realised why I'd been hearing splashing once I got outside: I was on a boat. From the look of the trees passing by, the murky river and the thick mist that hung over the black, rippling surface, I was still in the swamp, too. The dim morning light left the tree-covered banks a dark, intimidating wall filled with shadows, and the air was filled with the hoots, honks, gurgles and other hair-raising noises of whatever lived in the swamp waking up.

I took a deep breath, then let it out slowly and started towards the two green marks. The dark, grey-brown wooden boards of the boat creaked with each step, and I passed a couple of other doors that led who-knows-where. It was only when I walked past a staircase that I realised there was another part of the boat above me, not just a roof. But, the markers were still ahead of me, and I couldn't be bothered exploring, so on I went! Until I heard a voice I didn't recognise, anyway. Then I flattened myself against the wall and crept forwards, stopping at the corner to listen.

"I know, Chere." Definitely a stallion's voice, with an odd accent. "Yes, I know." There was a pause, but I didn't hear anyone else speaking. Just some splashing. "Don't you say that, Chere. Ol' Granny just did what she thought best, that's all." There was some more splashing and the stallion laughed. "O' course I know she's awake. She been listening in, ain't that right, Petite?" This last part was called out and I froze in place, hugging the wall and holding my breath.

How did he know I was here?! I thought to myself, not quite ready to come out yet, hoping he was talking to someone else instead of busting me.

"Oh, come now, Petite." The stallion called out again. "Don't you go hiding, now. Ol' Coffin Nail, he won't bite. Ain't that right, Chere?" There was a loud splash. "Well, unless you ask real nice-like. But you don't look so tasty, Petite." He laughed again, like he'd just told a funny joke instead of the crap joke he'd actually told.

He didn't sound dangerous, and my Pipbuck said he was friendly, so... groaning and wishing Rose was with me, I started breathing again, plastered my best smile on my face, and poked my head out from behind the wall. "Um, hi?"

The stallion grinned at me. "Hello, Petite. Good to see you walking." He was leaning on the railing at the boat's edge, both forelegs propped up on it, and if it wasn't for that I might have missed him against the boat's wood in the low light. He was a dapple coat, a brown-on-brown that made him look splashed with river mud, and a mane to match. His eyes, though... I couldn't miss them.

They were bright turquoise, almost glowing in the dim morning light. They sparkled as he grinned, amused by my hesitation to leave the safety of the wall. There was something... off about them, something I couldn't place, but it wasn't bad... just... off. Different. "You gonna come say hello to ol' Coffin Nail? It's rude not to introduce yourself, no?"

"Oh, right." I chuckled nervously and stepped out into full view, glancing around quickly. There were still two green marks, but I could only see the stallion. Whoever he was talking to must have been in the river... shuddering and ignoring any thoughts about seaponies (Rose believed in them, I didn't), I quickly got my Caravaneer's Smile back in place. "Um, my name's Caravan Lily, of the Silver Trails caravan company. Thank you for pulling me out of the river, mister... Nail, was it?"

The stallion laughed again. "Mister Nail was my great-grandpappy, Petite. Ol' Coffin Nail, that's me. And it wasn't me that found you. Ain't that right, Chere?" The stallion, who I now knew as Coffin Nail, looked over the edge. There was some more splashing, and I finally heard what sounded like a mare. I couldn't make out what she was saying over the splashing, though. Coffin Nail laughed again and turned back to me. "You were almost out to sea when she caught up with you, Petite. Where you going in such a hurry?"

"Oh, um..." I coughed, embarrassed. "My friends and I were heading out of the swamp, and then it started to rain, and..." I trailed off.

Coffin Nail shook his head. "Ah, you shouldn't do that, Petite. Bad things come out when it rains." He gave me a knowing look. "You been to that town, yeah? Seen ol' Granny Rags?" I nodded. "Ol' Granny, she knows this place. Don't hear ol' Mother River, not like the Nails, but she knows it all the same. You turned down her gift, didn't you?"

"Um, not exactly." I fidgeted, his gaze making me a little uncomfortable. "A donkey stopped her from giving it to me... she gave my friends something, though."

"Ah." Coffin Nail nodded, giving me a small smile. "Don't you worry, Petite. Ol' Granny Rags, she don't mean no harm, just wanted to keep you safe. She saw what I see, see? You're marked, Petite."

"Marked?" I perked up and looked at my flank, the caps-and-feather almost covered in dried mud, but still visible. "You mean, like, my cutie mark?"

"Hah!" Coffin Nail laughed and there was a loud splashing from the river. "No, Petite." He shook his head, grinning the grin of someone who knew a secret. "This ain't no cutie mark. You been touched by one o' Them."

"Them? Who?" I was getting confused.

Coffin Nail didn't answer, though. He just looked over the edge, talking to whoever or whatever was in the river. "You best be going, Chere." There was some more splashing, and I could just barely hear whoever it was speaking. Coffin Nail chuckled. "Yes, Chere. I see you soon, don't worry."

There was one final splash, spraying water onto the deck, and one of the green marks vanished from my sight. Coffin Nail turned back to me, still grinning. "You come now, Petite. I see you back to shore." He trotted past me, heading back along the boat.

"Hey, wait!" I quickly fell into step just behind him. "I need to find my friends! I don't even know if they're okay!"

Coffin Nail laughed. "You don't worry none, Petite. Your friends, they be fine. Ol' Granny, she saw to that."

"How... I mean... what? You mean those things that old donkey gave us?" I was confused again. Coffin Nail nodded.

"That's right. Ol' Granny, she knows things no good jenny should, no? She seen things, talked to things." He chuckled. "They say ol' Granny Rags, she been here since before the first Nail sailed the Wren's Haven, and she'll be here long after the last Nail's gone back to ol' Mother River."

"The Wren's Haven? You mean your boat?" I was getting even more confused.

Coffin Nail laughed again. "No, Petite. The bayou!"

"Oh!" I nodded, finally understanding something. "You mean the swamp!" My Pipbuck dinged, letting me know I'd 'discovered' the Wren's Haven Bayou. Sometimes I had to wonder if the thing was really as useful as I thought it was.

"That's right, Petite." Coffin Nail nodded, before turning and climbing the stairs to the second level of the boat. I followed closely, almost slipping on the steep wooden stairs but catching myself just in time. I was more careful about where I put my hooves after that, the spiral stairs steep and tight.

"But that doesn't explain how she kept them safe!" I argued as we emerged onto the top deck, getting a good view of the broad, dark river, and the thick wall of trees and vines on its banks. The mist had started to thin by then, just shreds of it drifting above the water. "Wait..." I paused for a second, then trotted to keep up with Coffin Nail as he headed for the front of the deck. "It was the things she gave them, wasn't it? They kept my friends safe?"

Coffin Nail nodded. "Right again, Petite." He propped his forelegs on the railing, and I did the same. He looked ahead, but I watched him, still looking for answers. "Ol' Granny, she saw you, saw Their mark on you. She tried to protect you, only you didn't take her gift."

"Huh..." I didn't really know what to say to that. "Well... I guess I'll thank her if I see her again... oh! Right! Um, thanks for letting me use that bed, Coffin." I gave him my winning smile. "If it was an inconvenience, I can pay you. Or put word out, if you're looking to get a trade route out here."

Coffin Nail shook his head, a small smile on his muzzle. "No, Petite. We Nails, we don't need no caps. Ol' Mother River, she provides. And those folks in town, they don't want no outsiders here." His smile grew sly. "But I do need something, Petite. Something that maybe, just maybe, you and yours can find."

"Uh... and that would be?" I leaned away from the stallions slightly, a bit nervous at what he might ask for.

"A book." He said simply.

I stared at him, surprised. "A... book?"

"That's right, Petite. A book." He grinned the grin of someone who knew a secret. "Very special book, too. See, way back when, used to be a family o' ponies out here. The Blackhoof clan. Cursed, hear tell. Every one of 'em went mad."

"And they wrote a book?" I stared at him in disbelief. "You want us to get you a cursed book?!"

Coffin shook his head. "No, Petite. Last Lord Blackhoof, he found a way to break the curse, wrote it all down. Then he threw hisself out the window."

"What." I blinked, and seriously considered swimming to shore and bolting. The whole thing was starting to give me the heebies. "Why that book? Why us?! Why not just get one of the townsfolk to do it?!"

"Them townsfolk, they never liked us Nails. Never go near the ol' Blackhoof Manor, neither. Ain't safe for no normal folk." He shook his head, then grinned again. "But you an' yours, Petite, you ain't no normal folk. Las' Lord Blackhoof, he called to things he shouldn't have, asked questions didn't need answering. Met one o' Them, Petite. Got Their mark, just like you."

"And just who are They?" I demanded. "You keep talking about Them, and how I'm marked! Just what does that even mean?!"

"You want to know, Petite?" I nodded, and his grin turned mischevious. "You get that book, you know more than I do."

I groaned. "You're not going to tell me anything, are you?"

Coffin Nail shook his head, still grinning. "All I know, Petite, is that They be old. Older'n ol' Granny Rags, maybe older'n ol' Mother River herself. Ain't never seen one myself, they don't have dealings with the Nails, but ol' Mother River, she knows Them. She tells ol' Coffin Nail secrets, whispers them in his ear, like she done with every Nail. Keeps us safe, long as we been here." His grin turned sly again. "She even kept you safe, Petite. Ol' Mother River, she tell Chere where you been, where to find you." He laughed and shook his head. "You don't need to get the book, Petite. You don't owe ol' Coffin Nail a thing. You and yours, you can jus' walk on out o' the bayou, same as you came in. But," he smirked, "you bring ol' Coffin Nail that book, he see you safe. Take you downriver, let you out on the coast. Maybe even answer your questions. Sounds fair, no?"

I groaned again, my head drooping as I ran through everything in my head and tallied it up. Coffin Nail was at least part of why I hadn't drowned, so I owed him for that. I wanted to know just what the hell he was talking about, too. On the other hoof, that meant spending longer in the swamp, which was full of horrible things... that hadn't attacked us until we got near the bridge out of the swamp, which we could avoid by getting the book and riding Coffin Nail's boat to the coast, taking a few days off of our journey as well.

Sighing, I raised my head to look Coffin Nail in the eye. "Fine, we'll get your book. But we need to find my friends first."

Coffin Nail grinned, his eyes sparkling. "Easier done than said, Petite." He turned and pointed towards the shore ahead of us. "That's them there, no?"

I looked where he was pointing. Sure enough, the Serenity was sitting by a small wooden dock, and next to it I could see Ibis and Rose, who was waving her hoof to get my attention as we approached.

"What the..." I stared, dumbfounded. "How the hay did they know where to find me?"

Coffin Nail shrugged and chuckled. "Chere's not the only one in these waters, Petite." He lowered himself from the railing and started back towards the stairs to the first deck.

"Hey! What do you mean?!" He didn't answer, just chuckled and kept walking. Grumbling about mysterious ponies, I followed him.

We went to a retractable walkway on the main deck, big enough for a small group of ponies to cross together, as the boat began to slow.

As we approached the dock, drifting in to meet it and my friends, I turned to Coffin Nail with a suspicious look. "This book, you're sure it's not dangerous, right? And there's nothing horrible guarding it? No, I dunno, ghouls or swamp monsters? Or whatever the hell those things that attacked us were?"

"No, Petite." Coffin Nail shook his head, grinning. "Ain't none o' them bad things go near the ol' Blackhoof place."

I groaned. "The curse, right?"

"Almost right, Petite!" Coffin Nail laughed again. "Care to try again?" He asked, a mischevous look in his bright turquoise eyes.

Glaring at him, I thought about it. Then, it twigged. "The mark. It's the mark, whatever it is, isn't it? The one you said Blackhoof had? The one you keep saying I have?"

Grinning, Coffin Nail nodded. "That's right, Petite." His ear twitched and he looked to over the side, to the quickly approaching dock. The boat was just drifting in now, barely two wagon-lengths away. "You be safe there, Petite. Safest place in the bayou, no mistake."

I just sighed and rubbed my forehead, trying to ignore the rapidly growing headache all this mystery was giving me... and the fact I'd just rubbed the muck from my hooves all over my face. "Whatever. We find the book, you take us to the coast and out the swamp, right?"

"Right again, Petite." He said with a smile.

"So, how do we get to the manor, then?" I asked. Coffin Nail pointed past the dock, to a gap in the trees.

"You take that road there, Petite. It take you there and bring you back." My Pipbuck dinged, helpfully marking the road we were meant to take. "And don't you leave the road, now. There be things waitin', an' they be tricky if'n you don't got ol' Granny's gifts keepin' you safe." He frowned and shook his head. "Them swamplights, you hear them cryin', you just keep on walkin'."

"Swamplights?" I stared at him. He nodded, looking serious for once.

"Nasty things, Petite. Sound like cryin' foals, look like lanterns, lure folks off the path." He shook his head again. "Ain't no coming back from that, Petite. Ain't no coming back."

"Right... hey, we're at the dock!" Thoroughly creeped out, I was glad for the distraction when the boat came to a halt.

Coffin Nail shook his mane out and grinned at me, back to normal. "That we are, Petite." He moved to the side of the walkway and did something. There was a loud click, the sounds of gears, and suddenly the walkway swung out, over the water and onto the dock with a thump.

Rose started to gallop towards me as soon as the ramp was down, but her hoof went through a rotten board and she faceplanted onto the dock, making another hole with her face. Shaking my head, I turned back to Coffin Nail while Ibis tried to free my clumsy brute of a sister. "So, are you just gonna wait here, or what?"

"No, Petite." Chuckling, Coffin Nail shook his head. "Soon as you're ashore, ol' Coffin Nail's headed back upriver. Chere be waitin' for me."

"So, how do we contact you, then?" I asked, frowning. Then I lit my horn when something was tossed towards me, catching it before it could hit me. It was a little seashell, glittering in the low light as I looked at it. "What's this for?" Confused, I stared at the grinning Coffin Nail.

"That's how we Nails know who needs a ride, Petite." His eyes sparkled as he chuckled. "You come back here, you just throw that there shell in the water and give ol' Coffin Nail a shoo-be-doo, yeah? He come and get you right away."

"Rrright..." Feeling doubtful, I tucked the shiny shell into my pocket. "Anything else I need to know? Like, what the book we're after looks like? Just where it is?" When he shook his head, I frowned. "Let me guess, you know it's there, but not what it looks like or where it actually is."

Coffin Nail nodded, smirking. "That's right, Petite. But you'll find it."

"Because I'm marked, right?" He nodded again, so I just gave him a flat look. "I'm... gonna go now. I... guess we'll be back when we've got the book?" He just chuckled, so I shook my head and sighed before heading down the ramp. I'd just started walking down the dock to where Rose was still stuck when the walkway swung back up, almost catching my tail. I turned back to glare.

Coffin Nail waved at me from the railing as the walkway swung back into place, still grinning cheekily. "I see you soon, Petite!" I just glared at him as the riverboat pulled away from the shore, the big paddlewheel at the rear driving it onwards and back into the river's flow.

Shaking my head in irritation, I turned around to go to my friends... and immediately got cleaned up by Rose when she tackled me, the two of us rolling along the dock together, the old wood creaking menacingly under us. "Lily! You're alright!" She cheered, crushing me in her patented bone-breaking hug. I gurgled and struggled, trying to break free or at least breathe!

Ibis came up behind Rose, smirking at my plight and being much more careful about where he stepped and how than Rose was. "Keep that up and she won't be. She's not meant to be blue, y'know."

Rose pulled away slightly and blinked at me. I wheezed at her and she blinked again. "Lily, why are you blue?"

"Can't... breathe..." I managed to gasp out, everything starting to go fuzzy.

Rose stared at me blankly for a second. "Oh." Then she finally let me go. I fell backwards, limp, gulping like a fish to try and get some air back into my lungs. "Lily, can we go home now? I don't like this place. A funny bird bit me."

I couldn't be bothered answering, seeing as I was still enjoying not being crushed to death by hugging. I swear, I could already feel bruises forming!

"Let's get her to the wagon," Ibis suggested, sounding like he was enjoying my pain. Rose responded by grabbing my tail in her teeth and dragging me along the dock. We didn't fall through the boards, thankfully. Mostly thanks to Ibis telling my brute of a sister where to step.

You can imagine how unhappy I was when Rose finally dumped me beside the Serenity. I couldn't muster up the energy to do anything but groan at first, though.

Instead, I just lay there with Rose and Ibis taking turns poking me and asking if I was dead yet.

After about a minute or so, I managed to raise my head and glare at the pair. Rose blinked at me, Ibis just smirked. I coughed and asked "How the hell did you know where to find me? What happened to those things that attacked us?"

It was Ibis who answered, frowning. "Soon as you went in the water, they took off. Didn't look twice at me or Rose, like we weren't even there." I just grunted in response and lay my head back down on the ground, trying to work out if Rose had cracked one of my ribs or just really bruised them all. "As for us finding you... well..." The big griffin looked away, clearly uncomfortable. I raised my eyebrow, waiting for him to go on. "We... met that donkey again."

"Granny Rags is a nice donkey," Rose added helpfully, "but she's a bit silly. She said you were on the seapony's boat, but everyone knows seaponies don't have boats." She frowned, like the very thought offended her. "Seaponies don't go on boats, they live underwater. I told her that, but she laughed at me and called me a pretty pony." She brightened up, her ears perking. "Ooh, ooh! Lily, Granny Rags gave me a present for you!"

I watched Rose stick her hoof in her pocket, pulling out a small, paper-wrapped thing and offering it to me. Suspecting what it might be, I lit my horn and took it, unwrapping it and groaning when my suspicions were confirmed.

"Granny Rags said it was to protect you," Rose said, then she looked closer at my 'present', a charm just like the ones the old donkey jenny had given her and Ibis in town. "Aw, it's prettier than mine."

I just groaned and, suppressing a shudder, tucked the thing into one of my pockets. At Ibis' questioning look, I just shook my head. He shrugged.

"Can we go now, Lily?" Rose asked again, blinking at me.

I shook my head and sat up, wincing at the ache in my barrel from Rose's death-hug. "N-no... we've got one last job..."

Ibis frowned. "How did you find a job out here?"

I groaned and got to my hooves. "Ugh... ow. The stallion that saved me, he's got a boat. If we bring him some book, he'll take us to the coast and out of the swamp." I stretched and lit my horn, holding the Serenity's traces up for Rose to step into. She did so, and I started tightening them around her.

Ibis just looked at me in disbelief. "You want to spend more time here?"

I shook my head again. "Hell no, but from what he told me, it's safer to get the book than it is to try and take the road. Besides..." I paused while I jumped up into my seat, shaking the mud off my hooves before sitting down. Ibis hopped into the cargo bay, the overgrown buzzard big enough to get in easier than I could. "Besides, he kept going on about how we were marked, or something."

Frowning, he fluffed himself up, pulling the tarp over himself again. The bugs were starting to wake up, clouds of them darting around the bushes, and I didn't need to be Rose to know how he felt about bugs in his feathers. "What's that meant to mean?"

I shrugged. "Who knows? An old donkey gave us magic charms, we're looking for a cursed book, and if I didn't know better I'd swear I was saved by a seapony." I snorted at the thought of seaponies. They were nothing but breezie tales, like flutterponies, despite what Rose thought. "This whole thing's just nuts."

Ibis look surprised, but leaned in towards me. "Tell me everything that pony said."

Cracking the reins to get Rose moving, and steering her to the path we had to take, I took a deep breath before telling Ibis everything Coffin Nail had said.

Ibis looked pensive when I finished my story. "That's all he said?"

I nodded. "Yeah. What do you think?"

He shook his head, frowning and looking past me to Rose, who was merrily trotting along and drawing us down the swampy road. "I don't know. I just know I don't like it. Something's not right about this whole thing."

"I know." Sighing, I slouched down in my seat. "But we still get an easy trip out of here."

"If the place isn't filled with those things that attacked us," Ibis remarked, drawing back into the cargo bay and tugging the tarp tighter around himself to ward off the swarming bugs from getting in his feathers.

I just shrugged. "Hey, Coffin Nail said we'd be safe."

I couldn't see Ibis anymore, but I could hear the distaste in his voice as he spoke. "Right, because of the whole 'marked' thing. If you ask me, I think that pony's been drinking too much swamp water."

"Yeah, well, we've got these charm things, and they seem to work, so..." I shrugged again, straightening up as Rose came to a slow stop. "Hey, looks like we're here."

The three of us looked down the road, to where the trees abruptly stopped and gave way to a small clearing. Just ahead of us, the path was littered with flat, mossy paving stones, leading up to a set of rusted iron gates, easily large enough to get the Serenity through. Above it, there was an ancient iron arch, spelling out BLACKHOOF in thick lettering. The gate was flanked by a pair of large stone pillars, anchoring a tall fence of rusted ironbars, tipped with sharp-looking spikes, into the marshy ground. The fence continued on in both directions, vanishing between the trees, with more pillars every so often.

Behind the fence, almost hidden behind more trees, I could just make out the upper floors and roof of a large house.

"Well, I guess we'd better hurry up, then. Mush, brahmin!" I snapped the reins against Rose's flank, getting a whinny as she started pulling again... and quickly stopped, looking back at me over her shoulder.

"Lily, the gate is closed."

"What? Oh, right." Ignoring Ibis, who was muttering about me being an idiot, I lit my horn up and shoved the gates with my magic. It barely budged, so, gritting my teeth, I tried again, forcing the rusted gates open with everything I had. They shifted a couple of inches, then stopped, leaving me with a hornache as my aura fizzled out. Rubbing my forehead, I lit my horn again, this time freeing Rose from the harness.

She blinked at me, curious. Still rubbing my head, I just pointed at the gates and scowled. "You open them, Rose."

"Okay, Lily." With that, Rose trotted up to the gates, put her shoulder to them, and started pushing. She almost slipped, but she dug her hooves in and kept going.

Slowly, the gates parted with a deafening screech, rust flaking from the hinges, the ivy and vines wrapped around the bars twisted and snapped as they were forced open. I had my hooves over my ears the entire time, the horrible noise not helping my headache.

Eventually, even though it seemed to take forever, Rose had opened the gates all the way. She cantered back to the wagon and stood in her spot, waiting for me to re-harness her. Which I did, quickly. A sound like that was bound to attract trouble. As Rose started pulling again, I risked a glance backwards, down the road and past the frazzled-looking Ibis, who'd suffered from the noise as much as I had.

The road was clear behind us, just a few birds flying away from the noise. Even my Pipbuck wasn't displaying anything. Not anything that wanted to attack us, anyway.

Still didn't stop me from getting the creeps as we passed through the gates, though. It was too damn quiet out there. Something should have hear us and come running.

Since it seemed to be safe, though, I sighed, settled down in my seat and started looking around as we rolled down the path. The manor grounds were massive, big enough to build a small town on if it hadn't been so overgrown. Long grass swayed and rustled on either side of the path, tall enough for a small pony to hide in, ocassionally coming up between the stones that made up the path. Trees and bushes rose above us, not as thick as the swamp outside, but still thick enough that, with the grass, I'd probably get lost if I stepped one hoof off the path.

Here and there, I spotted stone pillars, thick with moss, peeking out from the overgrowth. Most of them were topped by... I had to think to remember what they were called.

Big... ugly... hangs off of buildings... griffins? I thought to myself as we rolled past one particuarly large specimen, its four clawed legs carved into the top of the pillar it was on, its bat-like wings outspread and casting part of the path into shadow... well, one wing was. The other was broken off, probably lost in the grass at its base. No, not a griffin... what's the word? Ah! Gargoyles! That's it! I nodded, confident I'd gotten it right., then shuddered as we passed directly under it. Whoever carved the thing had done a good job, it really did feel like it was staring at us.

Thankfully, we kept moving, Rose not giving the thing more than a passing glance. Ibis grumbled to himself quietly about whatever, occasionaly going into a frenzy of scratching when the bugs got too much for him.

I quickly got bored and pulled out the little charm Granny Rags had sent me, examining it. It wasn't anything impressive, just a bit of metal and some bone, with some wierd marks carved into it. I wouldn't have believed it was special at all, and I would've just chucked the creepy thing away if it wasn't impolite. But, just to be polite, because I didn't want to offend the old donkey jenny who'd put so much effort into making the thing and getting it to me, I tucked it back into my pocket where it was nice and safe. Not because I believed it actually protected me or anything. Nope. Not at all.

Anyway, it only took us a couple of minutes to reach the house. I tugged on the reins when we reached an open courtyard, bringing Rose to a halt. The three of use looked around us, and up at the house.

Ibis whistled. "Big place."

"Yeah." I agreed as I looked up at the building looming over us. The house was a mansion, and a big one at that. Two stories tall at the front, expanding into three stories at the back and the wings, and I was pretty sure you could have housed a half dozen caravan companies in it with room to spare.

Thick wooden boards covered the outer walls, broken up by dark, shuttered windows that didn't give any hints to what was inside. From where I was, it looked like most of them were intact, with only a few of the shutters damaged enough to see the glass behind them.

It looked like there was a balcony on top of the entrance, since it had railing around it instead of the sloped roofs that the rest of the mansion did. Here and there, chimneys poked up, stubby silhouettes against the dark clouds of the sky.

The courtyard itself was spacious, larger than some bars we'd been in, with a pond the size of a small pool in the middle of it, filled with reeds and other plants that liked a lot of water. Rose was staring at it pretty intently, and I figured out why when a frog croaked from somewhere in the waterlogged tangle.

"Rose, no blowing stuff up," I warned her. Her ear flicked in my general direction in response. "We're here to find a book, not level the place."

"Okay, Lily." She sounded dissapointed, but perked up quickly, looking back over her shoulder at me with a hopeful smile. "Can I have the book when we find it?"

"No." I shook my head, and she drooped instantly, giving me the most pitiful, begging look she could manage. "Gah! Stop that!" I looked away so I wouldn't give in. "We're getting the book so we can get a ride out of the swamp." I risked looking at her and immediately regretted it. She was still giving me the look. "You can have any other books we find, just stop looking at me like that!"

Rose brightened immediately and smiled at me. "Thank you Lily."

Behind me, Ibis snickered. I didn't even bother turning to look at him when I told him to shut up, then cracked the reins and steered Rose towards the manor.

"Rose," I began, looking at the long, wide wooden porch that would have been a nice place to relax on a sunny day if we weren't in a swamp... and, y'know, if it had actually been sunny at all. "Is there anything in there?"

Rose look around us, then up at the building, and shook her head. "No, Lily. I think it's empty."

"Good." I looked up at the thick clouds overhead and, remembering the storm we'd been caught in the day before, frowned. "We'd better get the Serenity on the porch in case it rains. I'll lift. Rose, you pull, and Ibis, you push." I hopped out of the Serenity, and Ibis followed.

What followed wasn't very interesting. Just the three of us trying to get our wagon up the steps and under cover, me lifting with my magic, Rose pulling and Ibis alternately pushing and guiding . We would've tried fitting it through the door and actually taking it into the manor properly, but there was no way we'd be able to get it in without Rose blowing up the door and part of the wall.

Just to make sure it was safe, I locked the brakes and secured the tarp over the top. I had the feeling we'd be searching for a while, and I wasn't about to leave my precious Serenity exposed when I couldn't see it.

Eventually, though, we got it snug up against the wall and out of the way, and all three of us were standing by the door.

"Well, here we go." I said, giving the handle a hopeful jiggle with my magic. No dice, the lock held. I glared at it, then turned to my sister. "Rose? Smash."

Rose blinked at me and moved to break it down, but Ibis stuck his wing in her path and rolled his eyes at me. "Let me do it. I'd rather be able to close it behind us." I moved out of his way as he settled in front of the door and pulled out his knife, working the tip into the lock. Rose looked a bit disappointed by the lack of smashing, but Ibis had a point.

A few seconds later there was a clicking sound and Ibis sat back, sheathed his knife and gave me a smug look. "And that's how you pick a lock." He grabbed the knob in his claw, twisted it and gave the door a shove. It swung open easily, not creaking much, to my surprise.

"Yeah, yeah," I said, snorting at him. "Rose, you go first, in case something wants to eat us."

Rose blinked at me. "But it's empty, Lily."

I just snorted again and pointed at the dark doorway. "No way am I gonna be the first one in. This place is creepy. Now get your flank in there, and I might let you read the book when we find it." She blinked again, but trotted on in, her tail swishing as she passed Ibis and vanished into the gloom. I waited a few seconds and, when there wasn't the sounds of swamp monsters or ghosts being stomped to death, looked to Ibis expectantly.

"What?" He asked, looking back at me. "You want me to go in next?" I nodded and he rolled his eyes. "Coward."

"Overgrown chicken." I shot back at him. He just rolled his eyes again and stood, following Rose into the dark building.

I waited a few more seconds, just to make sure that, if there was something horrible in there, Rose and Ibis had a chance to take care of it. When all was quiet, I trotted on in... and quickly realised I couldn't see a damned thing when I bumped into Ibis, who'd stopped only a few steps from the door, because Rose had stopped just ahead of him.

Rose looked around Ibis and blinked at me, barely visible in the small rectangle of light that made it through the door. "It's dark in here, Lily. Can you turn your light on, please?"

I obliged, flicking my Pipbuck's searchlight on. When it was pointed at Ibis' face, of course. While he squawked and stumbled around, dazed, I played my light around, checking out the room and ignoring Rose's admonishing look for blinding her boyfriend.

As far as I could tell, the entryway wasn't that impressive. More of a short hallway than anything, really. There was a filthy old rug on the floor for wiping our hooves, a couple of hat racks and some ancient hall tables pressed up against the walls. The air was musty and stale, and everything was covered in a layer of dust so thick I could clearly see my own hoofprints. There was another door at the far end, but it was closed.

One thing I noticed quickly was that, instead of proper, civilised lighting, like the spark batteries hooked up to lightbulbs most of Equestria had, there were long burnt-out candles and lanterns mounted on the walls. I groaned when I saw that.

"What's wrong, Lily?" Rose asked, blinking at me.

I sighed and pointed my light at the nearest candle holder thing. "Something tells me we're not gonna find a lightswitch in this place."

"You've got your damn light, don't you?" Ibis remarked, scowling in my general direction. I'd blinded him good, and he had one claw on Rose's withers while his eyes readjusted. "I don't see what the problem is. That thing's bright enough for anyone."

I frowned at him and, when I realised he probably couldn't see me, frowned even harder to make sure he got it. "I'm not walking around some creepy, cursed old house in the middle of a swamp with just my hooflight! What are you, nuts?!"

While me and Ibis glared at each other (well, I glared at him, he glared near me), Rose looked between the two of us, blinking slowly. She cocked her head and gave me a curious look. "Lily, we have lights in the wagon. Can we use them?"

I just facehoofed when she mentioned the spotlights. I couldn't believe I'd forgotten about them.

A few minutes later, we'd pulled every single light we had out of the wagon, set one up to light up the entry hall, and were ready to start our search. Starting with the room behind the door.

"Whoa." I muttered as I raised my hoof, the powerful Pipbuck searchlight throwing stark shadows behind everything it touched.

"Whoa is right." Ibis echoed my sentiment as we looked around. It was a pretty big room, that's for sure. Ahead of us, there was a wide staircase leading to the second story, wooden railings bordering the landing above and the half-open corridors that led from it around the upper level. From where we were, I could just make out a few doors up there.

On the ground level, where we were, pillars rose up from the floor, supporting the upper walkways. There was a door on each side, one leading off to the left, the other off to the right. A threadbare carpet covered most of the floor, leading from the entry hall to the doors and up the stairs. My spotlight caught the large chandelier hanging from the ceiling, throwing pinpricks of light everywhere in a dazzling display.

Dusty, faded paintings hung on the walls, impossible to make out. The paint and plaster of the walls was chipped and cracked, dark streaks showing where water had gotten in.

The layer of dust on the floor was just as deep as it had been in the entry hall, undisturbed for Celestia knows how long. I could still make out that the floor was marble, though, instead of the wood in the entry hall.

"So, where do we start?" Ibis asked, clicking his claw-held spotlight on and shining it around.

"Uh, one sec." I checked my Pipbuck's job tracker, careful not to shine my light in my own eyes. I frowned when I saw what the stupid thing said. "Apparently, we have to search for it." I lowered my hoof again, stomping to bring up the E.F.S and coughing at the puff of dust that rose from the carpet under my hoof. Slowly, I looked around, seeing if there was a marker on my compass thing that could point us in the right direction. There wasn't. I sighed. "Best I can do is that it's here somewhere."

Rose mumbled something past the spotlight held in her mouth. I facehoofed. "I can't understand you with your mouth full, you dummy."

Ibis reached over and took the lamp from Rose, rolling his eyes. She champed at the air, then blinked at him. "Thank you, Ibis." She turned back to me. "Lily, books are in libraries. We should look for one."

I facehoofed again, feeling like an idiot. "Why didn't I think of that?"

When Rose opened her mouth to speak again, I yanked her lamp out of Ibis' claw and shoved it back in her gob, muffling whatever she tried to say.

"Right," I said, taking a lamp of my own from the pile and holding it up in my magic, so I didn't have to hop along on three legs to use my Pipbuck's searchlight, "Let's get going, then! This way!"

"Hang on," Ibis called out as I trotted towards the door to our left. I turned and frowned at him.

"What is it now?"

"We should set up some lights in here, you idiot." He pulled one of the tripod-mounted floodlights from the pile, set it into place beside the exit and hit the switch, bathing most of the main hall in comforting light. "Isn't that better? A nice, well-lit room to come back to." He gave me a smug look.

I just snorted at him. "We're not gonna be here that long, y'know. We're just finding the book and leaving."

"It's a big place," he remarked, "could take a while to find it."

"Yeah, well... let's not take too long, then." Before he could say anything else, I turned around and headed for the door again... then paused at it, looking back at my companions. "Rose, you go first."

Rose just blinked at me and shoved the door open, trotting through it, her lamp lighting the way. Ibis came up alongside me, rolling his eyes, but I darted through before he could get in front of me just to annoy him.

We were in a long, thin dining room, utterly dominated by the table that took up the centre of the room. Empty plates and cutlery could be seen through the layer of dust caking it, like it had been set for a meal that never happened, and half-melted candles were dotted down the middle of the table.

A few lanterns stuck out from the walls, completely useless. Against one wall there was an old grandfather clock that was somehow still tick-tocking away despite the years.

Up above us, it looked like there was another landing around the outside of the room, the roof as tall as it had been in the main hall.

We slowly made our way down the room, playing our lights along the walls and ceiling. At one point I almost tripped over something because I wasn't paying attention.

"What the hell?" I shone my light on whatever it was I'd almost tripped on, only to be confused when I saw what it was. "Where'd that come from?" There was some scattered chunks of stone or plaster, like the roof had started to collapse or something, and what looked like a piece of broken railing. But, when we raised our lights to check, the roof was intact. "Hey, Ibis, go up there and check it out, will you?"

Ibis nodded. "Don't go anywhere." I rolled my eyes at him as he spread his wings and leap into the air for a few beats ofhis wings, having to grab the railing above us and pull himself up when it became clear his wingspan was too wide to fit between the two sides of the landing.

I could tell where he was from the glow of his light as he checked out the upper level, moving around the landing from one end of the room to the other, occasionally stopping to look at something. While he was doing that, I checked out the pile of rubble at my hooves again. This time, I noticed a couple of bigger chunks that seemed to have a proper shape and picked one up, turning it over in my magic.

"Huh." It was a statue. The remains of one, anyway. I had part of a pony's head and ear, and on the ground I could make out what looked like two hooves pressed together, like they were holding something. There wasn't anything there, though, so I dropped the piece I'd picked up and looked around again.

Rose was staring blankly at the clock for some reason, her head tilting side-to-side, following the pendulum thing as it swung. I ignored her and checked out the silverware, blowing the dust off the nearest setting. It looked valuable, and you couldn't go wrong with extra cutlery, so I grabbed it, wiped it off on Rose's duster and stuck in my bag before looking around again. A few seconds later, I got bored and repeated my actions with all the other silverware in my range, leaving a dusty smear on Rose's rear and netting myself a few dozen caps worth of cutlery. Rose flicked her tail at me for wiping stuff off on her, but otherwise didn't react. I had no idea why she was so fascinated with the clock, but didn't really feel like trying to understand her either.

Instead, I just aimed my light at the far end of the room, seeing what was down there. It wasn't very interesting, just a dusty fireplace, some wood beside it and a hole in the wall above it that looked like it was meant to hold something. There was another door, though.

Ibis chose that moment to drop back down on the other side of the table, flaring his wings for a soft landing. I looked at him, curious. "Well? Anything up there?"

He shook his head. "Not really. Broken railing, looks like someone shoved something off the edge from the marks on the floor. Anything down here?"

I shrugged. "Just that broken statue. Why would someone throw that off the ledge?"

Ibis shrugged this time. "Who knows. Keep searching?"

I nodded. "Keep searching."

Pulling Rose away from her new friend the clock, we went through the only other door in the room. It was even less interesting than the dining room, just a short hallway that opened up a bit to a small room with a couch, a table and some bookshelves that made Rose give me a pleading look.

After I checked my Pipbuck to see if it was pointing at the bookshelves, I shook my head. "Not the book we're looking for. Rose, they're all yours."

She smiled, said "Yay" and happily pranced over, dusting the books off and sorting them into her saddlebags. While she did that, I looked down the other end of the hall. There were two more doors, one near where we came in and another at the far end.

Ibis went to the nearest door and opened it, sticking his head and lamp in. After a few seconds he leaned back and grinned at me. "They have a bar."

"What?" I moved up beside him to see. "Huh. So they do." The room was a small, private bar. The bar itself took up one whole wall, dusty bottles on the shelves behind it and spigots poking up from the bar, probably connected to kegs. Pretty unusual to see, since bottles were so much easier to work with than kegs. There was a long, filthy mirror above the bar, so dirty it barely reflected any light. On the other side of the room was, of all things, a piano. "Classy."

I poked my head back into the hall to see where Rose was. She was still happily sorting through her new books, not aware there was booze to be had. I turned back to Ibis. "We'll tell Rose about this when we're ready to leave."

"Why?" He stared at me, one eyebrow raised.

"Do you wanna haul her around her when she's drunk?" I asked, frowning. "It's gonna be hard enough to get her away from those books!"

Ibis grimaced. "Good point." We both moved back into the hallway, closing the door behind us. "Back to the search?"

I nodded. "Eeyup."

We managed to coax Rose away from her books and set about searching the rest of the manor. It was dusty, dark and the air everywhere smelled musty.

There were a few interesting rooms, though.

"Who makes a room and just sticks a statue in it?" Ibis wondered, looking around from the doorway of the tiny, otherwise bare room that was barely big enough for two ponies.

I shrugged. "I dunno." I was reared up on my hind legs, my front hooves braced against the wall so I could closely examine the statue of a manticore's head that was set into the alcove in the wall. "Gimme your knife, will you?"

"Huh? Why?"

"Because," I said, leaning closer to my prize and trying to work out how much it was worth, "this thing's got gems for eyes, and I want them."

"Just don't blunt the blade, you greedy idiot." Rolling his eyes, Ibis pulled his knife and held it out to me.

I grabbed it in my magic and pulled it over to myself. "Yeah. yeah. I'll be careful with your precious knife, you jerk." I said as I jammed the tip in behind one of the statue's gem eyes and started levering it free, tucking it into my bag when it popped out and starting on the other one.

Me and Ibis just watched, utterly bemused, as Rose charged around the room with her head stuck in an old-timey knight's helmet, crashing into the rusty suits of armor that lined the walls in her panic.

"Do you think we should help her?" Ibis asked as Rose knocked over a rack of swords and spears with a clatter before bolting back across the room, whinnying in confusion the entire time.

I shook my head and snickered as she crashed into a display case, sending wood and things flying. "Let her wear herself out first, this is hilarious." We both winced as Rose ran headfirst into the wall with a loud clank, leaving her sprawled out on the ground and twitching sporadically. "Or we can let her knock herself out. That works too."

We both went over to help my idiot sister, but I stopped halfway, spotting something shiny and gold that had come out of the destroyed display case. I grabbed it and held it up for a look. "Huh." It was a golden medallion with the sun emblazoned on it. "Mine now."

Tucking the sun medal into my pocket, I moved to help Ibis pry the dented helmet off of Rose's head and try to wake her up.

"Evil plant! Run away! Evil plant!" Rose yelped out as she came tearing back through the doorway to the little courtyard with thorn covered vines whipping through the air behind her, the fearsome foliage that was growing in the couryard's fountain trying to grab her.

"Get the door shut!" Ibis ordered as soon as Rose was back in the hallway with us, throwing himself at the door to try and close it before the vines could get us. "HURRY!" He yelled, digging his hindclaws into the ground as the vines started to force the door open again, creeping through the gap.

I added my weight to his, the two of us barely able to keep the evil houseplant from getting in. Then Rose finally stopped panicking and practically tackled us into the door, slamming it closed and breaking off the vines that had managed to get through.

"Ouch..." I groaned as I sat up, feeling bruised by the projectile pony. "Rose, I thought you said it was safe here!"

"It wasn't my fault, Lily! I can't feel evil plants!" Rose wailed from where she was hiding behind Ibis, glaring a hate-filled glare at the still-writhing chunks of vine that were cut off by the door, squirming on the floor like thorny snakes.

I could hear scratching at the door we were all pressed up against, and shared an uncertain look with Ibis. "I'll yell at you later Rose, let's just get out of here!" I said, my companions nodding eagerly as we got to our hooves, claws and paws and almost tripped over each other in our haste to escape.

"Remind me again why we're in the attic?" I asked, coughing a bit from the dust kicked up by our moving about. I'd thought the rest of the manor had looked abandoned, but the dust was half a hoof thick in the attic!

"Because in my books, lots of things are hidden in attics." Rose remarked as she nosed around some old boxes, vanishing behind a large pile of them.

I groaned. "Rose, your books aren't always right, you know?"

"Yes they are." Came her response, muffled by whatever she had her head in this time.

I just shook my head and sighed. There was no arguing with Rose sometimes. "You find anything yet, Ibis?" I called out to Ibis, who was on the other side of the room behind some old furniture.

"Hang on," came his response, "there's something... got you!" There was a rustle and a thump, followed by a cloud of dust when he knocked something over. A few seconds later, he emerged, carrying something in one claw. "No books, but I did find a snake." He held up his prize and took a bite out of it, chewing happily.

"Ew." Wrinkling my muzzle in disgust, I turned back to where Rose was the last time I saw her. "Rose, you done searching yet?"

"Not yet, Lily." Rose popped up from behind some boxes on the other side of the room, startling me. "I found a hat, see?" She pulled a dusty old tophat out, the thing so worn it looked like it was ready to just fall apart, and plopped it on her head. A moment later the dust from it reach her nose and set her snout crinkling. "Ah... ah... ah!" She closed her eyes, bracing for a sneeze, then, when it didn't come, she relaxed again. "Ah-choo!"

When she sneezed, the hat really did disintegrate, turning into a small cloud of fibres and dust. Rose shook her head and snorted, trying to clear the dust out of her nose, then blinked in surprise. She started chewing, then her expression turned thoughtful. A few more chews, with me and Ibis staring at her in confusion the whole time, and she nodded, looking like she approved of whatever was in her mouth before coming out from behind the boxes. "Okay, Lily," she said around her mouthful of whatever, "we can go now."

"Rose," I started carefully, "what are you eating?"

She blinked at me, still chewing happily. "I don't know. I found it in my mouth when I sneezed. It's tasty."

"Gah." I shuddered. "Rose, spit that out! Spit it out right now!"

"But Lily-" She whined, but I stomped, interrupting her and kicking up a cloud of dust that set me coughing.

"N-no b-buts, Rose! That's disgusting! You don't eat things you coughed up, you grot!" I glared at her through the dust.

"Okay, Lily." Looking forlorn, she lowered her head and opened her mouth, spitting out a hoof-sized glob of green goop with a wet splat.

"Ick." That's all I could say. The crap was congealing into a solid lump as we watched. Even Ibis looked like he was put off of his snake from the sight. "Rose, I think you need a doctor or something. That's disgusting."

She blinked at me. "But Lily, I feel fine."

I just shook my head in dismay and headed for the stairs.

"It's gotta be in here." Ibis said, looking around the library we'd found ourselves in.

I checked my Pipbuck and shook my head. "Doesn't look like it. Hmm..." Looking around, I thought about it. "If you were a rich pony, and you wrote a book, where would you keep it?"

Ibis shrugged. "In my nest?"

Raising my eyebrow, I gave him a flat look. "Ponies don't have nests."

He shrugged again. "I'm not a pony."

Sighing, I shook my head. "It's probably in an office or study or something. Rose, stop playing around and let's go!"

"But Lily," came the plaintive cry from deep in the stacks, "you said I can have all the books!"

I groaned, facehoofed and yelled back "We can't carry all these, you dummy! We'll get some bags and come back later!"

"I can have all the books I can carry?" Rose called out hopefully from wherever she'd wound up in the maze of a library. I groaned again, knowing that if I said yes, we'd end up with no room in the wagon for us or our stuff.

"Two duffle bags full! And that's it!"

There was a disappointed "Aww" from somewhere in the back of the room, but I stomped my hoof as loud as I could.

"Rose! Two duffle bags and I'll let you raid the bar we found!"

Rose came wandering out of the stacks next to me, her saddlebags already bulging with books and a single hoof-thick volume balanced on her head. Ibis snickered at the sight, I just facehooved. Rose blinked at us. "There's a bar as well?" She got a dreamy look on her face at the thought of a bar and a library in the same building and I facehoofed again.

"Two bags and the bar. Deal?"

"Deal." She said, still staring into the distance dreamily, her tail swishing gently behind her.

"We're not gonna find the book in here," Ibis stated from behind me, sounding bored.

"Don't care." I said, searching through the racks of clothing. We were in an old dressing room, a massive mirror on one wall and racks of fancy clothes on the three other walls. There was a door leading off to another, smaller room, which I'd sent Rose into to search. "This stuff looks expensive." It was mostly stallion's clothes, with a few ultra fancy dresses here and there. It looked like every piece of clothing the Blackhoof family had ever owned was in there.

"And moth-eaten." I could hear the distaste in Ibis voice. It was true, though. Everything was musty and looked like it had been chewed on by moths, and a few times I'd found something promising only to have it fall apart in my magic.

I sighed. "Yeah, you're right." I trotted back to the middle of the room, abandoning my fruitless search. "Rose, c'mon. Let's go!" I called out.

"Coming, Lily." Came the muffled reply from the other room. A few seconds later, Rose came out, blinking at me over a dust-covered snoot, and I recoiled in horror.

"WHAT THE HELL IS THAT?!" I screamed, leaping over Ibis and hiding behind him. The overgrown buzzard took a step back, surprised by what Rose had found.

Rose looked up, crossing her eyes to look at the thing on her head. "Oh. Lily, Ibis, I made a new friend. His name is Fluffy."

Her new friend wiggled its antennae at us from its seat behind her horn, and I felt my skin start crawling.

It was a moth. A big one. Like, 'Fly away with small fluffy foals' type big. Long, feathery antenna stuck out from its head, waggling above its big, black, soulless eyes that stared at me, never blinking. Its wingspread was as long as I was tall, a set of wide, grey-brown things that looked like they could have blocked out the sun. Its body was thicker than my foreleg, Pipbuck included, and was as furry as Rose was, with fluffy legs holding tight to Rose's head and horn.

There it was. My nightmares personified, the king of all moths, the thing that had destroyed so much valuable clothing, and Rose was using it for a hat.

I slowly started backing towards the door to make my escape, giving Rose a nervous grin. "Um, Rose, we... we should get going now. Your friend should stay here, so... say bye bye. Now. Please?"

Rose looked up at the thing again. "Sorry, Fluffy. Lily is scared of you, so you can't come with us. She's silly sometimes."

The thing waggled its antenna again and took to the air with slow, heavy beats of its giant wings, before flying back to the room Rose had found it in. To destroy more clothes, no doubt.

It was a while before my skin stopped crawling. Ugh. Moths.

Eventually, after hours of searching, my Pipbuck pinged as we approached an otherwise normal door, a little marker on the compass pointing dead ahead.

"Looks like the book's in there," I said, feeling relieved. It had been a long day, after all.

"Well, let's get it, then," Ibis said, pushing in front of me and shoving the door open, before heading in, setting his lamp by the door to light the room up. Me and Rose followed him, looking around as we entered the room.

It was a small, cozy study. It was just as dusty and abandoned as the rest of the house, and the air was just as musty, but other than that it was positively comfortable. One corner of the room was taken up by a fireplace, still filled with ashes. The carpet was thick and soft, making our steps almost completely silent and keeping my hooves warmer than they'd been in the rest of the house. A few cabinets sat around the outside of the walls, their glass doors completely obscured by built-up dust. The dominant feature of the room was the large wooden desk in the middle of it, the remains of a candle melted onto the top and an old inkwell set into a small depression in the wood.
The was also an old typewriter, which I found wierd. Nopony had used those for hundreds of years.

Behind the desk was the largest, most overstuffed and comfortable looking chair I'd seen in my life, practically a plush throne.

"Guys, you check the cabinets..." I trailed off as Rose walked to the fireplace and stuck her head in, looking up the chimney for some reason. "Um, right. Ibis, you check the cabinets. I'll check the desk. Rose... do whatever?"

"Got it." Ibis nodded and moved to the nearest cabinet, trying the handle and pulling his knife out when it didn't open. Rose didn't answer, but started pushing bricks in the fireplace at random. I stared at her for a second, before shaking my head and going behind the desk.

With no hesitation, I planted my plot in the chair... and immediately let out a sigh of pure bliss as my backside sunk into it. "This must be what clouds feel like," I murmered, just sitting there and enjoying the most comfortable chair in existence.

Until Ibis cleared his throat. Startled, I sat up and looked around. "Um, what? Who?"

Ibis snickered. "Thought we'd lost you there. Enjoying yourself?"

I snorted at him. "Shut up. And yes, I was. Did you find anything?"

He shrugged, motioning at the now open cabinets. "Nothing worth taking. You wanna check the desk like you said you would, or do Rose and I need to give you and the chair some alone time?"

Rose blinked at me when I looked at her, reared up on her hind legs and tugging one of the wall mounted light fixtures. I frowned at her. "What are you doing?"

"I'm looking for secret passages, Lily." She tugged the lamp, then, looking dissappointed when nothing happened, dropped back to all fours. "I haven't found any yet, but I think I need to look harder." When she moved on to the next lamp, I shook my head and sighed.

"Wierdo." Trying to ignore my crazy sister, the confused griffin watching her, and the glorious way the chair supported my butt, I examined the desk closer. There were a bunch of drawers, and my Pipbuck was pointing... to the desk. It wasn't giving me an exact location.

I sighed and opened the first drawer. Nothing in there but an ink ribbon for the typewriter. The second one was empty, but the third one had a lighter, one of the fancy ones you flicked open. I tried lighting it, but all I got was sparks. Shrugging, I tucked the almost useless lighter into my pocket. I figured I'd get Rose to look at it later and see if she could fix it.

The next drawer was empty, and so was the one after that. In the last one, though, I struck paydirt. Two books. I lifted the top book out first. It was a journal, and it looked like it had been damaged and fixed a couple of times, but my Pipbuck didn't ding, so I set it on the desk and eyed up the second, larger book.

"Last chance," I said to myself softly before taking it in my magic and lifting it up. I held my breath for a few tense seconds, just waiting... and my Pipbuck dinged, letting me know I'd found what I was after.

"I got it," I called out, letting my companions know we had our prize. Then, in a lower voice to myself, "Let's see just what we came here for..."

"Nooo!" I'd barely opened the cover when a wailing red-white-and-brown blur jumped onto the desk, grabbed the book out of my grasp and sat on it so I couldn't read it.

Much to my confusion, I found myself staring at Rose's teats instead of the book. Don't get me wrong, I liked the view (even if I didn't want to like the view), but it wasn't what I thought I'd be looking at.

"Rose," I said carefully, still too confused by what just happened to look up at her face (that's my story, and I'm sticking to it!), "why are you sitting on the book?"

"Starfall says we're not allowed to read it, Lily!" She said, her tone urgent. "She says Mister Blackhoof shouldn't have written it down, and it would be bad if we saw it!"

"Starfall... right..." I blinked, even more confused. "And you're sitting on the book because...?"

"Because I had to stop you from reading it, Lily." Rose said it like it was completely natural, instead of crazy.

"Did Starfall tell you to sit on it?"

"Nuh-uh." I'm pretty sure she shook her head, but I couldn't see her face so I couldn't really say if she did or not. "Starfall said I had to stop you from reading it, Lily." There was a pause. "She says I could have just taken it away. Lily, am I a silly pony?"

"Yes, Rose." I sighed. "You are a silly pony. Can I have the book now?"

Rose was quiet for a few seconds. "Do you promise not to read it? Starfall says I shouldn't give it back, but if you promise I will."

I sighed again, slouching and letting my forehead rest on the desk. I was getting a headache from all this. "Yes, Rose, I promise not to read the book."

There was a moment's silence as, presumably, Rose talked it over with the voice in her head. Then, "Okay, Lily." I looked up as Rose hopped off the desk, and I got a good look under her tail as she went. Shaking my head and banishing the bad thoughts, I grabbed the mysterious book and tucked it into my bag, before holding up the journal.

"I can read this, right?" It may not have been the book we were sent for, but I got the feeling it could still have some answers.

Rose stared at me blankly from her spot next to Ibis, who was looking bemused by Rose's behaviour. Then she blinked and nodded. "Starfall says it's okay, Lily."

I stared at her, not sure if I should be worried or concerned or what. "Right... well, I guess we can go now."

Tucking the journal into my bag, beside the other book, I grabbed my lamp, struggled free of the chair and headed for the door, glad to be one step closer to home.

"Well, that sucks." The three of us stood on the porch, looking out into the pitch-black swamp. Turns out we'd been in the mansion literally all day, only finding the book as evening fell. I didn't really want to try getting back to the river at night, that's for sure. "What're we gonna do now?"

"Camp out in the house?" Ibis suggested. "That dining room looked secure, and we can use the fireplace."

Drooping, I sighed. I wanted to spend the night in the creepy house almost as little as I wanted to go back through the swamp. "Fine. Let's grab some gear out of the wagon, then."

A few minutes later, we were back in the dining room off the main hall. There was a roaring fire in the fireplace, our bedrolls were set up around it to keep us warm, and we had lamps set up to keep the rest of the room well lit. Ibis was stirring a metal pot full of something that smelled tasty, Rose was off raiding the library for her two bags of books, and I was wishing there was a way to take the chair from the study with us.

To help get my mind off of the pleasantly plush plot pillow, I turned my Pipbuck's radio on, but got nothing but static and an annoyed look from Ibis, so instead I pulled out the journal and, sprawling out on my bedroll, flicked it open to an early page.

The writing was messy, like it was done by a foal.

-Father has given me this journal to record my thoughts. He says it is the Blackhoof way, to remember the things most important to us. I wonder what he means?

I skipped ahead a few pages.

-The swamplights were crying again last night. I could hardly sleep for the noise. Father has been quite coarse with the servants all day.

The next bunch of pages were just talking about life in the manor, so I kept flipping through before stopping on a random page. The writing was much neater, but still scratchy.

-Today I asked one of the servants to take me into town. They will take me, but only if Father gives me his permission. Father said yes, provided we return before dark.

-The town was not as I imagined it. The donkeys and ponies there seemed to be afraid of me, and few would deal with me directly. Had I not gone with the servant, I may not have spoken with anypony.

I skipped ahead a few weeks.

-I returned to the town today, accompanied once more by a servant. There was a strange donkey jenny there, who called herself Granny Rags. Such an odd creature. The townsfolk avoided her as they did myself. She gave me a gift, a charm of bone and iron, claiming it would keep me safe. The servant was rather unsettled by it. When Father learned I spoke to this Granny Rags, he became quite irate. I think I shall keep the charm a secret.

"What the hell?!" I exclaimed and, ignoring Ibis' questioning look, I checked the date on the journal entry and compared it to my Pipbuck. "What the hell..." I shook my head in disbelief at what I saw.

"What is it?" Ibis asked, sprinkling something into the pot of whatever he was making.

I shook my head again. "This journal's from before the war."

"So?" He raised his eyebrow, somehow not seeing the problem.

"So it's talking about Granny Rags!" I tossed my hooves up, letting the book fall onto my bedroll.

"Must be a different Granny Rags. Donkeys don't live that long," He said, shrugging.

"She gave this Blackhoof pony a charm like the ones she gave us!" I glared at him. He just shrugged and went back to making dinner, so I huffed and picked the book up again, going to the next entry, a few days on.

-Father has not been sleeping well. He claims the swamplights are keeping him from his rest these past few days. The servants, too, seem restless. I have not heard them, and Father must have thought me to be mad when I said as such. How strange.

When the next few pages were just going on about the day-to-day life of the manor again, I flipped ahead to an entry dated a few weeks later.

-I heard the swamplights again last night. I had forgotten how terrible their cries are. But why now? Why can I hear them again, when for so long the nights were silent?

The next entry was dated the next day.

-It is the charm Granny Rags has given me. It keeps the swamplights at bay. I had left it in the library when I retired from my studies, and in its absence I could hear their cries. Thankfully, Father rarely leaves his office these days, and I was able to retrieve it before it could be discovered. With the charm once more in my posession, my rest last night was unbroken.

I flicked ahead a bunch of pages, the next interesting looking entry set several months later.

-Today, Father left his study for the first time in almost a week. He seemed so tired, as though he had not slept in days. Have the swamplights become so bad? The servants do not seem to be so affected, and claim that the nights are near silent at times. I am glad for my charm's protection.

The next entry was dated a few days after.

-Father has become quite unbearable. He barely sleeps and has taken to stalking the halls at night, speaking to himself. He watches the servants with suspicion and often refuses to eat the meals they prepare.

The following entry was almost a week later.

-Father's fits are becoming worse. He has ordered all of the windows shuttered and the doors locked, claiming the swamplights are calling him. The servants are frightened.

A few days went by before there was another entry.

-I have heard the servants whispering. They are planning to leave. I begged them to remain, to continue caring for Father, but to no avail.

The next dates were a month later, set just days apart.

-The last of the servants has fled. I believe they went to the town, but I dare not leave Father alone. He seems so frail, so tired.

-Father did not recognise me today. I found him in the inner courtyard, confused and speaking to himself. I returned him to his office, though he believed me to be a servant.

-I was awoken by Father's cries last night. "Can't you hear them?" he demanded when I checked on him, "Can't you hear their cries?" I acted as though I did, though it did little to pacify him. I am afraid to part with my charm, and keep it on my person at all times.

-I no longer recognise the creature that is my Father. He wanders the halls at all hours, raving like a madbeast, peering out from between the shutters of the windows as though afraid. He has not eaten nor slept in days. I fear for him, and for my own wellbeing.

-My charm is gone, shattered. Like a fool, I left it in my study this morning, and when I went to retrieve it I found my father standing over its remains. I have never seen his eyes so filled with rage as they were in that moment. He screamed at me, demanding I tell him where I found such a thing and spitting such foul curses I could scarcely believe it. He would likely have continued, perhaps even struck me in his madness, had he not suddenly fallen into a stupor from which I could not awaken him.

-Father remains unresponsive. I have placed him in his quarters and locked the door. As I sit here in my study writing this, the shattered remains of my charm lay upon my desk before me. I am filled with dread. Already, I can hear the cries of the swamplights, faint though they may be.

There was a gap of almost a month before it picked up again, the writing shaky.

-Father is gone. The cries of the swamplights were louder than I could remember them ever being, a horrific cacophony that tore at my mind as I tried to rest. Through the din I heard the sounds of banging and shrieking coming from Father's room, but when I went to check I found only an empty room, the door broken open from the inside. His wailing drew me to the front hall, where I saw him for the first time in days. He was no longer my Father, that gaunt, wild-eyed beast that howled and raved, driven to madness by the cries of the swamplights. I could but watch, helpless, as he cast open the door of our home and fled into the night. I am afraid. The locks and shutters seem so fragile compared to why lives beyond these grounds.

A few blank pages went by before I reached the next entry, dated months later.

-I found myself in the inner courtyard today. I have no memory of going there, nor the days before. I have not slept well in some time, the days and hours lost in the haze of the swamplight's incessant cries. I fear I will meet my end as Father did.

The following pages were almost unreadable, messy scrawls and splatters of ink, but I eventually found another entry I could make out.

-My wanderings took me to Father's office last night. As usual, I remember nothing of nocturnal activities, but when I awoke I was staring at Father's desk. On it was Father's journal. I don't know where I found it, nor why I had taken it from its place. Perhaps there are answers to be found within.

Surprisingly, the very next entry was actually legible.

-The Blackhoof clan is cursed. Father knew, and he said nothing, but his journal revealed everything. It is this curse that draws the swamplights to us, that causes their cries to send us mad. There must be a way to break the curse. I will not meet my Father's fate.

Urgently, I flipped through, trying to find the next entry that I could actually read. By my guess, it had to have been weeks worth of entries, the paper stained and torn, covered with nonsense scrawling, before I found something that was clear.

-I have lost all hope. As I write this, I have found myself once more in the inner courtyard, with no memory of coming here. The is no way to break the curse. Father's journal was clear on this, that generations of our family have tried and failed. Perhaps Granny Rags, that strange old donkey, could help, but I can no longer bear to leave the house. Even in my fits, my wanderings keep me here, in the depths of the manor, where the cries of the swamplights are not so clear. Here, beneath the night sky, my mind is clear for the first time in so long. I will enjoy this clarity for as long as it lasts.

-A shooting star has just passed overhead.Though I feel like a fool for believing in superstitions of the sort, I could not help but wish for the knowledge to end this curse.

The rest of the pages were blank, and I almost tore a few of them as I flicked through, searching for something, anything. Finally, on the last page, there was the most clear piece of writing I'd come across in a while.

-Those long months ago, I made a foolish wish for knowledge. If I knew then what I know now, that She was listening, I would have kept my silence and gone quietly into madness. My wish was granted, and now I know things I was never meant to. I know from whence our curse came, the cruel fate of those taken by the swamplights, and so much more. Through this knowledge I have broken the curse and silenced the cries of the swamplights in my ears. They cry even now, wails in the night, but no longer am I doomed to madness from the sound.

Yet, I have traded one curse for another.

She is Desire, offering what one desires most. In return, one bears Her mark and, for so long as one lives within Her shadow, She draws strength from it. She is not alone, for many of Her kind walk this world.

They are the directors of our fates, dropping flakes of ash on our heads from the low heavens. They remain hidden from us until we look Them straight in Their cunning eyes. Then, having lost Their disguise, They obtain flesh and become a part of the world They see as Their toy.

She is laughing as I write this. She asks who I am writing for. I tell her I am writing for myself, that I may not forget all I have learned from Her. It amuses Her, my small act of defiance, as though I were but a piece in Her game.

But for all of Their power, They are not all-knowing. Things can be hidden, or escape Their notice. The future is not set in stone, nor are our fates entirely Theirs to command. We are not mere puppets, to dance upon Their strings. All I know, all I have learned from Her, I have recorded. They can be harmed, perhaps even brought to an end.

Not by myself, however. Were I to try, all that I know would be lost, leaving me once more vulnerable to the curse. She has said as such, yet She does nothing to stop me from recording such knowledge that others may find it. Hers is a cruel mercy.

Still, I am defiant. I know there is a way to escape Her grasp. She knows that I know, and She waits to see if I will truly try.

Let this be my final confession, and my warning to those who may find this journal. Do not wish upon a falling star. She may be listening.

That was it. The last page in the journal. There was nothing left after that, and it gave me the creeps.

I tucked the journal back into my bag, next to the mysterious book we'd been sent to find, and just stared into the fire. It felt like I was missing something, something obvious, but my mind was too jumbled with what I'd just read to put the pieces together.

Fortunately, Ibis chose that moment to put a bowl of savory smelling stew in front of me. "Food's up."

Blinking, I shook my head to clear the confusion and lifted the bowl in my magic. Creepy old mysteries, curses, it was all above my paygrade. I was a caravaneer, dammit! Sighing, I shoved my muzzle in the bowl, slurping and chewing. "'ish good," I said, my mouth full. "Wha' ish it?"

"Snake stew." Ibis poured another bowl full and set it to one side for Rose, then dished up his own.

I froze, gravy running down my chin. "Snake... stew?" The big griffin nodded. Now I knew what had happened to the rest of the snake he'd found. Taking a deep breath, I let it out slowly before plunging my face back into the bowl. It may have been griffin leftovers, but it was still pretty good.

"So, you find anything out?" Ibis asked as he dug into his own bowl of stew.

I shook my head. "Nothing I can make sense of." Sighing, I got a mouthful of meat and chewed slowly, thinking it over. "Sounds like that other book has a lot of info in it."

"Why not read it, then?"

"Because Rose made me promise not to."

He quirked his eyebrow at me. "You could read it now. I don't think she'd know."

"Lily, are you going to read that book?" Me and Ibis both leapt into the air, almost having heart attacks when Rose spoke up. We hadn't even noticed her come in! She frowned at me. "You promised not to."

Trying to breathe past the chunk of meat I'd started choking on when Rose snuck in, I flailed around for a few seconds before grabbing a bottle of soda from my bag and chugging it down.

When it was empty I dropped it and gasped for air, glaring at Rose for scaring me. "I know, Rose! That's why I'm not reading it! And don't fucking scare me like that!"

Rose blinked at me and trotted over, dropping two bulging bags filled with books beside her bedroll, and another bag filled with dusty bottles of booze from the bar. "It's not nice to break promises, Lily."

I scowled at her. "I wasn't gonna read it!"

She just blinked at me again and looked to Ibis. "What are we eating?"

"Snake stew." The big griffin shoved Rose's bowl over to my sister, who immediately dipped her head to it and took a tentative bite. "What do you think?"

She chewed thoughtfully for a few seconds, then blinked and gave Ibis a kiss on his big beak. "It's tasty. Thank you, Ibis"

While Ibis fluffed himself up, looking pleased with himself, I settled back down and grumbled to myself before chowing down again. It was going to be a long night.

Late morning the next day, we were back at the dock. We'd gotten out of the house and through the swamp with no problem, and now we just had to contact Coffin Nail.

"We just throw that in the water?" Ibis asked, giving the shiny seashell, held in my magic, a sceptical look.

I just shrugged. "That's what he said. Well, here goes nothing." I tossed the shell out into the middle of the river, and it vanished with a plop.

We waited for a few seconds before Ibis spoke up again. "And nothing's happening. Did he seriously tell you to just throw it in the river?"

I nodded. "Um, yeah." I thought about it for a second. "He said I had to throw it in, and give him a 'shoo-bee-doo', whatever that is-"

"Shoo bee doo, shoo shoo bee doo!"

We all leapt up, practically having a heart attack when a mare's voice echoed out across the water. "What the fuck was that?!" I stared at Ibis and Rose, who were looking around frantically.

Suddenly, Rose darted to the side of the dock, looking into the water with wide eyes. "Lily!" She cried out, delight plain on her face. "There's a seapony!"

"Rose! Seaponies... aren't... real..." I started to yell at her, but trailed off when a real, honest-to-Celestia seapony leapt out of the water, did a flip while shooting me a cheeky grin, and vanished back into the depths with a loud splash.

My brain kind stopped working then. I was fine with most wierd crap, but I drew the line at mythical creatures.

The next thing I knew, somepony was poking my side and I jolted back to alertness, looking around in surprise only to see that Coffin Nail was poking me with a wide grin on his face. "'bout time you come back to us, Petite. Thought we'd lost you, no?"

"What?!" I gaped, looking around. "When did we get on your boat?!" We were, in fact, on the deck of Coffin Nail's boat, merrily chugging our way down the river. The Serenity was sitting over by the ramp, Ibis was smirking at me, and Rose... Rose was hanging over the edge, talking to the seapony from the dock.

Thankfully, Ibis decided to speak up, so I focused on him instead of the impossible fish horse. "You saw that seapony and freaked out." He snickered. "Rose had to haul you onboard. You were completely out of it."

I glared at him for a few seconds before shaking my head. "Whatever. Coffin Nail, I got that book you wanted and another one you should probably see. We good?" I floated the books out of my bag. Coffin Nail took them with a relaxed grin and a nod.

"We good, Petite." He flicked the mystery book open and scanned it, then frowned. "This ain't so good, Petite. This book, it be hard to read. The words, they don't make no sense. It take time, a long time."

I just groaned and shook my head again. "You seriously can't read it?"

Looking serious for once, Coffin Nail shook his head in response. "No, Petite. Not for a long while." He smiled again. "But you be fine, now. Ol' Coffin Nail, he take you to the coast, let you out safe and sound. Just like we agreed, no?"

I nodded, relieved we were at least still getting our ride all the way out. "Sounds good. How long is it gonna be?"

"A few hours, Petite." Coffin Nail said with a sly grin. "You and yours, you c'n relax. Maybe talk to Chere like your friend, no?"

I glanced over at where Rose was still chatting to her new friend, and shuddered. "No thanks. I'm fine."

"Suit yourself, Petite." Coffin Nail chuckled before trotting off towards the cabin. "Suit yourself."

Ibis smirked at me. "Scared of seaponies, Lily?"

"Fuck off." I glared at the overgrown buzzard. "If you need me, I'll be in the Serenity." With that, I stomped off towards the wagon, set on stealing a bottle of booze from Rose's stash. Ibis just laughed at me and wandered over to talk to Rose.

It was gonna be a long trip.

A few hours later, we were back on safe, dry, seapony-free ground on the coast outside the swamp.

We all waved our goodbyes to Coffin Nail as he sailed back towards the river, grinning at us as he waved back. When he was gone, we got Rose back into the wagon's traces, took our seats and set off, finally on the road home.

Who knew that a delivery job could turn into such an adventure?

Author's Note:

Where did all these words come from?!:twilightoops:
Well, that was an adventure. Lots of thought-provoking stuff this chapter. I wonder who'll figure things out from it.:raritywink:

In the course of writing this chapter, I sliced my thumb open on a tin (delaying the chapter by the better part of a week and maybe getting a scar; it's still healing), and managed to catch one of the last screenings of Mad Max Fury Road in my area (midnight showing, which just made the movie that much more awesome). Yep. I've been busy. That's the reason this chapter took so long, not because I was lazy or anything.:derpytongue2: