• Published 27th Feb 2013
  • 7,282 Views, 765 Comments

Fallout: Equestria - The Hooves of Fate - Sprocket Doggingsworth



A young filly in present day Ponyville is cursed with nightmares of post-apocalyptic Equestria. She finds herself influencing the course of future history in ways that she cannot understand.

  • ...
25
 765
 7,282

Lost Souls

CHAPTER THIRTY-TWO - LOST SOULS
“When you’re down on your luck
and you've lost all your dreams,
There's nothing like a campfire
and a can of beans.” - Tom Waits



I sat on the floor by the fireplace, huddled in blankets, nursing a bowl of lentil soup. I normally hate lentil soup, like really, really, really hate it, but it felt so good to have something hot going down that I honestly didn’t care. Plus this particular lentil soup was different. It had, like, beans, and lemon, and a bunch of Celestia-knows-what mixed in to make it taste, you know, un-terrible.

So I slurped it down and warmed up by the fire. Little by little, my shivers and tremors quieted. My hooves started feeling their tips again. My lungs took to breathing normally again. Being near that blaze was like running up to the sun and giving it a great big friendly hug. So I sat there and enjoyed it. Tried not to think about the fact that such comforts were gonna end any minute now.

‘Cause I had to tell Cranky what had happened. Why I had freaked out. Why I was on the run. Why the whole town hated me. I knew he would never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever ask, but in my heart I knew that I owed Cranky an explanation.

That was the donkey’s name by the way. Cranky.

I could kinda sorta see why the name was fitting. Since he is all gruff and grumbly and stuff. But honestly, I had a hard time thinking of him like that.

‘Cause where would I be without him? What woulda happened to me if Cranky had seen me in trouble, and turned his back and walked away? Like I had done to that pony with the broken wagon earlier?

I’d be tangled up in a bunch of creepy, nasty roots. Freezing to death while I waited for some awful thing or another to come by and eat me. That’s where I’d be.




“I’m almost done!“ Cranky called to me from the kitchen.

“Okay!” I shouted back to him. “Thank you.“

He was brewing up some kinda cold remedy or something out there. And his fiancé, Old Lady Matilda, had headed out the door almost the second I showed up. Rushed to go find my sister and tell her that I was safe. So it turned out that I actually got to be left alone for a little while. Just me and the fire.

It was a big relief.




I took the opportunity to study my surroundings. Learn what I could of this strange new ally of mine. There were a million faded pictures, framed all froo-froo-like, hung just above the mantle and just below a bunch of shelves covered in rustic-looking junk.

The photos had little tape-and-paste marks on the edges, like they had been torn from a scrapbook. All of them were faded snapshots of Matilda and Cranky when they were young. At the gala where they’d met.

The funny thing is, a month ago, I woulda looked at stuff like that and thought of it as impossibly old – some abstract concept from a history book.

But I’d actually been to the future. I had met soldiers from hundreds of years ahead who didn’t even know the story of Hearth’s Warming. But they knew Sweetie Belle’s holiday carols! I had tangled with a priestess in Trottica who had, by some miracle or another, been able to quote philosophy from books written hundreds of years before I was even born. Stuff I hadn’t heard of!

It got me thinking. About the artifacts we leave behind. The legacies. It seemed almost random. What information survived. What got gobbled up by time.

I couldn’t help but wonder. Would anything of mine would be left behind after the bomb fell? Would any part of me be worth remembering? Would anypony in the future be able to make sense of my life if they found my tokens? My memories? A tail hair. A pink pocket watch. A fragment of a twig.

‘Cause my stuff wasn’t like Matilda’s photos, all froo-froo framed and easy to understand. It was more like Cranky’s statuettes, and ornaments, and knickknacks littering the shelves above. Grungy old tokens from journeys nopony knew a damn thing about.

I finished up my soup and wrapped myself up in my blanket like a burrito. Sat there contemplating Cranky’s Wall O’ Mystery, wondering where it had all come from. What it all meant to him. It put me in a trance of sorts.

At least ‘till Cranky appeared. He had a small pot gripped between his teeth. When he got to the fireplace, he slid its long handle carefully over one of the many hooks he had rigged near the fire. Then he swung the pot around ‘till it was over the flames.

“An old Travelers’ remedy I picked up.” He turned to me and said. “If this don’t clear out yer chest, and warm up your bones, chances are good you’re already dead.” He chuckled.

I gave him a polite smile in return. Then I got all moody and went back to staring into the fire while I worked up the nerve to fess up to him.

This is it. I thought. No more stalling. Do the thing!

I took a moment to summon my courage. Focused on the flames. So pretty. So angry. So serene. Then I sighed, took a deep breath, and got on with the truth-ening I had to do.

“I attacked a little girl.” I said, never taking my eyes off the fire. “I didn’t mean to. The musical number just got so outta control, and the kids started playing at war, and it reminded me of, well, it…”

I stopped. Censored myself. Even as I poured my heart out. ‘Cause I couldn’t just go and tell Cranky what I’d actually been reminded of. Couldn’t open up about the trenches, or No Mare’s Land, or the Battle for the Crystal Door. It was all too crazy.

Plus, Foster, Cliff, Roseluck, and me had all made a pact! None of us could talk about the future. No. Matter. What.

It didn’t matter that I was dying to spill the beans, or that holding on to all those beans made me feel like my heart was exploding with beans! I couldn’t speak a word of it, which made my confession a hell of a lot harder.

“It reminded me...of, uh...bad things that happened once.” I stammered. “Again, I didn’t mean to do it, I swear! But we started tumbling down this hill, and the next thing I know…”

I stopped. Caught my breath. Stared at the ground as the crackles of the fire punctuated our silence.

“I almost stomped her face in.” I said at last. “I almost…”

Suddenly, I felt Cranky’s hoof on my back. I sniffled, looked up at him. He had kind eyes, but not the type to lie and tell you that everything was gonna be alright when it wasn’t.

“I’m so sorry.” I whispered.

“I can see that. But I ain’t the one you got to tell that to, kid.“ He said.

“I know.” I laughed and sniffled. Looked at the fire some more. “You’re like, the only one I don’t owe an apology to.”

I chuckled.

“Rose.” His voice dropped to a stern whisper, all concernitty-like. “Look at me.”

My eyes met his.

“You’ve got an apology to make. A big one.” He raised a hoof emphatically. “To that little girl, and her family.”

I turned away in shame, but he thrust his hoof under my head and lifted my chin.

“But you don’t owe a damn thing to the rest of the town. You understand me, kid?”

I shook my head. I got that Cranky was trying to help, but it still felt wrong. He hadn’t seen the looks on all those faces. The shock. The disillusionment. The horror.

“Everypony hates me.” I replied,

I don’t hate you, kid.”

“That’s different.”

“Your sister don’t hate you either.”

I laughed nervously. “Well actually, we kinda had a giant fight riiiiiiight before I left the house.”

“And she hates you now.”

“Maybe.”

The flames popped and crackled some more while I sat there sulking.

“Alright.” The donkey said. “You know her better’n I do. Maybe you’re right. Maybe your sister does hate you. Maybe she’ll hate you forever. What do I know?”

“No!” I turned to him and protested. “She’s not like that!”

“Make up your mind, kid. Does she hate you or not?”

I sighed. “I guess she doesn’t.” I muttered, honestly a little stunned at the realization.

“Well, ain’t that a relief.” He replied. “Now, lemme ask you something. Listen close ‘cause this is important.” He leaned in and whispered. “That mare who gave you the evil eye out there. Do you have any idea who that was?”

I shook my head.

“Me neither.” He snorted. “So you tell me, kid. Who's more important? Your sister, or some mare you don’t even know?”

“My sister.” I grumbled.

Cranky was right. But in that grown-up way that doesn’t actually help. ‘Cause knowing that he was right - knowing that the opinions of strangers doesn’t matter - doesn’t make dealing with them any easier.

“What about Kettle Corn?” I asked grimly.

“Sorry, kid. Haven’t got any.“

“No, the girl. The one I attacked. Her name’s Kettle Corn.”

“Oh.”

“She’s...like, the one pony I’m afraid to apologize to.“

“But’cha gotta.” He said.

“I know.” I whimpered. “But, like, what if she doesn’t wanna hear it? What if she doesn’t forgive me? What if she hates me?”

“Could you blame her if she did?” Cranky asked.

My heart skipped a beat. Cranky’s bluntness was like a buck to the chest.

“No,” I hung my head. “I guess not.”

“If you make a sincere apology, and she still hates you, well then that’s that. It ain’t about making friends, kid. It’s about doing the right thing.”

“You have to give it a try.” I said solemnly to myself, Pinkie Pie’s words escaping my lips.

“Pretty much.”

Cranky got up, stretched his back and groaned. Once all of his bones had cracked and popped loudly into place, he leaned over to the fire, gripped an iron lever, and swung his pot away from the flames. It smelled like lemon, and ginger, and echinacea, and some other stuff I couldn’t quite place.

“Gimme a minute, kid.” Cranky clapped my back, and moseyed over to the kitchen. He took his sweet time, leaving the pot on the stone floor to cool.

When he finally did return, he had a bottle with him. He set it down on the floor. Popped the lid off with his teeth, and dumped a few splashes inside. It smelled like Great Aunt Roseroot’s secret cabinet. Carefully, he dipped a ladle into the pot, and poured some steaming yellowish stuff into a cup.

“Drink up, kid.” He said as he slid the mug across the floor.

I sniffed it. Sipped it. Then, having determined that the remedy was neither lava nor poison, grabbed the mug with both forehooves and got to work. It was really, really weird tasting. Not bad. Not exactly. Just weird. My chest warmed when I drank it. And the echinacea rose up the back of my throat like a breath of minty air. Already I could feel my nostrils starting to clear.

“I think it’s working,” I said. “Thanks!”

I peered over the brim of the cup to Cranky, expecting a smile or a nod. But he didn’t look so good. His irises had shrunk to the size of pinpoints and his face was losing color.

“W-what is it?” I said, spilling hot remedy on my hooves as I hurried to lower my mug to the floor.

Cranky didn’t answer me. Just followed my evil hoof with his eyes. The hoof that looked like frostbite.

Fuck.

I hid it instinctively. Buried my whole leg in blankets again like a dirty little secret. But I wasn’t fooling anypony. Cranky’s face had already turned flour-white. His haunted eyes were welling up with tears.

It was then that I realized that he wasn’t merely worried about frostbite, or freaked out at the sight of me.

“You know what this is.” I said, whipping the hoof out again.

He faltered. Leaned up against the stone mantle for support.

He didn’t answer my question directly, ‘cause he was too busy sucking in raspy, shallow breaths. But it was super fucking obvious that he at least had some idea.

“You know what this is.” I said again, waving my hoof in front of him. “You've seen it before?”

“No,” he let out a raspy whisper. “No.”

I couldn't tell if he was answering my question or babbling to himself. Either way, he was starting to scare me.

“Cranky!” I snapped.

And then the old guy finally quit staring at my evil hoof, and looked me square in the eye. When he did, every wrinkle - every line on his jowly donkey face - twisted into a portrait of sadness. Defeat. Like a wax statue melting.

“It was you.“ He said at last.

“What?!” My heart sunk into my belly.

What the hell did he mean “it was me”? What did I do? What didn’t I do? Sweet Celestia, had something heinous happened? What if it was my fault?!

“The blizzard.” Cranky rose to his hooves. “It was you they came for.”

“Oh,” I laughed, partly out of embarrassment, partly relief. “Kinda.”

I lowered my head. Tried to hide my dark hoof under the blanket again, but Cranky drew in closer. Grabbed me by the shoulder. Looked me up and down, and all over, as though he were expecting to find a great big gaping hole in me or something.

“You got away.“ He said.

I patted my own chest. To make sure I was real.

“Well, yeah.” I replied.

Without warning, Cranky threw his forelegs around me. Hugged and squeezed me real tight. But it wasn’t like before, where he was a rock for me to lean on. If anything, his obvious fucking terror made the whole thing worse.

I could feel how fast and how hard his heart was pounding. He held me for a long time. So long that it started to get awkward. But I let him. ‘Cause he obviously needed to.

“So that’s why you panicked and attacked that girl.” He broke away from the hug, all-of-a-sudden-like. Took a step back. “You were upset. Because of...”

Cranky gestured at my evil hoof, unable to conjure the words for whatever it was he was trying to say.

“What, this? No.“ I scoffed. “I was mad ‘cause my sister threw out all my tea.”

“Tea?”

What I’d said had made so little sense to Cranky, that it snapped him out of his daze.

“I’ve had this for like, over a week.” I laughed. Held up my evil hoof. I hadn’t really thought about it ‘till just that moment, but I’d actually long gotten over the shock of having a cursed hoof. It was something I sorta took for granted. In fact, I relied upon it. To get bone cold and tell me whenever those inky clitweasels were near.

“You mean to tell me you been walkin’ around on a shadow hoof for a week, and it was tea that tipped you over the edge?” He said, sounding a little like his curmudgeonly old self again.

I could have corrected him about the walking around part - told him that I had eaten so much sleepy tea that I'd almost died. That I’d spent over a week in the hospital, dealing with two other shadow refugees - a changeling, and a mare who thought she was a dog.

But that was a mouthful.

“Yeah.” I said. “It was my tea.”

And surprisingly enough, he nodded in understanding.

“Now please, tell me. What do you know about them?” I was done beating around the bush.

“Not much, kid.” He sighed. “And I’ll teach you what I do know. I promise.” He clapped his hoof on my shoulder. I braced myself to get hugged again, but instead, Cranky swept past me. Made straight for the window.

“But first I've got to take some precautions.”

Cranky flung the curtains closed and peeked through a crack he made in between them. Glowered at what he saw on the other side - the snow that should not have been.

“Everything okay?”

“Yeah,” he said dryly. Then he let the curtains fall shut, and darted over to the fireplace faster than I would have thought possible. He readied a fresh log, and carefully maneuvered it into the fire with a poker.

“Can't have a shadow talk in front of dying embers.” He mumbled, teeth full of cast iron poker. “Bad luck.”

A few prods later, and he was ready. His back was to me. So he didn't know that I could see, but the sigh he let out was so heavy, you’d’ve thought his back had a dozen anvils on it.

He was working up the nerve to give me the shadow talk, as he'd put it.

“Okay, kid.” He spun around, wearing his brave face. “I ain't much of a professor, and there sure ain't no textbook, so I'll be honest, got no idea where to start. But you're the one wrestling with them in the here and the now, so why don't you do an old donkey a favor and tell me what happened? I'll answer your questions as we go. Promise.”

Cranky leaned forward, awaiting my reply. He had tried to sound cool and laid back when he’d asked me, but there was some kinda fear pushing him forward. Had he been sitting on a seat, he'd've been on the edge of it.

“Uh...okay.” I said.

I thought back to the tunnels, the mines of Trottica, the shadow-majig that’d grabbed me, and clawed its way through my memories. For a brief moment, I relived it all in my head. The way I’d told the shadow to fuck off when it’d tried to nom on the only clear memory I have of my mother. The way the castle had taken to hunting me over the days that followed. How it had tricked me and dragged me under its tides of ink and shadow.

I thought of Luna. And Twink. And the candle that had saved me. Colonel Wormwood’s voice echoed inside my brain as I recalled the uphill struggle against the dark currents. “Find your light,” she had said. “And fight like hell to get to it.“

Could I tell any of this to Cranky? At all?! How was I supposed to let him know what’d happened without giving away that the world was gonna end?

We had a pact. Roseluck, Cliff Diver, Bananas Foster and me. And for good reason! Nopony could learn about my trips to the future, or we might screw everything up even worse.

“I, I, I…” I babbled like a foal, as my brain tried desperately to sort out what I was allowed to say and what I wasn't.

“It’s okay, kid.” Cranky knelt down beside me. “You can tell me.”

His reassuring words only made the secret harder to keep.

“I saw them in a dream.“ I said carefully. “The shadows - they messed with my memories. My most fragile ones, and uh...then I was trapped, but I, um...”

Cranky looked to me, all patient and gentle-like. I fucking hated it. It made me feel like total garbage for hiding things from him.

“Then...then, then…” I muttered - cringed - hid from his concernitty gaze 'till I just couldn't take it anymore. “I, I...I friendshipped them all to death! The end.“

Bloink bloink, went Cranky’s bloinkitty eyes.

I cringed. Turned away from him. Squeezed my eyes shut in embarrassment. Stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid stupid!

“You friendshipped them.” He repeated.

“Uh, yeah?”

“To death.” He said dryly.

“Yup.”

Cranky sighed. Rubbed his temples. “You can’t kill the shadows, kid.”

“What?“ I said. Suddenly feeling like the floor had dropped out from under me. I had expected him to raise an eyebrow at the use of ‘friendship’ as a verb. Not to refute my victory. “What do you mean you can’t kill ‘em?”

“They’re us, kid. The sum of our fear. Our guilt. Our hate. Can’t kill it. When there’s life, there’s death. When there’s light, there’s shadow.”

“So what do we do?” I whimpered.

Cranky took a deep breath. Put on his brave face for me again.

“Turn it inside out.“ He said. “The shadows are attracted to your darkness, but they can only hurt you with it if you let them. That’s why Travelers turn their troubles into song.”

“What do you mean Travelers? You keep talking about Travelers.”

“I’m not the only fella in history to take it upon himself to wander, kiddo. World’s full of drifters, and migrants, and sob stories - folks who set out on the road looking for a heart they can call home.”

He spoke as though these were distinct classes of Traveler pony. I didn't quite get what he was talking about, but I got the gist, so I nodded.

“Travelers have a way of finding one another.” He continued. “‘Cause, if in yer ramblings, you can’t snag a roof to lie under, well kiddo, you just gotta pitch a tent.” Cranky crouched down. Lowered his voice to a conspiratorial whisper. His voice sounded like sandpaper. “But it ain’t safe out there alone, you understand what I'm saying?

“So folks come together, and set up campsites. There’s safety in numbers.” Cranky added emphatical-like.

“Safety from…” I shivered.

He nodded. “Shadows are drawn to lost souls. Love to feed on us. Pick us off. We got a lot of fear. A lot of darkness.”

Cranky licked his lips. Stared into the fire. “We’re easy pickens.” He said, his voice now little more than a gravelly rumble and a whisper. “The world doesn't miss us when we’re gone.”

“Is that what I am?” I whispered. “A ‘lost soul’?”

Cranky didn't answer at first. Just let the fire grumble some more in the silence between us as the question hung in the air.

“Dunno, kid.” He replied at last. “Are you?”

I wasn't sure. I looked to the fire for answers, but it wasn’t sure either.

The thing is, I had come really, really, really, close to running away from home. If I'd survived the sidetrack roots by magic or by fate, and if Zecora had turned out not to have any answers, I don't think I'd’ve been able to face the town again.

Or even my sister.

Just look at the vagrants that Cranky talked about! They’d fallen out of the song, they’d fallen prey to shadows on the road. They slept on the ground, and had no place to call home. That could have been me!

The very idea was a shock. I’d spent so much time getting thinky about the collapse of civilization - reading about it in Banana’s Foster's books; talking about it with Princess Luna; even watching it happen in my dreams - but I had never stopped to think that there might be able-bodied folks in the here-and-now who were closed off from it in the first place.

Outsiders looking in.

All it takes for anypony to end up like that is one really, really, reeeeeally bad day.




“Maybe.” I answered at last. “Maybe only half lost.” I put my empty mug down, and looked Cranky in the eye. “Thanks.” I added.

The ghost of a smile formed under the folds of his jowls. It was a warm smile. But it only lasted a moment. His eye accidentally strayed to my evil hoof again, and his lips tightened at the sight.

This doesn't happen a lot,” I said, raising my hoof. “Does it?”

“I don't know.” He turned, and hid his eyes behind those floppy donkey ears of his.

I realized then that he'd never actually answered my initial question.

“You have seen this before, though, right?” I pressed in closer, practically shoving the hoof in his face. “Cranky, please, answer me.”

Cranky snuck a peek at me from behind his dangling ear. Sighed. “Yeah,” he said. “Once.”

“What happened?” I asked meekly.

His fear of the subject was starting to genuinely unnerve me. He was so candid about everything else.

“Her name was Daisy Belle," he replied. "And she was a regular at The Campsites. I didn’t know her personally. She was before my time. But to hear Old Mare McColt tell it, she used to be the kind of pony who could light up the night with her smile. You see, kid, Daisy Belle wasn’t like the rest of us ‘sad sacks’.” Again, Cranky used the term sad sack like it was a specific class of drifter. “Daisy Belle wandered ‘cause she was a clown in search of a circus.”

“A clown?”

“Yeah, but I don’t really know the details of it, kid. Some say she got thrown out of the circus - blacklisted for doing some horrific misdeed or another. Some say she had never been in a circus to begin with - that she was just starting out, trying to catch a break. Most don’t say anything at all, ‘cause, well, her clowning wasn’t really what she came to be known for, you know what I’m saying kid?”

I nodded solemnly.

“Point is, one day, a nasty blizzard showed up unannounced, and she disappeared into the night like so many others before her. The whole community was heartbroken over it. Everypony loved that girl, and everypony knew there was no point in hoping.” Cranky shook his head. “What the shadows take, they keep. That’s what we used to say.”

“But not Daisy Belle.” I interrupted.

Cranky shook his head. “She shows up eleven years later in a camp on the outskirts of Fillydelphia. Looking as young as the night she'd disappeared.”

“Okay.” I said. I was able to accept it casually. I’d seen weirder.

“Except she wasn't the same.” He paused to grab the poker with his teeth and prod at the log.

“Shadow hoof.” I said.

“Mmmmore than that.” Cranky mumbled with his mouthful as he used his teeth to maneuver the poker back on its rack. “Shadow heart.” He continued. “To hear Old Mare McColt tell it, the girl never smiled. Never clowned. And yeah, she was marked.”

Cranky pointed at my evil hoof with his nose. I held it up and re-examined it. I had never thought of my bad hoof as being “marked” before, but then again, I didn't know what the hell Cranky was talking about.

“But you don’t know any of that for sure.“ I said. “You just, kinda, you know..heard it.”

“No." Cranky said gravely. "I met Daisy Belle once. A long time ago. When she was old, and I was young. Believe me, that poor mare was haunted.”

“Oh.” I replied. Unsure if that made matters better or worse.

“Listen, kid." Cranky knelt down beside me with a groan. "Daisy Belle may sound like a campfire story, and that’s probably my fault. It’s been so long, I don’t know how to tell it any other way. But here’s the bonafide objective truth – that hoof of hers saved us.”

“It did?”

Zebro, (or whatever the fuck his name was) back in No Mare’s Land had told me that the shadows would come for me because of my hoof. That it could be weaponized against them. That it had them running scared.

“She used that hoof for playing the blues.” Cranky mused. “The old Daisy had no discernible talent for music. Her skills had been in tumbling, and juggling, and comedy, and magic tricks. But after she came back, Daisy Belle sang like her heart was on fire. And she was like a force of nature with that guitar! Her evil hoof bent those strings hard against the fretboard like they owed her money.”

I looked down at my own leg. Wondered if hidden under those inky veins and patches of darkness black as pitch was a secret magic - the kind that could grant me the power to totally shred on the guitar.

“What does that have to do with--;”

“She sang songs about the shadows, kid. Put words to what none of us dared to say out loud.”

“Bad luck?” I asked, remembering all the crazy paranoia and superstition stuff Cranky had put himself through before working up the nerve to get this shadow talk started.

“That’s the thing,“ he said. “As it turns out, it wasn't bad luck at all. When we turned them into song, our nightmares didn’t have power over us anymore. Sure, Travelers always used music to ward off evil spirits at night. Banging on barrels, and plucking on shoe box guitars. It's our tradition. Our way of staying relevant. Of feeling connected to the song, (since so many of us had fallen out of musical numbers, like you and me).”

Cranky leaned up against me with a wink and a nudge.

“Daisy took her sorrow, and sucked ours up too. She conjured the fear and the sadness of the whole damn world, and she turned it into music. And once she did that,”

Clop! Cranky clapped his forehooves together, all emphatical-like. “It became joy.”

“You can’t kill a shadow, kid. But you can change the shadow in you. Put it to work. Make it so it can’t hurt you anymore. So it can’t hurt anypony.”

“Find your light,” I said out of nowhere. “And fight like hell to get to it.“

Cranky cocked his head like a parrot. I had to try really, really hard not to laugh, as his wig slid sideways along his head, and his ears drooped sloppily about his face.

“I like that.” He said. “You’re a smart kid.”

“Actually, it was Colonel Wormwood.“ I replied, and as the words left my mouth, I realized just how un-smart a kid I actually was. I was stupid - bone fucking stupid. ‘Cause my proclamation begged a question I didn't want to answer:

“Who’s Colonel Wormwood?” Cranky looked at me expectantly.

“Umm, uhhh...one of the ponies I told you about.“ I said, all awkward and stupid-like. “…You know, in my dreams.“

Cranky licked his lips. “Well, it’s a smart thing for this Wormwood pony to say.…In your dreams.“ He corrected himself. Though both he and I knew that I was holding back on that part of my story. But I didn’t care about my part of the story. I already knew my part of the story!

“What happened to Daisy Belle?“ I said.

Cranky wiped a drop of sweat from his forehead.

“Well, uh, she helped us all. That's for sure.“

“Yeah, but what happened with her hoof?“ I pressed him. Looked him square in the eye. He was starting to get avoidy.

“Well, gee,” he sighed at last. “To be honest with you, kid, it got bad. Real bad. The darkness spread. Swallowed up her leg, moved up her back, and face, and neck. By the time I met Daisy Belle, you could barely see her at all. She just seemed to recede. Like she was a part of the shadows in some dark corner.

“In the end, it spread to her heart.”

Cranky sighed. Looked away. “No one knows what happened after that. To be honest, kid, I think the shadows took her back.”

“Oh.” I said.

I looked down at my hoof. Watched the fire dance around and bounce off the cream-colored fur above my knee. It seemed to flicker and turn warm shades of amber and pale marigold. Like a normal, healthy leg.

But not the shadow bits below. My bad hoof swallowed the light right up.

It made me hate the damn thing all over again. Why couldn't it be normal? Why couldn't I be normal? Was I destined to fade away like Daisy Belle? Were the inky parts spreading up the leg? I couldn't even tell! It had been less than two weeks. But what if it did start spreading?! What was i gonna do?

The thought of it drove me crazy.

All this time - ever since I’d first started having the dreams - I had been able to cope with the Apocalypse, with the war, with my own impendy death. ‘Cause even as I fought against it, and struggled to change the world, that doomsday countdown was still a long, long, looong way off. It’d never occurred to me that my escape from the shadows might just be borrowed time - that there were clocks on me - that my victories against them might only be prolonging something horrific and inevitable.

“Dont mean its gonna happen to you, kid.” Cranky reassured me out of the blue.

The suddenness of his words snapped me out of my funk. I quit my internal rambling, and looked up at the old donkey. Remembered where I was. What I was doing.

“How do you know that?” I asked.

“I don't.” He shook his head grimly.

* * *

The two of us sat and watched the log burn. Just watched. There was a lot running through my mind. But I didn't have to think about it. As long as I kept staring at that log. Cranky leaned a hoof on my shoulder, and together, we watched it blaze and crumble, and pop.

“So what do I do?” I asked quietly, almost to myself.

“You still wanna see that zebra witch?” Cranky asked in a dry, monotone voice.

I looked over to him. He had kind eyes. But they looked worn down and exhausted.

“‘Cause, uh...I can get you there.” He popped the cork off that bottle that smelt like wood varnish, gripped the whole thing with his teeth, and took a swig.

“Yeah," I nodded. "Let's do that.”

“Good,” he replied.

And once he set the bottle down, out of the way, I leaned my head under his.

“But please, not today.” I added.

“Mmm.” Cranky grunted in agreement. “Tomorrow it is, kiddo.”

And then, together we watched in silence as the log slowly burned and crumbled into ash.

Author's Note:

SPECIAL THANKS: First of all, I would like to thank Seraphem as always for his tireless assistance providing feedback during the editing process, and Kkat for writing the original Fallout: Equestria story that inspired me to write Hooves of Fate in the first place.

SUPPORT: Hooves of Fate is a labor of love. However, I also have mouths to feed. If this story, or my Heart Full of Pony essays have touched you in any way, and you can manage to spare a few bits, I'd very much appreciate your support on Patreon.
https://www.patreon.com/sprocketwriting

If you can't, no pressure. For those of you who already are pledging, seriously, and for real, thank you. Your support makes a difference, and it means a great deal to me. /]*[\

As a special thank you to all of my patrons, I'm starting a Patreon exclusive blog, Behind the Hooves of Fate, where I share stories about the development of HoF, the inspiration, talk about writing, and share some real life anecdotes that inspired events in HoF.

Join our Patreon to remove these adverts!
Join our Patreon to remove these adverts!