• 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.

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Chosen

CHAPTER THIRTY-NINE - CHOSEN
“You have been chosen, and you must therefore use such strength and heart and wits as you have.” - J.R.R. Tolkien




Zecora started with candles. Big ones. The kind that seem to melt and droop right off their wicks. Then she took their fire and used it to burn a little bundle of herbs - the kind that don't smell like filthy socks - and waved little mouthfuls of
burning leaves around, trailing smoke around the room all zig-zaggy, before it quietly dissipated upward.

But the room didn't get foggy. Not like it should've. If anything, the air grew clearer. Like a camera lens shifting focus, the tree's natural earth tones grew sharper. Brighter. Bolder.

Beyond that, I can't really explain what was happening. Not in terms of what I saw. 'Cause technically, it all looked pretty much, well...the same as before.

But the vibe I got off of her house - the energy that had scared off the forest-eyeballs the second I’d made it to Zecora's clearing - that harmony - that strange clarity that seemed to hang over everything of hers - all of it was louder now.

"What is that stuff?" I asked.

"I'd gladly teach you of my herbal blends," Zecora replied, bundle still gripped between her teeth. "But then we'd talk of plants until the end. / So focus on what we must do today, / Or else our time will quickly fade away."

"Um, ok." I replied. "That sounds reasonable, I guess."

Zecora smiled at me and got back to work spreading smoke around.

"But...uh, like, what does it do?"

The zebra stopped dead in her tracks. Sighed a sigh of exasperating sighness. And set the half-burnt bundle of herbs down in a wooden bowl.

Her teeth now free, Zecora proceeded to fill a mug with some sorta bubbling fluid from the cauldron. And threw a pinch of her own special ingredients into the mix. Something she’d fetched from a clay jar on a high up shelf.

What was actually in her tincture? That was anypony's guess.

It made me think of the sleepy tea back home. How I had swallowed so fucking much of it that I'd knocked myself out for days. How the whole hospital thought I'd been trying to kill myself. And how Roseluck’d had to ditch our family herb pantry just to prove to those assholes that she could be trusted to take care of me.

I had a responsibility to the family not to take any potion that had lingering side effects. Even if it was a miracle cure, I had to be able to shake it off by the time I set hoof in Ponyville. Or folks might get to thinking that I was going crazy all over again.

"Uh...I don't wanna go asking too many questions." I said. "But I don't know if I should be having any, you know, magic tea." I winced, terrified of appearing ungrateful.

Zecora fixed her eyeballs on me. Without saying a word. And sipped softly from the potion she'd just concocted. Then, once it was cool enough, she proceeded to chug the whole thing down. Without ever peeling her eyes from me. Without even blinking!

As if to say, Will you fucking relax already? This potion is for me...Or...something that rhymes, like, um...I dunno.

When she was good and done, Zecora set the mug down gently and said, "While magic teas can open up your mind to other lands, / I’d never feed you what you do not understand. / So if you are to learn from me you must / Relax and try surrendering your trust."

Zecora shook her head. As if to say don't worry about it. And gestured for me to lie down on the floor.

There was a special mat laid out and everything. It was covered in black and red and green and yellow triangles intersecting with one another. Exotic patterns I hadn't seen in any work of pony art before. These weavings were distinctly zebra.

I followed her lead, lay on my back, and looked at the ceiling. I noticed a little hole way up where a branch used to be a long, long time ago. All the smoke and steam from her brew rose straight up there like a chimney, and escaped into the cold winter air.

I wondered how she shielded that little crevice when it rained.

"There are some barriers we must remove." Zecora said softly. "So sleep, and dream and don't forget your hooves."

"My hooves?" I said. "What does that even--;"

Zecora poked her head out and leaned over me. From where I lay, she looked totally upside down.

"Shh." She said as she kissed my forehead. Stroked my mane. And draped a blanket over me.

I closed my eyes.

By all logic and reason, I shoulda been anxious. Overcome with anticerpation. Plagued by questions. Existential questions. Practical questions. Emotional questions. Shadow questions.

But Zecora managed to put me at ease somehow. Without words. Just shhhhh shhhhh, and an overwhelming feeling of benign intent.

My bones suddenly started remembering exactly how tired they were. From the long walk. From the apology to Kettle Corn. From my freaking out over Bananas Foster’s weird mind control powers, and the ethical quandaries they posed.

Zecora made me feel safe somehow. For the first time in hours. So my bones gave up - quit pretending to be hunky dory. And just plain drifted off to sleep. My head followed soon after.

* * *

Now before you get any crazy ideas, O Book of Magical Stuff that Happened to Me, Zecora wasn't lying. There was nothing in the smoke. Nothing in the tea. She hadn't slipped me any weird herb or nothing to make me slide off into Sleepland and start having visions and stuff.

I was just relaxed. Like a hot bath is relaxing. Or the way incense is relaxing. Especially when you stick the little rod in the eyeball of a cool pirate-skull-shaped coconut that catches all of your incense ashes.

The point is: I drifted off.

And at first, I thought of nothing. ‘Cause there's always a little tiny quiet time you get juuuust before your brain starts running away with itself.

But I didn't get past any further.

Before my dreams could come, I heard a voice echoing in the distance. And my brain stopped to listen rather than slide away into the land of wild and unpredictable brain stories.

“Hello?” I said.

“Mshmblmbeuhm,” it answered. Just a mumble at first. But the words grew clearer as I fought to hear them. Back and forth, and back and forth we went. Me and the voice. The voice and me. Ear wrestling. Until, out of nowhere, I actually heard ponish speech, clear as day.

"Remember your hooves." The voice said.

It was Zecora talking.

“Oh!” I replied with a chuckle. “That's right.”

There are some barriers we must remove." Zecora had told me just before I'd gone to sleep. "So sleep, and dream, and don't forget your hooves."

Obediently, I looked down. And there they were. My hooves.

In dreams everything's a little bit hazy ‘till you look at it closely. So I focused on my hooves. Hard. Like they might run off on their own somehow if I dared to look away.

I studied every nook and every hair of both the good hoof, and the evil one. It made me stop drifting. It made me feel present. Aware!

‘Till suddenly, I smelt the salty sea. I looked up, and found that I was there. On the rocky shores of my dreamscape. That place outside the cave where Princess Luna had walked with me after I'd completed my mission to No Mare's Land.

Zecora was standing beside me this time. Smiling.

"You can do what Princess Luna does?!" I exclaimed.

"No." She replied. “Luna wanders, but is never lost. / She swims along the shores where I’d be surely tossed. / I can travel space and time and dreams / Only if I build a bridge across their seams.”

She stroked my mane, all gentle-like. And suddenly, I understood what she was talking about.

“Touch.” I said. “You were right next to me when I fell asleep! Touching my head was your, um...bridge.”

Zecora nodded. “We all leave traces everywhere we go. / Like hoof prints in the sand or in the snow. / So every rock and stone I touch can be / A portal you can use to follow me. / But better if you sit by me or find / A sweet and precious article of mine.”

She was staring at my chest again. Just like she'd stared back in her tree-hut. It was the pocket watch that had been capturing her attention all this time. The hair. The twig!

“Twink!” I said, holding the little tiny stick of wood up with my teeth. “This is her candle. You gotta build one of those...bridges with it. You gotta take me to see Twink!”

Zecora sighed. Shook her head. The wind blowed in from the ocean and made her mohawk sway.

“Child, I'm sorry but there is no way / To follow those who’ve passed away. / You can zig zag in and out of time, / But those whose lives you've touched, you’ll follow in a line.”

“So, uh...no do-overs either, then, I guess?”

Zecora shook her head somberly.

“Oh.” I said, staring off at the sea as my brain tossed around the implications of what she'd just dropped on me.

No seeing Twink again. No meeting my future self. No seeing Colonel Wormwood when she was a foal just for the fun of it. No going back in time and meeting my Mom.

I hadn't really thought of any of those things as being particularly possible in the first place, but there was a certain finality to finding out that it was totally off the menu.

I clutched the pink pocket watch with my hooves. “What about Misty?” I asked. “He's moving around time and space like me...At least I think he is. If I follow him into the past or future or whatever, the same amount of time will have passed for each of us? Like, I age a year, he ages a year?”

“I'm sure your timelines have become entwined.” She answered. “But I have no idea by whose design. / The two of you should not have shared a quest. / Don't seek him 'till the mystery's at rest.

Aha!’ My brain said to me inside my head. ‘I knew it!’

Even Zecora thought that two time-traveling-quest-type ponies showing up at the same mission was shockingly out of the ordinary. That meant it had to be something special! That it had to be something important! Something that's supposed to happen.

I looked for my answers on the ocean. Watched, all super-excited-like, as the waves crashed against the shore of my dreamscape-brain-rocks. Contemplated everything that Misty's arrival on my mission could possibly mean.

But the ocean was as stupid as I was. No fucking answers. Nothing.

I felt Zecora's hoof rest gently on my shoulder. She was watching the waves with me. Only she was calm and collected.

I reached up with my sandy forehoof and touched hers. It was reassuring to know that she was there. And as we gazed together at the sunlight glistening over my brain-sea like a sheet of polished glass, she leaned over and whispered in my ear.

“There are times to stop and theorize,” she said. “But we have tasks we cannot compromise.”

“Okay,” I said, pulling away, turning to look her square in the eye. “I'm ready."

Zecora smiled back at me.

“Now these primordial shores confine our space,” she said, gesturing at my mind-ocean. “But step outside your head and find a larger place. / To learn what other dream worlds have in store, / You’ll find that every dream will have its do--;”

“Door?” I said. “It's right over there.”

I spun around. Pointed at the cave.

The opening was small, tucked away behind folds and folds of jutting rock, so it woulda been easy to miss had I not already known how to look for it. But it was also out of place - the kinda thing you can't unsee if you try.

Zecora stared at me, jaw wide open.

“What?” I said. “Luna showed me.”

“Oh,” she replied. Then, after a moment of reflection, she said it yet again. “Oh.” A perfect rhyme (technically). Her pause was even in keeping with the meter and rhythm of her usual poem-speech. But it was still odd. Zecora’s awkwardness.

And come to think of it, Princess Luna had been really fucking weird on the subject of zebras too! We had been walking down the path to these exact same dream shores when Luna had let her feelings be known.

Take zebra knowledge with a grain of salt.” Princess Luna had said. “Sometimes their wisdom tends to get bogged down by misconceptions and superstitions...Zebras, while mostly well informed, have also developed some misguided ideas about shadow-evil, particularly in regards to its origins.”

Deep in my bones, I knew that there was something more to this bizarre conflict.




“Zebras don't like Princess Luna.” I said somberly. “Do they?”

The question snapped Zecora out of her little stupor. I could see the light return to her eyes.

“No,” she answered. “Zebras come from very far off lands, / And like you ponies, fear what they misunderstand.”

“But not you.”

Zecora sighed. “I feared her too, to my disgrace, / Until, of course, I met her face-to-face.”

“What?” I recoiled. Furrowed my brow as my brain struggled to keep up.

It seemed so wrong! I couldn't imagine Zecora hating or fearing anyone, let alone Our Glorious Princess. Especially since she herself knew what it was like to be feared.

“I see you wrinkle up obsessively.” Zecora commented on the state of my face. “Tell me, child, do you think less of me?”

“No!” The question hit me like a bucket of ice water. “No! I mean…well…” I stopped. Averted my eyes. Struggled to make sense of my stupid, stupid, feelings.

Ashamed as I was to admit it, in that moment, I kinda did think less of Zecora. Not because she was horrible, but because I was horrible.

For a long time, I had thought of Zecora as sagely and perfect. I'd hitched so many of my hopes upon her like a great big yolk and plow. And of course it wasn't fair. Me and my stupid anticerpation. But I couldn't help myself. I couldn't help feeling disappointed either.

“Well,” I continued stammering. ”It's just sorta...like, I'm surprised, you know?

“I recall one Nightmare Night," Zecora replied. "When you / Were terrified of Princess Luna too.”

“I know.” I whispered, and hung my head in shame. “I have no right to judge. But it's still kinda shocking. You're normally, like...I dunno...super wise and stuff.”

“Ah!” Zecora answered with a laugh. “Wisdom is a slow-evolving song / That you just begin to hear when you admit when you've been wrong.”

“Hmm.” I said. And thought on that. Extra long and hard.

‘Till Zecora broke my concentration. “If I am to teach you,” she continued. “You must / Let me know right now if I have all your trust.”

My eyes quit their stupid averting. Looked right the fuck at her. Zecora was standing over me, awaiting MY reply with poise. Confidence. For her, this was no emotional game. No petty plea for reassurance. The need for my trust was a profoundly practical matter. If she and I were gonna start meddling around with dreams, and time, and shadow stuff, the fact was: I’d have to trust her.

The good news? I didn't need to think about it. All I had to do was look at Zecora, and my heart already knew the answer.

“Yes.” I answered. “I trust you.”

She didn't smile. Only nodded firmly.

“You know tests numbers one and two / So come..." she turned around and headed up the path that led away from those rocky shores. "I have another task for you."

"One and two?" I replied.

"The tests," she said. "Come side-by-side. / One to find the door. One to learn to step outside."

"Oh! I never went through the door." I gazed back at the cave. “I, um...just sorta...know where it is.”

Zecora stopped. Dug her hooves into the sandy path. As she turned to me, the corners of her mouth curled into a devious smile. "So many wondrous sites you'll see today." She said, gesturing back the way we'd come. "I will follow. You will lead the way.”

We headed back down the pass. Rocks to our left. The sea to our right. Sand beneath our hooves. Until we came to the end of the road. A platform of sorts made of a single flat rock, jutting out over the razor shores below. For a brief moment, the ocean flanked us on three sides. And it was truly striking - how vast an expanse it was. Even if only in a dream. But the sea was not our destination. In the blink of an eye, that moment was gone.

Without wasting any time, I swung a left off of the platform, and started climbing rocks. Nothing super jagged or dangerous, of course. Just uneven and annoying. With my hooves clip-clopping down all diagonal-like, and with my flank facing the sea, I lead Zecora up to the cavern. My cavern.

When at last, I reached its mouth, the two of us stood on the edge of shadow and sunlight. Peered inside. Deep, deep, deep, deep, deeeeep into the cave where the pale gray light slid softly into darkness.

And all I could think of was how silent it was. How empty. The last time I’d gone in there, Screw Loose had been waiting inside. Banging on my dream door so hard that it'd boomed like thunder. But everything was still now. Totally quiet, except for a faint whooooosh sound - the cave echoing back the drone of the ocean.

“Hey, Zecora,” I said. “These, um...whattaya call ‘em? Bridges we build...from one dream to the next?”

She looked to me curiously.

“Does it have to be about touch?” I continued.

Zecora blink-bloinked her eyelids at me in reply. Utterly confused by the question.

I fidgeted with the pocket watch around my neck. “I mean, like...what if you don't have a hair. And if you're not, like, in the same room with the dreamer the way you’re sitting with me right now.” I pointed to the sky as though that were somehow the way to the waking world. “Can you build a bridge out of something really precious to somepony? Like a sock.”

Zecora raised an eyebrow. Zebrishly.

“...If y’know, like...that sock…” I continued. “...Is your friend's most prized possession in the whole wide world?...Um...theoretically.”

Zecora rolled her eyes up to the sky and thought about it. “Something cherished always anchors you just like a rock, / But I cannot imagine anypony cherishing a sock.”

“Yeah,” I muttered softly. “Me neither.”

Before she could say another word, I marched into the cave right then and there. Eager to hide my face from Zecora. So she wouldn't notice the astonishment - the wonder - that was brewing inside of me.

‘Cause Screw Loose knew! She fucking knew! She'd parted with her precious sock knowing that it would tether us together.

Sure, there was no way she coulda predicted that I was gonna end up getting zebra-trained in the art of dream-walking. But Screw Loose was still The Wanderer. She could find my door in a heartbeat already. With an extra connection? An anchor, as Zecora had called it?

I could only guess what Screw Loose could do now!

I inched my way forward. The floor beneath me slid into a gentle slope, and as the light from behind started fading, so did my excitement. We were going deeper. Eventually we got so far in, that he cavern walls just plain vanished to our eyes. And we were left only with the clip-clopping of our own eight hooves. I went from hiding my giddiness in the dark to hiding my anxiety.

What would I find on the other side of the door? What would it be like to step outside my own brain? What if I didn't pass the test? What if I did the door wrong, and Zecora turned me away? What was I gonna do then? Did I have a Plan B? Did I need one?





We fumbled and fumbled and fumbled, but eventually, the darkness weakened. The rocks around me first started to lighten again, and soon after, they began actually taking form.

The door was near. I recognized that unearthly periwinkle aura.

Zecora and I followed the glow in the air, watching the shapes and curves of the rocks and walls sharpen bit by bit, until at last we arrived. A big wooden, old fashioned door was growing out of the cave’s natural walls with no regard for rhyme or reason. Its pale light illluminated a trickley little waterfall that carved tiny rivers into grooves in the rock, and emptied into a little pool the size of a park-fountain.

“What's on the other side?” I whispered.

Zecora came up beside me at last, her face all blue, except for the stripes. She didn't say anything. Merely smiled at me.

“I know, I know. I know.” I groaned. “You're not gonna tell me. It's a test. But, like...my brain is kinda weird. I’m not gonna end up...like...falling through time and space or whatever, am I?”

Zecora shook her head. “To travel across time and space,” she pointed at the door. “This is not the way. / Pass the test, and that can be a lesson for another day.”

“You can teach me?” I said. “To go ducky hopping?”

She didn't answer. Just watched me, and waited for me to get on with it.

“Right.” I said. “The door.”

I approached it. All tip-hoovity. As though the portal itself might bite. Clip clop. Clip Clop. Each step closer made me wanna turn tail, and run the other way. ‘Cause seeing it again - an actual portal to the actual outside of my actual fucking brain - it made me feel vulnerable. Exposed.

The creepy door even had my cutie mark carved deep into the center of the wood. Like it fucking knew me! I paused to run my hoof along the curves. Wondering briefly if the carving had appeared when I got my cutie mark, or if it'd been there all along.

Then I got to work...

There were not nearly as many locks, and chains, and hooks, and bars blocking the way as there were before. Just three simple latches. As I got to fiddling with the first one, I wondered how the whole security system worked. Like, the last time I was there, had my brain put up all those other locks and stuff to protect itself from invasion? Or had Princess Luna done it to ensure I wouldn't be interrupted? Or maybe even, like, the Moon its own self was responsible. I remembered how that cold giant light had hovered over the empty field, and stared me down. Urging me silently to journey into No Mare's Land.

Flick. The first latch came open in my hooves.

I turned to face Zecora to make sure I was doing the right thing. But she just plopped her flank down on a rock and observed. She might as well have had a tub of popcorn in her lap.

“Ugh.” I groaned in annoyance. Bit down on the heavy iron of the second lock. And shuunkkkk. Slid it free.

Then there was the third lock. Part of me wondered why something so small was even there in the first place. But I didn't have any more time for thinkiness so I flipped the fucking thing. "There," I whispered to myself. "Done."

Before I made my final leap, I took a quick step back. To see if a great tornado was gonna sweep through the cave, or if some crab monster was gonna try to scramble inside and shoot crab-lightning out of its claws or something.

The door just stood there. Being a door. No cyclones. No crab-a-majigs. Nothing.

So, gripping the handle - an iron ring - with my teeth, I pulled the door open at long last. There was nothing but darkness on the other end. I couldn't make out anything else. Not 'till I stepped inside.

* * *

I saw a faint glimmer of light. Something purple way off in the distance. Like a blurred-out cluster of stars. A smudge on the void. I stepped toward it, squinting, and...squip. My hooves touched cold water.

The ground beneath me rippled outwards, and pulsated, scattering the light, refracting it into blues and purples and speckles of teal. All just barely bright enough to see. The tiny waves fled my hoof and went outward into the distance, without ever bouncing back.

It was hypnotic.

I spun around to follow the ripples - to look around - but the door behind me was gone. I was left with nothing but water. Infinite water. Scattering out in lonely concentric waves, reaching for the horizon in every conceivable direction.

I turned my flank back around again. But I'd already forgotten which way was supposed to be forward. Or where the door had been.

I couldn't even make out the purple horizon-smudge anymore. I was surrounded equally on all sides.

I took a deep breath. Stopped moving. Waited for the ripples to fade.

The light on the water shimmered softly from below. Flickered like a dying flame. 'Till I couldn't even see the waves I had made anymore.

Stupid fucking void. I said. Or tried to say. But no sound escaped my lips. Not even a rumble in my throat! I couldn't hear it. I couldn't feel it. Nothing. Hello?! I tried to speak again. Hello, Zecora?! Help!

I spun around. Flailing. Stumbling. Reaching blindly in every direction for some sign of that damn door. I didn't care anymore. Whether I passed the test or whether I failed. I just knew I was ready to get the fuck out of there.

But the door was nowhere. I was surrounded by miles and miles and miles of nothing. Except the cold water below. And the sky above. It rippled too.

Stupid sky. I thought. Its colors shifted like a cup of tea that'd just had milk splashed into it. Only it moved slooooowly. And its deep swirling purples were barely distinguishable from the black.

I stared. Fixated. But its strange beauty somehow just made me feel even more alone. My heart sunk slowly down into my belly. And I began to stagger backwards.

"Zecora." I whimpered. "Zecora? Zecoooo--;" Then splush.

I fell straight through the water. Down into the deep. That's when things really got weird.

------oooooOOOO0000OOOOooooo------

A long long time ago when I was little, Roseluck took me rafting.

We had just finished clearing out Great Aunt Roseroot's cabin after she'd died. And everything about it had freaked me out. The stacks of moldy newspapers had towered over me like Manehattan skyscrapers. The rickety cabinets gave me splinters as I'd brushed against them. And I'd spent most of the day trying to calm myself down after a swarm of cockroaches had descended upon me. I'd dashed out of the house. Screeching.

After that fiasco, Roseluck decided that I needed to escape - to forget. We were already way out in the wilderness, so she took me hiking, and later, rafting in this old boat that Great Aunt Roseroot'd had tucked away in her garage.

I don't remember much about our time above water, but at some point or another, after the current picked up, I fell in. Under the surface, I somersaulted and tumbled around so fast that I couldn't tell up from down. I paddled, and I kicked, and I stroked. But none of it mattered. Not without a direction to swim to.




When I fell through the water in that dream outside my brain-door, that's exactly what I felt. Cold. Dark. Panic. No way to tell left from right, or up from down.

At first, I tried holding my breath. As long as I could. But whole minutes rolled by and it didn't matter. I had no breath to hold. l couldn't perceive my own chest, my own lungs, my own hooves, my own anything.

I felt a thousand terrifying bodily sensations, like the feeling of being stunned, or the joy of laughter, or the sadness of loss, but no sense of my own body at all. Instead, I fell, hurtling through a web of raw emotions. Knocking me around from all directions. Like conflicting currents under roaring rapids. The terror of facing monsters. The comfort of a sister's embrace. Flying. Falling. The thrill of a kiss from a first crush. The pain of rejection. The anxiety of showing up at school and finding out about a great big test you hadn't studied for.

These feelings hit me at my very fucking core. But they came without pictures. Without memories. I don't know how long I tumbled, but after a while, I forgot everything that made me Rose Petal. Who I loved. What I hated. What I hoped for. What I feared.

I forgot pirates and sandwiches. And sisters. And mothers. And Twink.

I just sort of fell. Through the rapids. Into this weird abyss with no fucking bottom.

If feelings were colors, then shooting through those roaring waters woulda been like getting trapped inside a kaleidoscope.

I fell and I fell and I fell.

‘Till yoink. Out of literally nowhere, I felt a tug. And suddenly, I was moving backwards against the current. My sight was the first thing to come back to me. I saw a pink thread shining with silver light. Ever so faintly in the dark waters. It had lassoed me around the chest.

I have a chest! I thought. And before I could even process how amazing a realization that was, my mane came back too. I could feel it flowing violently in the water.

And up, up, up I went. Toward the surface. Up! I thought, and laughed to myself in a great big jubilant uproar, even though I made no sound. I could feel it now. Up. Down. My sense of direction returning.

And as I rose past those weird patches of emotion, I felt my head flood with memories. My own memories. And as I got beaten with emotions again, I embraced them all. ‘Cause they were my emotions.

The joy I had felt at the caroling across No Mare’s Land. The sorrow I'd suffered in Trottica. The taste of the strawberry cake I'd had on my fifth birthday. I felt the tender solace of Twinkle Eyes’ gentle hoof stroking my mane through the bars of her cage. And I remembered Cliff Diver - how afraid he'd been of Diamond Tiara. How fearless he had been at the hospital. How he was always bursting with a thousand theories connecting my experiences to the writings of Professor Science or whatever. I felt the laughter. The annoyance of him always trying to explain his ideas at crazy inopportune times.

I wondered what he'd make of all this door stuff.

But most of all, I remembered my sister. And everything I had ever done to make her life harder. And easier. Every laugh we had shared. Every fight we'd had. Every faire, or race, or play she'd ever taken me to.

As I rose higher and higher and higher, I remembered that all of this - everything I'd done that day - had been at her expense. I'd come without her knowledge or permission. Into the abyss. Into the dream. Into the zebra's hut. Into the forbidden forest.

What if I'd gotten lost? I thought. What if I'd died?!

After everything I'd felt inside the feelings-kaleidoscope, that plain old earthly fear - that simple familiar guilt that my brain called ‘home’ - it hit me the hardest.

Then...

------oooooOOOO0000OOOOooooo------

I found myself collapsed over a stone. A real stone. A solid stone. An actual stone.

I was breathing real air again too. My lungs burned for it. Panted like wild as my heart bucked at me from the inside of my chest.

Boom boom boom boom boom.

And I just lay there. Shaking. ‘Cause it's all I had the energy left to do. After what could have been a minute, or a month, or a thousand years, I opened my eyes. It was still pretty dark. But I could hear the echoes of the ocean faint and far away. And I could smell the dank air.

I was in the cave.

A hoof reached out and touched my head gently. For a brief instant, I thought it was Roseluck. And all that guilt came flooding back. But it was Zecora. Stroking my mane. Ever so gentle-like.

I took solace in it. For a moment anyway. Zecora wasted no time in getting to business.

"Your mind is unlike any place I've ever been." She said urgently. "And there are so many things in there that I have seen.”

“You were in my head?” I squeaked. Staggered up in blind panic. Realizing that she could have seen anything! My secrets. My apocalypse stuff. Time-things she was not meant to know! “Did you…” I jumped up to ask, but I slipped and fell straight to the floor.

When I looked up, I could see Zecora, even through the darkness, holding a hair of mine. It clearly came from one of the pink streaks in my mane. I recognized it too! It was the rope that had glowed like silver and lassoed me out of the rapids!

And as the cave slowly stopped spinning around me, I focused on that hair. Or more importantly, on Zecora. “What did you see?” I asked grimly.


"My kind has many books and many plays,” she said grimly. “That tell us what will come to be someday, / And none are honored more than sacred tomes / That contain our prophets’ poems."

She paused to lick her lips. "The things I saw when my mind touched with yours." She continued. "Were visions that I'd read about before."

"Huh?"

"The shadow empire one fine day will fall." She rested a hoof on my shoulder. "And you've been chosen to fulfill it all.”

"Wait. What?”

“I will teach you.” Zecora nodded somberly, and gently lead me into the darkness. Away from the door. Back toward the cave's mouth. “I will teach you.” She repeated with even firmer resolution than before. A statement rhyming with itself.

A little voice in my head wondered if she was being lazy with her poem-speech. But then another voice chimed in to remind me that, in Zecora's head, the rhymes were all a song. And in music, really really reeeeeally important phrases get repeated.

“No!” I said. “I mean, yes.” I continued. “Teach me...But I'm not chosen for anything. I'm a background pony.”

Out of nowhere, I started to cry. Maybe it was the stress of the door, and the emotion-river, and all that shit I had just been through. Or maybe it was just the fact that this prophecy stuff was fucking creepy.

“But it's not true.” I said. “It's not.” I squeaked. “You saw wrong. I don't know what you saw inside my brain, but you saw it wrong.” I turned around and charged back in the direction of the door.

Zecora followed close behind.

“We'll do it again.” I shouted over my shoulder, even as the words turned to acid in my stomach. Even though I never wanted to see that fucking door again.

“We'll do it over, okay?” I repeated. “‘Cause I'm not a prophet. I'm not a...light bringer. Not your chosen ...whatever. I'm, I'm, I'm, I'm just…”

But before I could finish ranting, I felt Zecora's hoof grab me. Firmly. Stopping me in my tracks. I spun around, all geared up to rave at her some more.

But then she hit me with the unexpected. “I know you're not.” Zecora pleaded apologetically. "So put your heart at rest. / There was no prophecy, only this simple test.”

...

“A test? A test?!" I squeaked. “You put me through all of that for a humility test?” I waved my legs around, gesticulating wildly at the depths of the cave where we both knew the door was waiting.

She shook her head, and waved her hooves around in a no-no-no-no-no gesture.

“The door was also an instructive session.” She said. “I would not toy with you. This was a lesson.”

“A lesson?” I squeaked again. “A lesson?! A lesson in what? How not to trust you? What exactly did you teach me in there?”

“To fear the powers you have tapped and found. / Respect the waters or you will be drowned.”

She held up her right forehoof. As if to say, 'That was Lesson Number One.' Then she raised her left hoof, and recited Lesson Number Two. "That trust in me may free you from your shell," she said. "But you must trust your instincts...as well."

I panted angrily. Caught my breath. I couldn't begin to figure out how I felt about what she'd said. About respecting the powers that I entangled myself with. About fearing the abyss outside my brain. About striking a balance between trusting an instructor, and having faith in my own instincts. I only knew that I was mad.

“I can trust myself at home!!!” I cried.

And my words bounced back at me from all directions. At home...At home...At home...At home...At home.

It reminded me how far I'd come. How long I'd waited…Just to get messed with! I staggered away from Zecora, shaking my head. "You tricked me.” My voice cracked. "You tricked me."

“If you don't trust me anymore,” Zecora sighed and answered sternly. “Then you can walk away, / But what you learned was not some game or play.

"Your destiny's an ever-turning tide, / And fate is never truly on your side. / Its whims are weapons we can never own. / That's why you must make peace with the unknown. / If you believe your fate will see you through, / Then darkness makes a puppet out of you. / The greatest lies are those we tell ourselves. / I cannot train one who declines to delve / For secrets in the great abyss out there.” Zecora tossed her head in the direction of the door. “That's why you,” she pressed a hoof to my chest, “Are such a fierce and worthy mare.”

Her confidence in me was so powerful, and it'd come at me so sideways-like, that, for a moment, I forgot that I was supposed to be angry.

“I'm not a mare,” I said, awkward and confused. “I'm a kid.”

Zecora shrugged. As if to say, ‘if you insist.’ And for a minute I had a thousand counterarguments building up inside my head. But Zecora was talking about fate, and shadows, and the terrifying abyss. About unknown futures, and courageous quests for Truth. She wasn't about to indulge a debate on semantics.

“Thank you.” I said meekly. “Uh...I guess."

* * *

She lead me up the slope. The mouth of the cave was ahead. And I honestly wasn't sure how I felt about Zecora anymore. How I felt about anything.

I understood why she tricked me. Sorta. How there probably wasn't any other way to find out what I was made of. Or to teach me the dangers of the abyss outside my dream door. Or to reinforce in me the need to trust myself. But that didn't change how I felt about being lied to.

It’s never been easy for me to seek out guidance. To look up to someone. To trust in their wisdom. To actually have faith in another pony. At least the kinda faith I'd placed in Zecora. And no matter I tried to rationalize it, she had betrayed that faith.

"Take the day to stop and rest." She said. "Reflect upon your lessons and your test. / If you decide you would my pupil be, / No later than tomorrow, come to me."

And in my haze I nodded. Relieved to have an extension - some time to think.

I didn't stop to wonder whether or not Cranky would be able to take me through the forest again. Or if I'd be able to make up another excuse for Roseluck. I just knew that I didn't have any answers. And the idea of taking another day to put my thoughts in order felt like great big anvils getting unhitched from my shoulders. So I nodded, and I plopped my flank on a rock. And sighed so hard my breath quivered. Content that I didn't have to pretend to be ok. That Zecora and I didn't have to patch up our differences. Not just yet.

I listened to the sound of the ocean, and when my thoughts calmed down a bit, I focused on the one thing that I absolutely knew for sure. "I'm glad," I said.

Zecora tilted her head at me.

"That I'm not chosen after all." I flashed her a smile.

"Ah." Zecora sat down beside me. "I never said that was not so." She answered, voice as grim as a gravestone.

"But--;"

"Everyone is chosen," she added gently. "But for what? We cannot know."

Author's Note:

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. I could really use the assistance.
:pinkiehappy:

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. /]*[\

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.

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