• 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

A Foal's Errand

CHAPTER FOUR – A FOAL’S ERRAND

It is easy to go down into Hell…but to climb back again, to retrace one’s steps to the upper air – there’s the rub, the task.” – Virgil




The thing about the Moon is: you can always count on it. It rises in the evening, sets just before morning. It’s there when you need it. It’s there when you don’t.

I suppose you could say the same thing about the Sun. But not really. You see, this one time back when I was little, the Sun didn’t come up in the morning the way it’s supposed to. It was as though the Sun stepped out to the market to pick up some milk, promised it would be back by dawn, and then, just when nopony expected it, the damned thing ditched us and left us all up in the black.

Sure, we all know the story of Nightmare Moon, and yeah, I get that she was Evil and all. But one thing I will say for her is that even when Princess Luna was at her very worst, the Moon itself was always there. That’s cause the Moon is the sort of thing you can depend on.

On the night I went back to the Wasteland, I had a little talk with the Moon. I told it all about my problems, as I always do. I waited, and waited, and waited - hoping secretly that some way, somehow, Princess Luna would hear me and know exactly what to do.

But no answer came. That made two nights in a row.



I know what you’re thinking: Second night in a row? What happened to the first? Well ashamed as I am to say it, when it came time to get tucked in after Roseluck’s Leonardo DaWhinny story, I was too afraid to sleep.

So was Roseluck, actually. I mean, when she first heard the news, Rose gave me a supportive kiss. She gave me a supportive hug, but I could feel her shaking as she squeezed me. She was trying really, really hard just to hold still. She was afraid I’d notice her quivering and end up getting scared myself. I noticed, but didn’t say a word. Roseluck held me at shoulder’s length, looked me in the eye, took in a deep breath, and laid down words of wisdom and encouragement, and stuff. Solid, confident voice. Watery eyes.

But then the façade sorta cracked and crumbled, until finally, out of nowhere, she just flipped right out - and I mean totally flipped out. Shaking. Shivering. Even flailing around like a crazy pony. Seeing her like that was scarier than even the Wasteland its own self.

“Roseluck! Roseluck!” I shouted, but I didn’t know what to do. I just stood there, helpless, watching her completely come apart. When it seemed to be over, I got my senses back, knelt down and helped my sister to her hooves. She threw herself around me so hard, I thought I would suffocate from hugginess. She apologized for losing her cool, called herself selfish, swore she would always, always, always be there for me.

I told her everything was gonna be alright. Of course it wouldn’t, but what else could I say? This wasn’t something I knew how to do!

I could be strong for the future. I could be strong for my sister. But there was no way in Equestria that I could do both.



In the end, Roseluck won. So after I had helped her to her feet, and got some tea in her, I lead her upstairs. I let her tuck me in, even though I knew I wouldn’t be getting any sleep.

I spent the entire night in bed wide awake. I really wanted to help those kids – to go to sleep and finish my business in the Wasteland once and for all, but I couldn’t. Roseluck needed me.

We spent the entire night just talking about old times, and holding hooves. She begged me to sleep, promised to watch over me, but we both knew that she couldn’t protect me.

The sun came up, and the day after was a total blur. I went to school at my own insistence, not because I liked school, but because I didn’t want all this Wasteland junk to control my life back home, you know?

Anyway, it was all a total mess. Cliff Diver had found my scarf after I’d lost it for the four-millionth time, and Diamond Tiara was her usual bitch self and decided that that scarf was some kind of evidence. She launched a smear campaign in rhyme form, articulating exactly the sorts of icky things that he and I had supposedly done together while “sitting in a tree.”

I was too tired and too stressed to care. My mind was making up for lost sleep and I was busy drifting in and out of waking visions. It all amounted to the same thing – save the filly behind the wall. The universe didn’t give a damn about what happened to the kid I’d seen two nights before.

So, the day was a total bust, the library was closed yet again, I must have made miserable company for Cliff, and to top it all off, I barely even remember any of it. So I’m just gonna spare you the dumb details, get straight to the point, and tell you about the night that came after. The night I discovered just how bad it could get in the Equestrian Wasteland.


It started with a conversation with the Moon. I talked, it listened. That’s how it goes. The Moon didn’t hear the news, leap out of the sky and run to my doorstep to hoof-deliver me a bushel full of easy answers – no paint-by-numbers instructions neither. It just listened. But sometimes that’s all you really need.

I begged The Moon - pleaded with it not to have to go back to that horrible place – to be able to leave all that Wasteland stuff behind, and forget that any of it had ever happened. But the Moon can’t grant wishes like that.

Besides, as desperately as I wanted to, it was still a half-hearted little wish. In the very same breath that I prayed for my freedom, I asked for something I wanted even more: for somepony – anypony – to help that poor boy I’d seen in my dreams.

He’s not the one I’m supposed to save. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know, but really, I don’t care what anypony says. He didn’t deserve what was happening to him, and it wasn’t right that nopony in the entire world – past, present, or future – cared.

So the evening started out with a quiet plea for mercy, but by the time the Moon was halfway across the sky and had listened to a meandering rant about my problems for the second night in a row, I’d made up my mind.

I was gonna save that boy. I didn’t know how, I didn’t know what kind of bucked up sideways Leonardo DaWhinny mission I was actually being sent on, or who the filly in the drawing was, but I didn’t give a buck. I was the only pony in the entire Universe who cared whether that boy lived or died, and that kinda left me no choice, did it?

All them thoughts were flooding my head and getting knocked around inside - bumping into one another like kernels of popcorn, but then everything calmed for a moment. Just calmed. And I finally got an answer of sorts. The Moon can do that for you sometimes, if you let it do it in its own way.

See, when I finally realized that I was the boy’s only hope, I looked up to that glorious Full Moon and felt a sense of solace – of peace. That’s how the great black sky-mystery answers you when you shut up long enough to listen. It answers you in feelings.


I was gonna go back. I was gonna find the filly behind the wall, and I was gonna save the mystery colt if I had to tear the whole darn Wasteland apart to do it.

Down the hatch. Time for some Sleepy Tea to calm my nerves.

I lay in bed waiting for the magic to happen. I didn’t even have any cookies with my tea! That’s how serious I was! Okay, maybe two cookies (two and a half, really, if you count that little piece that I picked up after it fell to the floor). The point is: I was finally getting some sleep. I was going back to the Wasteland, and there was no turning back.

Roseluck came to check in on me one last time before I passed out.

“I got this!” I told her, with my pluckiest smile.

She nodded - promised to be right down the hall in her bedroom if I needed her, but I could see right through her. She was lying right through her teeth. When the door closed, Rose didn’t make any hoofsteps. None at all. Cause she didn’t go to her room. She just sat there right outside of my door, keeping watch like one of those lion statues I was talking about that they have over at the Manehattan Public Library. Knowing her, she’d probably be there all night long. Poor Roseluck.

Anyway, just before my eyelids got real heavy, it crossed my mind how foolish and insane the whole expedition was. I mean, I didn’t have a plan. I didn’t even know where I would be going.

What would Mom think if she knew I was doing something so reckless – so stupid? That her precious baby was leaping unarmed into the mouth of danger?

I started to panic. The world around me was fading to black.

There’s nothing scarier than leaping off a diving board only to realize too late that the pool don’t have no water. I got drowsy. I’d taken the plunge, and there was nothing left to do but wait until I smacked face-first against the bottom.




* * *


You know that feeling during hot summers, when it burns to breathe and the air you suck in feels like it weighs a thousand million pounds? Wasteland air is like that, even when it’s cold.

My awakening into the world of the future was a lot less jarring than it was the first time. No flash, no screams of millions, no piles of rubble to climb out of – just a few sparks, a mouth full of burning air and a bit of a coughing fit.

I rubbed my eyes and got my first good look at the scenic Equestrian Wasteland under what passed for the light of day. I’d been right the first time. The future sucks.

I leaned back. There was some kind of brick wall behind me. The horizon was broken and vast in all directions, but behind that one sturdy wall, I could hear sounds of life. Machinery turning. Ponies moving all around. Hoofbeats.

Alright, Rose Petal. Time for a peek.

I sucked in a chest full of Wasteland air and poked my head around the corner, all careful-like. Those cloaky jerkfaces with the daisy-patterned cloaks were everywhere. Wandering around, going to and fro.


I watched the cloaks for a while. They all seemed to be going more to than fro. The whole pack of them were sort of meandering toward the Mane Hall – this big clock-towery-looking building at the center of what appeared to be a normal (if a little run down) pony town.

This was it. The mouth of danger I’d been talking about – that swimming pool without any water in it. It almost seemed anticlimactic. Everypony in the town just sorta strolled along, minding their own business.

I crept around the corner. The coast was clear, so I kept going and darted over to the next building to get a closer look. Other folks in the square were hanging around too, not just the cloak-o’s. They all had on some variant of that pink cloth with the yellow daisy print. Colts had it on their ties, mares on their ribbons and fanciest hats. Like the cloak-o’s, every last one of the civilians was making their way toward the Mane Hall at the center of town, which, I noticed, was kept in really, really good condition, considering the fact that the rest of the village was a total dump.

I watched this little town go about its day for I don’t know how long. But it all seemed pretty normal. Then it dawned on me. I’d envisioned a compound full of cloaked evil do-ers, cackling over a stew, or chaining fillies up in dungeons or something. Stereotypes as flat and unoriginal as the zebra in the war poster I’d seen. But what if this wasn’t as simple as all that?

What if I’m storming a compound full of good ponies?

I locked up in terror. I might have to face the one thing worse than death – worse than capture – worse than torture! A socially awkward situation.

I tip-hooved closer to the action. I pressed my back against the side of some house or another, only to end up with a mane full of wet paint. It was not my lucky day.

I ran my hooves through my hair to try to clean it off, but only ended up with green all over myself. Finally, I just ignored the stupid mess and poked my head around the corner to get a closer look. I was so close to the mane square that I could actually throw a rock at one of the cloak-o’s if I wanted to.


Tock!

I spun around at the sound of hoof steps suddenly behind me. There were four cloak-o’s standing right there!

Darn it, Rose! A warzone is no place for thinkiness!

I crouched down low to avoid being seen. They were talking amongst themselves, flanks to me. It was only a matter of seconds before they noticed my presence and took it upon themselves to cook me or something! One of their tails flicked unexpectedly, and I had to duck just to avoid brushing up against it. And by “duck” I mean “fall over.”

Before they could even turn around, I dashed straight for the house I’d been leaning on, and yanked open the first door I could find. I threw myself inside, and swung the sturdy little door behind me as quietly as I could. I was heaving and panting so loud that I’m still legitimately surprised that the whole darn town couldn’t hear me.

But nopony followed.


It was dark inside. Not pitch dark, just dim. Apart from the crimson curtains, and a few knick-knacks on display in the windows where everypony could see them, the actual livable interior of the house was a horror show. Broken moldy furniture. A steadily dripping leak from Celestia-only-knows where in the ceiling. Warped floorboards.

The only decoration that seemed to be purely for the owners’ pleasure was a framed piece of needlepoint artwork – (you know, the kind that usually has “HOME SWEET HOME” or some other lame saying sewn clumsily into the fabric)? Well this one said “PURITY CORRUPTS,” and it hung proudly on the wall just over the indoor pipe chimney of a coal stove.

It would take one sick buck to sit there in his Co-Z-Colt every night, (or in this case, pile of wooden crates), look up at the mantle and draw inspiration from something like that. I didn’t know much about whoever lived here, but I didn’t like her. I needed to get out of there. Fast.

I snatched a daisy print hoofkerchief off the back of the chair, and tied it around my neck. If I was going to have any hope of blending in, I was going to have to wear one of those stupid things.

Peering out from behind the curtains, I could see the four-pack of cloak-o’s laughing, making their way toward the Mane Hall and merging with the rest of the herd. Spared for now.

I came to the obvious conclusion that I was in way over my head. I didn’t know anything about any of these ponies at all. Their strengths. Their weaknesses. Their hobbies (apart from bad needlepoint). All I could surmise was that they were totally nuts, and that there were a lot of them.

Get the buck out of town. Get out now! The little pony in my head tried to talk sense into me, but I wasn’t having any of it.

“Shut up, pony!” I said out loud in a whisper.

I was in the future for a reason. The girl behind the wall. The boy that time forgot. Some bucking answers! They were all in that big town hall-ish looking place, and I had to at least try to get my hooves on them.

I was just about ready to tip-hoof out the door, but when I backed away from the window, I didn’t find the door where I’d left it. Instead, I found a married couple, all dressed up in their finest clothes, staring at me, jaws agape. I know it must be odd to wander into your living room and find a total stranger standing there, getting green paint all over your curtains, but I gotta tell you, I wasn’t prepared for the stallion of the house to stumble backwards over a chair and shriek like a little girl in blind terror when he saw me. I cringed and leapt backwards, and found myself tangled in a window curtain which I then proceeded to panic and flail and thrash around in, till the whole darn thing came crashing down on me, and destroyed the precious tchotchkes of the ponies whose home I’d just broken into.

“Sorry!” I called out instinctively.

I made for the exit, dragging curtain and rod and just about everything else in the house with me. They made no effort to stop me, but that stallion wouldn’t stop shrieking. I flung open the door and bolted right on out of there. Toward the outside. Away from those crazy ponies. Away from the cloak-o’s. Away from the whole stupid compound.

At least that was my intention. The curtain had other plans. The rod caught on the doorframe, and like a fish on a hook, I snapped backwards when the cloth tugged on my belly. Sitting there on the floor like a dummy, I squirmed and tugged and yanked at the curtain until it tore away from the rod, and I fell forward flat on my face.

That’s right, Rose. Blend in.


In little more than an instant, I was out of view of the married couple. They stood in the doorway, staring out into the hustle and bustle in utter confusion, while I was already halfway into the herd. I threw the curtain around myself like it was a cape, and acted like I totally belonged there.

My daisy print hoofkerchief needed straightening, so I tugged at it daintily. Just act natural, and nopony will notice that you’re wearing the window treatment of the house you just vandalized.

At least that’s what I thought. But once I looked up and actually observed the crowd, I knew something was terribly, terribly wrong. A young couple marching beside me stopped right in their tracks and stared at me in horror.

“Um…Nice day, Ma’am?” I laughed nervously.

They backed away without saying a word. An old guy did the same. One by one all the ponies in the crowd took notice, and every last one of their jaws dropped. That’s when I realized what was wrong with the picture. It wasn’t how I wore my kerchief. It wasn’t that they didn’t know me. It wasn’t even that I was wearing the tattered remains of some strange couple’s curtain. All around me were dozens, maybe even hundreds of ponies dressed in their best, which, when you looked at closely, may as well have been tailored out of curtains.

But among them was not a single child.


I gulped.

This town had no fillies. No colts. No foals. Just sad, terrified grown-ups. Every last one of them was staring at me slack-jawed. This wasn’t a situation I could bluff my way through.

I dashed for the exit – the way out of the compound – wherever the hay that was. The good news is, the crowd couldn’t wait to part for me. Like a blade cutting waves in the water, I sliced a path through the crowd.

Then, suddenly cloak-o’s. A wall of them. They weren’t the slightest bit timid.

I skidded to a halt in front of the goons, thrusting a cloud of dust in their faces. They coughed and rubbed at their eyes and reached for me in blind confusion. I shrieked so hard I sounded like an amateur flutist. That actually was enough to startle them believe it or not.

Then I somersaulted (not in that acrobatic Wonderbolts kinda way, but more in a I’m Falling All Over Myself And So Totally Not Doing This On Purpose kinda way), and came up galloping. Galloping in the wrong direction, straight toward the Town Hall building only a few steps away.

The sight of more cloak-o’s coming from the other side made me miss my step, trip on my own curtain, fall face first, and scrape my whole cheek against the ground.

When I opened my eyes, there was a concrete wall right in front of me, with a little hole chiseled away in it, and peeking from the other side was this eye staring right at me. The One I’m Meant to Save. Just like in the drawing.

Holy Celestia, I thought as I stared in wonderment.

“Don’t worry.” I finally said to her. “I’m gonna rescue you.”

I leapt to my feet. Cloak-o’s on both sides. There was absolutely no way to rescue her. There was absolutely no way out! I had maybe a few seconds before the jerkfaces caught me.

“Purity corrupts!” I shouted completely and totally out of nowhere.

That gave them pause. I was only buying a few seconds, but hay, it was better than nothing. They stopped, muttered some garbledygook amongst themselves, nodded, and started closing in on me just the same.

“So you um…” I did my best to stall a little longer. “You better watch out because I’m full of…uh…purity, and I might…um…corrupt… you?” I cracked a smile.

I am so bucked.

They grabbed me without so much as a rebuttal. Not even the common courtesy of a mwa-ha-ha. Just flung me over their shoulder like I was a sack of flour.

Then the son of a bitch clocked me on the head.


* * *


The light was pretty dim, but it was enough to drill into my brain like a drill of unpleasanty drillness. So I kept my eyelids shut. Darn it, my head hurt.

Am I home? I thought. Was that it? Was that all? Was it finally done with?

I turned myself over and groaned. Cold, gritty ground beneath me. No. I was definitely still in the Wasteland. I sucked in a shallow breath. The unconscionable stink confirmed my suspicion.

I wiped my eyes, rubbed my throbbing head and tried to figure out what in Luna’s name was going on.

A female voice was ranting about something or other, over what sounded like a tinny old loud speaker.

Innocence,” She said. “It was innocence that caused the waste and the ruin that you see when you look out your windows to the lands beyond our compound.

I blinked. Metal grating in front of my face. Bars. I was in some kind of cage. If I squinted real hard, I could just barely focus enough to make out the rest of the room – rows and rows and rows of other cages extending out into the blur.

Innocence of hate. Innocence of war.

It was hard as heck not to throw up. I probably would have hurled had my throat not been so dry.

Not yet. I said to myself. I added “throwing up” to my mental to-do list. First and foremost, as messed up as I was, I needed to try to assess my situation.

We all know the truth - that life is turmoil – that life is pain.

“Wuh?” I murmured. It all felt so dreamlike. I’d blink for a moment and suddenly see bars again. Then I’d forget where I was, and have to process everything all over again.

“Cage. Hmm.” I coughed.

190 years of poison – of darkness, and only now are you – you chosen – you few, learning the truth. Living the truth.

The room was fairly big, and on the far end of it sat a couple of cloaks.

“Oh, yeah. Those guys.” I whispered calmly from the depth of my stupor.

They seemed to be gathered around a glass screen with blurry images on it. I think it was flickering pictures of the mare giving the lame speech. I wished she would shut up.

The truth is that innocence is a disease. And that purity inevitably corrupts.

There was a cold metal water dish a few inches from my face. That water was more important than some yammery phantom voice in the distance. It was real, it was in front of me, and I needed some.

The only Universal Truth is that the world – the Wasteland – is an ugly place.

Why did I have a steel water dish in front of me again? Was I a cat? (Strange things cross your mind when you first come to after getting conked on the head).

If you come to expect strife from the world…

Once I got a few gulps down and a splash or two across my face, I was able to surmise that I was not, in fact, a cat. I could see and hear a little better too, which was kind of unfortunate, since that lady that the cloak-o’s were watching was starting to get on my last nerve.

And betrayal from your fellow pony…

“Yeah, yeah, yeah.”

I squinted. Tried to get a better view. Tried to get my bearings. Two cages down from me, there was a faint green glow. The entire cage just kinda glowing for no reason at all. I groaned. Weird stuff like that made bearing-getting next to impossible. Couldn’t I wake up to a normal dungeon?

…Accept this in your hearts, and you will come to experience the absolute bliss of never, ever knowing disappointment.

“Shut up!” I muttered and passed right out again.


The only reason I even remember half of that weird anti-innocence speech is that the cloak-o’s listened to it again and again and again during my stay in their stinky old stinkhole. Honestly, at the time I came to, the whole thing was just a blur.

But after a long, dreamless sleep, I was myself again, and ready to freak out good and proper-like. First I noticed the cracked concrete floor under my belly. Again. Then the rusty metal digging into me from both sides. Again. Then it all just sorta hit me at once. I was in a cage.

A cage! There had been a chase, and a parade of tacky daisy cloth. The cloak-o’s had captured me. My Luna! The cloak-o’s – they’re everywhere! And they’d…captured me!

Just like the boy I saw two nights before!

I was suddenly sharply aware of my surroundings. I was in a basement with dozens of other kids, all in cages. It was dark. It was cold. It was nasty and horrible, and it smelled bad and the room had ponies in it who wanted to do mean and terrible things to us, and I think I even saw a maggot and ew! Ew! Ew! Ew! Ew!

I leapt up and banged my skull on the roof of the cage. Not good for my headache. I put my hoof to my head, and came away with a whole bunch of green crust.

I screamed. I was rotting! I was becoming a zombie! Or, wait, was it paint? Yeah, definitely paint.

“Calm down, Rose.” I said. “There’s a way out of this.”

I banged against the door to my cage with my hooves. It wouldn’t open no matter how hard I jiggled it. I bucked at the bars on my left, then my right. Tested all four sides plus the ceiling and the floor. There was no way out.

That’s why they call it a cage, dummy.

I couldn’t believe it! I was stuck. I’d lost. They were gonna do awful things to me. I’d never get to stop the war! I was gonna die! Roseluck would never ever see me again!

The bottom seemed to drop out from under me, and I felt a sickness in my stomach. A guilt. Roseluck was gonna be all alone in the world. Shivering. Shaking. Crying because I’d abandoned her. The worst thing anypony could ever possibly do.

How could I have been so crazy to try something like this? So selfish?

I took deep, nasty breaths, and spun around and around and around in place, I didn’t have room to pace back and forth.

“Omigosh, omigosh, omigosh, omigosh, omigosh.” I said.

My hoof hooked on a water dish, and splashed cold, fetid water everywhere.

“Hey, watch it!” Said a yellow colt behind me. He was trying to sleep.

“Sorry!” I whispered.

I looked all around, but I couldn’t find a single familiar face. “Hay, has anypony seen…”

It occurred to me that I had no idea what this kid actually looked like. “Um…A colt…I’m looking for a friend, you see. Well, he’s not really a friend, more like…he’s got, um…well, he’s got this really, really, really sad look in his eyes, you know?”

The other kids looked away from me. Like I didn’t even exist.

I guess they all had their own problems, and didn’t have time for my stupid hysterics.

I spun quickly to face the filly on the other side of me – a pink unicorn barely older than a foal. She wasn’t like the others at all. This one looked me right in the eye.

“You gotta help me,” I whispered. “How do we get outta here?”

“Fucked if I know, kid.” She said.

A real curse word. A hardcore curse word. The first I’d ever heard (bitch doesn’t count) – and from a filly so cute and squeaky!

“That guy’s busted out of his cage four times,” She continued. “Still hasn’t gotten nowhere.”

She gestured to the blue and purple unicorn beside her. The one in the glowy cage.

“I can escape any time I want.” He said in a strange accent. “Dees cage ees nothing!”

“Yuh-huh.” Said the little girl.

“Ees cheating! Skull Stomper, he use a force-a-field. His horn route through a maneframe, amplify signal like coward.” Said the foreign kid without bothering to turn and face any of us.

The aforementioned stomper of skulls appeared, pacing down the row of cages. He was a big brutish unicorn, but the foreign kid didn’t care. He shot his mouth off just the same.

“Hey, you! You call dees cage? In my country, we make cage. Twenty times stronger than your cage! We have to make bigger cages just to contain our smaller cages because these cages we make, they are so scary.”

Skull Stomper ignored him, though his eye twitched in anger. He wanted to beat us all into a pulp. He wanted to yell at us. He would take special pleasure in killing the loudmouth. But he did nothing.

He’s under orders not to talk to us. I realized.

“Not like dees cage!” The foreign kid spat - literally spat. “Dees cage is shit!”

Then Skull Stomper was gone.

“I don’t think you should do that.” I said.

“Ees coward. Ees afraid.”

“That guy is totally afraid,” I said. “But not of you.”

“What do you know?” He snapped.

“Leave the new kid alone.” Said the tiny filly next to me. “You can’t get out of here, neither. Even when you slipped out the cage, you were always right back down here in the shit with the rest of us a few minutes later.”

“I could have escaped any time.” The foreigner smiled warmly. “But you - I like you too much. I could never leave all y’all wonderful ponies behind.”

His attempted use of the word “y’all” was unnerving.

The pink girl just stared him down and rolled her eyes. “You mean you couldn’t leave your girrrrrrlfriend behind.”

“She’s not my girlfriend!” The foreigner whined, his slick façade crumbling away.

“Oooooooh,” Came a bunch of voices from cages scattered throughout the room.

He pouted and blushed. That’s when I stopped paying attention. I’d heard enough.


The cloak-o’s huddled around their console way off in the corner of the room. Three of them. Listening to the same old speech.

If you come to expect strife from the world, and betrayal from your fellow pony, you will begin to learn the truth – to live the truth. When you accept this in your hearts, you will come to experience the absolute bliss of never, ever knowing disappointment.”

The evil ponies were all so confident that they’d won, that they didn’t even pay us a wink of attention. And why shouldn’t they be confident? We were bickering in our cages while they were unified in whatever bucked up ideology those stupid cloaks represented.

I covered my ears. The other kids were razzing each other pretty good now, and it had started to get loud.

I was a foal to think I could do something good. I thought. To think I could save that kid. Or even help the one I was supposed to come here for. The whole thing is stupid.

It occurred to me then that maybe the reason that good ponies do nothing in the face of evil is that it’s just plain not worth it. Maybe, if you’re lucky, you’ll get your moment in the Sun, but it’s the best you can hope for. A single triumph. A glorious memory. When it’s all over, everything just goes back to the way it was. Or worse.

Even Diamond Tiara, who was just an everyday schoolyard jerk, had retaliated with a war against me back home that, honestly, I didn’t have the energy to keep up with, or even resist.

The teasing just got louder and louder, so I curled into a ball, buried my head in my legs, and cried. None of that single tear stuff, either. I bawled.

The night before may have been Roseluck’s time for coming apart, but in Jerkland, I had nopony left to stay strong for. So I totally lost it, and heaved ‘till I was gasping for air. For some stupid reason, I moaned the same five words again and again while I did it. I didn’t know where they came from, or why I was saying it, but they were only words that could squeeze their way past my teeth were “I’m the one who’s sorry.”

With all the snot and the sobbing and the gargling in the back of my throat, just that one thought hung at the center. “I’m the one who’s sorry.”

Finally, when I was fresh out of crying, I felt a tiny hoof on my shoulder. It only just barely grazed me, since it was struggling so hard to fit through the bars, but it was enough to get me to turn around.

There was the jaded pink unicorn in the cage beside me. She was so tiny I thought she might fit in a saddlebag. I could tell from her droopy eyes that she was totally exhausted, but still, she took the time and the energy to reach out and touch me, simply because she knew I needed to be touched. (That or she was trying to shut me up; my caterwauling must have been pretty annoying).

“Sorry,” I said with a big loud sniffle. That word again. Sorry.

She cracked a warm smile. “Yeah, I gathered.”

That made me laugh. “This whole thing was stupid,” I said. “I should never have come.”

“If you came here on purpose, yeah, that’s pretty fucking stupid.”

I stared at her. It was amazing. This little girl had developed a talent for saying the coldest, harshest, most insulting things in the Universe, and yet, she had a way of making you smile when she did. I’d never seen anything like it.

“It’s not stupid.” A voice from the corner. Through the many rows of bars, I could just barely make out a yellow, pink and red earth pony filly perched on a stone jutting out of the wall in her cage. The hole she’d been peering through to the outside world shined a pale light on her. She was The One I’m Meant to Save.

“I saw what you tried to do.” She said softly, hiding behind her own raggedy bangs.

She shrugged her shoulders up so high that she was actually hiding behind those as well. “It was like, the bravest thing ever.”

“What?” I said. “No. I’m not…You really think…”

She shrunk back and murmured something to herself.

“But…Huh?” I asked her earnestly.

“Don’t beat yourself up,” Said the pink girl who’d seemed so jaded just moments before.

“Yeah,” I sniffed bitterly. “Those cloak-o’s will do that later.”

“Dem guys?” She giggled brightly. “Nah.”

I perked up. I couldn’t have heard that correctly.

“They want us in good shape for when they sacrifice us to their fucked up whack-a-doo god.”

I must have looked like such a doof, because she giggled right at me and explained.

“Some crazy bullshit about how children everywhere are responsible for The War. And their god is hungry for innocence, or something. I don’t fucking know.”

“What?”

“Yeah, I know, right? Heard it in one o’ dem sermons. They cycled it out the day before you showed up.”

“Please stop it.” Whimpered The One I’m Meant to Save.

“What?” Snapped the pink filly beside me. “She’s gonna find out soon anyway. She should hear it from a friend.”

Okay, now, I definitely wasn’t hearing right.

“You’re my friend?” I was in shock.

“Sure.” She said.

“Why?”

The pink girl stopped and looked at me funny. “Whattaya mean why?” She mimicked my tone. “Why the fuck not?”

“Well, I dunno.” I said. “Maybe cause we’re all gonna die soon?”

“So?”

I shrugged. “I always thought that was the kind of thing, you know, ponies wouldn’t want to be around for.”

I’d given the subject a great deal of thought, believe it or not. Roseluck is the kindest, most amazing, awesomest sister in the history of ever, but she was way older than me. Once you did the math, the outcome seemed kinda obvious.

“I always thought I would, like, be alone when it was time for me to…you know.” I continued with another shrug. “I kinda liked it that way.”

“Jeez, kid. I thought I was fucked in the head.”

What is up with all these crazy ponies? I thought. First Cliff Diver, then this girl. They stick around when the going got tough, and act like it’s some kind of privilege to be there for all the stuff in your life that sucks. It didn’t make any sense. I kept waiting for the other horseshoe to drop.

“Hay, don’t leave me hanging.” She snapped

I shook myself out of my daze. Her hoof was reaching out to me, squeezing through the bars as far as it would go.

“Twinkle Eyes.” She said.

“Rose Petal.” I said nervously, and bumped hooves with her.

“Look, you don’t wanna do the death pact thing, that’s cool.” She giggled. “Death pacts are for squares anyway.”

“Are you two really having dees conversation?” Said the foreign kid.

“Shut the fuck up.” Snapped Twinkle Eyes.

“In my country, when a pony make a death pact, it is twenty times more--;”

“Don’t you make me come over there.” Twinkle growled through the bars.

“I’ll do it.” I said.

Silence. Twinkle turned to face me.

“Nah, forget it, kid. You don’t have to--;”

“We stick together.” I said firmly. “Like friends.”

She looked me in the eyes, and nodded solemnly. Back home, other little girls were swearing oaths about their cutie marks, and what they’d do over summer vacation. I’d just made a bucking death pact.

“No.” I decided I hadn’t made a death pact, after all. “We hold each other’s hooves till the end, but it’s not gonna end like that. It’s gonna be alright.”

“If you say so.” She said.

I plopped down and snuggled against her end of the cage. For hours. It was the most comfortable silence I’d ever known outside of Roseluck’s company. Twinkle braided my mane through the bars as best she could, (which is to say, not very good at all). For a little while, she was no longer afraid. Oddly enough, neither was I.


Eventually, I asked the big question. It took me a while (not because I’d been afraid to ask it before; I just didn’t want to ruin the moment).

“Twinkle Eyes?” I asked.

“Yeah?” Said the tiny filly.

“Why’d you pick me out? To be your friend, I mean.”

“Oh,” She said all matter-of-fact-like. “You’re one of the good ones. I can tell.”

One of the good ones.

“Not like this cockwaffle over here.” She gestured at the unicorn behind the glow.

“Bah!” He said. “What do you know? Friends, they just disappear on you anyways.”

“Yeah. Purity corrupts, huh?”

Every muscle in his body tensed. I could tell that one stung. He even lowered his brow at me and puffed up his chest with aggressive breaths. But really, in him, I saw only sadness. I could tell that, even two whole cages away.


* * *


We were locked up down there for a while. Like, a really, really, really, really, really, really, really long time. When you’re stuck in a cage, even if there are dozens of other kids in the same room, you end up sitting through these long horrible stretches of dead silence. You lie around. You drift in and out of sleep so much, you lose track of whether you’ve been there for hours, or days, or even weeks. The terror of facing death by ritual sacrifice is nothing compared to the dull, dull, dull reality of sitting there, bored out of your skull and waiting for it to actually happen.

“Misty Mountain.” Said the foreign kid in the glowy cage. Completely out of the blue.

“What?” Snorted Twinkle Eyes, half asleep.

“My name. Ees Misty Mountain.”

“Save your applause for the end, fillies and gentlecolts.” Said Twinkle. “It has a name.”

Misty stuck his tongue out at her. “I want somepony to know my name before they bury me alive. So shoot me.”

Everypony had a different theory about how they were going to kill us. I hadn’t heard the infamous Sacrifice Them All To Xanthrados or Whatever speech yet, so my theory had less to go on than others’, but part of me hoped that it would somehow involve a catapult.

“Pbbbt!” Twinkle Eyes blew the colt a raspberry.

“Where are you from, Misty?” I asked earnestly before an argument could break out.

“Eet does not matter.” He said heavily.

“Hmmph.” I said.

So much for trying to reach out to the boy.

“I told you he was an asshole.”

“Fine. I come from all over. Romane-ia as foal, then Jerhooveselem, then sunny Fillydelphia. Why you care?”

The whole room hushed. Just like that.

“What? I said.

Twinkle, of course, was the first to break the tension. “You fucking liar.”

She threw a pebble at him. The other kids joined in and started booing.

“What?” I said.

“You believe this guy?” Said the yellow colt behind me, who later introduced himself as Butterscotch.

“What’s wrong with Romane-ia?”

Then, just like that, they were all looking in my direction.

“What? I mean…Jerhooveselem?”

Even the shy girl in the corner – The One I’m Meant to Save – actually squeaked in shock. “Fillydelphia.” She shuttered

“So we’re not talking about Jerhooveselm or Romane-ia?”

The other kids just kept on staring.

“What?” I was starting to get annoyed.

“No, we’re not talking about Jerhooveselem, or Romane-ia. I never even heard of Jerhooveselm.” Said Butterscotch.

“Never heard of Jerhooveselem? Never heard of Jerhooveselem?!” Snapped Misty. “Let me tell you! In old country, we have dees yogurt. Ees twenty times bette--;”

“Would you shut up?” Twinkle and I said in unison.

“Harrumph.” He replied. “You don’t want to hear about de yogurt, you don’t get to hear about de yogurt.”

Twinkle turned to me. “You really never heard of Fillydelphia?”

“No.” I replied. A white lie. Of course I’d heard of it, but the Wasteland kids and I were clearly not talking about the same city.

“What are you, some kinda stable girl?” Came a voice from the far end of the room.

“A wha?”

“No, she ain’t got no Pip Buck.” Butterscotch grumbled.

“Her teeth are too white to be from anywhere else.” Another voice nearby.

I was arousing suspicion!

“Yeah, I’m a stable girl.” I snapped, trying to think fast. “So?”

Not the smartest move, I know, but else what was I supposed to say? Hi, I’m Rose Petal, this is all a dream, and I am actually a traveler from Equestria’s semi-utopian past?

They weren’t buying it though, so I embellished a little. “Been a stable girl my whole life.” I nodded proudly. “I just don’t have a, um…Pip Duck.”

In retrospect, they probably all woulda laughed at me for that had they not been so stunned at my ignorance.

“Now who ees liar?” Misty smirked.

I turned to him. “What’s wrong with you, you jerk? You know, I’m the only pony here who believed you about Fillydelphia even a little bit.”

That shut him up. I was starting to see why Twinkle Eyes hated him so much.

“Now would somepony please explain?”

The hum of distant machinery. The buzz of fluorescent lights. Silence. Just like that, everypony had stopped caring about my white teeth and my stupid Pip Duck. I honestly didn’t know what the hay was wrong with Fillydelphia, but the fact that somepony would have to explain it to me inspired some sort of strange solemnity. Had we been wearing hats, every last child in that room would have taken them off in reverence and horror.

“Slavers.” Misty said at long last.

“As in…slavery?” I asked.

“Yes, slavery.”

I was vaguely familiar with the concept from pirate novels and history books I’d read. The reality was too terrible to even picture – a world where one pony could own another – treat them like sheep or cows. I imagined a pen full of ponies, standing in the middle of Harmony Bell square, forced to watch the rest of the city trot and prance and roam free. Just thinking about it nearly made me cry.

“They took over city a long time ago.” Said Misty. “Eenslaved everypony. Has been Hell ever since.”

“The whole city?!” I squeaked.

“Every block. Every apartment. Every roller coaster.” He said.

Roller coasters?

I thought I could handle the Wasteland, but knowing that suffering on such a scale was even possible? It was too much for me to bear. I had been to Fillydelphia. Had cousins there I liked to spent summers with.

“That’s horrible.” I sniffed. “The whole city? Really?”

Twinkle gave me a somber nod.

“But what about you?” I asked Misty. “You seem alright.”

“It wasn’t always like dees.” It pained him to talk of Fillydelphia. That much was plain, but that didn’t explain why he started trembling all of a sudden – acting all nervous-like. He looked away from us all.

“Never mind. You’re right. I lied.” He said. “I never been to your Fillydelphia.”

I didn’t know what had happened to Ponyville in the centuries since The War. But if even the City of Sisterly Love had gone South, I didn’t want to know what had become of my little town. The thought of it made me cold.


* * *


The cloak-o’s had just wrapped up a shift, and were getting ready for what I could only guess was their culty cult-face version of supper when the news hit. The new guard wheeled out a cart with a box on it, and a long wire extending back to the console. Everypony groaned at the sight of it, but as soon as the image flickered on the glass panel, a stillness fell over the rowdy crowd. This was not the orientation film that those who had been there all week had seen. It was something new entirely.

“Good evening, children.” Said the mare we had all heard ranting about the evils of innocence a thousand times over.

A tall lavender unicorn, swathed in white and crimson robes. Not at all what I expected. Her warm, motherly voice and affectionate posture was disarming.

You almost wanted to like her.

“Some of you may feel conflicted and confused about your accommodations, and you have my apologies for that.”

You mean our bucking cages?

“Sadly necessary, under the circumstances.”

A float-a-majig with a bunch of doohickeys on it was hovering in the air beside her. I could see it on the screen.

“What’s that thing?” I whispered to Twinkle.

“Sprite bot.” She said. “It’s filming her.”

The shot switched to a close up from a different angle. I could only presume there were other sprite bots floating around beside her.

“But today is a new beginning.” The strange priestess continued. “This is the day we set you free.”

Misty shot to his hooves. The other kids broke out into a dull roar as Miss Cheerilee used to say. Even the quiet girl in the corner leapt off her ledge and flung herself to the front of her cage to get a better look. We all pretty much presumed the same thing – she was talking about killing us.

“That’s right, my little ponies. You’re free to go. Our little exam is over. Your guidance counselors will be around presently to escort you to safety, and of course, freedom.”

Stomp. Stomp. Stomp. Stomp. Stomp. Stomp. Stomp. The cloak-o’s marched into the room in unison, and formed a line in front of our cages. They were wielding little bats. Those of us who had leaned forward up against our bars were now cringing at the back of our cages.

“Don’t let their appearance fool you. They won’t hurt you.”

Then what the buck are the bats for? I thought.

“…So long as you follow directions and exit in an orderly fashion.” The priestess continued. “Doesn’t that sound fun?”

She tried to force a giggle, but it was utterly soulless. The word “fun” must have tasted like poison on her tongue.

“Your guidance counselors are here to help. And once we’ve thrown you your going away party, they will guide you to your bold new futures.”

A quick look around told me that none of the other kids bought it either. I didn’t know about them, but I was starting to get seriously annoyed. It’s one thing to capture you – to torment you – to enslave you – to destroy you. It’s quite another to do so under the guise of friendship.

I was shaking. Partly out of fear, partly out of rage. I wanted to kill every last cloak-o in the room. Guidance counselors? Guidance counselors?! Really?

They were already escorting fillies and colts out of their cages three at a time. Every last one of them complied. They were paralyzed with fear. We all knew that freedom was not what awaited us beyond those double doors, but even the polite lie of a "bold new future" was just enough hope and uncertainty and confusion to keep us all obedient.

The last thing any cloak-o wants to face is a room full of ponies with nothing left to lose, even if they were just a bunch of little kids.

Then out of nowhere, the quiet girl in the corner started humming. It was just a simple tune, but hearing it made my own terror disappear. It was like riding a speeding train as it flew off a great big old cliff. I had never been on one, of course, but I imagine that just before the big kerplsat, somewhere in there, there’s gotta be like a perfect moment of weightlessness – of peace. Her humming did that to me.


I realized quickly that I knew the tune! It was the one that had been hiding in the back of my head as I drew “The Filly Behind the Wall” for Miss Cheerilee’s art class. She opened her mouth, and meekly started breathing words into the melody.

Old Raiders, yes they rob I

Sold I to the merchant ships

Minutes after they took I

From the bottomless pit.

One by one, we all fell quiet. It spread like a fire. I don’t know where the song had actually come from, but something about it was magic. It had the power to make everything else in the world stop, stand completely still and just listen.

But my hooves have been made strong

By the light of the Sun and Moon.

She continued bravely.

It will be taken back for our generation

Triumphantly.”

Other kids were joining in now. Softly. They knew the words. I found out later that it had been some sort of zebra folk song during The War.

“Hey, stop that.” Said one of the guidance counselors, looking around, scanning the cages for the original instigator. He was eying The One I’m Meant to Save suspiciously. Before he reached her cage, I jumped in, and sang as loud as I possibly could, which, as it turns out, it pretty darn loud.

Won’t you help to sing

These songs of freedom?"

I knew the words. I don’t know how I knew them. They just sorta spilled right out of me.

It’s all I ever had

Redemption song.

The song was coming to me from a place far beyond hope of making sense – beyond reason. That part of the pony heart that we all share. It was starting to look like art wasn’t half as crazy as music.

The cloak-o poked around, and sniffed out our cages. Finally, he came right up to me, smiled, and stared with the purest hatred he could muster. That’s when Miisty joined in too. I don’t know if he did it specifically to save my flank, or just to be a jerk to the cloak-o, but he sang really loud and sounded like an opera dude, which totally succeeded in diverting his attention.

Eemancipate yourself from mental slavery.

None but ourselves can free our minds.

“He said knock it off!” Shouted another cloak-o, banging his club against Misty Mountain’s little cubicle.

But he didn’t stop. Neither did anypony else. We hummed. We sang. I spat the words out like they were rays of magic anger. Pew pew pew!

Have no fear for toxic energy

None of them can stop the time.

A few minutes ago, there had been rattling in our cages – nervous shaking. Now it was on purpose - a rhythmic hoof-on-steel stomp of protest. It kept the rhythm.

The cloakfaces yelled. They threatened to take away the freedom they’d promised if we didn’t quit disrespecting the instructional video starring their great fearless leader. Swore to revoke our bold new futures.

We didn’t care.

How long will they kill our prophets

While we stand aside and look?

Some say it’s just a part of it

Gotta fulfill the book.

Twinkle grabbed my hoof through the bars and smiled at me. It felt good to have a friend, even for a short while. One of the cloak-o’s snarled at our gesture of friendship. We stuck our tongues out and giggled, and turned out attention back to the song.

Won’t you help to sing…


I was reasonably certain even then that it wasn’t going to end well for any of us, but it didn’t matter. We had defied them. We’d exposed their weakness. We sat back with giggles and songs and smiles, and watched them panic like fools.

They were afraid of a bunch of tiny children, even though they had us tucked safely behind metal fences keeping us from doing what we all really wanted to do. A song had scared them all pale.

And no matter what was to come afterward, it was totally worth it to see a bunch of armed cloak-o’s acting like a pack of ragey spazzoids just because they couldn’t handle the fact that a couple of singing schoolfillies.

We’d pay for it later, but that moment - it brought us all together. Like magic. Kids who’d done nothing but bicker mere hours before, holding hooves like true, true friends. When we called out “Won’t you help to sing these songs of freedom?” We meant it. Because we weren’t just singing to ourselves. We were singing to each other.

We knew we were totally bucked, but those songs of freedom, those stolen moments, they’re ours.

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.
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. /]*[\
Column: My Derpy Hooves News column about Love, Tolerance, and Friendship, “Help! My Heart is Full of Pony!” is now archived at http://heartfullofpony.tumblr.com

Music: Check out my pony music (rock, jazz, hip-hop, blues, classical, and experimental). http://www.youtube.com/sdoggingsworth

Cover Art: http://shadesofeverfree.deviantart.com/art/The-Rose-Queen-334850063

Lyrics to “Redemption Song” Copyright Bob Marley

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