• 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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The Big Question

CHAPTER FORTY - THE BIG QUESTION
"A goal without a plan is just a wish." - Antoine de Saint-Exupéry




By the time I got home the Sun was almost down, and I was exhausted. Not only had I gotten the news that I was a living playing card; not only had I tracked down Kettle Corn and given her a heartrending apology (after her dad had slammed a door in my face); not only had I suffered a great big existential crisis of conscience right in the middle of the hospital over Bananas' changelingly behavior; I'd also traveled through the Everfree Forest, and endured woodland-eyeball-voices in my head. I'd caught Zecora up on my long, long, long, long, long story (which sounds easy, but is actually pretty exhausting). I'd travelled with her into the realm of dreams, fallen into Lake What-the-Fuck, and gotten my consciousness ripped from my own brainself.

And after that madness, I'd had to drag my flank all the way home again. Through the fog of foresty eyeballs clouding up my brain. And Cranky blah blah blah'ed on top of it too. Yammering instructions at me for how to make it back to Zecora's without him. Lecturing me that he couldn't. Keep. Matilda. Waiting.

All in all, it was an exhausting trip back to Ponyville. And of course, last but thankfully least, there was Cliff, freaking out the whole way. Over the zebrish truths I'd imparted to him.

* * *

"You didn't ask her?!" Cliff leapt up and down like a bouncy ball. Energized by sheer indignation.

"I'm sorry." I said. "I didn't think of it."

"Zecora tells you that every pony you ever met. In the past, or in the future…"

"Ugh. I've never been to the past." I rubbed my temple with a free hoof. The headache was just barely starting to fade.

"Not the point." Cliff snapped. "She tells you that you're all entwined in the saaaaame relative timeline - proving Frostingsweet's Theorem by the way - and you don't stop to wonder whether or not the shadows and their castles are on the same timeline too?!"

"Keep it down," Cranky snapped at us from ten yards behind. "You're supposed to be paying attention to landmarks."

"Sorry." I called over my shoulder, and gave Cliff an aggravated nudge. But Cranky kept barking.

"You're not going through these woods on your own 'till you show me you that you know the way. Got that, kid?" Cranky commanded, unusually authoritarian-like.

"Yeees." Cliff and I groaned in unison.

"Hold up." Cranky called out to us.

We did.

"Now," he said, clip-clopping his way up the Everfree path. "Look around you. Which direction does the moss in the Everfree Forest face?"

"Whichever direction it feels like." Cliff and I droned.

"And how do you use it to find your way?"

"You don't." We both replied.

"Good, now keep going, and eyes open!" Cranky hung back and let us get a head start again.

Once he was far enough behind, Cliff leaned up next to me and whispered. "Okay, I been thinking."

"Uh-oh."

"You can ask Zecora all about this tomorrow when you officially sign up for her classes or whatever."

"There is no sign up sheet." I groaned.

I hadn't worked up the nerve to tell Cliff the truth yet. That I wasn't even sure I wanted to go back.

"I said classes...'or whatever'." Cliff retorted, making quotation marks with his flailing hooves. "The point is that you should ask her. But, I think I've got it figured out anyway. The shadows must be on the same wavelength as you. Or you would be dead by now."

I perked my head up at that. Actually paid attention despite the mind-cloudening forest voices. "Say what again?"

"They're totally out. To. Get. You." He said.

"I figured that out on my own, thanks."

"...They attacked Ponyville after you escaped them in the slave mines. After!" He repeated.
"If you weren't tethered to them in some way, they coulda just gone back in time and killed you when you were a foal."

"Makes sense." I groaned.

"Presuming they can time travel at all." Cliff scratched his chin. "Maybe they only know how to go through time because they're following you."

I gasped. What if I was the key to their breaking into other timelines. Other worlds! What if I had only survived so many encounters because they'd been keeping me alive on purpose. To open time-doors for them.

The very notion was terrifying!

...But it couldn't be true. Not after what I had seen in the desert. What Bananas Foster had seen. And if they'd been faking trying to gobble up my soul, I kiiiiiinda think that Princess Luna woulda cottoned on to it.

"No," I said aloud. "They can travel on their own."

"Oh." Cliff said.

"I'm sure of it." I assertified.

"Well, no wonder they keep coming after you then." Cliff straightened his hat with a spare hoof, loosened his scarf, all super nervous-like.

"Huh? Why?"

"Don't you see? If your timeline and their timelines are stuck together, then anywhere you've been to, they can't go anymore."

"Holy Celestia." I said, suddenly awestruck.

My very existence was a threat to them! The realization made me want to scream. It made me want to cheer. It made me want to hide in some forgotten corner of some forgotten world. Or maybe run out to every corner of the world. Mess up every timeline. 'Cause fuck you, shadowy jerks. Fuck you.

"They're tethered to your friends now too." Cliff added. And suddenly I felt my heart plunge. "That's what Zecora said, right?" Cliff added. "That our timelines are connected?"

"Yes." I whispered, as all that old guilt over the shadow blizzard came rushing back.

"No, no, no!" Cliff said excitedly. "I don't mean it like that. This is great news!"

"What?" I squeaked. "How?!"

"Pay attention!" Cranky hollered.

I cringed. "Sorry!" I called out over my shoulder. Again. (So much for earning merit badges in Dangerous Travel.)

"Why is it a good thing that I've gone and entangled all of my friends with the shadows?"

"Because," Cliff replied. "Misty Mountain. He's traveling spacetime just like you!"

"...And now the shadows can't go to any of those places either." I whispered, totally astonished.

"Exactly!"

The idea, obvious though it should have been, blew my mind. But before I could even begin to digest it, Cliff hit me with another doozy of a question.

"Hey!" He said. "How far down-the-line do you think it goes?"

"What do you mean?"

"Do you think you're, like, tethered to everypony that Misty ever met?"

"I don't k--;"

"Ooh! And everypony that they ever met? And everyone that they ever met that they've ever met?"

I thought about it for a moment. The chain of dominoes that touching somepony's life could create. The truth was: I had no idea how many of those ponies my timeline was tethered to. But I knew it couldn't go on forever.

"Strawberry Lemonade." I said. "I helped her personally. And she left a big impression on the world that the soldiers of No Mare's Land inherited. And I was able to visit them. So we know the connection can't go on forever."

Cliff furrowed his brow. Walked beside me in thinkitty silence for a good while. Long enough for my Everfree headache to vanish completely, and for the light of Ponyville to start creeping through the wall of trees up ahead as the edge of the woods grew near. By the time Cliff turned to me at last, I was back to feeling like my old self again.

"Hey, Rose Petal," he said. "When you get sent forward in time, do you, get the impression that, like, maybe there's a plan?"

"Yeah." I answered quietly. "Of course. All those voices. And hornets. And directions. There's always something that's supposed to happen.

"Well, do you, uh, think there might be someone behind it? Or something? I mean, like, not just in theory. Uh...how do I put this?" Cliff paused to pretend to tighten his scarf while he struggled for words. "Has anything ever actually happened to give you that impression? Any clues about where any of this stuff might be coming from?"

"None." I answered without missing a beat. "Unless you count Pinkie Pie's card game, none at all. Why?"

Cliff shook his head. "It doesn't make any sense, that's all." He said solemnly. "If there is a plan, then...like...It's a stupid plan that makes absolutely no sense."

I cocked my head sideways in curiosity. Not because I thought that The Plan was particularly logical. But 'cause I couldn't figure out what, in particular, was itching at Cliff Diver.

"If you and Misty Mountain are actually getting sent on missions...together - then it's, like, the worst idea ever!...Strategically speaking. Every place that he's been to...you can't go now. And vice versa. Tethering you on purpose would be like, um...um…" Cliff looked around us at the branches, and the trees, and the ground as he scraped the back of his brain to try and cobble together an analogy. "...Like pulling random squares off a chess board and saying 'these spots are totally off limits; and like, only my enemies can land here.' It doesn't make any sense." Cliff squeaked with enthusiasm.

"Hmm." I answered. Walked on in silence.

"What? That's all you have to say? Don't you think this is important, Rose?"

"Yeah." I said. "Actually, I do. And it's weird. Everypony who knows anything about this time-traveling dream stuff says that me and Misty journeying together is not. Supposed. To. Happen."

"So I'm telling you what you already know." Cliff sighed.

"No!" I cried. "You're the only one who actually figured out why it's not supposed to happen."

Cliff's lips stretched wide across his face into a giant beaming smile.

* * *

Reaching the edge of the woods was not a big surprise. We could see it coming from quite a while away. But when I finally got there - when my boot actually felt the crunch of the snow - it stunned me. Just a little. 'Cause we'd made it. We'd actually made it. Back to Ponyville.

And looking out over the pastoral landscape - blanketed in white, with a herd of foals snowball fighting way off in the distance, and a mare towing her cart down the road with a bright and cheerful gait - it gave me a feeling of unease.

Something was wrong. Just beneath the surface. Really wrong. I hadn't noticed it back when I'd been immersed in the ebb and flow of the Ponyville lifestyle. But once an afternoon of shadow silence had passed (courtesy of the Everfree eyeballs), I came back with fresh senses. And now? Ponyville felt off somehow. It made my blood run cold.

"Hey, Rose Petal?" Cliff mumbled at me.

"Yeah?" I answered, gazing absent-mindedly over the South side of town, thinking of shadow-stuff.

"Can I like...ask you something?" He mumbled into his scarf.

I didn't notice at first. And for a while, he stayed silent - so silent that it startled me when he worked up the nerve to speak up again.

"Rose?"

"Huh?!" I leaped up. "What?"

"Nevermind." He shrunk back again. Hid behind his scarf.

"What's wrong?" I said

"Nothing!" He answered. "I'm totally fine. I was just wondering, uh…"

Then Cliff got nervous all of a sudden. Like spazz nervous. The same kinda awkward he'd been when we first became friends. When he first asked if he could walk me home.

It was weird.

"What?" I pressed him.

Cliff sighed. "Promise not to laugh?"

"Yeah." I answered somberly.

"Well, um I was hoping…that...um..."

Cliff nervously took to straightening out his scarf. Buying time while he worked up the nerve to say whatever the Hell it was he had to say. But he never got the chance.

"Hey!" Cranky grumbled as he came up behind us. "You two chowderheads haven't been paying attention at all."

"Ahh!" Cliff leapt straight up in the air.

"Sorry," I said, apologizing for both of us.

"What am I supposed to do now, kid?" He turned to me and sighed, threw his hooves up in exasperation. "I can't just chaperone you day in and day out. But you've got to be back there tomorrow," Cranky tossed his donkey head back in the direction of the forest. "Or Zecora won't take you on as a pupil - believe me, kid, I know the zebra witch, and how she works." Cranky added with an eye roll.

It made me wonder about their history together. If maybe there was more to it than drunken vomit in Zecora's garden.

"You ain't ready to travel the woods by yourself - even if Zecora's place is the most direct path that the Everfree has to offer. But what am I going to tell Matilda, huh, kid?" There was iron in his voice now. The thought of hurting Matilda's feelings, or risking his standing with her brought out a rage I hadn't seen in him before. "I can't keep rearranging our plans, and rearranging our lives. I can't be forward and tell her what's going on with you. And I can't lie to her either."

"I'm sorry." Cliff interjected. "I'm very, very sorry. I can take her. I, uh...I really think I can do it."

"You think--;"

"I can." Cliff squeaked. "I mean I will. I mean I'm sorry. I shoulda paid more attention. I shouldn'ta been so stupid. Maybe if, like--;"

"I'm not going." The words spilled out of my mouth, all-of-a-sudden-like. I hadn't even been thinking it!

And then there was Cranky and Cliff Diver, eyeballing me in disbelief.

"What?" Cliff said sadly. "No."

"Don't be ridiculous, kid." Cranky shook his head and said.

"It's not you." I added. "I just don't think Zecora and I are a good fit. That's all."

A weird silence filled up the air between us. Punctuated only by the occasional laugh of the fillies way off in the distance.

"Bah, I'll take you, kid." Cranky muttered.

"I'll lead the way." Cliff Diver added. "You know, as a trial run to see if I can do it next time."

He turned to Cranky. Promised him with a glance. If eyeballs could talk, Cliff Diver's would say, 'I got this.'

I smiled a little. But Cranky and Cliff were still just making it harder for me. "No, really." I said. "Zecora and me kiiinda had a disagreement, and like, I'm not sure I should study under her."

"You ain't sure, kid?"

"No, I am." I said. "I mean--;"

"So this was 'cause of me." Cliff interrupted.

"What? No! It's just...I think that...Ugh," I sighed. "I don't know."

"Well, kid. Ya got 'till tomorrow to figure it out." Cranky said bluntly. "I'll be right here." He stomped his hoof on the ground, indicating that he would meet us at this exact spot. "Whatever you decide."

I nodded in silence.

"In the meantime, come on back to my house for a minute. I got something for ya."

Cliff and I exchanged confusitty glances. By the time we looked back, Cranky had already turned his flank to us, and started heading on down the road that ultimately lead to his cottage.

* * *

It wasn't far to Cranky and Matilda's place. And when we got there, Matilda had tea ready. Not because she'd been waiting up for us, but 'cause she'd just gotten home herself, and had barely finished warming up the pot when we came stomping through the door, trying to shake snow off our boots by force of habit, even though we'd barely tracked in any snow at all.

"Oh, what luck!" She said as she rocked by the fire. "Perfect timing. Come! Sit. Sit."

Before long, Cliff and I were right there with her, sipping cocoa while Cranky disappeared into the next room.

"It's very kind of you, you know." Matilda said softly once Cranky, her special somepony, was out of earshot. "...To take the time to listen to that old donkey's stories."

I froze. 'Cause I had no idea what Matilda knew, or what she didn't know - what version of the truth Cranky had told her! I skimmed my brain for some dim memory. Any clue at all.

...But came up empty.

"It's our pleasure!" Cliff jumped in.

"I'll bet." Matilda said with a crafty smile. "He's led quite the life. And he doesn't talk about it to just anypony."

"Does he talk about it to you?" I said - a not terribly subtle attempt to find out what she already knew.

"In bits and pieces." Matilda answered contentedly. Rock-rock-rocking on her chair. "I think one good thing - probably the only good thing - about us being apart for so long, is that now, I get to learn something new about Cranky Doodle Donkey everyday.

"That's...kind of cool."

"It most certainly is."

She smiled. Gazed at the fire. Hummed a little tune to herself. Where she knew it from, or what the melody meant to her? I'll never know. But she mrrrrrr'd it all the way through. At least twice before hitting me with serious talk. Totally out of the blue.

"It's no secret you've been having some trouble, Rose Petal." Matilda said softly.

"Who, me?!"

"I don't know what you three have been up to." She replied, referring of course to Cranky, Cliff Diver, and me. "Don't need to know. I'll find out when the time is right. If it's ever right. You see Rose, when you get a little older…"

Before she could finish that thought, a clang and a shunk came from the other room where Cranky was apparently rummaging. "Hey, Matilda!" He hollered. "Have you seen that pouch I was showing you the other day?"

"It's out here!" She called back to him without hesitation.

"What in Celestia's name is it doing out there?" Cranky appeared. "I been looking for it all this time."

"Come on. You couldn't give it to her like that." Matilda whispered those last few words. Scandalized.

"Like what?"

"The way it looked." Matilda tsked. Held up a hoof (to tell us all to wait a second). And delicately plunged her face into a sash hanging off the side of her rocking chair. She came back with a little pouch clutched in her mouth. All black. Some kind of densely woven cloth. Sturdy. Utilitarian. She turned it over to reveal a needlepoint design embroidered on the surface: A single rose. Framed by a laurels and vines interwoven into a sort of knot work pattern. All tiny. And intricate. The detail was breathtaking.

Cranky came up from behind, and leaned over the side of her rocking chair. Squinting. "When did you have time to do all that?"

"Before breakfast," she replied.

Cliff Diver shimmied across the floor to try to get a peek from underneath. It was the only way he could see - what with Matilda, Cranky, and me all crowding over the pouch from above.

"You did that before breakfast?" Cliff exclaimed.

Next thing I know, Matilda has one of her scrapbooks out. And she starts showing us pictures.

"I know you must think that knitting, and crocheting, and needlepoint are all old crone's work. But I didn't earn those plaques on the wall from the Mare's League by sitting around and rocking all day."

Inside her book were pictures of Matilda in her youth. Running what seemed to be a marathon. One of the photos captured her leaping off a cliff. Another showed her weaving rope as she fell.

Matilda turned the page, and there was a photo of her young self again. Wrestling a hydra with knitting needles gripped between her teeth. Each shot told a story of how the match had unfolded. By the end, all five heads were tangled up in a gorgeous web of yarn. And on the last one, there was a young donkey posing in front of her five-headed captive, smile on her face a mile wide as she propped up a plaque that read "Third Place." An older donkey mare wearing a headband over her mane and a whistle around her neck stood beside Young Matilda. Presumably, her coach.

Matilda turned the page to reveal several faded old ribbons. Second Place. Third Place. First Place, First Place, First Place. The category? Speed. Each of the sepia photographs were of a young Matilda embroidering satchels by hoof, needles moving faster than the camera could capture. It was all a blur.

"How did you do all that?" Cliff asked, eyes sparkling with wonder.

"Well," Matilda answered. "Some folks said I was a natural - that I had a gift. But they only saw the ease with which I sewed, or stiched, or knitted. They didn't see the training. The work..."

"The coaching." I said. Zecora still on my mind.

"Yeah." Matilda smiled and said. "Don't think I woulda gotten far without old Yarn Spinner, that's for sure." She let out a nostalgic little chuckle. "Oh, but enough about me." Matilda snapped the scrapbook shut.

(Personally, I think she reveled in giving us young folk a jaw-dropper of a new perspective, only to tease it away from us.)

"Cranky wants you to have this." Matilda smirked, and brought everypony's attention back to the pouch. "...But I wasn't going to let you go wearing that ugly old thing around your neck all day. I just couldn't! Not as it was."

"Thank you," I replied, still utterly awestruck.

"Cranky," Matilda chimed in again. "Why don't you go on and give Rose Petal that speech you were practicing?"

"It's not a speech, and I wasn't practicing it." Cranky blushed. "...But okay." He turned to me, and passed the pouch my way. "This here's a mojo bag, kid. We all carry them with us on the road. To keep our memories in. To keep our friends with us. It'll help keep your...um...lucky charms safe."

Cliff gasped. Stared at the thing with a kind of hope that I could not explain. While I tugged on the pink pocket watch hanging around my neck. Ran my hoof over Misty's hair, and Twinkle Eyes' twig.

Cranky was right. My system wouldn't exactly be the safest way to hold on to important stuff. Especially once I started carrying Screw Loose's pet sock around with me again.

I took the pouch from Matilda's teeth. Dropped it into my hooves. And examined it closely. I don't know much about stitching, or needlework, or knitting. So I couldn't begin to tell you what the craftsponyship was like. Not in a way that did it justice. But it was small. Exquisite. Sharper in detail than a cutie mark eight times its size.

"I'll treasure it." I said as I slid the fancy pouch over the watch, and the hair, and the twig. Tightened the little drawstring. 'Till it just looked like a black pendant hanging off of a pink chain. "I'll treasure it always."

"Yeah, well," Cranky blushed again. "Don't lose it, kid."

* * *

Cliff Diver and I stuck around for another round of cocoa after that, but it was getting late, and nodonkey pressured us to stay. So we said our goodbyes and our thank-yous and our really, we mean it, thanks so much's, and we headed on our way.

The sun was hanging low by the time we actually got a move on. The hills to the West hummed bright with pinks and oranges. The horizon on the East lit up with vague promises of nightfall. And a mild dread crept up on me. Cliff too, judging by the look on his face.

It was almost supper time, you see. And neither one of us could afford to be late. Not today.

You take too long getting home - even on a normal evening - and grownups are gonna start asking questions. It doesn't matter if it's Roseluck's mix of irritation and concern, or Cliff Driver's parents' artisanal brand of psychotic manipulative bullshit. The end result would be exactly the same.

Having to dish out a bunch of rambling excuses.

Then the adults would get all suspicious, and start asking deeper questions. Harder questions. Why we had been out so long. Where we had gone to. What we'd been doing.

The sun still had a little while to go yet, but Cliff and I had all of Ponyville to cross. Without saying a single solitary word to one another, we both broke into a trot.

Stomp stomp stomp stomp stomp stomp stomp.

We covered ground pretty quickly that way without having to dash at full gallop. And for a while, the two of us moved as one in silent understanding. But the nearer we got to Cliff's place, the more he slowed down. Grew uneasy. Shied away from me for reasons I couldn't guess.

"Hey Rose?" Cliff broke the silence at last.

"Yeah?"

He cast his eyes downward. Kicked a pebble.

"Nothing," he answered. "Never mind. Don't worry about it."

"Don't worry about what?" He was acting fucking weird again, and I was starting to get seriously annoyed.

"I was gonna ask you something," he replied. "But...it's stupid."

"It's not stupid." I retorted.

"How do you know?"

"'Cause I do." I reassured him. Quietly hoping that this wasn't gonna be some dumb shit about aliens.

"Well...okay." He continued. "So you're still not sure about becoming Zecora's student, right? But, like...that tail hair of Misty Mountain's. It has to have happened for...you know...a reason or something."

"I guess."

"...Even if the reason doesn't make any sense." Cliff grumbled, obsessing on that old point again. "So the way I see it, even if you don't become Zecora's student, you should still totally learn to get good at, like, reaching out, and building...y'know, dream bridges or whatever...

"Sounds like a good idea."

The town square started looming up ahead - the halfway point between Cranky's cottage and mine.

"I don't get why you're all worked up about it though." I added.

"Oh." He answered with a nervous little laugh. "I was just getting to that."

Cliff Diver let his gaze drift downwards again, and we were back to that tiresome silence between us, punctuated by the sound of our boots grinding against a crusty road, now slowed down to a mere power walk.

Crunch-crunch. Crunch-crunch. Crunch-crunch.

"Can I live in your pouch?" He blurted out randomly. "I mean, you know, something of mine. Not literally me. But like, so you can maybe build a bridge or whatever, and find me in your dreams?"

I didn't get a chance to think about Cliff's proposal, let alone answer it. 'Cause he jumped right into interruptifying me again. As though I had answered.

"I know! I know!" He held up a hoof and rolled his eyes at himself. "It's stupid. I can't really help you in your dreams. I dunno what I'm doing. But I figure maaaaybe we can still practice and stuff. 'Till you...like...learn how to move around on your own a little better. 'Till you're good enough to find Misty Mountain. And then, like, perhaps--;"

"Cool." I replied briskly.

"What? Really?"

"Sure. I mean...I'll try." I said.

But even as the words left my mouth, the idea kinda bugged me. Would it be irresponsible to try and tackle that kinda thing on my own? Or maybe it was irresponsible not to?

I thought back to what Princess Luna had said. How the shadows were gonna come for my friends. How it was up to me to teach them to defend themselves. But I hadn't done that. Any of it! I needed to buckle down. Pony up! Protect those I cared about. Like Princess Luna told me to.

...I just wasn't sure if The Land of My Weird and Unstable Dreamlife was really the safest place to start.

"I still don't know that I'm giving up on Zecora, though." I added.

"Oh," Cliff replied with a sigh. "Yeah, well...you should really figure that out."




Just then, we came to a crossroads, and Cliff Diver stopped. I stopped too, following his lead. The two of us stood there, right in the center of the intersection, with paths stretching out in all directions. Each leading to unseen destinations that hid behind curves of the road, and over hills.

I thought Cliff Diver was gonna make some kinda symbolic point about decisiveness. But he just took a deep breath, sighed, and said, "My house is that way."

His hoof pointed West.

"Oh," I replied. "Mine's that way." I gestured North.

"I know." He replied. "So, uh, see you tomorrow."

"Yeah."

Cliff turned around and sulked away. I couldn't blame him for dragging his hooves. I know I wouldn't be eager to get home if I had to deal with his crazy parents.

"Wait!" I called out. Ran after him.

And when he turned around, I skidded to a halt. We ended up so close our knees practically knocked together. But I leaned in even closer anyway. Took a calm deep breath, licked my lips in preparation for what I was about to do, and...chomp! Bit down on a stray hair that'd been hanging out the side of his hat.

The idea was to tug it loose. Make a show of plucking it off, and tucking it away into my new pouch. And assuring Cliff Diver that our friendship was magical too. That I was just as was as enthusiastic about our being dream buddies as he was!

But it didn't pan out that way.

"Ow!" He yelped. Tugged in the other direction.

When the hair still didn't come loose from his scalp, it zipped out of my mouth like rusty piano wire. I tumbled forward to the ground as my hooves failed me. He stumbled backwards, knees wobbling.

"What the hay!" He said.

"I'm sorry." I cried. "I was trying to yank one of your hairs loose."

"What for?" He rubbed his head in pain.

"Because," I answered as I shieldied my burning lips with my boot. "I wanna be dream buddies."

"...Oh," he replied. "Really?"

"Yeah."

I rose to my hooves and brushed the snow off my side.

"Cool." Cliff Diver plunged his face into his saddlebags, and...

Rummage rummage rummage. Rummage rummage rummage. Until Voila! He produced a blue hair of his, and a warped marble that looked kinda like a flying saucer.

I took them from him. "What's with the marble?"

"For good luck!" He said brightly.

But then his smile faded. He took to peering over my shoulder at the sinking sun. His eyes stretched big and wide when he realized how late it had gotten.

"Blast!" He said to himself, and dashed away suddenly in a hurry. "See you, tonight!" He called back over his shoulder. Still giddy at our newly forged partnership, despite being in a great big old rush.

And before I could mull over what Cliff Diver'd just said, he was already halfway up the hill. "Tonight?" I called out. "No. Wait! I don't know how!"

But Cliff kept on galloping. I had no idea whether or not he'd heard me. I just knew I wasn't ready to take him dream surfing. I didn't even know how to do it on my own!

The notion haunted me. I. Wasn't. Ready. It left me wondering. lf I did decide to continue without Zecora, would I ever learn to master my dreams? To step outside my door! To find Misty. Explore the Duckyverse?

There were so many possibilities. So much I could learn to do on my dream travels. The only question was: how?

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.

For personal reasons, this chapter is dedicated to St. Guinefort - the holy greyhound of Lyon, the only dog ever to be venerated as a saint. Guinefort was a good dog. (All dogs are saints if you ask me.)

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