• 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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Pieces

CHAPTER FORTY-FOUR - PIECES
"Is any life so isolated that it lives only in the past and not in the present and future, too?" -Jackson Burnett




The Great Sorcerer Planktoneth once told Daisy the Cabin Girl that the world is a puzzle, and all of us, pieces. Even with our cutie marks, nopony can really see what we mean to the world. What it all builds. What it means. The only thing we know for sure is how we fit with one another. Our jagged edges. Our fragile voids. They all lock together, and transform us into something larger than ourselves.

That's why the world is only as strong as the bonds between us.

Now, I know what you're thinking, of course. The Great Cave of Golzakareth only opens once every 777 years. And the rest of the time, Planktoneth sits alone in his hermitage. What the fuck does he know about ponies fitting together? What could he possibly know of the world itself for that matter, (since he had renounced all worldly things after the death of his sister in the Great Coral Wars)? And it's a totally valid criticism - one all us fans have wondered at some point or another.

But the idea still gave me solace. And after everything I'd learned in the Wasteland and beyond - everything I'd seen - I had come to believe in the Great Puzzle more than ever.

But now it kinda worried me. Because friendship is a give and take. Edges and voids. Bananas Foster and I had just shared the most awesome experience - an intimacy that bordered on cosmic. The end result, however, was still frightening. 'Cause I was the only creature in the whole universe who could fulfill her basic fundamental need for touch.

How could we possibly be equal after that? What kinda friendship can you have with somepony who can, on a whim, deprive you of water if they wanted to - simply by not being there? Or air? Or sandwiches?

Even if they'd never, ever, ever do such a thing - even if they loved you - even if your joy was their joy - the bond between you two would still forever be imbalanced. Dependent.

I didn't have the words for it at the time, but it itched at me.

* * *

"Ooh! Ooh!" Cliff got so excited he bounced up-and-down all over the road. The sun was still low in the sky, and the trees cast long shadows along the northward path that led to the schoolhouse, and all Cliff wanted to talk about was the physics of my evil hoof. "What if your hoof...like...isn't a hoof. What if it's the image of a hoof projected from some other time or dimension?"

"Ow!" He exclaimed as I kicked him lightly, thus proving that my hoof was, in fact, real. "Okay, okay, okay. Point taken. But there's still so many different possibilities."

"Cliff." I grumbled.

"First we have to figure out if, like, the dome actually filters out living material."

"Cliff." I grunted.

"'Cause was your hoof, like, an exception because it's legitimately not living? Or does the machine simply fail to register it because its parameters weren't designed to look for evil world-destroying shadow magic?"

"Cliff!" I screamed at the top of my lungs.

That shut him up.

Closing my eyes, even as I walked, I explained to him why I didn't wanna hear it. "I actually like my hoof for the first time in ever. So I really don't wanna think about what kind of evil, world-destroying whatnots are in there."

"Fine," he said. Though by the way he gritted his teeth, I could tell it ate him up inside not to be sciencing my hoof, even for one minute.

So we walked in silence a while. 'Till the Ponyville Schoolhouse peaked out at us from the distance. And suddenly, I remembered it from my dream. I could see the big red doors opening. Feel the freezing cold darkness and stuff inside. The memory of that place smacked my brain so hard, that my legs started to burn from the icy touch of the dead mine-o kids who had come spilling out, and swept me toward the door like an undertow, crying, It should have been you, it should have been you, it should have been you.

"Ahhh!" I shouted, shielding my face, seemingly out of nowhere.

But then it was all over. Just as suddenly as it had sprung on me.

"What?" Cliff squealed. "What is it?"

I looked up ahead. The schoolhouse wasn't evil. It had a bright Equestrian flag waving from its pole. It had strips of colored paper that Miss Cheerilee had hung everywhere to welcome us back. Its windows glistened as the long orange light of dawn bounced off of them.

"Nothing." I said. "I'm fine."

"You sure?"

"Yeah. Let's go."

The two of us veered off the main road at last, and onto the little path that led to our school. The shrill chatter of our peers rang out across the field. And so did the bell. Diiing. Diiiing. Diiiiing.

Fuck. We were late.

Cliff and I broke into a trot. But the other kids were already way ahead of us. All we could see were their flanks as they filed inside.

"Have some more pancakes." I muttered to myself sarcastically as I thought back to the breakfast table that had inspired our late start. "Just a few more can't hurt."

Lies! We were late. And it was all the fault of those delectable pancakes!

Featherweight was the last colt to the door, and the only one to turn around and notice us.
With a gasp and a grin, he fumbled for the camera around his neck using his wings to hold it up. With a great big enthusiastic smile, he snapped our picture just as we approached the steps. I could see the headline now. Hospital Girl Back in School Almost as Though She Were Normal.

Click! Click, clickety click click click! Feather snapped a few more rapid fire shots before darting inside.

Then it was just Cliff and me. At the bottom of the stairs. Exchanging glances with one another.

"Well that's not a good sign." He said.

"No, I guess not."

Cliff stretched his foreleg out, and placed his boot on mine. As if to say, You can do this. A couple of deep breaths later, we were through the door.




From the moment we set hoof inside, all eyes were on us. I swear they darted in our direction so quickly, that it made an eyeball-swoosh sound.

But not Miss Cheerilee. She pointedly ignored Cliff and I as we crept along the walls - tiphooving toward the back of the room - and continued with her good morning speech. "And over the next few days, we'll reacquaint ourselves with all of our old lessons, so you'll have plenty of time to get back into the swing of things at your own pace."

Creek. Creek. Creeeeeek. Went the floorboards under our hooves. It sounded like a whole buncha ghosts moaning. Really loud floor ghosts.

"...Today, we are going to focus on you."

Cliff and I reached the back of the room. Hugged the wall reeeal super tight. But crumple crumple poke! There were bits of construction paper jutting out, and string, and pipe cleaners with tissue-paper flowers on them. Protruding like spikes in the booby-trapped wall of a Daring Do temple.

"...If you look to the back of the room, you'll see all of your Hearth's Warming projects. Beaming with sunshine to brighten one another's day."

Shunk. Everypony shifted in their chairs.

"Ahh!" I darted to the far corner. Dodging paper flaps the whole way. And fwip! Got smacked in the face by a protruding page. A hoof-drawn diagram of Princess Celestia and Princess Luna riding flying saucer spaceships, with arrows made out of red and white bakery string, all pointing to a cut out of the Equestrian flag. The heading read: "On the Origin of Alicorns" by Rose Petal and Cliff Diver.

I pushed passed it, and lunged for the nook in the corner where all our cubbies were. Cliff came scurry-crashing right behind me.

"She did that on purpose." He whispered as he unclasped his jacket.

Miss Cheerilee beamed. "I know that, by now, Hearth's Warming must seem like a distant memory, but I'm still eager to hear how all of you spent yours."

Ca-chungk! My boot flopped off my hoof and fell onto the floor. Ca-chungk!

Diamond Tiara stretched her neck backward and snickered silently in our direction as the two of us fumbled with the last of our winter gear.

"...And I'd also like to hear your perspectives on how the lessons we learned on Hearth's Warming history enriched your appreciation of the holiday."

Looking across the room, there were only two empty desks. One right by Silver Spoon and Diamond Tiara. The other, all the way up in the front of the class. Cliff's whole body tensed up at the sight. So I made straight for the desk next to Silver Spoon and Diamond. I was gonna hear from those two meanies no matter what. There was no sense in letting them get under Cliff Diver's hide.

Besides, I was the obvious choice. I had stood up to a slave-driving priestess, a castle full of shadow monsters, and the world's most intimidating colonel (before I knew she was a good guy). I was pretty sure Diamond Tiara's days of getting to me were over.

Plunk. I dropped my flank into the seat.

"So nice of you to join us." Silver Spoon whispered.

I folded my hooves across the top of my desk. Plastered my eyes to the front of the room. Tried so hard to appear attentive that I lost track of what Miss Cheerilee was actually saying.

"Blah blah blah-erty blah blah blah." Went Miss Cherrilee. While I caught my breath. Got my bearings.

It's over. My Rose Voice said to me. I can't believe my Hearth's Warming break is finally over. And this room! I've spent so much of my life here, but it all seems like a distant memory now. Something not at all real. Like a play within a play.

If I, for instance, got soooooo bored that I decided I didn't wanna be here anymore, I could just...leave.

I stared at the door. The idea blew my mind.

There were no guards. No war on the other end. Miss Cheerilee wasn't gonna throw on a daisy cloak, yank a whip out of her desk, and start flogging me if I didn't feel like learning. There was literally nothing preventing me from walking right-the-fuck out.

But still, I had to stay. Why? Because. Just...because.

"Eck, gross!" Diamond Tiara squealed. "What's on your hoof?"

I snapped awake. My classmates were gasping. All around me. Everywhere.

"Omigosh, Rose Petal, are you okay?" Scootaloo leaned in from my right, while everypony else leaned as far away from me as they could get.

"It's black!" Said a voice from behind me.

"Leave her alone." Hollered Cliff from up front.

"Alright, class, that's enough." Miss Cheerilee said gravely. "Settle down."

But it wasn't enough. The murmuring commotion continued. Black black black black black.

"I said settle down." Miss Cheerilee's eyeballs turned into starehammers, and she pounded every child in class with them until she had real quiet.

Once the room was still enough to hear an ant hiccup, Miss Cheerilee softened her ocular weapons, and turned to me. "Rose Petal," she said gently. "Are you alright?"

"Huh? What?" I asked. Genuinely taken aback. Miss Cheerilee had never shown so much concern over our social standing before, even when Diamond Tiara was actively bullying us. "Um...Yeah? Of course. I'm fine."

"Good." She whipped out that sunny smile of hers once again and continued. "What I was trying to tell you is that everypony here is special, and I want to go around the room, and hear from all of you about how you spent your Hearth's Warming vacations."

She turned to me. Again.

"Rose, a lot of your classmates have questions about your hoof. Would you feel comfortable standing up and going first?"

"Sure." I said.

But I wasn't. I still didn't know what to tell them. At least in a way that they could understand. What's more, it weirded me out that Miss Cheerilee had asked me if I was comfortable getting up and talking. Normally she just called on you, and you had to...well...do it.

I rose to my hooves. Cleared my throat. Then cleared it again. Looked at the kids all around me. Watching me with troubled eyes.

"Uh...How I spent my vacation." I recited what I'd practiced at home. "This winter, I learned that old ponies have value - not that I thought they didn't have value before - but I had never really been friends with one either." I spoke in stilted, broken sentences, trying to remember all the alibi-stuff I'd written in my homework assignment, (rather than telling the truth and writing about my ventures into the Everfree, or the realms that lay beyond it). "I met Cranky by accident. He gave me hot soup when I was cold, and his fiancee, Matilda, is real nice too. I spent much of my vacation hanging out with them. Learning about, you know…old stuff. Getting hot cocoa that was real good. And hanging out, playing games with my friend Cliff. I also re-read a lot of my favorite Pinkbeard books because pirates are awesome."

I smiled nervously. Spun around. Everypony was still staring at my hoof, but pretending not to. Their eyes darted upward to my face the second they saw me looking.

"Right," I sighed. "My hoof."

With all those eyes on me - all those concernitty faces. Confused. Revolted. Curious. I shoulda been overtaken with the impulse to duck and hide. But I felt a delightful tingle in that hoof as it remembered the feel of Bananas Foster's tears of joy running down it. And a warmth filled my heart. Pride.

I held my entire foreleg up so the whole class could see it. "My hoof is black now. It's pretty much like any other hoof. It doesn't hurt." I knocked on the surface of my wooden desk with it. Everypony gasped. Like knocking on wood was some kinda magic trick. "It was weird at first," I continued. "But it's nothing to be afraid of. In fact, I think it's kinda cool."

The whole room was mesmerized by the sight of it.

"But how?" Scootaloo said. The only one not totally stunned into silence.

"I uh...don't really understand it." I said, lying my flank off. "That's doctor stuff."

"How does it feel?" She asked.

"Like a hoof." I said. Also lying. I wasn't about to get into the fact that it burned cold when shadowy clitweasels were near. Or that it still tingled with the sense-memory of my having plunged it through a dome and booped my immunocompromised changeling friend with it.

"Scootaloo, that's enough." Miss Cheerilee chimed in. Overprotective-like. Which I instantly fucking hated.

"It's okay." I said. And thrust my hoof out to Scootaloo. "See?"

She touched it lightly with her own. Clop. I spun around. Let Sweetie Belle touch it too. She was a little more hesitant, but she tapped it as well. Featherweight. Kettle Corn. One by one, all of my classmates touched my evil hoof. Saw it wasn't so evil. Even Silver Spoon and Diamond Tiara reached out and gave it a tap. Just to save face.

"Well, isn't that sweet?" Miss Cheerilee said. "Thank you for that, Rose Petal. You can sit down now."

"Okay." I said. But before my flank even touched the chair, I shot to my hooves again. "Oh, um. Thank you, everypony, for um...Making me that card." I added awkwardly, embarrassed at having forgotten. "It was uh...great!" I forced a little chuckle.

After a few murmured your welcomes, it was Diamond Tiara's turn to stand up and share her story. "I spent my vacation wintering in a super exclusive ski resort in the Poconeighs. But that annoying blizzard made us leave, like...an entire week late. Those Cloudsdale pegasi don't know what they're doing. So I had to spend Hearth's Warming Eve...here."

She looked around the room, nose crinkled in disgust at the idea of having to spend Hearth's Warming at home. Like a peasant.

While she blah blah blah'd about the Poconeighs, I let my heart catch up with me. It pounded in my chest. Still exhilarated from the fear of public speaking. I clutched my desk. Took deep breaths. And revelled in how easy it had been. How my classmates had gone from freaked out to totally accepting in about two minutes flat. With a smile of relief on my face, I stole a glance at Cliff who mouthed a message of encouragement at me.

"You did amazing!" His silent lips seemed to say.

I sighed sighishly a sigh of deep sigh-y relief. But as the memories of the presentation I had just made a few minutes before settled inside my skull, I realized that something was wrong.

Looking down at my hoof, I remembered how everypony had touched it. Scootaloo and Sweetie Belle to my right. Cliff and Apple Bloom in front. Featherweight and Peppermint Twist behind me, and Silver Spoon and Diamond Tiara to my left. And every kid in between. All fifteen chairs if you didn't count mine. All fifteen kids.

But no Blueberry Milkshake.

I spun around to get a view again. To count everypony. To peek and see if maybe she was in the corner with the boot-and-coat cubbies, and Cliff and I had somehow managed to miss her or something.

No sign of her.

"Ahem." Miss Cheerilee cleared her throat, and looked at me sternly.

"Sorry." I said as I straightened my desk, and quit my squirming.

"I'm sorry, Silver Spoon." The teacher said. "I believe you were next?"

"Well," Silver Spoon looked down her muzzle at me and said. "I spent much of my vacation in Canterlot. Doing high society stuff with my grandmother. She's a very important member of the Canterlot Garden Party Planning Committee, you know."

My eyes darted to the window. Was Blueberry late? Was she in trouble? Did it have something to do with that weird message she'd left in my get well card? "We need to talk."

I threw a glance at Cliff Diver, but he couldn't figure out what I was freaking out about, and I had no way of talking to him, so he just shook his head, all confuseitty.

"...And my grandmother got me another Silver Spoon. Like she does every year. Get it? Like me!" Silver Spoon clutched her own chest in pride.

Even Diamond Tiara rolled her eyes.

"But that's only the beginning." Silver Spoon continued. And continued...and continued, and continued, and continued, and continued, and continued.

As she rambled on about all of the material possessions she had gotten on Hearth's Warming - and believe me they came in multitudes - I mulled the Blueberry question over in my head. But no matter what, it made no fucking sense. And I wasn't gonna get an answer out of anypony 'till I could open my mouth and ask. But I couldn't because Silver Spoon was still rambling on, and Miss Cheerilee would totally freak out if I interrupted her. So I waited, and waited, and waited. While every nightmare scenario played in my head. Shadows. Cloak-o's. Illness. You name it, it plagued my brain. By the time that little bitch shut up, I swear, I was jittering in my seat.

"Well," Miss Cheerilee said. "It sounds like your vacation was...eventful. Thank you, Ms. Spoon. Now, Featherweight, you're ne--;"

"Ooh! Ooh!" I threw my hoof up in the air and waved it all around.

"Rose Petal, you've already gone."

"No, no. I have a question."

Featherweight sighed in annoyance.

"Yes, Rose Petal?"

"Where's Blueberry Milkshake?"

Miss Cheerilee narrowed her eyes at me. "There will be plenty of time for snacks after class." She said. "Go on, Feather."

I was so flabbergasted, that I sat there in stunned silence while Featherweight started his presentation.

"This Hearth's Warming vacation, I went on a photography tour of Ponyville, and got some amazing shots. Not just sunsets, and clouds, but captured moments between ponies. A sister's laughter. A secret kiss. A--;"

"No, Miss Cheerilee." I spoke up at last. "Blueberry Milkshake, the filly."

"Rose!" Miss Cheerilee barked. "You know better than to interrupt your classmates. Everypony deserves a chance to speak. I'm sorry, Feather." She nodded at Featherweight once again.

But before he could even open his mouth to speak, I hit Miss Cheerilee with a counter question.

"But is she coming?" I said. "I'm worried. Where is she?"

Miss Cheerilee came down the aisle between the desks and stood at my side. I wasn't sure if she was gonna snap at me, or give me quadruple-detention, or whatever. But that scowly face of hers softened when she actually looked into my eyes. I musta come off pretty scared.

"Class?" She said. "Rose Petal and I will be back in a moment. Be on your best behavior. Featherweight, I'm sorry - very sorry - we'll continue shortly."

Miss Cheerilee gestured for me to follow her. Next thing I knew, the two of us were standing just outside the door.




"Rose Petal, what's this all about?"

Her grave concern had a sort of weight to it. I had been so disruptive that I had somehow managed to transcend a state of being in trouble, and moved right on into Concernittyland. Somehow, that made me even more nervous.

"I just want to know why she's not in class." I said.

"Oh," she replied. "Is that the name of your little friend from the hospital? I know it must be hard to come to grips that she can't be here, bu--;"

"What? No." I said. "Blueberry Milkshake is a filly from your class. She's always been in your class. She used to sit…" I tried pleading with Miss Cheerilee desperately to remember, but when I stopped to think about it, I couldn't figure out which seat had been Blueberry's.

"It's a big day." My teacher knelt to my level and said. "And a big adjustment. But this isn't--;"

"No!" I said. "No. You honestly don't remember? She signed my get well card. The card you made the whole class put together."

"Rose, that's enough."

"Ask them." I said, flailing at the windows. Gesticulating wildly at my classmates inside.

But she didn't. She just knelt there, acting like something was wrong with me.

"Fine, I'll ask them."




I darted back inside. Ran straight to Cliff Diver. I'd only have time to ask one of my classmates, so it might as well be the kid I trusted most.

"Cliff, listen. You remember Blueberry Milkshake, right?"

I gripped him by the shoulders, but he just shook his head. "No. Who is she? What's wrong?"

"Rose Petal, enough." Miss Cheerilee was standing at the front of the class.

I turned to Apple Bloom, who sat right in front. My last hope for a straight answer.

But I didn't ask her. My eyes fell on the marble notebook she'd been doodling in, and I froze. Thinking of Great Aunt Roseroot's moldy old notebook room.

Is this how it all starts? The rambling? The shouting? The disconnect from those around me? The decades of solitude?

A small sea of troubled faces looked to me from their desks. They already thought I was crazy.

So in that moment, I decided I had to fake it. To plunge my flank into my chair and say, "Sorry, Miss Cheerilee. I um...had something stuck in my throat. I'm better now."

I flashed her a gigantic nervous smile. She raised an eyebrow at me, but thankfully, seemed willing to cut me a little slack.

"Well," she said. "If there are no further interruptions, Featherweight, please, continue. We'd all be delighted to hear how you spent your Hearth's Warming."

* * *

I sat there. For Celestia-only-knows how many hours, or years, or millennia. Empires could have risen and fallen outside the schoolhouse by the time it took Miss Cheerilee to get through the morning lesson. And I freaked out the whole time, tossing ideas around, and around, and around my head until I didn't even know what they were anymore. All I knew for sure was that Blueberry Milkshake was missing, and that nopony else seemed to notice.

Eventually, after countless duckyverses had had enough time to come into creation, evolve life, build massive civilizations, and crumble to dust like Columnland - after a billion infinities all tied together had passed - after sixteen kids told their Hearth's Warming stories, and Miss Cheerilee had finished with her own running commentary - morning lessons finally came to an end, and recess finally did roll around.

Everypony shot out the door. Made for the playground like ponies lost in a desert bolting suddenly at the first sign of water. But Miss Cheerilee stood at the door and stopped me before I could join them.

"Rose Petal, a moment of your time, please."

"Ooooooooh." Went a murmur of faceless kids, already on the other side of the door.

Slam. Cheerilee closed it in their faces, and suddenly, we were alone. "You're not in trouble." She said. Though I saw through her trick. I totally was in trouble. "You've had a rough couple of months." She continued. "And there's clearly a lot on your mind."

Uh-oh.

"Do you want to tell me what's bothering you?"

I tried to tell you about Blueberry Milkshake, but you acted like I was crazy! My Rose Voice shouted indignantly from the inside of my brain. While I just shook my head in silence.

"I see." She replied. "Well, I'm here to help."

"Okay, thanks." I said meekly.

"Do you have other adults you can talk to?"

I nodded silently. But I realized how weird it musta looked. Cheerilee probably thought I was just nodding to get her off my back. So I threw out some names so she would know that I was telling the truth. "My sister Roseluck." I said. "I tell her everything. And Cranky! I talk to him all the time." The word Zecora almost slipped right off my tongue. But I stopped it in time. 'Cause I'm not completely stupid.

"Well, good." Miss Cheerilee smiled. "In the meantime, maybe we can find some better way for you to express yourself so we can avoid future...outbursts."

"Sorry about that." I shrunk back and blushed.

"You're a very talented artist," she continued.

"I am?"

"Your eye-behind-the-wall picture was stunning."

"Oh, yeah." I said, suddenly recalling the prophetic portrait I'd scratched away during a dream-like frenzy in art class. "Strawberry Lemonade."

"Oh," Miss Cheerilee's face lit up. "She has a name? What's her story?"

My brain threw together a couple of quick calculations of what I could tell Miss Cheerilee, and what I couldn't. She clearly needed to hear something, or she was just gonna get more suspicious. More nosey-er.

"Strawberry Lemonade is a general who's gonna save Equestria someday." I said. "I just had to...you know...help her escape first."

"Such a lively cast of characters you have."

Harharharharhar. I laughed on the inside.

"Which is why," she continued. "During this afternoon's art class, I'd like it very much if you'd draw for me this...Blueberry Milkshake. It would be a great chance for you to share...whatever it is you're feeling...without disrupting the class."

I nodded. And then the room grew quiet. A silence punctuated by the raucous shouting of kids outside.

"Go on and play." Miss Cheerilee said at last.

"Thank you."

"And remember. I'm here if you wanna talk, okay?" She added sweetly.

I nodded back at her. Out of respect. But she and I both knew I wasn't gonna take her up on it.

* * *

"What happened?" Cliff pounced me the second I got outside.

"Ahh!" I stumbled. Landed on my flank.

"Sorry." Cliff extended me a hoof. We locked forelegs and he pulled me up. "What happened?" He asked again, this time in a whisper.

"She wants me to...draw."

"Draw?"

"It's not important." I replied. "What matters is that Blueberry Milkshake disappeared, and nopony seems to remember that she even exists!"

"Who is Blueberry Milkshake?"

"My friend. She goes to our school. I swear she does."

"And Miss Cheerilee doesn't know her?"

"No." I said. "She thinks Blueberry is some...manifestation of...um...I don't even know! What do you think?" I pressed against him like I wanted his lunch money. "I really neeeeed one of your theories right now. And. I. Need. It. To. Make. Sense."

"Um...well…" Cliff laughed nervously. "You have been bouncing around time a bunch. Maybe you accidentally undid her existence?"

"What?!" I whisper-shouted. Trying desperately not to make a spectacle of myself.

"She's not dead! She's not dead." Cliff pleaded, using his most calming voice as he gestured with his neck that we should probably get as far away from everypony else as possible to try to steal ourselves a little privacy. "She's still around in your old universe."

"But now I'm here." I said. "In a Blueberry-Milkshake-less universe. And I never even got to talk to her about...well, I don't know what she needed to talk about. But I bet it was important!"

"Yeah." Cliff said. "That sucks." He kicked a tuft of grass as we strolled.

"But I only went into the future. How can I undo the present if I never messed with the past?"

"Well," Cliff paused to scratch his chin. "What if Blueberry Milkshake's grandmother was a time traveler, but you changed the course of her history when you rescued her in Trottica, and then she never met Blueberry's grandfather."

"No," I answered. "I got a note from Blueberry. In my get well card. In the hospital. Which means that she was still around after I got back from Trottica."

"That's not the point. It could have happened any number of ways."

"The blizzard." I said suddenly, stopping dead in my tracks. "Cliff, Princess Luna told me that she felt a disruption during the blizzard. But she didn't know what it was. Luna told me that the shadows would come after my friends as a way to try to get to me.

"All this time, we thought we won! But what if all my friends didn't defeat them? Blueberry wasn't strong the way you and Foster and my sister are. What if she was the disturbance that Princess Luna felt? What if the shadows took her? And she's been in that castle this whole time. And I didn't even notice that she was gone?!"

I felt the ground drop from beneath me. Like one of those spinning carnival rides. I hadn't even noticed she was gone.

Cliff put a hoof on my shoulder. And I started to tremble.

"When the shadows take you they just..take you, right?" I muttered to myself. "They can't just go around erasing ponies. Emelia Mareheart was a legend because everypony noticed she was gone. They took Bananas Foster, and they killed her entire hive, but everypony in Equestria still remembers the changeling attack."

I looked up to Cliff, eyes wild and desperate.

"I dunno." He said, suddenly flustered. Nervous. I'd put a lot of pressure on him. "That sounds right. But you're the shadow expert."

"It's gotta be them." I said. "Maybe they just put a spell on everypony to forget."

"But then it wouldn't work on me." Cliff said. "Or Luna. We beat them. Remember?"

"Yeah, but can you even name everypony in our class right now?" I challenged Cliff.

"Uhhh…"

"That's what I thought."

"Ooh. Ooh! I got it." Cliff Diver leapt up and down. "The get well card. I don't know who, uh...disappeared Blueberry Milkshake, or why, but if it's some kinda memory magic, her message will still be there on the card. But if this is a whole other dimension where she never existed at all, the card won't have her message on it."

"You're right." I leapt up. "Cover for me."

"What?"

"It's not that far if I gallop. I can make it back in time. I know I can."

I turned to run. But he threw a hoof in front of me. "You can't." He said grimly. Not like the oh-no, we'll get in trouble if we run away with the pirates character who showed up and almost ruined Pinkbeard and the Legend of the Sunken Meadow with his annoyingness.

No. Cliff wasn't whiny at all. He was dead. Fucking. Serious.

"This is a small town." He said. "Ponies talk. And right now my mom gets to talk about what a good influence you are. And Roseluck gets to talk about how helpful and responsible you are. And the whole town stopped their talking about what happened between you and Kettle Corn 'cause Pinkie Pie did some weird...Pinkie spell on them. But you can't let yourself become the kid who ditches school. You can't, Rose. You're running out of second chances."

"But Blueberry," I protested.

"Nothing you do in the next few hours is going to make a difference for Blueberry. We'll figure this out, but we have to lie low while we do it."

I sighed. Stomped the ground in frustration. 'Cause I knew he was right.

And for a moment, I even missed the Wasteland. Where, if I got a feeling, I just sorta acted on it. Where, if I saw something wrong, I got to...you know...fight it.

In the 'real world'? Where everything looks normal? You have to pretend that everything's okay. Even when it isn't.

You gotta treat fighting the good fight - saving Equestria - stomping shadow-majigs - like it's a fucking hobby. Even when it's a crushing responsibility. The only alternative is suffering the Rose family blood curse - ending up like Great Aunt Roseroot.

"Fine." I said softly. "I'll stay."

"We'll figure this out." Cliff repeated. "I promise."

I nodded back at him. And silently contemplated the words of the Great Sorcerer Planktoneth. About puzzle pieces. About the bonds between us - large and small - holding the world together.

What happens when a piece goes missing? It leaves a hole in the universe, that's what. And what does that mean for all of us? What did it mean for Blueberry?

I had no fucking idea.

* * *

We filed back into class. And I geared myself up for some doodling. 'Cause maybe Miss Cheerilee was right. Maybe drawing Blueberry Milkshake would do me some good. If only to prove that somepony remembered her face.

But art wasn't the first thing we did when we got back from lunch/recess.

"Okay, class." Miss Cheerilee said. "We talked about what you did for Hearth's Warming, and I was delighted to hear from all of you. Now I'd like to take a few minutes to talk about what you learned."

Everypony groaned. And I sighed in disappointment too, letting the colored pencils spill out of my mouth. But even though we weren't drawing yet, the lesson still got unexpectedly interesting from there.

"Now, who can tell me what the moral of the first Hearth's Warming is?"

Diamond Tiara's hoof shot up. Miss Cheerilee nodded in her direction.

"That earth ponies, like, control like, everything, and shouldn't be poor."

Leave it to the richest girl in town to find a way to play the victim.

"Um...yes." Miss Cheerilee replied. "That is true, but it's about more than just earth ponies. Anypony else?"

Sweetie Belle raised her hoof. "That earth ponies, pegasi, and unicorns should get along." She squeaked that final word.

"And that it's up to common everyday ponies like you and me to lead the way." Apple Bloom added when called on.

"That's right." Miss Cheerilee replied.

While I yawned. Arched my back. Stretched out my forehooves. Next thing I know, I'm in the spotlight. Again.

"Yes, Rose Petal, what would you like to add?" Miss Cheerilee asked with a smile.

"What?" I said. "Me?"

"Mhm." Cheerilee nodded with an eager smile. She was giving me a chance to stand up in front of the class, and say something not totally crazy.

"Um, hi." I began. "Uhh...I actually did a lot of independent reading on the Founding Sisters during my vacation."

"Oh, really?" Miss Cheerilee lit up, smile brighter even than before.

"Yeah." I said. "This book called Ponies' History of Equestria. It tells the story not only of the Founding Sisters, but of everyday ponies living during that time period. It's also got excerpts of letters and stuff the Founding Sisters sent to one another decades after the first Hearth's Warming."

One look around the classroom told me that my peers were unimpressed.

"No, really." I said. "It sounds totally boring, but it's not! Like, the whole reason Discord showed up in the first place was 'cause their kingdom was already falling apart."

The kids, naturally drawn to gossip, slowly - one-by-one - quit their slouching in their seats, and sat up to listen.

"It's true!" I said. "The Founding Sisters decided that the best way to govern a kingdom founded on friendship was to divide up all the responsibilities. Six founding sisters. Six cities. Smart Cookie got all wrapped up in trying to provide the most efficient production for everypony's needs. 'Tilling the land and all that. Chancellor Puddinghead founded Fillydelphia, and got all involved in parties, and banquets, and cakes and stuff to try to maintain morale, and raise funds. Commander Hurricane helped found the Wonderbolts, but judging by the letters that the Founding Sisters sent to each other, she also had all sorts of super secret projects....And, uh, nopony ever found out what happened to Clover the Clever. Who disappeared entirely. She had been the lynchpin that held their group of friends together - that held the nation together. Until she got super reclusive and stopped responding to letters."

"Clover the Clever stopped valuing her friends." Miss Cheerilee raised a skeptical eyebrow.

"No, really." I said. "It's really, really, really. really true. It's all in the letters they sent each other. They met every Hearth's Warming. And that had helped ground them - not just as governors of these vast cities full of ponies, but also as friends. But over the years, they drifted apart, and once the nation wasn't held together by friendship anymore, that's when Discord came."

I looked around the room and saw hungry eyes. In the heat of the moment, I ground my teeth, and made the split second decision to drop the bomb. The most shocking piece of revelation to come out of the Ponies' History of Equestria. "Private Pansy." I said with something of a flare for the dramatic. "She's the one who invited Discord."

"Excuse me?" Miss Cheerile said.

"She did!" I replied. "There are all these letters that the Founding Sisters sent to one another. Wondering what Private Pansy thought she was doing. But actually, it was just hope. Desperation. She found Discord - somehow, nopony knows - and she saw his power as something strong enough to heal the wounds of an Equestria already deep in decline. Pansy thought his powers could be used for friendship. It didn't even occur to her that it would lead to his conquest. You should read the letter Commander Hurricane wrote condemning Pansy! It's pretty harsh.

"But she was doing her best. 'Cause she always wanted the best for everypony. She was the kindest, most mild-mannered of the Founding Sisters. Maybe not even cut out for government and leadership. But when Pansy was with her friends, they gave her strength. And when they were with her, she empowered them with compassion, and acted as a voice for the voiceless.

"But she lost sight of that." I said suddenly crushed by an oppressive realization. "They all did. Can you imagine how much regret she musta felt? After ruining her country? Betraying her friends? I wonder if Blueberry Milkshake ever forgave her." I whispered that last part and hung my head in silence. Just for a moment.

"Uh...I mean, what I learned this Hearth's Warming was that it's not enough to simply defeat evil. The price of friendship is, like...eternal vigilance, or something. I think some smart mare said that once. And the point of discussing their decline isn't that the Founding Sisters are terrible because they failed. The point is that they're wonderful because they succeeded, and they're not these perfect beings history makes them out to be. They were flawed like you or me! Just 'cause what they built fell apart in the end doesn't mean that it wasn't worth building. It eventually became the Equestria we know today. 'Cause we had great princesses step up, and do awesome princessy things." The mere thought of Celestia and Luna warmed my heart. Filled it with faith in all ponykind. "But even they fought," I said, suddenly realizing that the problems the Founding Sisters faced were no different than the ones the princesses did. "Princess Luna's friendship with her sister fell apart, and that hurt Equestria too, but even a thousand years later, they got it together." I said. "And that's what we've all got to do if history isn't gonna repeat itself, and Equestria isn't gonna fall apart."

"Ugh. Why would what we do make Equestria fall apart? We're not, like, princesses, though I admit, I kinda come close." Diamond Tiara smirked.

"It could!" I exclaimed. "We all matter!"

"That's enough." Miss Cheerilee said. "Thank you, Rose. For a very...impassioned plea for friendship, and a thoroughly researched (if unorthodox) analysis. I didn't know you had such love for history."

"I didn't used to." I said shyly. "The, uh...hospital has a great library."

Next thing I knew, all my classmates were leaning up close to me. Asking questions.

"Commander Hurricane had secret projects?" Scootaloo said. "Tell me more. That sounds awesome."

"What about Princess Platinum?" Sweetie Belle asked. "You didn't mention what she did."

* * *

Eventually the excitement dissipated, everypony made their presentations, and art class rolled around. I doodled Blueberry Milkshake. Exactly as I remembered her. Blue. Happy. In a paper pirate hat. Just like we used to play.

I was a bit unsure at first, but once I started scratching my pencils against the paper, her face came back to me. Little details. Like her tiny blue freckles. Her stubby little eyelashes. The way her cheeks always blushed bright pink in the cold.

It made her all the more real to me. Banished any doubt I'd had about my own sanity. It painted a vivid picture of Blueberry and imprinted it directly into my brain. Never to be forgotten. Even if the scribbles themselves didn't look like much.

I drew us in a field. Me and her both. And utterly lost myself in those squiggly plains. As though I were actually there. Surrounded by smiley sunshine, and zigzaggy blades of grass. It was a happy vision. Borne of a sane mind.

Or so I thought.

"Ooh, how lovely." Said Miss Cheerilee as she leaned over my shoulder.

"Ahh!" I nearly leapt out of my seat. She'd used her teacher powers to sneak up on me.

"What's that?" Miss Cheerilee extended a hoof, and pointed at a little rectangle behind Blueberry Milkshake that I didn't remember drawing.

"Uh...it looks like...a door." I said.

It was standing freely in the field. Cracked halfway open. With little spirals of color on the inside. Tendrils of energy reaching out. Black inky bits clawing from the depths of the cosmic purples.

"Well, isn't that creative?" She replied, almost condescendingly. "Where does it go?"

I stared at my own work. The abyss beyond the door. The layers of black crayon-wax piled over the aggressive pencil strokes. A small yellow shape seemed to float out from the doorway - a rubber ducky. Intruding where it didn't fucking belong.

"I don't know." I whispered.

"Well," she said. "I, for one, like that you left it up to the imagination. That's the mark of a true artiste."

"Thanks." I said reflexively as I stared at the page. Wondering where the door led. What kinda ducky was intruding upon our world. What the shadowy claws could have been up to. And most of all, how I'd managed to doodle it all without even realizing.

Gong. The school bell brought the class to its hooves. Pencils slid into saddle bags. Flanks leapt out of seats. Boots slid over forelegs, and scurried toward the door.

"Miss Cheerilee?" A little voice called out from behind us both. It was Kettle Corn, with a piece of construction paper gripped in her teeth. "I used ink on mine. Do you have a place that I can let it dry?"

"Of course," our teacher answered as she took the drawing - a plain and simple ring (that didn't quite complete itself) - and pinned it to the cork bulletin board in the corner. "It's lovely."

"Thanks." Kettle Corn beamed. "It's a circle!" Then Kettle Corn skipped out of the classroom as Cliff and I rushed to get our things.

* * *

Cliff and I hauled flank out of the schoolyard like our tails were on fire. Passed the other kids. Down the road. Passed the sofa and quills store. Galloping galloping galloping. Trees and bushes and meandering school fillies whizzing by.

Cliff was faster than me. And somehow, even more eager to find out what the fuck was going on than I was. "What do we do if her note isn't there?" He called to me over his shoulder.

"Thank Celestia that the shadows didn't get her." I panted. Though even as the words left my mouth, I wasn't so sure. 'Cause my scribble of the crayon claw had chiseled itself into my memory like some kinda brain scar.

Was it a message? A cry for help from Blueberry somewhere in the lands beyond? Or a fear? A mere projection of my most devastating anxieties and my darkest of nightmares?

"And if her note is there?" He said. "Do you think we can follow it like a hair in your mojo bag?"

I stumbled. Tripped. Came crashing down knees first onto the road, which thankfully, had started to thaw a little, and was no longer made of jagged icy dirt clumps.

"Whoa, are you okay?" Cliff skidded and spun around.

"Yeah," I said, as I grabbed a shrub with my teeth and pulled myself up to my hooves. "I just...hadn't thought of that. I hope we can!"

The two of us charged home as fast as we possibly could. Skidded on the rug passed the front door. Stumbled over one another all pretzel-like as I whacked into the bannister post on my way in, and stormed the staircase like it was the Great Hill of Seaopolis in the Battle of Jagged Rock in Chapter 27 of Pinkbeard and the Liberation of the Barnacle Girls. Shedding articles of winter clothing as we ascended.

I flung open my bedroom door. Lunged over my bed, and plunged my face into the pile in the corner 'till I found what I needed. The get well card that Cheerilee's entire class had sent me.

I flung it open. Ran my hoof over the oak tag, and found the answer I was looking for.

"It's blank." I said.

"You sure?" Cliff panted.

"Yeah!" I exclaimed. "It was right here." I tapped the page. Pointed to the spot under Scootaloo's signature. "I hid Misty Mountain's tail hair in this card for days. Tucked it right into the dried up old paste that Blueberry had used to try to cover up her original message."

We need to talk.

"It's not there! The message. The paste. None of it. Look!" I pointed to the spot (that would, of course, mean nothing to Cliff 'cause he had never examined the card as thoroughly as me, nor had he depended on it to protect the only relic of his travels to the future). "I'm telling you. It was there!"

"Okay." Cliff said. "Let me just sit down a minute." He pulled up a stool. And stared into nothing.

"So is it one of those other dimension things?" I asked. "What do we do?"

"I don't know." Cliff rubbed his temples with his forehooves. "Give me a minute. I wasn't prepared for this."

"How do we find her?" I pressed him.

"I don't know," he repeated. "Give. Me. A. Minute. I. Was. Not. Prepared. For. This."
Cliff Diver panted. Caught his breath. Ran his hoof through his mane. "I...I...I, um…" Cliff struggled for words, but never got the chance to assemble them.

'Cause just then, my sister came storming in. "What is this? You two are just leaving your coats and boots all over the staircase, now?"

"Blueberry Milkshake's gone." I said somberly.

"Who?"

"Ugh!" I planted my face on the floor.

* * *

"I don't understand," Roseluck said as she led us both down the staircase.

"Neither do we." Cliff replied as he ran ahead of her, gathering up the layers of clothing we both had shed.

"Well, that was a nice 'hello.'" Came a gruff voice from deep inside the living room.

"Cranky?"

"Who else?" He replied, not bothering to get up, or abandon the fire he was warming himself by.

"What brings you here?" Cliff was the one blunt enough to ask the obvious question.

"Just dropping off a cake Matilda baked you. I was gonna just leave it and go so that you kids would find it here when you got home from school. But these bones need a rest, and Roseluck was kind enough to make some tea, and…" Cranky leaned over, glanced at the clock on the mantel. "How'd you two get here so fast? School ended five minutes ago."

"We ran." I said.

"What's wrong?" He spun in the La-Z-Colt chair that had once belonged to my father.

"Blueberry Milkshake is missing!" Cliff and I said, both at once.

"Who?"

"An imaginary friend of theirs." My sister replied.

"She is not imaginary." I told her.

"She's from another dimension." Cliff answered.

"We don't know that." I said.

"But, come on! It's gotta be the answer." Cliff snapped. "It's the only answer."

"Then technically, wouldn't I be from another dimension, too?"

"Huh? Who? What now?" Cranky said. "Why don't you two start from the beginning?"

My sister looked to me. While Cliff Diver hung our stuff up. And I told them. About my experience in the classroom. How Blueberry Milkshake had signed my get well card. How her signature was gone. How, yes, I was 100% absolutely one-hundred percent positive that she had signed it in the first place. And yes, I knew for sure because it was Blueberry's clumsy pasting job that allowed me to wedge Misty Mountain's tail hair in there ('till I could find a better place for it).

To which Cranky, of course, replied, "Who in the hay is Misty Mountain, and why were you storing his tail for him?"

"It's not important." Cliff answered.

But I had already moved on from the subject altogether. The answer wasn't in the tail hair, but in my saddle bag.

I bolted for the pile that Cliff had made by the banister. And dug it out - the drawing I had scribbled in art class not ten minutes before.

I slapped it down on the coffee table. And clop! Pointed to my doodle of the door. The colors. The scribbley cosmos. The ducky. The shadowy claw.

"There." I smacked the page again. "I don't even remember drawing that."

And to my utter shock, when I looked up at Cranky, his complexion had gone totally, completely white.

"This is serious, kid."

"It is?!" Cliff and I exclaimed in unison. We.were so accustomed to getting dismissed by Miss Cheerilee that we couldn't believe our ears.

"You kids have a seat." He said. "You too." He gestured at Roseluck. "You should know what's going on."




"Not long ago, under the bridges of Las Pegasus, there was a mare by the name of Shoestruck." Cranky said. "I'd stayed in her encampment for a couple of months. While investigating the hotels for signs of Matilda. Signatures in all the ledgers. Watching the influx of ponies. Coming in and out. It's such a hot vacation spot, I figured that Matilda would have to come there eventually. Anyway...

"Shoestruck was staying with a band of Travelers around that time. And we were all pretty tight knit. Knew everything there was to know about one another. Our hopes, our dreams. What drove us. What haunted us.

"And all of us'd tangled with the shadows at some point or another, so we had our share of ghost stories - some real, some exaggerated, some completely imagined. (Though it was always easy to spot the difference). But I'll never forget. The night the big storm came."

"A storm?" I whimpered. Knowing full well where his story was going.

"Yeah," Cranky said. "Unexpected. Unplanned for. Downright unnatural to strike in the middle of a desert town like Las Pegasus." The old donkey shook his head. "The rains were cold and heavy. The fog was dense as cotton. And the next morning, all our stuff was ruined. Washed away.

"Shoestruck was shouting. Turning boxes over frantically. Charging into storefronts. Even though Travelers'd always had an unspoken truce with shopshopkeepers - we'd leave them alone if they left us alone. Shoestruck barged through every door she could, and got thrown right back out of each and every one of them. Calling for somepony the whole time. 'Candy Shine.' She said again and again and again. 'Candy Shine. Candy Shine. Candy Shine!'

"And when she came to me, all panicked, and crazy-eyed, she said, 'Cranky, have you seen my daughter? Have you seen Candy Shine?'

"Before I could even say a word, she read the confusion on my face, and threw her hooves into the air. 'Not you too.' She cried. 'Not you too.'"

Cranky sighed. Rubbed his eyes. "Me and Shoe had been close. Slept in tents that were practically next to one another. But I had never heard her mention anypony named Candy Shine. Much less actually seen the kid.

"But Shoestruck was convinced." Cranky looked to each of us, eyes sharp and fiery. "She swore that Candy had been right there in the camp with us. For months! She told me stories of checker games I had lost with her. A bracelet that I had given her just the week before. But when I checked my suitcase, I saw that it was still there. In its original wrapping. I hadn't even told Shoestruck it existed."

Cranky stopped to stare at his own hooves. "I should have believed her earlier." He said. "I should have done more."

"What happened?" Cliff asked.

"Shoestruck up and disappeared." Cranky said softly. "Jumped off the Hoofer Dam. Or so they say." Cranky said softly. "One day, she's talking 'bout how her daughter has to be around somewhere. Next day, she's swearing the shadows musta took her. Erased all signs that Candy Shine had ever even existed. Memories from her closest friends. Loved ones. Family. The entire tribe of Travelers who supposedly knew poor Candy. Treated her like she was our own." Cranky shook his head. "Not one of us could remember. Except Shoe. And now she's gone too." The old donkey stopped, looked up at the ceiling. Made a gesture with his hooves that I didn't recognize. And shut his watery eyes.

Afterwards, he sat there - still as the saddest statue - for Luna-only-knows how long. While the three of us stewed in our quiet shock.

"There's nothing in the playbook for this." He said at last. "Nothing in the legends. Nothing in the stories. Or the songs." Cranky lifted his head and looked to Cliff Diver and me. "The shadows never done that before, kid. Just up and erased a pony. Outta thin air, like they never mattered - like they never existed."

Cranky's warbly voice drifted to silence. While my eyes drifted to that picture I'd drawn. To that door. To that claw. Reaching out of nowhere for Blueberry Milkshake. While we were busy being stupid. Unsuspecting. Happy. Innocent.

She'd been gone for over two months thanks to our long Ponyville school breaks. And nopony had noticed at all. Even now! Nopony remembered her but me.

Princess Luna had told me once that the shadows would use my friends. Turn my conscience against me. Make me desperate enough to try and storm their evil castle.

I promised her I wouldn't.

But that was before Blueberry was gone. Before the world forgot. The Sorcerer Planktoneth's Great Puzzle had shattered and shed one of its pieces, and left a great big Blueberry Milkshake-shaped hole in the world.

Open for those shadowy clitweasels to reach through. Until somepony fixed it.




Knock, knock, knock.

The four of us looked to one another. Too shocked and saddened to even think about getting up. Especially when Cranky was kinda sorta in the middle of a massively heavy moment.

"It's okay." Roseluck said. "Whoever it is can just come ba--;"

KNOCK. KNOCK. KNOCK.

The door rumbled more urgently than before.

Cranky sighed. "You'd better get that."

"Are you sure?" Said my sister.

"Yes." He grumbled. "Of course I'm sure."

"What if it's my mom again?" Cliff cowered.

"What if it's Cheerilee?" My own voice trembled just as hard.

"It's probably just--" Roseluck attempted to sound reassuring, but got sidetracked. "...Wait a minute." She said suspiciously. "Rose Petal, what did you do?"

I grinned nervously in reply.

"Oh, for the love of…" Cranky groaned his way out of the chair. Rose to his hooves, stomped across the living room, swung open the door, and…

Squeak! A giant burst of confetti blew his wig clean off.

"Pinkie!" Cranky growled.

"Oh, gee," came that familiar voice from just outside my door. "I'm reeeally sorry, Cranky. That party canon was meant for Rose Petal."

"It was?" I clopped my way over to the foyer.

"Yes, of course, silly!" She said. "You wouldn't believe what happened just a few minutes ago at the ice cream parlor! I was topping off my fifth magical surprise super special banana split sundae with butterscotch and cherries on top - like I do every Monday - when suddenly, both my ears started flopping, and my eyes went crazy like this," Pinkie shook her head and let her eyeballs roll around like a googly puppet. "And then my tail straightened!"

"Oh, dear." Roseluck said, suddenly taking cover under the doorframe. "What does that mean?"

"It's a new one," Pinkie Pie replied. "And a doozy. And I don't reeeally understand yet, but I knew I had to get you this!"

Pinkie reached into her mane, and produced a paper bag. Passed it to me with her teeth.

"Um, thanks," I mumbled, mouthful of bag.

"Careful," she said. "Keep it right side up."

I lowered the bag onto the ground. Gingerly. "What is it?" I asked.

"Well," Pinkie Pie replied. "After my ears started flopping, and my eyes went crazy like this," Pinkie shook her head and let her eyes roll around like a googly puppet again. "And my tail straightened, I knew you desperately needed a gift."

I pulled a to-go cup out of the bag.

"It's a blueberry milkshake." She said. "I don't know why, but I got the feeling you were missing one."

Author's Note:

CHARITY
All Patreon proceeds for this chapter will be donated to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

PATREON
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. It adds up, and makes a difference.
:pinkiehappy:

For those of you who already are pledging, seriously, and for real, thank you. Your support means a great deal to me. /]*[\

SPECIAL THANKS: As always, I would like to thank Seraphem 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.

THOUGHTS and REFLECTIONS
As you've probably noticed, this chapter came out faster than ever before. We have quarantine to thank for that, but sadly, (and thankfully) that furlough is coming to an end, so it's unlikely that I'll be able to produce the next chapter in a mere two weeks.

Also, something about this chapter simply wrote itself. Normally, I drive my proofreader friends crazy, but this time around, there were hardly any adjustments to make in my second draft.

Once again, I find myself tackling storylines that I planned very, very, very long ago, and it's unspeakably exciting. After years of laying down groundwork, and developing smaller stories within Hooves of Fate, the big one is finally taking shape in ways I'd never dreamt of before.

Watching it all come together is an exhilarating experience, and I'm thrilled to be sharing it with all of you, who have been so patiently following Rose's adventures over the last seven years. I can't wait to hear your comments.

Also, this chapter is being released today in honor of Walpurgisnacht / May Day.

CONTINUITY NOTE:
In the show, the Ponyville Schoolhouse is generally depicted as having three rows of three - nine chairs total. Schoolfillies cycle in and out of the background pony seats depending on their importance to the plot. This is a visual choice made by animators, but we know from recess scenes that there are actually a lot more kids in school than that.

I made a conscious decision to characterize Rose's class as having sixteen kids (four rows of four) so that it would be believably crowded, but not too crowded. Keeping it as nine would raise a lot of weird questions like "where are Snips and Snails, why didn't you mention them by name, are they gone too?" I always got the impression from the show that Miss Cheerilee's class was implied to be larger than it appears, and that the nine seats were merely a visual choice made for ascetic/simplicity's sake. So I kindly ask you not to look too deeply into this particular detail.

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