• Published 27th Feb 2013
  • 7,281 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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A Council of Five

CHAPTER FORTY-SIX - A COUNCIL OF FIVE
"Some birds are not meant to be caged, that's all. Their feathers are too bright, their songs too sweet and wild. So you let them go, or when you open the cage to feed them they somehow fly out past you. And the part of you that knows it was wrong to imprison them in the first place rejoices, but still, the place where you live is that much more drab and empty for their departure." - Stephen King




We left the hospital with warmth in our hearts. 'Cause despite all the craziness that was going on - all the uncertainty - all the doom and dread that hung over us like that ancient legend with the king llama who got to sit in his throne, but had a sword dangling over his head the whole time. (Llamacles was it?)

The three of us still took time to connect.

Literally. Bananas and I touched hooves through the dome. And I felt that warmth - that light. Just like the day before when my hoof'd touched her head for the first time, and everything had seemed so much simpler.

Something about Bananas Foster's touch was magical.

Cliff and I headed out into the world feeling on top of things. Ready to stomp down any problem. Friendship it to death.

Until we saw the sun.

Zecora was our last, best hope to get any kinda answers - any kinda direction, and whatever we ended up doing with her - journeying to the shadow castle, reaching out to Princess Luna, scouring the duckyverse - it was gonna take a long, long, long, long time. But we were already running outta sunlight.

So Cliff and I took off. Dashed down the South Road together without so much as a word or gesture.

The borders of Sweet Apple Acres whizzed by on our left. Untouched trees and shrubs and grasses on our right. While the dirt beneath our hooves became a blur.

We galloped, and galloped, and galloped as the road grew narrower, and narrower, and narrower. 'Till it curved southward and merged onto the main road that would eventually become the Everfree Path. We ran over the bridge that everypony stands on and gazes into the water from when they're sad. Passed Cranky's neighborhood, and bolted straight on down to the wall of wooded wilds that swallowed up the road.

We ran until the web of overhanging branches and brambles came into focus. Then bam! Standing right there in the Everfree Path was Cranky himself. Both tail and head hanging low.

Roseluck was next to him. Mane all disheveled. Torso jittering as though her legs were on springs. She seemed damn near ready to explode.

"Uh...hi?" I trotted up to them and said. Calm. Polite. Even as the Rose Voices in my head ranted and raved. What the fuck are they doing here? What the fuck's going on?

"Is everything okay?" Cliff asked. Infinitely calmer than I was.

"I'm coming with you." Roseluck said firmly.

Cranky averted his eyes. Clearly mortified.
I didn't know whether she had dragged him along, or if he'd volunteered. But either way, it was a lousy position for Cranky to be in.

"Why?" I asked. "What's wrong?"

"Pinkie Pie dragged you off before we could talk." My sister said.

"What do you wanna talk about?" I asked, eyes cast nervously at the sky. We had only a few hours of daylight left. Though with Roseluck right there we no longer had to worry about being home in time for dinner. And with Cranky right there, we no longer had to worry (as much) about trying to navigate the Everfree after nightfall.

"I'm...concerned." Roseluck said.

And it took her just a liiiittle too long to think of that word. She was trying to be diplomatic-like. But it was obvious that she meant something else.

"We are too," Cliff replied, oblivious to the strange undercurrents in the conversation.

"That's great." Cranky said. And gestured at the forest with his head. "But daylight's a-wasting. We can talk as we go."

***

So we headed into the Everfree Forest. But Roseluck and I did not, in fact, talk as we went. I mean, she tried. She started by lecturing me about running off with Pinkie Pie, (like I had any say over it). Continued by breathing super fast, and freaking out while ranting at me about how worried she was. How we needed to all sit down have a rational talk about this - as though the disappearance of a filly was something we should mull over a pot of tea, and a basket of scones! But at the first hoot of a fire-breathing day-owl, Roseluck yelped. Leapt backwards, and shimmied up close to us. And from then on, my sister remained conspicuously silent.

Crunch crunch crunch crunch. Went our hooves over the pebbles and branches that littered the Everfree Path.

It drove me crazy. 'Cause I knew she was having one of her fear attacks, and getting all concernitty. I couldn't stand to see Roseluck like that. Even on a good day. And we already had so many other things to worry about. Like Blueberry Milkshake getting tortured, and shadows hunting me, and beard magic, and weird disappearances, and inquisitors, and stuff! The last fucking thing I needed was those concernitty glances she kept throwing at me. The last fucking thing I needed was to have to pretend that everything was okay. To pretend that I was okay. Just to keep her from wigging out more!

'Cause what was gonna happen when we got to Zecora's place?! Was Roseluck gonna babble out her grievances there, or was she just gonna hang around, silent and nervous. Getting in the way?

I needed to talk to Zecora. I needed the freedom to gallop into the clearing that passed as Zecora's front yard at full speed, to fling open the front door, and spill my guts. About how not okay I was. How not okay any-damn-thing was. How not okay the entire Universe might be if the shadows had torn a Blueberry-Milkshake-shaped hole in it.




"Eep!" Roseluck jumped at the sound of a twig cracking somewhere far away from the road. She threw me a nervous little smile. Seized the opportunity to break the ice.

"So, um...this is where you go every day?" She said.

"Yup."

"And, er...you actually know how to deal with all this...fauna?" Again, she'd spent way too much time choosing that word.

"We've got it under control." I said.

Then Cliff spoke over me. "It's the flora you've actually gotta look out for." He added with a kindhearted, oblivious chuckle.

Thwunk. I kicked him in the ankle to shut him up.

"Ow," he said. "What?"

Then he looked to my sister. And at Cranky's weary face. And he understood. Cliff quietly picked up pace after that. Drifted ahead a couple of yards. Brought Cranky with him. Giving Roseluck and I some much needed privacy and space.




"We take the danger seriously." I said at last. "We do. But we're also really really really really really aware of our surroundings."

"Be that as it may--;" My sister began to retort.

"Look out for the side track roots." I pointed at the ground as her hooves started veering off the road.

"Oh." Roseluck blushed.

I'm not sure if she was embarrassed at having missed the roots. Or simply 'cause she knew on some level that she had no business coming along to begin with. "What do those side roots do?" She asked.

"Eat you, mostly." I answered dryly.

(I loved my sister and all, but this was not the time for concernittyness.)

"Oh," she replied. Tiphooving over the ground like it was covered in earthworms made out of lava.

***

We marched on. And I tried to stay quiet about it - really, I did. But as we moved deeper into the Everfree, I felt the first throbs of those old familiar headaches creep into my skull.

The forest eyeballs. That chorus of voices. Each of them fighting, fleeing, making child. As Zecora had put it.

The clamor no longer shut my brain down, or brought me to my knees like it used to. I'd learned to put up brain walls. But trying to talk my sister down out of a freak out at the same time?

It was like listening to a record, reading a book, and having a conversation at the same time.




"You're scared I can't handle this." I said grouchily, as I rubbed my pulsing head with the heel of one of my boots.

Roseluck sucked in a deep breath. "Yes." She sighed. "We didn't get to talk before Pinkie Pie dragged you off, and you were so upset. I was worried you might do something…rash."

Again, she took forever to pick that final word. Some kinda weird sisterly diplomacy. But I still knew what she meant. She thought I was gonna panic again, and do something stupid.

"Like eat a bunch of tea?" I asked.

"No," she replied. "I didn't say that."

But she'd been thinking it.

"You're dealing with too much right now." Roseluck continued. "And there's a lot of...well...panic and alarm - and for good reason." She added tactfully. "I just thought I could maybe come along to make sure you don't do anything, you know...rash." Roseluck used that word again. As though it somehow made not trusting me magically okay.

I reached up with my forehoof to her mane. But she flinched.

It kinda shocked me. To see her fearful like that. Though I didn't let on.

"Relax." I said as I brushed a tangley vine-leaf thingy out of her hair. "It's just a vampire vine."

"A vampire vi-;"

"Sshh." I said. "Hold still."

I reared up on my hind legs. Dug through her mane until I found it - a residual leaf. Mostly harmless. But once I gripped it with my teeth, it started writhing around like a fish out of water. It snapped - tried to bite down on my sister's scalp, but I fwipped it away before it had the chance to dig its tiny little plant-teeth in.

"There you go." I said.

And Roseluck didn't say anything after that. Just stared at me in shock and wonder.

"What?" I asked.

But she just stared some more.

***

So yeah. It was a long and awkward journey. But when we finally made it to that little oasis that I call Zecora's "front lawn," the headaches subsided. Just like that. Unfortunately, so did my sister's quiet spell.

"Oh, my." Roseluck craned her neck back, and marveled at the forest ceiling. All the little blades of light cutting through gaps in the leaves. The whole thing swished around like a giant hula skirt. And it made this soothing-as-fuck ffffwooshhh noise. Like a broom dragging lightly against the sky. "It's so...peaceful." My sister smiled.

Then clang! She whacked her head on one of the bottles dangling from Zecora's tree.

"What the?" Roseluck rubbed her scalp.

"It's for good luck." I said. "And protection."

Zecora'd told me all about them. How the bottles invited good mojo. And chased away the bad. And also lit up her herb garden like a stained glass window.

"Ah! What's this?" Roseluck pointed to a mask nailed to the trunk of the tree.

"That's Zecora's great great aunt." I answered.

"Oh." Roseluck blushed. Embarrassed for having asked. It seemed personal somehow.

"Are you two still yapping, or are we gonna go inside?" Cranky knocked on the front door without waiting to hear our answer.

But nopony came. At least not at first.

Cliff Diver poked his head out from behind Cranky while we waited. Mouthed the words: is everything okay?

I nodded so as not to worry him, but rolled my eyes to make my general annoyance at Roseluck known.

Then creeeak... The door swung open.

Cliff Diver trotted merrily inside without a word. Leaving Cranky, Roseluck and I standing in the doorway facing Zecora.

She narrowed her eyes in puzzlement. "I expected only one of you three." Zecora announced. "What do I owe the privilege of such company?"

All eyes shot to Roseluck.

"Heh heh." My sister gulped her throat-apple down hard. "Well, Cranky was my guide, and I thought I'd come along to...um...help."

Zecora turned to me, eyebrow raised. But all I could do was look away. Bury my face in my hoof.

"Well, surely you have a reason to confide." Zecora stared Roseluck down 'till she cringed. "Come, come, come with me, we'll talk inside."

From the moment we set hoof through the door, everything was different. The smell of irises. The fact that the giant cauldron that'd always boiled in the center of her living space was now cooling off to the side. A table took its place. With a candle lit dinner on it. Zebra style.

She had a vegetable platter laid out. And assorted flatbreads encircling several bowls full of weird pasty dips. Green, and brown, and white. Smelling of herbs, and cloves, and almonds, and flowers, and cinnamon, and other scents I couldn't begin to describe.

It occurred to me then that I had never actually seen Zecora eat before. Cliff and I always arrived just after lunch, and left just before supper.

"I'm sorry." Roseluck said, embarrassed for having interrupted. As fearful and overwhelmed as she may have felt, nothing could override her instinct to be polite at dinner.

"No, you're quite welcome. Please stay." Zecora answered us in no uncertain terms. "I assure you it will be okay." She closed the door and sat down in the chair. Facing the wall instead of us. Then Zecora concentrated on it. Heavily. For just a moment.

Opposite her was a shelf on the wall that was normally obscured by a curtain. On it were flowers, tiny stones carved into figurines, a bowl of dip like the ones Zecora had made for herself, three pieces of bread, and a candle. All encircling a pencil sketch of an older zebra mare. Neatly framed.

"No, I don't always eat this way," Zecora chuckled. Tackling my question before I even had the chance to ask it. "But this is a very special day. / My mother's portrait is unfurled / to mark the day she gave me to the world."

"It's your birthday?!" Cliff squeaked.

"Geez! I didn't get you anything." I exclaimed.

"Why didn't you tell us?" Cliff squeaked yet again.

"'Cause zebras don't believe what you believe. / We give on all our birthdays," Zecora gestured to the offerings on her mom-shrine. "Not receive."

"But even so," I said. "Maybe we should--;"

"Shh." Zecora held a hoof to her lips.

And when the room was still, she gestured at the table. We all crowded sluggishly around it - this tiny little thing, practically a plank on a spool. Not intended to support dinner for five.

"Zéluth, wontaka." Cranky nodded in Zecora's direction.

She nodded in reply. And he went and plunged right in. Dipped the bread in the goo, swallowed it, and stepped aside to allow us to do the same.

Zecora smirked as Roseluck approached the platter. And in that moment, I knew what she was up to.

Zecora was Great Sorceror Planktonething my sister. Manipulating her into calming down. And it worked! 'Cause Roseluck's etiquette-brain overpowered even her most primal of fears.

Zecora threw me a hard glance when Roseluck wasn't looking. She knew that I was anxious. She knew I was afraid. But she needed me to be patient. That's what her eyeballs told me.

So I bit my tongue. And waited. By the time we all had our bread, a calm had settled in.

"I know there's something grave you have to say," Zecora locked eyes with Roseluck directly. "Do tell me what brings you to me today."

"Oh," my sister replied. Actually surprised at having been deferred to. "Well, um…" She looked to me. Practically asked permission to go first. Even though just ten minutes before, she'd been ready to charge in here and demand to be heard. "I'm worried. About Rose Petal. You see, something terrible has happened. A friend of hers disappeared on the night of the blizzard. Only nopony remembers that she ever existed at all. And Rose Petal, and Cliff, and Cranky over here figured out what happened - that this filly was erased somehow - and I came here to make sure that Rose Petal was…you know...safe. If you know what I mean."

Zecora took her cup with both forehooves, and slurped her tea. While under the table, her tail swished. Nopony seemed to notice but me. "Now this is troubling for Rose, and me, and you," She answered. "But I don't know what you mean, or what you fear that Rose would do."

Zecora leaned forward over the table. In eager anticipation of an answer.

"Something rash." Roseluck sat up stiffly. Scowled indignantly. I'd seen her make that face before. Back when I broke Carrot Top's window by mistake. And the two of them got into this crazy argument where Roseluck was, like furious at me, determined to make me work off the damage, and yet defending me at the same time 'cause Carrot Top had yelled at me, and made me cry.

Roseluck was fixing for a fight. But she didn't get one.

"I've known Rose a month or two, and learned / that rashness is a serious concern."

"What?!" All three of us said at once - Roseluck in confusion, Cliff Diver in surprise, and me, totally blind with fury.

"I'm not gonna do anything rash!" I leapt to my hooves and said. "Blueberry Milkshake is being tortured by shadowy clitweasels right now."

Roseluck clutched her chest in shock at my use of a futurism. I didn't care.

"She's getting tortured because of me," I shrieked. "And all that matters to you is that I'm being rash?! I'm not being rash! I'm being...appropriately determined not to let my friend get tortured!"

I panted. Caught my breath. Cliff Diver put a hoof on my back. While the grown ups just looked at me like I was being "rash."

And I couldn't deal. I couldn't fucking deal. 'Cause Zecora was. My. Last. Hope. She was supposed to be there for me. She was supposed to help.

What the fuck was the point of all that training if she was just gonna pat me on the head and treat me like I was crazy when danger reared its head?!

A tear rolled down my cheek.

That was when Zecora spoke up in her obnoxious Sorcerer Planktoneth voice. "We cannot help your friend until / your mind is clear and calm and still. / I don't know yet what we can do. / I'd need to hear much more from you."

I brushed my face against my leg to wipe away the tear. But I didn't dare sniffle. "Her name was Blueberry Milkshake." I said. "And she vanished without a trace…"

***

I was a lot calmer by the time I finished telling the story. But nothing could make me hunky dory.

Zecora sat in contemplatey silence for a long, long time, weighing her reply. While the rest of us waited with bated breath. "I've never ever heard of such a thing," she said at long last. "I don't know what misfortune this will bring."

"Can we find her?" I asked. "Can we save her?"

Zecora let out a heartbreaking sigh. The kind that says a thousand words, all of them, 'no.'

"Without a token," she gestured at my mojo bag full of Misty's tail hair, Screw Loose's sock, Twink's candle-twig, and a single strand from Cliff Diver's mane. "...Tracking her will be too tough / unless your bond with her was strong enough. / Lost souls are near impossible to find / unless the hearts of sought and seeker are entwined."

"We weren't that close." I answered softly. Wishing that we had been - that I'd given Blueberry a chance - trusted her from the start.

Zecora breathed in deep. "If there's any truth to what you've spoken, / our Universe itself is broken." She mused, so entrenched in her own thoughts, that she didn't even look at any of us. "The erasure of just one tiny foal / can tear a hundred thousand tiny holes."

"But why? They've taken kids before." I said.

"It runs far deeper than one missing child." Zecora retorted. "Everyone whose life she touched has been defiled."

"But what if they didn't?" Cliff spoke out. Smile creeping cautiously across his face.

"What?" I said.

"What if they didn't erase anypony?!"

And for a moment - just a moment - I felt like I'd been stabbed in the heart with a butter knife. Dull. Painful. Crammed in between the ribs where it didn't belong.

"She's real." I stated firmly. Throat dried out from pure frustration.

"Not in this world," he replied. "But what if the shadows didn't erase her? What if you're in a timeline where she never existed at all? And somewhere out there is a whole other Universe where you two are friends? And in that Blueberry Dimension is a Rose Petal who's totally confused. 'Cause she's dealing with Blueberry Milkshake and she doesn't remember her at all?

"Then I'm the lost soul." I said to myself quietly.

"Exactly!" Cliff Diver exclaimed. “They're doing it to trick you. To drive you to despair. Like they did to Candy Shine's mom."

"That's some trick." Cranky hung his head low.

And just like that, Cliff Diver's excitement faded. As the whole room flooded with Cranky's palpable, tangible pain. Like when you're in a closet that's so hot, and dry, and stuffy that you can't breathe. The air around us was heavy with regret.

We sat in silence a while. Out of respect for Candy Shine's mom. And sympathy for Cranky. Not even the sounds of the Everfree would dare pierce through the door and interrupt.

I nursed my own regrets in that time. 'Till Zecora spoke up at last.

"If shadows could untether from their fate," she shook her head. "Our fight would be pre-written - both too early and too late."

"I don't like the sound of that either, kid." Cranky huffed. "If that's true, there'd be no point to anything at all. My journey to find Matilda. Your shadow trouble. None of it would amount to anything. Our whole lives would all be some sorta sick joke."

"We still have to consider the possibility." Cliff murmured to himself. Thoroughly cowed.




Then we were back to the drawing board. Staring at a table full of tea and bread and zebra dipping goo. Uncertain of what we needed to do.

"Who guides the hooves of fate?" My sister said softly. Out-of-nowhere-ishly.

"Pardon?" Cranky asked.

"It's something my great aunt wrote in her journal." Roseluck answered. "She was a background pony. Travelling to different worlds, and points in history like me. And Rose Petal."

Cranky looked to my sister in confusion, since he knew so little of what went on between us. But shrugged it off seconds later, determined to hear what she had to say.

"Over time," Roseluck continued. "Roseroot got obsessed with finding answers, lost her mind, and ceased to make any sense at all. She wrote hundreds of journals - all inarticulate ramblings and word salad - except for one sentence in the middle of journal number seventy-eight. Who guides the hooves of fate?"

I realized then that Roseluck had obsessed as much about that journal as I had. Probably more. 'Cause she had known Great Aunt Roseroot much, much, much, much longer.

Did the mystery ever keep her up at night, back when she was still dream traveling? Or when she'd first found out that I had inherited those same gifts? That same blood curse.

"My whole life I thought it was a question." She continued. "Aunt Roseroot driving herself mad trying to figure out what motivated The Powers That Be." Roseluck shook her head. "But what if it's actually the answer? What if it's a revelation?"

"I don't get it." I replied.

"Maybe that's what all this is about. The shadows and The Powers That Be struggling, fighting one another to determine...who guides the hooves of fate."

Zecora listened very very very carefully. Nodded a sage-like zebra-nod before finally choosing to weigh in. "That theory is all well and good, / but does not make our problems understood."

"So," Cliff chimed in, all deductive-like. "The question is: are the shadows using beard magic to untether themselves from the normal restrictions of fate, and leap between alternate universes to try to mess with Rose Petal? Or are they using beard magic to rip holes in the world, and tear out every trace of the fillies and colts they steal. Either way, they're defying what we think we know of the Universe."

"And either way," my sister put her hoof gently on my shoulder. "The only trace of Blueberry Milkshake is in your memories."

"Not the only trace." Cranky chimed in. "You got that greeting card don't you, kid?"

"Yeah, but it's empty - at least the spot where her signature was."

"That's what I'm getting at." Cranky replied. "A lotta Travelers keep a scrapbook. We don't have much by way of possessions, but we give each other little somethings. Even if only a signature, or a scribble. It's how we remember one another. And how we know that when we're gone, we'll be remembered."

"I had not pictured it from that position." Zecora said. "That truly is a lovely tradition."

"Gosh, thank you." Cranky said with a smile. He and Zecora weren't usually the type to exchange compliments. "But the point I'm making is this. Signatures fill up a page pretty fast - especially when lots of folks leave little messages for one another.

"I can't count the number of times when I got stuck trying to cram my own joke (or Limerick or what have you) into a tiny little space surrounded by everypony else's pithy commentary.

"Now kid," he turned to me, and said. "Your get well card's from the whole class, isn't it?"

I nodded. Totally confused by what he was getting at.

"And everypony tried to cram their well-wishes into the same tight spot, didn't they?" He said.

"Yeah."

"Well, why don't you close your eyes, and try and think back real careful-like?"

I did.

"The spot where Blueberry Milkshake's message used to be." Cranky continued. "Is there a lot of empty space there, or somepony else's signature?"

I thought about it. Real hard. Even though I didn't need to. The sight of that empty spot where the crusty old paste once had been. It was burned into my brain.

"Blank." Cliff shouted out. "The space was blank."

"Oh, dear." My sister let out a heartbroken little whisper.

"What?" I cried. "What does that mean?"

"If Blueberry had never existed, then everypony else's signatures would have spread out evenly across the page." Roseluck answered. Eyes wide with horror. "There wouldn't be a space."

"But because there is." Cliff swallowed hard. "That means that Blueberry Milkshake used to be here." He turned away from the table. Eyes cast downward on the floor as he sniffled. "The shadows did steal her after all."

"No." I replied. "No."

"Yeah," Cranky shook his head and sighed. "'Fraid that's what I was getting at."

"I don't know how to bear this news to you." Zecora whispered. "But I concur that Cranky's theory must be true."

"We gotta do something!" I leapt up to my hooves. "What's the plan?"

One-by-one, all the grown-ups looked away. Cranky, then Roseluck, then Zecora. 'Cause they didn't have a plan at all!

"There's gotta be a way!" I squeaked.

"We may never know the riddles of our fate," Zecora answered somberly. "But it's certain that they're using her as bait."

"So what?" I hollered. "We can still stop them, we can like...well...friendship them to death."

"I don't know from spooky castles, kid." Cranky said to me. "I never dreamt my way through time. But I been around the block before, and I danced with a shadow or two." Cranky shook his head. "They can't be killed. They're not flesh and blood. They're energy, like sunlight, or magnets.” The old donkey shook his head. “But most importantly, in the end, shadows ain't nothin'…"

"...but ourselves." Cliff Diver finished Cranky's sentence.

Cranky cocked his head. Like a confuzzed spaniel, stars all bright and shining in his eyeballs. A glimmery look of optimism that I would never have thought Cranky was capable of.

"Like the Screamin' Possum Glisterheart song." Cliff Diver said, shoulders all bunched, head turned meekly away.

Roseluck and I looked to one another in confusion. My sister held up a hoof, and tried to speak, but it was too late. The singing had already started.

Cliff opened with an airy, hesitant voice. And Cranky joined in with a death yodel - voice like a rusty nail.

Only I didn't hate it like I hated the blues records I'd tried listening to. Coming from Cranky, that raspy caterwauling was sorrowful. Creepy. Beautiful even. It broke my heart. Every warble of his twisted old vocal chords told a story of ponies he knew, places he'd seen, and loved ones he'd lost. He and Cliff sang it together like they'd practiced a thousand times. Stomping and clopping a paddy cake rhythm as they both moaned out the words.

"Our shadows ain't nothing but ourselves

Blocking the bright light of day.

The monkey on your back

Pouring liquor in your sack

Won't never ever ever go away."

Then something strange happened. I felt the rhythm of it come over me. I started stomping. Singing out words I'd never heard before. Like a trance. Or a spell...

"You can try to outrun her

Witch-yer mareathon trophies on the shelf.

But you aint saved,

She'll catch you in the grave.

Our shadows ain't nothing but ourselves."

Cranky closed his eyes. Shook his head. Stood up and grooved to the rhythm of his own hoof clops. Just as Zecora took a bongo solo with a pair of drums she'd dug outta Luna-knows-where. (She musta grabbed them off the wall while I'd been focusing on Cranky). The spirit of the moment had grabbed a hold of her too. And her syncopated rhythms added a totally different flavor to the vibes in the air. But still, it fit somehow.

My sister was the only one not taking part. She sat stiffly. Smiled. Nodded her head super polite-like. But clearly wasn't feeling the pulse of it. It wasn't as awkward as it coulda been, though.

'Cause the song was just a moment - a brief little flash of spontaneous grief and joy. We sang and danced, and pounded our hooves. And when it was all over, Cranky laughed like I'd never seen him laugh before. Threw a foreleg around Cliff. "You got taste, kid."

Cliff Diver beamed with pride.

"And you," Cranky cast a hoof in my direction. "You too. I thought you hated the blues."

"Actually," I pulled my mane in front of my face to hide my red-flushed cheeks. "I've never heard that song before."

The laughing stopped. And everyone just sorta looked at me. Which just made me blush all the harder.
...
...
...

"It seems that, after all these weeks so long," Zecora said with a devious little grin. "You've not fallen out of every song."

"I guess you're right." I replied as a laugh welled up inside my chest.

I'll never forget that feeling of terror and isolation I'd felt when I found myself in the middle of that snow-shoveling musical number. Cut off from the music entirely! The hopelessness that weighed me down in the days and weeks that followed. The uncertainty.

But as Zecora had pointed out during our very first meeting: Music is around us always. Just because I couldn't feel the magic of that one song, (and I ended up freaking the fuck out, and tackling poor Kettle Corn), it didn't mean that music itself had abandoned me entirely.

"I guess all it took was a song about shadows hunting me to the grave." I laughed.

Cranky laughed too. But Cliff's face tightened over his skull. 'Cause he was keeping an eye on my sister. And she wasn't happy at all.

"Oh. Sorry." I said.

She shook her head. Whispered. "Don't worry."

And we were left with that stupid uncertain silence again. All five of us.

Zecora took the opportunity to clunk around, and put her bongos away, making as much noise as possible in the process. To cut through the tension.

Clonk, boom, drag, rattle, scratch.

We all waited for her to finish. Or at least pretended to wait. Truth was: none of us had anything insightful to say.





When, finally, at long last, Zecora sat down beside us again with a smile, she refilled our cups of tea, turned to my sister with respect, and asked a favor. "If you feel that it's alright," she said. "I'd like for Rose to spend the night."

"What?!"

"You are justified in all your fears." Zecora was quick to reassure. "The darkness sniffs out grief and tears." Zecora turned and pointed a leg at me. "And this one is unstable still. / They'll find her if she stays in Ponyville."

The color ran from Roseluck's face. A bold white turned sickly gray.

"I see." My sister said. As stunned by Zecora's logic as I was.

Just 'I see.'

Roseluck took her teaspoon in her mouth and stirred. Clang. Clang. Clang...Went the steel against the terra cotta teacup. Clang. Clang. Clang. Clang. Clang.

Then it started to rattle. As my sister shook from a case of bad nerves. Cllclclclcang-ang-ang.

Finally, she lowered the spoon. Took a few ragged, shivery breaths, eyes still fixed downward at her swirling tea. "I shouldn't be here," she said. "Should I?"

Then, even though Roseluck was giving me an out - even though she was giving me the space I desperately wanted - the space I really fucking needed - a little something inside of me died anyway. A certain kinda fear. It broke my heart to know the answer to my sister's painful question. And to truly understand that I had to speak up and tell it to her. I couldn't just…lie.

But I wasn't afraid any longer.

"I...um…" I stammered a bit...Summoned my strength. To tell my sister that I didn't want her around. That her concernittyness was nothing but a colossal distraction.

"To keep her safe," Zecora jumped in with advice more helpful than I ever could have hoped for. "...What you must do / is a task that falls on only you."

Roseluck pulled her eyes up off her tea.

"With shrinking night and growing day," Zecora continued. "Spring is almost underway. / Tonight has power if you look for life anew, / so look to those who gave your life to you. / Go home and kneel upon your sister's bedroom floor / and light a fire for all the Roses that have come before. / Call on those who bear your name / and keep a vigil by that holy flame. / It's essential that you heed these rhymes. / And burn a firey beacon home in these dark times / Your light is needed by us all, / so don't you budge." Zecora shook her head grimly. "Not even if the sky should fall."

Roseluck looked around at every last one of us. A room full of nodding heads and dire faces. Confirming that this wasn't just some random thing that Zecora had made up to get rid of her.

And I have to admit: the idea of candles burning on my altar at home. It really was a kind of solace. A beacon.

"What are you three going to do?" Roseluck asked.

"Cliff and I will team up as a double / to keep Rose out of dire trouble." Zecora answered.

My sister sighed. 'Cause she knew what she had to do. And it totally sucked for her.

"Please," I said. "The thought of your tending to our family altar - I don't know - it just feels right somehow."

"But what are you gonna do?" She pressed a little firmer. "To keep out of trouble?"

"I don't know yet." I reached out, and put my hoof in hers. "But I need you to trust me."

She looked to me with tear-drenched eyes. "Okay," she said. "Fuck it."

A futurism.

It shocked me. 'Cause my sister had never been to the future. Who knew where in the Hell she'd picked up that word?! I didn't get a chance to ask.

'Cause Roseluck broke into tearful laughter. And I went to her. It took a little scooching and maneuvering to get around the table, but the second I was within reach, Roseluck sprang like a mouse trap, and threw her hooves around me.

"You're so grown up." She said. Even as she ran her hoof frantically over my mane. And kissed my head like I was a little lost foal returning home.

I cried too. 'Cause my eyeballs didn't know what else to do.

"You're so grown up." She sobbed. "So grown up."

***

When at last we parted ways, Zecora warned my sister yet again. Not to leave home for any reason. To tend my altar with care. To burn as many candles as we had, and even to sit by my mother's chair near the fire if need be.

And no matter what, to stay there even if the sky itself should fall.

"Don't worry, that's not really gonna happen." Cliff laughed confidently.

Zecora and I joined in, and chuckled as well.

Roseluck gave us a weak little smile, but a warm one nevertheless. "I'll see you tomorrow." She said to me. Then she turned to Cliff Diver. "And don't you worry about your parents. I'll come up with some lie or another."

"Thank you!" Cliff exclaimed.

"I got just the thing." Cranky said. "I'll dig up an old trophy out of the shed. Tell 'em you're with me, winning a Helping-Out-Tired-Old-Donkeys Award.”

"They just might buy that." Cliff laughed.

"Of course they will, kid. I'll have you know that you're looking at an excellent liar. And single-minded ponies like your folks only hear what they want to anyways."

Cliff's face split into a giant toothy grin. While Cranky threw a cloak over my sister for comfort. Like an old fashioned gentlecolt. Roseluck acted like she didn't need it, of course. Held her head just a little bit higher than usual. Puffed her chest out just a little bit further than usual. To make a show out of being okay. For my sake.

I pretended not to see through it. Held my politest relaxy-est, smile 'till they were gone. But then, as Cranky led Roseluck out into the Everfree, Zecora's eyes went suddenly wide with fear.

"Oh, no." She said. So petrified that her stripes turned white, and she just plain forgot to rhyme.

"What?!" I said. "What's wrong?"

But Zecora didn't answer. Just bolted to the door, and flung it open. "Waaaaaiiiiiit!" She cried.

Cliff and I followed, and got to the doorway just fast enough to see Cranky and my sister stop dead in their tracks. They were every bit as alarmed by Zecora as we were.

"You all must swear by Sun and moon and Earth. / Don't let Pinkie know my date of birth!"

"Of course." My sister said.

"You have my word." Cranky added.

Then Zecora spun around to face us kids. Stared us down with eyeballs that said, I'll bury you in my herb garden if you even think of leaking this information.

"Okay, okay, okay!" Cliff and I both hollered. Forehooves way up high in the air.

Pinkie Pie must never know.

Author's Note:

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: This chapter, as you may already know, is being released tonight in honor of the Full Moon, and the penumbral lunar eclipse. I know it may seem odd since this chapter has no Princess Luna in it, and Cliff's idea of trying to reach out to her never even gets followed up on, but, try as I may, the cosmic occasions don't always match perfectly to the occurrences in the story.

I feel it still fits. The castle was once hers after all, and the entire story is about dreams, so it falls under her patronage regardless.

All that being said, my general thoughts on the story as it unfolds: this is exciting for me. So exciting. The story is moving along so quickly now (even if the last few chapters have simply been about trying to figure out what to do. I hope it's exciting for you as well. I'm eager to read your comments!

Happy Moon!

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Comments ( 3 )
earth #1 · July 5th · · ·

Pinkie must never know.

Reese #3 · July 5th · · ·

"Llamacles"
[obligatory groan] :)

"hole in it.




"Eep!" Roseluck"
Extra line break(s)?

"and space.




"We take the"
And again?
Or are these deliberate, for effect, signifying silence or somesuch thing?

"that as it may--;" My sister began"
Was that semicolon supposed to be there?

"at the same time.




"You're scared"
Reporting this one still just in case.

"Thoroughly cowed.




Then we were back"
Another one.

"and colts they steal. Either"
"and colts they steal? Either"?

"joke (or Limerick or what have you"
"joke (or limerick or what have you"?

"twisted old vocal chords told a story"
"twisted old vocal cords told a story"?

"say.





When, finally, at"
Another one.

"Held my politest relaxy-est, smile 'till"
"Held my politest, relaxy-est smile 'till"?

Aaaaand I broke out laughing at that bit at the end, about the Dangerous Forbidden (to Pinkie) Zebra Knowledge. :D

"swear by Sun and moon and Earth"
"swear by Sun and Moon and Earth"?

Another good chapter, I found this. :)

Aye, definitely some excitement in there, I think. :)
Though I suspect I've less than you, due to not knowing what's coming and therefore not being excited for specific future-things. :)

And Happy Moon! :)


10317070
And I broke out laughing a bit, again, at just your comment. :D

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