Fo:E - Rolling Bones: A Trail of Bones Part 2

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Fallout: Equestria - Rolling Bones
A Trail of Bones: part 2

We didn’t bring enough water… the rain water is contaminated… Celestia help us, we don’t have enough water!”

I couldn’t take my eyes off the fractured skull at my hooves. It bothered me, and I didn’t know why. I’d heard the recordings of long dead ponies before. Tar, almost every song on the radio fit that classification. Dead bodies and skeletons were hardly new to me. Somehow though, somehow imagining those broken pieces of bone having a voice, speaking to me…

The sound of hooves approaching drew my attention away to the east. Oracle cantered over the last rise followed shortly by Cross. They slowed to a trot as they neared the first set of bones. From there, they chose their steps carefully, trying to not disturb the plethora of bleached white organs spread out before them. I could just imagine the sick smile on Cross’ lips. She was probably getting hot just from the sight of so many corpses.

Oracle stared intently at the ground, eyes methodically scanning, in search something. Guessing that he was looking for evidence of what happened, I decided to save him the trouble.

“They weren’t killed… well, they were, just not like that.” He didn’t react, but I continued anyway. “They fled from the city to the west. Dehydration took most of them, I think. Though it could have been radiation poisoning.” Holding up the holodisk got his attention. “There isn’t much there,” I said, tossing it to him. His horn lit up and caught it in mid-flight. “I assume you can play this for yourself.”

He nodded, barely glancing at the disk before slipping it into his saddlebags. “How far is the city?”

I shrugged, motioning to some of the tattered canvas that managed to survive. “Hard to say. There’s no useful indication of time on the tape. Judging by what little of their supplies I’ve found, they might have been walking for a week before their water gave out. Assuming they moved quickly and adding a few days for them to finally start dropping,” I shrugged again, “we could be almost two weeks out with how slow the wagons move.”

Oracle frowned. “I don’t suppose you’ve bothered to fly up and look.”

“Nope,” I said, standing and stretching out my hind legs. They’d cramped up after sitting for too long. When I looked back Oracle was still staring at me. “Oh, you want me to do that now. Right.”

I only caught a sliver of his annoyed response as I put my wings to use. Keeping an eyes to the west, I rose and searched for anything on the horizon. It wasn’t hard to spot once I had enough altitude. From so far away it was little more than square blocks breaking the horizon.

“I see it,” I said, depressing the Blu-horn in my ear.

“How far away is it?”

“I don’t know… far.”

After a few seconds past without response I glanced down. Cross was whispering in his ear.

“Do you know your altitude?”

I focused on the plethora of numbers filling my E.F.S. and read off what I hoped was the proper box.

“What about the angle of the horizon when you look at the city?”

Blinking, I studied the display again. It would have been nice for it to come with a manual. Each movement caused so many numbers to adjust that figuring out what was what took some effort; having three different horizons didn’t help. Finally identifying the right one, I rattled off the number.

Expecting him to ask for another set of numbers, I stayed airborne for a bit. When nothing came I looked down again to see Oracle sitting and watching Cross doing… something. Assuming they were finished using me as an advanced tape measurer, I touched down close enough to see what they were upto.

Cross held a knife in her magic, cutting into the dirt with what looked like something resembling math with Oracle watching intently.

“What are you doing?”

Cross ignored me, of course, and Oracle barely glanced my way before returning his attention to Cross’ work. “Working out the distance to the city.”

There was a triangle with the numbers I’d given them, and that’s about all I could follow. I couldn’t tell the rest from chicken scratch. There were numbers that I could read, but what surrounded them and the way they flowed made my brain hurt trying to figure it all out. Shaking my head, I tried again. I made it to the third line before something caught me off.

“That one’s not right,” I said, pointing with a hoof.

Cross stopped, her head rising like molasses and rotating to face me. “What?”

I managed to keep my wings from opening all the way as I realized what I’d said and to whom I’d said it.

Her eyes narrowed, and I took an unconscious half step back. Slowly, she moved her gaze to where I’d been pointing. A snort and stomp later and it was reduced to oblivion. When the knife went back to work it was with far more force than strictly necessary.

“You know trigonometry?” asked Oracle once it was apparent Cross wasn’t going to use my hide for her calculations.

“What? No.” I scratched at my mane and resettled my wings. “What’s trigonometry?”

He pointed at Cross’ work. “That.”

I looked back down at the confusion of numbers and letters Cross was gouging back into the earth. “Oh, no, I have no idea what any of that is… why are there letters? I thought math was numbers.”

“Then how did you– “

“This really is quite disturbing.” Caps Worth said as he stepped around a horn laying flat on the ground, the rest of the unicorn’s skull nowhere in sight. He and Echo trotted closer in a serpentine path to avoid the scattering of bones. “I’ve seen my share of ancient bones, but this… How many?”

Oracle shook his head. “There’s no way to know, but it’s late enough in the day that we won’t cross it in full before nightfall.”

Caps Worth’s nose crinkled. “I don’t relish the idea of sleeping in a graveyard.”

Echo pause to look at one of the skulls. I had to fight a scowl trying to twist my lips as he used a hoof to dislodge it enough to peer into its empty sockets. “I don’t like the idea of crossing one.” Letting the skull fall back into its creves, he turned back to Oracle. “We can simply go around it, correct?”

“No,” Oracle said with all the emotion of a bored teacher scolding an equally disinterested student. “We’d risk the wagons getting stuck or worse, breaking axles and wheels.”

Echo snorted. “That’s ridiculous. The wagons are designed to be driven over harsh ground.”

Oracle shrugged as he turned to Caps Worth. “It’s your call. I get paid either way.”

Caps Worth was quite as he studied the ground at our hooves. Hard packed dirt was the rule, save for the bits of white marring the light brown and the odd clumps of scrub grass clinging desperately to life. Barely twenty hooves from the tracks that changed dramatically. Rocks, divots, and loose soil made up the rolling hills. The rails ran a winding path between the worst rises and falls, but more often than not it the builders cut directly through the terrain, changing the landscape to fit their needs.

“You can’t seriously expect us to camp amid the dead.”

“Why not?” Cross asked as she stood.

Echo began to respond with what could only be an angry rant. Fortunately, however, Caps Worth beat him off the line. “It is not something I, or any of the others I imagine, would relish.”

Cross shrugged and turned to Oracle. “At our current pace we will make the city in twelve days. Eight if we leave the wagons behind. Six if we abandon the weak.”

I shouldn’t have been surprised by that comment, but I joined Caps Worth and Echo in gaping at her.

Caps Worth chewed on his tongue as his gaze shifted to the horizon. “Twelve days,” he murmured. After a few seconds of thought, he sighed. “There’s nothing for it. Come on, Echo, we need to prepare everypony before they trip over a femur.”

Echo didn’t waste any time in arguing with Caps Worth’s decision as the two unicorns turned to leave. How he put up with the doctor’s incessant bickering was beyond me, but he had my sympathy.

“Lucky.” The smile slipped when I saw the glare on Oracle’s face. “Stop playing dumb.”

I shot him a smirk and started lifting off. “Doesn’t that mean that I’m smart?”


Zefira drew the occasional curious glance from the Watchers as she trotted alongside her wagon. They had bothered her when she first left Zebrica: the stares. She’d grown up without them, ponies and zebras both common sights in her youth; her mate had been a unicorn. Equestria was different. That first town she’d stumbled upon had never seen a zebra before, and two at once…

Later towns fared better. Though zebras were not unheard of, she doubted very much that they would become common place within Equestria, and she wouldn’t let a few curious glances or stares deter her. The lengths necessary to discourage such ponies were simply not worth the effort. Knives’ presence was usually enough to keep things civil at least– the spiked mane helped.

Thinking back, it had been a fair stretch since their last… unfortunate encounter, long before they met Oracle and joined his Arbitrors.

It was a good day to walk outside. Sun’s light penetrated the thin clouds enough to warm her fur while a breeze from the north carried the mountains snow cooled air. She closed her eyes, tilting her head back to let Sun dance across her muzzle. Ancient, familiar aches faded further from her mind as she kept pace with the caravan’s slow plodding.

“Enjoying the sun?”

“Indeed, it is good to show one’s appreciation for her efforts, lest she abandon us entirely.”

Gray’s ears twitched. “I’m not sure I understand.”

Zefira smiled, turning away from her revelry to watch the unicorn beside her. “It has been my experience that all things respond to praise and admiration.”

“But the sun is not a living thing.”

“No?” the zebra asked, altering her course as the wagons angled more northward. “I wonder, then, who wakes her to rise each morning. Perhaps your goddess of the morning is still alive after all.”

Gray frowned, her hooves moving of their own accord as she considered the elder’s words. There was the possibility that Celestia had survived, though no pony believed such. If she had, surely she would have acted by now to gather her ponies. Who then, without Celestia, raised the sun? In the oldest stories the unicorns did, but Gray found the idea of a cabal of unicorns diligently working to set the sun in motion more than a little hard to swallow.

“The idle musings of an old zebra should not distract the young. You wish to converse of other things.”

“Yes,” Gray said, her thoughts returning to the present. “I wished– wanted to thank you for looking after Lucky.”

“Your words are appreciated, though unnecessary. It has been my assigned duty to care for all who are under the employ of Oracle.”

“Still, thank you.”

“You are welcome.”

The call to stop rippled down the line, repeated by the ponies harnessed to the wagons. Both mares glanced at the wagoniers beside them only to receive a shrug as the heavy metal boxes ground to a halt and harnesses were disengaged. Following the rest of the herd, Gray and Zefira trotted to the fore.

Zefira lagged behind at the back as the other pushed her way to the front of the small herd. Her eyes drifted over the ponies standing flank to flank. The names of ponies replayed in her mind with each mane. She stopped at the daffodil coated mare with a blue mane.

Aloe Vera, one of the new arrivals. A foalish filly galloping into the wasteland alone in pursuit of the one stallion who’d turned her down. Zefira rolled her eyes as Aloe’s followed Gray through the crowd. The large red stallion beside her earned another eye roll. Such a useless concept: love. It was not something to be found, Kismet cared not for the lives of individual ponies.

Caps Worth’s voice brought her attention back to the two unicorns who’d summoned the herd.

“Thank you, this won’t take long. There is some news that I think you all should hear before we proceed further. First of all, we have sighted a city.” He paused as the twenty some ponies murmured excitedly and waited for them to quiet down. “By our estimates it is just shy of two weeks away.” Less thrilled whispers started, but Caps Worth was quick to speak over them. “I know that sounds far, but this is exactly what we planned. Our provisions are more than adequate. We will reach Wellsprings and do exactly what we set out to do, help any ponies we find in any way we can.” The stallion paused again to let his eyes drift over the crowd. “There is one small obstacle–”


Caps Worth rounded on Echo, horns scraping as their foreheads collided, and their argument reignited in hushed growls. Worried whispers erupted from the gathered ponies, the entire caravan reduced to frightened foals. Nurse Gray was the only one to move, quickly stepping out of the crowed and forcing her way between the two stallions.

Zefira ignored the hushed arguments, instead looking to her right as Knives stepped back into the visible world without a sound, and the glowing sapphire at his collar quickly dimmed back to a dull blue.

The wrinkles populating her muzzle deepened with her smile. “Come, we must prepare for our guest.”


Hurdles grunted. The incline was subtle, almost imperceptible to the eye, but it added another half ton to the wagon strapped to his back.

“Aww, the big, bad stallion getting tired?”

Hurdles snorted. “Not hardly.”

“It’s okay,” Tonka whispered conspiratorially, “I won’t tell anypony.” Hurdles’ wordless grumbling drew rumbling chuckles from deep in the banana yellow mare’s barrel. “So… have you talked to your marefriend at all?”

“She’s not my marefriend.”

“Well, duh,” Tonka said, her short black mane swaying with the shaking of her head. “Why would she be if you never talk to her?”

“I talk to her all the time.”

“Oh, yeah? What do you talk about?”

“I don’t know, stuff.”

“Stuff? What kind of stuff? Wait, no, let me guess. She talks about how much she wishes Lucky would notice her while you try to make her feel better.” Tonka heard the sound of grinding teeth from the level of Hurdles’ knees. Sure enough, when she glanced over, his head was drooping almost to the dirt at their hooves. “Oooh, I’m sorry, Red. I– ”

“No. It’s all right, you’re right. It’s just… frustrating. I mean, what’s Lucky got that I don’t?”

“Wings,” she offered quickly.

“Do you really think that’s it?”

“Maybe, I don’t know Aloe that well. I know I’ve wondered just how flexible those things are. I mean, I’ve seen him pick things up with them.” The heat in her cheeks had nothing to do with the sun overhead. “They’re so long and hard… ahem. If only they weren’t attached to Lucky… maybe if I could muzzle him…”

“For Celestia’s sake, not you, too!”

“Awe, come on, Red. Stallions don’t own the market on fantasizing. Besides, Lucky? Uhg. No. He might be a good lay, but that’s a bag of crazy I don’t want any part of.”

“Heh, yeah.” Hurdles smirked. “Do you remember that mare he was dating a few years ago?”

“You mean the one he couldn’t go five minutes without wrapping with a wing?”

“Yeah, that’s the one. You know why she left?” Tonka answered with a shake of her head, and Hurdles continued, “He called her ‘mommy’.”

“No.” Hurdles grinned viciously as he nodded. “No way. You’ve got to be joking. That’s… that’s…”

Tonka’s voice trailed off as they crested the rise, and her mouth failed to close. Hurdles followed her gaze and mimicked her expression. The wagons momentum carried them forward, forcing their legs to move or be dragged along.

“... that’s a lot of bones,” Tonka finally forced out.

Hurdles’ eyes locked onto the nearest bone, a rib cage half out of the ground. The warning had not been enough. Actually seeing the haphazard array of pony skeletons left a sour taste on his tongue. He couldn’t help but wonder at what happened. His eyes drifted all the way to the horizon without finding a definitive end to the trail. There had to be hundreds of bodies, maybe thousands.

The creak of protest and odd resistance came too late for him to stop. Brittle bone shattered under his heavy hoof in a spray of jagged splinters. Shards bounced off his underbelly and pelted his legs. An errant fragment zipped past his head, barely missing his cheek.

A weight of iron filled his stomach when the shock wore off. Without wanting to, his eyes found Tonka’s, and they shared a distraught look.

No words were exchanged as they continued, too busy watching the ground at their hooves and stepping lightly. The wheels were not so lucky, and they cringed every time another bone was crushed beneath the wagon’s uncaring weight.


Night closed in as it always did, and the caravan responded in kind. Wagons were circled and tents erected. A fire was lit and dinner was served. The easy going atmosphere of the days before, however, did not show its head.

Ponies trotted about their nightly tasks with exaggerated care, avoiding the remains that surrounded them at all costs. Somber conversations were the order of the evening. Few stayed up any later than necessary, electing to retire at the first opportunity.

Aloe, put off by the landscape, fled to the medical wagon’s roof at the first sign of bone and had yet to descend. A complete lack of activity mixed with her discomfort and anxiety to grant her restless naps for most of the afternoon and early evening. She was paying for her choices.

She couldn’t sleep.

Scattered six ways to the sun, she could not control the thoughts running rampant through her mind. Every time she managed to suppress her broodings over Lucky, and the mixture of anger and longing that they brought, her mind would roll to Gray– which only sparked similar thoughts and feelings. For as angry as she was at the older mare, she couldn’t change the way she saw her. Gray had practically raised her. There had been other mares and stallions who’d been responsible for the young foals, but Lucky attached himself to Gray’s side right off and Aloe quickly followed suit.

Banishing those feelings only opened the doors to others. She’d damaged her reputation with the Watchers. There was no doubt in her mind that they would keep her once they returned to Dise. Her natural talent was not one to be wasted, and she was certain that the secret to producing healing potions was just out of reach. Once she figured that out…

But would she ever return to Dise? She could, of course. There was nothing to stop her. Except herself. If Gray was telling the truth, however… No. There had to be a way to clear that whole mess up.

Why had Lucky picked Gray? It just didn’t make any sense! Aloe was younger and far prettier. She was smarter and funnier, too. They’d both been there for him through all his ups and downs.

Why Gray? Was it because she’d asked first? It couldn’t be that simple. It just couldn’t. Why was she relegated to ‘sister’ where Gray was selected as mate? It should have been the other way around. She should be laying with him, wrapped in his feathered embrace, and Gray should be seen as family, as ‘mother’.

An audible grunt accompanied her attempt to force those thoughts away. They weren’t doing her any good.

Opening her eyes, Aloe let the side of her head rest awkwardly on the wagon’s wall. The stretching of her neck and the oblong pressure it put on her shoulders helped distract her for a time.

The wrinkled cloth of the wasteland stretched out before her. It would have been difficult to make out much if her eyes hadn’t already been adjusted to the darkness behind their lids. As it was, she could see about thirty lengths away before the night solidified into a near impenetrable curtain of black.

For a time her mind calmed, but that did little to cure her restless legs. Riding the wagon for most of the day had left her with an abundance of energy that showed itself most in the constant flicking of her tail. The occasional kick of a hind leg only served to punctuate her need to move.

Her inability to sleep was the only reason she noticed the old zebra mare leaving the camp long after everypony else had gone to bed, and her body screaming at her to move was the only reason her curiosity got the better of her. She was already halfway down the ladder before remembering why she’d been up there in the first place.

Hovering on the last wrung, Aloe glanced back up. It was either keep going and brave the bone yard or return to moping sleeplessly on the cold metal roof.

Then her hoof slipped. A startled yelp escaped her throat as she dropped the last few inches to stand on shaking hooves. Her eyes locked on the rounded white nub poking from the ground below her.

She swallowed. The sight of blood and bone still made her stomach dance and sway, despite the Watcher’s best efforts. It had become almost routine; assist during surgery, pass out, wake up in bed with Lucky, Gray, or Hurdles standing watch. Things had gotten better, or rather, she’d set new records every week, even managing to stay conscious until the end of one operation– if not long enough to witness the suturing. Despite her distress at having passed out once again, waking up with the only family she’d ever known standing beside her had always been a great comfort to her.

She had no specific memory of the ‘first time’, there were simply too many to keep track. There was one that stuck out the most though. An appendicitis too far gone for any medication. Five minutes after the first incision saw her out cold. Lucky was there when she’d awoken, that little happy smirk dancing across his lips. Her own words were lost to her, but his response was one that she’d never forgotten. ‘Don’t worry, I’ll always be here to catch you when you fall.’

Well not anymore. Setting her jaw– and swallowing back her uncertainty– Aloe began to follow Zefira into the night. She would show him. She could take care of herself. Then he would see that she wasn’t some silly filly, but a mare in her own right and Gray wouldn’t stand a chance.

By this time Zefira had already disappeared into the darkness. Aloe didn’t worry, she’d been going in a fairly straight direction and Tracker’s lessons would finally pay off. It wouldn’t be that difficult to find her.

Five minutes later and the young unicorn was beginning to question her decision. If she went too much further she risked losing sight of the wagons as well.

The land began to rise and Aloe told herself that if she didn’t find her there then she’d turn back.

Cresting a final hill saw her drop to her stomach. Rocks scraped at her belly as she scooted forward until she could peek over the edge. The land beyond sloped gradually down for a good fifty feet before leveling off. Ten feet further, Zefira sat with hindlegs crossed beneath her and forehooves pressed together. It hurt just looking at her.

Aloe watched silently, only the sound of her beating heart and shallow breaths as company. As the minutes dragged on without a change to be had, she began to wonder if it had been worth it. Wandering into the Wasteland, alone, and at night hadn’t been her best decision. It was stupid. She had no business being out there, and she couldn’t think of a single way that it would help her with Lucky. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.

Aloe’s chidding came to an abrupt end when the air before Zefira shimmered. It began as a strange gray fuzzy, almost cloud like, shape that quickly sharpened into the distinct form of a zebra. She recognized him as one of the Arbitrors, and the elder zebra’s constant companion. He stood tall on only his hind legs, managing to balance perfectly in the awkward stance. Her fascination grew as he bent over and began laying out the objects his forelegs held. Despite the distance, she failed to convince herself that they weren’t bones.

Once unburdened, Knives joined Zefira on the ground and mimicked her posture. Aloe’s ears twisted forward as she strained to make out the whisper carried on the wind. It was for naught, the distance deconstructing their voices down to nothing more than base whispers. She needed to get closer.

Staying low, Aloe began to crawl around the hill. A number of decent sized boulders that dotted the area would be enough to hide her. She moved slowly, just like Tracker had taught her, only shifting her weight to the next hoof after touching ground. Progress was slow, but eventually she was close enough to hear Zefira speaking. She had to cover her mouth to keep from gasping as she glanced past her concealment.

“... your concern. He is the as he has always been.”

The entire area was bathed in a pale green light emanating from the bone pile. It washed over Zefira’s coat in an emerald sheen and danced in her eyes. What drew Aloe’s eye, however, was the apparition that stood over the glowing pile. Aloe had difficulty comprehending what her eyes were seeing. The form was little more than a shadow, and yet she knew so much. She was a her and an unicorn, her coat a deep jade and her mane and tail, dancing in a non-existent wind, were streaked in white and black.

“So shall he remain until his service is no longer required.”

Aloe’s eyes, so captured by the ghost, did not register the absences of Knives until his fetlock wrapped around her horn. A cry for help barely caught air before he forced her muzzle into the ground. Fear and panic clawed into her heart and mind. She tried to pull away, to slip from his grasp, but the pain from her horn prevented any significant resistance, magic sparking impotently. Knives paid it no mind as he dragged her into the light.

Knives threw her down and she stumbled forward, falling to her knees at the pile’s base. Tears stung her eyes as they were drawn up toward the figure before her. So close, Aloe’s eyes could draw no clearer definition to her features. To her eyes the shade was still nothing more than an indistinct green blur in the shape of a pony. It was all she could do to not drown in the sorrow of the shade’s non-existent pale eyes.

Aloe scrambled to escape, making it a full half-step before running up against Knives’ forelegs. Trapped between the two zebras and the ghostly figure, Aloe’s breath came in short panicked gasps.

Shhhh, be calm, Aloe.” The soothing words did not so much enter Aloe’s ears as blossom fully formed within her mind. “You are in no danger here.

The effect was immediate, Aloe’s heart slowed from its galloping pace to a steady canter and reined in her breathing.

“This is not your place, Aloe Vera, ” Zefira said, gazing blankly into the distance beyond the apparition. “What is your purpose here?”

“I– I saw you leaving–”

“Curiosity is a dangerous vice, young one.” The old zebra clicked her tongue loudly. “Iliana, sate her thirst.”

There is no need to involve her. Send her away, and let her be.” Iliana did not flinch at Zefira’s look, nor did her barrel rise and fall with a heavy sigh, though Aloe would have sworn differently. “Ask your questions, Aloe, and I shall answer you as best I can.

The unicorn's eyes danced between Iliana’s featureless face and Zefira’s wrinkled countenance. "W--what? I don't--"

"Not all who perish enter Elysium. The souls of the lost do not touch time as the living do.”

The zebra’s words took their time sinking in. Aloe looked up at the green specter, the ghost of a dead pony. The initial fear sent a tremor down her spine, only to be dashed against the shores of pity. A prayer for the lost soul formed upon Aloe’s tongue only to die unsaid as the implications of the second sentence dawned behind her eyes. “You know the future?”

No.” The spirit shook her head. “I merely hear its echoes. The future is not writ in stone. It shifts and turns on choices made and chances taken, and each creates an echo into the future.” Iliana’s words paused for a breath. When they began again they were pleading and on the edge of tears. “Go home. Return to Dise. Happiness will find you there, with a cacophony of laughing foals and cries of ‘Nana Very’ filling the air."

"Nana Very?" Aloe asked, her voice low and soft, afraid to speak louder and risk shattering the image forming before her eyes.

Iliana nodded, a hoof scrubbing across her muzzle to clear away non-existent tears. "Yes, and they will call you Nana Very, and when asked why, they will say, 'Because Nana Very loves us very much'."

"I'm going to be a grandmare?"

Yes,” the voice in Aloe’s head laughed through its tears, “many times over.

Aloe sat quietly. She could see them, the little foals dancing and playing all about. Touching her face, she felt the weight of age in wrinkles and loose skin. Her own foals stood some distance away with their own spouses; she knew them all despite their indistinct shapes and colors. A presence at her side pulled at her gaze. There sat her husband, smiling at her lovingly.

Her smile wilted.


No,” Iliana answered, her voice devoid of its mirth. “No matter his path, not but cries of agony follow in his wake, and all those around him will suffer for it. Leave now and save him the pain of your loss.

“It is time for you to be leaving.” Zefira fixed Aloe with her eyes, a golden light radiating from the zebra’s gaze. “You will return now and speak not a word of what you saw or heard this night to another. I would not delay in choosing, lest the choice be made for you. Now, go.”

Aloe ignored the feeling of nausea in her gut as she pulled the sleeping bag tight around her. She didn’t question her presence in the tent, too focused on the words she hadn’t heard reverberating between her ears.


Irons pointed to a rock in the distance. “Ready?”

Stock eyed the distant rock and gave a single nod.

“On three: one, two, three!”

Both ponies went to work, Stock lining up his scope while Irons gazed through a pair of binoculars. A pen scratched across a pad of paper beside Irons, numbers and formulae quickly filling the available space. Next to him, Stock’s lips moved silently. The wagon beneath them quaked as it ground over the rough terrain.

With the sun barely an hour into its daily trek, the caravan was already rolling along at a steady clip. Camp had been struck in record time, everypony silently agreeing to haste. Breakfast had been little more than an assortment of dried fruits dished out quickly and consumed faster. Just being on the move again was enough for many, better to walk across a grave than to sleep on one.

“Aaaaannnnd, done. What’ve you got?”

“A Distance of three hundred sixty two meters, twenty centimeters. Diameter: fourteen centimeters at its widest. Firing uphill at an angle of twenty degrees, with a northern wind at four and one half knots, I’d have to adjust my sights two degrees right and four up.”

“Ahha!” Irons chuckled victoriously. “You’re off by–”

“You didn’t carry the two,” said Locke, glancing at Irons work.

Irons looked back to his calculations. After a few quick scratches he blinked, his smile falling. “How do you do that?”

Stock smiled and shrugged. “It’s what I do. Best outta twenty seven?”


“Lucky! Wake up!”

“Huh? What?”

A hoof pressed into my shoulder, shaking me out of my dream. My eyes struggled to focus in the non-light but only managed the dim outline of the pony jostling me. The fog of sleep faded fast as Gray’s voice and scent played comforting melodies through me.

I reached out with a wing to pull her back to my side, but she resisted. “Nurse? What is it, what’s wrong?”

Her voice calmed some, but I could feel the rigidness of her muscles beneath my wing. “I was going to ask you the same. You were whining and smacking me with your wing.”

It was then that I noticed how damp my coat was. The smell of fresh sweat scrunched my nose. “I… I’m fine, it must have been a bad dream is all.”

“A bad dream?” I nodded in the darkness and rubbed my nose her just behind her ear. “Do you remember it?”

“No,” I lied with a smile. “Something corny, I’m sure.”

She let out a sigh somewhere between exasperation and relief. Finally relenting, she allowed me to pull her close and laid her head across my neck. After a short time, she asked, “Are we almost finished?”

I didn’t need to guess at her meaning. “Midday tomorrow.”

Her nodding on my neck was an odd sensation.

A yawn forced its way out and I smacked my lips a few times, tasting the last vestiges of dinner. The question formed in my mind and flowed out of my mouth before I gave it any real thought. “Have you spoken to Aloe?”

Her annoyed, yet sleepy, snort was all the response I really needed. She dropped her head back down on her out-stretched hooves, our noses nearly touching. The moisture of her breath played across my muzzle. “No. I can’t seem to find the right words.”

I could see the worry still etched in her eyes and scooted my nose a little closer, a slip of paper could not find space between. “Sometimes there are no right words.”

There was probably more I could have said, but nothing came to me. Gray nodded either way. Her lips found mine for a short kiss and a blessing to sleep well. It wasn’t long before her breathing slowed and evened out, and I knew she was asleep. I envied her. Despite her having to wake me, returning to sleep was not going to happen.

Just closing my eyes was enough to conjure the image from my nightmare. A shattered unicorn’s skull, pieced back together by glowing magic, glaring down at me with its empty sockets. Light flashed out of its maw with every word spilling from its crushed jaw. The voice, though, the voice…

I shuddered and pulled Gray tight against my side, burying my nose in her mane and breathing deeply in a vain attempt to distract my mind.

No… I wasn’t going to be sleeping again that night.


Sewers have a rightly earned reputation for unpleasant smells. It is not simply the stink of the waste that’s been dumped, but the bacteria that thrives in the constant moisture that gives them their distinctive, and altogether retched, smell. There is no shock, then, that when the Rangers moved into the sewers beneath Wellsprings streets they made heavy use of personal air-filtration systems– being encased in full-body and airtight armour didn’t hurt.

‘The Lion’, High Pears, had never actually tasted the foul air himself, a perk of rank. Flamethrowers were heavily employed to burn away the mold, mildew, and whatever else might have called the sewers home before they moved in. Spreading outward, they built dams and bulwarks to push back the standing water and seal the stench on the other side. Still, even after all that time, he could still taste the ash scorched into the walls.

His armour stood unsupported by the door, ready should he need to dawn it in haste. The rest of his quarters amounted to little more than the cot on which he rested and a hooflocker containing the scant few personal articles he’d cared to snatch before their exodus. Spartan though it was, it at least offered a modicum of privacy, unlike the general barracks.

The loud knock at the door sounded one of the less than enjoyable perks of rank.

The Lion was greeted by one of his fellow Rangers when he opened the door. After a quick salute the fully armoured Ranger spoke up, her voice distorted by his helmets breathing apparatus. “Sir.”


“Sigmond has requested an audience.”

“Take him to interrogation room C. I will be there in five.” After another salute was exchanged Pears closed the door.

Already wearing the body-suit over his dirty blonde coat, he stepped straight into the suit. Pressing down on each hoof locked them into place. Once secured, the suit’s systems booted. Armour plates slide into place, covering the stallion in a steel carapace that would rebuff all but the most devastating of attacks. In seconds he was all but sealed away from the outside world, the lack of a helmet leaving his head exposed. Were he expecting to leave the base he would have worn that as well, but for this meeting it was not necessary.

Pears took a minute to reacquaint himself with the armour. A series of quick stretches pushed each joint to its limits of flexibility, followed by prancing in place, and ending with a full diagnostic. Satisfied that it was in prime operating condition, he headed out.

Two Rangers stood post outside the interrogation room, though in truth it was little more than a broom closet. Each wore a low caliber, high rate-of-fire battlesaddle designed to quickly take down unarmored targets at close range. It was not standard issue weaponry for a Ranger. Pears idly wondered if their guest realized this discrepancy, not that it mattered.

Sigmund was an earth pony stallion of normal build, which put him just short enough to necessitate looking up to meet Pears’ gaze. His mane, tail, and goatee had gone white with age years ago, but his light blue coat was no less vibrant for it. He wore an ancient pair of black dress pants that hid the pipe she knew adorned his flank. Like all adults in his tribe, he bore a sunburst scar carved around his left eye.

The stink he carried with him from the outside made Pears regret leaving his helmet.

“Ah, The Lion, how good it is to speak with you again.”

To the greeting, he only snorted. Despite his cordial demeanor, High Pears did not trust Sigmund. Outsiders were not to be trusted as a rule, but for Sigmund it was doubly true. With a third less ponies than the next, the Children of the Sun, his tribe, was the smallest in Wellsprings. It hadn’t always been that way. The inept leadership of Sigmund’s predecessor had seen their numbers and influence drop drastically. After removing him, Sigmund managed to play the larger tribes off each other and keep them away from his own. Unfortunately for him, his ambition far outstriped his resources.

“Ah, no time for pleasantries, I see. Fair enough. Let us get down to business then, shall we?”

The Rangers had tried to plant spies within the tribes, but failed… miserably. They lost five neophytes before Elder Pomegranate ended the program. When Sigmund came offering his own intelligence, it wasn’t something that they could pass up. A simple agreement was established, information for protection. Sigmund became the go-between for the tribes and the Rangers. That made him useful, not trusted.

So Sigmund talked, and High Pears listened, waiting for the day when his usefulness was all used up.


Every few minutes I had to take a small step back to keep from crossing the line. I’ll admit it, I was a little scared. The bones, three days gone, had been disquieting but normal enough in their own right. This… this was something I wasn’t prepared for.

I’d noticed something in the distance. A strangeness in the air. What it was, I hadn’t known. We pressed on. Every hour brought us closer, until the moment I stood before it: gaping.

Spoon was the first one to join me, and even he was left speechless. Then Oracle and Cross. Gray pressed against my side when she arrived, and I instinctively draped a wing over her withers. We waited. The wagons arrived with all the others in tow and stopped. Everypony came to stand at the line, to stare in wonder. Nopony said a word beyond simple exclamations of awe and reverence.

Tracker was the last. He came limping out of the medical wagon, his eyes wide enough to swallow the sky. I swear I saw tears in them as he joined us. A smile the likes of which I’d never seen before split the ancient pony’s sagging face. Reaching out with a hoof, he crossed the line.

He giggled. It was the oddest thing I’d ever heard. Tracker, a pony as old as the Wasteland, giggling like a colt still attached to his mother’s tail. In a flash of movement he’d fully crossed the line and reared up with his fore legs open wide to hug the sky. Giggling turned into a full body chuckle before it became a deep belly laugh that shook him from head to dock even as he winced and stumbled from the weight on his bad leg.

Gray and I shared a look, and smiles parted our lips.

As one we leapt forward, we crossed the line. We left behind the shadows that had haunted our every breath. We left behind the darkness we’d thought would follow us to our graves. We left it behind, and, for the first time in our lives, we stepped boldly into the glorious, unfiltered light of the sun.

Audio Log 1 (Wellsprings) added.

Temporary Bonus:
The Light of Sun: Blessed be the sun, for it brightens our days and warms our hearts. (All party members receive a +1 to morale bonus to Perception, Charisma, and Luck)
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