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Seraphem2014-05-03 18:46:27

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HOF: Chapter 4: A Foals Errand

Before we start, correction from the last part. After talking to the author I found out I was wrong about something pretty important that does change how to view things. Namely if they show up in the alternate times in their real bodies, or at least looking like themselves. Turns out that Roseluck's smile, but not face, being on the Pona Lisa wasn't a case of her not looking like herself, but rather a bit of a Genius Bonus that I missed. It was based on the real world legend that da Vinci painted one person as the face for the Mona Lisa, but used another model's smile. Something once I was reminded of I did remember hearing. Da Whinny just did the same thing, had one pony model for the majority of the painting, but used Roseluck's smile. So my bad, was fun to speculate on what it meant, but turns out I just got things wrong.

Anyone on with the story, we open again with another quote.

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

Hey a quote I completely understand and see how it fits in with the story. Unlike the last one which, sure might have made sense in the context of the story, but I really just had no clue what to say about it. This one, pretty obvious, yet still several meanings. The most obvious would be Rose Petal's trips to the Wastes. It's easy for her to get to the hell, but hard to get back. But it also applies to the Wastes in and of themselves, of how things got so bad. "The portal to hell is opened with the incantation of good intentions." And those good intentions led to hell indeed. To hellish, bleak, nearly hopeless life for so so many. It was so easy to create, only two decades of war. Yet it took two centuries to even begin any serious recovery. So nice applicable and multi-layered quote.

We open to Rose Petal preying to the moon. Well she doesn't actually call it preying, but it's pretty much what she's doing. Talking about how the moon was something you could always depend on. That was always there. Unlike the sun which one time failed to rise when it was supposed to. She admits that yeah it was because of Nightmare Moon and all, but that doesn't change that the moon itself has always been there, always risen when it was supposed to. A rather interesting view on things. I can see her logic in how she got the those feelings, if not think it's quite right. Since after all, the only reason the sun didn't show up was the moon betraying it and refusing to allow it to rise. But just looking at the what happened, not the full why, it does make sense to think that way.

She goes on to explain why this is the second night she talked to the moon about her problems with the wastes, given that it means we skipped a night. Turns out Roseluck didn't really take the news of just what her sister was chosen to go through to try and help all that well. Not that anypony can blame her given just how bad just what little Rose Petal saw was. She tries to be strong, to act confidant, to be unafraid. Or at least to act like it for Rose Petal's sake, but cracks in a pretty well done scene. Rose Petal can see exactly what Roseluck is doing the whole time. Knows it's all an act for her sake, but let's it go on. Just the fact her sister was trying was enough. Though when the mask breaks, Rose Petal instantly switches from the one being comforted, trying to be set at ease, into the one providing the comfort. I really do love how close these two feel. They really are very close to each other, deeply care for each other. And the whole reaction is just so well done.

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

In the end, Roseluck won.

The two simply staying up all night talking. Rose Petal refusing to go to sleep, needing to be there for her sister more then try to save the ponies in the future. The next day at school passing in a blur of fatigue. Diamond Tiara being a bitch and trying to get back at Rose, who was to tired to care, nothing else she can quite remember. Skipping right to the next night, as she got ready for bed.

So I’m just gonna spare you the dumb details, get straight to the point, and tell you about the night that came after. The night I discovered just how bad it could get in the Equestrian Wasteland.

Knowing how bad that really is, I really really hope she's not seeing the worst. But either way, this is not going to be good.

So she prays to the moon, hoping for some kind of answer, that she wouldn't have to go through this again. but at the same time knowing she wouldn't get an answer, that this wasn't something the moon could fix.

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

And, so very true, sometimes that really IS all you need. Just someone, or something to talk to, to simply be there and listen as you work things out yourself, or just get them out. And while Roseluck would be more then willing to do that for her sister, Rose Petal wouldn't be able to fully open up to her, to really get everything out. Not out of lack of trust, not because she wants to hide stuff. But out of concern, out of not wanting to burden Roseluck with her problems, make her worry even more.

And while wishing not to go back to the Wastes, realizing that no, part of her DID want to go back. Not because of 'fate' or because she has a mission, or anything to do with any real reason she was being sent. Not out of some obligation to time, or destiny. Not out of any desire to be in that place. But because of the colt. The one she wasn't supposed to save, simply follow to the one she was. Knowing that nopony else would help him, that she was his only hope. She was the only pony that seemed to care about that boy, who WOULD try to save him, so it fell to her to BE the one who saved him.

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

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

First, that decision and why. "Ponies are good, when they choose to be." Which is what Rose Petal is doing, choosing to be a good pony. Not polite, happy, nice. All the outer trappings of being 'good'. But truly good, doing whatever it takes, no matter how much she'd rather not go through it, just to save a single other pony. Knowing she was somepony's only hope, and making the choice to help him. Simply because it's right.

Second, yes the calm. Now, bit poetic about it actually coming from the moon, being her answer which, yeah bit of dramatic license. Again see how the feeling comes to her, if it's not technically how it's working. But that calm, the cessation of worry, of doubt, makes perfect sense. She'd been conflicted, scared, worried, so much left unknown. But now, it doesn't matter. She's still scared, still worried, but it doesn't matter. She has her answer, she is doing this not because she has no choice, but because it's what she WANTS to do. Regardless of if she does or doesn't have a real choice, if she did she would be making the same one. She would be going back to save him. She has a purpose, one she choose. Something to anchor herself to. Yes in all reality she was still just a plaything of fate, having no actual control over what was happening. But she as TAKING control. She might not be able to control if she goes back or not, but she CAN control what she does while she's there, who she fights for. Just that little fact, being able to have that little bit of control is more then enough. Not wholly banishing the worries, the doubts, but pushing them aside for what mattered. There is a little colt that nopony else cared for that she had to save, that was all that mattered.

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

And once more, time to fansquee over just how damn GOOD the story is at this. It switches almsot seamlessly from some rather deep, thought provoking, and just amazingly well done bits that have so much possible meaning, and help to build the tension for what's coming. And then adding in little bits of this comedy. Without feeling at odds with each other, keeping the tone the same, but helping to lighten the mood, to keep things from getting TO dark and serious, without ever making things feel out of place for the humor. Since it does make sense given Rose being a foal, and just her general attitude. And I so so love it. A story that knows how to keep things from being to tense, to serious, to dark, just pulling the drama out so much it starts to wear on the reader. Yet also knows how to do that without hurting the actual tension and drama. Just little touches of humor like this are really all you need now and then.

Roseluck comes to check on her sister before she goes to sleep, Rose Petal comforting her, telling her she's got this. Roseluck saying she'd be right down the hall if she needs her. But Rose Petal doubting it, and after she leaves and shuts the door, Rose Petal notes the utter lack of hoofsteps in the hallway, knowing her sister would be right outside her door all night. And with that, we go back to the Wastes.

Her arrival is less dramatic then before, no screaming or flashes of light, just a sudden lungful of the hot, dry wasteland air. She was on the outskirts of a town filled with ponies wearing the same cloaks as the two raiders she had seen walking off with the foal. The town itself casting doubts on if they even ARE raiders, since she notes that other then being a bit rundown it looks like a regular pony town. Just with a bizarre fashion sense, since even those ponies not wearing the cloaks, all have some form of apparel on with the same flower print. But they don't act like raiders, rather as far as she could tell, like regular ponies.

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

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

Yes, that is truly the most terrible evil the wasteland can cause you to suffer. ((I'll let you try to guess what percentage of that was sarcasm.))

While still debating on whether they were evil or not she runs and hides from a group that almsot spotted her. Dashing into a seemingly empty house. And further cementing that these are not raiders, while she is a bit sickened by the interior, there's a nice fake-out involved.

the actual livable interior of the house was a horror show. Broken moldy furniture. A steadily dripping leak from Celestia-only-knows where in the ceiling. Warped floorboards.

So not raider chic of blood and guts, but just really rundown and ill-kept. Not raiders then, but she notices a needlepoint plaque above the fireplace with the words "PURITY CORRUPTS", the only decoration in the room.

So, rundown town, ponies who all dress similarly, really disturbing motto proudly displayed and done by hoof. Not raiders, just some kind of weird cult. Not sure which would be better.

But it starts to dawn on her that she has no bucking clue what the hell she's doing, no idea how to save the ponies she came to save, how to fight these weirdos, but only that she has to do something.

... Such as NOT haveing lucked out and found an empty house, but rather just an empty room in the house as the ponies that live there come into the room. The stallion inexplicably beginning to shriek in terror at her and back away while she ran, dragging the curtains with her. So, cult, "Purity Corrupts" and scared of a little filly. I think I see where this is going, and it is not nice.

She flees from the screaming couple, hiding for now and trying to arrange the curtain she'd been trailing into some kind of outfit, complete with a few other scraps with the flower pattern everypony in town wore to try and disguise herself. A disguise that holds up for all of about five seconds, as the first ponies she sees startd ALSO freaking out. Making her look around and realize one important fact she had missed before. There was not one single foal anywhere in sight in the entire town.

Okay minor gripe, just on wording choice. While this is a pretty nice twist, and does work well, it is kind of hampered by rose Petal's initial description of what she was seeing. Specifically how even the 'colts' wore some kind of cloth with the cults pattern on it. Specifying colts. Now yeah, obviously it was meaning the stallions, but using colts instead just kind of makes the sudden reveal of "No foals" come off a bit "what? but you just mentioned some." Not a major issue, but a minor little annoyance. Aside from that word needing to be changed, it is rather effective and just makes it even odder, makes one wonder even more what the bucking hell is going on.

Well, at least with the cult, what's going on with Rose is that she gets backed up against a wall of the largest building in the center of town. And through a crack in the wall sees a very familiar eye. The pony she was here to save was right there, looking out of the crack in the stone at her. But, rather then leading to some daring rescue, Rose just get's conked on the head by one of the 'cloak-o's' and passes out as she's tossed over another ones back.

Well, needless to say, this isn't good. Captured by some strange cult that seems to have issues with 'purity' and an aversion to foals. Yet keeps at least one locked up in the town hall, and has drug others to the town. Raiders MIGHT have been better, depending on just what the hell this cult is doing.

She comes to in a rather small cage, listening to a mare talking over a loudspeaker. Something we later come to learn is a recording the cloak-o's constantly listen to. About how innocence is what caused the war, how innocence leads to nothing but pain and misery. How if you always hate everything, always expect everything to be shitty, expect other ponies to be bastards you'll never be disappointed. Life is pain and suffering etc.... A whole lot of really crazy shit, that nonetheless you can sort of see the twisted, insane logic behind.

She passes out again, only having been semi-lucid thanks to the concussion they gave her. Waking back up and beginning to freak out nice and proper over being captured and stuck in a cage only slightly bigger then herself. And once more, just have to love the story for managing to, without causing major mood whiplash, keep things from feeling TO dark by adding little bits of humor, little touches of levity.

I put my hoof to my head, and came away with a whole bunch of green crust.

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

Talking to the other foals does little to help, as all of them have come to accept they were trapped, that there was nothing they could do. Well except for one colt with what I'm guessing is supposed to be a Stalliongrad accent. Though with him it's mostly tough guy bluster about how he could escape anytime he really wanted and how pathetic the adults here were.

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

“Fucked if I know, kid.” She said.

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

If that's the first time she's ever heard that word, how does she know it's a 'hardcore curse word'?

Anyway she starts talking to the other foals, until completely breaking down as she realizes she screwed up. That she wasn't able to save anypony, that nothing mattered. No matter what you did the darkness would win. Sure you might win a small battle here or there, but things would just go right back to being horrible. Basically starting to lose any hope she had. Until the filly in the cage next to her tried to comfort her, as well as one other filly near the wall. 'The one I'm meant to save' telling her what she saw Rose do was one of the bravest things she'd ever seen. Both of which cheer her up a little, but nothing does so more then the filly next to her calling her her friend.

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

Again, given the type of 'friend' she'd had before, it makes sense she is a bit odded out, doesn't know what true friendship is. She's always been more or less alone. She had her sister, but that's family. Her only real 'friend' was a pony that only hung around when she wanted to, didn't stick up for her, ignored her when what Rose was doing wasn't interesting for her etc...

Though she gets a kind of good news/bad news deal. The cloak-o's weren't interested in beating them up, wouldn't hurt them. Only because they apparently were trying to keep them 'pure and innocent' until they sacrificed them to their 'god'. Granted the way it's told might not be what is really going on, since it's one foal telling what they heard on the loudspeaker a few days ago that had since been taken out of the loop of speeches. But still not a good sign.

Rose and Twinkle Eyes, the pony in the cage next to her, end up making a pact to be there for each other to the end. Adding to the morbidity of the scene by calling it a Death Pact. Ummm, girls, that's not exactly what a 'death pact' is. But, despite things seeming even worse then before, Rose starts to recover, to actually hope again.

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

Sometimes, all it takes is one little spark of hope. No matter how dark, how dim, how surely things will be horrible. Sometimes all it takes is that one little light to make it better. To keep away despair.

With nothing else to do given the cages, we get more of the foals talking. Only really getting to know more about the one who turns out wasn't from Stalliongrad, (his name turning out to be Misty Mountain, just a poetic name, or intentional Tolkien reference?) but rather Romane-ia via Jerhooveslem. Though when he mentions also having lived in Fillydelphia the rest of the foals start mocking him, calling him a liar. Much to Rose's puzzlement. Causing her to expose her own ignorance about the wastes. Making the rest curious how she couldn't know about Fillydelphia. She tries to play it off, but knows that she's exposing herself as being odd, though the rest seem to take it in stride.

The conversation clearly effecting Misty, who ends up just saying he lied. Though in a way, and with other reactions, that make it pretty clear he didn't. That something did happen to him in Fillydelphia.

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

Well, it is bad, but not as bad as Filly at least. Then again NO place in Equestria save Canterlot itself ended up as bad as Fillydelphia. So that's not saying much.

Well it's not clear how long she was in the cage, eventually the cloak-o's wheel a monitor into the room, connecting it to the computer in the corner that had been blaring the recordings. A mare in robes appearing on screen, her voice the same as that from the loudspeakers. She tells the foals that she's sorry for their accommodations, but that it's time to set them free. Something nopony is buying and all realize likely means 'free of the burden of your existence' more or less. A line of cloak-o's wielding bats coming into the room, the mare calling them the foals' 'guidance councilors' who totally were not going to hurt them in anyway, as long as they did what they were told of course. That there was going to be a going away party then the foals would be let loose.

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

Yeah, that is a special kind of twisted and wrong. Though she also realizes why. To keep them calm, to make them more pliable. That even if they were just foals, backing anything into a corner, making it clear they have nothing left to lose, is never a good idea. And while it doesn't work to keep them calm, it does work to intimidate them. As the foals they release from their cages simply line up, trying to avoid the cloak-o's with the bats. Until one filly started to hum, and then sing. 'The one I'm meant to Save.' The other fillies joining in one by one, starting with Rose.

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

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

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

The cloak-o's yelling, threatening, telling them they wouldn't be freed if they kept this up. But nopony stopping. Yes it wasn't much, but it was what they could do. Unite against them, stand together, defiant to there will in anyway possible. Take control of what they could of the situation.

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

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

....... I... I really have no way to even come close to doing this justice. it's just, so good, so powerful, so... right. I love this story, I so bucking love this story.

Thoughts- After that? What thoughts could I have beyond "That was so damn amazing."?

Every chapter so far ends up better then the last. This one, just blew the rest away. That ending.... But first, so far the story has been amazing at showing just how well it, and the author, understand the original story. What it meant, what it was about, and even brings up things that while present in the story, weren't really expanded on much. And doing so in really great, subtle ways. Not going on long discussions about them, but simply, having them there, plain to see, but not shoved in your face. The themes and observations growing naturally from the story, not being forced into it.

Here, here it brings up not something in the original but not elaborated on. It addresses, what to me at least, as the single greatest message of the entire story. The power of Hope. Rose starts to lose it, to despair, losing hope that she could ever change things, ever make things better. But just one other filly reaching out to her, trying to comfort her is enough to restore the hope. Even if not hope for herself, hope that she could escape. At least hope for Ponies as a whole. That the world CAN be better. And then we get the ending, that amazing, powerful, and so damn moving ending.

But while I do like the story touching on aspects of the original in new ways, it also has it's own themes to explore, and this chapter was a really REALLY great job of dealing with these. Fate, choices, control, and helplessness. That really is a large theme going through this chapter. How even in the grips of things you cant control, you are not helpless. You still have some choices, some control. Starting with Rose Petal coming to terms with what was going on. Deciding that it doesn't matter if she had any choice about going back to the Wastes or not, because if she DID have the choice, she would do it anyway. Not for the reason 'fate' seems to want her to, but for her own reasons. Because there was a little colt that needed her help, that nopony else seemed to care about, and she was the only hope he had. Yes it didn't change the facts of what was going on. She still had no actual control over going to the Wastes or not. But it makes all the difference to her.

And oddly enough, yet again I find myself finding the best way to describe something FOE related is paraphrasing SF Debris, and from the same work as well.

"Yet in [this], there are shades of Sisyphus ... but as some scholars have said, even in Sisyphus, there is potential to find a hero. As it all hinges on one thing. The mind of Sisyphus. The difference between an indomitable hero, and a tragic victim is ... one has hope, the other despair ... [what's happening to Rose] isn't tragedy ... her task is not some chore that is to be endured. It is the purest form of love."

This is what makes the difference. Yes in the end Rose has no choice about going or not, but she accepts this, meets it on her own terms. Does it, not because she must, but because she would do it anyway.

And this is brought up later, with the foals finding their own hope, their own ability to take what control they can of their situation. They are prisoners, they can't escape, the cloak-o's could kill them any time they wanted really, do whatever they wanted. But they don't despair. They sing their song of freedom, make the choice to accept that which they cannot change, and instead try to control that which they can. There situation doesn't change, but their mindset does, and that makes all the difference.

And we even have another take on this exact theme. Misty Mountain. His constant bluster about how he could escape anytime he wanted, always acting tough, all just a sham, an act. He's trying to do what Rose, and then later all the foals, do. Find a way to take charge, to exert some control over himself, but by bashing his head against those things he can't change, rather then finding something he can. Trying to convince himself that he has control.

This whole chapter is just a great ride, with one hell of a climax. But aside from the emotional impact, that actual story itself is still going strong, giving us more and more questions, while answering others. She's found 'The One She's Meant to Save' and we even see some of why this filly might be so important, might be worth fate stepping in to send her a pony to save her. While bringing up the question of what, exactly, is the deal with the cloak-o's? We have a general idea, but not the specifics. And don't really get more answers to why Rose is able to do this or the rules on the either. Though, wondering if her somehow knowing the words.. as poetic and amazing as the description for how she felt, where they seemed to come from, is a result of that passive, subconscious knowledge she seems to have about her journey. Or simply a more general pony thing, how they manage to break out into choreographed musical numbers spontaneously. But, time to close this out with another completely unrelated quote that perfectly sums up my feelings. This one from The Dresden Fillies.

Twilight smiled, though there was still sadness in her eyes. What she had seen that night hadn’t left her, and it probably never would. Despite that, she still smiled, and Celestia remembered why, of all the lands she and her sister had visited, this was where they had chosen to stay. Because she had seen these ponies in their darkest days, when Discord’s chaos ran rampant and a pony’s life was worth little more than a moment’s entertainment to an uncaring god. Even then, they could still smile. They could still laugh and love and hope.

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