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Iron didn't mind taking things slow and careful, making sure to keep up with Sands leading the way currently.
The trio continue their way across logs, past unhealthy trees, and past medium sized animals - goats? Alpacas? Hard to say without taking the time to look at each one - that graze just a little further up the hillside on each side of the river, but do not come down to drink from it. On the opposite side of the bank, the river splits off southward, and Iron and company must turn around the bend onto a tributary that mergers at the fork. This new river is a big wider, with more flow than the last, and the banks are taller and wider apart with steep slopes up hill sides. They walk through another black rivulet that joins with the river, though this one is mercifully shallower and more full of stones than the last, although it is much wider. The group comes to a particularly wide section with exposed mud and a shallower slope, in view of a large, iron truss bridge.
Black Cauldron speaks after her long silence.
"I think it might be here. Or very near here."
"Yes? Oh. Fancy to see you here again. What was your name? 'Silver'?"
"Yes, Silver Sword. I was hoping you could tell me what it takes to adopt, or become foster parent."
Iron looks left to right, wondering where she might be pointing at exactly on where to go. He was expecting it to be inside a cave, and this place didn't really look like one.
“Adoption? Well, that’s under the law of the autonomous zone now. I don’t quite have the requirements memorized. Generally there must be a married couple with no prior felonies. The orphanage tries to prioritize practicing members of the church, though I don’t think the autonomous zone allows us to make that a condition. As for being a foster parent, that may be easier, because it isn’t subject to the same laws.”>>152977
This is very nearly the opposite of a cave, out in the open, in the middle of a river and its wide, sandy bank.
"So where exactly is the thing?" Iron whispers out loud to Cauldron, unsure where to start looking.
“In the mud. By the river. Or in
the river.” She answers
Iron nods, now understanding why they were here. Without further doubts, he soon starts scanning the places Cauldron highlighted as possible spots for the package to be in.
Iron doesn't have much luck in his little section of the river, but Black Cauldron moves to a section just a little further down, closer to the bridge. There, an angular piece of rotted wood sticks out of rows of mud, exposed in the low water levels of the river. And below this, sticks up an exposed portion of rusted iron. White Sands sees this too, and she rushes out closer to inspect it.
Iron, noticing the other two grouping up, promptly trots towards where the two mares were looking.
The mud is not completely exposed. Rather, portions of it are an inch or two submerged beneath the river water, while portions stick out. White Sands more so that Black Cauldron tries to get near it.
"So... What is it?"
"Large iron containers, each filled with about 76 pounds of metallic mercury. They were on a cart on the edge of the cliff, up there. But they fell, or rather I think the ground beneath the cart fell into the river, and they were lost for almost a century. A year or so ago, heavy rains washed away much of the soil, and you can see them now while the river is low. And that is what we are here for; these flasks."
Iron does not try to eagerly get his hooves on it, remembering the harness that had been placed on it precisely because it was going to come into use but doesn't quite understand how it would work, so he simply allows Cauldron to explain how they should take out the packages out.
Black Cauldron stares at it for a minute longer:
"It looks like they are still buried in mud."
With that observation, Iron soon leans into the mud, grabs the containers with his mouth and carefully tries to pull him out.
Either Iron's teeth will break off like so many corn kernels off of a cob, or the rusted outer layers of the flask will peel off into Iron's mouth in a similar way, but with certainty, the ~37 kilogram flask will not so easily be pulled out of the suction of the mud.
Iron exhaled softly, mouth still holding the thing but not attempting to pull it. "Sthuck," he mumbles, somewhat frustrated.
Black Cauldron opens Iron's own bag, and pulls out a relatively small shovel.
"Dig around it, then use both hooves to pull it out. Or place a rope or something under the bottom and pull it out. There are more under the mud."
Letting go of the container, Iron soon takes the shovel, looks at it for a few seconds before ultimately sinking the pointy end near the most visible container to start his digging progress.
Hmmm... roll strength for total effect
Iron successfully excavates around the one Iron flask. But what is more, he's found another two, and what looks like a third in a grouping. He's also found ruined wood, rocks, and discoloration in the mud.
Iron takes one look at the time of day before looking at Cauldron. "How long should we stay here?"
Hopefully Sands or Cauldron are already starting to place the container he dug out on him or in a safe, unsinkable place.
"Hmm, marriage. Alright. Say you started fostering foal, and then got married at later date. Could you then adopt foal you were fostering?"
It's mid afternoon.
"We need to leave quickly."
"As long as it takes."
The flasks, which weigh a little bit more than eighty pounds, are located in thick mud where there isn't really a firm location to stand. The mares are unable or unwilling to pick the flasks up themselves.>>153001
With a shrug, Iron places one of the flasks himself with his mouth while glancing at Sands to use her telekinesis to safely secure it on him before continuing to dig out the rest.
And again, the item resists being removed so easily. It's not the heaviest of all possible items, but it does weigh the same as a bag of cement, or two thirds of White Sands' body weight, or eleven rifles. Neither Iron's mouth nor White Sand's magic will free it from its century-long tomb of silt and clay.
"I am interested, but I need bit of time before I can do so. Need to set up room for foal and all of that."
"Hmmm..." She closes her lips together. "Well that's lovely that you want to help."
Scrunching lightly, Iron opts to instead pick it up with his hooves and with the aid of Sands' telekinesis guide it to its proper place.
Silver continues to smile for a bit, before a more somber expression takes hold.
"I am not sure it is my place to ask, but...what happened to cause White Orchid and Mint Marine to be where they were, in that horrible 'business'?"
Sands is only able to do so much. Iron can pull it up with both forehooves, but doing so causes him to not be able to walk normally. And any effort at lifting places more weight on his hooves, which sink into the mud. It isn't quite quicksand, but it's certainly not solid ground, and every bit of force and weight causes each hoof to sink deeper.>>153008
"What... do you mean?"
Iron's snout scrunches further before glancing at Cauldron. "How fragile is this thing?" he questions, all too eager to chuck it off the mud.
"How did they get taken and then sold to that monster, Comte?"
"I don't know. It's made of iron and it's already survived a landslide. But's it's been rusting and corroding away for a century, so it's much weaker than before. The quicksilver itself is liquid. It's extremely poisonous, it will dissolve many metals, and it is very expensive. We don't really have an alternative way of carrying it.">>153011
"Well..." she looks away. "The crime syndicate. They came and took them."
"Why did crime syndicate target orphange?"
"Because we borrowed money, and we couldn't pay it back..."
Iron frowns softly before an idea pops in his head, pulling out the trusty rope and showing it to the telekinetic pony in the group. "Take this end of the rope and tie it into a really sturdy tree," he requests "and then I will use it to climb out with one of the flasks and can probably go back in to dig a little more."
Silver's eyes widen.
"Were there government budget cuts?"
White Sands has gotten herself dirtier than Iron may have imagined, standing there knee deep in mud. She takes the rope, and tries to walk back to the shoreline, eventually coming to Cauldron, who looks around for something to tie it to. Fortunately, she seems to have expected something like this to occur, so she has a stake which, when combined with the uprooted trunk of a dead tree, eventually provides a stable base for the rope.>>153016
“The government doesn’t run the orphanage. The church does. And there’s been all sorts of new expenses, with the new war orphans, the blockade, and getting cut off from Canterlot.”
"They really should provide funds. I am sorry to hear that. I can not believe any gang would be so absolutely despicable as to do anything like that. You would have to have no morals in slightest."
Sister Marery replies to Silver’s first remark first.
“No. The government should stay out of it.
Then she says,
“Yes, it’s truly terrible what some ponies will do to others who are down on their luck. But that’s what happens when ponies prioritize money over harmony.”
"Do you know whose gang it was?"
“Yes. ‘The Waterfront Gang’.”
"I figured, they are biggest gang in Baltimare, but which boss from Waterfront Gang did you borrow from?"